Politics & Policy

Hillary’s MasterClass Could Be Amazing

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Hillary Clinton is a wife, mother, lawyer, senator, secretary of state, and perhaps the first front-runner to lose two presidential races. On December 9, she will share her experiences, teaching a MasterClass course on “the power of resilience”:

Yet there are so many potentially useful and educational classes she could offer but won’t, such as:

-How to turn a $1,000 investment into $100,000 in less than a year.

-Vast Right Wing Conspiracy: Mass Communication as Deflection.

-A colloquium on the history of carpetbagging.

-Quid Pro $: Charitable “Foundation” as Cash Cow.

-How To Do a Southern Accent.

-“What Difference, at This Point, Does It Make?” Avoiding Responsibility, in Theory and Reality.

-Introduction to Server Management.

-Intermediate Data Wiping.

-Wisconsin, an Introduction.

-Dossier: form follows function.

Too bad.

Film & TV

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Frodo vs. Peter Jackson’s

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Elijah Wood as Frodo in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. (New Line Productions, Inc./IMDb)

In the latest issue of National Review magazine, I have a retrospective essay marking the 20th anniversary of the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first entry in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I took the occasion of this anniversary to reflect upon the difficult journey of Jackson’s film trilogy to the screen (at one point, it was almost forced into one film, directed by Quentin Tarantino); to weigh the merits of Jackson’s films (excellent, for the most part); and to assess the faithfulness of Jackson’s adaptation to Tolkien’s work (on which the score is more mixed, but on balance positive).

Some of Jackson’s changes are sensible, particularly as dictated by the differences between film and literature. Alterations to certain characters, however, are less defensible. You can find more detail about that in the essay. But here, I would like to focus on one character I didn’t explicitly discuss there: Frodo Baggins, the hobbit entrusted with the One Ring and tasked with its destruction.

The first major thing to note about the differences between Tolkien’s Frodo and Jackson’s is their respective ages. In the novel, Frodo receives the Ring from his uncle, Bilbo, at age 33. Then, after a 17-year gap (one of the aspects of Tolkien’s narrative Jackson sensibly compressed), his quest begins. Jackson, however, cast Elijah Wood, in his late teens when filming began, as Frodo. He does a good job, to be sure. But this modifies the essence of Frodo’s character. And it also alters the relationship between Frodo and Samwise Gamgee, his companion all the way to Mt. Doom. Though Sean Astin plays a great Sam, he is ten years older than Wood and had just had his first child when filming began; he has admitted this made him treat Wood as Frodo in a more paternal manner. Whereas in Tolkien, Sam is actually twelve years younger than Frodo. And the relationship between the two is more fraternal, with Frodo as the elder sibling. By no means does this difference ruin Jackson’s trilogy. But it does create a relationship that is distinct from that in the novel.

The second major thing to note about the differences between Tolkien’s Frodo and Jackson’s comes near the end of Frodo’s quest. When Frodo and Sam (and a “special guest”: the mischievous creature Gollum) finally arrive at Mt. Doom to cast the Ring into its fires, Frodo fails: He puts the Ring on. Gollum then finds him, despite the Ring’s having made Frodo invisible, bites it off Frodo’s finger, and takes it for himself. The book and film more or less show this same sequence of events. Here, however, they diverge. The novel has what, to an unstudied reader, can seem a somewhat anticlimactic resolution:

‘Precious, precious, precious!’ Gollum cried. ‘My Precious! O my Precious!’ And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.

Eschewing such an apparent anticlimax, Jackson shows us a dramatic, action-movie style struggle between a bloodied Frodo and a delirious Gollum, ending with the two of them falling over the edge of a cliff, though Frodo hangs on to the edge and is helped up by Sam while Gollum plummets below. It can seem, at first blush, to be more satisfying, and to a typical moviegoer, it probably is. But this divergence represents one of the ways in which the films are “too violent and have too much action with not enough focus on the philosophical elements of the books,” as Tolkien expert Brad Birzer has said. (Although in depicting Frodo’s encounter with the Ringwraiths at the Ford of Bruinen, Jackson makes Frodo less impressive than Tolkien does; in the film, it is Arwen who stands against the Ringwraiths with a wounded Frodo in tow, while in Tolkien Frodo stands alone before the Ford’s waters, driven by Elrond and Gandalf, defeat the wraiths.) But Gollum’s fall is no mere accident. It is the unfolding of a providential design on the part of Eru Illuvatar, the omnipotent godhead of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. As Tolkien put it in a letter:

Frodo deserved all honour because he spent every drop of his power of will and body, and that was just sufficient to bring him to the destined point, and no further. Few others, possibly no others of his time, would have got so far. The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), ‘ that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never-named’ (as one critic has said).

Jackson leaves in the hints of the providential design: Gandalf’s suspicion that Gollum would have some part to play in the Ring’s destruction, Frodo’s pity on the creature (until the end), etc. But the action-movie style climax makes things a bit less subtle than Tolkien would have them. I had thought for many years that Gollum’s fall was a direct intervention of Eru Ilúvatar in the physical world — of which there are few examples after its creation, one being the resurrection of Gandalf — but I recently encountered a subtler interpretation that casts Gollum’s — and the Ring’s — destruction as the self-obliteration of evil by its own inability to abide by the rules of the created universe. Either way, this nuance is lost in Jackson’s adaptation. And thereby diluting somewhat what Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey called the “philosophic core” of the author’s work:

. . . the whole structure of The Lord of the Rings indicates that decision and perseverance may be rewarded beyond hope . . . . [Tolkien] believes in the workings of Providence — the Providence which “sent” Gandalf back, and which “meant” Frodo to have the Ring . . . . But that Providence does not overrule free will, because it works only through the actions and decisions of the characters. In Tolkien there is no chance, no coincidence. Characters’ perception of events as chance or coincidence is a result only of their inability to see how actions connect . . .

Still, whatever the shortcomings of Jackson’s adaptation, I find it a worthy effort to capture Tolkien’s vision — and an eminently rewatchable one that deserves its acclaim and cultural endurance.

The Economy

Business Survey: High Freight Costs Raising Prices

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Logistics company Freightos conducted a survey of over 300 importers who use its services. They sent the first survey in January, another in June, and the most recent one was from November. It’s not a scientific survey, so results can’t be generalized to the whole country. But it gives a useful perspective on how businesses are responding to supply-chain challenges.

Here are some of the results:

In January 77% of respondents answered that they’ve encountered supply chain challenges since the pandemic began and in June 79% answered the same. However, in our most recent survey, nearly all respondents (93%) reported experiencing supply chain difficulties.

In January and June, less than half of importers reported raising prices on their goods in response to higher freight costs, while in November 64% of importers increased prices.

In November’s survey, nearly a third of businesses who responded that they recently raised prices did so by more than 20%, compared to only a fifth of businesses who reported similar price increases in June.

We found that pre-pandemic, ocean shipping costs per unit for smaller items ranged from $0.30 to $0.40, or about half a percent of the sticker price.

But elevated freight rates have pushed costs to $4-5 per unit. Even with increased sticker prices, ocean shipping contributions have climbed to 5% of the current inflated price tags.

For bulkier items like large TVs, per-unit freight costs climbed from $3.66 to more than $48 and from 1.2% to more than 8% of the consumer price. This explains why more businesses are raising prices even higher than earlier in the year.

Compared to large businesses, small importers were twice as likely (36% vs. 17%) to have reduced their margins to accommodate rising costs. They were also less likely to have benefited from an increase in demand for their products (55% vs. 68%) and were twice as likely to be shipping less volume than before the pandemic (39% vs. 16%), mostly due to rising shipping costs (80%).

Check out the full write-up from Freightos.com here.

Politics & Policy

How Congressional Dems and the Admin Stalled Uyghur-Forced Labor Bill

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House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) at the U.S. Capitol on July 28, 2021 (Elizabeth Frantz / Reuters)

Senator Marco Rubio’s stand against Democratic stonewalling of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act last week put the issue prominently on the agenda. The scuffle — which I wrote about here and which NR’s editors weighed in on here — exposed how congressional Democratic leadership is blocking action on Uyghur slavery by hiding behind dubious procedural complaints.

To recap, Rubio wanted to insert the bill into the National Defense Authorization Act, but House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer objected, arguing that it has an impact on spending and revenues — therefore violating the House’s constitutional prerogative to be the sole source of revenue bills.

But it’s more likely that they’re acting on behalf of the administration to stonewall legislation that complicates White House efforts to seek common ground with China, considering that the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin revealed that deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman lobbied against the Uyghur forced-labor bill.

In response to criticism of Democrats’ refusal to include it in the NDAA, Pelosi feinted, allowing Representative Jim McGovern to bring his own version of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to the House floor this week. But that legislation is a red herring: Congress is getting no closer to enacting stricter curbs on importing slave-labor goods.

For one, if Rubio’s bill had made it into the NDAA — which is well on its way to the president’s desk, without the Uyghur forced-labor amendment — the legislation would have become law by the end of this year. The House passed the NDAA last night, and the Senate is expected to take it up soon.

McGovern is introducing an entirely new, separate bill. Congress voted on it in a previous session, but the House and Senate must each pass it again. That’s going to take more time — and it could well be held up again by Pelosi and Schumer. Pelosi has already neglected to bring to a vote legislation approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April, making for an inexplicable seven-month delay.

There’s a problem with McGovern’s proposal as well. The Connecticut Democrat has a commendable record as an advocate of human rights in China, but his legislation overlooks the issue of forced-labor transfer programs. Essentially, Uyghur slavery isn’t contained to Xinjiang; the Chinese party-state helps transfer victims of these forced-labor practices to work in factories across China. According to analysis by Michael Sobolik of the American Foreign Policy Council, Rubio’s bill addresses this, but McGovern’s applies solely to forced-labor-produced goods from Xinjiang.

It’s going to take longer to pass the McGovern version than it would have to have passed the Rubio version via the NDAA — and the former is weaker than the latter, contrary to what Pelosi claimed during a press conference last week.

Meanwhile, Sherman, in response to questions about Rogin’s scoop, has said twice over the past week that the administration “does not oppose” the Uyghur forced-labor amendment  The second time she said this, during a webinar event yesterday, the Financial Times‘s Demetri Sevatopolou picked up on her careful phrasing, and asked if the administration supports the legislation. Revealingly, Sherman doubled down on the “don’t oppose” formulation, declining to say that the administration supports the bill. While that’s not surprising, it is revealing that the State Department, which explicitly determined that forced labor in Xinjiang is a Chinese Communist Party–perpetrated crime against humanity, refuses to endorse legislation the combat these abuses.

Technically, the administration is not asking lawmakers to vote against passage of the bill — but it is opposing the bill by asking lawmakers to slow-walk and water it down.

Some of those lawmakers are obliging, which is why the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act does not seem set to become law anytime soon.

World

Letters to Jimmy Lai

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Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong’s formidable pro-democracy mogul, has been imprisoned for a bit over a year now. He turns 74 today, and Mark Simon, a longtime executive at Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper (which the city’s CCP-backed authorities took down earlier this year) has penned an open letter about his friend and former boss:

Jimmy Lai is in jail because he believes in freedom, because he believes in a free press, because he believes in religious freedom, because he believes in an individual’s economic freedoms, and most of all because Jimmy Lai believes no man or woman reigns above others.

Jimmy has always understood that tyrants have to wipe out all freedoms to enforce their control over others. More than a few times he told me that what we have to defend at Apple Daily is not just one freedom, but rather a “basket of freedoms”.  We defend one kind of freedom to protect all freedoms . . .

For years Jimmy knew it would be his end if the communists took full control of Hong Kong.  Dozens of times he told me he knew he would go to jail. When I would protest he should get out, and others told him to leave, his response was always the same. I can’t leave the people of Hong Kong.

I miss my friend. I miss our talks. I am in agony for his family.  I cannot write Jimmy as I am wanted and my letters never seem to make it through. Yet I know he treasures hearing from friends both old and new. It’s my hope that as many of you as possible will take the time to do something very rare these days, post a letter. Please post my friend a letter. Let him know you will use your freedom to try to secure his.

Education

A Higher Education Myth Debunked

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Part of the conventional wisdom about higher education concerns “adjunctification,” which is to say, the trend toward having college courses taught by adjunct faculty rather than full-time professors with tenure. This is assumed to be bad.

In this AIER essay, however, Phil Magness argues that “adjunctification” is actually on the decline and in any case, it’s not necessarily a bad thing — nor is tenure an unalloyed good.

To his argument, I would add that if you favor tenure because it protects faculty freedom of speech, it doesn’t do so any longer. When a professor has caused the academic mob to take up their pitchforks, tenure won’t provide protection.

Law & the Courts

Supreme Court ‘Legitimacy Watch’

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Today’s entry is from The New Yorker.

Jeannie Suk Gersen argues that the Dobbs case is an “open challenge to the Court’s authority.” That is true, in a sense: The people arguing that Roe should be vacated are arguing that the Court had no authority to make the decision, which it didn’t: Roe is not based in law or in the text of the Constitution, being, as it is, a purely political imposition and an abuse of power.

But unlike, say, the left-wing activists who rioted in the wake of the Kyle Rittenhouse case, conservatives have asked the Supreme Court to reverse itself; this isn’t a revolutionary rejection of the Supreme Court’s legitimacy, but a 50-year effort to persuade the Court to undo the damage it has done. Which is to say, it is conservatives who have accepted the Supreme Court’s legitimacy even when they haven’t got their way, while it is the Left and the Democrats — The New Yorker, et al. — who insist that the Court will forfeit its legitimacy if they do not get their way.

There are plenty — too many — would-be revolutionist knuckleheads on the right. But the people who are arguing in front of the Supreme Court, asking it to perform its constitutional duty, are the opposite of that.

Science & Tech

Can You Say Crime-Prediction Software Is Bad without Considering Whether It Is Accurate?

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(carlballou/Getty Images)

Aaron Sankin, Dhruv Mehrotra, Surya Mattu, and Annie Gilbertson of The Markup and Gizmodo have a lengthy supposed exposé of PredPol, a predictive software used by police departments to help analyze crime patterns to predict where police should be deployed. The tone is breathless:

Residents of neighborhoods where PredPol suggested few patrols tended to be Whiter and more middle- to upper-income. Many of these areas went years without a single crime prediction. By contrast, neighborhoods the software targeted for increased patrols were more likely to be home to Blacks, Latinos, and families that would qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. These communities weren’t just targeted more—in some cases they were targeted relentlessly. Crimes were predicted every day, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes in multiple locations in the same neighborhood: thousands upon thousands of crime predictions over years. A few neighborhoods in our data were the subject of more than 11,000 predictions. The software often recommended daily patrols in and around public and subsidized housing, targeting the poorest of the poor.

The implication here is that PredPol looks at the race and economic status of neighborhoods instead of the frequency of crime in these neighborhoods, so it is advising police to patrol them more heavily for no good reason, or worse, for a very bad reason. Ibram X. Kendi, the patron saint of junk statistics on racial bias, was among those chiming in to promote the piece to his 413,000 Twitter followers:

There’s one huge, glaring problem: In a column that runs some 6,500 words and an accompanying methodology explainer twice that long, the authors never attempt to evaluate whether or not PredPol is accurately predicting patterns of crime. You have to read some 80  paragraphs into the story to learn this:

We did not try to determine how accurately PredPol predicted crime patterns. Its main promise is that officers responding to predictions prevent crimes by their presence. But several police departments have dropped PredPol’s software in recent years, saying they didn’t find it useful or couldn’t judge its effectiveness…“As time went on, we realized that PredPol was not the program that we thought it was when we had first started using it,” Tracy Police Department chief of staff Sgt. Craig Koostra said in a written statement. He did not respond to a request to elaborate.

As the explainer elaborates:

We were unable to investigate the “accuracy” of PredPol predictions—whether predicted crimes occurred on predicted days in predicted locations—nor do we know how each agency chose to respond to each prediction. As mentioned earlier, we asked every department to provide data about officer responses to PredPol predictions, which PredPol calls “dosage,” but only Plainfield and Portage provided any of that data. It is possible that some officers ignore PredPol reports entirely. Records for Plainfield showed officers responding to less than 2 percent of the total predictions that PredPol made for the department. How much of this is due to incomplete reporting by the department is impossible to know.

In other words, all the rhetoric about “bias” simply assumes the very question at issue: whether PredPol has a racial or class bias compared with a perfectly accurate prediction of crime. In fact, the authors admit that a study that attempted to reduce the disparities ended up doing so by making the software less accurate, and was rejected by the company because it would divert cops away from areas whose residents were victimized by high crime:

The study authors developed a potential tweak to the algorithm that they said resulted in a more even distribution of crime predictions. But they found its predictions were less in line with later crime reports, making it less accurate than the original algorithm, although still “potentially more accurate” than human predictions. [Brian MacDonald, CEO of PredPol] said the company didn’t adjust its software in response. “Such a change would reduce the protection provided to vulnerable neighborhoods with the highest victimization rates,” he said.

As is customary in this kind of writing, many thousands of words are devoted to the plight of particular people stopped, investigated, or arrested by police, but the authors cannot spare even a momentary empathy for the victims of crime. In fact, in their one effort to argue that crime statistics are biased, they put the blame on black and Hispanic crime victims for reporting their own victimization to the police:

“We use crime data as reported to the police by the victims themselves,” [MacDonald] said. “If your house is burglarized or your car stolen, you are likely to file a police report.” But that’s not always true, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). The agency found that only 40 percent of violent crimes and less than a third of property crimes were reported to police in 2020, which is in line with prior years. The agency has found repeatedly that White crime victims are less likely to report violent crime to police than Black or Latino victims. In a special report looking at five years of data, BJS found an income pattern as well. People earning $50,000 or more a year reported crimes to the police 12 percent less often than those earning $25,000 a year or less. This disparity in crime reporting would naturally be reflected in predictions. “There’s no such thing as crime data,” said Phillip Goff, co-founder of the nonprofit Center for Policing Equity, which focuses on bias in policing. “There is only reported crime data. And the difference between the two is huge.”

Well, yes, it undoubtedly is true that if you rob poorer people, they are likelier to feel the harm and less likely to just file an insurance claim. (Disparities in reasons for crime reporting is also one reason why murder rates are the most reliable source of information on crime, because the vast majority of murders are discovered or reported). On the other hand, we hear an awful lot from law-enforcement critics about how non-white people mistrust the police, but the fact that they are more likely to seek the assistance of police would appear to show that they actually want the cops to fight crime in their neighborhoods.

For good measure, the authors cite an open letter from ten academics in the summer of 2020 — when a lot of things were written and said that will look increasingly ludicrous with the passage of time — “call[ing] on the mathematics community to boycott working with police departments.” “Given the structural racism and brutality in US policing,” the signatories argued, “we do not believe that mathematicians should be collaborating with police departments in this manner. It is simply too easy to create a ‘scientific’ veneer for racism.” The open letter did not make even the slightest effort to show that mathematicians were making policing worse or that the use of data was inaccurate or biased; it simply asserted that policing equals racism, and so counting the numbers must be racist, too.

Is PredPol actually a good program? I have no idea. Certainly nothing in the Markup article or its accompanying explainer actually showed that it is, or is not, an accurate predictor of crime, or that it was used by any police department in a way that made its policing better or worse. Good police work has relied on crime data as far back as 19th-century London; the New York City police department was producing crime maps as early as 1900. The policing revolution of the past 30 years, kicked off with the NYPD’s introduction of the Compstat program in 1995, has increasingly used data to drive decisions about where and how to deploy police resources to both catch and deter criminals. But as we know in any field, blindly relying on data has its limitations. It is always good to provide some checks on data with common sense and experience, and to continually evaluate how accurate one’s data tools are — including whether they simply replicate biases baked into the numbers that are fed into them. But hyperventilating about bias without bothering to consider the actual reality of crime and its victims is just shoddy yellow journalism.

Immigration

The Conventional Wisdom on Hispanic Voters Was Completely Wrong

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For years, we heard that Republicans couldn’t be tough-minded on immigration and win Hispanics, and yet here we are with these stunning numbers from a new WSJ poll:

The nation’s large and diverse group of Hispanic voters is showing signs of dividing its support between Democrats and Republicans more evenly than in recent elections, a new Wall Street Journal poll finds, a troubling development for the Democratic Party, which has long counted on outsize Hispanic support.

One year after giving Democratic House candidates more than 60% of their vote, according to polls at the time, the Journal survey found that Hispanic voters are evenly split in their choice for Congress. Asked which party they would back if the election were today, 37% of Hispanic voters said they would support the Republican congressional candidate and 37% said they would favor the Democrat, with 22% undecided.

Hispanic voters were also evenly divided when asked about a hypothetical rematch in 2024 of the last presidential contenders, with 44% saying they would back President Biden and 43% supporting former President Donald Trump. In 2020, Mr. Biden won 63% support among Hispanic voters, nearly 30 points more than Mr. Trump, according to AP VoteCast, a large survey of the presidential electorate.

Don’t Buy Democrats’ Spin on Supply Chains

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Workers rope a container ship at a port in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China, February 11, 2020. (China Daily via Reuters)

Whom are you going to trust to tell you the truth on port congestion? With news that the Biden administration is coordinating with the media to spin coverage in a more positive direction, it’s important to take what they’re telling you with a grain of salt.

Industry sources seem more trustworthy. The logistics industry is one of the most thoroughly international industries in the world, so the political concerns of any one country will have little effect on the information that they report. Plus, those people all around the world have large amounts of money on the line if information is

Sorry, Omarova’s Soviet Birth Is Not What Sank Her Nomination

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Saule Omarova, President Biden’s nominee to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, answers a question from a Senator during a hearing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., November 18, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Saule Omarova has withdrawn her nomination to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency due to opposition from five Democratic senators. Republicans could do absolutely nothing to stop Joe Biden’s nominee other than highlight her extremism and hope that public pressure would do the trick.

It did. Now, you wouldn’t know any of this if you were simply perusing the news this morning. NPR claimed in a tweet that Omarova withdrew her nomination “after facing personal attacks about being born in the former Soviet Union.” The New York Times says that “lobbyists and Republicans painted her as a communist

Music

In Defense of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’

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In response to ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’: A Facile, Condescending Christmas Anthem

Maybe this is my Gen X pride talking, but I must defend the Band-Aid Ethiopian famine song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” from Jack and Mark. Sure, its politics are terrible, its geography is sketchy, its grasp of world religion is deficient, and its tone is condescending, but then, John Lennon’s “Happy XMas (War Is Over)” — which has its own cringey lines about the “yellow and red ones” — called for surrendering the people of South Vietnam to Communist tyranny and massacre. But I will forgive some mushy-headed remember-the-less-fortunate do-goodism in my Christmas playlists if the songs are strong. And both of those songs are strong, musically. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is a textbook ’80s pop anthem, powered forward by Phil Collins on drums. And frankly, it’s worth the price of admission just to hear Bono barge in like an Old Testament prophet in the buildup to the first chorus howling “well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of YOUUUUUU. . . .”

Media

Biden Doesn’t Have a Perception Problem, He Has a Reality Problem

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President Joe Biden looks on after delivering remarks on the November jobs report at the White House in Washington, D.C., December 3, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

A lot of conservatives are up in arms about this revelation from CNN’s Oliver Darcy:

The White House, not happy with the news media’s coverage of the supply chain and economy, has been working behind the scenes trying to reshape coverage in its favor. Senior White House and admin officials — including NEC Deputy Directors David Kamin and Bharat Ramamurti, along with Ports Envoy John Porcari — have been briefing major newsrooms over the past week, a source tells me.

The officials have been discussing with newsrooms trends pertaining to job creation, economic growth, supply chains, and more. The basic argument that has been made: That the country’s economy is in much better shape than it was last year. I’m told the conversations have been productive, with anchors and reporters and producers getting to talk with the officials

The thing is, all kinds of institutions and organizations arrange off-the-record or on-background briefings and meetings for reporters. There’s nothing inherently unethical or manipulative about them. The sources from the institutions effectively say, “here’s how we see things,” and usually some variation of, “and we don’t think this has been covered enough.” The reporters usually get to ask questions – if there isn’t a chance to ask questions, it makes one wonder what the point of the briefing is.

How this meeting affects subsequent coverage is up to the reporter. Maybe the reporter thought the briefer had a fair complaint or made a good point. Or maybe the briefing shared new information that the reporter thought was newsworthy. Maybe the reporter thinks the briefing was unconvincing spin and a lot of whining. Or maybe the reporter wasn’t persuaded much one way or another. It only becomes unethical or manipulative when the official says, “you should be covering the story this way,” and the reporter effectively answers, “yes, sir.” That’s the only scenario where the complaints of “state-run media” have merit.

Perhaps the more significant aspect of this story is not just that the Biden administration thinks the country’s economy is in much better shape than it was last year – a pretty low bar, considering how one year ago, we were just about to get the first vaccinations – but they think that they have a perception problem, not a substance or reality problem. But the national average for a gallon of gasoline is still $3.43, inflation has skyrocketed this year, the country has 10.4 million unfilled jobs, and all kinds of small businesses have signs that say “please be patient, we’re understaffed,” and we’re enduring a supply chain crisis. (If you’re not reading Dominic Pino’s coverage here at NR, you should be.) Americans don’t think the economy is lousy because of bad media coverage. Americans think the economy is lousy because they feel the pain in the form of higher prices and stores not having the good on the shelves that they usually have.

You cannot spin someone about their grocery bill, or how much they paid to fill up their tank of gas. Even if Biden administration officials can Jedi Mind Trick their way into getting reporters to give gushing coverage of their economic policies, Americans will not come around if they’re still paying more than $3 per gallon of gas, their grocery bills are significantly higher than last year, new cars aren’t on the lots, bottles and cans aren’t on the store shelves, service is slow, and local businesses are limiting hours or even contemplating shutting down because of limited supplies.

Law & the Courts

Smollett and Perjury

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If it turns out, as seems likely, that Jussie Smollett staged a fake crime and then lied about it under oath, then his perjury should be treated as a matter at least as serious as the original hoax.

As we have seen everywhere from college campuses to the centers of power in Washington, our institutions and our public life can endure many things, but they cannot survive a culture in which outright fabrication is both common and accepted.

If I am reading the law correctly, perjury — a felony in Illinois — could get Smollett five years in prison and $25,000 in fines. The $25,000 would be nothing to Smollett, but he should do every day of five years if convicted.

Impromptus

WFB Does Football, Etc.

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) makes a catch against Las Vegas Raiders linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (44) in the second half of the Monday Night Football game at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nev., September 13, 2021. (Mark J. Rebilas / USA TODAY Sports)

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a leading “public intellectual” of our time. He is a French philosopher, writer, adventurer, and activist. He has written a new book: The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope. I have talked with BHL and have written about him on the homepage today: here. A most interesting and unusual fellow, whether you’re for or against.

Why don’t we have some mail? In a column last week, I wrote about jury duty (because I had it). “Jury duty,” I said, “is a pain, a privilege, and a must — our system depends on it.” I received a letter from a lawyer, on various aspects of our jury system. Here’s a slice:

Best word of advice to avoid ending up on a jury (if that’s your goal) — talk. Talk your head off. Have an answer, an opinion, a thought about every single topic the lawyers cover during voir dire. That gives us, the lawyers, more reasons to use a strike or a challenge for cause against you to keep you out of the jury box. Inevitably, when I look up at the men and women who are seated in the box at the end of voir dire, I think to myself, “I don’t know a damn thing about any of them except for what’s on their questionnaires.”

In another column, I had a word about “moral equivalence,” as we said in Cold War days: The United States and the Soviet Union are equally bad. They are superpowers, throwing their weight around. The Russians interfere in other countries, we interfere in other countries. What’s the difference? Who are we to lecture them? And so on and so forth. Today, you hear similar things, regarding the Ukrainian situation and others.

A reader writes, “Your discussion made me recall WFB’s statement, which I have written down and used over and over again.” For the uninitiated, “WFB” is William F. Buckley Jr., who wrote,

To say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.

In a Corner post, I had a word about fan behavior — specifically, bad behavior. A reader shares with me a passage about Tom Harmon, found on Harmon’s Heisman page. Tom Harmon, of the University of Michigan, won the Heisman Trophy in 1940.

In his final football game, against Ohio State, Harmon led the Wolverines to a 40–0 victory, scoring three rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, four extra points, intercepting three passes, and punting three times for an average of 50 yards. In an unprecedented display of sportsmanship and appreciation, the Buckeye fans in Columbus gave Harmon a standing ovation at game’s end. No other Wolverine player has been so honored, before or since.

End with WFB? And football? Is that possible? Only in this way: Johnny Carson once did a skit, with the sports broadcaster Stu Nahan. In the skit, Nahan was announcing Monday Night Football, and WFB, played by Johnny, was doing the color commentary.

A reader writes,

Antenna TV had the episode on the other night. Originally, the show was aired on November 17, 1983. I can’t find a clip, unfortunately. But I found some quotes online.

Here is a sample:

Stu Nahan: “Jack Youngblood of the Rams is down on the field. Can you see what that injury might be, Bill?”

William F. Buckley Jr. (after looking through binoculars): “Well, it appears to me that Mr. Youngblood might find it . . . difficult to exercise his conjugal prerogatives.”

Nahan: “Uh, I don’t quite follow you.”

WFB: “He got kneed in the macadamias.”

As Bill himself might say or write: “Fun and games!”

Media

A Profession in Need of Redemption

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Journalism has fallen almost entirely into the hands of propagandists for the mega-state. Objectivity is sneered at. Most young journalists want to make their mark by writing whatever advances the “progressive” agenda and damages the case for traditional American values.

In today’s Martin Center article, Hillsdale College journalism professor Maria Servold writes about her field.

She begins, “There’s something rotten in American journalism schools. From a tendency toward bias to outright activism, journalism in higher education is not what it should be: a place to guide young writers through a liberal education that teaches them how to think, report, and write clearly.”

If you need any evidence of how bad things have gotten, reflect on the fact that the J-School at the University of North Carolina was eager to hire provocateur Nikole Hannah-Jones, a woman with no scholarly accomplishments but a resume loaded with leftist disinformation, to teach its students.

J-Schools certainly should not hire political activists. “Good educators,” Servold writes, “do not dole out information to students as if they are bestowing them with gifts. Rather, good educators guide students in discovering knowledge. It is important for educators to know their fields and be able to effectively relay key information in a way that helps the student rise to understanding.”

If our education leaders want to make journalism respectable again, they have a great deal of housecleaning to do.

The Economy

Some Food for Thought on Our Unusual Labor Market

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A Brandon Motor Lodge displays a “Help Wanted” sign in Brandon, Fla., June 1, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

The most important thing to remember about the labor market right now is that the problem is the opposite of what we’re used to after a recession. We don’t need more jobs; we need more workers. After the last recession, the name of the game was job creation. This time, it’s not.

How’d we get here? The Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track of job openings for the whole economy in December 2000. Since then, there have only been two periods when the number of job openings exceeded the number of unemployed persons: January 2018 through February 2020 and May 2021 through today.

At no point between the mild recession in 2001 and the Great Recession did the number of job openings exceed the number of unemployed persons. During the Great Recession, the number of job openings decreased, and the number of unemployed persons increased. Both happened steadily throughout the entire 18-month recession, with unemployed persons increasing faster than job openings were declining.

The gap between them reached its apex in October 2009, when there were nearly 13 million more unemployed persons than job openings. It gradually closed over the next eight years, finally disappearing in January 2018. (You may remember this talking point from the Trump administration: We had more jobs than people to fill them.) Things had seemed to stabilize at a little over 1 million more job openings than unemployed persons.

Then the pandemic recession hit. The number of unemployed persons jumped from about 6 million in February 2020 to 23 million in April 2020. The number of job openings fell from 7 million to 4.5 million over the same span. That was normal recession behavior, direction-wise: The number of unemployed persons goes up, and the number of job openings goes down.

But things have snapped back in a very unusual way. By May 2021, only twelve months after the end of the pandemic recession, there were already more job openings than unemployed persons. What took 103 months after the Great Recession only took twelve months after the COVID recession. And the gap is already much larger than it was before the pandemic: There are almost 3 million more job openings than unemployed persons.

Two economists wrote about our unusual job market today, and their thoughts are worth your time.

Here’s Brad DeLong:

Recent data show that 3% of US workers – 4.4 million people – quit their jobs in September. That monthly quit rate is not only remarkably high; it is unheard of, especially given that the US employment-to-population ratio is still only 59.2%, almost two points below its February 2020 peak.

What is going on in the US labor market? In normal times, the current figures would suggest that America is dealing with a great shortage of jobs. And yet, workers’ outsized willingness to quit their jobs and look for something better indicates that these are not normal times.

There is a standard list of explanations for this so-called Great Resignation. One obvious factor is fear of COVID-19, especially among those who live with elderly or immunocompromised relatives. Low-wage workers do not want to log long hours in service-industry settings that require them to come into close contact with other people, not least the sizable share of the population that remains unvaccinated. . . .

One notable effect of the pandemic is that it has fueled a transformation of work and the workplace that either would have taken decades in the absence of the virus, or would never have happened at all. Consider, for example, the widespread shift to remote white-collar work; the rapid automation of substantial components of service work; or the transformation of retail – requiring many more delivery drivers and many fewer in-store sales workers.

These changes have brought a great deal of convenience to many consumers and employees. Suddenly, online tools are good enough that one need not shop in person to get a sense of a product’s quality. (And if a delivery isn’t what was expected, one can always return it.) The sectors affected by these changes will not be returning to the pre-pandemic status quo.

Here’s Arnold Kling:

My own perspective on the labor market is that the economy is unusually far from equilibrium. Prices and wages are too low, so that we have “shortages.” Relative wages and prices are out of alignment, so that we have temporary over-supply in some sectors and under-supply in others.

Think of the employees who prefer to not go into the workplace every day and whose employers learned during the pandemic that remote work and work-from-home can be managed. This “laptop class” has received what amounts to a windfall of non-monetary compensation.

But other workers have gotten a cut in non-monetary compensation. Their workloads have increased. They have suffered a loss of autonomy (having to wear masks, perform cleansing rituals, get tested regularly, etc.)

The divergence in non-monetary compensation has left labor markets out of equilibrium. To move toward equilibrium, monetary compensation for remote and work-from-home employees must fall relative to that of workers forced to engage in germaphobe theater. This adjustment will probably take place in an inflationary environment in which everyone’s pay goes up, but the workplace-bound get higher raises than the laptop class.

To move toward equilibrium, the price of shipping goods by truck will be much higher. That is what I infer when someone claims that there is a “shortage” of a few hundred thousand truck drivers. Some of the higher shipping prices will be passed through to truck drivers as higher pay, and perhaps more people will choose to become truck drivers as a result. But not a few hundred thousand more, which is what it would take to keep shipping prices from rising. . . .

We are seeing “the Great Resignation” because markets are out of equilibrium. Once wages and prices have adjusted upward, and once we see more workers in sectors where they are most wanted and fewer workers in sectors were there is relatively less need, the high quit rates and other peculiarities of today’s economy will fade.

Regardless, Andrew Stuttaford’s post from a few days ago seems right: The current jobs situation is not something that should be overly concerning for monetary policy and there’s “no reason to reverse the acceleration of the taper now advocated by the Fed.”

National Security & Defense

A Conservative Victory against the Push to Draft Women

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The Pentagon logo in the briefing room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., January 8, 2020 (Al Drago/Reuters)

The push to make women eligible for the draft in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act has likely failed, Politico reports:

Compromise defense policy legislation set to be filed Monday will not require women to register for a military draft, according to two people with knowledge of the negotiations, a stunning turnaround after the proposal gained bipartisan support in both the House and Senate this year.

Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees left the provision out of the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, despite the fact that both chambers’ bills would have expanded the Selective Service System beyond men.

Once considered an inevitable shoo-in, the initiative was killed at the last minute by conservatives like Senator Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), who sits on the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), who pushed for an amendment to remove the provision. New reports today suggest that the GOP may have traded a debt-ceiling hike to Democrats in exchange for killing the draft-women measure. All in all, that seems like a pretty good deal, given that the debt ceiling was likely going to be raised anyways.

Left-wing efforts to expand the draft to women — or to “expand the draft beyond men,” in the careful gender-inclusive wording of Politico — have gained momentum since the Pentagon made women eligible for all combat roles in 2015. The successful move to kill the measure is a victory for conservatives, and one worth celebrating. Republicans who supported — and continue to support — the idea that we should be drafting our mothers and daughters to war are misguided, as National Review’s editors have argued on multiple occasions. Not only would a conscription of women be imprudent, hurting our military readiness in the name of “social engineering” — it would be immoral. We should celebrate, rather than work to eliminate, the differences between men and women. A gender-inclusive draft would be one more step in the wrong direction in that regard. Kudos to the Republicans who recognized the importance of keeping the provision from becoming law.

Music

‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’: A Facile, Condescending Christmas Anthem

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In response to Yes, They Know It’s Christmas

Mark, you are totally right about the insufferability of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the Band Aid “classic” that haunts the Christmas airwaves every year with a haughty dose of celebrity condescension. I wrote about my distaste for the admittedly catchy song last Christmas, in an article titled “‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ Yes — So Stop Singing“: 

To understand why “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is so terrible, you should listen to the lyrics, even though the song’s slick and catchy structure can make it hard to really pay attention to them. The gist of the song is a juxtaposition guilt trip, contrasting an indifferent world of “light,” “plenty,” and “joy” — presumably, the world of most Western record-buyers — with the supposedly helpless suffering of the song’s subjects. (“Well tonight, thank God it’s them, instead of you!” as Bono sarcastically thunders.) It’s one thing to use guilt as an inducement; as a Catholic, I am well familiar with the power of that particular force. It’s another thing to milk a condescending stereotype, denying a whole continent not merely agency but also differentiation and even key facts about the way many of its inhabitants live.

Start with the physical descriptors of the continent of Africa in the song. It paints with such a broad brush as to suggest the entire landmass is like Arrakis, the desert planet in Dune, where water is so precious that spitting is considered a sign of respect and crying for the deceased is so rare that those who do it are thought to be honoring them by “giving water” to them. In the Band Aid version of Africa, it’s a land “where the only water flowing / Is the bitter sting of tears.” Just to make sure you get the point, the song also claims that Africa is a land “where nothing ever grows / No rain nor rivers flow.” It’s true that there are deserts in Africa, notably the Sahara, and that water access can be threatened by droughts and other factors. But the song seems to forget the existence of the Nile River (the world’s longest) and Lake Victoria, to name just two water bodies, not to mention the coastlines of many countries, and the varied landscapes of jungles, savannahs, mountains, and more. Some of the greatest civilizations in human history have managed to thrive in Africa both despite and because of its diverse features.

Consider also the song’s implicit cultural assessments. Because Christmas in Africa differs so significantly from Christmas in a wealthy Western country, the song suggests, the holiday there essentially cannot be meaningful. After all, “there won’t be any snow in Africa.” Setting aside the single-biome-planet mentality of these lyrics yet again, we can say with confidence that, in many places throughout the world, it’s more than possible to celebrate Christmas without snow. The songwriters seem oddly locked in to a precisely preconceived picture of what Christmas is supposed to look like.

Perhaps if the performers on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” were not all so fabulously successful, they’d have been better able to realize that Christmas is not defined by its weather, much less its material trappings, but rather by the immaterial goods the holiday reminds us of. Indeed, the question the song’s title poses is unintentionally funny, given that the powerful cultural presence of Christianity in Africa, particularly Ethiopia, is likely to make Africans even more capable of knowing it’s Christmas than many of the denizens of the materialist culture who contributed to the song.

This difference might explain what is by far the song’s biggest moral failing. Right in the middle of the stereotyped catalogue-of-miseries, hopeless-wasteland description of Africa (“And the Christmas bells that ring / There are the clanging chimes of doom”), some combination of celebrity voices intones the lyric, “The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life.” Paying enough attention to the song to actually hear those words for the first time was what led me to view this catchy ’80s synthpop Christmas song as more insidious than I had ever thought. The idea that any person, anywhere on earth, would not consider the greatest gift he gets each year to be life is so vapid and materialistic that only a group of celebrity musicians would dare to advance its opposite as a call to action. “Look at these poor Africans,” the song seems to say, lumping hundreds of millions of people into an undifferentiated, suffering mass, all of them in desperate need of the help that apparently only the musicians who recorded a charity single in the midst of an alcohol-and-drug-fueled bacchanal could provide.

You can read the whole thing here, to find, among other things, Morrissey’s pointed (and accurate) comments about the song.

Music

Yes, They Know It’s Christmas

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In response to The Very Worst Christmas Song

There’s a reason Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is played so frequently — it’s a great song. But my entry for the worst Christmas song is “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” recorded by U.K. and Irish singers coming together as Band Aid to raise money to alleviate famine in Ethiopia. While the sentiment was noble, the tune is awful. The worst thing about it, though, is the condescension. “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” Ethiopia converted to Christianity in the year of our Lord 330, half a century before the Roman Empire, when the Britannic and Hibernian ancestors of the singers were running around naked covered in blue paint — so, yeah, they’re fully aware it’s Christmas time. What’s more, the Ethiopian Church celebrates Christmas according to the Julian calendar, on January 7, meaning the twelve days of Christmas in the West are over before Christmas time even begins in Ethiopia. And the Ethiopian famine of the early 1980s wasn’t a matter of “Where nothing ever grows / No rain nor rivers flow” — it was caused, like most famines of the past 100 years, but Communist tyranny.

The Economy

Attacking Innovation

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Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Senate Budget Committee’s hearing to examine President Biden’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2022, June 8, 2021. (Shawn Thew/Pool via Reuters)

Bernie Sanders tweeting earlier this week:

This is obscene. Last week, 8 investors in Pfizer and Moderna became $10 billion richer as news about the Omicron variant spread. It’s time for these pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccines with the world and start controlling their greed. Enough is enough!

I checked to see what Sanders had tweeted in the early weeks of November, when the Moderna share price fell from roughly $345 on November 2 to some $229 on November 10. Oddly enough, he made no comment on the sell-off. Even today, the stock (at about $274) is still well below its highs of earlier in the year (some $413). The Pfizer stock has done rather better of late but fell by nearly 20 percent between mid August and mid September.

Markets are markets, and there’s a limit to how much of a conclusion can be drawn from the movement of a stock price on a short-term basis.

Besides, who is to judge what is “obscene”? Not, perhaps, someone who, in the past, has expressed at least some admiration for the USSR.

Pharmaceutical companies are certainly not angels, but it should be remembered that the super profits they make on some products also have to cover the cost of drugs on which they have spent a fortune but that fail to live up to the hope their development teams once had for them.

It should also be remembered that incentives work. I am unconvinced that Sanders is the right person to decide what represents “too much” of an incentive. Moreover, for all the profits that some companies have made from the vaccines, by limiting, however imperfectly, the damage caused by the virus, the financial value (and that includes jobs) they have preserved is far, far greater. There is also the small matter of all those lives saved . . .

Meanwhile, there’s this from Jonathan Bydlak, writing in Spectator World:

One aspect of the [Build Back Better] bill, however, has attracted far less fanfare than it should have: its impact on the cost of prescription drugs.

Provisions in the bill would, among other things, impose rebates on drug manufacturers if prices rise faster than inflation. It’s an idea that sounds great in the current moment of creeping inflation, but is ultimately little more than a market distortion likely to produce an array of adverse consequences.

A new University of Chicago study looked at the impact of the bill on “innovation and patient health” and found that BBB would reduce spending on drug research and development by “about 18.5 percent.” It concludes that such a reduction might limit research and development, potentially leading to 135 fewer new drugs.

Perhaps most damning, the study also concluded that the corresponding drop in drug production would result in a loss of 331.5 million life years — a number 31 times larger than the life years lost in the United States as a result of COVID-19. That’s presumably not the outcome that Democrats had in mind . . .

Bydlack also goes on to explain how the proposed price regime could mess up the supply of generic drugs. That’s a different topic, but one worth watching too. Be sure to follow the links that he includes in the article, such as to this piece in Stat:

Policymakers are also seeking to apply to brands, and misguidedly to generics, in the Medicare Part D program and commercial plans a penalty if their prices rise faster than the rate of inflation. The so-called inflation-based rebate disproportionately harms the low-cost generic drugs on which seniors rely because it applies a penalty based on the percentage that a price increase exceeds inflation; meaning that a 1 cent increase on a 20 cent pill could trigger a penalty for the generic manufacturer. And manufacturers could also be penalized because of changes in downstream purchaser behavior, even if the manufacturer does not increase the price.

The imposition of these penalties in Medicare Part D and the commercial market would further compound a mistake Congress made when it applied inflation penalties to generic drugs in Medicaid. This makes it more difficult for older generics with very low prices, which may be the only option available for patients, to stay on the market. It would thus increase the likelihood of drug shortages for seniors and the nation’s most vulnerable patients, a phenomenon recognized by FDA’s drug shortage task force and reports from outside experts. It represents another challenge to the long-term sustainability of an industry that consistently delivers lower costs and generates great value in health care…

Law & the Courts

Courts Divide, with Another Defeat Today, on Biden Mandates

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President Joe Biden receives his coronavirus booster vaccination at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

There have been a lot of court losses thus far for Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates, most of them grounded in the absence of statutory authority for rule by executive-agency orders. Today’s example comes from R. Stan Baker, a Trump-appointed district judge in the Southern District of Georgia, who joined the Eastern District of Kentucky in enjoining the mandate on federal contractors. Judge Baker found that the mandate would “have a major impact on the economy at large” and “appears to have vast economic and political significance,” and that under the administration’s “logic and reasoning, the Procurement Act would be construed to give the President the right to impose virtually any kind of requirement on businesses that wish to contract with the Government (and, thereby, on those businesses’ employees) so long as he determines it could lead to a healthier and thus more efficient workforce or it could reduce absenteeism.” Judge Baker’s injunction, in a case brought by the states of Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia, applies nationwide, raising again the contentious question of the standing of individual states to pursue, and the power of individual judges to order, nationwide injunctions.

Biden got better news yesterday, as a divided panel of the Eleventh Circuit upheld the mandate for health-care workers in facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid against a challenge filed by the state of Florida. The court divided on lines of party appointment: two Obama appointees, Jill Pryor and Robin Rosenbaum, sided with Biden, while Barbara Lagoa dissented. Judge Lagoa, a Trump appointee previously made a judge by Jeb Bush and elevated to the Florida supreme court by Ron DeSantis, was sometimes discussed as a potential Supreme Court nominee in 2020. The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling conflicts with decisions on the Medicare/Medicaid mandate in Louisiana (which is in the Fifth Circuit) and Missouri (which is in the Eighth Circuit), thus ratcheting up the likelihood of a circuit split that would effectively compel the Supreme Court to hear the case. One ground the Eleventh Circuit majority cited for even hearing the case was that it believed that the court in Louisiana erred in entering a nationwide injunction:

The Louisiana order offers no reason why, as a constitutional, statutory, or practical matter, the interim rule cannot be in effect in some states but not others. Nor could we think of any good reason. Quite simply, this does not appear to be one of those “rare” situations where a nationwide injunction is warranted or even justifiable. For those reasons, it seemed to us an eminently “reasonable expectation” that, at the very least, the nationwide aspect of the Louisiana injunction would be eliminated, and Florida would be subject to the interim rule upon its taking effect on December 6.

The majority concluded — and it may have a better argument in this statutory context than those of some of the other mandates — that

the Secretary has express statutory authority to require facilities voluntarily participating in the Medicare or Medicaid programs to meet health and safety standards to protect patients. Based on this statutory authority, the Secretary was authorized to promulgate the interim rule. In both the Medicare and Medicaid statutes, Congress authorized the Secretary to set standards to protect the health and safety of patients. . . . The regulation reasonably, perhaps necessarily, covers all employees who work at these facilities as a health and safety measure because if any one of them has COVID19 and is present at the facility, she can spread it to the patients, whether directly or indirectly through other employees . . . when it comes to vaccination mandates, there was no reason for Congress to be more specific than authorizing the Secretary to make regulations for the “health and safety” of Medicare and Medicaid recipients. To suggest otherwise would mean that Congress had to have anticipated both the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented politicization of the disease to regulate vaccination against it.

Notably, however, the majority drew this conclusion from an analogy to Supreme Court precedent from 1905 upholding state vaccination mandates aimed at the general public:

The federal government’s authority to impose the interim rule’s vaccine requirement derives from the Spending Clause. . . . When a facility, even one operated by a State, voluntarily chooses to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs and receives federal funding for services provided to beneficiaries, the facility must comply with the federal law. And, as we explained above, Congress unambiguously conditioned the payment of funds under the Medicare and Medicaid programs to facilities that comply with “health and safety standards” set by the Secretary.

Give me a place to stand, said Archimedes of his lever, and I will move the world. If only he had the federal spending power! Judge Lagoa, in dissent, noted the breadth of the mandate as a reason to question whether the statute really gave the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) such broad powers: “The mandate applies to a wide range of people including employees, trainees, students, volunteers, and contractors who provide any care, treatment, or other services for the facility.” She also focused on the bypassing of normal procedures without a good cause to invoke an emergency:

The mandate was announced two months before it was issued by CMS, and the mandate itself does not take effect until one month after the issuance date. Moreover, vaccines have been available to healthcare workers for nearly a year before the issuance of the mandate, and the Delta variant has been spreading in the United States for months, yet CMS took no action. Additionally, in the explanation of the mandate, CMS itself concedes that it could have acted earlier—almost a year earlier—but chose not to. . . . And what’s more, CMS has previously issued five interim final rules “to help contain the spread of [COVID-19]” since its onset—none of which included a vaccine mandate. . . . These facts alone cast significant doubt on the agency’s claim of an increased urgency justifying abandoning the notice and comment requirement. Indeed, CMS gave itself more time to issue the mandate after the President announced it was coming than it gave participating facilities to meet its terms. CMS’s own regulation establishes a lack of urgency on its part, either demonstrating that the situation is not so dire as it claims, or that it created the urgency by its own delay. Finally, as the agency concedes, “newly reported COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have begun to trend downward at a national level.”

As I have noted before, the combination of foot-dragging in issuing these mandates with the use of emergency procedures is a self-inflicted wound that may continue to haunt the administration in these cases.

Capital Matters

Silver Linings on Supply Chains

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Container ship at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif., September 29, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

In a time when supply chains are in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, what are some silver linings?

In a webinar today sponsored by supply-chain tech company FourKites, panelists discussed that topic, and there is some cause for optimism.

The consensus: Supply chains are getting more attention than ever before, and with that attention comes a demand for improvement.

Audrey Ross, a logistics and customs specialist for Toronto-based cosmetics company Orchard Custom Beauty, said that the supply-chain crisis has accelerated improvements in her company’s supply-chain processes. “When you get into these tense and challenging situations, you can see, ‘This is not working,'” she said.

That phenomenon is not unusual, according to Chris Stauber, vice president of products at FourKites. “The good news is supply chain and logistics now has a seat at the table. The bad news is now you’re under the microscope,” he said. Inefficient processes that were skating by before the pandemic are now front-and-center, and it has become imperative that they be improved.

Peter Tirschwell, Journal of Commerce editor, had a similar assessment. “A shock of this magnitude and the kind of existential importance to organizations has brought all metrics to the attention of the C-suite,” he said.

The demand for what the industry calls “end-to-end visibility” has grown significantly. Much of the logistics industry is still run on legacy technology. Live updates of where shipments are located can often be hard to come by. There are many opportunities to digitize operations so that everyone involved in a shipment can be on the same page throughout the shipment’s journey.

Stauber said the question at the forefront of many executives’ minds is: “Can you deal with this level of complexity with manual processes?” He pointed out that shipping freight by sea is one of the oldest industries in the world, and many aspects of it have failed to keep up with new technology. Ocean shipments, for example, are still normally booked over the phone.

The downsides of manual processes were a lesson many businesses learned from the pandemic. “COVID taught us that because we couldn’t go into the office and exchange papers the way we did before,” Stauber said.

Ross said that for the first time in her career, customers have been consistently asking her where the boat carrying their products is. Often, she can’t give them a satisfactory answer because the information just isn’t there, she said.

“Demand for true visibility has never been higher,” Tirschwell said. “The market wants it, there’s no question about it.”

The question is whether it will happen. With the price of shipping containers skyrocketing this year, ocean lines (which are usually not very profitable) have reaped windfall profits. Reinvesting those profits into improving visibility would be beneficial to the entire industry. But challenges remain in collecting data and actually making the improvements. “I think it’s a wide open question right now whether that investment is going to happen and whether this true visibility will be achievable,” Tirschwell said.

Ross said companies are asking new questions that they hadn’t considered before. She said most supply-chain models are based on the just-in-time model pioneered by Toyota. It has proved successful, but businesses like hers might have different supply-chain needs than car companies. “I think people are realizing that the customization we’ve done to our products is now something we have to do internally to our supply chains,” she said.

Tirschwell said larger companies have been able to make changes and try new things, but it’s been harder on smaller companies. “For those organizations that were able to marshal the scale and creativity, there’s been really incredible entrepreneurialism. . . . For smaller shippers it has been much, much harder, even to the point that business models that depended on prior ocean freight economics over the past few decades are being called into question,” he said.

Those business models are going to come under increased scrutiny since supply-chain costs have begun to make up a larger proportion of a product’s total cost, said Stauber. “There’s an emphasis and a focus now that there’s never been before,” he said. With that emphasis comes strong incentives for improvement.

Stauber sees the most room for improvement in the area of metrics. Businesses are only as good as the metrics they have to work with, and there aren’t enough in the logistics industry right now. FourKites is trying to change that, Stauber said.

He pointed to a new metric called DOTIF as an example. OTIF means “on time and in full,” and it’s the most important metric to many shippers. But it doesn’t provide much specificity as to what parts of the shipping process are causing delays. DOTIF means “documentation on time and in full,” and it lets shippers know whether documentation is what’s holding up shipments (which it often can). Stauber sees the increase in data as a silver lining.

Tirschwell also sees lots of low-hanging fruit for reforms. He said, “Over the past year since the pandemic began, the amount of work that has been required to get freight through the system has gone up astronomically, and in most cases the amount of staff to do that work has not gone up.” In ordinary times, hindrances like inefficient communication are tolerable annoyances, but now things such as email and spreadsheets are urgent areas for improvement, Tirschwell said.

What’s the prognosis for shipping? Tirschwell said that “there are pockets of positive news,” but “the fact remains: The entire system has no give to it whatsoever.” He said that with so much capacity tied up in the extraordinary volume of containers, the “circulatory system required to move containerized cargo” is unable to function properly. On top of that, he said, “There is no significant reduction in the number of ships waiting to berth at LA/Long Beach.”

He said between the Chinese new year coming up in February, consumers still flush with cash, and no sign of a return to normal spending patterns, “the system only has a few months next year to right-size itself before another onslaught of holiday purchasing.” He sees problems persisting through the end of next year.

“The message we have is unfortunately that there is not a great deal of evidence out there that this supply-chain crisis is about to ease,” Tirschwell said.

While short-term forecasts don’t look rosy, there’s cause for long-term optimism. The pandemic has exposed how inefficient American supply chains have always been. Businesses are realizing the importance of supply chains and making record investments in new technology to get things back on track.

As Rich Lowry wrote in October, “It’s beyond the power of any one person to change this anytime soon, but trying to scrape off as many of these encumbrances as possible should be a national priority.” Private businesses have been scraping off those encumbrances right from the start, and insofar as this crisis has highlighted what those encumbrances are, it can have salutary effects in the long run.

Sports

Trans Swimmer Makes a Splash

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I have a piece on the homepage about the trans-identifying male swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who has been allowed to shatter records in female competition.

I never know what to make of it when I happen to agree with Piers Morgan on an issue — but, in any case, his piece discussing the swimmer controversy is a good read.

Film & TV

Was Alec Baldwin’s Interview a PR Mistake?

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Legal experts have suggested that Alec Baldwin’s decision to sit down with George Stephanopoulos for ABC News may have been a mistake. It may also have been a PR mistake. Since the interview, both he and his wife have deleted their Twitter accounts.

It’s understandable that Baldwin, who was holding the prop gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza on the movie set of Rust last month, wanted to get his side of the story before the public. However, at points, his agitation came across as defensiveness. And despite his insistence that he is not the victim, his high emotions during the interview meant that a considerable amount of time was spent discussing his feelings.

Like Kyle Smith, I feel sorry for the guy. There can be few more gut-wrenching feelings than accidentally causing someone’s death. But by speaking to the press before being officially cleared, Baldwin may have only made matters worse for himself.

Law & the Courts

Poll: Americans Continue to Misunderstand Roe

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An anti-abortion demonstrator holds an issue of National Review, End Roe, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Anthony Bolognese, Capitol Hill Photo)

A new Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey, released exclusively to The Hill, finds that most Americans disagree with the status quo on abortion policy created by Roe v. Wade. But, of course, The Hill is headlining its coverage of the poll by highlighting that a majority of Americans (54 percent) say they oppose overturning Roe.

The very same poll found that a majority of Americans supports moving the viability threshold to 15 weeks’ gestation. When told that Roe permits abortion until viability, marked at 24 weeks, 56 percent said they support either overturning the decision or limiting abortions to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. These outcomes are impossible unless Roe is overturned.

What are we to make of such a polling outcome? I wrote an in-depth piece about public opinion and abortion for our recent special issue of the magazine and argued that, while many Americans tend to instinctively say they support Roe, a majority supports restricting abortion in ways that are impossible under Roe, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

This becomes glaringly obvious if you study even the smallest amount of opinion polling on abortion. A Fox News poll from September, for example, found that 65 percent of Americans oppose reversing Roe v. Wade, compared with 28 percent who want the decision overturned. Absurdly, the same survey found that Americans were perfectly split on whether abortion should be legal, tied at 49 percent.

Plenty of Americans, in other words, both want abortion to be illegal and want to preserve the ruling that makes it impossible to prohibit abortion. This is possible only if some sizable number of Americans simply doesn’t understand what Roe and Casey meant for abortion policy. Polling questions about Roe, in other words, have long outlived their usefulness, if they were ever useful at all.

Judging from these odd discrepancies in survey responses, it’s fair to say that many Americans, when asked whether they want Roe overturned, seem to hear something more like, “Do you want women to be able to obtain abortions at least in some limited set of circumstances and early in pregnancy?” It is interesting, though, that this recent poll found a far slimmer majority in favor of Roe than polling usually finds — 54 percent to 46 percent who want to see Roe overturned.

Editor’s Note: This post has been amended since its initial publication.

Health Care

So Is the North Now a Death Cult?

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A man signs up to take a COVID-19 test at a mobile testing van at Herald Square in New York City, March 16, 2021. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

I’m a little puzzled by the lack of coordinated outrage at the North for allowing the coronavirus to wreak havoc. The worst ten states for cases today are, per the New York Times:

  1. New Hampshire
  2. Michigan
  3. Minnesota
  4. Rhode Island
  5. Vermont
  6. New Mexico
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Indiana
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Ohio

Deaths lag cases, of course, so those aren’t the top ten states for deaths yet, but . . . what gives? Clearly, the Northern states are running a “death cult” because they “don’t take the virus seriously” and “are allowing unchecked spread” that will kill us all, if we don’t engage in an organized campaign to sanction and ostracize these dangerous disease-spreading hicks via barrages of furious op-eds. Although it’s probably all Tucker Carlson and Joe Rogan’s fault for spreading disinformation. Isn’t that how this works?

Immigration

Go Figure: A Secure Border Increases Support for Legal Immigration!

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A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks out over Tijuana, Mexico from the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Diego, Calif., February 2, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

William Saletan spotlights a research paper which concludes that:

Allocating more government resources to border security increases desired levels of immigration. This effect is likely driven by a sense of control over immigration, induced by border security measures even when the number or characteristics of immigrants remain unchanged. Our findings suggest that border controls, which are widely considered as symbols of closure and isolation, can promote openness to immigration.

To quote the old Vulcan proverb, “Only Nixon could go to China.”

The first governors to push criminal-justice reforms through were Republicans such as Rick Perry, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal — and they likely succeeded because no one thought of them as “soft on crime.” Welfare reform only became law at the federal level when Bill Clinton, a Democrat, admitted it was needed.

If you want a particular policy goal — “change policy X” — the need for change is most compelling when it comes from a person who is traditionally a defender of policy X. And that defender of policy X will be trusted to implement changes in a way that a traditional critic of policy X will not.

If Democrats want a country that wholeheartedly welcomes and embraces legal immigrants, they should embrace border security in as many effective forms as possible. And if Republicans want a secure border, they should rebuke any public expressions of xenophobia or suggestions that legal immigrants are somehow not “real” Americans.

History

Infamy at 80

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Sailors stand amid wrecked planes at the Ford Island seaplane base as the destroyer USS Shaw explodes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. (U.S. Navy/National Archives/Handout via Reuters )

Eighty years ago today, out of the clear blue sky of an Oahu Sunday morning, the navy of the Empire of Japan launched a pre-emptive surprise attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in what was then the territory of Hawaii. The attack commenced at 7:48 a.m. local time, which was mid-day on the East Coast. Before Pearl Harbor’s defenses could be roused — there had been a party the night before, as nobody expected trouble — Japanese planes descended raining bombs; 2,335 Americans were killed in a war in which they thought their country was still neutral. The dead were mostly sailors, half of them on the USS Arizona, one of four battleships sunk that morning. The Imperial Japanese Navy lost 64 men. It was, as Franklin D. Roosevelt branded it, “a day that will live in infamy.” The infamy lives on.

Pearl Harbor has, like many such pivotal turning points, attracted its share of controversies:

  • Japan attacked without advance notice, and only delivered its notification of breaking off diplomatic talks after the battle had started. That notice was lengthy and delayed in translation and transmission. Was the delay just a foul-up, or did elements of the Japanese government purposely seek to catch Americans entirely by surprise?
  • FDR was tightening the screws on Japan, including an oil embargo imposed in the summer of 1941. He was increasingly pushing the United States towards more involvement in the war in Europe. Did the U.S. government know more about the looming Japanese threat than it let on from the fragmentary intelligence it had available? Did it share some responsibility for the onset of war, or was it at least negligent in not having Pearl Harbor on higher alert?
  • Was Japan’s war with the United States, which proved ruinous, avoidable, such that Pearl Harbor should be seen as a catastrophic mistake? Or was a confrontation inevitable — and if so, was the military advantage of a surprise attack outweighed by the cost of convincing the world that Japan was wholly in the wrong?
  • Was Nazi Germany foolhardy in declaring war on the U.S. immediately in solidarity with its Japanese ally, or would FDR have been able to get Congress to add a declaration of war against Hitler as well?
  • Was it necessary for the Japanese Navy to retreat from the scene so quickly, having failed to destroy the American carrier fleet or the fuel tanks at Pearl Harbor?

The historical what-ifs and who-knew-what-and-whens, however, are beside the point to the instant, world-changing impact of the battle. Japan’s war in Asia, already four years old, suddenly took on a dramatic new character. American public opinion was galvanized, with recruiting stations mobbed the next day and dissent from the decision to join the war having all but evaporated in a day. American thirst for retribution against Japan was not satisfied until the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Few of the victors at Pearl Harbor lived to see the end of the war. Four of the six Japanese aircraft carriers involved in the attack were sunk or permanently disabled at the Battle of Midway seven months later. The attack’s architect, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, was shot down by American planes in April 1943. The fifth carrier, the Shōkaku, was torpedoed and sunk in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. The sixth carrier, the Zuikaku, was sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. The bulk of the Japanese pilots were lost with their carriers or shot down in combat.

With Bob Dole’s death at age 98 on Sunday, the generation that fought the Second World War has almost entirely left us. Dole was the most prominent combat veteran of the war still living; a few others remain, such as Henry Kissinger, Mel Brooks, and James Buckley. Col. Edward Shames, the last of the “Band of Brothers” of the 101st Airborne immortalized by Stephen Ambrose and the HBO series, died Friday at 99. The number of living Pearl Harbor veterans is dwindling. Even the people with living memories of the war from their childhoods have been departing in their eighties and nineties. Before long, the war will have entirely departed living memory. But the infamy will remain.

VIEW GALLERY: Pearl Harbor Attack

Music

The Very Worst Christmas Song

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In response to ‘All I Want for Christmas’

Kevin and Kyle have offered their thoughts on the worst Christmas songs. (The most overrated Christmas pop song is the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” but then, even the angelic Kirsty McColl can’t save Shane McGowan’s voice.) Of course, almost anything can become cloying, or at least lose its zing, after enough repetition.  I suspect that is what grates at people with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” It truly is one of the greatest Christmas songs ever written, even if it is a knockoff of the greatest such song, Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Repetition is especially a problem for a song that is already extremely repetitive – Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” would be a lovely piece of Paul pop if it was a minute long, but 3:46 of that same thing over and over is excessive; if you hear that song more than once in a month, it is an assault.

The worst Christmas standard, in my view, is “Santa Baby,” which in the hands of any number of singers is customarily performed as a sort of cooing sexual come-on to…Santa Claus, a posture that is in equal parts cringeworthy and degrading to the singer. The Madonna version, predictably, may be the nadir of this genre.

But until this year, I had not known the dreadful manipulative horror that is “The Christmas Shoes.” I am a big fan of sad songs generally, but the fact that this song succeeds in jerking your tears is an indictment of its grave, heavy-handed derailment of whatever Christmas joy you may have been experiencing:

Economy & Business

Green Jobs (or Not): Update

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Charging station for Buick’s electric vehicles at the Shanghai Auto Show in Shanghai, China, in 2019. (Aly Song/Reuters)

I’ve never been — how to put this — entirely convinced that the “sustainable” economy is going to be quite the jobs machine that its proponents like to claim. It’ll be good for regulators, and it will be a bonanza for the consultants who will be hired to guide companies through the maze that the regulators will create. But other than that, the case for job creation is . . . unclear. To take a key example, as currently envisaged, the transition away from fossil fuels is almost certain to increase the cost of energy (and, in all likelihood, decrease its reliability). That is not an obvious recipe for job creation.

Nor, for that matter, is severely constraining (or even phasing out) entire industries. Of course, some — maybe even many — new jobs will be required in replacement technologies, but will there be enough of them to replace the jobs that are going to be lost, and how well will they pay?

I’ve written before about this topic here and here in not the most optimistic way, and now from Joe Miller, in the Financial Times, there’s this:

Half a million jobs would be at risk under EU plans to effectively ban combustion-engine cars by 2035, according to European auto suppliers, the latest in a series of stark warnings about the costs of a rapid transition to emissions-free technology.

More than two-thirds of those 501,000 roles would disappear in the five years before that date, according to a poll of almost 100 companies for the European Association of Automotive Suppliers, Clepa, making it difficult to mitigate the “social and economic impacts” caused by mass unemployment.

Of course, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers may be assumed to be somewhat biased when it comes to this topic. Nevertheless, they ought to know what they are talking about. To be sure, not all the entries on the ledger are negative. PwC (as it happens, a company investing heavily in sustainability-related consultancy) has, according to the FT, estimated that 226,000 new jobs will be created in electric-parts manufacturing, thus reducing the net toll, but even so . . .

Part of the problem with the Paris-model transition is the speed, at least in the EU (and, elsewhere), at which it is being pushed through — and not just in the auto sector — without any regard to markets or economic reality. In this, it is not so different from other strikingly ambitious exercises in central planning, exercises which have a way of ending very badly.

Meanwhile, via Reuters (December 1):

Stellantis NV Chief Executive Carlos Tavares said external pressure on automakers to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles potentially threatens jobs and vehicle quality as producers struggle to manage the higher costs of building EVs.

Governments and investors want car manufacturers to speed up the transition to electric vehicles, but the costs are “beyond the limits” of what the auto industry can sustain, Tavares said in an interview at the Reuters Next conference released Wednesday.

“What has been decided is to impose on the automotive industry electrification that brings 50% additional costs against a conventional vehicle,” he said.

“There is no way we can transfer 50% of additional costs to the final consumer because most parts of the middle class will not be able to pay.”

Automakers could charge higher prices and sell fewer cars, or accept lower profit margins, Tavares said. Those paths both lead to cutbacks. Union leaders in Europe and North America have warned tens of thousands of jobs could be lost.

Automakers need time for testing and ensuring that new technology will work, Tavares said. Pushing to speed that process up “is just going to be counter productive. It will lead to quality problems. It will lead to all sorts of problems,” . . .

As a reminder, Stellantis is the company formed by the merger of Peugeot and Fiat-Chrysler. Mr. Tavares too may be biased, but he also undoubtedly knows what he is talking about.

The FT’s Miller notes that Tavares’s warning

followed a similar claim from Germany’s largest listed car parts supplier, Continental, which cautioned that “social harmony would be jeopardised” if climate policies were not accompanied by programmes to create new employment opportunities for those working in fossil fuel-reliant industries.

Quite how these new employment opportunities will be “created” is not immediately clear.

World

Olympic Boycott Highlights Corporate Capitulation to Beijing

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A man walks past a board with logos for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games at a souvenir shop under renovation in Beijing, China, January 29, 2021. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Washington’s diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics is now official. There’s ample reason to question whether the Biden administration has gone far enough to push back against what’s sure to be a Chinese Communist Party propaganda event and to ensure that U.S. athletes and journalists are not subjected to Beijing’s hostage-diplomacy tactics. This is a debate that’ll play out for the next three months, but what’s most immediately obvious is where this leaves corporate sponsors of the 2022 games.

Intel, Visa, Airbnb, Coca-Cola, P&G, and others are bankrolling an event that party officials are using to bolster their international legitimacy and deflect from the ongoing mass atrocities they’re perpetrating in China.

Now, these Beijing 2022 sponsors are also sponsoring an event that’s being boycotted by the U.S. government over “the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” as White House press secretary Jen Psaki put it earlier today.

These firms have already taken some very public hits, such as when executives testified before a congressional panel in July, making themselves the public faces of corporate America’s apologetics for the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide. As I wrote at the time:

[Coke’s Paul] Lalli and his counterparts from other prominent U.S. companies — Airbnb’s David Holyoke, Intel’s Steven Rodgers, Procter & Gamble’s Sean Mulvaney, and Visa’s Andrea Fairchild — became overnight the living embodiments of one of the most disturbing new trends in American capitalism.

If you Google “Beijing Olympics sponsors,” the vast majority of the top results feature some scrutiny of the decision to stick with sponsorship despite the overwhelming evidence of systematic crimes against humanity carried out per orders from general secretary Xi Jinping.

The executives atop these companies are going out of their way to deflect criticism of the party’s atrocities, whether they do so explicitly or not. They’re sticking with the games, even though the U.S. government is staying home.

There’s been a lot of energy behind congressional efforts to make companies answer for their sponsorship of the Beijing Olympics. The sponsors endured a public-relations crisis during the Congressional Executive Commission on China hearing this summer, and there’s more oversight activity in the works. But if Congress and the administration get serious about building a regulatory regime to deal with this sort of malfeasance, these companies might have more to worry about than bruising headlines.

History

How Common Was Abortion in the Past?

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A pro-life demonstrator holds up a mock human fetus, as groups chant over one another outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 4, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Gretchen Sisson has contributed to the recent genre of op-eds about how outrageous it was for Justice Amy Coney Barrett to refer positively to adoption during last week’s oral argument. A lot of pro-lifers have commented on this argument already, so here I’ll just note that Sisson’s history is at least overconfident.

She writes:

Though it’s difficult to ascertain exact figures from the time, my colleague Carole Joffe, who has studied the history of providing abortion pre-Roe, has identified annual abortion estimates developed throughout the 1950s and 60s that range from 200,000 to 1.3 million . . . . Abortion is, and always has been, a common experience.”

“Always has been” is a strong claim, and there is reason to doubt it, ranging from the extreme danger of methods of abortion to mothers before modern scientific developments to the widespread practice of infanticide and child abandonment in many societies.

Joffe, meanwhile, is repeating a tentative claim advanced in a committee report based on a 1955 Planned Parenthood conference. That report said that “a plausible estimate of the frequency of induced abortion in the United States could be as low as 200,000 and as high as 1,200,000 per year,” and also that “there is no objective basis for the selection of a particular figure between these two estimates.” (Sisson’s “1.3 million” appears to be a typo; Joffe quotes the report accurately.)

Researchers in the 1950s cannot reasonably be faulted for their inability to generate better numbers. But this range, and especially the high end of it, is not plausible. Numbers from the 1970s are more reliable. The Alan Guttmacher Institute estimated 745,000 abortions in 1973, 899,000 abortions in 1974, and continually rising numbers through 1990. If there had been 1.2 million abortions in the mid 1950s, it would have meant that the number of abortions fell substantially during a period in which sexual mores were rapidly liberalizing, the population was expanding, abortion was becoming safer for mothers because of antibiotics, and activists were campaigning to legalize abortion — and got their way nationwide. Much more plausible is that the number of abortions had increased in the years before Roe, especially as some states liberalized the law, and then rose more afterward. It is well past time to throw out the 1955 numbers, which look more like wild guesses than estimates.

Religion

If You Don’t Know about Fr. Alfred Delp, You’ll Want to Encounter Him This Advent

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(Kathryn Jean Lopez)

Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., is joining me for an Advent conversation Tuesday at 2 p.m. via Zoom. We are both reading Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings, 1941-1977, from Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., who was preacher and leader of the resistance before he was martyred by the Nazis. Even while imprisoned, he managed to write powerful mediations on joy among other things — specifically during the Advent season. The book includes these writings and sermons from his time as rector at Georg Church in Munich.

If you are not familiar with him, I know you are far from alone, which is why we want to talk about him. Here’s a taste of what was on his heart while in Tegel Prison in December 1944:

In order to be capable of true life, man must live according to a specific order and relationship to God. The capability of true joy and of living joyfully is itself dependent upon specific conditions of human life, upon particular attitudes regarding God. Where life does not perceive itself as taking place in community with God, it will be gray and gloomy and drab and calculating.

How should we live so that we are capable—or can become capable—of true joy? This question should occupy us more today than it has in the past. Man should take joy as seriously as he takes himself. And he should believe in himself, believe in his heart and in his Lord God, even through darkness and distress—that he is created for joy. This really means that we are created for a life that knows itself to be blessed, sent and touched at its deepest center by God Himself.

He goes on to write about five conditions for true joy and the capability of joy. This is what is on his mind as he faced possible torture and certain death and the possibility, too, that the Nazis could win.

I know Fr. Cameron has been using some Delp in some of his Advent homilies — and has for years — and I have little doubt you will appreciate the conversation, especially if you are looking for a little inspiration for your Advent.

RSVP to join us live here.

Law & the Courts

Will Dobbs End Roe?

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(NRI)

I noted today and over the weekend that many people who don’t work in commentary or law or public policy haven’t had a chance to really take a look at what happened at the Supreme Court last week in the Mississippi abortion case. So National Review Institute is teaming up with the Ethics and Public Policy Center on Tuesday (tomorrow) at 2 p.m. Eastern to talk about what we saw and heard last week at the Court. National Review’s and EPPC’s Alexandra DeSanctis, Carrie Severino from the Judicial Crisis Network, and Ryan T. Anderson from EPPC will join me in conversation. You can join live and ask questions via Zoom if you RSVP here. It will also be available after on National Review Institute’s YouTube page.

World

Why Did It Take So Long to Announce the U.S. Diplomatic Boycott of the Olympics?

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., December 6, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing that the Biden administration announced today has lost some of its already meager impact because it took so long for the Biden team to make it official.

On November 16, the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin broke the story that neither President Biden nor any other U.S. government officials will attend the Beijing Games back on November 16. Two days later, Biden said a diplomatic boycott “was something we’re considering.”

And then not much happened on the U.S. side for more than a week, giving the Chinese Foreign Ministry and state-run media time to announce that U.S. political leaders were not welcome at the Olympic Games. On November 29, the state-run Global Times reported, “China never plans to invite US and Western politicians who hype the boycott topic to attend the Games.” Earlier today, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian argued that “the protagonists of the Beijing Winter Olympics are athletes from various countries, not individual politicians… No one cares if they come or not.”

(I am reminded of this Clickhole headline.)

So today, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Biden officials would not attend an event… that they had been effectively disinvited from attending.

That will show Xi Jinping!

Music

What’s the Worst Christmas Song?

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People dressed as Santa Claus sing Christmas songs during the annual meeting of the Rent-a-Santa Claus service in Berlin, Germany, November 28, 2021. (Christian Mang/Reuters)

In response to ‘All I Want for Christmas’

Kevin weighs in with his picks. I used to say “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” but they don’t play it that much anymore, at least not within my listening radius. The last couple of years, the one that has really set my teeth on edge is “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by 13-year-old Brenda Lee. I maintain that “Wonderful Christmastime,” by Paul McCartney, is not that bad. I do not stan for it, but it’s perfectly pleasant and does not cause me to want to change the station immediately. It’s . . . okay.

Tip for the season: Go on Spotify and check out their selection of “Sad Christmas” and “Lonely Christmas” playlists. This tends greatly to reduce the flow of treacle. But I do like “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” mainly because it was so great in the Christmas rom-com of all rom-coms.

Energy & Environment

So Much for That ‘Immediate’ Relief on Gasoline Prices

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Gas prices at an Exxon gas station in Brooklyn, N.Y., November 23, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

On November 24, one day after President Biden announced the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.39.

Biden characterized the the release from the reserve  as “a tool matched to today’s specific economic environment, where markets expect future oil prices to be lower than they are today, and helps provide relief to Americans immediately and bridge to that period of expected lower oil prices.”

It has been almost two weeks, and as of this morning, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.358 – a decline of a bit more than three cents.

Someone call up the DCCC, so they can make another chart!

Politics & Policy

Let’s Play: Kamala Harris or Donald Trump?

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Left: Then Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) speaks to reporters during a break at the impeachment trial of then President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2020. Right: Former president Donald Trump speaks at CPAC in Orlando, Fla., February 28, 2021. (Joshua Roberts, Octavio Jones/Reuters)

In response to A Brutal Washington Post Story on Kamala Harris

John — reading through the Washington Post’s story on Kamala Harris, I wondered if Hasbro ought to mass-produce a board game in time for Christmas called, Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 

Some sample questions:

  1. This person’s management style would lend itself to a TV show called “The Apprentice.” Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 
  2. This person’s defenders argue that the criticism they endure is particularly harsh because they are different from the sorts of people who usually occupy high office. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 
  3. This person refuses to wade into briefing materials prepared by staff members, then berates employees when they appear unprepared. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 
  4. With this person, staff have to put up with a constant amount of soul-destroying criticism, leading them to ask why they are constantly propping up a bully. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 
  5. Critics scattered over two decades point to an inconsistent and at times degrading person who burns through seasoned staff members who have succeeded in other demanding, high-profile positions. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 
  6. One of the things staff agree upon is that the common denominator throughout the dysfunction is this person. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 
  7. Many worry that this person’s inability to keep and retain staff will hobble their ambitions. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 
  8. Explaining the exodus, White House officials argue it’s not unusual that this person’s staff would depart at the one-year mark. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 

And those are just the questions that flow from the Post’s report. We could add:

  1. Informed that they could not restrict the Bill of Rights via executive order, this person laughed and responded, “Yes, we can.” Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 
  2. This person showed no interest in overturning wrongful convictions, even when they had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump? 
  3. This person has fantasized about taking guns away from American citizens who have not been convicted of a crime. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump?
  4. This person has insinuated that they are in possession of devastating information about a matter of great public import, only to go quiet when the time came to reveal it. Kamala Harris or Donald Trump?

It’ll be a smash. I’m sure of it.

Politics & Policy

Politico Poll: 40 Percent of Hispanics Find ‘Latinx’ Offensive

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Latino leaders and immigration reform supporters gather at the University of Colorado to launch “My Country, My Vote,” a 12-month voter registration campaign to mobilize Colorado’s Latino, immigrant and allied voters, October 28, 2015. (Evan Semon/Reuters)

A new Politico poll shows that just 2 percent of Latinos refer to themselves as “Latinx,” the gender-neutral replacement for “Latino/Latina” that has taken root in many elite progressive circles over the course of the past few years. By contrast, 68 percent use “Hispanic,” and 21 percent use the gendered “Latino/Latina” to describe their ethnic identity. 

This is not the first poll to show that “Latinx” is remarkably unpopular with actual Hispanics. A November 2019 poll from the progressive ThinkNow Research showed just 2 percent of the demographic preferred the term. An August 2020 Pew poll showed that number hovering around 3 percent. The most favorable sample size in an August 2021 Gallup survey topped out at a whopping 5 percent. 

None of that has stopped progressive tastemakers and Democratic politicians from embracing the term, however. On the campaign trail, Elizabeth Warren declared that “when I become president, Latinx families will have a champion in the White House.” In a discussion of racial disparities in coronavirus death rates, Anthony Fauci expressed hope that the coronavirus pandemic could be “an enduring lesson for the Latinx community.” Joe Biden himself was widely mocked back in June, for musing that “it’s awful hard, as well, to get Latinx vaccinated as well. Why? They’re worried that they’ll be vaccinated and deported.” As Joseph Laughon wrote in National Review back in September, “Latinx” is a distinctly elite phenomenon: 

The question of how to describe Spanish-language speakers in America has been a thorny one since Nixon’s time, usually ranging between terms including “Hispanic” and “Latino,” though most prefer to refer to their actual national origin rather than the pan-ethnic term “Latino.” By the late 1990s, Latino progressives were batting around the terms “Latino/a” and “Latin@” in an attempt to move away what they saw as patriarchal or “heteronormative” terms. Predictably, these neologisms went nowhere; however, by 2004 the term “Latinx” started to become more popular among American and Puerto Rican progressives seeking to “challenge the gender binaries encoded in the Spanish language.”

As Politico notes in its write-up of the poll, this points to “a fault line in the party between moderate traditionalists and the more activist progressive base.” As the term pervades the language of the elite Left, it has “drawn pushback from those opposed to its usage as an alternative that doesn’t follow the gender binary in the Spanish language.” The kicker in the Politico survey is that pollsters went beyond just asking if Hispanic respondents preferred “Latinx,” proceeding to ask how many found it actively offensive. A full 40 percent of respondents found the term at least somewhat offensive.

Worse still for Democrats, 30 percent of Latinos told Politico that the “would be less likely to support a politician or organization that uses the term.” And interestingly enough, young Hispanics — a group one would generally presume to be more progressive — are not more liberal on this question than their older counterparts. Forty-one percent of Latino respondents in the 18–29 age group said they were bothered or offended either “a lot,” “somewhat,” or a “little” by the term, and 30 percent said they would be less likely to support politician or political organization that uses the word.

Joaquin Blaya, one of the founders of the Spanish-language Univision and a registered Democrat, seems to have more self-awareness than many others in her coalition. “Democrats are helping Republicans make them look out of touch,” she told Politico. “We built a network around our Spanish language and we have a shared culture around it. Why are we trying to change this? It’s offensive to a lot of people.”