Politics & Policy

Time for Liz Truss to Zero Out Her Net-Zero Adviser

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Chris Skidmore outside Downing Street in London, England, in 2019. (Hannah Mckay/Reuters)

The U.K. is having a rough time of it at the moment. The pound hit record lows today (although sterling has bounced back a bit as I write), partly as an adverse reaction to a (mini) budget intended to be part of a series of badly needed supply-side reforms long neglected by the Tories. The panicked reaction ought, over time, to go into reverse, so long, that is, as the Conservatives move beyond tax cuts to broader deregulatory reform. To do that, the new prime minister, Liz Truss, will have, at the very least, to reset Britain’s net-zero (greenhouse-gas) targets in a fashion that renders them compatible with growth, prosperity, and a modern economy. And in calculating how that compatibility will be achieved, Johnsonian delusions of a green-jobs bonanza should be treated as the nonsense they always were.

The U.K. needs to develop an energy supply system that is no longer so unhealthily dependent on either the vagaries of the weather (the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow) or the whims of unreliable authoritarian regimes. The long-term answer will have to be based on an expansion of nuclear energy. The shorter-term answers include expansion of domestic natural-gas production, including fracking. The extent of the U.K.’s potential fracking reserves is disputed, to put it mildly. They may well amount to not very much, but it would be irresponsible, in the current environment, not to see what can be developed.

However (via The Daily Telegraph):

Liz Truss’s net zero adviser has risked a clash with Liz Truss after he warned fracking will be a “non-starter”.

Conservative MP Chris Skidmore said he thought the practice was “not an opportunity for Britain” compared to emerging renewable technologies.

His comments appear at odds with the Prime Minister and her Government, who have talked up the prospects of fracking as it lifts the ban on the practice as part of a rush to shore up domestic supplies of energy.

Fracking, which involves blasting sand and water underground to release gas trapped between rocks, was in its infancy in the UK when it was banned in 2019 due to concerns about earthquake risk.

Lifting the ban last week, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the business secretary, said the UK needed to “explore all avenues available” to boost energy security.

“It’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas,” he added.

Mr Skidmore has been appointed by Ms Truss to lead a review into how to meet the UK’s legally binding target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

He said he did not plan to look at fracking in the review as it was “not an opportunity for Britain”.

He added: “I want to be looking at how we can focus on all these technologies that are going to deliver enormous growth.

The fact that Skidmore, a climate fundamentalist, was appointed to this job by Truss was, to say the least, dispiriting, and the fact that Skidmore is still peddling that ol’ green snake oil is embarrassing. Technologies! Enormous growth!

None of this is to say that money should not be invested on developing new technologies, or complementary technologies that can increase the usefulness of renewables, but hope is not going to power Britain away from the mess that greenery has made of its energy policy.

The Daily Telegraph:

Mr Skidmore’s net zero review was officially launched on Monday and will look at how the goal can be reached while delivering economic growth, energy security, and minimising costs.

Good luck with that.

Mr Skidmore, a former energy minister who supports the next zero target, said: “I don’t want net zero to be seen as something that’s done to people, that’s been sort of forced on people.

Sort of?

Given the coercion that comes with net zero, banning this, and forcing the installation of that, this may be an uphill struggle.

Time for Skidmore to go, I think.

 

Is Putin Calling the Shots in Ukraine?

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference following the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, September 16, 2022. (Sputnik/Sergey Bobylev/Pool via Reuters)

Over the weekend, I mulled over this report from the New York Times, which suggests that Vladimir Putin is involving himself in the gritty details of the Ukraine campaign and giving specific directions to his generals.

American officials briefed on highly sensitive intelligence said that behind the scenes Mr. Putin is taking on an even deeper role in the war, including telling commanders that strategic decisions in the field are his to make. Although Mr. Putin has accepted some recommendations from military commanders, including the mobilization of civilians, his involvement has created tensions, American officials said.

CNN’s Katie Bo Lillis reported a

World

The Belt and Road Initiative Runs into Trouble

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A worker stands at the construction site of East Coast Rail Link, a Chinese-invested railway project part of the Beijing Belt and Road Initiative in Bentong, Malaysia, January 13, 2022. (Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters)

Lingling Wei, chief China correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, has written a remarkable piece on the troubles now facing China’s vaunted Belt and Road Initiative.

The BRI was hailed by many as a new form of economic statecraft that the U.S. needed to contend with. China was supposed to have taken the lead in influencing the developing world, and it was winning more countries into its sphere of influence through BRI lending and infrastructure projects.

Now, China has $1 trillion sunk into BRI projects, and rising interest rates around the world mean a bunch of them could go bust.

How did China get here? Wei explains:

The program’s roots date back a little over a decade, when China saw an opportunity for its state-owned financial institutions to extend their reach and earn better returns on their cash holdings through investments overseas.

Authorities encouraged lenders to finance projects like mines and railways to enable developing countries with natural resources to better supply China’s market, and to create jobs for Chinese contractors.

After taking power in 2012, Mr. Xi expanded those efforts and promoted the initiative as part of his plan to expand China’s influence and build markets for Chinese goods.

In 2015, when a stock-market collapse in China damped domestic demand, Beijing used the initiative to export products in oversupply at home, like steel and textiles. The Export-Import Bank of China and China Development Bank often required countries that benefited from their financing to source from Chinese suppliers.

Unsurprisingly to anyone even slightly familiar with public-choice economics, politically motivated investment decisions did not turn out to be financially sound. And these weren’t just a few missteps. There were a cumulative $1 trillion of loans made to about 150 countries over a decade as part of the BRI, and 60 percent of those loans are now held by countries in financial distress, Wei writes.

The real tell that Beijing knows it’s in trouble is that it has changed the propaganda messaging around the BRI. Wei writes:

Beijing has also dialed down its rhetoric in state media. While it used to tout the economic benefits of Chinese lending for recipient countries, it now emphasizes managing risks and improving international cooperation, said Weifeng Zhong, a senior research fellow who tracks Chinese government propaganda at the free-market think tank Mercatus Center at George Mason University. “China is attempting a course correction,” Mr. Zhong said.

On the financial side, Chinese bankers have resorted to “extending and pretending,” which means extending the maturity of loans rather than restructuring them or accepting some losses. But that’s not going to work as current global economic conditions wreck emerging markets. China’s outsize exposure to developing-world debt is one of many economic troubles the country’s government-directed economy is facing.

What’s the CCP’s plan to overcome the foreign-debt problems of the Belt and Road Initiative? Belt and Road 2.0. “After nearly a decade of pressing Chinese banks to be generous with loans, Chinese policy makers are discussing a more conservative program, dubbed Belt and Road 2.0 in internal discussions, that would more rigorously evaluate new projects for financing, the people involved said,” Wei writes.

They can’t totally jettison the project because it would upset the paramount leader:

A full retreat on Belt and Road is unlikely. Mr. Xi, who is seeking to extend his rule for a third term at a Communist Party conclave next month, continues to believe it has an important role to play in promoting China’s role on the world stage, according to the people involved in policy-making and readouts of recent speeches he has made.

The inability of regimes to adapt is one of the biggest opportunities for government failure in authoritarian systems. As the market reforms of previous Chinese leaders continue to be undone, and the cult of personality around Xi Jinping intensifies, expect more errors and mismanagement. And remember that even in a country with a government immune from private-interest-group pressure, government-directed investment undertaken in the “national interest” is not a path to success.

Religion

‘American Catholics for the American Founding’

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Samuel Gregg, distinguished fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research (and National Review contributor), comments on a new initiative (of which I am a part) on American Catholicism in public life by urging “orthodox Catholics to look past the misrepresentations of the American founding being peddled by integralists and their fellow travelers to rediscover just how much the core ideas that defined the American republic echo truths long taught by the Catholic Church.”

Read his letter in the Wall Street Journal here.

Culture

Who Cares about James Bond’s ‘Inner Life’?

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Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger, 1964 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios/IMDb)

The 60th anniversary of James Bond will be celebrated next month. And the movie franchise’s current producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, spoke to Variety about their vision for the next actor they cast in the role.

Both Wilson and Broccoli, who is a director of the U.K. chapter of women’s advocacy org Time’s Up, have left their mark on Bond, particularly in humanizing the once-womanizing spy and ensuring more fulfilling, meatier roles for the female stars of the franchise. These are qualities that will continue in the next films, says Broccoli.

The producers think that Daniel Craig “cracked Bond open emotionally” and brought audiences into the character’s “inner life.” Ian Fleming, who wrote the Bond stories, sometimes tried to lend the character some depth. For instance, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond falls in love with a woman, Tracy, but no sooner are they married than she is shot dead by Bond’s nemesis. And it’s just as well, really, since Bond isn’t exactly husband material. He’s basically a highly functioning sociopath whose ruthlessness proves useful to the British secret service.

The James Bond movies are entertaining not because of the protagonist’s “inner life,” but for the much more superficial reason that they are action movies. Bond kills “bad guys” (or at least, guys worse than him), seduces beautiful women, and drives fast and fancy cars. All this is entertaining — a cheap thrill that can be enjoyed as such without silly pretensions. Looking for moral depth in a James Bond movie is like trying to find a lanternfish in a rock pool.

Broccoli says that “Bond is evolving just as men are evolving. I don’t know who’s evolving at a faster pace.” What does this even mean?  The only thing that’s changed is Hollywood fashions.

Politics & Policy

Re: On Heartbeats in the Womb, Conservatives Are with Normal People

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( strelov/Getty Images)

Dan points out that the “fig-leaf distinction” upon which Stacey Abrams’s peculiar comments about fetal heartbeats rests is not one that is observed by “normal people” — or even by Planned Parenthood. Whatever differences might exist between the heart at six weeks and the heart at ten weeks, Dan notes, are not recognized by “most human beings” when “they are not trying to stay ideologically on-message.”

This is true, of course. And it raises an important question: Why does Stacey Abrams care in the first place?

When my two children were in utero, I didn’t care about the fine distinctions between their hearts at six weeks and their hearts at 20 weeks, because at neither of those junctures — or at any juncture, for that matter — was I interested in killing them. My view then, as now, was that my unborn children were alive, that they were worthy of my protection, and that, if they were left alone, they’d soon come join me in the outside world. Six weeks? Twelve weeks? Twenty weeks? All the same to me.

Some states care about the six week point, because they have used it as a marker after which abortion should be illegal. Crudely put, the view of these states — irrespective of whether that view represents a standalone moral case or a concession to public opinion — is that abortion is acceptable before the heart starts beating, but unacceptable afterwards, and that, as the heart starts beating at six weeks, the cut-off should be set there. In this context, the nature of the heartbeat does, indeed, matter. If, as Stacey Abrams claims, the sounds that parents are hearing at their six-week appointments is fake, then it doesn’t make sense to set “heartbeat”laws at six weeks. If what those parents are hearing is real, those laws make sense on their own terms.

But here’s the thing: Stacey Abrams doesn’t believe in any limits on abortion. During an interview with the Atlanta-Journal Constitution in May, Abrams said that she did not support any legal limits on abortion. “My support of abortion is grounded in the belief that this is not the role of our government, it is not the role of lawmakers,” Abrams said. “It is the responsibility of women and their doctors, women and their families, women and whomever they choose to bring into the conversation, but it is not the conversation for government to be having.”

So why does it matter to her when the heartbeat starts?

I’ll share my theory: Because the existence of a heartbeat is pretty inconvenient if your aim is to smother the question in euphemisms. Advocates of legal abortion love euphemisms: “pro-choice,” “reproductive justice,” “between a woman and her doctor.” They love detached phrases, too: “pre-viability,” “medical procedure,” “meaningless clump of cells.” As George Orwell noted, “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” But a heartbeat — the boom, boom, boom of a living person’s body — makes all that pretty difficult. “You want to kill that?” the euphemizer can be asked. And, when they are asked that, they have only a handful of options: To literally run away, to say “yes, actually,” or to insist that the “that” in the question isn’t actually a “that” after all. Abrams couldn’t choose the first two, so she picked the lattermost course. It was bad — but it beat the other two avenues hands down.

National Security & Defense

Edward Snowden’s New Russian Citizenship Proves Again He Is a Traitor

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Edward Snowden appears live via video during a student organized world affairs conference at the Upper Canada College private high school in Toronto, Canada, February 2, 2015. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Today, Russian president Vladimir Putin granted Russian citizenship to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has been living in Russia since 2013 after he stole 1.5 million classified documents and leaked thousands of them to the media. Putin obviously made this move to thumb his nose at the United States in response to his growing isolation and the massive losses his military has suffered in the war in Ukraine.

Some Americans view Edward Snowden as a whistleblower and a hero because he leaked classified documents on the controversial NSA metadata program, which caused a public uproar.

However, the House Intelligence Committee disproved such claims and explained why Snowden is a traitor and a fraud in a rare bipartisan report in 2016. The report contained five stunning findings:

  • Snowden caused tremendous damage to U.S. national security;
  • Snowden was not a whistleblower;
  • Snowden was a poor performer and a disgruntled employee;
  • Snowden was and remains a serial exaggerator and fabricator; and
  • The NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have not done enough to prevent another massive unauthorized disclosure.

You can read about these findings in an article I wrote for National Review in 2016.

The unclassified portion of the House Intelligence Committee report was silent on the issue of whether Snowden was recruited by a foreign intelligence service. As I explained in my 2016 article, several other former CIA officers and I have long believed this. Putin’s decision to grant Snowden Russian citizenship – almost certainly at Snowden’s request – probably confirms our belief.

Let’s hope a future Russian government quickly deports Edward Snowden to the United States so he can stand trial for the damage he did to our national security.

Immigration

The Border Crisis and Low-Energy Republicans

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Asylum seeking migrants, mostly from Venezuela and Cuba, wait to be transported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents after crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico into the U.S. at Eagle Pass, Texas, July 14, 2022. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

Border security/ illegal immigration polls as one of voters’ top concerns along with inflation, crime, abortion, and the economy in general. GOP governors such as Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are doing what they can to address the problem, but since border security is fundamentally a federal matter, their powers in this regard remain limited. The GOP minorities in the House and Senate also are limited in addressing the problem — constrained primarily to highlighting the problem and proposing alternate policy prescriptions. Nonetheless, given the scale of the debacle, congressional Republicans — with a few exceptions — have been far less vocal and energetic than the circumstances would predict. Consider:

  • More than 2 million illegal aliens have crossed the border this fiscal year; an estimated 3.5 million have crossed since President Biden took office. Historically, an invasion of this magnitude usually is a consequence of losing a war.
  • Among those who crossed in the last year were 78 terror suspects caught by  Border Patrol. Given that terror suspects have a unique interest in avoiding detection and apprehension, the true figure is much higher. In contrast, DHS reports that between 2017 and 2020 a total of eleven terror suspects were caught  crossing the southern border.
  • DEA seized 15,000 pounds of fentanyl at the border in the last fiscal year. That’s four times the amount seized in 2017. The CDC reports that last year there were a record 70,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. from opioids such as fentanyl.
  • Mark Krikorian calculates the cost to the American taxpayer of the increase in illegal immigration under the Biden administration at $100 billion. This includes costs associated with overwhelmed school systems, swamped benefit programs, and stressed infrastructure.
  • Illegal immigrants also are displacing Americans in the low-skilled labor markets. A hearing before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights more than a decade ago — when the scale of the problem was significantly smaller — showed that approximately 1 million black workers had been displaced by illegal immigrants, a cohort less likely to complain to OSHA, the EEOC, or the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor.

Over the last two decades, congressional Republicans — again, with a few notable exceptions — have been flaccid defenders of the southern border. Unfortunately, the consequences of their fecklessness are far graver than mere electoral underperformance.

Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Unwillingness to Deviate from Their Pre-2020 Agenda

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President Biden gives a thumbs up as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Md., August 10, 2022. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal notes that economic policy-makers have a willingness to accept economic pain that is not paralleled by a willingness to accept political pain.

Economic policymakers frequently talk about the necessity of “pain” or perhaps “medicine” — biophysical metaphors that imply some kind of initial discomfort in order to get to a place of health. That’s the story in the US with the rate hikes. Yes the expectation is that some people will lose their jobs in the fight against inflation, but Fed officials say it’s necessary to bring about price stability, and ultimately help restore growth and balance.

That being said, there’s another kind of pain that gets less attention, but which may be more relevant when thinking about how crises come to an end.

That’s the pain or discomfort of policymakers when they’re forced to do something genuinely unappealing to them. So for example during the Great Financial Crisis, TARP was a crucial moment. But politicians hate voting to bail out banks. In the euro area crisis, a crucial moment was when Mario Draghi created an implicit sovereign debt for all euro nations. This type of debt backstop was seen as a true political red line that couldn’t be crossed, and yet Draghi was eventually forced to do it.

There’s a similar factor at work in domestic politics: Every time something is going wrong for the Biden administration or congressional Democrats, it’s a sign that we need what they’ve wanted to do for a long time even more. Circumstances never seem to require Democrats to trim their sails; every twist and turn in the nation’s life, particularly in terms of economics, just further reinforces why they must get their way.

High inflation, which we insisted was transitory, just won’t go away? That’s just more evidence that we need another big-spending bill, renamed the “Inflation Reduction Act.”

Record-high gasoline prices? That’s why we need more wind farms, tax benefits for solar panels, and electric-vehicle mandates!

The Iranian regime is getting even more aggressive, targeting American citizens on American soil? That’s why we need to try even harder to restore the Iranian nuclear deal!

The pandemic is over? That’s why we need to give student-loan recipients $10,000 in debt forgiveness!

There’s no sequence of events that can spur Biden or his allies to say, “well, we would have liked to enact policy X, but based on the course of events, this clearly isn’t the right time.” When the news is good, it means it is time to enact the rest of their agenda. When the news is bad, it means it is time to enact the rest of their agenda.

American Liberals Can’t Help Themselves in Talking about Giorgia Meloni

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Leader of Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni poses with her ballot at a polling station during the snap election in Rome, Italy, September 25, 2022. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

Newly elected Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni will be the first woman to lead Italy, a fact that is producing far less than the usual “girl power” cheers. That relative quiet is undoubtedly due to the fact that Italy now joins Great Britain (Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May, Liz Truss) and Germany (Angela Merkel) in having chosen female heads of the elected government only from parties of the center-Right or Right. Meloni is undeniably a figure of the social Right.

Is she a conservative? Is she a fascist or fascist-adjacent? It is always tricky to try to put the European Right on

Politics & Policy

The Martha’s Vineyard Migrant Meltdown

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We (and by “we,” I mean the Gen Z contingent at NR) are pleased to announce the launch of our first episode of “Happy Warriors,” an online show featuring the younger cast members of the editorial team and dedicated to the latest developments and dramas in politics and culture.

In the pilot, the panel tackles the ongoing debate over migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard.

Culture

On Heartbeats in the Womb, Conservatives Are with Normal People

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks in Columbus, Ga., August 27, 2022. (Megan Varner/Reuters)

Much as with “Latinx,” the progressive position on the heartbeat of the unborn is deeply out of step with how most human beings discuss the question when they are not trying to stay ideologically on-message. Paige Winfield Cunningham of the Washington Post acknowledges this basic reality in a “news analysis” of the flap over Stacey Abrams’s describing the heartbeat in the womb as “a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body.” As Cunningham notes, while “medical professionals note a distinction between the sound heard early in pregnancy compared with later further development of the heart” — a fig-leaf distinction seized upon by WaPo “fact checker” Glenn Kessler — that is not how normal people talk:

For women going through pregnancy, that’s not the message they get on popular pregnancy websites or even in their own doctor’s office. It’s common for OB/GYNs to check for a “heartbeat” on the first prenatal visit — and for women to experience an immense feeling of relief when a fluttering sound is heard. Consider this language from leading pregnancy websites describing embryonic development at six weeks:

  • TheBump.com: “Baby’s heart is typically beating away by six weeks.”
  • Whattoexpect.com: “Your baby’s heart has started to beat sometime between week 5 and now.”
  • BabyCenter.com: “Your baby’s heart isn’t fully developed, but cells in the heart tube have started beating fast, around 160 times a minute. You may hear the sound this week if you have an early ultrasound.”
  • Johns Hopkins places it even earlier, saying on its website that “the heart is beating” by the end of four weeks.
Government-backed websites in other countries also refer to a heartbeat by six weeks:
  • The U.K.’s National Health Service: “The heart can sometimes be seen beating on a vaginal ultrasound scan at this stage.”

  • Pregnancy, Birth and Baby, a website backed by the Australian government: “If you have an ultrasound in the sixth week, you may be able to see the baby’s heart beating.”

  • Public Health Agency of Canada: “The tissues that will form the heart begin to beat. The heartbeat can be detected with ultrasound at around 6 weeks of pregnancy.”

Cunningham cites the work of our own indefatigable John McCormack in pointing out that even Planned Parenthood acknowledged “a very basic beating heart” in an unborn child until it edited its website within the last several weeks to keep up with Democrats’ current talking points (a pattern of Orwellian rewriting that has become all too common on matters of leftist social orthodoxies).

The challenge for pro-lifers in dealing with the very earliest stages of pregnancy is passing what I call “the eyeball test” — the moral intuition of ordinary citizens, often formed without the sort of philosophical rigor we demand from opinion writers or jurists. But the reality is, just about any pregnant woman and anyone around her — including her doctors and nurses — talks and acts as if she is carrying a human child. Only when we turn to political and legal rhetoric in favor of abortion is that reality suspended. In the long run, I’d rather be on the side of reality.

Woke Culture

Maybe This Bathroom Business Stalls Out After All

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(Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Saturday was a beautiful day for an outdoor dance performance. The venue was a high-brow dance and cultural center that sits at the bucolic edge of a college town. It’s an area known for weekenders and second-home-owners from New York City.

Before the show, inside the center’s main building, a different sort of dance was taking place. If you went looking for the restrooms, you found yourself in a hallway facing two blank doors. Or rather, doors from which indicators had been removed — each had a small rectangular area of paler wood where (presumably) “Men” and “Women” signs had once been posted. Which to choose?

A white-haired lady in flowing linen and a chunky necklace was standing near me and similarly hesitant. “Well, let’s try one,” she said. She pushed open one of the doors, and I followed — only to see a stall and a urinal. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t want to come out of the stall and see a man doing his business.” I seconded that, and we turned around and went over to the other door.

Inside, we found only women, and only stalls. My new partner in crime said something to the effect of, “Phew, this is better.” One of the other women, who had clearly had a similar adventure, said to us, “I just feel more comfortable going to the bathroom only with women.”

As I exited the shadow ladies’ room, one of the ladies said to me, with a gentle eye roll, “I guess we’re all the same.” I replied, “Whatever happened to ‘Celebrate difference’?”

Just then a trim middle-aged man was approaching the mystery doors and looked at us questioningly. “They don’t want us to know,” I told him. He said, with a touch of weariness, “Oh, they want us to be progressive.” I pointed him to the proper door.

Now, I’d bet my last dollar that this gentleman was a progressive. Just like the ladies I’d spoken to, and probably 98 percent of the audience that afternoon. These little passing encounters at the restrooms left me with a startled sense of things: People don’t like this bathroom business — even people who are surely left of center and more likely to buy into fashionable wokeness.

By now we’ve all been to restaurants with a pair of single-use bathrooms, with twee signs saying “Both” or “Either” or “M/W” with the letters designed to emphasize that one is the other upside down. Fine — it’s one at a time. But where it’s not single use, what if you have, say, a ten-year-old daughter, a girl old enough to go to the restroom on her own, so you send her off, only to find out she’d picked a door and stumbled upon a man, a stranger, at a urinal? The safety issues aren’t nothing. Protecting innocence is not nothing.

Having just observed people sorting themselves into the formerly men-only or women-only spaces — arrangements that used to be innocuous, commonsense, and obvious — I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe not everyone’s gone mad, that gender ideology may not, in the end, reorder the mundane necessities of daily life.

And I’m happy to say the actual dancing was marvelous.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: SEC and Climate

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Bernard Sharfman writes about how the SEC’s climate-disclosure rules will likely be struck down in court:

Nevertheless, just because three SEC commissioners may believe that climate-change disclosures will lead to climate-change mitigation does not mean they can go ahead and exceed their regulatory authority. The odds that the proposed rule will be subject to legal challenge and then vacated by the courts is extremely high. Until the SEC demonstrates greater respect for the limits of its disclosure authority, the likely result of such efforts will be a large waste of time, money, and resources.

Read the whole thing here.

Politics & Policy

Even Progressives Grasp That ‘Latinx’ Is a Liability

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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)

The message may not have yet reached the likes of Jill Biden or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or woke corporations such as Amazon or woke private schools, but an increasing number of Democratic politicians and liberal and progressive commentators have acknowledged that the effort to impose the gender-neutral term “Latinx” on Americans of Hispanic heritage has been a colossal failure of public persuasion. The term reeks of condescending academia, is hard to pronounce, and runs contrary to the entire gendered structure of the Spanish language. Democratic Hispanic groups have been discussing abandoning the term because it alienates non-transgender Hispanic voters (which is to say, the vast majority of them). That debate has broken into the open.

Even online progressives are broaching the topic. Earlier this month, Michael Sokolove in the New Republic wrote that, “It’s confusing, even (or especially) to Latinos. It is a term hatched in academia and adopted by the left that doesn’t play on the street. Politically, it’s a net minus . . . a symptom of a broader problem — an inability to connect at gut level. When voters say they feel Democrats are talking over their heads, they’re not wrong.” On Sunday, even Salon published an article by Melissa Ochoa entitled “Stop using ‘Latinx’ if you really want to be inclusive.”

In July 2022, Argentina and Spain released public statements banning the use of Latinx, or any gender-neutral variant. Both governments reasoned that these new terms are violations of the rules of the Spanish language. Latinx is used as an individual identity for those who are gender-nonconforming, and it can also describe an entire population without using “Latinos,” which is currently the default in Spanish for a group of men and women. As a Mexican-born, U.S.-raised scholar, I agree with the official Argentine and Spanish stance on banning Latinx from the Spanish language — English, too…

The distinct demographic differences of those who are aware of or use Latinx calls into question whether the term is inclusive or just elitist. Individuals who self-identiy as Latinx or are aware of the term are most likely to be U.S.-born, young adults from 18 to 29 years old. They are predominately English-speakers and have some college education. In other words, the most marginalized communities do not use Latinx. Scholars, in my view, should never impose social identities onto groups that do not self-identify that way. I once had a reviewer for an academic journal article I submitted about women’s experiences with catcalling tell me to replace my use of “Latino” and “Latina” with “Latinx.” However, they had no issue with me using “man” or “woman” when it came to my white participants.

Ochoa argues for “Latine,” which, on the page, still looks uncomfortably close to “latrine,” and it is still a rearguard effort against reality. But the fact that this sort of thing is being published in places such as Salon and the New Republic shows that progressives know they’re not winning this one.

Education

Why Is It So Hard for Members of the Military to Get College Credits?

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Perhaps it’s better in other states, but in North Carolina, it is difficult for men and women who have served in the military to get college credits for what they’ve learned.

That’s the point made by Dan Way in today’s Martin Center article.

He writes, “Lawmakers and veterans advocates want to know why higher-education officials have failed for nearly a decade to fulfill the requirements of Senate Bill 761, which mandates a uniform system to award college credits for military training and experience. The General Assembly passed, and Gov. Pat McCrory signed, the law, dubbed Credit for Military Training, in 2014. But it wasn’t until May 26 of this year that Peter Hans, the fourth UNC System president since the law passed, finally issued a regulation directing all 16 universities to comply with its provisions.”

Evidently, getting around to complying with the law wasn’t a high priority with the state’s higher-education leaders. At least, the UNC system is now moving toward compliance, but the state’s community-college system continues to drag its heels. And, as Way explains, it’s important for both systems to work together on this: “It is crucial for the two higher-education systems to have articulation agreements for transferring military-based academic credits between the systems, because many students first enroll in community colleges to complete basic courses.”

Maybe the creation of a smooth system for military college credits is now in the works, but one suspects that this is not something that excites the mostly “woke” minions.

Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Problem, in Miniature

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Democrat Laura Kelly talks to her supporters after winning the governor’s race at her election night party in Topeka, Kan., November 6, 2018. (Dave Kaup/Reuters)

Rich notes that:

Kansas governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, released an ad last week saying, “You have seen my opponent’s attacks. So let me just say it: Of course men should not play girls sports. Okay, we all agree there.”

The Kansas City Star notes that, having done that:

The day after releasing an ad declaring “men should not compete in girls sports,” Gov. Laura Kelly clarified she believes participation of transgender student-athletes in girls and women’s sports should be considered on a case by case basis, as it already is.

This is the Democratic Party’s core problem in miniature. Kelly knows that progressives are lunatics on this question. But she’s also sufficiently scared of those lunatics that she felt the need to backtrack and muddy the water, lest prominent people say mean things about her in the newspapers and on late-night TV. Witness the Democrats’ well-honed suicide machine in action.

Elections

Laura Kelly, the Democratic Governor of Kansas, Is on the Run 

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I wrote about it today on the homepage.

Economy & Business

Politico: Reality Keeps Getting in the Way of Biden’s Rhetoric

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a Democratic National Committee event at the National Education Association headquarters in Washington, D.C., September 23, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

In Politico this morning, Adam Cancryn tells a sad tale of the economic and political injustices that are being suffered by our 46th president. “The White House,” Cancryn reports,

finally believes it has an economic story worth telling. Now, it’s trying to figure out how to get voters to listen.

Emboldened by a string of legislative victories, President Joe Biden has leaned into his record on the economy, increasingly confident that the nation’s outlook is brightening after months under a cloud of rising prices and consumer anxiety.

And the problem is?

But just as the White House was rushing to capitalize on its winning streak — in hopes of turning around an economic narrative that has dogged the administration from its earliest days — complications have arisen.

Oh, no! What are these pesky “complications,” which, unforeseen by all, have passively “arisen” before the executive branch’s weary eyes?

The lengthy fall in gas prices finally ended, inflation has stayed stubbornly high and a bleak global economic landscape has rattled the markets, with both the Dow Jones and S&P 500 nearing their weakest levels of the year.

So, the “complications” that have “arisen” are . . . all the things that have been a problem for a long time now, and that President Biden, who would rather do other things, has decided either to ignore or to make worse?

And no, passing a bill called “The Inflation Reduction Act” does not count as mitigation. Here’s CBS News, earlier this month, with an absolutely hilarious description of that legislation:

The Inflation Reduction Act is aimed at tackling a host of problems, from climate change to catching tax cheats, but there’s one issue it may not solve: reducing inflation.

Back to Politico:

The cross currents of economic and political news have left the White House in a tricky position. After spending much of his term battling inflation and fears of a recession, Biden has begun traveling the country touting long-term investments in manufacturing and climate.

The problem with this is that it isn’t true. Biden has spend much of his term coexisting with “inflation and fears of a recession.” But he has spent pretty much none of his term “battling” it. On the contrary: almost everything that he and his party have done — including his most recent move, the illegal “forgiveness” (i.e. transference) of up to one trillion dollars in student debt — has made inflation worse, made interest-rate hikes more likely, and made the “fear of a recession” more acute.

James Carville has thoughts:

“You can’t pivot away from the obvious,” said James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist, of the inflationary challenges that have hung over Biden’s presidency. “You have to talk about how you’re trying to help people deal with the rise in the cost of living.”

What Carville means, of course, is that you can’t “pivot away from the obvious” and remain popular. But you absolutely can “pivot away from the obvious” — as Joe Biden has now been demonstrating for more than a year-and-a-half. The problem here is not that “inflation and fears of a recession” have suddenly jumped out of the ground, shocking everyone and upending Biden’s agenda. The problem here is that Joe Biden is bored by reality. As I wrote last week, a sensible president:

would have started planning for all this on January 20, 2021 — or even before then. Noting that the federal government had just spent an astonishing $4.1 trillion fighting Covid-19, the new president could have adopted a defensive posture from the start. “All presidents have agendas,” he might have told the public. “But mine has been reshaped by events. My task is to bring us out of the pandemic, to help fix the supply chains, to keep on top of the impending inflation crisis, and to restore our balance sheets to health. That is my calling, and I shall meet it with dispatch.”

But Joe Biden isn’t a sensible president, and didn’t do any of that. Of course he’s is finding it hard to take a victory lap. There’s no victory to celebrate.

One of the biggest challenges that Biden and his party now face is their near-total inability to distinguish between their narrow ideological agenda and the health of the country at large. I’m not just talking here about the Democratic Party’s grotesque tendency to equate its electoral victories with the health of “democracy” per se. I’m talking about this:

“Legislatively, the last 90 days have been nothing short of amazing — that’s just a fact,” said Robert Wolf, an Obama-era economic adviser who maintains ties to the Biden White House. “We have to be really feeling good about what’s taken place.”

Amazing for whom? As did the American Rescue Plan, the “Inflation Reduction Act” does, indeed, contain a lot of provisions that progressives like. But the country? Well, again:

The lengthy fall in gas prices finally ended, inflation has stayed stubbornly high and a bleak global economic landscape has rattled the markets, with both the Dow Jones and S&P 500 nearing their weakest levels of the year.

And:

the cost of staples like food and housing remain elevated. The grinding war in Ukraine means gas prices could spike again too. And the Federal Reserve’s aggressive attempts to ease inflation are prompting fresh worry that its tactics will steer the economy right into a recession.

But other than that, Mr. Biden, how was the rally?

Film & TV

Do Certain Critics Now Reflexively Dislike Apolitical Works?

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American actor Marlon Brando gestures at a table while American actor Robert Duvall sits behind him in a still from the film, The Godfather. (Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)

A few episodes ago on The Editors podcast, I recommended the Paramount Plus limited series The Offer, a dramatization of producer Al Ruddy’s experience of making the 1972 film The Godfather with Francis Ford Coppola. In Ruddy’s account of events, just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and he and his team constantly had to put out metaphorical fires and improvise solutions for every kind of conceivable problem. A few listeners have written in and said they’ve enjoyed it.

Chock full of, “Hey, it’s that guy!” character actors playing against type, the series almost parallels a heist film. You’ve got the mastermind — Ruddy, played by Miles Teller, and one by one, he assembles his crew of misfits: right-hand woman Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple), author Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo), director Coppola (Dan Fogler, who usually plays larger-than-life comedic characters and shows exceptional range here) and eventually, the eccentric but ingenious Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers). All if this is under the eye of Paramount boss Robert Evans, played by Matthew Goode, as a jovial, fast-talking, always-moving king of Hollywood. If Goode’s performance were any bigger, he would be Austin Powers. Burn Gorman, whom you know as the odd-looking sinister henchman from a bunch of your favorite films, plays the manic and mercurial CEO Charles Bluhdorn, and Colin Hanks, and who looks and sounds more and more like his father with each passing year, is the skeptical executive Barry Lapidus.

This is another case where, at least by the measuring stick of the website Rotten Tomatoes, the tastes of the critics and the tastes of the general public diverge rather sharply: Roughly 57 percent of critics liked it, while 95 percent of viewers who registered their opinion with the site liked it.

Now, perhaps that audience response is self-selecting, as those disinclined to like it wouldn’t watch. But if that was the case, then every movie and show on Rotten Tomatoes would have a similar sterling score.

And when I started looking for reviews of The Offer, it seemed like the ones I found hated it.

Rolling Stone called it “a total waste of time.” The Hollywood Reporter shrugged, saying, “It’s a whole lot of trivia and very little substance.” IndieWire sneered it was “a soulless, vapid piece of Content™ that’s about as far removed from ‘art’ as professionally produced television can get.” The AVClub went with the predictable declaration that it “sleeps with the fishes.”

A lot of the reviews seemed almost angry at the series for existing at all. Maybe it’s because they love The Godfather and its sequel so much — there was only one sequel, right? Right? — that they think the films will be harmed by the show.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if some critics were irritated that this fairly big-budget, big-cast, prestige TV offering wasn’t serving them one clear modern message — or “The Message™” as the sardonic YouTuber Critical Drinker calls it.

There are a few scenes that demonstrate how badly women were treated in Hollywood back then. (Boy, good thing that’s all fixed, right?) And the New York mob’s attitudes toward African Americans are as awful as you would suspect. But those are lines and scenes here and there, by no means the series’ central theme or message.

By and large, the message of The Offer is that sometimes it takes a bunch of impassioned oddballs to make a masterpiece. Ruddy and his team are quintessential underdogs — insufficiently experienced, insufficiently well-connected, scraping by on a minimal budget — and, as the story tells it, continually doubted, undermined, opposed, and underestimated. But they believe they’ve got the pieces of a spectacular movie in their hands, and they doggedly keep finding new ways to push the creation process forward.

The Offer isn’t perfect. It doesn’t stick the landing; the last episode or two run low on momentum; as the film gets closer to completion, the stakes feel lower.

But looking at the numerous scathing or near-scathing reviews, I’m left wondering . . . do today’s reviewers not merely reflexively dislike any work that could be construed as conservative, or do they instinctively dislike any work that is apolitical? Is it that, because The Offer doesn’t have much to say about the environment, race relations, gay rights, Donald Trump, or any other 2022 cause célèbre that certain reviewers just couldn’t find anything interesting in it?

The Offer is a really fun series that allows you to escape all of the political and cultural controversies of the modern day . . . and I think some critics really disliked it for being that.

Culture

Learned Hands

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(Natalia Shabasheva / Getty Images)

Today’s Impromptus is headed “God and country, &c.” I talk about Christian nationalism, America First — some old things that are new again. In a post last week, I had a note on cursive: the apparent demise of. On that, I’d like to publish some mail.

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

. . . One of my most ardent causes is the revival of cursive. A little research has convinced me that the learning of cursive at an early age has extreme benefits. I recommend studies that identify significant advantages to medical and law students who eschew the laptop in favor of the legal pad and such.

In any event, I encourage all of my friends with young children to have them learn cursive before printing. It has many motor skills and cognitive advantages. I look always for young people who are willing to be correspondents and engage in cursive exchanges.

Finally, I find it possible, nay, simple, to avail oneself of the speed of light while communicating with a pen. I prefer to compose and correspond by hand; at my library desk, I prefer a dip pen and inkwell. However, we needn’t rely on the USPS . . . When I feel the need of speed, I simply scan a handwritten note and e-mail it to the intended. The recipient has my handwritten communication as quickly as e-mail!

Dang, that’s inspired.

Another missive:

Hi, Jay!

. . . As proud Gen Xers, my wife and I have taught our children cursive even though their schools don’t. As I explained to my son, at a minimum, you have to be able to sign your name on documents and checks. More importantly, almost no one else your age will be able to read cursive, so it’s like a secret code.

Heh. That’s inspired, too.

Finally,

Dear Jay,

. . . There was a time when a person’s signature was an item of identification. . . . As a personal-income-tax preparer, I can tell you that there is now a signature that is common to young men and women under the age of 30. It resembles the trace of a muddy milk cow’s swishing tail on a barn wall. This signature bears no resemblance to any sequence of letters. It identifies nothing save its author’s inability to write.

Cursive may not be at the top of my list. There are many things whose revival I hope for. But the revival of cursive — that would be kind of neat, and it would add some drops to the reservoir of beauty in the world.

Woke Culture

A Strong Dissent on ‘Allyship’

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One of the many ways the Left manipulates language to help achieve its goals is the concept of “allyship.” This is extolled as virtuous behavior for whites and entails blindly supporting any and every action of black activists. On the other hand, should a black individual work with whites, Asians, or people who just don’t fit into racial boxes to achieve mutually advantageous goals, that individual is not seen as doing anything praiseworthy. On the contrary, he’ll be denounced as a “race traitor” or some even more derogatory term.

Professor Erec Smith reflects here on the double standard involved. He writes, “Whenever a person of color does not express the right sentiments, he or she is automatically deemed inauthentic, an Uncle Tom, a dupe suffering from internalized racism. Conservative blacks like Tim Scott and Clarence Thomas know this all too well, but so do left-leaning blacks like John McWhorter, Van Jones, and yours truly. It seems that if a black person sticks so much as a toe over the line circumscribing the realm of ‘wokeness,’ he or she will automatically attract the label infamously attributed to Larry Elder during his political campaign: ‘the black face of white supremacy.'”

The Left doesn’t care to engage in debate generally and especially hates to debate people like Professor Smith who think on their own and disagree with many “progressive” tenets.

Politics & Policy

Oregon’s Experiment with Drug Decriminalization Failed by Its Own Standards

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(Jeng_Niamwhan/iStock/Getty Images)

In a November 2020 referendum, Oregon voters approved a reform that downgraded the punishment for possession of any and every drug to a civil citation. Today, the Oregonian reported that this experiment with hard-drug decriminalization has failed to deliver on one of its central promises: that treatment would take the place of criminalization. The Oregonian article, titled “Oregon’s drug decriminalization effort sends less than 1% of people to treatment,” reports:

Two years after Oregon residents voted to decriminalize hard drugs and dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars to treatment, few people have requested the services and the state has been slow to channel the funds.

When voters passed the state’s pioneering Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act in 2020, the emphasis was on treatment as much as on decriminalizing possession of personal-use amounts of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs.

But Oregon still has among the highest addiction rates in the country. Fatal overdoses have increased almost 20% over the previous year, with over a thousand dead. Over half of addiction treatment programs in the state lack capacity to meet demand because they don’t have enough staffing and funding, according to testimony before lawmakers. . . . Of 16,000 people who accessed services in the first year of decriminalization, only 0.85% entered treatment, the [Oregon Health Authority] said. A total of 60% received “harm reduction” like syringe exchanges and overdose medications. An additional 15% got help with housing needs and 12% obtained peer support.

The operating premise of the decriminalization effort was that governments should treat addiction as a disease rather than a crime. In a January New York Times guest essay lauding the Oregon experiment, titled “Treating Addiction as a Crime Doesn’t Work. What Oregon Is Doing Just Might,” drug-policy writer Maia Szalavitz argued:

By decriminalizing personal-use drug possession, Oregon has become the first state to acknowledge that it is impossible to treat addiction as a disease and a crime simultaneously. This kind of model is urgently needed in the United States, where street fentanyl is the leading cause of death among people ages 18 to 45, and where sending people to jail for using drugs has failed to prevent the worst addiction and overdose crisis in American history. . . . Criminalization supercharges addiction stigma, and stigma is one of the biggest obstacles to recovery. Stigma is such a major roadblock that most organizations working to combat addiction have large initiatives focused on addressing it.

“To reduce stigma and combat the addiction crisis, drug policy must be liberated from the idea that without criminal penalties, no one would ever quit drugs,” Szalavitz continued. “Because far from spurring recovery, arrest, incarceration and having a criminal record can exacerbate drug problems.”

Well, fine. I’m on the record as being skeptical, but the exceptional thing about the “laboratories of democracy” theory of federalism is that state governments can experiment with a variety of different approaches to public policy. When they go right, those experiments serve as a model that other states can emulate; when they go wrong, they don’t drag the rest of the country down with them. Judging by the standard set by the advocates of hard-drug decriminalization, Oregon’s most recent experiment has gone disastrously wrong.

Elections

Oregon Governor’s Race Too Close to Call

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Oregon gubernatorial candidates Christine Drazan (left) and Tina Kotek (Campaign images via Facebook)

I’ve been following the Oregon governor’s race very closely — partially because it’s my home state, but also because it’s a traditionally blue state where Republicans have a very real shot at flipping the governor’s mansion red for the first time since 1987, when the Oregon’s last GOP governor left office. The race is now rated a “toss-up” by both the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and the Cook Political Report. (Both analysts downgraded the race from “Lean Democrat” in the last month and a half.) 

Frustratingly, there’s been very little public polling available on the race — the most recent survey on FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregator is from mid-August. The polling that is available shows Christine Drazan, the Republican, virtually tied with Tina Kotek, the Democrat, in the low 30s. Betsy Johnson, the unusually viable and well-funded Democrat-turned-independent — whose candidacy is often cited as one of the main reasons that Republicans have a real shot in 2022 — tends to trail ten points or so behind in the high teens or low 20s.

But there has been more recent local commentary on the race that can provide a glimpse into just how close things really are. Last week’s piece from the Portland-based KGW, titled “Oregon governor’s race could be a toss-up, experts say,” cites a number of political analysts discussing why “the race for governor is looking closer than ever.” One factor, as I mentioned above, is Johnson’s third-party bid — the conventional wisdom is that the former Democrat’s candidacy will hurt Democrats more than Republicans. (“There’s a frustration among Democrats about Betsy Johnson’s presence in there because they feel like she takes votes away from both of them but could potentially take more votes away from Tina Kotek,” Jessica Taylor of the Cook Political Report told KGW.) I think that’s probably more true than not, but I also wouldn’t neglect the possibility that aspects of Johnson’s candidacy could peel votes away from Republicans, too. Johnson has made crime a centerpiece of her campaign and has pulled lucrative endorsements from major police unions and dozens of district attorneys. Particularly in a blue state like Oregon, public safety is one of the GOP’s main pitches to voters, and Drazan has stressed the issue throughout her campaign. (Both Johnson and Drazan have pledged to work to repeal the state’s decriminalization of all drugs, which voters approved in a referendum in November 2020, despite the fact that Oregon has some of the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse in the nation.) It’s possible that Johnson’s tough-on-crime campaign could dull the potency of Drazan’s candidacy.

Another sign of the race’s competitiveness is the infusion of large amounts of money into the state from national organizations affiliated with both major parties. Earlier this month, the Democratic Governors Association dumped another $1.25 million into Kotek’s campaign, bringing the total donations from the group to $3.1 million. Around the same time, the Republican Governors Association sent another $1 million to Drazan, bringing the total donations from the group up to nearly $2.6 million. As of September 19, the Oregonian reported, “Kotek has reported raising a total of $10.5 million since January 2021 and Drazan has reported raising a total of $9.3 million, according to state records.” That puts 2022 spending on track to break Oregon records: “The top trio of candidates in the 2022 race for Oregon governor have combined to raise over $30 million by mid-September, putting them on a path to smash the $40 million mark for a governor’s race set four years ago,” Oregon Capital Insider reported.

All signs point to a nail-biter in Oregon this November. Here’s hoping voters make the right decision.

Film & TV

Is Rings of Power Moving Too Fast or Too Slowly?

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Robert Aramayo and Morfydd Clark in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. (Amazon Studios)

In response to <em>Rings of Power</em> Falters in Latest Episode

Jack thinks the fourth episode of Rings of Power was “boring” and too slow-paced. I had no similar problem. Taken apart from the question of fidelity to the books, I found this episode to be engaging, and think the pacing of storytelling is fine. The series compresses events that unfold over many centuries in Tolkien’s timeline; those events are necessarily a bit rushed for television, but I appreciate the time taken to build dramatic tension and introduce a bunch of new characters (as well as characters such as Gil-galad, Durin, and Celebrimbor who are known to readers but not the non-book-reading audience, and who frankly are not that fleshed-out on the page). Moreover, the pacing is undoubtedly designed to allow time to extend the series over multiple seasons; there are few worse mistakes in television than blowing through the key elements of your plot too quickly and having to tack on unnecessary events to manufacture drama.

I’m also less concerned than Jack about the depiction of Elrond, who after all is presented in the books as a loremaster and a diplomat, not a commanding personality.

As with my critique of the first two episodes, my chief concern is that the series will diverge too far from the essential elements of Tolkien’s mythos. Gil-galad’s explanation to Elrond of why the elves need mithril to avoid “fading” reeked of midichlorians, although the fading of the elves is a major theme of Tolkien – they are presented as at the height of their power when they first embark from Valinor, with the light of the Two Trees in their eyes, and steadily diminish thereafter, being held off from decay by the rings wielded by Elrond and Galadriel. I suppose the series is attempting to frame the fear of fading as a major motivation for the forging of the Three Rings by Celebrimbor.

The bigger game is the Downfall of Númenor. There are three essential elements to the Downfall of Númenor that advance Tolkien’s broader theological and philosophical outlook while advancing the plot that results in the War of the Last Alliance and, in the longer term, the entire history of the Third Age that culminates in the story of the Lord of the Rings. The first and most important is that Númenor is destroyed when its leaders rebel against mortality itself, attempting to sail to Valinor to conquer the Blessed Realm and, they believe, claim eternal life on earth. This brings down the wrath of Eru Ilúvatar, the name Tolkien gives to Almighty God.

The truly great evils throughout Tolkien are rebellions against the divine design: Morgoth seeking to rise to the level of Ilúvatar, and to create his own races of being (the Orcs); men seeking eternal life against the strict Ban that was placed on their sailing into the West; the Sons of Fëanor swearing an oath to Ilúvatar to claim the Silmarils. If the Downfall is presented in these terms, while the elves contribute to Sauron’s power and corruption in their own effort to avoid fading, then the parallel sins will fit in Tolkien’s vision.

But thus far, we have been given none of the conditions in Númenor that give rise to the challenge to the ban: a mighty and haughty king and his approaching death, and his desperation to extend his life. The other two essential elements are that the attack on the Ban is the result of the honey-tongued advice of Sauron (who as a result loses forever his capacity to assume a form appealing to men), and that the remnant of the Númenoreans is led by Elendil because his people reject the king’s blasphemy. This sets up the unfailing enmity between Sauron and the heirs of Elendil in Middle-Earth. I will judge the series in good part by whether it remains faithful to these core pillars of Tolkien’s creation.

Film & TV

Rings of Power Falters in Latest Episode

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Morfydd Clark in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. (Amazon Studios)

Thus far, my general assessment of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been one of cautious optimism and patience. Having initially seen no violations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s vision so egregious as to warrant rejecting the show, I was willing to see how its story unfolded. And episodes three and four had improved enough to indicate a long-term vision of possible interest.

This week’s episode has cast that all into doubt for me. Yes, there were hints of potentially engaging storylines to come. As Númenor, heeding Galadriel’s counsel, prepares for war in Middle-earth, the wily Pharazon, as well as the far-seeing King Tar-Palantir, both provide warnings of how this well-intentioned effort may spell long-term trouble for the great island of men. And the explicit revelation by elven king Gil-Galad that the light of the elves is fading in Middle-earth, requiring extreme action (securing vast quantities of mithril), sets the stage for the primary motivation of elves in the Second Age: to preserve beauty and prevent decay. This motive will eventually lead elf-smith Celebrimbor to create rings of power. (Notably — given the show’s title! — absent from the show so far.) These could be the seeds of compelling stories down the line. (The treatment of mithril as some kind of mythical cure-all is a bit of a stretch, although one of the elven rings of power is made of mithril, so perhaps that is where this idea is heading.)

But that is all they are for now: seeds. In the meantime, we are trapped in a show that, in this episode, became something I did not exactly expect for the series: boring. Little else happened this week. Illustrative of this are the scenes set in Númenor. After the show established the place as such a fascinating setting, the story struggles to leave it; I inadvertently shared in the same labored process of the Númenorean characters to depart the place, but in my case, because the story’s insistence on lingering there had begun to tire me of the island.

The other stories in this episode falter as well. The relationship between the elves and the dwarves, centered around the importance of mithril to each, may become compelling later on. But for now, it seems largely to consist in journeys back and forth between the elf city Lindon and the dwarf city Khazad-dum undertaken by Elrond, who has yet to assert himself as much of anything. The plight of the men in the Southlands seems a haphazardly constructed pathway toward the sort of orc siege of a redoubt of men that we have seen before. And the harfoots mostly experience more enigmas surrounding the Stranger, who now has some ominous trackers, clad in white, on his trail. That’s . . . pretty much it.

This far in, I’m obviously sticking to at least the first season of Rings of Power. And there are still enough episodes left in this season for all these disparate threads to come together and for the show to make good on its various intimations. It is easy to hate something like Rings of Power, which is why I have indulged and even forgiven some of its faults and looked for the good in it up to this point. And I won’t regret having done so even if I turn out to have been mistaken. But the show is beginning to test my optimism — and my patience.

Lawfare Runs Amok in the Latest Civil Lawsuits against DeSantis and Trump

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Right: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks after the primary election for the midterms in Tampa, Fla., August 24, 2022. Left: Former president Donald Trump speaks at the North Carolina GOP convention dinner in Greenville, N.C., June 5, 2021. (Octavio Jones, Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The essential quality of “lawfare” is the use of the legal system to impose costs on political enemies. Often, the process itself is the punishment, with the ultimate success of an investigation, lawsuit, or prosecution being beside the point. When civil lawsuits are involved, major warning signs of abusive lawfare include the assertion of technical violations of law without any proof of loss or harm to any particular person; lawsuits brought by people with no standing to sue because they have suffered no personal injury; requests for relief far broader than what the allegations justify; assertions of legal violations that

Politics & Policy

University of Vermont Fails to Confront Antisemitism on Campus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media

A Columnist’s Progress

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(artisteer / iStock / Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

Anyone can understand.

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

Who didn’t, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics & Policy

Against a Matthew McConaughey Presidential Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kremlin’s Very Russian Partial Mobilization

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

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

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

Law & the Courts

Crime Explosion: Restating the Obvious

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

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

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

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

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

Markets

The Dow Drops Below 30,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sports

Re: So Why Did You Attend?

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In response to So Why Did You Attend?

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

Religion

Joe Biden Is Wrong about Catholic Teaching on Abortion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.

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

Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy & Environment

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

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

Recorded on August 18, 2022.

Trade

West Coast Share of Ocean Imports at 40-Year Low

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

So Why Did You Attend?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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