NR Webathon

You Can Handle the Truth

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William F. Buckley Jr. on Firing Line, April 22, 1980 (via YouTube)

Our webathon continues to surpass our expectations. I like to think your generous response has a simple explanation.

At National Review, we respect our readers.

We’re not going to pretend that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, or that Republicans stole the elections before it. We’re not going to pretend, either, that Trump’s behavior excuses FBI misconduct.

We aren’t going to take the Chinese government at its word on Covid. Or let brand-new taboos blind us to the evident decline of President Biden.

Our admiration for the Armed Forces doesn’t stop us from facing its weaknesses.

Wishful thinking doesn’t keep us from looking at the negative effects of social media on children.

And we won’t let intellectual fashion keep us from appreciating our country’s history in full: We know that “warts and all” doesn’t mean “all warts.”

We trust our readers to understand that we are reporting and analyzing events as best we can, without looking over our shoulders to determine what people want to hear. Time and again, you’ve proven that trust justified.

We are all extremely gratified by the generous response of our readers to our webathon — and we would love to be more gratified still. So if you’re able to contribute, please help us continue our mission: advancing a conservatism firmly rooted in reality.

Politics & Policy

Tobacky and/or Wacky Tobacky

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People walk past a Weed World store the day New York State legalized recreational marijuana use in New York City, March 31, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Maddy and Andrew have discussed the recent comparative study of marijuana- and cigarette-smokers that was published in the journal Radiology.

Andrew, quoting the authors’ summary, notes that “airway inflammation and emphysema were more common in marijuana smokers than in nonsmokers and tobacco-only smokers, although variable interobserver agreement and concomitant cigarette smoking among the marijuana-smoking cohort limits our ability to draw strong conclusions.”

Let’s read as well the study’s penultimate paragraph. In full:

Our study had limitations. First, the small sample size precluded us from drawing strong conclusions. Second, the retrospective nature of the study had its own inherent limitations. Third, there was inconsistent quantification of patient marijuana use, due in part to the previous illegal nature of marijuana possession, which led to a lack of patient reporting. Accurate quantification is further complicated by the fact that users often share joints, use different inhalation techniques, and use marijuana of varying potency. Fourth, given that most marijuana smokers also smoke tobacco, the synergistic effects of these two substances cannot be effectively evaluated. Fifth, only a portion of patients could be age matched, since the tobacco-only cohort was taken from the lung cancer screening study and the patients were aged at least 50 years. Due to the age mismatch in the larger cohort, there are differences in the duration of smoking. Lastly, variable interobserver agreement limits our ability to draw strong conclusions about bronchial wall thickening and bronchiectasis.

The sentence I have italicized is important. As the study notes elsewhere, of the 56 marijuana smokers whose chests were scanned, fully 50 also smoked tobacco. Only six participants, then, provided evidence applicable to the question Maddy posed, viz. whether (smoking) marijuana per se is less (or more) harmful than smoking cigarettes per se. Given this tiny sample size of six, the authors drew no conclusions, not even weak ones, about the relative harms of cigarettes-only vs. marijuana-only. Their limited conclusions suggest, rather, that smoking marijuana causes unique identifiable harms, and that the group of marijuana-and-in-all-but-six-cases-cigarette-smokers had a higher frequency of certain harms than did the cigarette-only-smokers and the nonsmokers.

Remember as well that there are ways of consuming the active chemicals in both tobacco and marijuana that do not involve combustion and on which the study sheds no light.

*   *   *

If the evidence were vast and unambiguous, we would still have to weigh its practical import according to some standard of judgment or action; it does not come with an instruction manual.

Setting aside the untenable view that cannabis presents no health risks — and also individuals’ unequal risk tolerance and perception of benefits — we could distinguish at least two broad normative approaches to managing the risks.

The first, which in principle would be my own, is to weigh the health and public-health evidence about each kind of drug and try to apply consistent standards rooted in the severities of the harms. If you take this approach — and if, like me, you are not persuaded that cannabis is more harmful than tobacco or alcohol — it’s hard not to perceive hypocrisy in the contrast between our current fixation on weed and our comparative indifference to the life- and family-shattering effects of the two psychoactive drugs that have long been available for recreational purchase everywhere. You probably sometimes suspect, as I do, that the juxtaposition of attitudes has less to do with evidence than with stereotypes: Weed is some damn hippie thing, but wine is what you drank with WFB, and tobacco-smokers are victims of the nanny state, the poor dears.

Taking the second approach should restrain that perception of hypocrisy. It is this: Two legal substances that cause harm is worse than one, three is worse than two, etc. From this perspective, the comparison of cannabis with alcohol or tobacco is not especially relevant; what we should want to do is to prevent or mitigate any harms (provided the mitigatory or preventative measures do not themselves cause even greater damage). It’s correct, then, to worry most about the legalizing or popularizing of a new drug, since this is a worsening of the status quo. And the worry grows when one reflects that we do not have much research on the mass use of cannabis at record potency levels.

The problem with the second approach, however, is that it will tend to give us laws whose design is due more to accidents of timing than to a conclusive and objective judgment of risk. Laws that are likely to be, in a word, arbitrary, and therefore, in a second word, unjust. People notice sooner or later, and then they go overboard correcting it.

So in practice, perhaps it will be good for us to take neither approach in its purity as — what seems most likely — we stumble our way along a zigzagging, locally varying, but perhaps, on a national average, gradualist course toward the rationalization of our laws and attitudes about drugs.

International

Putin’s Energy War

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Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, November 25, 2022. (Sputnik/Alexander Shcherbak/Pool via Reuters)

In a Capital Letter last month, I looked at a brief plunge in European natural-gas prices (for a moment they even turned negative) and concluded that there was not too much to be read either into that blip or the relatively low prices the continent was seeing:

 Europe’s energy crunch has not gone away. Today’s unseasonably warm weather and good levels of wind power will not last forever, and gas is still trading at around €108 ($108) per megawatt hour (based on the Dutch TTF benchmark). That’s slightly more than twice where it was at the beginning of October, 2021— a time when prices had already been surging thanks in part to post-pandemic disruptions and some early Russian game-playing.

The European price (based on the TTF benchmark) has picked up a bit since then (to around €125 per megawatt hour, admittedly still a number well below levels a few months before), but most of the anxiety for now has rightly been focused on the outlook for next (2023-24) winter rather than this one.

That said, even outside Ukraine (now the victim of energy war at its crudest: the Russians are destroying its utilities), there are still grounds for concern this winter.

Some Russian gas has continued to flow through to Europe via Turkey and Ukraine. But, as highlighted by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the Daily Telegraph, that may be changing:

On Tuesday, the Kremlin started to cut off the remaining gas flows to southern Europe via Moldova.

I wouldn’t overstate the implications of that. While gas to Moldova goes via Ukraine, Moscow can be expected to keep TurkStream (a pipeline that does not go through Ukraine) open, given that it is unlikely to want to risk alienating Ankara (apart from anything else, Turkey has yet to approve Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO). Moreover, Russian gas reaches Hungary via TurkStream (and Serbia). Russia will wish to keep that, uh, incentive alive as Hungary is, among other matters, the other NATO holdout on Sweden and Finland. Meanwhile, Italy, another previous (indirect) recipient of gas through TurkStream, has largely eliminated its reliance on Russian gas, at least for this winter. Greece and Bulgaria are also considerably less vulnerable than they were, and Romania is close to self-sufficient.

But what about oil?

AEP:

Nor should we assume that oil supplies are safe. Putin will retaliate in some way against Europe’s embargo on Russian crude exports starting on December 6, either by withholding supply or by sabotaging such targets as the electric pumping station on the Druzhba pipeline to Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

These landlocked states were given an exemption on the embargo because they have no other sources of oil. “We could be looking at a multimillion-barrel shortage after December 6. It is not clear whether it is even possible to reroute enough barrels to Europe,” she said.

Again, I doubt if Putin will wish to antagonize Hungary.

Then again:

JP Morgan says Russia could give us a nasty surprise by cutting oil output by three millions barrels a day (3pc of world supply), which is physically possible without damaging its own drilling infrastructure. This would drive prices to an all-time high of $190.

If Putin went for the jugular with a five million cut, prices could reach $380 a barrel. China and India would be unhappy, but they stiffed Russia at the G20.

Putin warned at the St Petersburg Economic Forum this year that European sanctions would have “catastrophic consequences on the global energy market”.

On this at least, we should take him at his word. He left no doubt that his objective is to drive commodity costs to levels that destabilise democracies and cause a “system-wide decline” of the European economy…

Russia has a trade surplus of 20pc of GDP and an ample war chest. It can ride out months of restricted exports. Can Europe last as long?

Once again, Russia is more constrained than it seems. It’s highly unlikely that Russia will want to antagonize India or will wish to risk irritating China, a country to which it is now unhealthily beholden (it’s not easy being a vassal state). Equally, OPEC has some capacity to increase production: It does not want to see the demand destruction that would follow from $380, or even $190 oil. Even so the fact that these numbers are even being talked about only underlines the irresponsibility of the Biden administration’s (negative) attitude to domestic oil production.

Meanwhile:

These are dangerous circumstances for Britain. It has outsourced most of its gas storage to Germany and Holland, or indirectly through the LNG markets. Neither forms of back-up can guarantee energy security in a sustained crisis.

The Government has reopened the Rough storage site but this is just a fifth full so far. Nor is it enough. This country has onshore salt caverns and disused gas wells in the North Sea. Either could be exploited for strategic storage in time for next winter. It is not happening.

The net-zero Tories are again reminding us that they have zero clue.

Across the English Channel, some in the EU’s leadership have been boasting about how well the bloc’s more carbon-intensive industries are adjusting to more expensive, less easily available energy, an unconvincing claim.

AEP:

German industry cut its gas consumption by 27pc in October. This is an impressive display of national will but the longer it goes on, the greater the existential threat to Deutschland Inc. The German chambers of commerce and industry (DIHK) says that a quarter of the chemicals sector is either cutting production or shifting output abroad.

Europe has become a net importer of chemicals for the first time in the modern era. Cheap US shale gas – trapped inside the US market by lack of LNG export terminals – gives the US an unbeatable edge in petrochemicals, fertilisers, or glass.

Eurometaux says aluminium and zinc production in Europe has halved. Ten smelters have either closed or slashed output, and once they close there is no clear business case to reopen them…

Sports

It’s Our Patriotic Duty to Briefly Care About Soccer

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Fans in New York watch England vs United States, November 25, 2022. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Earlier this week, as the soccer — not football, as those tea-sipping ninnies over on the other side of the Atlantic insist on calling it — World Cup kicked into gear, Dominic Pino argued:

Soccer was likely very fun when it was created as one of the first organized sports and people first had free time because they didn’t need to work on a farm all day just to stay alive. A relatively small number of Americans still enjoy watching soccer, and our panoply of subcultures and idiosyncrasies is one of the things that makes us great. But, as it has done in many other areas, American innovation has delivered better alternatives, even ones where you’re allowed to use your hands and can frequently score more than three points.

At the time, I agreed, with a few modifiers:

But as American soccer Twitter (whose existence I had studiously ignored up until about 30 minutes ago) lights up with patriotic fervor, and I’ve had the game running in the background as I work, I can’t help but get sucked in — just a little bit. So here’s my pledge: If our boys in blue advance to the next round — having pulled off an upset with a draw against the heavily favored English today — I’ll care about soccer. At least until they lose again.

I’m told by friends who actually pay attention to these things that this U.S. men’s team is America’s “golden generation”: It’s “the second-youngest roster in Qatar,” and “on paper at least, perhaps the most talented squad in its history,” Axios reports. As I said on Twitter, it’s my God-given right as an American to only care about the sports that the United States is good at. That is, after all, why we fought a revolution against the Brits: Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and an autonomous sports tradition untainted by the Old World. But I admit: It would be deliciously, exceptionally American to beat the Euros at the one sport where they’ve consistently trounced us. Go U.S.A.

Law & the Courts

The Respect for Marriage Act Would Allow the State to Regulate Domestic Relations

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I have been puzzled about the urgency to pass the Respect for Marriage Act before the end of the current Congress. Despite Justice Thomas’s dictum in his Dobbs concurrence that Obergefell (which created a constitutional right to same-sex marriage) should be overturned, I cannot discern a reason to force such a case onto the Court’s docket. If some traditional-marriage activists tried to do so, they would almost surely fail, but even if four Justices eventually voted to hear such a case, it would be years before the matter would be ripe for ultimate adjudication.

So, why the rush? In part, I think it is to enable immediate federal regulation of marriage law. Bureaucrats can’t promulgate rules based on a Supreme Court ruling: They need an enabling statute. Enter the RFMA. By federalizing marital law, the Congress could unleash the power of the administrative state over an area of domestic relations where the federal government has heretofore had little direct power. Imagine the consequences.

Education

Why Stanford’s Free-Speech Conference Needed Protection

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Stanford University campus (Noah Berger/Reuters)

A conference on the troubles facing free speech in academia, featuring a lot of serious thinkers, was held recently at Stanford. The organizers decided not to allow it to be open to the public, fearing the sort of disruption that has become so common on our campuses. Naturally, the enemies of free speech (and simple civility) got all hot and bothered about that decision.

In today’s Martin Center article, professor Richard Vedder looks at that controversy.

He writes, “Predictably, dozens of professors protested the conference in a letter, claiming that it was ‘a hermetically-sealed event, safe from any and all meaningful debate. . . . Filled with self-affirmation and self-congratulation . . . where racism is given shelter and immunity.’ (I wonder how participants like Niall Ferguson feel when called ‘racist,’ particularly since he is married to a black woman, the very distinguished Ayaan Hirsi Ali.)”

Stanford’s administration wasn’t browbeaten into preventing the event, but Vedder makes another point: “Universities themselves should be viewed as places where members of an academic community gather to discuss ideas of the day. They should generally not take stands on issues. The opinion of the president of XYZ University should not be construed as representing the policy position of the institution, since universities are comprised of many individuals with diverse viewpoints, each of which should be heard. University presidents and deans should keep quiet as a rule on public policy matters.”

He’s right. Institutions of education should stick to being just that, and not try to shape the way people think about controversies. That is just what “progressives” don’t want. They believe that institutions (including but not limited to schools) should pick a side — namely, theirs. Many do, and we need to turn that around.

Culture

Happy Thanksgiving! 15 Things about Gratitude That Caught My Eye

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(Drazen Zigic/Getty Images)

1. George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789:

May [we] then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

2. From Dorothy Day in the Catholic Worker, November 1936:

From day to day we did not know where the next money to pay bills was coming from, but trusting to our cooperators, our readers throughout the country, we went on with the work. Now all our bills are paid and there is a renewed feeling of courage on the part of all those who are doing the work, a sense of confidence that the work is progressing.

This month of thanksgiving will indeed be one of gratitude to God. For health, for work to do, for the opportunities he has given us of service; we are deeply grateful, and it is a feeling that makes the heart swell with joy

During the summer when things were going especially hard in more ways than one, I grimly modified grace before meals: “We give Thee thanks, O Lord, for these Thy gifts, and for all our tribulations, from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.” One could know of certain knowledge that tribulations were matters of thanksgiving; that we were indeed privileged to share in the sufferings of Our Lord. So in this month of thanksgiving, we can be thankful for the trials of the past, the blessings of the present, and be heartily ready at the same time to embrace with joy any troubles the future may bring us.

3. Yuval Levin: “Gratitude in an Angry Time

It is absolutely essential that we be careful not to let our outrage overcome our gratitude and drive us to adopt a distorted understanding of our own society — a kind of mirror image of the radicals’ view: that the malevolence of those we disagree with means that the society we possess in common has become thoroughly corrupted and has left us with nothing worth securing, and therefore nothing to lose. To be grateful is, in part, to know you have a lot to lose, and therefore also that you have a lot to offer the future, through acts of conservation and refinement, not just through acts of demolition.

4.

Continue reading “Happy Thanksgiving! 15 Things about Gratitude That Caught My Eye”

Culture

Against Nihilism

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Living History Educator Audrey Dors, portraying Constance Snow, talks to visitors at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., November 21, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Over 400 years ago, on the rocky shoals of a windswept bay in modern-day Massachusetts, our nation’s forebears set aside a day of Thanksgiving out of gratitude to their God for delivering them from spiritual bondage in the Old World and bringing them to the New.

What motivated these doughty pioneers to embark on such an arduous weeks-long seafaring journey? The Puritans, having laid the foundation for the most powerful and prosperous empire in human history, were undoubtedly noteworthy. But their gallant indomitability was not without historical precedent. Human history is awash with zealots ready to risk it all for utopia.

What explains this human impulse? Is it simply the evolutionary dictates of survival and reproduction? No. If these were humanity’s sole motivators, we’d all just play it safe and stay put, never venturing beyond the comfortable confines of our provincial cocoons.

Something else must be at work here. Something far more profound than mundane biological imperatives. As trifling as it might sound, what’s really driving all this is the belief that the future matters. Contrary to the prevailing zeitgeist of cynicism, people have always sought meaning in the promise of better tomorrow. The notion that people today can meaningfully change the course of history is the root of all eschatology, both secular and theistic. And this conviction is no delusion. Even in the absence of divinity, any armchair philosopher can construct a persuasive argument that life is endowed with inherent purpose.

What you do today will have a butterfly effect on the trajectory of time. As small as we are relative to the size of the universe, the realm we inhabit can be altered immeasurably. It’s easy to be daunted by this reality and resort to the common refrain that the inevitable heat death of the universe will render everything meaningless in the end. But if history has shown us anything, it’s that nothing is certain. We know far too little about the nature of reality to conclude this beyond a shadow of a doubt. And if we screw up the present, many people will never come to exist. No, that would not be a good thing, as Les Knight, founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction movement, argues. The hubris of those who say that all of these people’s lives have no purpose knows no bounds.

Humanity now finds itself on a precarious metaphysical perch. We recently discovered that we live on a moist speck suspended in a sunbeam in a relatively uninteresting part of a possibly infinite universe. We could either balk in the face of existential dread or grab the reins of destiny and attempt to build a better tomorrow. The choice is ours. So this Thanksgiving, as you gather with family members, whether you find solace in divine transcendence or not, know there’s much to be thankful for. Existence is good. Humanity deserves to continue. And life does indeed have a purpose.

NR Webathon

Giving Thanks

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(evgenyb/iStock/Getty Images)

As I mentioned on a recent episode of The Editors, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year, because it combines three of my favorite things — family, food, and tradition. In my family, we have a tradition of frying our turkeys, and recently I’ve adopted the tradition of making pecan pie in cake form, because I’m a pecan-pie fan but prefer cake to pie crust.

Of course, the holiday is also about giving thanks, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of our subscribers and supporters for making it possible for us to regularly provide the best writing we can, rooted in a conservatism that is unwavering and truthful as well as intellectually honest.

As I write this, our supporters have stunned us with their generosity in our ongoing webathon. As I alluded to in a previous post, we had some trepidation going into the webathon about the sort of response it would generate, especially in this inflationary environment. In setting expectations, we tried to be, well, conservative. But our readers kept coming through for us and blowing away our expectations, and rallied to our side when a certain former president declared he wanted us to die (peacefully). The overwhelming response forced us to keep raising our goal until we crossed $100,000 and decided we could no longer predict the upper limit of your generosity.

If you have not yet contributed, and you were planning to, we are still keeping the webathon open over the holiday weekend. We have seen donations ranging from $5 to $5,000 and appreciate every last one.

But once again, we’d like to thank you for your tremendous support. We will work extra hard to be worthy of your generosity in the coming year, and wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

New CDC Data Show That the Abortion Rate Decreased in 2020

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Pro-life activists hold signs at a rally in front of the capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., June 22, 2022. (Nathan Frandino/Reuters)

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released abortion data for the year 2020. This new data contain some good news for pro-lifers. Among the 47 states reporting abortion data in both 2019 and 2020, the number of abortions decreased by 1.5 percent. After a long-term decline, the CDC reported increasing abortion numbers in both 2018 and 2019. And so this 2020 abortion decline is welcome news.

Between 2019 and 2020, there was considerable amount of state-level fluctuation in abortion numbers. Even though there was an overall reduction in the incidence of abortion in 2020, abortions increased in 29 of

Culture

Giving Thanks for the Radical Hospitality of Birth Mothers

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Leigh and Carter Snead pose in a family photo with their four boys. (Photo courtesy of Leigh Snead)

My friend Leigh Snead writes about the blessing — for the fourth time now — that adoption has been in her life in “After Dobbs: A Thanksgiving for the Brave Love of Adoption“:

As I hold my youngest baby in my arms this November, which is National Adoption Month, I am grateful for the choices his birth mother made that led him to become a part of our family. I’m thankful for the radical hospitality she showed by carrying him for nine months and doing all she could to keep him healthy and safe. I’m thankful for the hours she spent poring over the profiles of waiting families and discerning which one she wanted her son to join. And I’m especially thankful she chose us.

I’m also thankful that she knew this was a choice she could make — a good choice — and an exercise of her own agency. I’m thankful for those around her who supported her and her choice to place her baby with us. I’m thankful for the emails and text messages we exchanged that eventually became phone calls that led her to change her hospital plan so that we could all meet in person and spend time together. And I’m so thankful she spent time with our baby. I’m thankful for the brave love shown by all my sons’ birth mothers and for all those women who choose life for their children. Being asked to be the mother of another woman’s child is the greatest gift I have ever received.

There’s an organization called Brave Love that is dedicated to the courageous choice birth mothers make for life and generosity. This Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, give thanks for birth mothers. If you know one, do something kind for her. Let’s all get more educated about adoption and be supportive to adoptive families, if we are not adoptive parents ourselves. There’s a painful separation, but there is also tremendous love.

Media

NBC’s Ben Collins Faces Inconvenient Facts

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NBC’s Ben Collins on MSNBC, November 22, 2022. (Screenshot via MSNBC/YouTube)

As we noted in our editorial this morning, left-wing activists and journalists have mobilized, without evidence, to blame the Colorado Springs LGBT club shooting on conservatives:

According to the burgeoning conventional wisdom, therefore, the true culprits for the Club Q shooting include Libs of Tik Tok, Tucker Carlson, Elon Musk’s Twitter content-moderation policies, the “right wing moral panic” about drag queen story hours, and — of course — the entire Republican Party. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attributed the shooting to the Right’s “anti-LGBT+ campaign,” writing: “Connect the dots, @GOP.” Equality Florida press secretary Brandon Wolf told MSNBC that “right wing grifters, including politicians like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, they’ve been spewing this vile, hateful rhetoric about LGBTQ people . . . and we warned them that inevitably this would result in violence.” In the New York Times, columnist Michelle Goldberg argued that the shooting “seems hard to separate” from the Right’s “nationwide campaign of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. incitement.” “Each time these things happen, the right-wing go-to is to blame ‘mental illness,’” Brian Broome wrote in the Washington Post. But “it’s right-wing rhetoric that sparks these nightmares.”

Few voices in this cohort have been louder than NBC’s Ben Collins. Yesterday, he told MSNBC that reporters “have to have a come-to-Jesus moment” about more aggressively calling out the Right’s rhetoric on LGBT issues: “What are you more afraid of? Being on Breitbart for saying that trans people deserve to be alive? Or are you more afraid of waking up to the news of more dead people?” The day before that, he linked “the stories of dead trans people” to “a months long disinfo campaign explicitly targeting them.” He told Meet the Press that “the monthslong campaign of targeting trans and gay rights events and supporters . . . has been a persistent narrative by the anti-LGBTQ Right in the last, you know, six months to the last year,” and that “these narratives have taken such hold that they are, in fact, endorsing violence at this point.” The day after the shooting, he tweeted:

The motive for the shooting remains unclear. But the evidence of any link to right-wing ideology has yet to materialize. And when the news broke that the shooter was using “they/them” pronouns, the tone of Collins’s coverage swiftly changed:

Just like that, the shooter went from an assumed representative of right-wing anti-LGBT harassment to a victim of it. Facts may change, but the narrative never does.

Impromptus

Planes, Trains, Eclipses . . .

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A partial solar eclipse is pictured over a Christian church in the Almaty region of Kazakhstan, October 25, 2022. (Pavel Mikheyev / Reuters)

My Impromptus column today is the usual smorgasbord: with some politics, some foreign affairs, some sports, some language, and so on. Before getting to mail on this column, let me mention this review, which is of a premiere that took place at the Metropolitan Opera last night. The work in question is The Hours, by Kevin Puts, an American composer born in 1972.

The opera is based on a 1998 novel, of the same title, by Michael Cunningham. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize — and in 2002 was made into a movie, which received nine Oscar nominations. Cunningham’s novel has had a remarkable run.

What’d I think of the opera? I admired it. I was impressed by it. Liking may take longer. In any case, it is an interesting work, and its premiere had a starry cast.

In my column today, I have an item on college football — particularly as played by our service academies. A reader writes,

Jay,

A couple of weeks back, I caught the Air Force football game on TV. The service academies have female cheerleaders now. These days, cheerleaders are usually turned out like showgirls, but Air Force had theirs quite sensibly attired in T-shirt and gym shorts, and they just looked so gosh-darned wholesome!

Much to be thankful for.

Amen.

I have a note — an item in my column — on the astronomer Jay Pasachoff, who has died at 79. Apparently, he was the world’s foremost authority on solar eclipses.

A reader writes,

Jay,

As I began reading your Impromptus this morning, one of my first thoughts was, “I should email Jay and tell him about the passing of Jay Pasachoff.” Silly me. A few paragraphs later, I read your comments. . . .

Jay and I were classmates at Harvard, and both in Quincy House. My roommate reminded me this morning that Jay used to come to the monthly French table in the Quincy dining hall . . .

A neat guy. He will be missed.

Here is another item from my column:

The English language is so flexible — not least in our habit of turning nouns into verbs. Do you know the verb “to non-tender”? I give you a headline from the sports pages: “Dodgers non-tender former MVP Cody Bellinger after another rough year at plate.”

A reader has a pithy note on turning nouns into verbs: “I have long believed that this is a sign of the apocalypse.”

Heh, no way.

One more item from today’s Impromptus:

Did you see this? “‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ 4K Release Features Over an Hour of Never-Before-Seen Deleted and Extended Scenes.” For the American male, Christmas has come early. (I’m not sure what “4K” is, if it’s not four thousand, but I’ll know soon.)

A reader writes,

Jay,

I share your esteem of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. You know how sometimes a movie is funnier when you’re in just the right setting and just the right mood? About 25 years ago, after putting our two young children to bed, my wife and I watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles with my brother and his wife. We had rented it the day after Thanksgiving. Everyone was relaxed and primed for a good time. None of us had seen it before, and we laughed until our sides hurt.

If I recall correctly, I had that experience only one other time — watching Meet the Parents with a bunch of my wife’s family at the beach. Again, the setting and mood were perfect, and we laughed until we cried.

Marvelous. And have a happy Thanksgiving, dear friends.

Culture

Confront the Obesity Crisis with Personal Responsibility, Not Technocracy

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(adrian825/Getty Images)

Is obesity imposed on victims by nefarious outside forces? That’s what “health journalist” Julia Belluz argues in the New York Times:

The three-day meeting was infused with an implicit understanding of what obesity is not: a personal failing. No presenter argued that humans collectively lost willpower around the 1980s, when obesity rates took off, first in high-income countries‌, then in much of the rest of the world. Not a single scientist said our genes changed in that short time. Laziness, gluttony‌‌ and sloth were not referred to as obesity’s helpers. In stark contrast to a prevailing societal view of obesity, which assumes people have full control over their body size, they didn’t blame individuals for their condition, the same way we don’t blame people suffering from the effects of undernutrition, like stunting and wasting.

The researchers instead referred to obesity as a complex, chronic condition, and they were meeting to get to the bottom of why humans have, collectively, grown larger over the past half century. To that end, they shared a range of mechanisms that might explain the global obesity surge. And their theories, however diverse, made one thing obvious: As long as we treat obesity as a personal responsibility issue, its prevalence is unlikely to decline.

But personal responsibility must play some role. Weight is something that is within the power of most people to influence. I look to my own life as an example. I have fought the weight battle much of my life, but that’s on me. I decide to overeat, and when I do, I gain weight. Sometimes, I eat because I am bored or anxious or because the food tastes so good. Conversely, when I discipline myself, I am able to lose weight or find a place of equipoise. No one stuffs food into my mouth. If I go back for seconds or thirds of Thanksgiving stuffing and pie, that’s on me.

The alternative to personal responsibility and individual agency is to assume that all problems are beyond one’s own control — and, thus, that we need some outside expert class to “help” us. Indeed, years ago, I wrote a piece noting that obesity was becoming the new global warming because the proposed solutions to both issues were very much the same: Coerce people out of their cars, destroy the meat industry, build more bicycle lanes, and regulate, regulate, regulate. Sure enough:

When I asked many of the researchers how they’d tackle obesity, given the uncertainties, they pointed to policies that would alter or regulate our environment, like outlawing junk food marketing to kids, banning vending machines in schools and making neighborhoods more walkable. They talked about changing the food system in ways that also address climate change — a related crisis once met with policy inertia that now has international momentum. But when it comes to obesity, governments are still accused of being nanny states if they try to intervene with regulation.

So it’s not surprising to see more examples of arguments that this problem demands not personal responsibility but protection by “the experts” within the warm embrace of an imposing technocracy.

Advocacy such as this is the real problem:

Until we see obesity as something that’s been imposed on societies, not as something individuals choose, the fat shaming, magic hacks and bad policies will continue. Until we stop blaming ourselves and one another and start focusing attention on environments and systems, the global obesity rate will continue its ascent — a trend no country has substantially reversed, not even in children‌.

No. Eschewing personal responsibility breeds dysfunction and dependency. The more we believe that our mistakes are beyond our control, the more mistakes we will make.

Culture

How to Know Why Shootings Happened

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As you might have heard, the Club Q shooter is supposedly non-binary.

Jon Gabriel notes that a narrative update may be necessary, and posts his guide to such narratives:

Elections

Trump vs. DeSantis

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A new YouGov poll captures what you’d intuit about the potential pitfalls of Trump and potential promise of DeSantis as general-election candidates:

Sports

Even the NHL Is Ridiculous Now

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The NHL wasn’t going to be an early adopter of woke nonsense, but it has, inevitably, I guess, come along:

Culture

Outrageous: Biden Pardons Criminal Turkeys

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The National Thanksgiving Turkeys “Chocolate” and “Chip” stand on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., November 21, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

In what amounts to further abuse of the executive branch and its privileges, President Biden has pardoned not one but two turkeys, National Review reports. These fowl, using pseudonyms “Chocolate” and “Chip” to elicit sympathy from the Commander-in-Dotage, will be transferred to the North Carolina State pen to serve out the rest of their life sentences as turkeys. Guilty of crimes ranging from inciting riots to grand larceny and tom-foolery, not to mention the assault of the Whidbey Island weapons station and predation upon Seattle’s homeless, Messrs. Chocolate and Chip are the worst of their gaggle. Biden’s scheme will prevent the gobblers from paying for their crimes trussed up and golden brown on an autumnal runner as established in the Supreme Court’s 1797 Turcia v. Stuffing decision.  

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Ellsworth penned two centuries ago:

In matters of avian tyranny, homicide, and anarchy, we, the court, cannot find the same Eighth Amendment protections applicable, as turkeys refused representation under our government and constitution — young as it may be. It is then the regrettable duty of this court to view the genus Meleagris as foreign agents upon American soil and afford them only so much leniency as they show this fledgling nation.

The Court finds in favor of Stuffing.

One can only hope that a Tarheel fraternity might see justice done, busting those bum turkeys out of their unearned life of leisure and popping them in a frier for the needy and hungry of greater North Carolina — though such extralegal activity may ruffle the feathers of the turkeys’ gamecock brethren to the south should they catch wind.

PHOTOS: White House Turkeys

Politics & Policy

Here’s a California School That Performs Very Well — but Don’t Expect More Like It

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In this Independent Institute piece, Professor Lee Ohanian writes about the Kairos School, a charter school in California that has great success with students. The school has a long waiting list.

Couldn’t more schools like Kairos be created? That’s what would happen under market competition. But this is the realm of education, under government control. More successful schools cannot be created without political approval. Ohanian explains: “The Kairos charter school recipe for success can be replicated. But a recent California law has made it difficult to form new charter schools. California Assembly Bill 1505, which passed in 2019 despite strong opposition from the Senate Republican Caucus, changed the approval process for new charter schools. Under AB 1505, an application for a new charter school can be denied if the charter would have a negative fiscal impact within the district.”

This is the education blob at work, stifling competition to protect itself.

Not only will more schools like Kairos not be forthcoming, but I fear that the “woke” mania will infect it and undermine educational standards.

Hat tip: Don Boudreaux

Music

Danny Kalb

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American band The Blues Project perform at the Apollo Theater in New York, circa 1965. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

I saw in the paper an obit for Danny Kalb, best known as guitarist with the Blues Project, but a considerable player before and for many years after that. His political trajectory was also interesting.

I met him early in the millennium at a book party for the urbanist Fred Siegel, whose friend he was. When I mentioned it to my wife, she said she had met him much longer ago — in 1965, the summer after her graduation from high school, on the Aurelia, a ship that carried students cheaply to Europe. Danny was half the entertainment. You could also sing madrigals with a chorus director from Antioch. Madrigals are wonderful, but Danny must have been better.

The Blues Project was a flare of the Greenwich Village folk revival, which I was just young enough to miss. Danny knew Bob Dylan when he was Zimmerman, and took guitar lessons from Dave Van Ronk (who reputedly threw him out one day when he played back a tricky riff after only one hearing). The Blues Project burned brightly for a season. Danny was famous for having tuned his guitar in the middle of a recording session, but making it sound like a bluesy squawk. Heaven was when Muddy Waters himself complimented their version of “Two Trains Running.”

Then it broke up, as many groups did. Danny played in clubs, at reunions, with other musicians. The musicians’ life. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize.

His parents’ communism was an element in the turbulence of his early days. He moved past it, but kept trying to integrate radicalism somehow with patriotism. He liked recounting how Dylan, whom he worshipped, gave his first post-fame Paris concert in front of an enormous American flag. Let the French lefties make of it what they would. On 9/11, Danny shared the general distress by calling and crying “No pasaran!” as if summoning La Pasionaria to smite Osama bin Laden.

He was demanding and difficult and I had to stop taking his many, many phone calls. But I will never forget the times I heard him play, once at one of his birthday parties, again for Jeanne and me when we visited him at his apartment. His voice was a growl, but he could put a song across. His guitar playing was peerless. He did “The Water Is Wide” at his party, “In My Time of Dying” for us.

Meet me, Jesus, meet me
In the middle of the air
If these wings should fail me
Won’t you meet me with another pair.

Politics & Policy

The President Is Abusing His Emergency Powers, and Congress Must Take Them Away

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(tupungato/Getty Images)

Per CNN:

The Biden administration is yet again extending the pause on federal student loan payments, a benefit that began in March 2020 to help people who were struggling financially due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The extension comes as the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program is tied up in the courts. Officials had told borrowers the forgiveness program, which is worth up to $20,000 in debt relief per borrower, would be implemented before loan payments were set to resume in January.

The payment pause will last until 60 days after the litigation is resolved. If the program has not been implemented and the litigation has not been resolved by June 30, payments will resume 60 days after that, according to the Department of Education.

That “yet again” is well deserved. Payments on federal student loans have now been “paused” for two and a half years — across two presidencies — on the grounds that (a) we are in the middle of an emergency, and (b) this emergency is materially hurting borrowers. At one point, this was arguable, albeit, in my estimation, unconvincing. Now, it is a joke. At this stage, the measure no longer represents a “pause” but a policy, and the “emergency” no longer resembles an emergency but an excuse. At the first opportunity, Congress must bring an end to the ruse.

Unlike with his flagrantly illegal attempt to “cancel” — read, transfer — student-loan debt, President Biden does have the statutory authority to defer student-loan repayments in case of emergency. But that authority relies entirely on there being an extant emergency in the first place, and, as the president himself has conceded, that emergency no longer exists. Why does he keep formally extending the declaration nevertheless? Simple. Because, given the makeup of Congress, that emergency declaration now represents the primary source of his power. With the emergency, he can keep student-loan repayments paused, expand Medicaid, and more. Without the emergency, he’s a lame duck.

Or, rather, without the emergency, he’s not a king but a president of the United States, as the role was envisioned under Articles I and II. Covid is over. And, because Covid is over, it is high time that Congress stepped in and told the president that enough is enough. Earlier this month, the Senate did just that, by 62–36. That measure, alas, is likely to die a quick death in the Nancy Pelosi–controlled House. But next year, when Pelosi is gone and her role is being played by a Republican, things may look a little different.

At the very least, lawmakers in both houses of the next Congress ought to vote again to end the declaration — even if they do not have sufficient support to override a veto. And, once they’ve done that, they should do so again and again and again, until they have successfully restored authority to their own branch. When the Senate voted to end the emergency last March, the tally was 48–47. By November, it was 62–36. At some point, that number will hit 67 — enough to overcome a veto — and, when it does, Congress will have a chance to restore our system of government to some semblance of normalcy. It must take that chance, and while it’s at it, it might consider scouring the statute books with an eye to trimming the vast reef of emergency powers that has developed without check over time, and which makes an ongoing mockery of our hallowed separation of powers.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Welfare Reform and Unions

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Matt Weidinger of the American Enterprise Institute writes about the need to reform welfare programs:

Fortunately, there’s a path out of this maze: Policy-makers can reorient safety-net programs away from simply staving off poverty toward helping struggling families achieve a brighter future. That’s what my AEI colleagues Angela Rachidi and Scott Winship and I argue in American Renewal, a just-released book co-edited by former House speaker Paul Ryan offering a full spectrum of conservative policy solutions.

We believe there can be no real societal renewal unless we first reform our country’s labyrinth of welfare programs.

In designing such reforms, policy-makers should reject the idea that the only way to help low-income Americans with limited opportunities is to redistribute more income from wealthier Americans, as many on the political left unconvincingly suggest.

I write about the efforts of freight-rail union president Jeremy Ferguson to portray unions as victims:

Ferguson acts as though he’s a powerless bystander in this process. He’s the president of a union that in September refused to make a tentative agreement based on the independent recommendations of the Biden-appointed presidential emergency board (PEB). Nine of the twelve unions covered by national bargaining made agreements based on it, but it wasn’t good enough for Ferguson and SMART-TD.

That refusal, along with the refusal of the BLET (the second-largest union) spurred the 20 hours of negotiations brokered by Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh that culminated in the White House Rose Garden celebration of a deal and headlines everywhere of “Rail Strike Averted” back in September. Unlike SMART-TD, though, BLET membership voted to approve the deal their president held out for.

Education

The Left Relies on Statistical Illiteracy — and What We Should Do about It

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(pickingpok/.Getty Images)

Leftists have a big bag of tricks to get people to go along with their agenda of social control. One of them is to create seemingly scientific arguments that bolster the need for more government, but which are built upon faulty statistics.

In today’s Martin Center article, David Randall of the National Association of Scholars addresses this serious problem. Randall writes, “In September 2022, three researchers published the provocatively titled article, ‘Do Introductory Courses Disproportionately Drive Minoritized Students Out of STEM Pathways?’ That article got loads of social media publicity for its conclusion that unequal withdrawal rates from STEM degree tracks are due to systemic racism.”

Horrors — more racism keeping “minoritized” students from good careers. Proof that America must be transformed. Right?

Wrong. Randall continues, “The scholarly article is bunk. Professor Lee Jussim, a man who has considerable experience in detecting scientific emperors without clothes, eviscerated it on Substack.”

Unfortunately, lots of clueless people believed the conclusion. Worse, such shoddy “research” now abounds in academia, nearly always done to propel “progressivism.”

Randall correctly observes, “The monolithic politicization of science and social-science professionals, alas, is likely to become worse. A growing minority of these professionals have become committed to addressing the intellectual and institutional failures that have led to the irreproducibility crisis, including politicized groupthink. At the same time, unfortunately, the radical advocates in charge of higher education have significantly tightened the politicization of the sciences and the social sciences.”

He suggests that we need to focus on providing the statistical training that will enable more people to spot and call out bogus research.

National Review

‘Really Cool Stuff on the Internet’

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On this week’s episode of The Charles C. W. Cooke Podcast, I stop complaining for a moment and express some gratitude for my remarkable good fortune. I could have been born in Sparta in 400 b.c. But I wasn’t. I was born in the 1980s in the West. How lucky is that?

My guest this week is Ricky Cobb, of the Twitter account @Super70sSports, who tells me about his terrifying browser history, about his ongoing surprise at the broad appeal of his work, and about the hilarious messages he received when the hive mind decided that Twitter was going to shut down.

I finished the show with another Q&A. This time: “Are you a dual citizen?” and “Which books about the Beatles should I read?”

As always, you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and more. And if you don’t? Well, I know where you live.

Education

Law-School Admissions’ Perfect Storm

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Sign at the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Between the breakdown of the preeminent U.S. News & World Report’s ranking system and the Supreme Court’s possibly being on the verge of issuing a long-overdue ruling banning race-conscious admissions, law schools are staring down their biggest disruption in decades. Now, amidst all this uncertainty, the American Bar Association plans to stop requiring law schools to use the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The latest shakeup is the culmination of a broader push in academia to forsake standardized testing to facilitate diversity in university enrollment. So what does this mean for the legal academy? Nothing good.

Abandoning the LSAT is incredibly ill-advised. Standardized tests are among the least discriminatory institutions in American society. The LSAT is one of the places where skin color, income, and zip code matter the least. No matter where you come from or who you are, you can take the LSAT, free from prejudice.

Of course, the test is not immaculately impartial. As with all standardized tests, wealthier applicants have an advantage because they can dedicate more hours to studying and more resources toward tutoring services. Unlike the other major standardized admissions exams, however, the LSAT is least susceptible to these criticisms.

The SAT, ACT, GRE, and MCAT are all knowledge-based tests. The LSAT is a logical-reasoning-based exam, testing skills rather than knowledge of legal concepts. This is an ostensible flaw because no skill directly applicable to the practice of law is being assessed, but it has one great advantage: a weaker relationship between the quality of one’s schooling and how prepared one is to take the test.

So sure, there are differences in the amount of time and money applicants can spend studying. Ideally, a standardized exam should be impossible to study for so no one has an inordinate advantage. But attempting to eradicate disparities across applicants’ original positions is a fool’s errand. At least on the LSAT, one’s educational background has far less bearing on how one will do on the test. So even if one concedes that cultivating diversity of background rather than diversity of thought among the student body is a worthwhile pursuit for law-school admissions directors, it’s unclear how eliminating this great equalizer will further that objective.

Politics & Policy

There’s Another Cabinet Secretary Worth Impeaching

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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Kevin McCarthy made headlines today for threatening Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas with impeachment when the next Congress begins with Republicans in the House majority. Mayorkas has done a bad job, and poor border enforcement is certainly worthy of congressional investigation, but there’s a different cabinet secretary whose lawlessness was on display yet again today.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona will be extending the supposedly pandemic-related pause on student-loan repayments until litigation is resolved or until June 30, whichever comes first. President Biden today said that extension was necessary due to the ongoing court challenges of the program.

That does not explain why borrowers with debt that will be unaffected by the program should not have to start paying back the money they borrowed. It does not explain why a pandemic-related pause can still be extended after even Biden said the pandemic is over. It does not explain why that pause’s total price tag, which could end up as high as $275 billion, is worthwhile. But at no point in the “forgiveness” program’s history have Biden or Cardona felt the need to make logically compelling or legally sound arguments for it.

Though Biden is cheerleading the flagrant constitutional abuse that this program represents, Cardona is the one actually executing it. It was Cardona’s office of general counsel that produced the specious legal opinion that said he had unilateral authority to forgive student debt in virtually unlimited amounts. Biden has not issued any executive orders concerning this program. It’s all being done by Cardona, who is clearly abusing his office as secretary of education and violating his oath to support and defend the Constitution.

I argued in the post-election issue of National Review that Republicans should impeach Cardona. You can read my full argument here. Today’s announcement of the repayment-pause extension is just another log on the fire.

National Security & Defense

To Fix the DOD’s Misplaced Priorities, Pass the Restoring Military Focus Act

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The Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

In recent years, the infiltration by left-wing identity politics of the military has garnered significant attention. We should be focused on bolstering our nuclear posture in light of unprecedented threats from Moscow and Beijing. Instead, the Navy is focused on adopting gender-neutral titles. The Biden administration’s chief of naval operations, Admiral Michael Gilday, has added Ibram Kendi’s anticapitalist screed, How to Be an Antiracist, to his list of recommended readings. And this summer, it was uncovered that training materials on the problems of “whiteness” were being disseminated at West Point.

While the wokification of the administrative state isn’t a military-specific concern, the problem is particularly acute at the Department of Defense (DOD). Ideological maladies such as critical race theory and gender ideology threaten our national security. According to a report by Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Representative Chip Roy (R., Texas), the Biden administration’s “diversity, equity, and inclusion” initiatives have imperiled the cohesion and professionalism that make the military so effective on the battlefield.

Now the two lawmakers have introduced a bill to remedy the woke malignancy bedeviling the DOD, the Restoring Military Focus Act. The legislation would do away with the chief diversity officer position at DOD and forbid the use of government funding to create comparable offices with a race- and gender-focused personnel agenda. Enacting this proposal would go a long way in eradicating the intersectional rot undermining the armed forces.

Senator Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, says, “Our military is not a place for social experimentation. With the rise of severe military threats from China and Russia, any step forward in improving our national defense must include rooting out these corrosive ideas and improving the quality of life for our troops.” He’s right.

While the bill’s passage is undoubtedly a long shot in the Democratic-controlled 117th Congress or the Democratic-controlled Senate in the 118th, not to mention Biden’s veto power, it’s still worthy of GOP support. At the very least, getting a critical mass of Republicans to sign on will signal to the foreign-policy establishment that the military’s foray into the muddy waters of progressive identitarianism will not be tolerated indefinitely.

International

Glimpses of the Green Economy: Wind Woes and (Wind) ‘Droughts’

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A crane lifts the rotor at the top of a power-generating windmill turbine on a wind farm in Avesnes-le Sec, France, September 29, 2022. (Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

The other day I noted some comments from the CEO of Vestas, a Danish company that is a world leader in the wind-energy sector. He (rightly) had warned that expectations of how cheap renewable energy might become had been overdone. He also warned that supply-chain issues and soaring raw-material costs were likely to push the company into the red in 2022, despite its having increased its prices by some 30 percent over the past year.

Well, the good news keeps coming.

The New York Times (November 22):

Europe’s wind turbine makers, the crown jewels of the region’s green energy industry and a source of manufacturing expertise, are reporting losses and laying off workers. Their problems stem partly from lingering supply chain issues and competition from Chinese manufacturers, and the issues could ultimately hinder Europe’s, and even the world’s, ambitions to quickly develop emission-free energy sources.

Laying off workers?

Chinese competition?

I don’t think that this quite fits in with the narrative of a prosperous green economy being pushed on both sides of the Atlantic.

And the problems are not confined to Vestas.

The New York Times:

This month, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, a Madrid-based company that is the premier maker of offshore wind turbines, reported an annual loss of 940 million euros ($965 million). The company has announced a cost-cutting program that is likely to lead to 2,900 job losses, or nearly 11 percent of its work force.

Just those Europeans messing up again?

Well, no.

NYT:

General Electric, a large maker of wind turbines in the United States and Europe, has also struggled in its clean energy businesses. The company said last month that its renewable energy unit was likely to record $2 billion in losses this year…

[A]larms are beginning to sound about growing competition from China, where domestic turbine makers that have spent years catering to the Chinese market are beginning to sell their machines overseas. Some Western manufacturers of turbines fear a repeat of the bitter experience with solar panels, a technology first developed in the West but now largely dominated by China and other Asian manufacturers. . . .

While Chinese makers have made only modest inroads outside their home country, analysts say they have used the large volumes of sales in China to hone their manufacturing skills and train large work forces that can deliver turbines at prices well below those asked by their Western rivals.

“Europe is now facing the very real possibility that the E.U. energy transition will be created by China,” Siemens Gamesa warned in a recent paper asking for support from European governments.

Chinese companies already produce as much as 70 percent of the components that make up turbines used in the West, according to Mr. Lico. “China is the epicenter of the global wind supply chain,” he said, referring to makers of components.

Leaving aside the problem that wind-based energy (because of intermittency the wind doesn’t always blow — and the lack, so far, of effective, sufficiently scalable storage technologies) is not ready for prime time, it looks as if Europeans may well, if they want to accelerate their decarbonization (and they are saying that they do), have to throw further massive subsidies in the direction of a technology that doesn’t really deliver the goods.  Central planning is what it is.

These subsidies may be direct, or, if Europe erects high tariff walls, indirect, or, quite possibly, both. And if those tariff walls don’t go up, the likelihood is that Chinese manufacturers will obliterate Europe’s domestic wind-power sector, leaving the Europeans doubly dependent on China (for solar and wind; we can talk about electric vehicles later). Should that occur, Europe would have swapped reliance on Putin’s gas for reliance on Xi’s “green” hardware, not something that they should be looking to do.

So I’d bet on those subsidies, and greenflation will be what it will be.

As mentioned above, wind doesn’t always blow as much as it is meant to. But what if such shortfalls are set to be more frequent than in the past?

Eh?

Anjana Ahuja, writing in the Financial Times:

We tend to think of an extreme weather event as a moment of high drama. It is the waist-deep flood, the perishing heatwave or the famine-inducing drought.

One climatic extreme, called a wind drought, has largely escaped attention, perhaps because it is the very absence of drama. A wind drought — a prolonged period of slow wind — happened in Europe in summer 2021, with some countries recording their lowest wind speeds for decades.

The slowdown may have been due partly to natural variability but also tallied with predictions that climate change will cause wind speeds to drop over the long term, a phenomenon known as “global stilling”. As wind power spins its way into the European energy mix, operators will need to plan how to keep the lights on in a warming world girdled by lazy winds…

And Ahuja is not an outlier to believe this.

From September, Frank Jacobs in The Big Think :

Unfortunately for Europe, it doesn’t seem that last year’s “wind drought” was a one-off. In its latest report, the IPCC predicts a drop of 6% to 8% in average wind speeds across Europe by 2050. As wind speeds become increasingly inconstant, the cost of wind energy will become more unpredictable and its provision more unreliable…

I’m not sure that the central planners have thought this all through.

But do they ever?

I, for one, being a trusting fool, believe that we will not make the same mistakes over here.

World

Solidarity

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Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel and Russia’s Vladimir Putin attend the unveiling of a monument to the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in Moscow, November 22, 2022. (Sputnik/Sergey Guneev/Kremlin via Reuters)

As you can see, above, Vladimir Putin has unveiled a statue of Fidel Castro in Moscow. He did so in a ceremony with Miguel Díaz-Canel, the current boss in Cuba. From the Associated Press, the headline reads, “Russia, Cuba leaders meet in Moscow, honor rebel icon Castro.” (Article here.) “Rebel icon”? Yes, that’s true, to a degree. It’s also true to say that Fidel Castro was a dictator, a tyrant, persecuting Cubans for 50 years.

The friendship between the Kremlin and the Cuban regime is natural. It was natural in Soviet days, and it is natural in Putin days. In 2014, I wrote a three-part series called “Fraternal Relations.” It examined Havana’s relations with North Korea, Russia, and China. To read the Russian part, go here.

Díaz-Canel “is set to travel on to Turkey and China,” according to the AP. That makes sense.

Authoritarian regimes are very good at allying with one another. Democracies tend to be less good, I think. As there was a Communist International, there is an Authoritarian International. In Moscow, Putin and Díaz-Canel exchanged tender expressions of solidarity.

In a piece last month about Nicaragua and its political prisoners, I wrote,

This regime has many allies, birds of a feather — chiefly Cuba, Venezuela, and Russia. In June, Ortega invited Russian troops to train in Nicaragua. There are eight countries that, in 2014, recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea. One is Nicaragua. The others are Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, and North Korea.

In 2018, Erdogan, the Turkish boss, staged an inauguration, after staging an election. The list of attendees, I wrote,

was instructive, and predictable: Medvedev of Russia (standing in for Putin). Orbán of Hungary. Maduro of Venezuela.

Maduro pronounced Erdogan a “leader of the new multi-polar world” — which is accurate.

The year before, Orbán had said, “We all sense — it’s in the air — that the world is in the process of a substantial realignment.” He was meeting with Putin — who hailed Hungary as an “important and reliable partner for Russia in Europe.”

Hungary and Turkey present ticklish cases. The second is a member of NATO. (I wrote at length about this issue in 2019, here.) The first is a member of both NATO and the European Union. An AP report last Friday was headed, “Hungary will not support EU aid plan to Ukraine, Orban says.” Earlier this week, the Hungarian foreign minister traveled to Russia, to participate in an expo. A year ago, the Kremlin bestowed on him its Order of Friendship.

You know who needs friendship? Russia’s political prisoners. And Cuba’s. And Ukrainians, as a people. And people all over. Freedom, democracy, and human rights need friendship. The new statue in Moscow says a lot. There are Putin fans and Castro fans. The former tend to be rightists and the latter tend to be leftists. They are cut from the same general cloth, regardless.

Solidarity should not be left to the authoritarians. The democrats should meet them, step by step, and ultimately prevail against them.

Media

Online-Harassment Rules for Thee but Not for Me

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The Washington Post Company building in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Washington Post columnist Taylor Lorenz is a regular object of conservative ire — and rightly so. When Lorenz went to great lengths to find and publicize the identity of Chaya Raichik, the woman behind the once-anonymous right-wing “Libs of Tik Tok” Twitter account, the Post journalist defended the move as “basic reporting practices.” (Raichik, for her part, said that she had to “hole up in a safe location” to wait out the backlash sparked by Lorenz’s reporting.) Lorenz “even showed up to the home of the account owner’s relatives and harassed a random Instagram user with a similar name, asserting that she was going to be ‘implicated as starting a hate campaign against LGBTQ people,’” the Spectator’s Amber Athey reported at the time. The Washington Examiner‘s Jerry Dunleavy noted that Lorenz “originally linked to the real estate license for the person behind the Libs of TikTok account,” which included her real name and a physical address. According to a statement from the Post, the link “to publicly available professional information” was “ultimately deemed . . . unnecessary” and removed. But of course, this is the internet we’re talking about; the damage was already done.

Lorenz’s latest Post column, “Online mobs are now coming for student journalists,” takes a considerably different line:

Olivia Krupp, a sophomore at the University of Arizona, knew she wanted to write for the student newspaper since she started college. She was hoping to build her reporting and interviewing skills and was thrilled when a spot on the paper opened up the second semester of her freshman year.

But since late September, after writing a critical profile of a TikTok star and fellow student, she has received an onslaught of harassment that has upended her life.

Krupp’s ordeal highlights the growing threat that online harassment poses to journalists, especially those just starting out. Targeted online harassment has become a pervasive threat to newsrooms across the country. A 2019 survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists found that 85 percent of respondents believed their career had become less safe in the past five years and more than 70 percent said they experienced safety issues or threats as part of doing their job. [Emphasis added.]

Of course, student journalists are in a different category from Twitter accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, but the aim of Lorenz’s story is to connect the backlash against student journalists to online attacks on professional journalists. Lorenz has routinely made herself out to be a victim when she becomes a subject of the same kind of online criticism that she regularly sics on right-wing influencers. The upshot: “It’s basic reporting practices when we do it to them. It’s online harassment when they do it to us.

Education

College Is Too Hard!

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Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute has a good piece on the decline of academic standards in college.

He builds his piece around two points: first, the termination of NYU chemistry professor Maitland Jones after a number of his students griped that his organic chemistry course was too difficult, and second, a survey showing that a large percentage of college students think that too much is being asked of them (despite the fact that they don’t actually do many hours of work per week).

This is the inevitable result of our schools being more concerned with student happiness than with academic achievement. Teachers are less and less willing to demand much of students because it means being unpopular and sets up the possibility of hostile action, as in the case of Jones. It’s so much easier to adjust things down to the level where students won’t complain.

Many students have come to think of college as an entitlement (to be paid for mostly by other people), and they want it with a minimum of effort. College costs a great deal and delivers remarkably little value, a by-product of government involvement.

Elections

Two New National Polls Show Republicans Evenly Split between Trump and DeSantis

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Echelon Insights finds Ron DeSantis surging since the midterm elections and tied with Donald Trump in a 2024 matchup:

Quinnipiac: “Republicans are evenly split over who they prefer to win the Republican nomination with 44 percent preferring Trump, 44 percent preferring DeSantis and 11 percent not offering an opinion.”

Another interesting finding in the Quinnipiac poll is that a majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of both Trump and Biden, but a plurality of Americans haven’t yet heard enough about DeSantis to have an opinion about him:

  • Joe Biden: 38 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable, 7 percent haven’t heard enough about him;

  • Donald Trump: 37 percent favorable, 54 percent unfavorable, 5 percent haven’t heard enough about him;

  • Ron DeSantis: 33 percent favorable, 29 percent unfavorable, 36 percent haven’t heard enough about him;

  • Kamala Harris: 28 percent favorable, 48 percent unfavorable, 22 percent haven’t heard enough about her.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Nuclear Power, Climate, and Twitter

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The Isar 2 nuclear power plant by the river Isar in Eschenbach, Germany, August 17, 2022. (Christian Mang/Reuters)

Eric Scott Dawson writes about a weak argument against nuclear power:

The takeaway here is that the perfect is the enemy of the good. The reason that France expanded its nuclear power so dramatically was not to decarbonize but instead to decrease its energy dependence on OPEC in the wake of the energy crisis of the 1970s. Given that France achieved both of these ends by expanding nuclear energy, it makes no sense to insist on a precarious, renewables-only grid that has been achieved in the developed world only by a couple of low-population countries naturally blessed with uncommonly great hydropower potential (Iceland and Norway). We must not miss the forest for the trees by accepting irrational policies that are all but certain to harm the people purported to be helped by them.

Andrew Follett writes about a new climate agreement the Biden administration is entering into:

At the COP27 climate summit in Egypt earlier this month, American diplomats appointed by President Biden agreed to pay poor countries for supposed damage caused by America’s emitting carbon dioxide.

This represents a major reversal in U.S. climate policy. Similar agreements had previously been blocked by both the Obama and Trump administrations, and for good reason: The “loss and damage” fund is both incredibly expensive and could be used to create a legal liability for greenhouse-gas emissions.

In short, it is a total shakedown. A major beneficiary of the deal is China, despite the fact that it has much higher emissions than the United States.

David McGarry writes about why Twitter isn’t a monopoly:

Conservative advocates of heavy-handed social-media regulations that violate property rights and the First Amendment should reverse course. It’s disappointing to see so many right-wingers advocating the use of state power to control (and sometimes simply punish) social media.

The pro-regulation Right should eschew the traditionally leftist assumption that popularity implies monopoly. They should stop arguing in a way that suggests that today’s social-media giants will never lose their market shares, an assumption that ignores basic economics. Incumbents, even purported monopolists, tend to lack staying power. Indeed, in any facet of life — business, politics, art, sports, etc. — perpetual performance in the top percentiles is close to impossible.

And David Bahnsen talks to Samuel Gregg on the latest episode of the Capital Record about Gregg’s new (excellent) book, The Next American Economy. Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Elections

Georgia Senate Poll: Warnock 51, Walker 47

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Left: Reverend Raphael Warnock, Democratic Senator from Georgia, speaks to supporters during a campaign event in Atlanta, Ga., November 8, 2022. Right: Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Herschel Walker rallies with supporters at a campaign stop in Newnan, Ga., November 4, 2022. (Bob Strong, Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

A new poll shows the December Georgia Senate runoff election leaning in favor of incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock:

If Georgia Republicans had nominated almost any candidate other than Herschel Walker, they probably would have defeated Warnock on November 8. But they rallied in the primary behind a Trump-backed celebrity, who ran nine points behind Republican governor Brian Kemp. If Warnock prevails in December, Republicans across the country should remember it didn’t have to end this way.

Education

A Woman in the Arena

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Betsy DeVos visits a middle school in Dallas in April 2018. (Jay Nordlinger)

Betsy DeVos is my latest guest on Q&A (a podcast). To hear her, go here. She has worked in education for some 35 years: as a reformer, as a policy expert — a sometime crusader. She has been an incredibly generous philanthropist as well. I interviewed and wrote about her in 2018. For that piece, go here.

Two weeks after Election Day 2016, President-elect Trump tabbed her to be education secretary. She never expected to serve in that role. How did it come about?

As Mrs. DeVos relates in the podcast, Jeb Bush sent her an e-mail the morning after the election — planting the idea that she ought to be secretary. Mrs. DeVos had worked with Jeb Bush, and George W. Bush, for a long time. They were notable education reformers in their states — Florida and Texas — and the Texan continued to be one in Washington.

Anyway, Betsy DeVos went to Washington herself. And she has written a book about that experience — and her life, and education policy: Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child.

In our podcast, I ask her about some of the words in that title, and subtitle: “hostages,” “education freedom.” Further questions: Should there be public schools, or “government schools,” as Milton Friedman called them? Does the K–12 model need to be destroyed? Can the health of our schools be better than the health of our society in general? What about “common core”? Should all education be local — meaning that schools in San Francisco will be very different from schools in Murfreesboro?

We also discuss some specific episodes of her tenure in Washington: the controversy over Special Olympic funding; a segment — a number — that 60 Minutes did on her; and her resignation from the administration after January 6.

She has led a remarkable life, Betsy DeVos. Her father, a brilliant engineer, made a fortune. Betsy could have done almost anything. But she threw herself into the cause of education, and in particular “education freedom,” as she says — not for the sake of her own children, who were going to be fine, regardless, but for the sake of children without advantages. She has her critics, and defamers. She also has a nationful of fans by this point.

Again, to hear her in her own words — as they say in courtroom dramas — go here.

Sports

Soccer Is Unwatchable Brilliance

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To the critical words of Dominic Pino and Nate Hochman, may I offer that soccer, much like baseball, is at its best when consumed as one would music, i.e., in audio format? The constancy of movement in the “beautiful game” creates a pleasant murmur in the background. It is only when the crowd informs us of impending fatal action that our eyes should move to the screen.

A game that comes to us from before television and radio, the physical presence of the throng and her voice communicate what we need to know. For the initiate, he needn’t sit and watch the games — I’d pity you if you did — but try listening to them. Like a young boy without tickets loitering outside of Wrigley or Lambeau, we depend upon the tens of thousands within to inform us of the game’s end — an exhilarating spectacle in one’s mind.

As a former goalie and yellow card magnet, soccer is frustration incarnate. But it has good in it, something that a series of calls may further illuminate:

As Americans, a people blessed with better sports, we needn’t love soccer. But we can at least appreciate why others might.

Business

Twitter: The Necessity of Failure

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A person approaches the New York Twitter offices in New York, N.Y., July 29, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

In a post the other day, I looked at the way that Antonio García Martínez had analyzed the battle over Twitter as a form of class struggle.

In one tweet (part of a must-read) thread, Martinez had written:

What Elon is doing is a revolt by entrepreneurial capital against the professional-managerial class regime that otherwise everywhere dominates (including and especially large tech companies), and that same PMC (which includes the media) is treating it as an act of lèse-majesté.

To repeat what I wrote in that earlier post, I reckon (broadly speaking) that Martínez is right about that. Moreover, it’s important to remember that Martínez includes the media as part of that same professional-managerial class. More specifically, I think, he is not so much referring to the media (an abstraction) as to those who work in it, many of whom have not only been hit economically by the effect of the Internet on many traditional news sources, but also suffered a drop in status, in part for the same reason. One of the crimes of Elon Musk in their eyes is that he is a symbol of Silicon Valley. Making him more reprehensible still is the way that he makes no secret of the way that Twitter is bypassing the established media role as gatekeepers of information.

Musk:

Twitter is like open-sourcing the news

Martínez:

Twitter *must* fail after the purge of such a former elite. For if Twitter does not fail, if in fact it manages to emerge stronger than before, then what sort of example would this set for every other organization similarly captured by this elite? Unthinkable.

Twitter may fail. If it does, that failure will owe quite a bit to the fact that Musk overpaid for the company, the application of Musk’s vintage start-up style to an existing business with an entrenched (and ideologically uncongenial) culture, and the crumbling of Twitter’s advertising-based model. It won’t fail because of media ill will.

Nevertheless, looking at some of the coverage, it’s not difficult to see hints that some members of the media class want this interloper gone.

To take one example, Austin Carr in Bloomberg, in a piece entitled “Elon Musk Is Running Twitter Like a Failing Newspaper Business” (note that it’s often the case that the author of an article is not responsible for its headline), writes:

Seen one way, the series of events is extraordinary and unprecedented: The world’s most successful technology entrepreneur buys one of the most influential social media companies, quickly sabotages some of its best qualities and drives out much of its brightest talent. Seen through a different lens, Musk is just the latest wannabe media mogul torturing his new plaything.

Now return to Martínez’s feed to find him commenting on a (remarkably pompous) tweet by CBS:

After pausing for much of the weekend to assess the security concerns, CBS News and Stations is resuming its activity on Twitter as we continue to monitor the situation.

Martínez:

Media source discovers who’s downstream of whom all of a sudden.

That goes too far. The relationship between Twitter and established journalism is a curious symbiosis (something that Carr discusses, but without, tellingly, dwelling on the extent to which Twitter is a source of news). But it’s hard not to see CBS’s comment both as a bit of virtue-signaling and an attempt to pull rank. In any event, CBS was back on Twitter after “much” of a weekend.

At the Spectator, Bill Zeiser watches the whole thing, noting that:

Musk has committed two great sins in the eyes of the left. The first is that he is supposedly a fascist because he does not believe in deplatforming figures over speech…He has disrupted the left’s relative chokehold on what is considered allowable speech on social media. But fascism? Musk himself tweeted that Twitter’s new policy is “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.” Hate tweets won’t be found unless users seek them out, Musk said, “which is no different from the rest of the internet.” This should hardly be controversial.

Musk’s second transgression is that he is supposedly not competent enough to run Twitter. It’s hard to say whether this is true. Musk has axed a lot of longtime employees, but Twitter is bleeding money. He was derided for a new scheme to sell the coveted “blue checkmarks” indicating verified accounts, but it got people talking about the app. By Musk’s own admission, Twitter will do “stupid” things in the coming days and take chances. He is acting as a tech disruptor, an archetype once beloved by the left.

Leaving aside my doubts as to how fond the left really was of that archetype, Zeiser is surely correct when he notes that it is “hardly believable that a man who is spearheading private space travel is ‘failure incarnate,’ as [one commentator] called him, even if he can’t make Twitter work.”

Meanwhile, there are those in the media, opening up another front in the class wars, who are linking Musk’s Twitter travails to signs of weakness in Amazon, and the mess at Meta to suggest that the age of the tech tycoon is fading.

But that’s another story.

International

COP27: Reparations

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John Kerry, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate, speaks at the opening of the American Pavilion at the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 8, 2022. (Mohammed Salem /Reuters)

Prometheus may be unimpressed by the COP27 reparations, but writing for the Wall Street Journal, Gerard Baker does not appear to be (#understatement) a fan either:

[T]he idea that the least developed countries in the world have received only the cost of industrialization and not the many benefits is ahistorical. The sophists at the United Nations insist that the new fund is a model of “climate justice,” but it sounds an awful lot like a vehicle for the “reparations” climate extremists have long demanded from the countries that were first to industrialize for supposedly having inflicted their environmental costs on the world.

If we in the West are to pay damages for the Industrial Revolution, shouldn’t we also consider the extraordinary wealth that process has helped spread around the world?

Maybe Pakistan could have become a thriving economy with little industrial activity, producing carbon-free economic growth and prosperity for its people. But the nation’s gross domestic product per capita has roughly tripled in the past 50 years, and I’d wager that a significant amount of that growth has been the result of innovations such as the combustion engine, air conditioning, the microchip, the personal computer and all the other wonders of the developed world.

Critics say that the developed world has already received the benefits of those advancements in the form of profits for the West’s capitalists. But have they? If we are going to examine the wider social and environmental effects of rapid growth, isn’t it reasonable to ask what would be the level of the world’s overall income and wealth without the innovations of industrial capitalism?

No good deed goes unpunished, they say. So, for having the genius to produce the ideas, create the economic system and develop the capital that has in a little more than a century given the world unimaginable prosperity, eliminated deadly diseases that once killed millions, reduced infant mortality, extended life expectancy and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of hunger and poverty, we must now be made to pay.

To support the idea of these reparations (regardless of the uncertain quality of the data on which they may be based) is, at a very fundamental level, to be opposed to the idea of scientific advance and of human flourishing.

But that is the position that the West’s leadership has taken.

Also from the Wall Street Journal:

John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, dismissed the idea earlier this month: “It’s a well-known fact that the United States and many other countries will not establish . . . some sort of legal structure that is tied to compensation or liability. That’s just not happening.” But on Thursday Europe abandoned the U.S. by proposing a deal, and Mr. Kerry rolled over.

To be fair, our climate Metternich must have felt a little adrift without the steadying presence of James Taylor to lend him a hand, but for the U.S. to have caved in like this because of pressure from the EU is yet another reminder of American weakness in the era of Kabul Joe.

That’s bad enough, but even a basic knowledge of European history should have been enough to tell Kerry that the continent’s remarkable economic development since the industrial revolution has been shadowed by a pathological distrust of the fruits of that advance.

Under the circumstances, for Kerry and Biden to buckle before Brussels is as idiotic as (doubtless) it will be expensive.

International

COP27: Prometheus’s New Punishment

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Prometheus (or so the best-known version of the story goes) was the Titan who stole the gift of fire, which had been taken away from mankind by an angry Zeus, and restored it to humanity. In other accounts, Prometheus gave man other skills too, from technology to medicine, as tools to help us advance.

As punishment, an even angrier Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock. An eagle was sent to eat his liver each day (it regrew overnight).

That was bad enough, but for poor Prometheus to be hit by a demand for reparations by the COP27 crowd for the climate change supposedly caused by the progress he had set in motion, for that fire, seems a touch ungrateful.

To be sure, some say Prometheus was rescued by Hercules, but, if so, climate activists will soon have the poor Titan back on that rock, while we are just left to stagnate in the cold.

Elections

Does DeSantis Have to Beat Trump on the Debate Stage?

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Left: Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in 2016. Right: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gives a speech at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., July 22, 2022. (Kamil Krzaczynski, Octavio Jones/Reuters)

In his excellent column today, “Trump 2024 Doesn’t Have a Jeb,” Rich notes that Jeb Bush “served, largely through circumstances beyond his control, as the ideal opponent for Trump in 2016.” But “there’s no Trump rival on the horizon in 2024 so neatly tailored to Trump’s purposes, in part because Trump-catalyzed changes in the party now make a Jeb Bush–type figure impossible. . . . No one comes close to fitting this bill this time around. Ron DeSantis, who projects as Trump’s main threat in the very early going, is different on all counts.” He continues:

All this said, it’s important to remember that if Bush was Trump’s favorite target — and the one who put the strengths of Trump’s campaign in starkest relief — he wasn’t the only one. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio ultimately got run over, too.

It’s true that Bush never figured out how to deal with Trump’s insults and full-spectrum animosity, but neither did anyone else.

That’s a condition that still may obtain. It’s easy — and the right play — for DeSantis to brush off Trump’s attacks for now. Yet the time for side-stepping will end eventually, and DeSantis might find it harder than he anticipates to solve the dilemma of responding to Trump that Bush faced in 2016.

This is something I’ve been wrestling with. Due to his sharp political instincts, DeSantis has positioned himself extremely well vis-à-vis Trump going into a likely 2024 matchup. But everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face — and face punches are what Trump doled out in healthy servings in the 2016 primary. While Trump may trail DeSantis in focus and competence, he beats him in raw charisma. DeSantis would be a good president because he’s an extremely competent executive and a shrewd political operator, and he has a proven ability to deliver on conservative priorities, even (or especially!) over the objections of powerful left-wing institutions. He does not have the sort of world-historical stump energy that Trump has. To be fair, no one does.

I’m sure this isn’t news to DeSantis. He is almost certainly aware of this weakness, and insofar as he’s gaming out a future debate with Trump, it’s surely something he’s planning for. The advantage that he — or anyone hoping to challenge Trump in the 2024 primary, for that matter — has is that Trump no longer enjoys the element of surprise. By the time Republican elites figured out that Trump’s bull-in-a-china-shop, take-no-prisoners style was working in 2016, it was too late to organize a counterattack. That won’t be an issue in 2024.

Thus far, DeSantis’s initial back-and-forths with Trump have appeared to be successful, but they’ve been mediated via third parties. Even years of preparation might not give DeSantis an edge over Trump on the debate stage. Charisma can be learned, but only to an extent. The political-science research, with a number of caveats, tends to show that televised presidential debates have surprisingly little effect on the general election, but they can sway significant numbers of voters in the primary. With that being said, the available data also tend to show that debates are the most consequential in situations where voters don’t already know much about the candidates — not a significant issue for either Trump or DeSantis. I don’t think DeSantis has to beat Trump outright in the debates to clinch the nomination. But I do think he has to avoid a viral total-meltdown moment, like the murder-suicide orchestrated by Chris Christie against Marco Rubio in 2016. Those are the kinds of moments that can sink an otherwise promising candidate.