I have beenperiodicallynoting that any declines in gas prices since President Biden announced the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve have been small and slow — probably having a marginal or minimal impact on most Americans’ cost of living.
On November 24, one day after Biden announced the release, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.39. This morning, it is $3.28 — roughly eleven cents per gallon lower after about a month, but still darn high by historical standards.
A new GasBuddy forecast . . . predicts the national average will rise to $3.41 a gallon in 2022, up from $3.02 a gallon this year.
The GasBuddy forecast, shared exclusively with CNN, projects prices at the pump will peak nationally at a monthly average of $3.79 in May, before finally retreating below current levels by late 2022.
“We could see a national average that flirts with, or in a worst-case scenario, potentially exceeds $4 a gallon,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, an app that tracks fuel prices, demand and outages.
No kidding, CNN! A better and wiser administration would recognize that as bad as things are now, they’re looking at an even worse spring and summer unless they start pulling out all the stops to lower gas prices now. Whining about OPEC, or begging those countries to produce more oil, is useless. The only things that bring prices down are increases in supply or reductions in demand. Unless the Biden administration wants to deal with apoplectically angry American drivers all summer heading into the 2022 midterms, they need to expand permits for drilling on American-owned land, reconsider canceled pipeline projects, and send every signal possible to the world oil markets that the U.S. intends to increase its domestic oil production, not stymie it in the name of fighting climate change.
But considering the track record of this administration, this coming spring and summer we’re likely to get President Biden insisting no one saw incredibly high gasoline prices coming . . . just as no one saw the Afghan army collapsing, no one saw inflation coming, no one saw the supply-chain crisis coming, no one saw the labor shortage coming, no one saw the surge of migrants at the border coming, or . . . you get the idea.
In response to the news of Harry Reid’s death, former attorney general Eric Holder tweeted:
Harry Reid was a giant of the Senate and a great American. He did much to improve the lives of people too often forgotten by those in Washington. Many Democrats today need a dose of his toughness as we confront those determined to undermine our democracy. https://t.co/KYDSkiwAzj
Merits of his political efforts aside, Harry Reid was indeed an effective Senate majority leader for Democrats, far more effective than Chuck Schumer. But if Holder thinks it’s “toughness” that made Reid effective, he’s …
On the homepage today, we have an Impromptus column, with a variety of issues. The first has to do with the long reach of the Chinese government. They make sure that Chinese students on American campuses stay in line. The students always have families back home. And some students inform on other students. This has been going on a long time. I first learned about it when I myself was in grad school. A Chinese classmate of mine told me how it worked. He did so with weary disgust. In recent days, Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University, has said: Not on my campus, you don’t.
In my column today, I also discuss Russia, Poland, Mexico, gender confusion, the late E. O. Wilson, the King James Bible, and more.
After I wrote my column, some stories were reported. I would like to take them up here on the Corner. First, China — and Hong Kong in particular: “Hong Kong Police Raid Office of Pro-Democracy News Site, Arrest 7.” One of them is Denise Ho, with whom I podcasted in 2019: here. She is a remarkably poised and brave woman. All of these people have exhibited phenomenal bravery.
Hong Kong has been snuffed out. But Hong Kongers have provided a sterling example for all. The spirit of freedom is strong in them.
Dmitriev was part of the Memorial society. Here is yet another story from yesterday: “Russian court abolishes country’s most prominent human rights group, Memorial.” Of course. Memorial was the conscience of Russia. Is the conscience of Russia. It was formed at the instigation of Andrei Sakharov. Its purpose was two-fold: to promote the truth about the past and to advocate democracy in the present. The Kremlin could not abide this organization.
The report I have cited begins, “Russia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the liquidation of the country’s most prominent human rights organization . . .” That word “liquidation” is a nice touch: a Soviet word. Putin & Co. are very defensive of the Soviet past. Often, when I write about Russia, my critics say, “Russia is not the Soviet Union, you know!” I know. But the question, increasingly, is: Does the Kremlin know?
Oyub Titiev is another human-rights defender with Memorial. I wrote about him last year. What these people are willing to risk, for the sake of the truth, and to help their fellow man — mind-boggling.
In Soviet days, the West was full of apologists for the Kremlin. In our own day, the West is still full of such apologists. Putin is seen, by many, as a nationalist hero. A defender of traditional values (whatever they may be). The attitude was summed up by Diane James, the UKIP leader, who said, “I admire him from the point of view that he’s standing up for his country. He is very nationalist. He is a very strong leader. He is putting Russia first.”
He is putting his dictatorship and his network first. Russians have precious little to do with it. You know who puts Russians first, actually? The workers of Memorial.
Last month, Putin presented the Hungarian foreign minister with Russia’s Order of Friendship. A bauble well earned. Who will be the friends of the political prisoners and other abused Russians? Who will speak out for Memorial?
Advocates of freedom, living in free countries, need to find their voice. In places such as Russia and China, the voices are being silenced.
College professors often complain that their students avoid books. They don’t like to read; they just want to be told “the main point.” In the past, most Americans, even those who weren’t “educated” (no college credentials), read literature, but today many who are “educated” hardly ever open a book.
Can anything be done?
Robert DiYanni has written a book that he thinks will encourage reading, You Are What You Read. In today’s Martin Center piece, Professor Allen Mendenhall ponders his effort and finds it to be underwhelming.
DiYanni’s heart is in the right place. He means to, Mendenhall writes, “steer readers in constructive directions.”
Mendenhall continues: “He does so in three sections (Approaches, Applications, and Uses) that he bookends with a preface and a coda featuring a nine-part credo: ‘Read actively. Read deliberately. Read predictively. Read retrospectively. Read interpretively. Read evaluatively. Read purposefully. Read habitually. Read pleasurably.’”
That sounds good but doesn’t do much to accomplish anything. Mendenhall states that in his own experience, students are more persuaded by stories that will (or at least might) incline them to appreciate the power of literacy — stories like that of Frederick Douglass.
Mendenhall observes, “Which is more powerful: DiYanni’s matter-of-fact claim that reading ‘helps us live our lives’ or Douglass’s riveting account of his tenacious self-education against all odds? The latter, of course. Hence DiYanni’s trouble: Why read his lengthy case for reading enduring texts when you could just read the enduring texts? DiYanni himself might say that you can’t.”
Some states have passed laws allowing workers who are fired for refusing to be vaccinated to receive unemployment benefits. These include Florida, Iowa, Kansas (which has a Democratic governor), Arkansas, and Tennessee — with other states considering following suit.
That has the authoritarian Left in an uproar. One such angry activist, unsurprisingly, is President Biden bioethics adviser Ezekiel Emanuel — who never met a mandate he didn’t like. Emanuel just said on CNN:
I think this basically says people who are rejecting the vaccine mainly because they are against vaccinations are actually doing social harm, and now governors are rewarding them. That is a very bad incentive and just the opposite of what the country needs . . .
It’s in the name of politics. No person who was present at the founding of this country, Franklin, Washington, Madison, Hamilton, would endorse this idea of liberty. Liberty always involved the idea that you can do what you want, as long as you don’t impinge on someone else, and that is not what is happening here. People who stay unvaccinated are impinging on other people. They are propigating the virus. They are going to hospitals that are overloaded if they happen to get very sick. This is hardly individual liberty that does not impact the wellbeing of other people.
It seems to me that Franklin, Washington, Madison, and Hamilton would be aghast at such a thing as a national mandate promulgated by a government agency rather than by Congress, and the federal government’s putting the private sector in a harness to accomplish executive-branch goals. I would also note that a nation-wide vaccine mandate is unprecedented.
But why be surprised? The Left won’t be happy until vaccine refusers are unable to work, shop, or even venture outside their homes.
Here’s a better idea. Don’t fire people who refuse to get vaccinated — and then unemployment benefits won’t be an issue.
Mandates are not only counterproductive; they are bad for the country and the economy. It is time to rescind the mandates, as Boeing and Southwest Airlines have done. Offer employees tests instead. And recognize natural immunity as a category of protection.
Either that, or we can continue to tear the country apart. That might get good cable-news ratings. But it is very bad for our mutual affection and finally creating a unified approach to fighting Covid.
We discussed on The Editors last week how hard we should be on Biden’s rapid-testing failure. I’ve tended to make wide allowances for the federal government’s failing to keep up with the pandemic, but it’s worth noting how hard Biden hit the early testing failures during the campaign last year.
In his Covid plan, his team wrote, “It is unacceptable that with cases surging in some parts of the country and Americans urged to go back to work in others, we still do not have the basic capacity in testing and contact tracing we need to sustainably manage this virus. In Arizona, this past week, Americans with COVID-19 have had to wait in baking hot cars in miles-long lines for a test, and those were the lucky ones who had an appointment.”
And one of the top-line items of his plan was the promise to “Implement Widespread Testing-and-Tracing.”
And yet there’s this, which is the norm around the country:
If you have had quite enough seasonal cheer for now, I’d like to recommend Brian Riedl’s latest paper for the Manhattan Institute (How Higher Interest Rates Could Push Washington Toward a Federal Debt Crisis) as an antidote to all that.
Gloom about a coming national debt crunch is nothing new, and yet here we still are. Nevertheless the formidable case that Riedl has put together (and the numbers he has used to back it up) is yet another reminder of the scale of the gamble that is being taken with the country’s finances and, by not much of an extension, its future. Math is math. Hope is hope. I know which I think is the better guide to what’s coming.
Here are some of Riedl’s numbers:
Economists have asserted that fiscal consolidation is unnecessary because Washington’s current debt level of 100% of GDP has not proved unaffordable or economically damaging. Leading economists have asserted that expensive new fiscal expansions are justified until the debt reaches 150% of GDP. Yet this framework fails to take into account that Washington is already projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to run $112 trillion in additional baseline deficits over the next three decades, which will push the debt past 200% of GDP. At that point, annual deficits are projected to top 13% of the economy (the equivalent of nearly $3 trillion today), and interest payments on the debt would be the largest federal expenditure, consuming nearly half of all tax revenues.
And that is before taking President Biden’s next round of budget proposals (which will presumably see the light of day at some point) into account.
The second questionable assumption that the debt doves make is that today’s low interest rates paid on this debt will continue forever. The average interest rate paid on the national debt has fallen from 8.4% to 1.4% since 1990. This decline was not forecast by economists, and many disagree on its specific cause. Yet many economic commentators have expressed an unshakable confidence that relatively low interest rates will essentially continue forever. If they are wrong, the combustible combination of surging debt and rising interest rates at any point in the future would risk a debt crisis. Even interest rates of 5% could push the national debt toward 300% of GDP within three decades, if paired with modest new fiscal expansions in the meantime.
Riedl spends quite a bit of time on the likelihood that today’s ultra-low interest rates (which are not — the minor matter of helping keep the country afloat aside — the unalloyed good that is often assumed) will, in fact, persist. Something he factors into his calculations is that, contrary to quite a bit of today’s conventional wisdom, the connection between heavier government borrowing and higher interest rates has not been broken. Instead the resulting increase in borrowing costs has been more than offset by other factors (the global savings glut and so on) pushing in the other direction, but for how long will that state of affairs continue?
Assuming that each percentage-point increase in the debt continues to raise interest rates by 3 basis points, the projected 100% debt-to-GDP increase over the next three decades should, all else equal, push interest rates up by 3 percentage points. To maintain today’s low interest rates, therefore, it would not be enough for those offsetting factors to remain constant; they would have to accelerate even further, in order to drive an additional 3 percentage- point interest-rate decline.
That is quite some assumption. Feeling lucky?
In fact, there are reasons to believe that some of the forces that have helped drive down rates are coming to an end and may even go into reverse. For example, Boomers are not going to keep saving forever.
There’s also this to think about:
The Federal Reserve could be expected to raise short-term interest rates over time because of faster economic growth or any uptick in inflation. On the flip side, if central banks weaken their commitment to containing inflation, the resulting price volatility could induce borrowers to demand a higher inflation-risk premium. Rising inflation rates can be difficult to reverse and can raise long-term market expectations of inflation. Such developments would reduce the “flight to safety” appeal of holding Treasury bonds.
There is also the awkward question of who, over time, is going to buy those bonds. I’ve long been skeptical about the notion that the U.S. can rely on China to keep taking our debt, a skepticism that has only increased with the growing tension between the two countries.
Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonalds into the giant it has become (reportedly) once said:
If any of my competitors were drowning, I’d put a hose in their mouth and turn on the water.
Something tells me that Xi sees things the same way.
Worst still, the general perception (well, mine anyway) of existing Chinese willingness to buy treasuries may be — how to put this — overstated. But what about Japan?
The national debt held by the public—currently $23 trillion—is projected to grow by an additional $112 trillion over the next 30 years, even if no additional spending programs or tax cuts are enacted. Who will supply this large amount of lending? China and Japan have financed just 1% of all federal borrowing over the past decade…During a period [Dec 2011-May 2021] in which the debt held by the public soared from $10.4 trillion to $22.1 trillion, the amount of combined debt held by China and Japan merely inched up from $2.2 trillion to $2.3 trillion…
Can American savers and investors finance $100 trillion in federal borrowing over 30 years? Possibly, but it will be a heavy lift, given that they currently hold just $10 trillion in Treasury assets. It is entirely plausible that the Treasury will need to offer higher interest rates to induce this level of lending.
And those higher rates are going to (in all probability) increase the pace at which that debt is increasing. Images of an ever-accelerating treadmill come to mind.
Washington overwhelmingly relies on short-term borrowing, with an average maturity of 69 months. Consequently, if interest rates rise at any point in the future, nearly the entire national debt will roll over into those higher rates within a decade.
I don’t know why the U.S. has not pushed out the maturity of its debt at current very low rates, but if a market exists for very long-term U.S debt at these levels (I’ve seen a report or two suggesting that it doesn’t, at least in any size, although Riedl believes that such concerns are overstated), it’s an opportunity being missed, and yet another reckless bet that is being taken.
At this point, I’m busy trying to choose between noose, poison, and razor blade, and so I’ll leave you to turn to the full report to learn more, but I’ll just conclude by noting (again, in fact, but I cannot find the link) that I attended a talk during the financial crisis by a (very) senior investment banker on the national debt (then, of course, at far lower levels). When the crisis hit, he said, it would do so very suddenly.
I don’t remember if he used the phrase “over a cliff.” Then again, he didn’t need to.
I’ve been interested on and off in the sociobiology of Edward O. Wilson, but wrote today about his prodigious work on ants:
Despite his agnosticism and the reductive materialism of his Darwinism, Wilson wrote with a real warmth and soulfulness. Amid his storied academic career and the controversies kicked up by his theories, it’s worth considering all that he did to highlight the miraculous complexity and wonders of life via a lowly bug that is considered a pest when it isn’t ignored altogether.
This one exchange in particular stands in for my own answer to the same predictable question.
Conservative Catholics like to talk about obedience. Now that the pope is scaling back the Old Mass, they are rehearsing the revolt. Francis has decided; why not just accept it?
The image of the papacy that emerged after the First Vatican Council, which saw the pope become an autocrat in all spiritual and juridical matters of the Church, does not correspond to the tradition of the Church. The papal office is not an absolute monarchy: precisely in its claim to infallibility, it is strictly bound to tradition, to what the Church has always taught and done. The pope has no dominion over this; his authority consists precisely in the fact that he bows to it. When Pope Francis tampers with tradition, he can no longer oblige the faithful to obey. Above all, he is attacking the very foundation on which the papacy stands.
To hear China tell it, they have barely had any cases of infection from the hyper-contagious Omicron variant. The South China Morning Postwrote yesterday, “so far China has reported nine Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant, including two who were infected by a man returning from Canada.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. is averaging more than 237,000 cases per day, and in the most recent CDC analysis, almost 59 percent of new cases are currently Omicron. If we’re to believe the official figures, the U.S., with about 330 million people, is currently averaging almost 140,000 Omicron cases per day, while China, with 1.4 billion people, is averaging about one Omicron case per day.
Both official figures are unreliable. In the U.S., not everyone who tests positive in at-home test is going to notify public health authorities, and there are probably a lot of asymptomatic people infected with Omicron walking around unaware that they’ve caught the virus.
Meanwhile, the Chinese official health statistics are insanely implausible. Even if we want to give Chinese policies of city-wide lockdowns and quarantining people by welding apartment doors shut the broadest possible benefit of the doubt, it’s simply not plausible that a virus that has proven wildly contagious in every other country suddenly became shy and socially-awkward once it entered the jurisdiction of the Chinese Communist Party.
In recent weeks, Covid-19 cases have increased, and sometimes skyrocketed in certain neighboring countries like Laos and Vietnam. (Other countries bordering China like India and Mongolia have not seen dramatic increases; perhaps this reflects widespread immunity after the Delta variant swept through, or climate, weather, and behavior patterns. Whatever the reason for the case rates in other countries, the official statistics of the Chinese government contend that both the Delta and Omicron variant waves barely affected the country at all.)
Never mind straight answers on the origin of Covid-19 in China; we can’t even get straight answers on the status of Covid-19 in China right now. Everyone in public health and international diplomacy knows it. And just about everyone averts their eyes from the nonsensically incredible official statistics from Beijing, because they’re hoping that ignoring the current lie will make the Chinese government more honest in the future.
Over in Foreign Policy, James Palmer wonders if 2022 will bring the massive rise in cases that the Chinese government feared:
Even in a vaccinated population, a recent (but pre-omicron) Chinese study estimated that an outbreak on the scale of that in the United Kingdom or the United States could cause upwards of 10,000 or 20,000 severe cases a day. A lot would then depend on hospital resources and experience. China was able to cope with the Wuhan outbreak in part because of its ability to divert medical resources from across the country to the stricken city. A superspreading omicron that hit the whole country within a few weeks would be a nightmare—especially given that Chinese doctors, although world leaders in early treatment, don’t have the nearly two years of experience dealing with COVID-19 that clinicians in other countries do.
That is indeed a possibility. But the more likely scenario is that China’s efforts against the virus were never as successful as it claimed, and SARS-CoV-2 has been floating around in China, drastically under-reported, for nearly two years now. The Economist, in its effort to calculate the true death toll of the pandemic, estimates that since the start of the pandemic China has experienced anywhere from 160,000 to 1.8 million excess deaths compared to the “normal” trend. This figure would be roughly 17,000 percent more than the official Chinese Covid-19 death figure of 4,636.
The Chinese people have probably been living with a lot more exposure to Covid-19 than the government in Beijing is willing to admit. That’s actually good news for the Chinese people; if and when Omicron arrives in force — if it hasn’t already — there will be far more people with existing natural immunity than the official statistics suggest.
But for the rest of us, China is the same black box it was at the start of the pandemic — where we don’t get much information from the government in Beijing, and the information that we do get is spectacularly implausible and unreliable. In many cases, we are being told farfetched lies to cover up a Chinese government policy or decision that failed. Are Olympic athletes likely to catch the virus while in Beijing? Nobody knows. How much air travel to and from China is safe? Nobody knows. Are there significant new variants emerging in China? If there are, experience suggests the Chinese government won’t tell us until it’s far too late.
Hey, good thing these guys get to host the Olympics, right?
On October 22, a group of COVID-19 testing experts joined a Zoom call with officials from the Biden administration and presented a strategy for overhauling America’s approach to testing.
The 10-page plan, which Vanity Fair has obtained, would enable the U.S. to finally do what many other countries had already done: Put rapid at-home COVID-19 testing into the hands of average citizens, allowing them to screen themselves in real time and thereby help reduce transmission. The plan called for an estimated 732 million tests per month, a number that would require a major ramp-up of manufacturing capacity. It also recommended, right on the first page, a nationwide “Testing Surge to Prevent Holiday COVID Surge.”
The antigen tests at the center of the plan can detect the virus when patients are at their most contagious.
Three days after the meeting, on October 25, the COVID-19 testing experts—who hailed from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, the COVID Collaborative, and several other organizations—received a back channel communication from a White House official. Their big, bold idea for free home tests for all Americans to avoid a holiday surge, they were told, was dead. That day, the administration instead announced an initiative to move rapid home tests more swiftly through the FDA’s regulatory approval process.
The rapid-test push, in particular, seems to have bumped up against the peculiar challenges of fighting COVID-19 in the 21st-century United States. Difficulties include a regulatory gauntlet intent on vetting devices for exquisite sensitivity, rather than public-health utility; a medical fiefdom in which doctors tend to view patient test results as theirs alone to convey; and a policy suspicion, however inchoate, that too many rapid tests might somehow signal to wary Americans that they could test their way through the pandemic and skip vaccinations altogether. “It’s undeniable that [the administration] took a vaccine-only approach,” said Dr. Michael Mina, a vocal advocate for rapid testing who attended the October White House meeting. The U.S. government “didn’t support the notion of testing as a proper mitigation tool.”
Sure, maybe Biden is just lying when he says his administration didn’t reject a holiday testing surge. But what if the president genuinely doesn’t remember what he’s been told in briefings, conversations, and decisions?
Or in the case of the rejection of the massive expansion of testing, was this decision made without Joe Biden’s involvement?
The Centers for Disease Control has moved one step closer to changing the definition of fully vaccinated to include only those who have received a booster.
Earlier, I noted how the CDC arbitrarily halved its quarantine guidance from ten days to five. But one other thing I found interesting is that in its revised guidance for those who have been exposed, it lumps in vaccinated individuals who have not been boosted with those who were never vaccinated.
The guidance reads:
For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days. Alternatively, if a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure.
The message is clear — if you are vaccinated but un-boosted, you need to take the same level of precaution as those who have never been vaccinated.
When Florida governor Ron DeSantis predicted that President Biden’s vaccine mandate would eventually apply to people who were vaccinated but not boosted, he was slammed by fact checkers. Weeks later, Anthony Fauci conceded the change was only a matter of “when, not if.” Now, CDC is in effect already treating those who merely received two doses as the same as those who are unvaccinated.
This is not an arbitrary semantic game. Biden has issued an executive order, currently being fought in court, that forces larger employers to require employees to either get fully vaccinated or tested regularly. Several large cities have also issued vaccine-passport requirements for entering public spaces. All of those requirements hinge on the definition of what’s fully vaccinated.
While, prior to Covid, we had some vaccine mandates in place, they were nowhere near what is happening now, or would happen were the definition of fully vaccinated to keep changing. MMR vaccines, for instance, have been a requirement for attending school — but nobody is ever asked for their MMR vaccination record by their employer or when entering a bar, restaurant, or theater. Furthermore, a person takes two MMR doses by age four, and then is done for life. Notably, schools do not generally mandate flu vaccines, which need to be taken every year. Requiring people to be vaccinated and then boosted every six months or so would be unprecedented and create something like a permanent surveillance state. But CDC is inching us closer to that point.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just halved the recommended quarantine period for individuals who test positive for Covid and also reduced the time period for those who have been exposed.
In a statement, CDC said, “CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.”
There are a few ways to look at this change. One idea — the least believable — is that our scientific understanding of Covid has changed so dramatically in recent days that it prompted this change. The other possibility is that it was an arbitrary standard to begin with, derived out of “an abundance of caution” that was never firmly supported by science. It’s become simply too inconvenient now that Omicron is ripping through the professional class.
Anthony Fauci’s comments on CNN point toward the second explanation.
"The reason is that with the sheer volume of new cases that we are having and that we expect to continue with Omicron, one of the things we want to be careful of is that we don't have so many people out," Dr. Anthony Fauci explains why CDC changed Covid isolation guidelines. pic.twitter.com/g48XwcDdJh
The reason why this is so revealing is that for nearly two years now, we’ve been told we have to “trust the science.” Every time somebody has argued that we cannot be so myopically focused on Covid, and we have to balance our interest in Covid mitigation against the harm and disruption to people’s lives caused by draconian guidance, they have been attacked as being anti-science, and even as participants of a death cult. But in his answer, Fauci is arguing that it’s prudent to match our Covid mitigation practices with practical concerns. This is what we should have been doing all along.
This should be an eye-opening moment for those who treated the public-health community as all-knowing and deferred to them at every twist and turn. It would be a good opportunity to now ignore CDC’s other arbitrary and destructive guidance, starting with masking in schools.
Former New York Times feature writer Nellie Bowles writes in her wife Bari Weiss’s Substack today about the case of a now-ousted editor at the Paper of Record who called up various gun-rights activists to leave voicemail messages asking them if they were afraid of going to hell for their politics. Bowles says that she was very proud of the prestige she wielded as a Times writer and therefore,
I fully empathize with how this furious Times editor reminded them during her voicemails that she was with the New York Times. “Again, I am from the New York Times, and I’m letting everyone know what kind of f***ing a**holes you are,” she said in one voicemail. I don’t blame her.
Readers of the Times may have on one or two occasions noticed that the paper increasingly seems more like activism than journalism, with a notable decline in objective reporting. Bowles, like Weiss, became disillusioned with the way the Times operates and walked away from it. If either (or both) of them wrote a memoir about their experiences, I’m sure it would be even hotter than Burning Down My Master’s House, a previous score-settler from an ex-Times journo, although unlike Bowles and Weiss, Jayson Blair was fired for printing made-up stories.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect that the details of the Times editor’s voicemails came from a news report, not from Bowles’s personal recollection.
Government meddling ruins everything in time. That’s no less true of science than of money, housing, medical care, education, and so on.
Science has been undermined by the influence of federal funding. So argues J. Scott Turner in this American Mind essay.
He writes, “Less and less do the sciences serve as bulwarks of reason against political and corporatist aims. To the contrary, the sciences are becoming stridently politicized, acting as a vanguard for an authoritarianism of ‘expertise.’ Increasingly, science is being used as a cloak to shield political agendas from normal scrutiny and debate, thereby betraying the scientific ideal.”
For a solid year, Democrats and the media hit the Trump administration for not having a national plan to address Covid, when, in truth, the administration simply realized that there was no way possible — logistically or in terms of local knowledge, among other things — for the federal government to supplant the public-health role of the states.
But here was Ron Klain:
In March — March — I went on @allinwithchris and said that the central flaw of Trump’s emerging Covid response was that he was confronting a national crisis with an “Articles of Confederation” response. Still true nine months later. https://t.co/QfBB423Evl
To beat COVID-19, we need a coordinated national response from the federal government — but Donald Trump refuses to do his job. I’ve laid out exactly what I would do, and I encourage this president to adopt the plan in its entirety: https://t.co/SOVOPL7uPy
After Senator Joe Manchin delivered the likely death blow to Build Back Better, House progressives responded alternately by declaring him a liar, proceeding as if negotiations were ongoing, and calling on President Biden to enact an unspecified series of executive actions.
The call for executive action is seen as a Plan B to achieve the same results by bypassing the normal legislative process. In reality, it’s a way to try to put pressure on Manchin and keep the legislative path alive.
If you read Representative Pramila Jayapal’s Washington Post op-ed closely, however, it’s pretty clear this is a big bluff by progressives. In her piece, Jayapal makes the standard pitch for the radical spending package (laughably, she now tries to argue that the spread of Omicron brings a renewed urgency to pass the bill).
She eventually writes, “We are calling on the president to use executive action to immediately improve people’s lives. Taking executive action will also make clear to those who hinder Build Back Better that the White House and Democrats will deliver for Americans. The [Congressional Progressive Caucus] will soon release a plan for these actions, including lowering costs, protecting the health of every family, and showing the world that the United States is serious about our leadership on climate action.”
Reading the fine print, it’s pretty clear that there are no executive actions available that would be the equivalent of Congress’s authorizing trillions of dollars in spending and new government programs. Progressives could call for various actions related to green energy or drug costs. But the reality is that if the action is legal, it is not likely to come anywhere near what Build Back Better was trying to do. And if it actually approximates Build Back Better, it can in no way be constitutional.
If it were simple for Biden to somehow enact his entire agenda with the stroke of a pen, Democrats would not have wasted months trying to pass something into law.
It is ironic, however, that as much as progressives like to talk about the need to protect democracy, they are awfully quick to jump toward doing things unilaterally when they don’t have the votes to pass their agenda.
First, the good news: “Russia’s military says more than 10,000 troops are returning to their bases after concluding a month-long drill in southern regions, including those near the Ukraine border. Russia’s Southern Military District command said in a statement on Saturday that the drills had taken place in a total of 10 regions. They included Rostov, which borders Ukraine, and Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.”
The bigger concern comes from the Russian units on Ukraine’s northern/northeaster border, which are from the Western and Central Military Districts and not mentioned in this press release. Russia will still be able to invade on short notice during next month’s negotiations. https://t.co/TDB3bxo19r
More bad news: The Russians are adding to their list of demands and conditions for peace talks, not reducing them: “The security guarantees the Russian leader is demanding would preclude any further NATO expansion and would roll back any NATO military presence in the Baltic or central European states which joined the Western alliance in waves since 1999. The Kremlin is adamant that former Soviet republics of Ukraine or Georgia should not join the Atlantic alliance.” Vladimir Putin doesn’t just want a veto over future NATO members; he wants to bar the deployment of NATO forces in any country that joined NATO after 1997. That would include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, or North Macedonia.
And while we shouldn’t be surprised to hear boasts, threats, and saber-rattling, it definitely feels like cooler heads are not prevailing among some of the region’s military officials: “The nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would be destroyed completely in the event of a major new military conflict in Europe, Belarusian Security Council deputy chief Maj. Gen. Vladimir Archakov has warned.”
Say what you will about the Biden administration, but subtlety is not one of its stronger points. The current transitory inflationary surge is by no means solely down to its policies — far from it — although the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year will certainly have played its part.
ARP’s more urgent failure is its significant contribution to today’s soaring inflation. In early February, CBO estimated that the baseline economy would operate $420 billion below capacity in 2021, and a total of $857 billion (or about 1 percent) below capacity over the next four years before returning to full employment in 2025. Even for those soft Keynesians who believe that government spending has a small multiplier, a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill would vastly overshoot the output gap. And once America’s output capacity taps out, any additional stimulus will simply bring inflation. Don’t take my word for it. Top Clinton and Obama White House economist Lawrence Summers warned Democrats that ARP would accelerate inflation.
And inflation is precisely what occurred. . . .
Larry Summers has now returned to the debate (yetagain) with an enjoyably brutal thread on Twitter, taking down the administration’s idea that antitrust can be deployed as a weapon against inflation.
As rising inflation threatens his presidency, President Biden is turning to the federal government’s antitrust authorities to try to tame red-hot price increases that his administration believes are partly driven by a lack of corporate competition.
Mr. Biden has prodded the Agriculture Department to investigate large meatpackers that control a significant share of poultry and pork markets, accusing them of raising prices, underpaying farmers — and tripling their profit margins during the pandemic. As gas prices surged, he publicly encouraged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate accusations that large oil companies had artificially inflated prices, behavior that the administration says continued even after global oil prices began to fall in recent weeks.
The push has extended to little-known agencies, like the Federal Maritime Commission, which the president has urged to search for price gouging by large shipping companies at the heart of the supply chain.
The turn to antitrust levers stems from Mr. Biden’s belief that rising levels of corporate concentration in the U.S. economy have empowered a few large players in each industry to raise prices higher than a more competitive market would allow…
As left-populist conspiracism goes, this narrative, which Elizabeth Warren has been pushing for a while, is not the most original, but there we are.
In the course of his tweets, Summers refers to the NYT article (which is well worth reading) and makes what I suspect he thinks is a necessary disclaimer:
I hope the Admin is simply using inflation as a way of adding urgency to the promotion of competition. That is a possible reading of this important . . . article. I strongly support much of the Admin’s competition agenda.
Fine, fine, but inflation?
The emerging claim that antitrust can combat inflation reflects “science denial”. There are many areas like transitory inflation where serious economists differ. Antitrust as an anti-inflation strategy is not one of them.
However, as described, hipster Brandeisian antitrust, with which the Admin and its appointees flirt, is more likely to raise than lower prices.
Hipster Brandeisian antitrust!
To start, increases in prices and profit margins are what happens when competitive industries experience increases in demand. That is what calls forth increased supply. This is how a market system operates.
There is no basis in economics for expecting increases in demand to systematically [yield?] larger price increases for monopolies or oligopolies than competitive industries.
Monopoly may lead to high prices but there is no reason to expect it to lead to rising prices unless it is increasing. There is no basis whatsoever thinking that monopoly power has increased during the past year in which inflation has greatly accelerated.
Rising demand, with capacity and labor constraints, are fully sufficient to account for what we observe in meat packing — Administration claims notwithstanding.
Breaking up meatpacking would in the short run lead to reduced supply which would further increases prices. In general, when government goes to war with industries it discourages investment and subsequent capacity.
Note that last sentence. For a classic example of what going “to war with industries” does, please take a look at the effects of decades of Peronist (or quasi-Peronist) policies in Argentina (where the government has, incidentally, spent much of the year messing around with the beef market), policies which have contributed to a remarkable history of economic decline, and have not exactly done much to curb inflation. If the Biden administration is adopting an approach with some resemblance to what’s been tried over the years in Argentina, that is . . . not a good sign.
The traditional approach to antitrust is based on consumer welfare. This means seeking the lowest possible prices for consumers. To the extent that alternative Brandeisian approaches embraced by some in the Administration are different that will mean HIGHER prices.
If, for example, Walmart had been stopped from expanding, or Amazon had been kept from entering new markets, prices would be higher not lower today.
Resisting bigness per se, even when it comes from efficiency or seeking to protect competitors from efficient rivals, is a prescription for higher not lower prices…
Throw in the way that other administration policies are likely to boost inflation (not least through Greenflation), and it is not hard to see why the White House is looking so hard for scapegoats to blame for today’s rising prices, but no one should expect this search to lead to lower prices. If anything, it will mean the opposite.
On November 24, one day after President Biden announced the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.39.
Every nowand thenover the past year or so, I’ve scoffed at the effectiveness of the Chinese coronavirus vaccines. One might think that vaccines developed in part by the Chinese government would be more effective, since it invented the virus — er, I’m sorry, the Chinese government was the first to encounter the virus.
It will probably not surprise you that Chinese-made vaccines that were iffy at best against Covid “classic” are proving ineffective against the Omicron variant, both Sinovac . . .
Three doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine do not produce adequate levels of antibodies to fight the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, researchers from Hong Kong said in a statement.
Their analysis revealed Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was more effective, as a third dose of the shot administered after two doses of the same or China’s Sinovac vaccine provided “protective levels” of antibody against Omicron.
A COVID-19 booster shot produced by China’s Sinopharm had “significantly lower” neutralising activity against the Omicron variant, Chinese researchers said in a paper, although they added the vaccine’s efficacy against Omicron remained unclear.
The Chinese government is a global menace for many reasons, but a big one is that it refuses to admit when its efforts are not working. The Chinese government refuses to admit anything is wrong in virus contagiousness, lab safety, in space-launch debris, in nuclear plants — you name it. Defending the reputation of the government and the Chinese Communist Party is almost always a higher priority than the truth. Only when the counterevidence is overwhelming will the Chinese government adjust its public statements, and sometimes not even in those cases.
A key component of success in any human endeavor is measuring the success of effectiveness of one approach, seeing those results clearly, and then performing an honest self-assessment — if an approach isn’t working, it must be discarded or refined and a new approach must be tried. Reality doesn’t care about ideology or whose reputation is helped or hurt. The results are the results. As a precocious and wise young man once said that, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”
But back in April, when the director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention made public remarks conceding that his country’s vaccines weren’t as effective as he hoped, he quickly felt pressure to backtrack and declare “it was a complete misunderstanding,” and that he had not said what everyone had just heard him say a day before.
And now we’re about to see athletes from all around the world go to Beijing, to perform on a world stage, organized by a government that insists it has had only 21,000 new cases of Covid-19 since March 2020 and only four deaths since April 2020. Considering what’s happening in the rest of the world – and, say, India, right next door — and the ineffectiveness of Chinese vaccines, China must be having many more cases and deaths than its government is willing to admit.
Forget everything else that shows up in the trade deficit; China’s primary export is trouble.
In today’s Impromptus, I touch on many issues, as usual — starting with “Let’s go, Brandon,” moving to the economy, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Desmond Tutu, Mitt Romney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and so on. Something for everyone to like and dislike, I would think. In other words: an Impromptus column.
Your reflections reminded me of a thought I’ve had about all the anti-vaccine sentiment with which we’re saddled.
Regardless of its origin, be it from a lab or from nature, the novel coronavirus has become one of the worst, most pervasive threats to humanity, unleashed upon the world by the actions and policies of a Communist government. In response, the technological minds of the Western world set to work, developing vaccines — and soon, anti-viral therapeutic medicines — specifically made to mitigate this threat.
Historians (if future generations allow them) should be able to point to this as one of the greatest Western triumphs since the end of the Cold War. One would think that even now, we should be cognizant enough to celebrate these remarkable achievements as evidence of what can be done when exceptional minds are free do their best work.
Instead, we are overwhelmed with people who vociferously and proudly proclaim themselves to be “real Americans” and expend vast amounts of time and energy decrying the honest efforts of scientists who have moved medical mountains to help us survive.
That is a blunt assessment. Care for something lighter? In that Wednesday column, I wrote about Tiger Woods, the ex-wunderkind, and his wunderkind of a son, Charlie. A reader writes,
. . . Although I am a sports fan, I have only ever been the most casual golf fan. If someone has it on TV, I’ll watch without complaint, but I would never intentionally turn it on. But that was not true when Tiger was “in the hunt.”
I can’t explain it. Not every shot was perfect, nor did he always win. But there was just something about him that made me want to watch. I even occasionally would put the “Tiger Tracker” on while at work during the early rounds of majors.
And now there’s Charlie. I wish them both well. (By the way, I blame you in part for this fascination with Tiger. I read your magazine pieces on Tiger way back when . . .)
Ha. Happy to have the blame. Also on Wednesday, I wrote,
Leonard Bernstein once said, “I’d give five years of my life to have written The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Some of us would give a month or two, or more, to have written Sleigh Ride. Leroy Anderson wrote something perfect and enduring.
The same reader who wrote about Tiger Woods writes,
I’m something of a musical Philistine, though I’m grateful for those who truly love it and know what they’re talking about. In fact, I now have one child who graduated with a music degree and one who is currently a music major in college, in spite of my lack of culture (obviously, they benefitted from my wife’s DNA on that score). In any event, I have always loved Sleigh Ride, and my musical children play a duet of it every year when they get together. Just last night, in fact, they sidled up next to each other at the piano for the first of what will be many iterations this year. It was delightful and brings a tear to my eye.
Finally, I wrote about language on Wednesday, and about apostrophes in particular. A reader writes,
When St. John’s University has a game with, say, Clemson, a sportswriter can refer to “Clemson’s coach,” but how is he to refer to the coach of the St. John’s team?
Thanks for the years of wonderful columns.
Thank you, sir. In any event: I would skirt the issue. I’d write “the St. John’s coach” or “the coach of St. John’s.”
Again, for today’s Impromptus, today’s grab-bag, go here.
Colleges like to claim that they provide students with a broad education, and, in the past, there was some truth to that. They used to require students to take general education courses that covered a wide array of the topics that would give them at least some familiarity with an array of the disciplines felt necessary for good citizenship.
But that hasn’t been true for a long time. Today, most schools allow students to choose their courses from a huge smorgasbord of offerings — the “distribution requirements” approach. It doesn’t come close to ensuring a broad education. For the last decade, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has been surveying American colleges as to their general education requirements, and, in today’s Martin Center article, Ashlynn Warta looks into the findings of ACTA’s most recent report.
She writes, “Unfortunately, the report’s findings reveal that a majority of America’s colleges and universities are falling short in their attempts to educate students. According to the report, ‘Overall, the results are troubling… On the whole, higher education has abandoned a coherent, content-rich general education curriculum… 67.1% of the schools surveyed require three or fewer of [ ] seven core subjects.’”
It’s not that students don’t have to take some history, for example, but they can choose almost anything relating to history. At UNC-Chapel Hill, a course entitled Perspectives on Food History will suffice.
In North Carolina, only Gardner-Webb University received an A grade from ACTA, with requirements meeting all seven of the curricular areas. On the other hand, flagship NC State only met one.
Warta concludes, “With only thirteen percent of Americans and only 34 percent of college students feeling confident that they are prepared to succeed in the workplace, it is imperative that curriculum requirements be strengthened nationwide. This report paints a clear picture of the areas in which America’s schools have room for improvement. For North Carolina specifically, by using this report as the standard to measure against, the state has quite a bit of work to do to ensure its students are all consistently offered a rigorous and robust education.”
So your family — your uncle, in fact — is throwing a Christmas party, so big it’s a public event. Halfway through, a guest shows up late. He was uninvited, no one has ever seen him before, and he is rather rude. He is also green — not just his clothes, and not green from drunkenness, but a bright, vivid green.
What do you do? Make a life-and-death bet with him, of course, to be fulfilled in a week and a year — New Year’s Day of the year after next.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a medieval poem. The author is as unknown as the green guest himself. His poem can be read, to yourself or aloud, in one long sitting, or broken up between parts two and three. The form is unusual; irregular stanzas of four-beat alliterating lines, capped by five-line bits of rhyme. The language is Middle English, but of a northern dialect that got shunted aside by the London dialect of Geoffrey Chaucer. That is why Chaucer can still be hacked through by a layman with the help of notes. Sir Gawain requires translation.
I have read a number of modern English versions over the years: by Tolkien, Simon Armitage, W.S. Merwin (poor Merwin, who was a vegan Buddhist, compelled to render the long hunts in part three). But my favorite, unsurprisingly, is the first one I read, by Burton Raffel (d. 2015). I reread it in the paperback I bought in high school. Raffel uses more enjambment than the other translators and, I imagine, the original, but it assists him in one of his best features, the propulsive forward motion.
There will be no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that Sir Gawain offers suspense, weirdness, sexiness, and moral quandaries. Raffel’s introduction cautioned his readers to enjoy the poem’s ironies without trying to overinterpret it, especially not the greenness of the anti-hero. But let me take a swing. Green in the middle of winter is life, and every life is a series of bets. We take them, like Gawain, and like him, do the best we can.
It’s Christmas weekend, which means that lots of people are probably watching Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. And they are right to. To describe the Jimmy Stewart–starring film as a “Christmas movie” is technically accurate, but feels incomplete; it is also a celebration of life, community, rootedness, family, and, I would argue, the American spirit. Last year, I explained its greatness at length for National Review.
I did so largely in response to the film’s various critics, who for various reasons reject the film’s claim to greatness. Of these, none is more pernicious than University of Notre Dame political-theory professor Patrick Deneen, who many years ago made the bizarre, factually challenged case that George Bailey, Stewart’s character, the pillar of his upstate New York hometown of Bedford Falls, is actually a villain, a bringer of the modern ills that will soon poison his community.
Fortunately, Deneen’s argument is being recognized more and more as nonsense. This year, First Things has itself published a warm, personal reflection on the film, written by Bethel McGrew. And at The American Conservative, Carmel Richardson, a talented young Hillsdale alumna (go Chargers!), has also dissented from Deneen’s denigration of Capra’s masterpiece. A sample:
This is the heart of localism that is lost in the very impersonal world that George himself longs to see, when he plans to “shake the dust of this crummy little town off his feet and see the world.” But as he is forced into the hero role by each new turn of events, against his own will and against his modernist desires, he learns what he may never have discovered had he left home. George discovers that his greatest impact, his greatest adventure, and his greatest joy are right there in Bedford Falls. It’s A Wonderful Life does more than just say “every man’s life has value, even if you only stay in your hometown”; it goes a step further and says “every man’s influence is greatest, and most valuable, in his hometown.” The best way to change the world is by doing exactly what George, and many of us, least want and most need to do.
Indeed. It is heartening to see appreciation for It’s a Wonderful Life extend into a new generation, and for the young to reject the stale, contrived, fallacious contrarianism of one of their elders on this matter.
In a forthcoming issue of National Review, I hope to add to our cultural appreciation for It’s a Wonderful Life with an extended dispatch of my time at the 2021 It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, held in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Without spoiling my piece too much, I can say that what I experienced there only deepened my affection for the film and for its message. Both are worth remembering on Christmas — but also year-round.
Not to cast any shade on the old favorites — A Christmas Carol, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” Amahl and the Night Visitors, etc.; they are all famous for a reason. But if you have The Stories of John Cheever — and if you don’t, why not? — look up “Christmas Is a Sad Season for the Poor.” It is very of its time, a classic old-fashioned New Yorker story, set in a city of the same time, when elevator men in East Side apartment buildings were white ethnics who lived in rooming houses. Cheever writes with a light touch, but tells a lot about self-pity, generosity, and why we spend so much time on the former, and more than you might think on the latter.
David Stockman, in this piece published by the redoubtable Brownstone Institute, casts a skeptical eye on the surge of new fear-mongering and statist control that the Omicron variant has brought on.
Here’s a sample:
In a word, we are in the midst of the greatest and most fraught science experiment of all time, starting with the attempt to completely reconstruct all patterns of normal interaction, the closing of vast institutions on grounds that they are not essential, and now ending with more than 11 billion shots having been administered already around the world.
The private benefit of the vaccination for the elderly holds up but rather than even acknowledge the rapidly fading risk/reward equation for much of the population—most especially the children—the powers that be trotted out a teleprompter reader in his dotage to stoke the public hysteria.
The U.S. Justice Department, headed up by Attorney General Merrick Garland, announced earlier this week that thousands of federal prison inmates who were sent home due to the pandemic would not be required to return to prison to finish their terms — a reversal of an earlier opinion released by the Trump administration’s Department of Legal Counsel dictating that the federal Bureau of Prisons “must recall prisoners in home confinement to correctional facilities” if they did not meet the normal home-arrest criteria. The reversal is effectively a jailbreak, engineered by left-wing activist groups such as the ACLU under the pretenses of public health. Reuters reports:
From March 2020 through Dec. 6 of this year, more than 35,000 inmates have been sent home under all of the BOP’s various legal powers.
As of Dec. 6, the Justice Department said that 4,879 prisoners were in extended home confinement under the CARES Act authority, and more than 2,800 would have been returned to prison once the emergency was lifted if the prior legal opinion had remained in place.
While BOP was given the power to send home low-level inmates under the CARES Act, the law was initially interpreted in narrower terms by then–Attorney General Bill Barr, whose Office of Legal Counsel said the DOJ’s release authority would expire 30 days after the pandemic emergency period had ended. Biden’s DOJ originally maintained that this was the correct interpretation of the law. But after months of pressure from activist groups, Garland arrived at an entirely different interpretation: “Based upon a thorough review of the relevant text, structure, purpose, and legislative history—and a careful consideration of BOP’s analysis of its own authority—we conclude that the better reading of . . . BOP’s preexisting authorities does not require that prisoners in extended home confinement be returned en masse to correctional facilities when the emergency period ends,” a statement from the Office of Legal Counsel reads.
Most of the prisoners who are now being released are likely low-level offenders, but a significant amount of discretion is left up to prison directors in determining who is eligible. Barr’s original memo outlining the BOP’s approach to home-release asked that prisons take “the age and vulnerability” of inmates into account and give “priority” to “inmates residing in low and minimum security facilities.” The memo clarified that “crime of conviction, and an assessment of the danger posed by the inmate to the community” should also play a role in determining release eligibility, but only specified outright that “sex offenses” should “render an inmate ineligible,” maintaining that “other serious offenses should weigh more heavily against consideration for home detention.”
That ambiguity was quickly weaponized by opportunistic decarceration activists. As Senator Tom Cotton wrote in National Reviewin September, “between March and June 2020, state leaders released over 200,000 inmates, including 18 percent of felons held in local jails. The federal government referred approximately 4,500 prisoners to house arrest in the communities they once terrorized. California, Illinois, and New York released dozens of convicted murderers and untold numbers of violent felons.”
To be sure, many of those violent felons have been returned to prison. (And some sooner than others: As Cotton notes, within less than four months of their release, some 13 percent of the 1,500 inmates who were released from Rikers Island in New York City had been re-arrested for new crimes). But some have not — including some convicted for “nonviolent” but nonetheless serious offenses such as selling hard drugs. And the fact that any violent criminals were released in the first place should raise serious questions about the judgment of the leniency advocates who are now touting Garland’s jailbreak as a major victory.
Editor’s note: This post originally described the Justice Action Network as a left-wing group. It describes itself as bipartisan.
Earlier today, NR published a piece I wrote about the relationship between the American Enterprise Institute’s storied foreign-policy shop and Congressional Republican offices. I cited multiple GOP national-security staffers working across both houses of Congress pointing to a potential rift between the conservative think tank and some hawkish Republicans. This dynamic, they said, has been driven by AEI defense-policy director Kori Schake’s heterodox foreign-policy views, a complaint that she pushed back against in an interview with me.
It’s a newsworthy topic with implications for the conservative foreign-policy conversation. The piece, which quotes Schake’s defenses of her team’s work and academic freedom extensively, has brought an ongoing debate out into the open, eliciting a range of reactions.
One of these responses is a statement issued to me by Eric Sayers, an AEI non-resident fellow focusing on the Indo-Pacific. He points to Schake’s elevation of China policy work within her shop, and objects to the way in which Hill staffers voiced their criticism of AEI’s foreign policy work:
I moved over to AEI as a nonresident fellow a year ago to work with Kori both because she is a fabulous human being and because she wanted to build out a foreign and defense policy shop even more focused on full-spectrum competition with China. I consider this to be the most important mission for the nation and therefore where think tanks should be placing a preponderance of their resources. Since then she has continued to hire new staff with unique skills to this end and give us space to speak, write, convene, brief, and background in whatever way necessary to move the Washington needle on Asia policy. As a result, it’s no exaggeration to say AEI as an institution and the various individuals that now make it up are in the middle of all the most important discussions about China policy. This is in many ways because of Kori’s leadership and vision not in spite of it. If a few individuals have tactical issues with her foreign policy views that is grounds for a debate, not an attempted career lynching through off the record quotes.
Kudos to George Leef for his post, and to Louis Bonham (to whom George links). I’ll add this link to a piece along similar lines over a decade ago that I think still has some salience. Merry Christmas and Happy Pushing Back!
Writing on Minding the Campus, attorney Louis Bonham explains how faculty members who are not happy with the mania for “diversity” at their schools can fight back.
Since I began writing about the cancer of wokeness currently metastasizing in American academia, I have been contacted by many concerned faculty members from coast to coast. They confirm, often with truly chilling examples, the dismal state of affairs — plainly illegal behavior is regularly implemented as official university policy, while critics are cowed by the threat of cancel culture. All of them are disgusted by what is happening at their institutions, and they ask the same question: what can we do?
Bonham advises: First, confirm questionable instructions (such as those that stack the deck against white men and Asians) in writing; second, ask for legal review of discriminatory instructions and policies; third, ask hard questions about them in a public forum.
Remember the old chestnut that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Much of the woke agenda on campus works because it is employed covertly. Force (or threaten to force) it into the light, and it will either retreat, or it will be easier to fight.
Man-on-the-street interviews quote Nervous Nellies exclusively and create a climate of peak anxiety. . . .
2. Buttress group fear with expert opinion
The only public health experts whom the media quote are those determined to put the most dire spin on Omicron. . . . They may grudgingly admit that Omicron symptoms are disproportionately mild, but rush to assert that there are still many as-yet-unrealized grounds for worry. . . .
There are apparently no circumstances that would warrant a less-than-totalitarian response in advance of any actual disaster. The yearning for more draconian lockdowns and more control over the private sector is palpable.
3. Manufacture epistemological uncertainty and insist on it as long as possible
The media intone repeatedly that much remains uncertain about Omicron, including how likely it is to cause severe disease. But we already have a good picture of that likelihood from the South Africa experience: very unlikely.
4. Bury both good news and dissenters from the bad news
. . . . Are there no experts who think that Omicron is not an emerging threat? Apparently not, if you read the mainstream media. If any dissenters do break through, they will be as demonized and silenced by Big Tech as the lockdown skeptics in the scientific community were at the start of the COVID era.
5. Omit relevant context
We hear constantly that 1,300 people are dying a day from COVID. By comparison, about 2,000 people die each day from cancer and 1,600 from heart disease. Their deaths get no coverage. COVID was the leading cause of death in the United States only in January 2021, even among those 85 and older.
. . . Restrictive COVID policies exacerbated sickness in the highest-ranking categories of mortality, a toll that will only grow. Patients put off lifesaving cancer screenings, having been spooked away from medical facilities. Obesity worsened, as gyms closed and people packed on the pounds.
6. Flog the case count
. . . Case counts are a particularly deceptive measure of pandemic severity, when so many of the new cases are mild to asymptomatic. . . hospitalization rates in New York City, the leading wedge of Omicron, remain comparatively low.
Mac Donald says there’s hope the rest of the country will act more rationally toward Omicron. She concludes that we have turned the equivalent of the common cold into a potent weapon against the resumption of civil society.
I was initially enthusiastic about the idea that Pfizer had developed a Covid pill which its studies show is nearly 90 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations and death. So the FDA’s emergency authorization struck me as generally good news.
In theory, the drug (named Paxlovid) could be a game changer. People will still have the option of getting vaccinated and boosted. But now, there is a backup option for those who get a breakthrough case, or who choose to go unvaccinated.
On further reflection, however, I am beginning to wonder how much of a game changer it will really prove to be.
Beyond the short-term supply challenges as production ramps up, there is the issue that to be effective, it requires quick diagnosis. This is obviously a problem now given the difficulty of getting tested and receiving quick results.
But longer-term, even assuming some of the testing problems dissipate, there is the issue of the anti-vaxxers. The idea of having another tool available to keep anti-vaxxers out of the hospital is promising. But it only works if they will actually seek treatment and take the pill. In both cases, it should be considered a question mark.
Those who have refused to get vaccinated at this point are less worried about getting Covid and less likely to go along with public-health guidance. So are they likely to race out to a Covid-testing center at the first sign of symptoms? And even if they do get an early confirmed Covid-positive test, will they take an emergency-authorized pill being produced by Pfizer, the same pharmaceutical giant that’s been demonized by the anti-vaxx community for a year?
Maybe the pill will be an attractive option for those who simply do not like getting shots. But I wonder if, in practice, the people who are willing to take the Pfizer pill are those who got vaccinated and who would promptly get tested. In other words, maybe not a game changer.
The Huffington Post just reported that a transgender swimmer “continues to smash records” in women’s college swimming meets. The athlete, Lia Thomas, was quoted in the story saying, “Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding.”
That’s what comes from being a sure thing. Thomas recently won a race by a whopping 38 seconds. The biological male athlete’s body has greater muscle mass than the women competing. It just isn’t fair contest. But stories like that in the HP continue to pretend that Thomas’s intrinsic biology doesn’t matter.
We live in irrational and cowardly times. Some truths cannot be safely stated plainly because the enemies of rationality will brand the truth-teller a hater, with potentially very deleterious consequences to the person’s career and reputation.
But that truth must still be told or we are doomed as a culture. Thankfully, John Lohn, the editor in chief of Swimming World, just took that crucial step in an op-ed, comparing the current circumstance to the old “doping” scandals when female East German Olympian swimmers enhanced their capabilities with injections. From, “Without NCAA Action, the Effect of Lia Thomas Case are Akin to Doping“:
The influence of doping occupies no small chapter in the sport’s history. Numerous athletes — through individualized decisions — have tainted competition through their use of illicit drugs. Some countries — notably East Germany and China — have developed national-level programs designed to attain powerhouse status. Either way, wreckage has been left behind, the greatest casualties those clean athletes beaten and knocked down, or off the podium
The newest predicament facing the sport is not one of rampant doping, but a complex scenario with an outcome that could be as damning.
Lohn writes that the natural male biology of Thomas’s body provides an unfair advantage:
Despite the hormone suppressants she has taken, in accordance with NCAA guidelines, Thomas’ male-puberty advantage has not been rolled back an adequate amount. The fact is, for nearly 20 years, she built muscle and benefited from the testosterone naturally produced by her body. That strength does not disappear overnight, nor with a year’s worth of suppressants. Consequently, Thomas dives into the water with an inherent advantage over those on the surrounding blocks. . . .
That’s not transphobic. It is a scientific fact. It isn’t hate. It is a statement of common sense.
Lohn describes the reasons why a male body has “a massive advantage” in a race — and then gets to the nub of the controversy:
Let’s get this out of the way, because some readers will argue we are calling Lia Thomas a doper — regardless of the information presented and the selected verbiage. That is not the case. There is no intent. What we are stating is this: The effectsof being born a biological male, as they relate to the sport of swimming, offer Thomas a clear-cut edge over the biological females against whom she is competing. She is stronger. It is that simple. And this strength is beneficial to her stroke, on turns and to her endurance. Doping has the same effect.
According to NCAA rules, Thomas has met expectations for participation. But for Thomas to suggest she does not have a significant advantage, as she did in one interview, is preposterous at best, and denial at worst. Sure, it is on the NCAA to adjust its bylaws in the name of fair competition for the thousands of swimmers who compete at the collegiate level. It is also on Thomas to acknowledge her edge. The suppressants she has taken account for an approximate 2% to 3% change. The time difference between male and female swimming records is roughly 11%.
Lohn calls on the NCAA to act rationally:
The NCAA needs to act, and it needs to act quickly. This scenario — with the effects of doping — cannot linger. For the good of the sport, and for fairness to those competing as biological women, a ruling must come down soon.
If it doesn’t, the NCAA just doesn’t care.
Or, its administrators are craven.
Feminists worked diligently over many years to achieve equality in women’s collegial sports. Those advances are now materially threatened, as is the future of women’s sports generally. I mean, imagine if a transgender woman golf professional competed in a women’s tournament. Unless the golfer was a very bad putter, the chances of victory would be very high. Even more compelling, if a biological male tennis pro competed against biological females at Wimbledon. It would be no contest.
If current trends continue, we ultimately can envision biological males dominating most sports competitions, male and female. Where is the “equity” in that?
If women’s athletics are to be saved, only biological women should be allowed to compete against each other. Good for Lohn for having the guts to say so plainly. Here’s hoping it doesn’t cost him his job.
Christmas 2021 is almost here, and to the shock of no one, I’ve done a terrible job of sending out Christmas cards — never mind my annual and rarely achieved aspiration to send out one of those here’s-what’s-new-with-our-family letters. This year’s highlights include no school officials calling me because they’ve mistaken my older son’s wire-and-cardboard engineering project for a pipe bomb; my younger son joining the school-bus safety patrol and breaking up a notorious Pokemon card-smuggling ring, and no member of my family succumbing to lasting clinical depression because of the performance of the New York Jets. Oh, and on certain episodes of The Editors podcast, you probably heard the background noise of the Geraghty kitchen being redone, with construction work conducted at the sort of noise volume usually associated with above-ground nuclear testing. Considering the price of lumber this year, we probably should have remodeled our kitchen using cheaper materials, like platinum. (Let’s just say 2021 has been a rebuilding year on my end.)
But I figure if I can share with all of you, I can at least say I’ve kept in touch with a lot of the folks who matter most, when it comes to what I get up and do each morning.
I hope this message finds you well, and healthy, and prospering, or at least getting along, and if none of those things, then I hope you’re not being forced to sell one of your kidneys on the black market to fill up your tank with unleaded.
This past year has brought its share of triumphs — we’ve now got vaccines, schools are generally open again, and job openings are plentiful, American society is much more open than it was at the end of 2020, and cultural woke-ism has suffered some serious defeats. But 2021 also brought more than its share of setbacks — the Taliban is running Afghanistan again, your grocery bill is probably way higher than it was at the start of the year, there’s a labor shortage, those cargo ships are still sailing around in circles off the ports of California, and nearly a year into his presidency, Joe Biden still thinks “Come on, man!” is a compelling counter-argument to any criticism.
The year ahead looks . . . more than a little ominous. Beijing hosts the Genocide Games this February, and then we’ll see if China’s recent saber-rattling over Taiwan is foreshadowing a serious conflict. Vladimir Putin sounds like he wants to “borrow” parts of Ukraine again. As of this writing, Build Back Better appears dead, but congressional Democrats will be desperate to get some version of a massive spending bill passed. If we’re lucky and work hard, the midterm elections will send a resounding message to Biden, Kamala Harris, Jen Psaki, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and everyone else in Washington who has arrogantly ignored the public’s concerns for the past year.
As much as life feels like it’s stuck on fast-forward, I’m glad to be in the news business and thankful for my colleagues at National Review. In 2022, I know I’m going to want to hear from John McCormack and Phil Klein on what’s going on in Washington. I’m going to want to enjoy every serving of the biting wit of Charlie Cooke, Kevin Williamson, and Kyle Smith. I’m going to want to hear what Andrew Stuttaford, David Bahnsen, Dominic Pino, and the Capital Matters gang think of the state of the economy. And I’m going to be devouring the offerings of Therese Shaheen, Jimmy Quinn, and Jay Nordlinger on the multifaceted challenge of Communist China. And I hope, along the way, you’ll continue (or begin to!) start your day with the Morning Jolt.
As I understand it, the suits at NR are offering some sort of gift sale that looks like a typo has set prices too low, but I’m just keeping my head down and not asking any questions. If Biden’s supply chains have you scrambling for a gift, I’d lock in the deal before anybody notices the terrible pricing mistake.
We are blessed to have readers and supporters like you, and I thank you for your continued support, through thick and thin, through good times and bad. And I hope 2022 brings you nothing but good times. Lord knows, you’ve earned them.
Our editorial makes the case that Covid-19 is going to be with us forever, and so we can no longer allow it to rule our lives and allow for the so-called emergency measures meant to “slow the spread” to become permanent fixtures. We also argue that at this point, with nearly 9 billion doses of Covid vaccines having been administered, they have been proven to be safe, as well as effective, in greatly reducing the chances of somebody getting severely sick.
But those of us in the pro-vaccine camp have to acknowledge there’s a big problem with messaging.
Early on, clinical studies showed that the vaccines were around 95 percent effective at preventing infection. Biden even said at a town hall in July that, “You’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations.” But now, as a result of mutations as well as waning efficacy after a few months, we know that this is not true. Now that proponents are focusing on the ability of vaccines to prevent severe disease, it sounds to skeptics a lot like goal-post shifting.
There are people who were skeptical of the vaccine to begin with, fearing long-term effects of a new technology. Now it turns out that lots of vaccinated people, including probably friends of theirs, still are getting Covid. From their perspective, their skepticism of the vaccines has been vindicated. So the hurdle to convincing them to get vaccinated has become that much higher — especially given that staying current with vaccination now means getting boosted every six months. Essentially, at the same time that the benefits of vaccination are lower than initially sold, the costs are higher. The vaccine pitch is even harder when targeting those who are young and relatively healthy and statistically at low risk of severe Covid to begin with.
There is value in continuing to make the case that on net, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. But those of us who support vaccination need to understand what we’re up against.