National Security & Defense

Bipartisan Opposition to a New Iran Deal Continues to Grow

Loading...
(Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

U.S. and Israeli officials suggest that Washington’s potential return to the nuclear agreement with Iran is unlikely to take place before America’s midterms and Israel’s latest round of elections, as the talks appear to remain gridlocked over Tehran’s demands. But this doesn’t mean that the talks are dead.

Although it seemed that American and Iranian negotiators had resolved the differences that, in March, had hindered an imminent conclusion to the talks, the two sides have now traded proposals and counter-proposals for weeks. An EU–backed proposal that had been expected to break the logjam has apparently failed to do so.

Iran–deal opponents in Washington and Jerusalem predict that the talks won’t yield an agreement until after the elections in November. “I don’t think there’s any chance the agreement will be announced before our election, or the Israeli election [set for November 1], because the politics of this agreement are probably not good in either place,” Senator Lindsey Graham said in an interview with Jewish Insider last week. He added, however, that he thinks there will ultimately be a deal, since the Biden administration has signaled its high interest in getting one.

Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz put it bluntly during a conference in Tel Aviv today. “The Iran nuclear deal seems like it is in the ER room,” he said, adding that “there’s a period maybe after the elections, we’ll see how it goes.” His optimism on the talks follows an intensive diplomatic push by Israeli officials in recent weeks to convince Biden officials of the dangers of a potential agreement.

Still, amid heightened Iranian assassination threats targeting U.S. officials, and Tehran’s sale of Iranian drones to assist Moscow’s war effort, the White House has stayed the course, declining to withdraw from the negotiation process. It will likely fall on members of Congress of both parties to throw up roadblocks that would make a U.S. return to the nuclear deal untenable.

In a sign that the administration might face noteworthy bipartisan opposition to its march towards a deal, 52 lawmakers of both parties wrote to President Biden to ask that he deny Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi a visa to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York City this month. Their letter, sent last week, tied Raisi’s attendance to Iran’s ongoing terrorism campaign against U.S. citizens:

It is unacceptable that the Iranian government continues to back state-sponsored terrorist activities around the globe, including campaigns to assassinate American officials. The Department of Justice recently announced charges against a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for planning to assassinate former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Additionally in 2019, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Ebrahim Raisi for his role in oppressing Iranian civilians and promoting terrorism abroad, pursuant to Executive Order 13876.

And this morning, Fox reported that another bipartisan group is introducing legislation intended to increase the pressure of sanctions on the Iranian regime:

The bill would require the “imposition of sanctions with respect to Iran’s illicit weapons programs, conventional weapons and ballistic missile development, and support for terrorism, including Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.”

Current co-sponsors include Reps. Susie Lee, D-Nev.; Grace Meng, D-N.Y.; Angie Craig, D-Minn.; Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.; Joe Wilson, R-S.C.; Maria Salazar, R-Fla.; Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla.; Randy Weber, R-Texas; and Mike Waltz, R-Fla.

Politics & Policy

‘In Defense of Lindsey Graham’

Loading...

I wrote about Graham’s proposal for Politico today:

Boy, did Lindsey Graham step in it.

The South Carolina senator proposed a national restriction on abortion that has popular support and that could represent a defensible consensus GOP position.

For this, he’s being portrayed as a political incompetent who has needlessly endangered his party’s prospects in the midterms.

It’s certainly true that any hope of rallying Republicans was quickly dashed as they, once again, scattered in panic and confusion like a herd of antelope after a big cat shows up at the watering hole. But that reaction is another sign of how badly the party needs to find an incrementalist position on abortion where it can plant its flag, and then focus its fire on the vulnerabilities of the other side.

Law & the Courts

Nature Attacks SCOTUS as Anti-Science

Loading...
The sun sets on the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., January 26, 2022. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Last month I criticized the prestigious journal Science for pushing ideological progressivism and attacking the Supreme Court’s conservative rulings — as if its authors’ and editors’ subjective beliefs and policy preferences are the same thing as supporting objective science.

Not to be outdone in conflating leftism with “science,” the British journal Nature — perhaps the world’s most respected “scientific” publication — has similarly attacked SCOTUS based on the wrongheaded idea that progressive policy preferences are somehow synonymous with good science. From “Inside the Supreme Court’s War on Science,” by Nature’s U. S. correspondent Jeff Tollefson:

In late June, the US Supreme Court issued a trio of landmark decisions that repealed the right to abortion, loosened gun restrictions and curtailed climate regulations. Although the decisions differed in rationale, they share a distinct trait: all three dismissed substantial evidence about how the court’s rulings would affect public health and safety. It is a troubling trend that many scientists fear could undermine the role of scientific evidence in shaping public policy. Now, as the court prepares to consider a landmark case on electoral policies, many worry about the future of American democracy itself.

Issues such as abortion, gun regulations, and yes, even what to do about climate change are not matters that can be determined objectively by science but involve many different disciplines and possible approaches that policy-makers have to balance. For example, whether abortion should be permitted through the ninth month of pregnancy, as much of the pro-choice Left wants, or strictly curtailed, as many on the pro-life side want, or something in between, is a question based primarily on issues of morality, ideology, philosophy, ethics, and religion. Science per se cannot answer the question.

Tollefson seems particularly troubled by the Supreme Court’s recent rulings impeding the growth of the administrative state:

In September 2021, the court tossed out a moratorium on housing evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic that had been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in January, the justices rejected a mask mandate for major employers issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But the conservative majority went one step further in West Virginia v. EPA, and laid out a new legal test: the ‘major questions’ doctrine, which posits that agencies need explicit permission from Congress when implementing major rules.

Please. The regulation imposed to prevent evictions was not a scientific question and, moreover, was clearly beyond the CDC’s jurisdiction. Neither was the West Virginia ruling, which in my subjective opinion — which is as valid as any scientist’s on a nonscientific question — upholds democracy by requiring Congress to explicitly delegate policy-making power to executive-branch bureaucrats.

But that kind of democratic oversight is precisely what Tollefson objects to. He — and presumably Nature‘s editors — want a system of rule by experts, e.g., technocracy:

The problem, says Blake Emerson, who studies administrative law at the University of California, Los Angeles, is that the civil service is precisely where science enters government. That’s by design: Congress does not have the expertise or the political capacity to craft detailed regulations, so lawmakers pass broadly worded laws that are often intentionally vague, leaving the details up to the experts. Now, those experts are at risk of getting squeezed from both sides — being stripped of authority and becoming more vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

Yes, heaven forbid that elected officials interfere with the policy preferences that unelected “experts” want to impose on society. Good grief.

Tollefson then wanders into the question of state gerrymandering, again not an issue of scientific concern. And like the Science article referenced above, he voices support for stacking the Court to increase the likelihood that SCOTUS will issue decisions more to the Left’s political liking.

If anything is a “war on science,” it is publishing ideological articles like this in what is supposed to be a science journal — a trend that seems particularly infectious among establishment medical and scientific outlets. By pushing rank political advocacy that would have been perfectly appropriate in the Nation or Politico — as if the issues discussed were scientific matters — Nature undermined trust in its objectivity as an important institution furthering the dispassionate search for truth.

Education

Transparent Discrimination

Loading...
A student and parent pass Widener Library’s banners before Harvard University’s Class Day Exercises in Cambridge, Mass., May 27, 2015. (Dominick Reuter/Reuters )

The evidence adduced in SFFA v. Harvard, presently before the Supreme Court, shows that significant numbers of Asian-American applicants whose objective qualifications merit admission to Harvard are nonetheless rejected in favor of black and Hispanic applicants with markedly inferior qualifications. This phenomenon prevails not just at Harvard but at most schools. Asian and white students seeking admission to “elite” schools typically send out a multitude of applications to improve their odds of admission to at least one.

Although there’s a fairly good probability the Court will hold Harvard’s racially discriminatory admissions policy unlawful, it would be naïve to believe that will be the end of racially discriminatory admissions practices. The imperative to discriminate is profound, and colleges already are preparing for the admissions landscape post-SFFA. For example, to cloak their discrimination, schools increasingly are abandoning use of objective admissions qualifications such as the SAT and are making their admissions processes even more opaque.

Republican opponents of racial discrimination should also prepare in advance of the Court’s decision by requiring college-admissions criteria to be transparent and understandable. Students and parents spend millions of dollars annually on college application fees and the ancillary costs of applying to colleges and graduate schools without having the slightest idea of the particular student’s chances of admission or even how a given school evaluates applicants. Moreover, students and parents spend billions annually on college tuition completely ignorant of the students’ probabilities upon matriculation of graduating or getting jobs as a result of attending their respective colleges. Consumers arguably get more useful information about the effectiveness of a product from the back of a tube of toothpaste than from a college brochure.

Nearly two decades ago, Republicans introduced a bill designed to change that. Titled the “Racial and Ethnic Preference Disclosure Act,” the bill would’ve required institutions of higher learning that receive federal funds to disclose to the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice various items of information related to the use of race, color, and national origin in the admissions process.

Among the items to be disclosed were (1) how much weight its admissions process gives to an applicant’s race, ethnicity, etc.; (2) the probability that a student given preferred consideration on the basis of race or ethnicity will need to enroll in a remediation program; (3) graduation rates for preferred students vs. those of non-preferred students; and (4) the probability that a preferred student will default on student loans.

The bill was, of course, defeated. The opponents of the bill argued that it was unnecessary, asserting that institutions of higher learning would happily provide such information without a government mandate to do so.

That assertion was, to put it politely, wholly unsupported by the facts. The information that would’ve been required by the Disclosure Act is closely guarded by every institution that employs preferences. Indeed, shortly after the Supreme Court decided Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, my counsel sent a survey to 40 colleges requesting much of the same information that would’ve been required under the Disclosure Act. We received no responses whatsoever. Indeed, the general counsels of some of the institutions became apoplectic, contacting the Civil Rights Commission to excoriate my impertinence and ask for an exemption. The Center for Equal Opportunity and the National Association of Scholars also found that getting such information was about as easy as getting the New York Times to print a story about Hunter Biden’s laptop.

The information required to be disclosed would be valuable to students regardless of race. Non-preferred applicants would know whether their chances of admission at particular schools approach futility; preferred but underqualified applicants could gauge their probabilities of graduating.

As demonstrated by the testimony of UCLA law professor Richard Sander before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in June 2006, this could greatly improve the graduation rates of black law students in particular. Sander identified a profound disconnect between the actual operation of law schools’ preferential admissions policies and how black law students perceive them. Whereas in reality, black law-school applicants are up to 100 times more likely to be admitted than their similarly situated white comparatives, Sander testified,

blacks tend to assume that they are more qualified than their white classmates, because they are so assiduously courted by the schools that admit them. Data from the [Law School Admissions Council Bar Passage Study] show clearly that blacks entering law school had higher expectations for their first-year grades than did whites. [Emphasis added.]

These misconceptions have disastrous effects. They contribute to the tendency of many black students to enroll at schools at which they can’t compete. The result is that, for years, half of black law students have been in the bottom 10 percent of their respective classes and have been more than twice as likely as whites never to graduate. Additionally, evidence then adduced by the Civil Rights Commission showed that more than 50 percent of black law-school matriculants never become lawyers. Even if there’s been some improvement in these figures since the commission’s hearings, they nonetheless signal lots of wasted tuition fees and disrupted career paths.

Disclosure of racial preferences would simply require colleges to do what financial institutions have been required to do for years under provisions such as the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Law-school applicants would also benefit from knowing bar passage rates and correlations between bar passage rates and GPAs.

Obviously, there’s little chance that a Disclosure Act would pass during a Biden administration. But the ground should be prepped right now. Overwhelming evidence shows that the racial-preference shell game hurts the preferred and the non-preferred, not to mention society at large. Time for some transparency.

Politics & Policy

Remember That Distant Time, Long Ago, When Republicans Supported a Federal Ban on Abortion . . .

Loading...

. . . like last year?

Here is a press release from January 27 last year on a 20-week abortion ban.

It wasn’t exactly a controversial measure in the GOP conference:

The legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Mike Braun (R-Indiana), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Steve Daines (R-Montana), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee), Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi), Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming), Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), James Risch (R-Idaho), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), Rick Scott (R-Florida), Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), and Todd Young (R-Indiana).

Andy, Charlie, and Phil have made various sincere, principled objections to the latest version of the Graham legislation, which he has offered the last four Congresses. Those arguments aren’t available to all the Republicans who were on board with the proposal until the debate got a little more real.

World

The De-Population Bomb

Loading...
The sleepy and deserted village of Sanxay, France. (Tim Starke/Getty Images)

 

In 1970, Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich published a famous book, The Population Bomb, in which he predicted a disastrous future for humanity: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” That prediction turned out to be very wrong, and in this interview American Enterprise Institute scholar Nicholas Eberstadt tells how we are in fact heading toward the opposite problem: not enough people. For decades now, many countries have been unable to sustain a population-replacement birth rate, including in Western Europe, South Korea, Japan, and, most ominously, China. The societal and social impacts of this phenomenon are vast. We discuss those with Eberstadt as well as some strategies to avoid them.

Recorded on June 14 at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

Law & the Courts

Addendum to My Dissent: On Equal Protection

Loading...
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., November 10, 2020. (Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters)

In response to Dissent from NR’s Editorial Favoring Federal Abortion Ban

It has been pointed out to me that, in contending that the only conceivable sources of 14th Amendment federal power to ban abortion were the privileges-or-immunities clause or substantive due process, my post last night omitted the equal-protection clause as a possibility. While others have made this argument, I confess to never having put much stock in it.

Here, I admit my bias: I believe a great deal of mischief has been done by claiming, purportedly based on equal-protection principles, that it is a constitutional wrong to discriminate between categories that can be distinguished on completely rational grounds.

The equal-protection clause requires the state to afford equal protection of the laws to persons. As already noted in my post, our law has always drawn distinctions between born persons and unborn persons — as laid out in some detail in Jonathan Adler’s analysis, to which I linked in my post.

For what it’s worth, I believe Justice Scalia was right in contending that strict scrutiny — the top level of judicial review for state distinctions claimed to violate equal protection — should be reserved only for “fundamental rights” that qualify as “interests traditionally protected by our society.” (That, of course, is beside distinctions based on race and national origin, to which the Court applies 14th Amendment equal protection.) Scalia lamented that the Court preferred a more freewheeling notion of what a “fundamental right” is; that is a big part of why equal protection can be a promiscuous doctrine, as the Left is encouraged to use it to eradicate distinctions based on American tradition.

In any event, I meant no disrespect to the equal-protection argument. I simply have not given it much credence. I may be wrong about its force, but that would mean it had greater potential to be used against constitutional conservatives if we stretch it to categories it has never been understood to cover, in order to justify federal preemption in an area of law traditionally and prudently left to state control.

I would happily support a constitutional amendment protecting the unborn from the moment of conception. I can’t support contorting the Constitution into saying something it doesn’t say. That is something constitutional conservatives spend most of their time fighting against.

Politics & Policy

In Favor of Abortion Federalism

Loading...
Senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 10, 2021. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

I am with Charlie and Andy, and at odds with our editorial, on Senator Lindsey Graham’s 15-week national abortion ban. Both of them make a strong constitutional case against legislating abortion nationally even if we agree with the underlying policy. But it’s also important to emphasize that leaving matters to the states is a good idea in and of itself, not merely because it’s what the framers of the Constitution outlined.

For decades, in arguing against Roe, conservatives rightly argued not only that it was legally suspect, but that contentious issues such as abortion should be resolved at the state level. The problem with Roe wasn’t merely that it was a gross act of judicial overreach — which it was — but also that it created a one-size-fits-all standard on abortion, rather than a policy that allowed for significant cultural and regional differences.  The general assumption post-Roe was that there would be much looser abortion laws in, say, Massachusetts and New York than in Alabama or Mississippi. The overturning of Roe was, as I put it, the greatest victory in the history of the conservative movement, which involved decades of work. While having a baseline standard of banning abortion at 15 weeks is perfectly sensible and broadly in line with public opinion, the only way to implement any sort of policy and make it last is to do the hard work of making the moral case against abortion and doing so even in the most hostile places — demonstrating the sheer barbarism of what’s happening in, say, Maryland, home to an “all-trimester” clinic that offers abortions up to 34 weeks of gestation.

One of the reasons our politics has become more divisive is that the federal government has usurped too much control over policy matters that are best left to state and local governments, raising the stakes of national politics. Whenever conservatives abandon their commitment to federalism because doing so would advance a preferred policy outcome, they erode their credibility in arguing against federal intervention in other areas, in which they are opposed to the outcome. Should conservatives embrace a 15-week abortion ban, they won’t be able to make federalism arguments against a Democratic standard of abortion on demand throughout pregnancy — or on a host of other national laws that would be better off as state issues.

Any such argument often triggers a response of: Liberals do what they want at the national level, and so conservatives shouldn’t unilaterally disarm when it comes to our priorities. But history has told us that there is always room for the other side to become more extreme. There were many conservatives during the Trump era — as well as Donald Trump himself — arguing for Republicans to blow up the filibuster to pass their agenda when they had unified control. One of the core arguments was that Democrats wouldn’t hesitate to do so the second they took over. But Republicans avoided blowing up the filibuster and Democrats were unable to do so when they took over. Had Republicans pursued an outcome-based approach then, we’d be much worse off now.

Conservatives would be much better served by firmly adhering to federalist principles, even when it means they don’t always get the outcome they want.

Elections

Upside-Down Gubernatorial Election in Illinois

Loading...
Left: Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker in 2020. Right: Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters; Campaign ad image via YouTube)

One Midwestern state’s gubernatorial race is starting to look like Bizarro World

During the past few decades in politics, we’ve come to expect Republicans to be more pro-Israel, and often more philosemitic, than their Democratic counterparts. Yet Darren Bailey, the incendiary Republican nominee for governor in Illinois, seems intent on breaking with this.

Last weekend, Bailey met with representatives of the Palestinian community and indicated that he dislikes the state’s first-of-its-kind 2015 law that punishes those who boycott Israel in the manner favored by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Opposing anti-BDS legislation as a matter of policy or on constitutional grounds is a legitimate position to hold. While I would contend that anti-BDS statutes are by and large constitutional and don’t run afoul of First Amendment speech protections, there is further reason to worry. Bailey made his comments about anti-BDS legislation from a lectern in front of a map of the Levant in which the entirety of Israel’s borders has been erased, with Palestine in their stead.

Moreover, Bailey’s remarks come on the heels of another scandal in which it emerged that he once claimed the Holocaust “doesn’t even compare” to abortion. Everyone, especially pro-lifers, should be appalled by this sort of hyperbolic rhetoric. As Illinois house Republican leader Jim Durkin put it, “the Holocaust was one of the worst atrocities in the history of humankind, and any comments that minimize it have no place in our political discourse.” Also noteworthy: Bailey’s sole congressional endorsement is Mary Miller, the ignominious Illinois congresswoman who claimed Adolf Hitler “was right on one thing”: that “he who has the youth has the future.” (She later apologized for the reference.) 

Even if one attributes these decisions and comments to poor judgment rather than malicious antisemitism, they highlight that Bailey is not the best candidate Republicans could have put forth to unseat an atrocious governor, J. B. Pritzker, in deep-blue Illinois, especially considering the incumbent’s genuine, albeit limited, pro-Israel track record

Bailey’s candidacy is yet another example of a Trump endorsee to which the former president was drawn because of fealty to him rather than general-election viability. Democrats’ incredibly cynical intervention in the Republican primary likely helped Bailey, but 45’s endorsement did more than anything else to put him over the edge. Trump’s prioritization of himself over the interests of the GOP has been a constant theme this primary season, a trend that dates back to the early days of his candidacy. His self-serving primary picks only underscore Republicans’ deal with the devil. If the Party of Lincoln wants to win in places like the Land of Lincoln again, it must dispense with the Donald as its de facto leader.

With MAGA Candidates, the Democrats Embrace High-Stakes Risk

Loading...
Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano speaks at a protest against the state’s extended stay-at-home order in Harrisburg, Pa., April 20, 2020. (Rachel Wisniewski/Reuters)

In my perfect world, the Overton window would run from about . . . Ted Cruz to Amy Klobuchar — from pretty darn conservative to the center-left, steering the country in a center-right direction. Oh, Congress could have some hard lefties, preferably of the Russ Feingold wonky variety and less of the AOC celebrity variety, and I’m fine with idiosyncratic figures who don’t always fit an easy mold like Justin Amash or Rand Paul or Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. People with different life experiences see the world differently, and sometimes they’ll see something that you just miss. There are

Law & the Courts

Another Dissent from NR’s Editorial Favoring Federal Abortion Ban

Loading...
(zimmytws/iStock/Getty Images)

I’m with Andy, not the editors, on the constitutionality of the federal regulation of abortion. Andy writes:

The editors proclaim, “We are persuaded that the undoubted federal power to defend basic civil rights under the 14th Amendment” does the trick. Count me out of the “we,” for I harbor significant doubts.

The “who would dare doubt this” appeal is surprising to find in our pages. Until about five minutes ago, the protection of abortion itself was “undoubted” because progressives were haughtily confident that no one would call them on their dearth of constitutional mooring. I fear my colleagues go with “undoubted” because they don’t want to say aloud what this implicitly means: They believe the supposed federal power to regulate abortion is a matter of substantive due process. It’s just that, unlike progressives, they undertake to accomplish a limited ban rather than make it available on demand.

I hope that we are not going to see conservatives replace one fringe theory about the connection between abortion and the Constitution with another. I opposed Roe because it was built atop precisely the sort of inchoate, results-driven sophistry that renders constitutions mere political enabling acts. The idea that — actually! — the 14th Amendment permits Congress to pass a federal ban strikes me as being cut from precisely the same cloth as was Roe. That I would personally favor the outcome were such an interpretation to be adopted does not change that one bit.

For the reasons Andy explains well, the originalist argument for the editors’ 14th Amendment claim is so weak as to render the maneuver a veritable bait-and-switch. For 50 years, Roe’s critics argued publicly (and correctly) that the Constitution is silent on the matter of abortion, and that the issue was therefore reserved to the states. And suddenly, with next to no debate on the matter, and with little attempt to build any sort of case, we’re insisting that we are “persuaded” about “undoubted federal power”?

I am not.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Shipping Protectionism

Loading...

Colin Grabow of the Cato Institute writes against shipping protectionism:

American commercial shipbuilding is in a wretched state. Plagued by high costs and inefficiencies, there is little appetite for the industry’s offerings beyond a diminutive, captive domestic market. Taking note of the industry’s decline, Jerry Hendrix recommends an ambitious agenda of government-funded shipyard construction and subsidies to restore U.S. shipbuilding to its former glory. But we should be skeptical of the rationale for such industrial policy and of its potential to elevate the United States above shipbuilding mediocrity. Doubling down on policies that have not succeeded in the past would be unwise.

Read the whole thing here.

Culture

Chick-fil-A Employee Delivers a Courtesy Whoopin’ to Would-Be Carjacker

Loading...
A franchise sign is seen above a Chick-fil-A freestanding restaurant after its grand opening in Midtown, New York October 3, 2015. (REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi)

Sometimes the good guys win. 

This time it happened to be in a Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Chick-fil-A parking lot, where a restaurant employee prevented the carjacking of a mother. The young man can be seen in the video wearing a high-visibility vest and black ball cap, taking the perpetrator to the ground. After getting rolled and having his neck vised by the employee, the fight goes out of the carjacker, and he sits while the police are called, and the situation de-escalates. 

The local WFLA reported:

Investigators said the woman was getting the baby out of her car when a man identified as William Branch walked up to her wielding a stick and demanded her keys.

Branch then grabbed the car keys from the waistband of the woman’s pants, opened her car door and got inside the car, investigators said.

When the woman began screaming for help, deputies said the Chick-fil-A employee ran to intervene.

Deputies said Branch punched the employee in the face but the employee was not seriously injured.

The employee told deputies that Branch had been involved in another incident shortly before the carjacking attempt.

When it’s a battle between Florida men, the one on the side of the Lord’s chicken has a distinct advantage; and you can be sure it was his pleasure to deliver that whooping.

World

A Sack of Issues

Loading...
Students in a classroom during a government-organized media tour in Lhasa, Tibet, June 1, 2021 (Martin Pollard/Reuters)

“What Is ‘Privilege’? Who Is Privileged?” That is the heading of my column today. This column consists of letters from readers, addressing just those questions. These letters give their personal testimony. Very interesting, and at times moving. To read all this, go here.

All right, let’s have some mail. Some more mail, that is. In a recent column, I related an interesting fact about Tibet: The most Googled question concerning that country is, “Is Tibet a country?” It is, yes — a country that has suffered brutal occupation by a monstrous dictatorship since 1950.

A reader sent me this news release from July:

A bill introduced in Congress today will take concrete action to resolve China’s decades-long illegal occupation of Tibet by fully recognizing Tibet’s unresolved status and faulting China for violating the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination.

In a different column, I discussed the general question of federal expenditures. What should they be for? A reader remembered James Madison, in 1794. That’s going back a ways.

Madison was a member of the House of Representatives. At issue was an expenditure — $13,000 — for French refugees. I will quote from a gazette of the period:

Mr. Madison wished to relieve the sufferers, but was afraid of establishing a dangerous precedent, which might hereafter be perverted to the countenance of purposes, very different from those of charity. He acknowledged, for his own part, that he could not undertake to lay his finger on that article in the Federal constitution, which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents. And if once they broke the line laid down before them, for the direction of their conduct, it was impossible to say, to what lengths they might go, or to what extremities this practice might be carried.

(For more, go here.)

“Another F-word” — that’s the heading of a post of mine concerning the word “Führer,” a word that made news at the Bayreuth Festival this year. (Bayreuth is a natural place for such a controversy, isn’t it?) In my post, I also discussed, as I have before, the name “Adolf” — which has been verboten since about 1940, for understandable reasons.

I heard from my friend Tim Saunders, who says,

Dear Jay,

Your comments about the near banishment of the male name Adolf certainly struck a chord with me, for I’m the grandson of Adolf H. My maternal grandfather’s name was Adolf Holtz. Similar to the notorious Adolf H., my grandfather was a soldier and served in World War I. My grandfather, though, served in the U.S. Army and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for valor at Chateau-Thierry in 1918. He died in 1924, long before Adolf Hitler became famous, so he never had the misfortune of being linked by first name to a mass murderer. Whenever I do mention that my grandfather’s name was Adolf, I always get the same reaction, which is one of disbelief and, to some degree, horror. It’s such a pity, as there have been so many fine Adolfs. If Britain can bring herself after 300+ years to have another King Charles, then perhaps some day the world can again accept men named Adolf.

Thank you to one and all readers, and writers.

Media

America Really Is an Outlier on Abortion

Loading...
Sen. Lindsey Graham on Capitol Hill (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In her latest New York Times column, “Lindsey Graham’s Unbelievably Cruel Abortion Ban,” Michelle Goldberg took Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) to task for defending his proposed 15-week nationwide abortion ban as being “in the mainstream” compared to the rest of the developed world:

Graham was making an argument, common in anti-abortion circles, that American abortion laws are unusually permissive, and that banning abortion at 12 or 15 weeks would bring us in line with Europe. France and Spain, for example, both permit abortion for any reason through 14 weeks, and Germany through 12 weeks post-conception. “If we adopted my bill, our bill, we would be in the mainstream of most everybody else in the world,” said Graham. “I think there are 47 of the 50 European countries have a ban on abortion from 12 to 15 weeks.”

This is, at best, a highly selective reading of European abortion laws. It ignores the fact that, on most of the continent, abortion is state-subsidized and easily accessible early in pregnancy, so women aren’t pushed into later terminations as they struggle to raise money. More significantly, the restrictions on later abortions have broad exceptions.

Despite her allegations surrounding Graham’s “selective” reading, the only country Goldberg cites as evidence of those “broad exceptions” to later-term abortion is Germany. In fact, even left-wing media have admitted that Graham’s central claim — that U.S. abortion laws are unusually permissive  — is correct. As the Catholic News Agency reported last year:

The Washington Post’s fact-checkers concluded in 2017 that “the data back up the claim” that the U.S. is one of only seven countries that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. (PolitiFact also determined that the statement was true.)

The other six countries are North Korea, China, Vietnam, Canada, Singapore, and the Netherlands.

This is an inconvenient fact for abortion-rights activists, but it is one that they have to face. As Angelina Nguyen noted in an essay for National Review about the 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi that was the subject of the Dobbs decision:

Recently, the Washington Post ­pub­lished a piece titled “How Abortion Laws in the U.S. Compare to Those in Other Countries,” comparing nations where “abortion is broadly legal” to weave a narrative that the global trend is toward abortion permiss­iveness. But even the Washington Post acknowledged the truth that “many European countries limit on-request abortions to the first trimester” and called this “more restrictive than much of the United States.” [Emily] Matchar came to a similar conclusion in her 2013 Atlantic article: “I assumed that Western Europe would be the land of abortion on demand, likely government-subsidized, and possibly with a free bag of condoms afterward. But as it turns out, abortion laws in Europe are both more restrictive and more complicated than that.”

By any measure of international comparison, Mississippi’s 15-week abortion law is mainstream and falls within the same gestational framework as laws in most of the world’s nations. If the United States Supreme Court allows Mississippi to become one of many states that desire to draw a bright-line gestational limit on elective abortion to protect the unborn, Mississippi will certainly not be alone in the inter­national community, which has largely done the same.

This isn’t some deceptive anti-abortion trope — it’s just empirically, demonstrably true. Facts are stubborn things.

Education

No, Jill Biden, Not ‘All Books’ Should Be in School Libraries

Loading...
First Lady Jill Biden speaks during the Council of Chief State School Officers’ 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

In an interview with the Today Show yesterday, Jill Biden was asked about her view on the debate surrounding the teaching and dissemination of controversial content in public schools. After a brief, boilerplate aside about how parents and teachers should “work together in their school districts and decide what they want with their curriculum,” the First Lady was asked if books in school libraries should reflect “a balance.” “All books should be in the library,” she jumped in. “All books. This is America. We don’t ban books.”

Well, first, it’s one or the other: Either parents get to work with teachers — which means they get a say — as Biden initially argued, or they don’t, i.e., “all books” are necessarily allowed. The obvious subtext of the conversation is that many parents think some books shouldn’t be in the library. If the First Lady really thinks those parents are deserving of a voice in such things, the result will presumably be that some books are left out in favor of others.

Second, on the “this is America” point — Biden’s comments were in the context of content in public schools, provided to underage children. America has always restricted certain kinds of content, and the attendant freedom to engage with it, when it comes to children. Why? Well, because we understand that some things — including some books — aren’t appropriate for children. Her husband himself called for banning targeted advertising to children in his State of the Union address. He wasn’t calling for banning targeted advertising to adults, because children and adults are different. Go figure.

Biden Is Telling a Whopper on the Deficit

Loading...
President Joe Biden at the Detroit Auto Show in Detroit, Mich., September 14, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden sprinkles the line “I’m not joking” throughout his public remarks, and it’s reasonable to conclude this is because he’s worried listeners are routinely on the cusp of figuring out he’s not serious.

One way we know he’s not serious is that he keeps claiming to be a deficit hawk.

You can skip ahead to around the 23-minute mark here to listen to the president, in Detroit today, mock Republicans for voicing concern about the deficit impact from profligate spending and then counter: “Guess what? First year in office, we reduced the deficit by $350 billion. Guess what? This year, this

Law & the Courts

Dissent from NR’s Editorial Favoring Federal Abortion Ban

Loading...
(giftlegacy/Getty Images)

I respectfully dissent from Wednesday’s National Review editorial, which supports Senator Lindsey Graham’s proposed federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks. When, in the last paragraph of the editorial, they get around to first-order question of what the supposed constitutional source of this federal power is, the editors proclaim, “We are persuaded that the undoubted federal power to defend basic civil rights under the 14th Amendment” does the trick. Count me out of the “we,” for I harbor significant doubts.

The “who would dare doubt this” appeal is surprising to find in our pages. Until about five minutes ago, the protection of abortion itself was “undoubted” because progressives were haughtily confident that no one would call them on their dearth of constitutional mooring. I fear my colleagues go with “undoubted” because they don’t want to say aloud what this implicitly means: They believe the supposed federal power to regulate abortion is a matter of substantive due process. It’s just that, unlike progressives, they undertake to accomplish a limited ban rather than make it available on demand.

Of course, having for decades held the concept of substantive due process in disdain, and rightly so, we would prefer to rely on a rhetorical flourish about “basic civil rights” — one eerily reminiscent of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s wooly jurisprudence of liberty, which was so impossible to defend as a matter of constitutional law that he notoriously resorted (as Justice Antonin Scalia scathingly observed) to the “sweet mystery of life” theory (“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”).

No, our editorial is not that out there. Still, basic civil rights? What are they? Where in the 14th Amendment are they located? And, the answer on abortion being obviously nowhere, what do you suppose the Left will do with “basic civil rights” once it has our imprimatur?

Given the extent to which National Review has quite appropriately opposed expansions of federal power based on progressives’ endlessly elastic interpretation of the commerce clause, the only plausible source of federal power to protect unborn life by outlawing abortion is the 14th Amendment. The editors concede as much. Within that amendment, however, there are only two conceivable sources: the due-process clause (out of which the contrivance of substantive due process was fabricated) and the privileges or immunities clause.

On the latter, I am persuaded by the brilliant work of Evan D. Bernick and Randy E. Barnett (The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment) that the privileges or immunities clause could be a source of expanded civil rights over time. But as a plain textual matter, the clause’s protections apply only to citizens of the United States. There is no sensible way to construe unborn children as citizens of the United States. As Jonathan Adler has explained, citizens are those “born or naturalized in the United States” — the unborn have never been understood to fit this category.

That leaves substantive due process. Many constitutional conservatives would shun any reliance on this dubious doctrine. But assuming it is available to us (and I assume the editors are relying on it), Dobbs has most recently instructed that rights not enumerated in the Constitution have no call on 14th Amendment protection unless they are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” (quoting from Washington v. Glucksberg).

Personally, I believe a ban on abortion would be “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” in a nation that honors a culture of life. Alas, that is very different from saying we currently inhabit such a nation.

Moreover, in light of the last century of life under Roe and its progeny, as well as the loosening of abortion restrictions that was underway in the states in the years prior to Roe (and which constitutional conservatives have rightly argued that Roe invalidly interrupted), I simply don’t see how a right against abortion can rationally be seen as deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition. I wish it were otherwise, but we have a very checkered history and tradition in this regard.

If the Left were proposing something along the lines of what our editorial is proposing, the first thing we would do is pin the proponents down on the constitutional roots of their claim of federal power. We would not let them get away with “undoubted.”

I am also unmoved by the editorial’s catalogue of positions taken by Republicans and conservatives over the years that have implied a federal power to outlaw and regulate abortion. This is not a stare decisis question. (You may remember stare decisis as the doctrine of respect for precedent that we vigorously argued was no reason to retain the Court’s pro-abortion cases.) It is also not a hypocrisy test. When we were in the Roe trap, everything was unconstitutional — we were trying to minimize the damage of a world in which abortion-on-demand was invalidly and monstrously deemed a constitutional right.

Now we are in a post-Dobbs world where the Constitution is back in force. We are not pushing against an unconstitutional order. We are proposing a federal power for which there is no constitutional support.

The regulation of abortion is a state issue. The federal constitution has nothing to say about it. If we’ve now suddenly decided it does, nothing prevents a Democrat-controlled Congress from imposing Roe on the nation by legislation, just as the Supreme Court imposed it by judicial decision. By proposing a federal regulation ourselves, we are gutting the rationale for arguing in the future that the Democrats’ gambit lacks constitutional legitimacy. We’ll be sorry about that.

In any event, I humbly ask my colleagues exactly what they would ask if Democrats were trying to do something like this: Please, tell me exactly where in the Constitution you locate the power of the federal government to outlaw abortion. Don’t tell me it’s “undoubted,” because I am doubting. Give me a clause — and if you’re relying on substantive due process, say so . . . and explain why it’s okay when we do it but not when they do it.

Economy & Business

Bernie Sanders Blocks Bill to Avert Rail Strike

Loading...
Sen. Bernie Sanders, (D., Vt.) questions former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm during a hearing to examine her nomination to be Secretary of Energy on Capitol Hill, January 27, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) has blocked a joint resolution sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) and Senator Richard Burr (R., N.C.) that would avert a freight-rail strike.

Wicker and Burr introduced a resolution that would adopt the recommendations of the presidential emergency board (PEB) appointed by President Biden as binding for a new, national, freight-rail labor contract. The PEB recommended a 24 percent pay increase over the five-year span of the contract, the largest pay increase in the history of national bargaining.

Sanders said, “Rail workers have a right to strike for reliable schedules. They have a right to strike for paid sick days. They have a right to strike for safe working conditions. Rail workers have a right to strike for decent benefits.”

After talking about wealth inequality and “the billionaire class,” the crux of Sanders’s objection was the PEB’s recommendation about sick days. “Right now if you work in the freight rail industry . . . you are entitled to zero sick days,” Sanders said. “What that means is that if you, as a worker get sick, if your child gets sick, if your spouse gets sick, and you need to take time off of work, not only will you not get paid, you actually could get fired,” he said.

Sick leave was considered at length by the PEB. Unions had proposed “15 days of paid sick leave annually where no sick leave is currently provided and increase the number of days of paid sick leave annually to 15 days where less than 15 days of paid annual sick leave is provided.” That means some workers already do get paid sick leave.

After considering the unions’ arguments for the proposal and the carriers’ counterarguments, the PEB said (emphasis added):

The Board appreciates how deeply the Organizations and the membership feel about the manner in which the Carriers are applying their attendance policies. Disputes over those issues, however, are best resolved in the grievance and arbitration process, not by an overly broad and very costly proposal that would create 15 paid days a year that, while nominally labeled as sick leave days, would be structured to be used on demand as a means of permitting employees to better balance work-life needs and would effectively be personal days that could not be denied for any reason by the Carriers. We understand the concerns voiced by the Organizations as to the circumstances that led to this proposal (and several others made in this proceeding). We are simply not in agreement that this sick leave proposal is otherwise warranted or is the appropriate way to address the concerns. We have taken the changes in demands upon employees into account when we formulated our recommendations concerning the wage package, including the service recognition bonus component.

As I wrote earlier today, sick leave was one of the elements on which the PEB recommended arbitration as a possible solution. That means that accepting the PEB’s recommendations does not preclude unions from continuing to push for more sick leave in arbitration in the future. In addition, the PEB considered the sick-leave policy when making its wage-increase recommendations, which were the highest ever from national bargaining and over 40 percent higher than what carriers wanted to offer. The PEB also recommended adding an additional paid personal day, which would be included if Wicker’s and Burr’s resolution passes.

Time-off policies for rail workers are more complicated than other industries, owing to the inherent 24/7 nature of the business. According to the Association of American Railroads, rail workers receive three weeks of paid vacation on average, eleven paid holidays, and 26 weeks of partial income replacement (about 60 percent of pay). Some also receive a supplemental sickness benefit, which increases the partial-income-replacement rate and extends it to 52 weeks. In prior rounds of bargaining, some unions traded sick leave to get the supplemental sickness benefit instead.

Sanders’s objection now means that the resolution will require 60 votes to pass the Senate. Burr said, “This is in Senator Schumer’s hands. He’s the majority leader. . . . Here is the promise I’ll make to Senator Schumer. If you bring it to the floor, I’ll produce 48 Republican votes for it. That means Dems only need to produce 12 people to support it to keep the American people from a $2 billion a day negative impact on them.”

Wicker asked President Biden to make clear whether he supports the report from the PEB that he appointed. “[He should] exercise the presidential leadership that is needed at this point to persuade his friends in the four holdout unions that this is what needs to be done. . . . It’s really up to the Democratic leader and the president of the United States,” Wicker said.

Education

Justice Gorsuch’s Law-School Existentialism

Loading...
Justice Neil Gorsuch participates in taking a new group photo with his fellow justices at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., June 1, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, in recent remarks to the Tenth Circuit Bench and Bar Conference, provocatively asked: “Does it really require seven years of collegiate education to become a competent lawyer?”

The problem Gorsuch identifies stems from the fact that American higher education is averse to early specialization, whereas the bar is “over-professionalized.” The American pedagogical establishment has long been the chief proponent of the notion that education is not simply a means to material prosperity. America’s universities have done their utmost to advance the idea that, besides the skills necessary to make a living, education exists for cura personalis (the enrichment of one’s whole person). Just as pervasive as in undergraduate education, this ethos is present in law schools, too, where students must often study areas in which they do not intend to practice.

Given the dismal state of higher education (especially in the humanities), we should revisit the assumption that years spent in an academic milieu is necessarily an individual and social good.

Gorsuch also took aim at some some of the cartel-like practices of professional law associations, such as how they fight efforts to reduce the cost of legal services. “Every time LegalZoom wants to go to a new state they get sued for unauthorized practice of law,” he said, observing that “it’s never by a consumer; it’s always a lawyer.”

The American Bar Association (ABA) and jurisdiction-based bars have acted more like medieval guilds than unprejudiced arbiters of professional standards. The state has granted these organizations the exclusive right to decide the criteria for entering the legal profession. Bar associations have used this monopoly power to restrict the business of offering counsel to licensed attorneys, thereby raising the price of legal services. Rather than protecting the interests of the public, they have protected themselves at the expense of indigent individuals in need of legal assistance.

Bar associations’ anticompetitive practices manifest in law school. Beyond determining which schools receive accreditation, they have successfully made law-school attendance a prerequisite to bar admittance. Today, only California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington allow one to forgo law school for a legal apprenticeship. This means that many young attorneys graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, impeding their capacity to work in relatively low-paying public-service positions, and compelling them to ratchet up the price of their counsel. I have witnessed this phenomenon as many of my peers have ditched their initial career aspirations, their professional raisons d’être, for more lucrative positions out of Maslowian necessity.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If one has acquired legal experience through an apprenticeship, one should be able to pursue a career in the law without attending law school.

Gorsuch is right. As it currently exists, legal education is in dire need of reform. This is why breaking down barriers to legal practice must be included in any broader conversation regarding occupational-licensing reform.

Law & the Courts

BREAKING: Supreme Court Abandons Yeshiva’s Religious Freedom

Loading...

As I discuss here, Yeshiva University was enjoined by a New York state court to recognize a gay group on its undergraduate campus, in violation of the school’s Torah-based religious conscience. Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the school an interim stay of the injunction on Friday, but late today, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that Yeshiva must go back to state court to ask the same appeals courts for the same relief — and must labor under the injunction in the interim. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined with the three liberals (including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson) in this ruling. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the four dissenters that Yeshiva should win on the merits and is being deprived of its religious liberty by having the case sent back, deeming it “ironic” that the Court denied to the nation’s most prominent religious Jewish university the same relief it once granted to Nazis:

Unless a stay is granted, Yeshiva will be required to recognize the [YU Pride] Alliance as an official student group and to grant it all the privileges extended to other such groups. As the Alliance has contended, this would force Yeshiva to make a “statement” in support of an interpretation of Torah with which the University disagrees. The loss of First Amendment rights for even a short period constitutes irreparable harm, and the appellate process in the state courts could easily drag on for many months. . . . The majority does not address our well-established standard for granting a stay but instead suggests that we cannot grant a stay because the New York courts have not entered a final order. But the state courts’ denial of interim relief constitutes a final order under National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie, 432 U. S. 43, 44 (1977) (per curiam). It is ironic that the theory that supported a stay in that case is eschewed here. . . .

The majority instructs Yeshiva to pursue two avenues of relief in state court before filing another application here. First, the University is told to seek “expedit[ed] consideration of the merits of [its] appeal.” . . . But even expedited review could take months, and during all that time, the University would be required to continue to make the statement about Torah that it finds objectionable. Thus, an expedited appeal in and of itself would not be sufficient to protect Yeshiva’s First Amendment rights. Second—and more to the point—the majority seems to think that it is still possible for the University to persuade the Court of Appeals to grant a stay. Of course, the Court of Appeals has already denied Yeshiva’s application for interim relief, but the majority interprets a case comment written by a court clerk employed by the Appellate Division to mean that the Court of Appeals may give Yeshiva a second bite at the apple notwithstanding its previous denial. That interpretation is dubious, yet the majority seizes upon it as dispositive. I doubt that Yeshiva’s return to state court will be fruitful, and I see no reason why we should not grant a stay at this time. It is our duty to stand up for the Constitution even when doing so is controversial.

International

Biden’s Oil Diplomacy — A Tale of Failure and Self-Inflicted Wounds

Loading...
President Joe Biden announces the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 23, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

A week or so ago, I noted that President Biden’s efforts to encourage OPEC and its allies to increase production did not seem to be going very well.

Now we have this (via the New York Times):

As Russia massed troops on its border with Ukraine and invaded the country at the start of the year, Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Company quietly invested more than $600 million in Russia’s three dominant energy companies.

Then, over the summer, as the United States, Canada and several European countries cut oil imports from Russia, Saudi Arabia doubled the amount of fuel oil it was buying from Russia for its power plants, freeing up its own crude for export.

And, this month, Russia and Saudi Arabia steered the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allied producers to reduce output targets in an effort to prop up global oil prices, which were falling, a decision that should increase the oil profits of both nations.

Taken together, the moves represent a distinct Saudi tilt toward Moscow and away from the United States.

Of course, the administration’s efforts to cut a deal with the terrorist regime our reliable negotiating partners in Tehran, who don’t get on so well with the Sunni theocrats in Riyadh, won’t have helped, not least because the Saudis are not too appreciative of what freer availability of Iranian oil might do to the oil price.

The NYT:

By working more closely with Russia, the Saudis are effectively making it more difficult for the United States and the European Union to isolate Mr. Putin. As Europe gets ready to greatly reduce how much oil it imports from Russia, Saudi Arabia and countries like China and India are stepping in as buyers of last resort. . . .

By announcing a small trim of production this month, OPEC Plus demonstrated its independence from President Biden, who visited Saudi Arabia in July and exchanged a fist bump with Prince Mohammed. The visit was widely interpreted as an effort by Mr. Biden to restore U.S.-Saudi relations after he criticized the kingdom during the 2020 U.S. presidential election for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist.

Fist bump, meet punch in the face.

This was an extra twist, however:

Some Middle East energy executives said the United States and other Western countries had not been reliable partners to oil exporters, in large part because they sought to wean the world off fossil fuels in an effort to address climate change.

“Years of schizophrenic energy policy in Europe and the U.S. have resulted in significant energy security vulnerabilities that large producers are adapting to,” said Badr H. Jafar, the president of Crescent Petroleum, an oil company in the United Arab Emirates. “And the energy chessboard is likely to keep shifting in the months and years to come.”

Translation: The West is an unreliable long-term customer (at least if the transition away from CO2 goes according to plan, which it won’t, but that’s another story). However, it is also a customer that, thanks to climate policy, is now deliberately weakening its own ability to push back against higher oil prices. Given where things currently stand technologically, renewables are not going to deliver energy independence on their own and, even if the West accelerates, as it should, down the nuclear route (I wonder what a Russian-engineered catastrophe at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant would do to those plans), that will take years.

Put all these things together and they give OPEC and its allies every incentive to push the price up as far as they can, and as soon as they can, and for as long as they can without flattening demand. They will be given more confidence in their ability to do so by the West’s unwillingness to boost its own oil production over a long enough period to deliver energy security until that happy moment when the switch away from greenhouse-gas emitting energy sources can be achieved without economic or geopolitical disaster.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports on a move by the administration that signals that it is determined to stick to a course that will only help the Saudis, the Russians, and other well-wishers:

Joe Manchin’s deal with Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer isn’t looking so good for the West Virginian, and the latest evidence is a Biden Administration settlement with green groups that stops previously approved oil and gas leases.

The Interior Department last week agreed to conduct additional climate reviews for five federal oil and gas lease sales held in 2019 and 2020 that were challenged by environmental groups. Activists claimed the Trump Administration didn’t sufficiently study the climate impact of the leases under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Rather than defend the earlier environmental reviews, the Biden Administration surrendered to their progressive friends. According to last week’s legal settlement, the climate reviews will incorporate the “social cost” of greenhouse gas emissions that could result from the leases.

The social cost of empowering Putin and his pals is, apparently, zero. The difference all this could make to the climate: not much more than zero. The actual cost to Americans at the gas pump: considerably more than zero. Greenflation is what it is.

What, Me Worry?

Loading...
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, November 10, 2021. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

I had my doubts that having Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in the office back in October 2021 would have made much of a difference in the supply-chain crisis that bedeviled the country in the fall and winter. I contended that the more uncomfortable fact for the administration was that Buttigieg was out on paternity leave for two months and no one noticed.

But U.S. secretaries of transportation are a bit like brake lines, offensive lines, and power lines — you only pay much attention to them when they don’t work. And a year after massive backlogs at U.S. ports, the

Culture

Fred Franzia, R.I.P.

Loading...
Fred Franzia walks through his vineyard in Lodi, Calif., December 17, 2003. (Stephen Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Fred Franzia, the inventor of Two Buck Chuck (a.k.a. Charles Shaw) wine, died Tuesday in Denair, Calif. at age 79.

Franzia, whose parents invented the boxed Franzia wine beloved by college students across the country, personified the noble American tradition of taking the high brow and making it low.

The Franzia family literally boxed the refinement of Napa Valley and delivered it to the quantity-minded American drinker — an act that true oenophiles undoubtedly consider deeply profane. But those types never concerned Franzia, who insisted throughout his life that no bottle of wine should cost more than ten dollars.

“Take that and shove it, Napa,” he once said in an interview.

Like many popularizers before him, Franzia was also steeped in the rich American tradition of corner-cutting, pleading guilty to fraud in 1994 for mislabeling the grape varieties on his wine. (He had instructed workers to scatter a few zinfandel grapes atop a truck load of cheaper grapes in order to sell the resulting wines as zinfandel). He also campaigned unsuccessfully to have state regulations changed so that he’d be able to label his Central Valley–grown wines as having been grown in Napa.

What McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc did for dining out and Conrad Hilton did for hotel lodging, Fred Franzia and his parents before him did for California wine.

Bronco Wine Company, the brand Fred founded with his brother after their parents sold Franzia to Coca-Cola in 1973, now boasts a portfolio of more than 100 brands ranging from wine to spirits and ready-to-drink cocktails.

Asked how he could sell his wine for less than a bottle of water, Franzia responded “They’re overcharging for the water — don’t you get it?”

Pour out some Sunset Blush for Fred.

Elections

Fetterman Debates Too Late

Loading...

John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, has finally agreed to a debate with his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz. Unfortunately for everyone, this debate is on October 25, just a few days before Election Day and weeks after early voting will have begun in earnest in Pennsylvania.

In 2020, over two and a half million Pennsylvanians cast ballots through the mail. Just over 4 million were cast on Election Day.

Given these stats, this agreement to debate should be taken as John Fetterman admitting that he is not well enough to debate before voting begins, an issue inevitably raised by his stroke and his difficulty speaking coherently since.

The Economy

Some of the Industries a Freight-Rail Strike Would Hurt

Loading...

Numerous industries would be affected by a freight-rail strike. Here’s what some of them are saying:

Manufacturing:

We urge [Congress] to utilize all possible measures to avoid a service disruption in the freight rail network. While it remains our hope that the parties will successfully conclude negotiations by this week’s deadline, Congress is empowered to institute the recommendations produced by President Biden’s PEB and approved by both the Class I railroads and numerous labor groups. Should it become necessary to intervene, we implore you to use your authority as leaders of Congress to diminish any further supply chain uncertainty and economic damage.

Oil and gas:

[The American Petroleum Institute] requests that Congress prepare to act if negotiations this week fail to produce agreement to facilitate a workable settlement and prevent catastrophic disruptions to the freight rail network. Last Friday, representatives of the oil and gas industry began receiving notifications from the railroads that they intend to begin curtailing shipments of hazardous materials and other chemicals as of today, to ensure carloads of product are not stranded on the tracks if a work stoppage occurs. This curtailment alone, could have profound impacts on the ability of our industry to deliver critical energy supplies to market.

Fuel and petroleum products:

The harm to the U.S. economy from the potential rail strike has already begun, as railroads are embargoing shipments of materials critical to the refining and petrochemical industries. Railroads are curtailing operations prior to the September 16th, 2022, deadline to ensure their networks can be shut down safely and in compliance with applicable regulations should a sudden work stoppage occur. Without the ability to move critical materials in and out of refineries and terminals, our members will experience a significant impact on operations.

[The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers] respects the negotiation process and the positions of railroads and the rail labor unions. However, the implications of a rail strike on our economy are obvious and potentially extreme, so Congress must take steps immediately to prevent a work stoppage.

Chemicals:

The highest-volume chemical carried by US railroads is ethanol.

More than half of all rail chemical carloads consist of various industrial chemicals, including soda ash, caustic soda, urea, sulfuric acid and anhydrous ammonia.

Plastic materials and synthetic resins account for close to a quarter of rail chemical carloads.

Most of the rest is agricultural chemicals.

In the US, chemical railcar loadings represent about 20% of chemical transportation by tonnage, with trucks, barges and pipelines carrying the rest.

Retail:

While the PEB has done its job, it is now time for Congress to ensure that a freight rail shutdown does not occur. As we have in the past, Congress has the ability to implement the PEB’s recommendations in whole, which we would encourage happens quickly after the cooling off period ends.

We are in the middle of the peak import season as retailers bring in their holiday merchandise for the all-important fourth quarter. Any rail network disruptions this month could have long-lasting negative effects on this important selling season. Product delays and shortages are correlated with inflation – an issue of great significance to Americans and the economy.

Ultimately, we continue to implore the parties to resolve these negotiations on their own, especially with the PEB recommendations. In the event they do not, however, we ask you to be prepared to act to protect the supply chain and ensure no interruption to rail service.

Agriculture:

The U.S. rail network moves critical agricultural inputs and significant quantities of agricultural products. These essential items are transported by rail to domestic facilities and to ports for export abroad. A complete stoppage of the rail system would lead to shutdowns or slowdowns of rail-dependent facilities resulting in devastating consequences to our national and global food security.

Leaders around the world are already concerned about food shortages and famine due to drought and geopolitical challenges, such as the invasion of Ukraine, which accounts for ten percent of the global exports of wheat. A freight rail stoppage would occur as America’s farmers harvest their crops and would exacerbate global food insecurity and likely contribute to further geopolitical instability in regions that experience famine. Congress must be willing to act to ensure our farmers and ranchers can continue to help feed the world.

The freight rail system already is significantly challenged and many rail customers are not receiving timely rail service. A complete stoppage of rail service, even for a single day, would escalate these challenges. Most freight railroads currently lack extra capacity to make up for down time. Thus, a sizable portion of freight backlogged due to a stoppage may never be made up leading to less production from rail-dependent businesses to the detriment of producers and consumers.

Mining:

A rail strike could create a debilitating logistics chokepoint for the movement of energy and materials resources essential to our grid reliability and energy affordability, as well as our manufacturing sector and the energy security of our allies. Ongoing service issues continue to threaten coal deliveries, impeding the delivery of essential fuel as utilities work to shield consumers from soaring natural gas prices and build up stockpiles to ensure they have the fuel security needed for the winter. Curtailing the supply of materials essential to manufacturing will also push up costs and reverse any progress made in solving the supply chain challenges driving inflation. The U.S. has abundant mined resources, but they are dependent on reliable, efficient rail service.

Fertilizer:

The production and movement of fertilizer is heavily dependent on rail, both for finished product and production inputs. Many of those products have already been removed from the rails in preparation for a potential rail stoppage.

“For every day this uncertainty continues, we essentially lose five shipping days because of the ramp down and ramp up,” continued [Fertilizer Institute president and CEO Corey] Rosenbusch. “If this situation is not resolved by tomorrow, it could quickly impact supplies for fall application and lead to a reduction in U.S. production at a time when 70% of European production has been curtailed or ceased due to Russia’s shutoff of natural gas supplies.”

Congress has the power to step in and avert a rail strike if agreements between the rail carriers and labor unions are not reached.

“Congress can act to implement the President’s Emergency Board compromise agreement,” Rosenbusch concluded. “Action must be taken to ensure rail networks continue operating or American consumers and global food security will pay for it.”

Clothing and shoes:

With 98% of all apparel, footwear, and travel goods sold in the U.S. today being imported, our industry’s 3 million American workers depend on a smooth supply chain. Rail, particularly intermodal, is an increasingly important piece of the puzzle as we work to bring the right clothes, shoes, and accessories to American families at the right time, and at the right price.

Trucking:

While trucking and rail companies compete for ground freight, trucking is also the largest customer of the rail industry, and both industries rely on one another to keep our supply chains healthy and efficient. We deliver the last mile of virtually every product that rail transports. Particularly through “intermodal”
shipments involving containers moved by ships, railroads and trucks, the industries depend on each other to meet domestic and international demand. The Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) reports that in 2021 alone, transportation companies moved 18,435,249 intermodal units. Idling all 7,000
long distance daily freight trains in the U.S. would require more than 460,000 additional long-haul trucks every day, which is not possible based on equipment availability and an existing shortage of 80,000 drivers. As such, any rail service disruption will create havoc in the supply chain and fuel inflationary
pressures across the board.

Passenger railroads:

Many passenger rail services operate on tracks owned by freight railroads. Without the freight employees on hand to operate their networks, US rail commuters will be unable to make their trips. Some passenger rail operators have already cautioned customers about service disruptions. Amtrak faces the largest impact, as it generally only owns tracks between Boston and Washington, DC, but regional and local rail services will suffer as well.
Metra, which operates 11 commuter rail lines in the Chicago area, warned its customers in a statement Tuesday that “a potential work stoppage by freight railroad workers” could “directly impact” its “ability to operate most of its services.”
“We want you to be aware of this issue so that you can make alternate plans for travel should a work stoppage occur,” Metra told customers.

Other freight railroads:

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) is the non-profit trade association representing the interests of the nation’s 600 small business short line railroads that operate 50,000 miles of track, or approximately one-third of the national railroad network, originating or terminating one out of every five railcars, serving customers who otherwise would be cut off from the network and thus disconnected from the national and global economies. Short lines work with our Class I freight railroad partners to serve every aspect of our nation’s industrial, agricultural, and energy economies.

Put simply, a rail system shutdown would be catastrophic for the U.S. economy, tens of thousands of businesses, and tens of millions of consumers. It would spike inflation, cause industrial chaos, and be a terrible result for everyone involved.

Woke Culture

DEI Plans: Are They Legal?

Loading...
(Devonyu/Getty Images)

Nearly every major institution has a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plan, and advertises it as loudly, frequently, and insufferably as possible — having such a plan puts the institution on the side of the angels. Not having a plan suggests the institution is racist or, at least, retrograde.

Because our woke anointed support DEI plans, they seldom receive critical scrutiny. But many such programs provide racial and ethnic preferences that are flatly unlawful and exist unchallenged. Recent news reports of major companies announcing the implementation of positive discrimination plans fuel the perception that these DEI initiatives pass legal muster. After all, these companies have substantial legal departments and major law firms on retainer. Surely, the plans passed legal review.

Not always.

Years ago, in United Steelworkers v. Weber, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of private sector affirmative action plans, provided they’re designed to remedy a “manifest imbalance” in a “traditionally segregated workforce.” The terms “manifest imbalance” and “traditionally segregated workforce” were sufficiently nebulous for it to be left to circuit courts to sort out what they meant in a given context. Most courts require that the plan be supported by direct evidence of discrimination against the beneficiary group (although some cases suggest mere evidence of statistical imbalances may suffice).

Weber was decided in 1979. Since then, however, employers have developed affirmative action or DEI plans for reasons wholly unrelated to past discrimination or traditionally segregated workforces. Some are designed to comply with Executive Order 11246, requiring government contractors to take affirmative action. Some are designed for cosmetic reasons and others to forestall public opprobrium. Most are at least partially designed to virtue signal.

A review of websites and promotional materials of major corporations and other large institutions shows that “benign” DEI programs are nearly ubiquitous. But many of these programs may be problematic, as the Fifth Circuit’s Frank v. Xerox demonstrates.

In Frank, some of Xerox’s black employees challenged the company’s Balanced Work Force (BWF) Initiative. The BWF was designed to ensure that racial and gender groups in Xerox’s Houston office were represented at all levels of the company in reasonable proportion to their respective numbers in the local workforce. Xerox set racial and ethnic “goals” for each job and grade. Management evaluated supervisors on their success in meeting these goals.

The plaintiffs alleged that the BWF unlawfully discriminated against them. Since blacks were overrepresented in the Houston office, Xerox’s goals were tilted against them.

The court found that the existence of the BWF program, coupled with evidence that the company followed the plan, constituted direct evidence of unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The diversity programs of most public sector employers face an even greater burden: the need to survive strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. In other words, the diversity program must promote a compelling governmental interest and be narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. What qualifies as a compelling governmental interest in this regard is limited almost exclusively to remedying actual instances of past discrimination by the public employer in question. Undaunted, some DEI proponents have been straining to apply Grutter’s “benefits of diversity” rationale to public employment. But the Supreme Court made clear that that rationale applies because the First Amendment (purportedly) grants educational institutions broad latitude in defining their pedagogical missions. While this could possibly be used to justify the hiring of, say, a professor, Grutter’s First Amendment predicate has no application to most other public employers (and may not survive SFFA v. Harvard, currently before the Court).

DEI plans are the rage. But wokeness could come at a cost.

Politics & Policy

We Must Overcome Economic Ignorance

Loading...

Harmful policies thrive because so few people understand what they actually do. People end up falling for political deceptions such as calling the latest federal extravaganza the “Inflation Reduction Act.” They believe politicians who say that government spending stimulates the economy. They nod in approval when told that price controls are the way to tame inflation.

Statist politicians and their allies depend on economic ignorance, just as con artists rely on people’s gullibility.

The battle against economic ignorance is crucial, and entering on the side of knowledge is Oklahoma State professor Per Bylund with his new book How to Think about the Economy: A Primer.

Bylund correctly writes that economic literacy “is necessary to properly understand the world.” His clearly written book (no math, no jargon) accomplishes that. Economists have a “mental toolkit” that enables them to grasp how people behave, and Bylund makes that toolkit easily accessible.

Do you know someone who ought to start thinking like an economist? Consider this book.

Politics & Policy

White House: Biden Flew to Delaware to Thank Poll Workers in Person

Loading...
President Joe Biden talks to reporters while boarding Air Force One at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., August 8, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Charlie noted that President Biden flew to Delaware and back in one evening, simply to cast a ballot in Delaware’s primary that had one contested statewide office. Biden and the first lady were on the ground in Delaware for about one hour and 15 minutes.

It will probably not surprise you to learn that when asked about this, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not have a particularly good explanation for why the president didn’t simply vote absentee, or vote early when he was in Delaware this past weekend.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Can you tell us why the President went to Wilmington yesterday to vote in the primary when he could have had an absentee ballot or he could have voted in person, early voting, when he was there last weekend?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, it’s multiple things. I know there has been a lot of interest in this.

So every American, as you know, has a sacred and constitutional right to vote. The President exercised that right, alongside other Delawareans, last night. That’s what you saw, just a couple — to answer your specific questions.

Look, as you know, the President has a very heavy schedule. He’s the President of the United States. It worked out best for him to vote yesterday, to vote on Tuesday. He thought it was important to exercise his constitutional right to vote, as I just mentioned, and set an example by showing the importance of voting.

He also had the opportunity to say hello to poll workers and thank them for their work. And we know how under attack poll workers have been these past several years.

And as some of you noted — some of your colleagues noted that many Presidents — it’s not — it’s not unusual — head home to vote in their local elections. And he thought it was important to do so yesterday.

Q: Do you think that it would have been better then to make it more of, like, a public event, for him to sort of, like, tout it a little bit more? It was sort of a surprise — right? — until we — until he landed there.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President has been voting in Delaware for decades. And this is something that was important to do. He wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to vote — to vote yesterday, and he did that. It is not unusual for him. He’s done that for — again, for many decades.

And so — so, you know, he had an opportunity to thank the poll workers. He had an opportunity — I think by the President going to vote, that sends a very strong mesh- — message to the American public.

Ah, so the president flew to Delaware and back, just so he could thank the poll workers in person.

Either carbon emissions matter, or they don’t. If they matter, then the president is setting a bad example by taking his 35-minute flight from Joint Base Andrews to Wilmington, Del., and back to cast a ballot with one contested primary. And if the decisions that influence a person’s carbon emissions don’t matter for President Biden, then they don’t matter for anyone else.

Politics & Policy

On Abortion, Joe Manchin Is a Total Mess

Loading...
Sen. Joe Manchin (D, W.Va.) speaks to journalists during a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 8, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

John McCormack reports:

When I briefly caught up with Senator Joe Manchin today in a Capitol hallway, the West Virginia Democrat said he “absolutely” still supports the 20-week federal abortion limit he has voted for on multiple occasions. While Manchin said he has not yet seen text of Senator Lindsey Graham’s new bill to prohibit most abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy and beyond, Manchin said he was “very interested” in the new legislation.

Is Joe Manchin remotely capable of joined-up thinking? When Dobbs was decided, Manchin said:

I am deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. It has been the law of the land for nearly 50 years and was understood to be settled precedent. I trusted Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v. Wade was settled legal precedent and I am alarmed they chose to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans.

As a Catholic, I was raised pro-life and will always consider myself pro-life. But I have come to accept that my definition of pro-life may not be someone else’s definition of pro-life. I believe that exceptions should be made in instances of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. But let me be clear, I support legislation that would codify the rights Roe v. Wade previously protected. I am hopeful Democrats and Republicans will come together to put forward a piece of legislation that would do just that.

As a statement, this was nonsense from start to finish. Manchin was “deeply disappointed” that the Court had overturned Roe, because . . . he’s “pro-life” — which, in his case meant that he was in favor of the sort of exceptions that many pro-lifers support, and that was why he wanted to . . . “codify the rights Roe v. Wade previously protected,” which ensured that no abortion restrictions of any sort could be passed, and to get that done he hoped that the Republicans who had fought against Roe for half a century would come together with the Democrats to undo Dobbs, which, if achieved, would . . . prevent Joe Manchin from passing the sorts of pro-life laws that, on other occasions, he has insisted he wants to pass.

Laws such as . . . the “20-week federal abortion” ban that Manchin says he “absolutely” still supports, and the 15-week federal abortion ban that Manchin now says he is “very interested” in considering — both of which would only pass constitutional muster* now that Dobbs has been decided, and would be rendered instantly illegal by the “codification” of Roe v. Wade that, back in June, Joe Manchin vehemently insisted he supported.

What a joke.

*I think federal abortion laws are unconstitutional for other reasons

Politics & Policy

Why Biden’s Student-Loan Forgiveness Plan Is Illegal 

Loading...

I’ve done a little video explainer on the NR YouTube page:

NRI

Debating Originalism

Loading...

I’ll be debating originalism at the National Constitution Center in an event co-sponsored by NRI this coming Friday afternoon. If you are in the Philadelphia area, it’d be great to see you:

White House

Joe Biden Spikes the Football Again

Loading...
President Joe Biden delivers remarks as he celebrates the enactment of the “Inflation Reduction Act” on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 13, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden, yesterday: “Exactly four weeks ago today, I signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, the single most important legislation passed in [this] Congress to combat inflation and one of the most significant laws in our nation’s history, in my view . . . Today offers proof that the soul of America is vibrant, the future of America is bright, and the promise of America is real . . .  This bill cut costs for families, helped reduce inflation at the kitchen table, because that’s what they look at — how much are their monthly bills and how much do they have to pay out for their necessities.”

As I find a need to mention more and more frequently, this administration has many bad habits, but one of the worst is their inclination to spike the football in victory at any glimpse of good news, only to be quickly overtaken by bad news. In Biden’s eyes, everything is always going great. Inflation will be temporary, the Afghan army is well-trained, all the Americans in Afghanistan will be rescued, the Covid tests will be plentiful, and “the much-predicted crisis didn’t occur. Packages are moving. Gifts are being delivered. Shelves are not empty.”

Here’s a selection of headlines from the print edition of today’s Wall Street Journal:

Page A1: Stocks Sink on Dashed Inflation Hopes

Page A6: Fed Set for More Tightening

Page A6: Inflation Hits Families in the Pantry

Page A6: Where Prices Rose and Fell in August

Page A7: Energy Bills Are Climbing Sharply

Page A7: U.S. Deficit Widened from a Year Earlier

Page A7: U.S. Household Income Stalled Last Year, Census Bureau Says

This is all separate from the potential economic chaos that a freight-rail strike would bring.

It says something that Biden and his team would choose to do the political equivalent of an elaborate touchdown dance on a day when the U.S. was deluged with bad economic news. A combination of blind optimism, reflexive denial, and a desperate need to convince people that they’re doing a great job permeates everything this administration does. And the inability or unwillingness to look at national problems with clear-eyed realism keeps catching up with them.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Inflation, Antitrust, and Argentina

Loading...

Jack Salmon writes about the August inflation report:

Declining headline inflation is good news, but neither the Federal Reserve nor Congress is off the hook just yet — inflation is still very much out of control. Since the headline CPI primarily reflects transitory fluctuations in the prices of the supply of goods, the declines seen in recent months can be chalked up to the 20 percent drop in the price of oil since June — and not to the Fed’s tightening its belt.

The Fed knows this and will be more concerned with core CPI, the metric that reflects the non-transitory components of inflation by excluding food and energy prices, which fluctuate with supply volatility. Core CPI rose from 5.9 percent in July to 6.3 percent in August. It has been persistently elevated around 6 percent since the start of the year and remains at almost double the rate of Euro Area core inflation, and almost three times the 2015–2019 U.S. average.

Ryan Young and Alex Reinauer write about the relevant-market fallacy in the context of tech and antitrust:

In competition policy, it is not enough to say that a company has a monopoly. One must ask: a monopoly over what? Defining a company’s relevant market is a core question in every antitrust case. The relevant-market fallacy is defining that relevant market so narrowly that it makes a company look more dominant than it really is.

Any market is a monopoly if you define it narrowly enough. Antitrust enforcers have an incentive to push market definitions in this direction as far as they think they can get away with. It makes their case look stronger, even if that strength is only semantic.

Antonella Marty writes about inflation in Argentina:

Argentina’s annual inflation rate now exceeds 70 percent — a 30-year high. Its monthly inflation (just under 8 percent) is comparable to the U.S.’s annual inflation, with prices rising so much that the country’s central bank recently hiked interest rates to 69.5 percent.

U.S. Officials Licensed U.S. Battery Tech to China

Loading...
The People’s Republic of China flag and the U.S. flag fly on a lamp post along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol. (Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)

Is the U.S. serious about developing new battery technology to power the future? Right now, it looks more silly than serious. A highly promising new battery was developed at a cost of $15 million in a U.S. government lab, but then the U.S. Department of Energy awarded many of the manufacturing rights to China in violation of its own licensing rules. Now, China is about to bring online one of the largest battery farms to ever power a major city.

And not just any battery farm. It uses vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFB), a new technology that enables large, long-lived batteries

Health Care

Child Wellbeing as an Afterthought

Loading...

Business Insider has a piece on “induced lactation” for biological mothers whose children were carried by surrogates, as well as parents who have “transitioned from female to male and those who have from male to female.” What is striking about the report is that it is centered almost exclusively around the feelings of the parents, not the well-being of the child.

Energy & Environment

What I Say, Not What I Do, cont.

Loading...
President Joe Biden departs Air Force One as he returns from NATO and G7 summits in Europe at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 30, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Per Bloomberg, Joe Biden sure isn’t acting as if we’re in a “climate crisis”:

President Joe Biden, who depended on mail-in votes to win office in 2020, unexpectedly flew Air Force One to his home state of Delaware on Tuesday to cast a primary election ballot in-person.

The White House didn’t publicly announce the trip until just before he left. Asked before boarding his plane why he was traveling to his home state on short notice, the president answered: “To vote.”

What’s the excuse for this? It can’t be that there were no mail-in or early-voting options available:

He didn’t answer when asked why he hadn’t simply requested and returned an absentee ballot. Delaware also offered in-person early voting on Saturday, when Biden was at his home in Wilmington.

And it can’t be because he doesn’t trust mail-in ballots, because, in addition to being our key Defender of the Earth, Joe Biden is the primary champion of Our Democracy.

When other progressives do this, they often insist that they ticked the “offset my carbon” box on the airline’s website. Alas, there is no such option within the booking system for Air Force One.

World

Sweet Potability, Etc.

Loading...
An Iraqi medical staff member drinks water during anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, November 1, 2019. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

On the homepage today, I have a piece called “Ukraine and the Right.” Difficult subject, important subject. And for something offbeat: “Another F-word.” That word would be “Führer.” A controversy over this word has arisen at — naturally enough — the Bayreuth Festival.

In an Impromptus last Friday, I had a note on drinking water (meaning water to drink). The problems of Jackson, Miss., have reminded some of us that this water can’t be taken for granted — though maybe it should?

A reader writes,

I was a contractor in Iraq from 2007 to 2009. We had several Third World nationals as logistics and support contractors. Early in my tour I asked a gentleman from Nepal how he liked Iraq. He replied that he enjoyed working there because he had so much and made far more than he would have in Nepal. I asked him what his favorite part of living in Iraq was and he pointed to a pallet of water — potable water in eight-packs of two-liter bottles. It was then — at the ripe age of 53 — that I realized that countless people live without ready access to potable water.

Now, on Tuesdays and Fridays, I crow about the “miracle of curbside garbage pickup.”

A friend of mine from Munich writes,

Several years ago, German bottled-water companies successfully sued the City of Munich to prevent them from advertising the superior chemical quality of their water.

I had some notes on Queen Elizabeth II. A reader writes,

I never saw the Queen but I did see Prince Philip in 2016 from a distance. . . .

. . . my parents got married the day after Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip (still a serving officer) did. Both my parents were in the Navy at the time and my dad was serving on the USS Ellyson. One of his fellow officers dubbed him the Duke of Ellyson since that’s when George VI named Philip the Duke of Edinburgh.

In my Impromptus last Friday, I commented on something Donald Trump said when campaigning for a gubernatorial candidate: “He’ll rule your state with an iron fist, and he’ll do what has to be done.” A friend writes,

When I read your “rule with an iron fist” comments, my mind immediately went to this exchange from A Man for All Seasons — Roper is talking about getting at the devil:

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More : Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?

I spoke of the columnist Steve Chapman, who was born in Brady, Texas. Writes a reader,

When I was growing up, my family traveled from Midland to Houston, and we would sometimes drive through Brady. I remember my dad saying it was “the heart of Texas.” Also, as a music guy, you might like this: the Heart of Texas Country Music Festival.

In an Impromptus, I talked about, and celebrated, the weirdness of English. A reader writes,

I, too, love the weirdness of English. I’ve never forgotten this bit by the Reagan-era comedian Yakov Smirnoff: When asked by a maître-d whether he had reservations, he said, “Yes — but I’ll eat here anyway.”

Marvelous.

Education

Education versus Mind Control

Loading...

The “progressive” project of controlling education continues apace. Rather than producing knowledgeable people who can think for themselves, progressives envision education as a means of conditioning young minds to accept their beliefs, which don’t include individual success. They’re all about collectivism, and the goal of schooling is to produce lots of worker bees.

One American who understands the danger is Daniel Buck of the Fordham Institute. In today’s Martin Center article, he explains “Why the Canon Wars Still Matter.”

Buck writes, “Critics of the literary canon usually point to its preponderance of white males, but this antipathy toward tradition traces down to a more fundamental, even revolutionary, first principle. The radicals behind the anti-canon movement want more than the expansion of the existing canon; they want to eradicate any commitment to aesthetic ideals, objective truth, or moral imposition. Undergirding their resentment of Shakespeare or Tolstoy is a resentment of Western values as such, and so saving the canon is about more than saving Romeo and Juliet.”

Exactly.

Where classical education helps a student to understand reality, the “progressives” want to make reality optional. All objective standards must go, so out with all those books by dead white males. Instead, we get “critical pedagogy,” which is wholly negative.

Buck continues, “Perhaps the most egregious example of progressive deconstruction is contemporary gender ideology. Where it was in vogue decades ago to criticize religion or traditional institutions like the family, now even nature cannot impose itself on an individual. Self-actualization and subjective perception have such a final claim upon reality that one’s personal sense of gender—regardless of chromosomes or phenotypes—takes precedence. Thus, nature itself must conform to individual desire through gender surgery and hormone therapy.”

The Left has had its long march through our institutions, and it’s time for a counter-march. We need, as Bill Bennett argued, massive curricular change to reinstate the books and teachings that used to work so well before they were supplanted by junk from the likes of Paulo Freire and Howard Zinn.

Music

Polyphony among the Recusants

Loading...

Writing over at Corpus Christi Watershed, the musician Charles Weaver relays some of his experience working through the books of the recusant Edward Paston (1550–1630), which translate the polyphonic (multi-voiced) compositions of Elizabethan England into arrangements for lute and a soloist.

Weaver writes:

What were these settings used for? They could have been merely for private devotion, to be sung in gatherings of like-minded souls eager for spiritual and musical consolation. Another intriguing possibility is that the sacred works could have been used liturgically at small and illicit Masses celebrated in recusant homes by intrepid Jesuits. Either way, the whole collection is deeply moving to me, since it represents a longing for a spiritual connection to the past in the face of incomprehensible liturgical and religious upheaval. The connections to the experience of aesthetically minded Catholics living today hardly need to be spelled out.

And then he embeds some of the performances in them. Here he is performing with his wife, Elizabeth.

JOHN TAVERNER (d. 1545) “In Nomine” • Charles & Elizabeth Weaver from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

I’ve always thought that the Catholic music of this era, Thomas Tallis in particular, was ringed with sadness — a kind of witness to spiritual desolation and persecution, and a testimony to the believer’s call to God out of the depths of despair. I suppose the whole point of recusant spirituality is that you can’t be so explicit about your meaning. But hearing Weaver sing is like hearing my own prayer, transfigured. Go to CC Watershed for other examples.