Politics & Policy

2021 ‘We the People’ Video Series Launches

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Our friends at the Bradley Foundation have launched the 2021 season of its excellent “We the People” video series — the new episode features Bradley president Rick Graeber interviewing Heritage Foundation president Kay Cole James, who discusses America’s prevailing strengths and election integrity. Watch it here:

You Didn’t Build That

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President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House, January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

A week in, the Biden administration’s efforts to speed up vaccine availability and distribution have been tangled up with a cynical press strategy.

People on the Biden team have repeatedly described their efforts as breaking new paths when they are basically picking up a challenging but impressive project from their predecessors. Last week, as I noted here, they made the absurd claim that they were starting from scratch and had been handed a total failure, even as they scrambled to pretend that a pace of vaccinations that had already been reached by the Trump administration would make for an ambitious goal

Politics & Policy

‘The Post-Presidential Twilight Zone’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Michael discuss the oddities of the upcoming impeachment in the Senate, and the filibuster debate. Listen below, or subscribe to this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Education

What Makes Public-School Teachers Different from Everyone Else?

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(dolgachov/Getty Images)

I concur entirely with the NR staff editorial about the ongoing “ransom demands” from public-school teachers’ unions in a standoff about opening schools and getting kids back in classrooms. I have just one point to add.

The coronavirus pandemic took this country by surprise, and most school systems understandably struggled to put together a good plan once gathering kids in groups was deemed unacceptably risky. Most public-school districts tried “distance learning,” and it fails far too many kids, particularly among the most vulnerable. The physical and psychological health damage that school closures are doing to kids is terrifying. Meanwhile, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded, “Many schools have reopened for in-person instruction in some parts of the US as well as internationally, school-related cases of COVID-19 have been reported, but there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

Many public-school teachers’ unions don’t want to come back into schools until everyone is vaccinated. Well, grocery-store clerks haven’t had that choice for the past year. Amazon-warehouse workers and delivery guys didn’t have that option. Police, fire, doctors, pharmacists, cashiers at CVS, Walgreens and Walmart and all the rest — just about everybody has had to figure out how to function in his job with a little bit of risk, wearing masks, socially distancing, and doing the best he can. Everybody carried on, because the work needed to be done.

All of us have had to live with a little bit of risk of getting the virus. We hope our masks work. We hope the person whose mask was below his nose and who came within six feet of us in the grocery aisle isn’t shedding viruses. Very few of us have the option to live our lives in a way that eliminates any risk of infection.

Teachers in private schools and open districts have had to figure out how to teach in a classroom in a way that minimizes risk. Airline pilots and flight attendants, members of the military, construction workers, meatpackers, oil-refinery workers . . . everybody else in society is just sucking it up, taking steps to mitigate the risk, and going about his job as best he can.

Why is it so unjust and unreasonable to ask public-school teachers to do the same?

Markets

The GameStop Squeeze Will End Badly

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The GameStop store in Westminster, Colo., January 14, 2014 (Rick Wilking/Reuters )

So, it was another hilarious day where, after falling from a $150 high, GameStop’s stock touched $250 on Tuesday.

Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum is in the midst of euphoria, on the news and rumors that they have absolutely crushed Melvin Capital, a firm that took a huge short position against GameStop. The Reddit hordes squeezed Melvin Capital and may have squeezed out the firms that tried to bail out Melvin Capital. The originator of this play, who goes by the YouTube name Roaring Kitty, seems to have turned his $50,000 investment into a fortune topping $20 million — so long as he liquidates.

But then that’s the question right now. Will the Reddit kids liquidate?

Right now the forum is roiling not just with David-beats-Goliath strutting, but political manifestos aimed at hedge funders and the Wall Street Establishment. There are vows to take GameStop to $1,000, defeating any incoming short-sellers, or die trying. There are posts trying to get people excited to reload their GameStop positions even if only to make a political point, or simply to wreak havoc on the institutions. There are even some moving posts where users post their screenshots of a major student loan paid off by GameStop stock, which is almost poetic, in its way. Elon Musk tweeted about it, and my guess is that GameStop is going to pop Wednesday to even more absurd heights. This is going to end in misery for a lot of these kids.

Smarter money, I think, is leaking toward buying stocks and options against other vulnerable short positions — Bed Bath & Beyond, or AMC Entertainment — though none was quite as vulnerable to a squeeze as the GameStop short-sellers.

The whole cycle of stories about instant-millionaire day traders reminds me of the dot-com bubble. I was just a teenager, but even at a small family-owned grocery I remember all day hearing the absurd stories about people who risked it all on the Red Hat IPO, and won big.

Even with all this money sloshing around from the Fed, and the way it is propping up Boomer retirement accounts — it really feels like a silly season just before a correction.

But what do I know?

Politics & Policy

Exacerbating Teen Depression

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As observed by Jean Twenge and others, social media use among adolescents correlates with a worrying uptick in depression and suicidal ideation, especially among teen girls. A new two-year study from the Education Policy Institute and Prince’s Trust has found that:

Based on the new findings, researchers determine that the experience of the pandemic is likely to continue to exacerbate existing mental health and wellbeing problems among young people. National estimates show that 1 in 6 young people now have a probable mental illness – up from 1 in 9.

This is yet another reason why politicians should prioritize getting children off their phones and back into school.

Education

The Campaign to Stamp Out Academic Heresy

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The Left grows increasingly intolerant of any messages that might impede its quest for complete social and economic control, and increasingly bold in its efforts at silencing voices it dislikes. Whether an argument might be true doesn’t matter any longer. If it is “inconvenient” it’s likely to be squelched.

In today’s Martin Center article, I write about one such case involving psychology professor Glenn Geher of SUNY-New Paltz.

Following a talk on campus by Professor Jonathan Haidt of Heterodox Academy fame, Geher was amazed at the hostility he found to Haidt’s message that students and professors ought to be much more willing to listen to arguments from people they disagree with. That led him to undertake a study on the underlying beliefs and values of academics.

There was nothing the least bit surprising in his findings (such as that professors in “soft” fields tend to care more about the feelings of their students than do professors in “hard” ones) and yet he ran into a brick wall in trying to get it published. Geher says that in his long career, he has never come close to such difficulty as he encountered with this paper. Eventually, he had to post it on his blog.

The reasons he was given (when given any at all) for rejecting the paper were weak and evasive.

My hunch is that his findings would have led some people to wonder if all the money we ladle into “higher education” is worth it. That’s not an idea the Left wants Americans to countenance.

Is the Biden Administration Ready to Fight China’s U.N. Influence?

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United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres shakes hands with China’s President Xi Jinping before proceeding to their bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 2, 2018. (Andy Wong/Pool via Reuters)

Tomorrow is the Senate confirmation hearing for Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Joe Biden’s U.N. ambassador-designate. Lawmakers should take the opportunity to ask about the Biden administration’s strategy to counter Chinese influence at the U.N.

The reckoning with Beijing’s influence at the U.N. preceded the outset of COVID and the revelations about Chinese sway at the World Health Organization (WHO). When China’s candidate to lead the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization in 2019, the Trump administration realized that it had a true problem on its hands, according a September Wall Street Journal report. But China’s growing influence at the U.N. can be traced back

World

Remembering Roger Scruton, with U.K. Minister Michael Gove

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To mark the first anniversary of the passing of Roger Scruton, Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson was asked by the Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation to participate in its Remembering Roger Scruton Memorial Event by interviewing the Right Honourable Michael Gove. Gove is a member of Parliament, a member of Britain’s Conservative Party, and the current chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and minister for the Cabinet Office. Gove began reading Scruton’s work as a teenager, and it had a very strong influence on Gove’s intellectual journey toward becoming a conservative. In this conversation, Gove describes his own relationship with Scruton, how Scruton influenced British politics while living and even after his death, and how Scruton’s fierce support of Brexit was both personally and politically helpful to Gove. He also discusses Scruton’s warnings about — and his own experience fighting — “wokeness,” as well as what Scruton might have thought about lockdowns. Finally, Gove shares some thoughts about Scruton’s legacy and how history might remember him.

Recorded on January 12, 2021

Media

Are Politicians ‘Dictators’ for Wanting to Deny Security Clearances to QAnon Cultists?

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Tucker Carlson claims to think so, using the d-word. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake refutes his argument, presenting the relevant and obvious distinction that it suppresses (i.e., that between withholding an official privilege for good reason and attempting to control the citizenry’s thoughts). Worth a read.

Media

Newsweek Edits 2015 Story on Army Rangers to Conform to New Attack on Tom Cotton

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) questions David Marcus, head of Facebook’s Calibra, during testimony before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, July 16, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Over the weekend, Newsweek changed a 2015 article on two women widely hailed as America’s first female Army Rangers in order to conform to a new article at Salon that falsely claims Tom Cotton “repeatedly falsif[ied]” his military record by saying he was an Army Ranger.

Cotton attended the Ranger School, Salon reported on January 23, “but in the eyes of the military, that does not make” Cotton “an actual Army Ranger” because he didn’t serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. But when Shaye Haver and Kristen Griest graduated from Ranger School in 2015, bipartisan congressional resolutions and many media outlets hailed the two women as the first female Army Rangers. Newsweek was one of those news outlets, but after Salon posted its article attacking Cotton, Newsweek went back and changed its 2015 article to strip the two women of that title: 

Newsweek reported in 2015 that for “the first time in the Army Ranger School’s 64-year history, two women have completed the intense training program and will become Rangers.” The same 2015 Newsweek story that said Haver and Griest “will become Rangers” acknowledged that “the 75th Ranger Regiment does not allow female Rangers.”

Over the weekend, Newsweek picked up Salon’s story attacking Cotton under the headline: “Tom Cotton Blasted for Claims About Being an Army Ranger by Lawmaker Who Was One.”

Cotton’s communications director Caroline Tabler tells National Review that Cotton’s office contacted Newsweek this weekend to point out that Newsweek had identified the female Ranger school graduates as Army Rangers in 2015. Newsweek responded by editing its 2015 story to conform to Salon’s new smear of Cotton. The 2015 Newsweek story no longer says the two women “will become rangers” — the edited version says they “will be allowed to wear the coveted Ranger tab on their uniforms.” (The original Newsweek story can be viewed here.)

When Newsweek edited its 2015 story, it appended this correction: “This article has been changed to note that completion of the course allows one to wear the Ranger tab, but does not make one a Ranger.” Again, there are many military veterans who disagree with that contention:

Retired Command sergeant major Rick Merritt, who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment, told the Arkansas Times over the weekend that Salon’s attack on Cotton was “absurd,” “unfair,” and “almost slanderous.”

“He’s 100 percent a Ranger,” said Merritt. “He will always be a Ranger.”

“It’s a slap in the face for any veteran — any Ranger — to be attacked that way,” Merritt said in an interview with National Review on Monday evening. “It’s not a controversy. It’s a fact that he is a Ranger, just like I’m a Ranger. They’re just playing semantics on the unit in which he served as a Ranger.”

Merritt served for 25 of his 36 years in the Army with the 75th Ranger Regiment. “[Cotton] was a Ranger serving in the 101st Airborne Division. He never said that he was a Ranger serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Plenty of Rangers out there are serving in more units than the 75th Ranger Regiment,” says Merritt. “I served with plenty of Rangers in the 10th Mountain Division. My Ranger buddy was General Milley, who is now the chairman of the joint chiefs.” General Milley didn’t serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment, but an article at Army.Mil identifies him as an Army Ranger.

Other military officials also believe all Army Ranger school graduates are Army Rangers. Major general Scott Miller, commander of the Army for infantry and armor training and education, told Ranger school graduates in 2015: “You’ll leave Victory Pond today with a small piece of cloth on your shoulder, but more importantly, you carry the title of Ranger from here on out.”

In 2015, Secretary of the Army John McHugh told graduates of the Ranger school: “Congratulations to all of our new Rangers.” […]

There are surely some Americans who sincerely believe only those who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment should be called Army Rangers. But if several military officials, Obama’s secretary of the Army, every Democrat and Republican in the Senate, and dozens of news outlets — including Salon — thought it was appropriate to refer to all Ranger school graduates as Army Rangers the day before yesterday, then it’s hard to see Salon’s attack on Cotton as anything other than a disingenuous political smear.

Politics & Policy

Don’t Forget to Listen

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The new episode (No. 52, which marks our first year) of the Victor Davis Hanson Podcast is ready for your lent ears. Discussed by VDH: his thoughts on cultural reprogramming and political forgetting, attacks on the 1776 Commission, Joe Biden’s executive-order attack on girls’ sports, and California governor Gavin Newsom’s lockdown loosening (coincidental to his recall fears?). Catch the wisdom here.

Politics & Policy

It Looks Like Five Republican Votes to Convict (Give or Take)

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The Senate held a test vote on the Senate impeachment trial and 45 Republicans voted to dismiss, suggesting that the vote to convict probably won’t go beyond what seemed the likeliest votes at the outset (Romney, Sasse, Collins, Murkowski, and Toomey). In the scheme of things, that would be a lot of members of a president’s own party voting to convict, given that previously there’s been zero or one (Romney the first time around). But, of course, it’s far short of the 17 Republican necessary to convict. This trial could end up being more of a political afterthought than the first one, when Washington was consumed by it but even Democratic presidential candidates out on the campaign trail weren’t talking about it.

White House

‘Equity’ and ‘Systemic Racism’

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President Biden speaks in the State Dining Room in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The media report that “Biden takes first steps aimed at dismantling systemic racism with an executive order focused on equity.”

I’ve written about the “systemic racism” canard before. It’s not hard dismantling something that was largely eliminated decades ago (except as it operates against whites and Asians in higher education admissions and employment). Racial disparities are not the same thing as systemic racism.

The term “equity” has become ubiquitous of late. It has replaced “equal opportunity” and “equal treatment” with “equal results.” Pro tip: “Equity” is intentionally nebulous, innocuous-sounding shorthand for leftist social engineering. Whenever you hear or see the term outside the context of finance, understand that someone’s likely pulling a fast one on you.

Energy & Environment

‘Schumer Calls for Biden to Declare Climate Emergency’

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This bears watching. The point of declaring an emergency wouldn’t be mere symbolism, but to unlock supposed powers to bypass Congress, or as Schumer put it: “He can do many, many things under the emergency powers . . . that he could do without legislation.”

Politics & Policy

Lessons from the Hawaii GOP’s Promotion of a Holocaust Truther

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The Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu (Marco Garcia/Reuters)

Being represented by Mazie Hirono in the United States Senate is enough to drive anyone mad, but the Hawaii Republican Party has perhaps allowed itself to slip a bit too far. Take their promotion of YouTuber Tarl Warwick. In a since-deleted tweet, the state party urged its followers to pay attention to his work, saying:

Content warning @Styx666Official has an edgy name and frequently uses profanity – his commentary and analysis is generally high quality.It is is good to periodically step outside the “bubble” of corporate commentators for additional perspective.

Warwick has appeared on Richard Spencer’s podcast, called himself “sort of on the fringes of the alt-right,” and asserted of the Holocaust, “What’s not clear is if this was a deliberate extermination effort on a grand scale or whether they were primarily focusing on eliminating criminals and the sick.” This last aspect of Warwick’s worldview — in conjunction with a few other controversial recent tweets — prompted the state party chair, Colonel Shirlene Ostrov, to take down them down and issue the following statement:

I accept full responsibility for the recent unauthorized tweets posted by our former Vice Chair of Communications. He has resigned effective January 24, and pending official party action.

Our party believes in free speech, but it is a responsibility that each of us must carry in order to maintain a good and just society. Promoting content for the purpose of shock value does not help us build a more perfect union, nor does it help a divided nation heal.

To our friends in the Jewish community, we find the comments to be deeply disturbing and offensive and have no place in our party much less our country.

To supporters across our pae’āina, we are committed to creating a better Hawaii and discussing the policies that affect our everyday lives.

Moving forward I will make sure the Hawaii GOP and its communications accurately reflect the values we stand for as a Country and as the Aloha State.

It’s a good apology, one that Chairwoman Ostrov deserves credit for making. Still, there are two lessons to be learned from this mishap.

The first is hinted at in the above statement. In too many state parties, shock value has been prioritized over persuasion. In these institutions, leadership has prioritized satisfying the base and reinforcing its worldview over building a winning coalition. Some states, Texas for example, have so far been able to afford these excesses since conditions in the state continue to favor Republicans. In others (Arizona, Virginia, etc.) this transition from persuasion-oriented to turnout-oriented politics has coincided with a transition from being the advantaged party to one content with holding permanent minority status. The atrophying of state parties tends to be particularly acute where the party’s hopes for the future seem particularly bleak, as is the case in Hawaii. The answer to this problem, however, is not for them to swerve into the skid, but to modulate their behavior. In New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Maine, the GOP has proven able to consistently elect governors and U.S. senators, changing the political trajectory of both state-level and national politics. These candidates may not be the movement conservatives that those of us here at National Review would like to see inhabit every office, but they fit the state and are far preferable to the alternative. Hopefully Colonel Ostrov means what she said about rejecting shock-jock politics, and will commence with the hard and boring work of building a conceivably competitive state party.

Second, let’s zoom in on the claim in the original offending tweet that it’s “good to periodically step outside the ‘bubble’ of corporate commentators for additional perspective.” Sure, there are plenty of independent content creators with interesting thoughts on a wide variety of topics who are not propped up by corporations, but too often the independence of these larger entities is taken in and of itself as evidence of an independent commitment to the truth. This is not the case. As Warwick’s example makes plain, some of these people are beholden to certain communities — small in absolute terms, but large enough to pay the bills and achieve a kind of cult-hero status within.

In any case, we should all be encouraged by Chairwoman Ostrov’s statement, try to hold her to her word, and hope that it will mark a turning point for the Hawaii GOP.

Politics & Policy

A Filibuster Calculation

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) conducts a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, December 1, 2020. (Tom Williams/Pool via Reuters)

Let’s say you’re a middle-of-the-road senator. Maybe you’re from a purple state, maybe you’re moderate in your views, maybe both. Your party has a small majority. Sometimes a piece of legislation that is very important to the most revved-up portion of your party is one that you dislike, or that doesn’t play well in your state. How to handle the political problem?

Enter the filibuster. You can give the bill its 52nd or 53rd vote secure in the knowledge that it’s not going anywhere. Supporters of the bill aren’t mad at you, because you sided with them. Opponents of the bill aren’t too mad at you, either, because they won. It won’t always work out that way, of course — sometimes the opponents will hold your vote against you even though they won — but it’s often a better political outcome for you than having to actually be responsible for passing or killing the bill. If you privately believe the bill is a bad idea, so much the better.

What happens, though, when the filibuster itself becomes an issue? The majority-party senator who values it as a means of seeing bills die without having to kill them himself, or who just thinks it’s a good institution, can perform the same maneuver: Say he’s against the filibuster and will vote to abolish it while secretly hoping that a majority votes to keep it. But this dodge might not work if he is the actual deciding vote.

Then the question he might ask himself is: Do I want to vote against my party’s hard-core activists on one procedural issue that very few voters care about, or do I want to face vote after vote on abortion, the minimum wage, environmental regulation, etc., where I may have to disappoint my party on issues that a lot of voters care about?

He might also think about how the filibuster will affect his status in the event his party narrowly loses the majority. If that happens, the other party will have to court him to get something done if there are filibusters. It will have less need of him if there aren’t any.

The backdrop to this hypothetical discussion is that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has been blocking consideration of a resolution to organize the chamber until getting a commitment to preserve the filibuster. After he did that, Senators Sinema and Manchin reiterated that they favor keeping it and aren’t going to change their minds. McConnell has now declared victory and dropped his objection, so the Senate can proceed to organize.

McConnell ate up some of the new majority’s time — even more precious, its early time — and sowed some dissension in its ranks. Some people will say he lost the exchange because he dropped his objection without a formal commitment on the filibuster, but that’s not much of a cost, especially since there’s a credible counterargument that he won. And there are almost certainly more than two Democratic senators who are satisfied with this outcome.

Politics & Policy

Another Strong Contender for the Worst State Vaccination Program

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Back on October 7, Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo announced she was convening a special subcommittee of the state’s Vaccine Advisory Committee “with the sole focus of planning for the COVID-19 vaccine” and to advise the state “on prioritizing the distribution of the vaccines to make sure we give ourselves the best chance of protecting Rhode Islanders and speeding up our recovery.”

Despite the early start in planning, the Ocean State ranks near the bottom nationally in its use of allocated vaccine doses.

According to the CDC, Rhode Island has administered 70,419 of 149,225 allocated doses — or 47.1 percent. According to Bloomberg’s chart of data, Rhode Island has administered 73,994 of 149,225 allocated doses — or 49.6 percent. The Rhode Island Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard also shows 73,994 total doses administered. As of this writing, Rhode Island ranks 46th out of the 50 states in percentage of doses administered.

And those who are getting vaccinated are mostly on the younger side; only a quarter of those vaccinated are over age 60, infuriating the state chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons. AARP Rhode Island state director Kathleen Connell is circulating a petition demanding the state revise its vaccination plan to prioritize vaccinating those 50 and older.

“Now that the state has responded to AARP Rhode Island’s call to make the state’s COVID vaccination plan and its execution more transparent, I am alarmed and dismayed to find data only now available reveals that just 25 percent of vaccinations to date have been administered to Rhode Islanders age 60 and older,” Connell wrote. “The current disparity — which flies in the face of federal health recommendations and causes great concern for many older Rhode Islanders and their families — is inexplicable, life threatening and unacceptable.”

Rhode Island residents won’t have to worry about Raimondo for long; she is expected to be confirmed as President Joe Biden’s nominee to be Secretary of Commerce in the near future. Her replacement isn’t in a hurry to move on to senior citizens, either.

Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who is set to become governor when Gov. Gina Raimondo steps down to join President Joe Biden’s Cabinet, says teachers, school support staff, members of the General Assembly and elected statewide officeholders should be moved up on the priority list.

Perhaps Rhode Island seniors should consider committing crimes and getting incarcerated, to move ahead in line. The state started vaccinating incarcerated persons over age 65 in January. Adults 75 and over are projected to start in February.

National Review

NR Is Hiring an Editor

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.

National Review is hiring a full-time associate editor. Primary duties include editing articles, blogposts, and newsletters for NationalReview.com – as well as feature-length articles for the print magazine. Writing experience is a plus. Relocation to NR’s New York office is encouraged but not required. Applicants should be familiar with, and enthusiastic about, National Review, its history, and its mission.

The ideal applicant will have excellent writing and editing skills, experience with digital publishing, the ability to balance a wide range of tasks on short deadlines and work well with writers, editors, and Web producers, and a strong interest in and understanding of politics and policy.

Applicants should submit a résumé and a cover letter explaining their interest to editorial.applications (at) nationalreview.com.

Place “Associate Editor – YOUR NAME” in the subject line.

Politics & Policy

Houston Doctor Charged for Using His Common Sense on COVID Vaccine

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A dose of the BioNTech and Pfizer coronavirus vaccination is given in Mainz, Germany. (BioNTech SE 2020/Handout via Reuters)

An E.R. doctor supervising a vaccine-distribution site in the Houston area is left with an opened vial of Moderna vaccine doses at the end of the day. It’s 6.30 p.m. The doses will expire within six hours. So, the doctor offers the vaccine to health-care workers and police at the site. They don’t want it, or they’ve already gotten it. He asks the county health department supervisor if there are any patients waiting to take the doses; there do not seem to be. It’s then that he looks through his own contacts to find elderly people or those with medical conditions, and gives the vaccine to them. The doctor administers the last dose to his chronically ill wife after 11 p.m. As required, he enters all the names of the recipients into the state’s database the following day.

This is what Dr. Hasan Gokal says happened on December 29. On January 8, Gokal was fired by Harris County Public Health officials, who claimed he violated policy by stealing doses from a vaccination site. The Harris County district attorney charged Gokal with one count theft by a public servant. A judge dismissed the case for a lack of probable cause, but the district attorney says he will take it to a grand jury.

The Houston Chronicle story portrays Gokal as a hero, but other local pieces are a bit more critical. The DA claims six of the vaccine recipients were Gokal’s friends, and that he was only caught after he “told a fellow Harris County Public Health employee, who then reported him to supervisors.”

Who cares, really? It’s always prudent to wait for the evidence, but even if the charges are all true, as long as Gokal didn’t deny a patient a dose and made a good-faith effort to find patients, he did the right thing. Surely having Gokal’s wife and friends receiving Moderna vaccines is preferable to allowing those doses to expire? That seems to be the case the majority of the time. We’ve created a system that leaves thousands of doses wasted across the country, sometimes because of ineptitude, but mostly, it seems, because rigid state mandates fixated on “fairness” that incentivize waste. We don’t even know how many doses have been wasted, as one doctor told NBC News that “hospitals that do report this get pilloried in the press for wasting vaccines. . . . So, many hospitals are not reporting and this is happening across the country.”

Hospitals and health-care providers would rather throw out doses than lose funding or be punished by states. New York governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to levy $1 million fines and strip doctors and facilities of medical licenses for any COVID-vaccine fraud. The goal, one assumes, is to inoculate the population, not hinder medical professionals from using their discretion and maximizing every shipment. There is always going to be some level of fraud, but the goal should be to get as many doses out as quickly as possible.

Politics & Policy

BREAKING: Biden Exceeds Vaccination Goal!

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Joe Biden famously set a goal for 100 million vaccinations in 100 days, which sounded like a lot except, of course, we were already at about 1 million vaccinations-a-day. Now, according to the Bloomberg tracker, we’ve been averaging 1.25 million-a-day over the last week. Biden has had to adjust accordingly and now says he wants to get to 1.5 million-a-day. May we exceed that goal, too, and get as many shots in arms as soon as possible, but let’s not pretend that Biden didn’t inherit an initiative that, as the initial problems were worked out, was inevitably going to kick into a higher gear.

In that connection, definitely check out the piece by Ryan and Tobias today with Operation Warp Speed officials pushing back in detail on the claims that the Biden team was handed an almost non-existent vaccination effort.

NRI

What Does It Mean to Be Human? & Other March for Life-Related Conversations

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Pro-life activists carry a banner during the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

What Does It Mean to Be Human? That’s a question that is just about as foundational as it gets. And yet, our public bioethics gets is wrong in many places, O. Carter Snead, argues in his new book of that title. In the book, he proposes a new way to look at the human person, one rooted in acknowledgement that we are more than our wills. We are embodied and we are made for love and friendship. The timing of the book seems as if it couldn’t be better, as hasn’t the common experience of this pandemic been our universal vulnerability. As I recall it, Tom Hanks getting COVID-19 was the moment people realized this Coronavirus was going to change us. Snead helps guide the right lessons for law and public policy and really our individual lives.

I’ll be talking to Carter today at 3 PM Eastern time. It’s a joint virus-free program as we’ve been calling these virtual conversations, with the National Review Institute’s Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society and the Sheen Center for Ideas and Culture.

You can watch on the Sheen Center’s YouTube page live or anytime.


My chat with Carter is the first in a trio of March for Life-related events. The 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade was Friday and the virtual March will be this Friday (moved because of the inauguration, which is typical of recent years). On 6 PM Thursday, in conjunction with the Catholic Information Center, we will focus on how end-of-life care has been impacted by the pandemic with Charles Camosy from Fordham and Sr. Constance Veit from the Little Sisters of the Poor.

And next week – 2:00 on Feb. 3 — I’ll join my alma mater, the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Human Ecology asking the question “What Does It Mean to Be Pro-Life?,” with Erika Bachiochi and Sr. Magdalene Teresa of the Sisters of Life.

Economy & Business

Union Foreman to Biden: Take This Pink Slip and Shove It

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President Biden says he wants to put Americans back to work. But one of his first moves was to throw 11,000 mostly union workers out of their jobs building the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Environmentalists want the Canada-U.S. crude oil project killed, and Biden did their bidding, even after project managers promised it would be built with net-zero new carbon emissions.

Neal Crabtree, a 46-year-old welding foreman and a member of Pipeliners Local Union 798, posted on Facebook that he felt “a sick feeling in my stomach and an aching in my heart” when he heard Biden had canceled Keystone’s permits.

“We’ve got guys that haven’t worked in months, and in some cases years, and to have a project of this magnitude canceled, it’s going to hurt a lot of people, a lot of families, a lot of communities,” he told Fox News.

Pete Buttigieg, who’s been nominated for Transportation Secretary, says the Biden administration has broader plans that will boost overall employment in the country. “We are very eager to see those workers continue to be employed in good-paying union jobs, even if they might be different ones,” Buttigieg said.

Crabtree is having none of it: “I don’t consider this a job, I consider it a career,” he responded. “You spend a lifetime fine-tuning your skills and if you go start another job you’re starting at the bottom. I doubt that these politicians would like it if someone told them to go start over and find a different job.”

Politics & Policy

If You’re Gushing about Non-Answers, You’re Not Really a Journalist

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks after the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Large swaths of the national media are still thrilled that the Biden administration is not the Trump administration, gushing in news chyrons about “how refreshing” it is.

The Biden administration is reinstating and expanding travel bans in response to new variants of SARS-CoV-2, which is likely to be the right policy move. But it does cut against Biden’s campaign trail declaration that “banning all travel from Europe — or any other part of the world — will not stop it” or Biden labeling the previous administration’s restrictions on entries from China “xenophobic fear-mongering” and “hysterical xenophobia,” and White House press secretary Jen Psaki insists these new travel bans do not represent a contradiction of Biden’s rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Yesterday, Psaki gave a non-answer when asked about CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s bizarre claim, “I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have.”

Q: But just to button this up: [U.S. Army General and chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed] Gus Perna still works here, right?  And he’s in charge of the logistics.  So could he say how much vaccine there is, since they’re in charge of where it’s going? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, there is a new CDC Director in charge (inaudible) spoke to this.  And I think what we’re trying to do now is fully assess what we have access to, what the status of the vaccine supply looks like, and ensure that we’re communicating that accurately and effectively with the public.

It appears the Biden administration does not know whether it supports a free trade deal with the United Kingdom or not:

Q    And on the UK, we know, over the weekend, President Biden had a phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Mr. Johnson said they talked about the free trade deal. However, from the White House readout, we don’t see that.  Does the President support the free trade deal with the UK?

MS. PSAKI:  I haven’t talked to him or Jake Sullivan about that.  I’ll venture to do that and see if I can get more for you on it.

(Also note that yesterday Psaki declared, “We’re starting from an approach of patience as it relates to our relationship with China.” When we examine the Chinese government’s decisions and actions over the past year or more, has Beijing really earned “patience” from the U.S. government? Is the problem really that we’ve been too impatient with China?)

So, yes, it is just swell that Jen Psaki is nicer than Kayleigh McEnany and that reporters find her easier to deal with than Stephanie Grisham or Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But on that widely touted pledge to share more accurate information, Psaki is getting graded on a generous curve.

Far too generous.

Politics & Policy

Catholics Are Bad, Catholics Are Good

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President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attend a service at St. Matthew the Apostle Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., before his presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

When President Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, we witnessed a media meltdown. Though Democratic senators largely managed to avoid their past mistakes and didn’t suggest that Barrett’s Catholic faith made her unfit for the bench, progressive critics and liberals in the media made it no secret that her religious beliefs troubled them.

Nearly every major outlet published a story scrutinizing the lay Christian group People of Praise, of which Barrett was once a member, falsely claiming that it was the basis for the misogynistic nation in The Handmaid’s Tale and asserting that Barrett’s membership meant she must sympathize with Christianity’s supposedly anti-woman tenets. One prominent feminist commentator suggested that Barrett’s religious views were disqualifying because Catholicism is inherently sexist. Another insisted that Barrett’s “personal faith” was fine but asserted that the judge should not be confirmed because she would attempt to impose her faith through her rulings.

In past hearings, too, nominees’ Catholic views have faced intense scrutiny from Democratic politicians and outside commentators, who have insinuated that Catholics can’t be competent public servants if they agree with the Church’s moral teaching on abortion and marriage.

And therein lies the issue, exposed all the more clearly by Joe Biden’s first week in the Oval Office. In her first press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki hand-waved away questions about Biden’s abortion policy by reminding the press that the president is a “devout Catholic.” Ahead of his inauguration, Biden received fawning media coverage for attending morning mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in D.C.

On Saturday, the New York Times published a lengthy piece by a religion reporter entitled “In Biden’s Catholic Faith, an Ascendant Liberal Christianity,” calling Biden “perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century.” In the piece, we are told that Biden’s “Catholic faith grounds his life and his policies” and exemplifies “a different, more liberal Christianity,” one “less focused on sexual politics and more on combating poverty, climate change and racial inequality.”

In other words, Catholic public figures who champion nearly unlimited legal abortion, Christians who use their faith to promote the progressive cause du jour, are perfectly acceptable. Not only that, but they will be lauded as exemplars of their creed, praised for allowing their deep, personal understanding of Christianity to guide and inform their progressive policy stances.

Christians who embrace sexual morality on the other hand, those who believe in the dignity and value of every human life, including the lives of the unborn, will be dismissed as backwards bigots who want to control women’s bodies and impose their outdated religious views on the rest of the country.

Sports

Happy Birthday, Great One

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New York Rangers Wayne Gretzky waves to the crowd as he skates a lap around the ice at Madison Square Gardens at the end of his last game as a hockey player, April 18, 1999. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

Wayne Gretzky turns 60 today. No player has ever dominated their sport quite the way he did. To simply say that Gretzky was the National Hockey League’s all-time leader in goals and assists is to minimize his accomplishments. In 1983, for example, Gretzky had more assists (125) than the second-leading scorer in the NHL, Peter Stastny, had points (124). That season, Gretzky added 71 goals to lead the league. He netted 153 of those points during a record-breaking 51-game point-scoring streak. Gretzky, always known more for his passing, scored a league-record 92 goals in 1982 — 27 more than Alexander Ovechkin’s best season — and 87 in 1984. In 1985, Gretzky had more points than 13 teams had goals last season in the NHL. He scored over 200 points four times in his career. No one else has done it once, and it’s doubtful anyone will ever do it again.

Gretzky is also the all-time leader in playoff points with 382. The closest contemporary player on that front is Sidney Crosby, who is 193 points behind him.

It’s true, the league is different. Bigger and faster. It’s true that Gretzky played on a team teeming with future Hall of Famers (though, perhaps, some of them would not be there without him.) Even as a kid, I’d watch Gretzky play on those great Edmonton teams, curling up at the blue line with his head up, and wonder why someone didn’t just knock him down or run him over. By professional sports standards, he was an unimpressive 6’0”, 185 pounds, without any discernible physical advantage over most players. He looked like a soft-spoken junior tax accountant. Also, he happened to be the smartest hockey player on the ice. Always.

Politics & Policy

News: 200 Republican Congressmen Promise to Oppose Legislation that Funds Abortion

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The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Molly Riley/Reuters)

In a letter to leaders of Congress this morning, 200 Republicans in the House of Representatives called for the protection of the Hyde amendment, a long-standing bipartisan compromise that prevents federal entitlement spending from covering elective abortions.

“We write to express our unified opposition to Congressional Democrats’ efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment and other current-law, pro-life appropriations provisions,” the letter states. “As part of their pro-abortion crusade, Democrats have taken direct aim at these long-standing, bipartisan protections that generally prevent the federal government from using taxpayer dollars to support abortion procedures.”

Since 2016, the Democratic Party platform has explicitly called for taxpayer funding of abortion through Medicaid. During the last election cycle, nearly every politician competing for the Democratic presidential nomination promised to support getting rid of the Hyde amendment.

The amendment was first introduced in 1976, shortly after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in Roe v. Wade in 1973. The amendment was a bipartisan compromise intended to protect the conscience rights of pro-life Americans, and it has been added every year as a rider to federal spending bills to ensure that government funding does not directly reimburse abortion providers for the cost of elective abortions.

The letter, spearheaded by the Republican Study Committee and its chairman, Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, points out that no president has ever vetoed a spending bill over its inclusion of Hyde and that President Barack Obama even included the provision in his proposed budgets.

In fact, as recently as 2019, Joe Biden himself supported Hyde. During his several decades as a politician, Biden always backed the amendment, calling himself “personally pro-life,” though he always supported keeping most forms of abortion legal. But during his most recent run for president, Biden reversed himself and has promised to back Democratic efforts to get rid of the amendment.

“Years of public polling indicates that repealing the Hyde Amendment is opposed by most of the American public,” the GOP letter continues. This is certainly true; in nearly every poll on the subject, a plurality or majority of Americans opposes publicly funded abortion.

“The letter accuses congressional Democrats of eroding public trust by ignoring Americans’ views on Hyde and notes reports showing that the amendment has saved the lives of more than 2 million unborn children.”All 200 lawmakers who signed the letter pledge “to vote against any government funding bill that eliminates or weakens the Hyde Amendment or other current-law, pro-life appropriations provisions.”

Politics & Policy

Now Hawaii Wants Non–Physician-Assisted Suicide

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Always remember that the first iteration of assisted-suicide legalization is not the last iteration. Over time — and once people get used to doctors prescribing for suicide or giving lethal jabs — the laws are loosened to make more people eligible to die, or to expand the cadre of medical professionals entitled to end patient’s lives.

Now, hot on the heels of Washington State, it’s Hawaii. A bill has been filed to allow nurse practitioners to lethally prescribe and shorten the waiting period between request to die and distribution of the poison. From SB 323:

The purpose of this Act is to amend the Our Care, Our Choice Act to:

     (1)  Authorize advanced practice registered nurses, in addition to physicians, to practice medical aid in dying in accordance with their scope of practice and prescribing authority;

     (2)  Authorize psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, in addition to psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers, to provide counseling to a qualified patient;

     (3)  Reduce the mandatory waiting period between oral requests from twenty days to fifteen days; and

     (4)  Provide an expedited pathway for those terminally ill individuals not expected to survive the mandatory waiting period.

This is always the way. When activists sell assisted suicide, they promise that strict guidelines will protect against abuse.

But once the law has passed and people get used to doctors causing death, the protections are redefined as obstacles or burdens, and the law is loosened to make more people eligible to get dead quicker.

The ultimate destination is death on demand, which has already come to Germany.

Of course, this is a one-way street. Assisted-suicide/euthanasia laws are never tightened or repealed.

Law & the Courts

Chief Justice Roberts a Back-Channel ‘No’ on Presiding over Trump Impeachment Reboot

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Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts departs the Trump impeachment trial in Washington, January 29, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Officially, neither Chief Justice John Roberts nor the Supreme Court has commented on the fact that the chief justice will not preside over former president Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial, set to begin in two weeks. Roberts, of course, sat on Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, while the latter was president.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat whose seniority has landed him in the position of the Senate’s president pro tempore, will preside. The senator made no allusion to the chief justice in a statement he issued about the trial. He observed (among other things) that “the president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents.”

Nevertheless, it appears that there was some outreach from the Senate to the chief justice, who demurred. According to the New York Times, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) “said Chief Justice Roberts was uninterested in reprising a time-consuming role that would insert him and the Supreme Court into the political fight over Mr. Trump.” How exactly Roberts made his uninterest known to Schumer is not explained.

As I’ve noted (here and here), the Constitution (Article I, Section 3) states: “When the President of the United States is tried [by the Senate for impeachment], the Chief Justice shall preside[.]” Trump is no longer president of the United States; ergo, under a narrow but commonsense construction of this provision, the mandate that the chief justice preside over presidential impeachment trials does not apply. Nothing more needed to be said, even though, as our Dan McLaughlin contended, it would certainly have been preferable for Chief Justice Roberts to explain his reasoning in a formal written opinion — particularly if he was in fact asked and, upon consideration, declined.

For now, we’ll have to content ourselves with a fleeting reference in the Times to some back-channel communication.

World

China’s Opposition to Surrogacy Is Not a Matter of Conscience

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Children wave Chinese national flags as they take part in a celebration marking the upcoming National Day, at a kindergarten in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, September 29, 2017. (Stringer/Reuters)

A Chinese celebrity actress, Zheng Shuang, recently split with her boyfriend who has accused her of abandoning their two babies carried by surrogates in the United States. Shuang is alleged to have asked that the babies either be aborted or given up for adoption. The New York Times reports:

Beyond the salacious details of the celebrity breakup, the scandal surrounding Ms. Zheng touches on sensitive topics for a country that has a troubled history with women’s reproductive rights and that remains largely wedded to traditional notions of family.

For evidence of the “troubled history with women’s reproductive rights,” the Times links to an article concerning the Chinese government’s abandonment of its one-child policy and discovery that, despite its best efforts to encourage women to have more children, they still aren’t doing so. For evidence that China is “largely wedded to traditional notions of family,” the Times leaves us guessing.

Clearly, the Chinese Communist Party is not opposed to surrogacy because it is all about “traditional” family values. (Just look at its treatment of traditionally minded minorities.) Rather, it is opposed to babies being born without its say-so, beyond its jurisdiction, and with strong ties to its biggest foreign competitor and rival.

Culture

A Philosophical Life

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Detail of Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, by Rembrandt (1653) (Public domain / Metropolitan Museum of Art)

No, Aristotle is not my latest guest on Q&A. Neither is Homer, whose bust Aristotle is looking at. But I have a friend of Aristotle, so to speak: John Hare. Professor Hare is an eminent moral philosopher — a professor at Yale — who has thought and written about Aristotle a lot.

For our Q&A, go here. Professor Hare is a genial, marvelous guest.

He quotes Aristotle at the very beginning of our conversation. I asked something like this: “You can carry on your work more or less normally during the pandemic, right?” The answer:

“Aristotle said, the chief benefit of friendship is that you can do philosophy together. Philosophy is not best done all by yourself, in the cave. It’s best done with other people. Though I can communicate on Zoom, or read an e-mail, I miss conversation — in-person conversation — with my philosophical colleagues.”

Professor Hare has been talking philosophy for a long time. “My father wasn’t really interested in us as children until we could talk philosophy with him. In his view, that was the age of six, the age of reason.”

I think of a Winnie-the-Pooh title: “Now We Are Six.”

The Hare children’s father was R. M. Hare, an important philosopher at Oxford.

John Hare is a modest fellow, but I tease him out about his education. “I’m part of the last generation to have had a classical education, in the old-fashioned way. I started Latin and Greek at six and by the age of twelve I was reading nothing except those languages. I had read a large part of classical literature by the time I went to college.”

He did not have sciences, he says — but he scrambled to acquire them.

From high school, he was graduated darn early. Then he went to India. Why? “Because the Beatles did.” But of course! “This was back in the ’60s, and I wanted to learn how to meditate. So I went to teach at a high school in Kashmir, and I apprenticed myself to a master who taught me how to meditate, although he wanted me to sit on the ground to do that.” This was uncomfortable for the young Englishman — “but I learned a lot.”

On returning to England, he went to Balliol College, Oxford, and then, for his doctorate, Princeton. Why America? In part, to make his own way, in his own setting — a setting apart from his father’s Oxonian one. And in part to study with Gregory Vlastos (born in Istanbul in 1907 to a Scottish mother and a Greek father). Vlastos had said that Plato’s basic failure was a failure in love. “I wanted to find out what he meant by that.”

But what would Plato say? How would he answer that charge? Wouldn’t Professor Hare like to talk to him? “I think I will,” he says. “I think we’ll meet in heaven.”

There are four philosophers who mean a lot — an extra lot — to Professor Hare. In chronological order, they are Aristotle; Duns Scotus; Kant; “and then my father, whose voice I hear all the time in my ear.”

John Duns — commonly known as Duns Scotus, or just Scotus (no, we’re not talking about the U.S. Supreme Court) — was a Scotsman who lived in the 13th century and just into the 14th. He meant a lot to Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poet (1844–89), who would mean a lot to young John Hare. At Balliol, Hare lived in the same room as Hopkins. He read every word of Hopkins. And this led him to Scotus.

Professor Hare has taught Americans for a long time — 45 years? I ask him a funny question (and a not-funny one): How are we doing? Are we doomed? He chuckles, of course.

“Students have changed in America since the ’70s. One great cause of this is the Internet. This has made it harder for students to concentrate for long periods of time.”

Oh, man, he’s speaking directly to me. I once read books. Then I read articles. Then blogposts. Now I’m down to tweets. What’s next?

“The accessibility of information is extraordinary now.” But “the best thoughts take time. Take reflection. Take concentration. And take books. So you can’t have those thoughts if you’re flitting from one little leaf to the next, one flower to the next, for the nectar. You don’t get the thoughts if you do that.”

Oh, there’s a lot more in this rich, though relatively brief, conversation. You’ll love John Hare. My Q&A with him was one of the most pleasant interludes I’ve had in months. Again, go here.

McKinsey: Corporate Social Responsibility, the Putin Way

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Russian President Vladimir Putin at his annual end-of-year news conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, December 17, 2020. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

McKinsey & Company (“our commitment to making a difference in society is embedded in everything we do”) is one of those firms that like to emphasize how much they support “stakeholder capitalism”:

Business leaders should embrace the apparent contradiction—of low trust and high expectations—and make the choice to demonstrate that they see their mission as serving not only shareholders but also customers, suppliers, workers, and communities. The common term for this is “stakeholder capitalism” and we think its time has come.

Many CEOs say they agree—at least theoretically. There are certainly examples of businesses just talking the talk and not following through.

Well, since

Economy & Business

The Evidence on Minimum Wages and Jobs

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One of the most striking features of the academic debate on minimum wages is that the scope of disagreement extends to characterizations of the literature itself.

Normally, in an active literature, one economist would believe the right answer to a question is X, and another would believe it is Y, but the two would agree on what the body of evidence as a whole has to say on the subject.

Not so with the minimum wage. Some economists believe that the totality of the evidence suggests it reduces employment, while others believe the opposite.

To the rescue ride economists David Neumark and Peter Shirley. From the abstract of their new paper, released Monday:

Summaries [of the research literature on the minimum wage’s effect on employment] range from “it is now well-established that higher minimum wages do not reduce employment,” to “the evidence is very mixed with effects centered on zero so there is no basis for a strong conclusion one way or the other,” to “most evidence points to adverse employment effects.” We explore the question of what conclusions can be drawn from the literature, focusing on the evidence using subnational minimum wage variation within the United States that has dominated the research landscape since the early 1990s. To accomplish this, we assembled the entire set of published studies in this literature and identified the core estimates that support the conclusions from each study, in most cases relying on responses from the researchers who wrote these papers.

Our key conclusions are: (i) there is a clear preponderance of negative estimates in the literature; (ii) this evidence is stronger for teens and young adults as well as the less-educated; (iii) the evidence from studies of directly-affected workers points even more strongly to negative employment effects; and (iv) the evidence from studies of low-wage industries is less one-sided.

(Emphasis mine.)

U.S.

Re: When Insurrection Was Okay

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Rich Lowry is of course correct in calling out the hypocrisy of the media when it (correctly) condemned this month’s Capitol riot but (incorrectly) failed to condemn this summer’s George Floyd riots.

But I’ll look on the bright side: It will be a good thing if the Left now sees that desiring law and order is not only not racist but actually quite understandable. And here’s another lesson that perhaps it is learning: It was the Left, it should be recalled, that until recently rejected the idea of objective truth. Now all of a sudden, it seems to be open to the idea that perhaps there actually is such a thing.

One other observation for today: Arthur Brooks, formerly the president of the American Enterprise Institute, this month had a New-Year’s-resolution article that argued, convincingly, that a good way to be happier is to embrace A) forgiveness and B) gratitude. Now, is there anything more foreign to the Left than these two qualities? No wonder there is so little smiling over there.

Markets

The GameStop Squeeze

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An attendee uses a Nintendo Switch game console at the Paris Games Week trade fair in Paris, France, October 29, 2019. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Okay, I can’t stop laughing. GameStop is a brick-and-mortar retailer that sells video games, video-game consoles, and junk. These are low-margin items, and the category is dying. Until recently, GameStop’s stock price was $4 and big institutional investors were apparently shorting the stock like crazy.

Maybe too crazily. Now, add in the the web app Robinhood, which allows users to open an account and use it for commission-free trading, including more-complex options and calls. Combine that with a growing community of day-trading and hobby investors on Reddit/wallstreetbets and in various Discord chat rooms — and suddenly an army of people armed with $500 in their accounts decided to squeeze the shorts. Some of this was accompanied with somewhat-dummy advice about how GameStop posted a surprise profit in a recent quarter, and has new people on their board.

Call it revenge of the day traders. The short-squeezers are openly parodying how they think big institutional investors pump and dump stocks and how they advise investors.

Wall Street halted trading of GameStop after it shot through $100 and even touched $150. (Why? I presume big investors just put pressure on them). Reddit and YouTube are filling up with little videos and screenshots of people who turned their tiny Robin Hood accounts into windfall profits.

How can guys with small accounts do this? Because as they bought the stock and bought various options and option calls on the stock, the investment institutions that shorted the stock and used various options to make money on the collapse of the stock, are forced to buy more shares to cover and hedge. There is basically a chain reaction.

A lot of normal investors are horrified by this kind of thing, and think that some time after this there will be rules introduced to stop the pitchfork brigades from squeezing the shorts.

But I think the Reddit short squeeze play is a public service overall. If your institution is shorting a stock so moronically that a few dudes with tiny accounts can make you pay out millions to them in gains, you and your institution are the idiots, not them.  It’s your turn to go onto CNBC on cry, while they go to their YouTube channels and gloat!

Media

The Press and Twitter: A Collective-Action Problem

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Megan McArdle thinks that media institutions should put restrictions on how their employees can use Twitter. Those institutions “become hostage to the stupidest or most extreme thing any employees have said in their most thoughtless moments. They also suffer when angry employees turn internal fights over policy into ugly public spectacles.” She concludes that “the big media outlets and the major think tanks should tell their employees to read Twitter all they like, but not to post anything more controversial than baby pictures or recipes for cornbread.”

I think she is right, even though it goes against my interests as an individual. Which gets to a point I think she underplays: Twitter boosts the influence of individual journalists at the expense of their institutions. That’s part of the problem it poses for journalism.

Politics & Policy

Edmund Burke on Principled Partisanship

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Statue of Edmund Burke at Trinity College in Dublin. (MEImages/Getty Images)

My column on Saturday explored the loss of the British monarchy’s power between 1770 and 1809 and Edmund Burke’s role in that process. Burke argued for the “honourable connection” of principled partisan politics as a substitute for governance by personal dispensation of patronage and favoritism by the crown. I can’t leave behind Burke’s 1770 pamphlet “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents,” which laid out this argument, without sharing some of Burke’s further observations on what principled partisanship is, and is not — observations that remain very much relevant today, as conservatives debate what it means to be loyal to a political team.

To Burke, the pursuit of partisan power was an extension of having principles, rather than a contradiction of them:

Party is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed. For my part, I find it impossible to conceive that any one believes in his own politics, or thinks them to be of any weight, who refuses to adopt the means of having them reduced into practice. It is the business of the speculative philosopher to mark the proper ends of Government. It is the business of the politician, who is the philosopher in action, to find out proper means towards those ends, and to employ them with effect. Therefore, every honourable connection will avow it as their first purpose to pursue every just method to put the men who hold their opinions into such a condition as may enable them to carry their common plans into execution, with all the power and authority of the State.

Burke understood why parties had their critics:

I do not wonder that the behaviour of many parties should have made persons of tender and scrupulous virtue somewhat out of humour with all sorts of connection in politics. I admit that people frequently acquire in such confederacies a narrow, bigoted, and proscriptive spirit; that they are apt to sink the idea of the general good in this circumscribed and partial interest.

Yet, Burke defended partisanship from the charge of its critics that a party man should follow his party blindly in all things, even when it violated his own conscience:

In order to throw an odium on political connection, these politicians suppose it a necessary incident to it that you are blindly to follow the opinions of your party when in direct opposition to your own clear ideas, a degree of servitude that no worthy man could bear the thought of submitting to . . . Men thinking freely will, in particular instances, think differently. But still, as the greater Part of the measures which arise in the course of public business are related to, or dependent on, some great leading general principles . . . a man must be peculiarly unfortunate in the choice of his political company if he does not agree with them at least nine times in ten. If he does not concur in these general principles upon which the party is founded, and which necessarily draw on a concurrence in their application, he ought from the beginning to have chosen some other, more conformable to his opinions . . . Thus the disagreement will naturally be rare . . .

There is room, in Burke’s view, for principled dissent without leaving a party; but there is also room for compromising on smaller differences to get along:

When the question is in its nature doubtful, or not very material, the modesty which becomes an individual, and . . . that partiality which becomes a well-chosen friendship, will frequently bring on an acquiescence in the general sentiment.

There is, by the same token, a time for leaving one’s party, when there is a true disagreement on principle across the board:

[W]hen a gentleman with great visible emoluments abandons the party in which he has long acted, and tells you it is because he proceeds upon his own judgment that he acts on the merits of the several measures as they arise, and that he is obliged to follow his own conscience, and not that of others, he gives reasons which it is impossible to controvert, and discovers a character which it is impossible to mistake. What shall we think of him who never differed from a certain set of men until the moment they lost their power, and who never agreed with them in a single instance afterwards?

Independence, however, was a simplistic path — an earnest one, but ultimately weak and ineffectual in disregarding the organizing strength of parties:

It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals that their maxims have a plausible air, and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin, and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest, and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as the best. Of this stamp is the cant of Not men, but measures; a sort of charm, by which many people got loose from every honourable engagement. When I see a man acting this desultory and disconnected part…I am not persuaded that he is right, but I am ready to believe he is in earnest. I respect virtue in all its situations, even when it is found in the unsuitable company of weakness. I lament to see qualities, rare and valuable, squandered away without any public utility.

Burke had no use for those who saw the sidelines as the moral high ground, and considered themselves too pure or principled for party politics in the first place:

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. It is not enough . . . that a man means well to his country; it is not enough that in his single person he never did an evil act, but always voted according to his conscience, and even harangued against every design which he apprehended to be prejudicial to the interests of his country. This innoxious and ineffectual character, that seems formed upon a plan of apology and disculpation, falls miserably short of the mark of public duty. That duty demands and requires, that what is right should not only be made known, but made prevalent; that what is evil should not only be detected, but defeated. When the public man omits to put himself in a situation of doing his duty with effect, it is an omission that frustrates the purposes of his trust almost as much as if he had formally betrayed it. It is surely no very rational account of a man’s life that he has always acted right; but has taken special care to act in such a manner that his endeavours could not possibly be productive of any consequence.

Burke, by the way, never said the quote sometimes attributed to him that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” But the opening line of that passage is his formulation of the same concept. It is why, in spite of my many and well-documented issues with Donald Trump’s public character and fitness for office, it was genuinely painful to me not to able in good conscience to vote for him in the 2016 and 2020 general elections, and why I have never criticized the choices of those who did, or those who found some way of working with Trump in office. Disagreement with one man should not mean abandoning the broader ties of party, forged by common principle. To Burke, refusing ever to join a team made no sense:

How men can proceed without any connection at all is to me utterly incomprehensible. Of what sort of materials must that man be made, how must he be tempered and put together, who can sit whole years in Parliament, with five hundred and fifty of his fellow-citizens, amidst the storm of such tempestuous passions, in the sharp conflict of so many wits, and tempers, and characters, in the agitation of such mighty questions, in the discussion of such vast and ponderous interests, without seeing any one sort of men, whose character, conduct, or disposition would lead him to associate himself with them, to aid and be aided, in any one system of public utility?

Principle required men to join parties rather than remain aloof:

[W]here duty renders a critical situation a necessary one, it is our business to keep free from the evils attendant upon it, and not to fly from the situation itself. If a fortress is seated in an unwholesome air, an officer of the garrison is obliged to be attentive to his health, but he must not desert his station. Every profession, not excepting the glorious one of a soldier, or the sacred one of a priest, is liable to its own particular vices; which, however, form no argument against those ways of life; nor are the vices themselves inevitable to every individual in those professions. Of such a nature are connections in politics; essentially necessary for the full performance of our public duty…Commonwealths are made of families, free Commonwealths of parties also . . .

Burke ultimately reminded his audience that politics is a human calling, requiring engagement with the world in ways that meant compromising with the world:

I remember an old scholastic aphorism, which says that “the man who lives wholly detached from others must be either an angel or a devil.” When I see in any of these detached gentlemen of our times the angelic purity, power, and beneficence, I shall admit them to be angels. In the meantime, we are born only to be men. We shall do enough if we form ourselves to be good ones. It is therefore our business…[t]o cultivate friendships, and to incur enmities. To have both strong, but both selected: in the one, to be placable; in the other, immovable. To model our principles to our duties and our situation. To be fully persuaded that all virtue which is impracticable is spurious, and rather to run the risk of falling into faults in a course which leads us to act with effect and energy than to loiter out our days without blame and without use. Public life is a situation of power and energy; he trespasses against his duty who sleeps upon his watch, as well as he that goes over to the enemy.

Beware, as Burke would, the counsel of despair: the argument that conservatives in American politics should abandon the only party in which they could have any effect, simply because the work is hard, the company sometimes uncomfortable or even hostile, and the attainment of goals frustratingly elusive. That lesson should be heeded by conservatives of every stripe, from classical liberals to populists, from religious conservatives to libertarians, from constitutionalists to free-marketers. We can respect those who mostly stand with us, even when they stand apart on occasion on their principles, or against ours. We are not angels, and are not made for the work of a world of angels. That means, in the long run: Choose a side.

Immigration

Biden’s Immigration Theater

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My Bloomberg Opinion column.

President Joe Biden’s proposal to overhaul the immigration laws could hardly be worse as a means of creating bipartisan consensus in Congress. It works as a way to keep the Democratic coalition happy, but not to get anything done. . . .

The Brazenness of China’s Vaccine Diplomacy

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U.S. and Chinese flags are displayed at an American International Chamber of Commerce (AICC) booth in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party for months pushed absurd lies about COVID’s origins, and its most recent disinformation campaign about Western vaccines is no less ridiculous. Nevertheless, top Chinese diplomats are using public health as an issue with which they hope to get a foot in the door with the Biden administration.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the Chinese diplomatic effort this weekend, which has featured backchannel attempts to gauge the new administration’s interest in high-level meetings. In addition to working together on climate change, Beijing will ask for cooperation on the pandemic:

The Chinese side plans to propose that both sides

Politics & Policy

We Will Miss Senator Rob Portman

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Senator Rob Portman (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Ohio Republican Rob Portman’s departure from the Senate is an ominous sign for the GOP hopes of winning a majority of the chamber in 2022. Another Republican could well win the seat next year — in fact, in the abstract and based upon recent history, the GOP nominee is more likely to win in the Buckeye State. But Portman running for another term would have made the race uncompetitive and allowed Republicans to focus their resources elsewhere. Portman won 58 percent of the vote in 2016 and almost 57 percent in 2010.

Portman is the definitive “work horse, not a show horse.” He’s spent his time in the Senate focusing on not particularly splashy but consequential issues such as opioid addiction, human trafficking, veterans’ mental health care, human rights, and the First Step Act. The Ohio senator noted today that 82 of his bills were signed into law by President Trump, and 68 were signed into law by President Obama. In his statement about his future today, he suggested lawmakers with his approach and philosophy faced a steeper and more difficult road ahead:

I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision.

“We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades.

Portman doesn’t create a lot of controversy, no one’s asking him to run for president, and he doesn’t create excitement as a guest on cable-news prime time. He just goes to work and gets bills passed, which used to be an important aspect of being a senator, back in the days before the federal government became an endless series of giant omnibus spending bills and executive orders.

The end of the Trump presidency has not ended grassroots Republicans’ hunger for splashy symbolic culture-war fights, often at the expense of getting legislation passed. A Republican political culture where Texas senator Ted Cruz thinks that getting into a Twitter war with Seth Rogen is a good use of his time is a culture where somebody such as Rob Portman is going to find something better and more productive to do with his life than serve in the Senate.