Health Care

New York Times: Mandates Did Not Generate ‘Any Significant Increase in Rate of Vaccinations’

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People hold placards as they march to protest New York City’s COVID vaccine mandate in New York City, October 25, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The New York Times: “Across many different ways of analyzing the data, states and cities with vaccination mandates did not seem to see any significant increase in the rate of vaccinations after the mandates, possibly because many of those areas already had relatively high vaccination rates.”

Come on. A “relatively high vaccination rate” could be 80 percent of those eligible; a vaccination mandate should get vaccinations up to the high 90-some percent, exempting only those with medical reasons to not get vaccinated. If vaccine mandates were effective in influencing behavior, we should have seen at least some bumps in the lines after those mandate requirements went into effect.

Across the charts, from the naked eye, it is hard to tell the states with vaccine requirements from the states that didn’t have vaccine requirements. It’s also hard to tell any significant change in the rate of increase from before or after the Delta variant wave. The adult vaccination rate had its biggest variety of rates of increase among the states until June, and then, with all of the lowest-hanging fruit picked, they all slowly and steadily increased at roughly the same rate.

The Times also calculates that “at least 49,000 people have left their jobs or have been disciplined at work because they did not comply.”

You know who those 49,000 people do not include? Federal workers!

American Federation of Government Employees said that administration officials have told the union that agencies for now will continue offering counseling and education to the roughly 3.5 percent of workers who have yet to receive a vaccination or request an exemption…

Thus far, no agency has set a time frame for when it plans to step up more-aggressive discipline against unvaccinated employees without exemptions. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough has said, for example, that the process at his agency could take months.

It is important for everyone to get vaccinated, or face the consequences . . . except for federal government workers, apparently.

World

Lawmakers Launch Corporate Responsibility Campaign on Taliban ‘Terror Minerals’

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Taliban patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 28, 2021. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Lawmakers intent on preventing the Taliban from taking advantage of a key, untapped resource in Afghanistan are launching a corporate responsibility campaign of sorts. It’s an unexpected conservative initiative that, rather than attacking big tech companies root and branch, aims to persuade major firms to pledge not to benefit from Taliban rule over Afghanistan.

Leading the charge: Freshman congressman Madison Cawthorn, making his first major foray into the congressional foreign-policy debate, and Representative Jim Banks, a rising congressional GOP player and chairman of the Republican Study Committee. In letters to the CEOs of Amazon, Microsoft, Tesla, and Apple the lawmakers sent earlier this month and obtained exclusively by National Review, the GOP lawmakers asked that the executives pledge not to use Taliban-harvested rare-earth minerals in their products.

The problem, Cawthorn said in a statement to NR, is the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan’s natural resources. “Following the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban now has control over one of the largest deposits of rare earth minerals in the world. These minerals are essential to the production of countless products, including vehicles, cell phones, and household items,” he said.

“Under the Taliban’s control, these are rare earth terror minerals. No company should use these minerals from Taliban-run Afghanistan in its products and allow this terrorist organization to profit off these resources.”

Afghanistan, reeling from decades of conflict and the Taliban’s recent return to power, is on the brink of economic collapse. The U.N. has estimated that some 23 million people are expected to face a hunger crisis of unfathomable proportions through the start of 2022. In this context, Washington earlier today let up on sanctions freezing Afghan government assets so they can now be tapped by Taliban leadership. U.S. diplomats also supported a U.N. Security Council resolution similarly easing the international stranglehold on Kabul’s access to funds.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan sits on approximately $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits, including lithium and rare earths that can be used in everything from electric car batteries to consumer mobile devices — precisely the kinds of products that Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Andy Jassy, and Satya Nadella sell to people across the world.

Cawthorn, who has followed the Afghan rare-earths issue for months, and Banks noted in their letters to the tech execs that Afghan mineral deposits include the rare earths lanthanum, cerium, and neodymium, in addition to other materials, such as copper, gold, and lithium. And they pointed to specific products manufactured by the companies they contacted that could benefit from these reserves, including Airpods, Tesla motors, and touchscreens.

For now, Taliban mining efforts are a hypothetical concern, but it might not remain so, if Beijing gets its way. As the lawmakers note, just five days after the collapse of Kabul to the Taliban in August, a former People’s Liberation Army officer wrote a New York Times essay arguing that China should encourage friendship with the new Afghan leadership by offering economic investment; this, the officer wrote, could include access to Afghanistan’s untapped mineral deposits.

The GOP letters to the tech companies issued a stark warning about that possibility: “Rare earth terror minerals sold by the Taliban are no different than blood diamonds in Africa, both empower bad actors who exploit misery for profit. Using minerals sources from Afghanistan will not only help finance the Taliban’s terror operations, but also help fund their human rights abuses, and strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s economic and strategic influence in south Asia.”

Although the Taliban is sanctioned as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group by the U.S., it’s not clear that existing U.S. sanctions would prohibit firms from using Taliban-harvested components in their devices.

Whether the companies will engage remains to be seen. National Review’s requests for comment to Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon all went unanswered. Tesla, meanwhile, disbanded its public relations department last year and does not take questions from journalists.

Elections

Redistricting on Track to Help House Democrats

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U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (tupungato/Getty Images)

The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman, who meticulously follows congressional redistricting, says the process is shaping up to create more districts that Joe Biden carried in 2020:

In 2020, Biden won 51.3 percent of the national popular vote, and 224 “Biden districts” account for 51.5 percent of all U.S. House districts. If there are 227 “Biden districts” in 2022, that would account for 52.2 percent of all U.S. House districts.

Even if redistricting results in a few more “Biden districts,” the president’s low approval rating at the present time indicates Republicans are still favored to take control of the House in 2022.

Correction (January 5, 2022): This post has been updated to correct the number of “Biden districts” there will likely be in November 2022.

World

The Chinese Tennis Star Deserves an Independent Investigation

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Peng Shuai plays in the Australian Open on January 21, 2021. (Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters)

We should still be worried about the well-being of Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who accused a senior Chinese Communist Party official of sexual assault. Within minutes of posting her accusation of Xi Jinping’s former vice-premier on Weibo, the Chinese social-media platform, Shuai’s post was scrubbed, references to her were removed from the Chinese Internet, and for over two weeks nobody could find her.

Then, presumably in response to the international backlash, the CCP embarked on a damage-control campaign. On November 17, the CCP’s propaganda network put out a photo of Peng Shuai with a message supposedly from her, saying “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.” Following that, similarly contrived-looking pictures and footage emerged of Shuai playing with a cat and eating dinner with her coach.

On December 19, a supposedly spontaneous interview Shuai did with a Singaporean journalist (for a pro-Beijing publication) at a Shanghai skiing event emerged. In the video, Shuai speaks of “many misunderstandings” and says, “I must emphasize I have never said or wrote about anyone sexually assaulting me.” She also denies being under surveillance, insisting “I have always been free.”

How is anyone to take this seriously? I am reminded of when China’s ambassador to the U.K. was confronted with video footage showing what experts identified as Uyghur people tied up, in blindfolds, with shaved heads, being herded into trains in northern China — the CCP’s representative’s response was to imply that the footage was unreliable and say that “sometimes you have a transfer of prisoners, in any country.” Language of this kind is, as Orwell famously put it, “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Only an independent investigation can confirm Peng Shuai’s well-being. World leaders and the international tennis community should continue to push for exactly that.

Politics & Policy

Legislator Drops Health Emergency Extrajudicial Detention Bill

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What is it they say about sunlight being the great disinfectant?

I wrote recently about A-416, a bill in the New York Legislature that would permit the detention of people with communicable diseases once a health emergency was declared by the governor. Well, the sponsor has now scrapped the bill, blaming “conspiracy theorists” for spreading falsehoods about the bill. From his tweet:

Conspiracy theorists, and those who spread misinformation online are once again trolling online on social media, posting concocted stories about A-416.

No one had to “concoct” anything. Nor was it a matter of interpretation. The truth was in the text, which I (and others) quoted.

Some wondered why I wrote about a proposal that would probably not become law. There was no assurance of that. But the best way to keep horrible proposals from becoming actual threats is to expose them early, when they are still a’borning. Because the way things are these days, there is no proposal too radical to dismiss out of hand.

The Economy

On Build Back Better and Inflation

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President Joe Biden arrives to deliver remarks to the northwest Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, Ill., July 7, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Greg Ip has an insightful piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning about Build Back Better and inflation. He writes that both Joe Manchin and Joe Biden are approaching the question incorrectly:

Unfortunately, neither side in this debate gets the impact right. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who opposes the current legislative package, conflates the effect of past and future spending on today’s inflation. The Biden administration credits the plan with anti-inflationary effects that independent research doesn’t support.

Ip writes that if we’re going to blame any legislation for inflation, it would be the American Rescue Plan. That’s a short-term burst in government spending that disburses almost all of its funds within two years. Build Back Better is more of a slow burn of government largesse, which has its own set of problems but would likely have little impact on inflation.

“Little impact” also means that it wouldn’t reduce inflation, either, which is what the Biden administration is trying to claim. Those claims come down to very long-term chain reactions where each link in the chain is suspect (e.g., universal pre-K invests in the human capital of children, who will then grow up to be more productive employees, which will allow more economic growth without inflation 20 years from now). Ip points out that forecasts of the effects of the legislation show no such improvements:

In fact, Moody’s shows inflation would be 0.2 percentage point higher in 2022 through 2024 with Build Back Better. The Penn Wharton Budget Model, also cited by the White House, sees inflation 0.1 to 0.2 point higher over the next two years.

(This is not the first time that President Biden has claimed that Moody’s said something it didn’t actually say.)

Ip concludes:

In the near term, inflation’s path will largely depend on whether Covid-related bottlenecks and labor shortages ease or get worse because of the Omicron variant. In the long run, it depends on the Fed.

In other words, it doesn’t depend on whether Build Back Better passes.

In a piece from earlier this month, Ip wrote that our present inflation comes from the interaction between strong demand and weak supply. It wouldn’t exist without both conditions. It’s similar to the point I made from a quantity-theory-of-money perspective, that we’re looking at inflation caused by too much M and not enough Y. We face challenges with respect to inflation, but Build Back Better would neither add to them nor ameliorate them in any direct way.

There is no shortage of reasons to oppose Build Back Better. Though it may not cause a general increase in the price level, it would cause the unsubsidized price of child care to increase. Its renewable-energy policies would likely cause energy prices to increase and send us on a path to Europe’s current energy mess. Manchin is right to be concerned about the deficit implications and the Democrats’ never-ending shell games and gimmicks on the true debt impact of the bill. And even if Biden were telling the truth that the bill is paid for, the federal government doesn’t need any more spending obligations right now.

Build Back Better is a bad idea because it’s a massive expansion of the federal government into new areas of American life. Just because that debate is happening at the same time as a surge in inflation does not mean that the two are causally related.

Health Care

Trump, Covid, and Despotism

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In this sharp AIER piece, Don Boudreaux explores the connections between our 45th president, the Covid pandemic, and the astounding diminution of liberty in America owing to the efforts at stamping out the disease. I think his analysis is right on target:

Because state governments that imposed only relatively light Covid restrictions were more likely to be red than blue, and because the mainstream narrative from early on cast Trump with the anti-lockdowners, many people with antipathy to Trump apparently concluded that lockdowns and other Covid restrictions are acceptable for the simple reason that these measures are opposed by Trump and his base. The thinking seems to have been this: To be pro-Trump is to be anti-science, therefore, to be anti-Trump is to be pro-science. And to be pro-science specifically is to be pro-Fauci, Birx, CNN, and the New York Times, because these persons and media are anti-Trump. People reached this conclusion without much investigation of the realities of Covid restrictions, or of Trump’s actual role in affecting a response.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

The West Virginia Experts Who Despise West Virginia

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Bette Midler at the 71st Tony Awards in New York City, November 6, 2017 (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Since Senator Joe Manchin announced that he opposes Build Back Better — the massive spending bill doubling as the linchpin of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda — a new class of expert has emerged: The West Virginia savant.

While Manchin was born in West Virginia — the nephew of the state treasurer and secretary of state — and served as governor before being elected and reelected twice to the Senate, others profess to have a deeper understanding of the state and its needs. Even if they despise its inhabitants.

Actress and singer Bette Midler, for example, insisted that Manchin had betrayed his “poor, illiterate, and strung out” constituents.

To Midler’s credit, she did go on to apologize to the “good people” of West Virginia, but progressive activist groups such as Occupy Democrats doubled down on her rhetoric:

West Virginia, it should be noted, boasts a higher literacy rate than the Democratic strongholds of New York, New Jersey, and California.

Minnesotan congresswoman Ilhan Omar pursued a similar strategy of putting down Manchin’s home state, asserting that:

Omar’s math is as shoddy as she claims life in the Mountain State is. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia has the 23rd lowest unemployment rate, and polling shows that 59 percent of West Virginians oppose Build Back Better. And of course, nothing in her tweet does anything to prove that the legislation would do anything to remedy West Virginia’s deficits, be they real or imagined.

Wajahat Ali, a columnist for the Daily Beast, also had insults  — but no fake statistics — at the ready.

As did MSNBC’s Joy Reid, who described the state as “overwhelmingly” poor while displaying a frighteningly poor conception of the United States Senate for an anchor on a news network.

At The New Yorker, Evan Osnos writes that West Virginians are asking Manchin “Which Side Are You On?” to which the polling replies, “theirs.” Only 37 percent of West Virginians want Build Back Better to pass.

Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich delivered the coup de grâce:

With respect like this for West Virginians among the progressive ranks, it’s wonder that it’s Manchin — not a left-wing ideologue — representing the state in the Senate.

Politics & Policy

Why Isn’t Biden to Blame for the Rapid-Testing Debacle?

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A woman receives a COVID-19 test from a technician at a mobile testing van in New York, August 27, 2021. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Michael and Phil both touched on Joe Biden’s preposterous contention that a winter surge of Covid-19 was some unforeseen event. Experts have been warning about a winter surge for months. We had just experienced the Delta variant. Only in August, the White House was cynically attacking Ron DeSantis during that state’s summer surge.

So why aren’t there more rapid tests available? These tests aren’t predicated on any new or potentially dangerous scientific innovation. There are manufacturers all over the world willing and able to produce them in massive quantities. The Democrats’ $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan allocated $48 billion to testing earlier this year.

Biden now contends that he can’t “shut down the virus,” even though as a presidential candidate he promised he would “shut down the virus,” “beat this virus,” and so on. That’s fine. The notion that Biden or Donald Trump has the power to stop a pandemic is nonsensical partisanship. But . . . when Biden claimed Trump’s “catastrophic failures of governance have led to tens of thousands of needless deaths,” he could only point to one tangible policy failure, and that was the lack of available testing. “The administration’s failure on testing is colossal and it’s a failure of planning, leadership, and execution,” Biden claimed in March 2020. In “Joe Biden’s Plan to Beat Covid-19,” the president says it was “failure to test swiftly and broadly led to the failure to get the virus under control.”

Yet nothing has changed since then. The government keeps getting in the way. The FDA, as is so often the case, is still dragging its feet on life-saving progress, and Biden has done nothing to ease the bottleneck. ProPublica, for instance, reports this week that an MIT scientist had invented an affordable at-home test back in March 2020 and secured a factory to produce them. She still can’t get past FDA’s review process.

None of this is new. Early on, even as the incompetent CDC was knowingly sending out its tainted tests, the FDA was still banning imported tests over alleged quality-control issues. Private companies were deterred from creating their own tests by onerous bureaucratic impediments.

We now have vaccines. We now know a lot more about therapeutics and treatments. We’ve now had experiences with multiple variants. And we knew that testing, no panacea, was going to be important. And the FDA, unlike virtually everything else Biden concerns himself with these days, is actually under the purview of the president. So why doesn’t Biden deserve the blame he so eagerly heaped on his predecessor?

Politics & Policy

A Desperately Needed Counterweight to ‘Wokeness’ That’s Engulfing Science

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Across America, science is under attack from “progressives” who don’t want to hear voices that dissent from their beliefs.

But there’s some good news. Hillsdale College recently opened its Academy for Science and Freedom.  Read about it here.

Among the issues I hope the Academy highlights is how federal funding now so often goes only to those who are going to support conclusions amenable to statism and who pledge to work under “diversity” constraints.

Education

Are Students Learning CRT in Public Schools?

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The education blob went into full defensive mode once parents began to complain that their children were being taught the false and divisive notions of critical race theory. “Oh, no — that’s only taught in law schools, not in our classrooms” went up the cry. “This is just a white supremacist distraction!”

Only stupendously gullible people would have believed that. And now John Murawski has done the country a great service with a report entitled “No Critical Race Theory in Schools? Here’s Abundant Evidence Saying Otherwise.”

The blob’s hair-splitting holds up about as well as did Bill Clinton’s.

Religion

Don’t Spend Christmas Alone — And Other Thoughts for a Fruitful Christmas

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Pope Francis visits a nativity scene in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican, December 31, 2018. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Yesterday, I talked with popular author/preacher/teacher/friend Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., editor at large of Magnificat and prior of St. Patrick’s in Columbus, Ohio, about Christmas. I worry we do not make spiritual time for Christmas. A crowded church service — or online! — is not all there is. During the hour, we talk about the meaning of the Incarnation, our need for the annual celebratory reminder of it, and what Forrest Gump’s mother got wrong. (I ambushed him on that one, as you’ll see and, I hope, enjoy.)

Please consider watching and sharing it. Combatting the secular way we can fall into marking Christmas would be a glorious thing — enveloping people with the hope and true joy.

Earlier this month, we had a conversation about Advent. If you’ve never heard of Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., as a matter of history, you might want the introduction. As a spiritual matter, I highly recommend it. He spent his last Advent and Christmas imprisoned by the Nazis, knowing his death was near. He wrote the most remarkable meditations, and they can change our lives for the better. You can watch that conversation about Advent, Delp, and the book that collects some of those meditations, Advent of the Heart here:

I’ll drop into the Corner again soon, but do know I’m praying for you — I try to regularly pray for our readers and supporters and your intentions. God does not leave us alone! And this is a tremendous community — NR Nation, as Peter Travers, chairman of the National Review Institute board — calls it. Thank you!

(By the way, for some of Fr. Cameron’s writings — I’m just about to buy a few as gifts, as I often do around this time of year — see Made for Love, Loved by God, Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, Praying with Saint John’s Gospel, Prayers for the Moment, or Jesus Present Before Me: Meditations for Eucharistic Adoration. I think they all say they will arrive after Christmas. That’s Christmas DAY, not after the Christmas season. (Which I, for the record, milk for all it’s worth and celebrate until the feast of the Presentation in early February. Because I need Christmas! I respect Epiphany, though.)

Merry Christmas.

Politics & Policy

President Biden: Look Online, So You Can See How You Can’t Find a Covid-19 Test

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People line up for a COVID-19 test in Times Square in Manhattan, December 13, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

President Biden, yesterday:

We have arranged for it to be easier for you to find a free COVID testing site near you on Google.  Just enter “COVID test near me” in the Google search bar and you can find a number of different locations nearby where you can get tested.

I just tried this. Of the 15 CVS locations nearest me, there are no appointments available today, no appointments available tomorrow, no appointments available Friday, no appointments Saturday (it’s Christmas) and no appointments available Sunday. Of the ten Walgreens locations nearest me, four said “no appointments available” and the other six listed “few appointments available.” When I plugged in all of my information, there were no open slots at the sites that were listed as “few appointments available” from now until December 29. My local Patient First limits testing to those who have symptoms.

And if it’s this impossible to find an appointment for a Covid-19 test here in northern Virginia, it’s probably a similar story up the entire northeast corridor. As noted in yesterday’s Jolt, it’s nearly impossible to find Covid-19 tests in drugstores in large swaths of the country. Biden boasted that “the federal government will purchase one half billion — that’s not million; billion with a “B” — additional at-home rapid tests, with deliveries starting in January.” In other words, a lot more tests will be available after everyone has traveled and gathered indoors to celebrate the holidays.

Joe Biden is telling people to go online . . . so they can see just how many nearby pharmacies and health institutions are booked solid through the holidays — shades of the early failures of Healthcare.gov. It is also reminiscent of the administration’s early days, when the president and his top officials had to delay a campaign urging Americans to get vaccinated because so few vaccination appointments and doses were available.

Sports

Talking about the Baseball Hall of Fame

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A few weeks back, I wrote up my assessments of the old-timers selected for baseball’s Hall of Fame. Yesterday, I was on Pete Turner’s Break It Down Show with longtime baseball writer and former ESPN columnist Rob Neyer to discuss those selections and the upcoming ballot, which features big names such as Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Curt Schilling:

Politics & Policy

Biden Blasted Trump for Covid-Testing Failure, Dodges Responsibility for His Own

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the November jobs report at the White House in Washington, D.C., December 3, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden on Tuesday tried to dodge responsibility for the inability of Americans to have easy access to testing.

When asked what took so long to ramp up testing, Biden snapped, “C’mon, what took so long? What took so long is it didn’t take long at all. What happened was the Omicron virus spread more rapidly than anybody thought.”

To be clear, for months, health experts have expected a winter surge of Covid, which would make sense given that we had a significant one last year. This was pretty clear well before Omicron.

One could argue as to whether the president should truly be responsible for lines at testing centers or the difficulty of getting rapid at-home tests in areas with high levels of transmission. But the problem with Biden making this argument is that he ran explicitly on the idea that he would not be caught off-guard by Covid like Donald Trump.

Early on in the pandemic, the testing was barely existent, giving us limited understanding of the prevalence of the virus and the places where it was starting to spread. A big reason was that the Centers for Disease Control required that labs use the testing kits CDC developed, but those tests turned out to be junk. Democrats seized on the failure of testing to score points against Trump. And Biden led the way.

“The administration’s failure on testing is colossal and it’s a failure of planning, leadership, and execution,” Biden said at a March 2020 speech.

Biden ran as being the guy who would be ahead of the curve on Covid due to his vast experience and his handling of Ebola. So he cannot plausibly dodge responsibility by claiming the surge was unexpectedly rapid.

Sports

Agony, Glory

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Brian Kelly, then Notre Dame’s coach, during a game at Stanford, November 27, 2021 (Darren Yamashita / USA TODAY Sports)

When the college-football season began, it was hot and humid, in most of the country. Soon, the season will reach its climax, with the playoffs. I have hosted a sportscast, exclusively on college football: here. Usually in these ’casts, we hop from sport to sport. But this one has a focus.

“We”? My guests are two of the regular gurus — David French and Vivek Dave — plus a ringer, Rahul Danak. More on ’hul in a moment. We discuss Michigan vs. Ohio State, and Alabama vs. Georgia. Those are past games. Also the upcoming games, of course. Then there is the question: Should coaches leave their teams after the regular season, leaving someone else to coach the bowl game? This happened at Oklahoma and Notre Dame. One second, Brian Kelly was at ND; the next, he was down at LSU, sporting a southern accent. (Kelly is from Massachusetts.) A related question: Should athletic departments fire their coaches in the middle of the season? They did this at LSU.

Before moving on, I should note that I myself am prone to adopting the speech of those around me. So I should cut Br’er Kelly some slack.

Okay, further questions: Are players right to refuse to play in bowls, lest they get injured pre-NFL? How about Nick Saban, chastising his team’s fans — Alabama fans — for being spoiled and fickle, with a sense of entitlement? (I could have hugged him.) And so on and so forth. A lively, informed, and offbeat podcast, with three great talkers and guys.

Rahul and Vivek are relatives of each other, and very close friends. Yet they went to different universities: Michigan and Michigan State. For 20 years, they have had an unusual, and sometimes brutal, tradition: After any Michigan–MSU game, in football or basketball, the alum of the losing school has to call the alum of the winning school. This is known as the “concession call.” The loser has to call the winner immediately. Also, the winner can keep the conversation going for as long as he wants — be it five minutes or three hours. The loser has to hang in there. He has no choice.

One year, after a particularly heartbreaking — indeed, shocking — Michigan loss in football, Rahul called, as the rules require: but he requested a 24-hour grace period. He could just not go through with the conversation. Vivek, in his mercy, granted the 24 hours.

In our podcast, David recalls his own heartbreaking moments in sports — including Christian Laettner’s shot (known as “The Shot”), which allowed Duke to beat Kentucky in the NCAA basketball tournament of 1992.

The agony, the glory — that’s sports. Anyway, our discussion, once more, is here.

Culture

Roots, Records, Etc.

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E. Power Biggs (1906–77), the English-born American who established the organ as a concert instrument (Bettmann / Getty Images)

In Impromptus today, I lead with our vax wars, mask wars — our pandemic wars, let’s say. I also have a note on “gridlock” in Washington. And bathroom politics (yes). And more. Anyway, a variety of issues, most of them contentious. Here on the Corner, let’s have some mail, concerning language, sports, and music. We can leave politics aside for a moment.

Last Friday, I referred to a “pop machine.” A reader writes,

Your Michigan roots were on full display this morning. When I moved to California from Michigan years ago, “soda” instead of “pop” was perhaps the biggest language change I noticed.

Our reader adds,

What about Sweetest Day? To my knowledge, it is a purely Midwestern thing. I assume Hallmark tried, unsuccessfully, to spread the day to the East and West coasts. Relatively few people know what Sweetest Day is, or why anyone would want a second Valentine’s Day.

In a post, I wrote, “It occurred to me the other day: Doesn’t ‘E. Power Biggs’ sound like the name of a gang leader, rather than an organist?” A reader writes,

Years ago, there was as superb morning host for a classical-music program on Boston’s WGBH: Robert J. Lurtsema. His show was Morning Pro Musica. Lurtsema raised the question, “What do people call E. Power Biggs? ‘E’? ‘Power’? ‘Biggs’?” According to Lurtsema, he was called “Biggsy” by his friends. Lurtsema had a sly sense of humor, so he could have been putting his listeners on.

In that Friday column, I talked about words and phrases misheard — song lyrics, for example. A reader writes,

My favorite is from a college friend of mine. When he was ten, the Rolling Stones song “Beast of Burden” came out. The first line goes, “I’ll never be your beast of burden.” He heard it as, “I think I smell your pizza burning.”

I always think of that when I hear that song. Cracks me up to this day.

Another reader writes,

Jay, here’s one: In the late ’70s, my friend Ted and I were on our third cup of JFG coffee at an all-night diner when the jukebox began to play “You Sexy Thing,” by Hot Chocolate. I think the song had recently charted.

Ted was a philosophy major at Emory University and had been steeped that semester in British ordinary language philosophy. When Hot Chocolate sang the line “Where do you come from, angel?,” the word “angel” was so stretched out and unintelligible that Ted convinced himself they were singing “A. J. Ayer,” the name of a prominent ordinary language philosopher of the day.

Part of me thought Ted had lost his mind, and part of me wasn’t quite sure . . .

Also on Friday, I spoke of sports records, breakable and unbreakable. A reader writes,

The two insurmountable records in baseball are Cy Young’s 511 career wins and Ty Cobb’s 23 consecutive seasons batting above .300. Yet these two formidable achievements rarely get a mention in debates about the most enduring records. Some batter may get hot for a few months and break Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, but no one is going to break Cobb’s hitting streak.

My friend and colleague Nick Frankovich sent me a striking, and somewhat touching, note about music. It was in response to a piece of mine published on Monday.

You reminded me that I do like music. I’m so used to complaining that the world we live in has too much of it. I mean the amplified sound in just about every supermarket, restaurant, coffee shop, department store, you name it. The use of music is promiscuous. The one piece I could listen to all day is John Cage’s 4’33”.

(This is kind of a stunt piece, in which the player or players play nothing for four minutes and 33 seconds.)

One final note, in response to my latest Music for a While, a Christmas episode:

I enjoyed every selection, but “The Last Month of the Year,” from the Blind Boys of Alabama, made me almost jump out of my skin. So beautiful and happy. In my old age, I find that there are times when I listen to music and start to weep. Not from sadness, necessarily. Often from joy. But mostly from being deeply moved. “He Shall Purify the Sons of Levi” had that effect on me this morning.

Thank you, my friends, and merry Christmas. See you later.

Culture

Discussing Jane Eyre

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I discussed one of my favorite novels, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, with Michael Knowles for PragerU’s The Book Club. Watch here:

 

Education

Books for Christmas

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The James G. Martin Center has a large library of books on higher education, but there are always more that we’d like to have. Sometimes, supporters acquire books for us and, in the spirit of a letter to Santa, Jenna Robinson here lists ten books that we would like to add.

Most are recent, but not all.  The list includes Northrop Frye’s 1964 The Educated Imagination, which was the summer-reading assignment when I was a college freshman in 1969. I’d like to revisit it.

Some of the books look excellent, such as What Universities Owe Democracy by Ronald Daniels. Others look very dubious, such as Indentured Students by Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, which appears to be a “social justice” rant demanding that the government forgive tons of student debt. At the Martin Center, we consider all points of view, extolling those that we think might help move us toward the academic renewal we need and clashing with those that would take us in the wrong direction.

Politics & Policy

With Hispanic Support, More Bad News for Democrats

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When it comes to Hispanic voters — now the country’s second-largest voting bloc by ethnicity — things just keep getting worse for Democrats. The latest sign that the bottom is falling out is a new PBS/Marist poll, released Monday, which shows that Joe Biden’s approval rating is now lower with Hispanics than it is with whites. And it’s not even close: According to the new poll, just 33 percent of Hispanics approve of Biden, while 65 percent disapprove. In contrast, 40 percent of whites approve, while 56 percent disapprove. That’s a net decrease of 16 percentage points in Biden’s approval rating among whites — and 32 percentage points among Hispanics.

It’s just one poll, of course, but the Democratic Party’s cratering support with Hispanics is now unambiguous — poll after poll shows a rapid rightward swing in the demographic, and Glenn Youngkin’s outright victory with Hispanics in the Virginia gubernatorial election demonstrated that this is no longer an abstract discussion. As I wrote this morning, “as the Democrats continue to move leftward on culture, Hispanics — a heavily Christian, family-oriented demographic — will increasingly make sense as a Republican constituency.” Now, all Republicans have to do is not mess it up. 

White House

Biden Claims Manchin Admitted He ‘Misled’ Democratic Colleagues on ‘Build Back Better’ UPDATE: White House Backtracks

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President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., December 21, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On Tuesday afternoon, President Biden claimed that West Virginia senator Joe Manchin privately admitted to misleading his Democratic colleagues about his position on the multi-trillion-dollar “Build Back Better” bill. 

“I’m told [Manchin] was speaking to the liberal caucus in the House and said, ‘Joe Biden didn’t mislead you, I misled you,’” Biden told the White House press corps following a speech about COVID.

Such an admission by Manchin would be squarely at odds with Manchin’s statements on Sunday, citing chapter and verse how the “Build Back Better” bill violated his longstanding conditions that the bill would need to meet in order to win his vote.

Manchin’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment from National Review.

Update: A White House aide tells CNN that “the President wanted to clarify that Senator Manchin did not characterize himself as having been ‘misleading.'”

Economy & Business

Biden’s Carteresque Rating on the Economy 

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From CNN polling maven Harry Enten:

President Joe Biden is struggling in the minds of the American public. While his approval rating is down on a slew of issues, his difficulties are perhaps most noticeable on the economy.

Biden now sports the lowest net economic rating of any president at this point through their first term since at least Jimmy Carter in 1977.

In the latest CNN/SSRS poll, Biden comes in with a 44% approval rating to 55% disapproval rating among registered voters on his economic performance. This makes for a -9 point net approval rating. The average of all polls taken in December is quite similar with Biden at -13 points on the economy.

To put that in perspective, the average president at this point in the last 44 years (since we have been polling on the topic) had a net economic approval rating of +5 points. That means Biden’s is 18 points worse than the average.

Politics & Policy

‘The High-Water Mark of Biden-Era Progressivism’

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I’m not saying victory is ours by any means, but I believe that the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, feeling compelled to denounce the city’s lawlessness in the harshest terms and Joe Manchin’s “no” on BBB constitute an inflection point, showing that the progressive tide has collided with reality and has reached a high-water mark, at least for now. (Of course, since this is San Francisco, other local politicos are resisting Breed’s plans to clean up the Tenderloin.)

I wrote about this today.

International

Winter Has Come: Europe’s Energy Mess

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Tthe Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project logo on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Angela Merkel has got out of Dodge just in time. Europe’s energy crunch has been building for some time, and now two key aspects of the former German chancellor’s dismal legacy — the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and her decision to reaccelerate the denuclearization of Germany’s energy supply — are likely to have the country caught in a vise.

Bloomberg:

A regulatory decision allowing natural gas flows to Europe via Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline won’t be made before July, Germany’s federal network agency said.

The regulator, also known as Bundesnetzagentur, halted the certification process in mid-November and asked the Swiss-based operator of the pipeline — which is owned by Russia’s Gazprom PJSC — to set up a German subsidiary to comply with European regulations.

The agency will resume the certification as soon as the necessary criteria are met, its president, Jochen Homann, said Thursday at a news conference. “A decision won’t be made in the first half of 2022,” he said.

This will not delight Vladimir Putin and will give him an additional reason (on top of attempting to bully them into accepting what he has in mind for Ukraine) to remind Germany and other European nations of the leverage that he has been handed by Europe’s acceptance of such a heavy dependency on Russian gas.

Meanwhile, via Reuters:

Russian natural gas deliveries to Germany through the Yamal-Europe pipeline dropped sharply on Saturday, data from German network operator Gascade showed, adding pressure to an already tight European gas market as it heads into peak winter demand.

It was not immediately clear why flows were down through the pipeline, one of the major routes for Russian gas exports to Europe and which traverses Belarus. Russian gas exporter Gazprom did not immediately reply to a request for comment…

It’s a mystery, I tell you.

Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports:

Germany will shut down three nuclear plants forever next week, slashing clean and reliable baseload power in the middle of winter and during the worst energy crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

The three reactors generate 4.2 gigawatts of zero-carbon electricity between them.  They are relatively young. Gundremmingen and Grohnde were both commissioned in 1984. Brokdorf in Schleswig-Holstein was state-of-the-art when it was opened in 1986. They could have continued for another twenty-five years or so until Germany’s green infrastructure was in place.

Olaf Scholz’s coalition government is going ahead with this long-planned closure despite pleas for a stay of execution from a chorus of global climate campaigners, including Bill Gates and Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist who first alerted Washington to global warming. Another three reactors will go at the end of 2022 . . .

All the fateful consequences of Angela Merkel’s decision to wind down Germany’s nuclear fleet after Fukushima in 2011 are before our eyes: strategic paralysis as Russia attempts overthrow the post Cold War settlement; extended reliance on the dirtiest lignite coal at home; exorbitant energy prices; and the looming threat of blackouts this winter (industrial brown-outs have already begun) . . .

Rainer Klute, from the German pro-fission group Nuklearia, said there is no technical reason why the three plants cannot be kept running this winter as an emergency measure to mitigate a near certain crisis.

“There are staff shortages and it is too late to get fresh fuel but these problems can be mitigated. We are told by workers at the plants that it is possible to run them on spent fuel, even if that means less power,” he said.

“But you would have to change the nuclear law and nobody wants to do that. The decision is written in stone, even though the majority of Germans are again in favour of nuclear power,” he said.

Merkel’s decision on nuclear energy was a mixture of the cowardice, cynical political calculation, and a failure to take a longer strategic view that were all characteristics of her time in office, but as Evans-Pritchard makes clear, the fault for the current mess is not hers alone:

Yet it is the whole political establishment of Western Europe that is responsible for laying the Continent at Mr Putin’s feet, and for wishful thinking on gas storage. Depleted inventories never recovered fully over the summer, both because Gazprom was holding back top-up flows, and because East Asia was gobbling up the world’s supply of liquefied natural gas.

China saw the danger and gave an order to secure LNG at any price as a matter of regime survival. Europe did not. Its inventories are now critically low.

German storage is at 57pc of capacity, compared to 78pc at this juncture in the last pre-pandemic year of 2019. Dutch storage is at 41pc, and Austria is down to 37pc, levels not normally seen until a full month deeper into the winter . . .

[Europe’s] political class faces the invidious choice of keeping households warm or diverting scarce supplies to energy-intensive companies with subsidies to match. One or other must give.

The UK is of course in the same boat since it has subcontracted its storage to the EU to save a few pennies, which has in turn subcontracted the task to the Kremlin, via Gazprom-controlled sites on EU territory. The British do at least produce half their own gas from the North Sea and have a strategic relationship with Qatar – valuable when the chips are down – but all fates are linked by cross-Channel interconnectors.

The prospect of countries hoarding their own supplies is, as Evans-Pritchard, observes, not small.

Evans-Pritchard is an enthusiastic supporter of much of the current approach to decarbonization and perhaps for that reason does not include much discussion over the role that climate policy — not least, incidentally, the U.K.’s headlong, extravagant, and reckless rush into renewables — has played in setting the stage for this mess. To be sure, the principal drivers on this occasion are elsewhere, but the influence of poorly thought-through climate policy has not been helpful, and that unhelpfulness is only going to grow.

An interesting few months lie ahead.

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump Is Right to Love the Trump Vaccines

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(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Former president Donald Trump restated his affinity for the coronavirus vaccines on Sunday during an event with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly:

By expediting the development and distribution of the coronavirus vaccines, argued Trump, “we saved tens of millions of lives worldwide.”

“I think this would have been the Spanish Flu of 1917,” without the advent of the vaccines, said Trump, who also revealed that he had received a booster shot. While Trump has consistently touted the inoculations as an achievement of his administration, he had previously stated his opposition to boosters, calling them a “moneymaking operation for Pfizer.”

The former president chided those who have cast doubt on the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, declaring that conservative skeptics are “playing right into” the hands of the Left by castigating the vaccines.

On the merits and the politics, Trump’s instincts are incontestably correct. Centers for Disease Control data show significantly reduced death rates among the vaccinated population. And these data likely underestimate the efficacy of the vaccines, since the vaccinated are both larger in number and include a larger proportion of at-risk groups. Transmission rates have not been reduced to the extent we had hoped, but that’s a function of the spread of variants, not an inherent problem with the inoculations.

Moreover, 72.5 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated against the disease. Most people believe the vaccines to be an extremely useful — if not foolproof — way to mitigate the consequences of Covid’s continued existence. Placing yourself on the other side of a 70–30 issue is never politically savvy, even if its a moral necessity. In this case, the political incentives align with the moral imperatives.

Conservatives, and Trump, are on the right side of so many of the Covid-created controversies of our day. Lockdowns impose immense economic and social harms on Americans while doing little to stamp out the virus in the long term. School closures pass the costs of the pandemic on to the most vulnerable among us. Vaccine mandates are an intolerable imposition on personal liberty. Masks are only helpful on the margins. These postures have already led to electoral success in places like Virginia.

It’s about time that some prominent voices on the right abandon their senseless, injurious vaccine skepticism, and learn to love the Trump vaccines.

Elections

The Cruel Irony of Our Recent Presidential Choices

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The White House in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

In 2008, Americans elected as president a first-term senator who’d spent most of his career as a backbench state legislator, a man with no executive experience, no political-leadership experience, no national-security experience, and no record in business or the military.  He was chosen in significant part because he was African American and was seen — in good part due to a 2004 convention speech — as offering a post-racial America. By the end of eight years of Barack Obama, we instead had a great escalation in racial division and race-obsession — from which we have yet to recover.

In 2016, Americans elected as president a political novice of famously dubious character, integrity, and judgment who had spent much of the previous decade hosting, essentially, a game show. He was chosen in significant part because he was a famous real-estate developer known for completing high-profile building projects. His campaign centered around a promise to build a wall across our southern border. By the end of four years of Donald Trump, some additional fencing had been erected to fortify key portions of the border, but no border-length wall was completed or even really attempted.

In 2020, Americans elected as president a geriatric fabulist and longtime Washington punchline who had been failing at presidential politics for 33 years. He was chosen in significant part because he had spent 36 years as a senator and eight years as vice president, and burnished a reputation as a man who understood the folkways and dealmakings of the Senate. A year into the presidency of Joe Biden, the centerpiece of his legislative agenda has gone down in flames because he was unable to persuade two members of his own party’s Senate caucus to vote for it.

It was once conventional wisdom that Americans elected governors to the presidency: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, Grover Cleveland, Rutherford B. Hayes. That list includes some notorious failures, but quite a lot of success and accomplishment as well. Other accomplished presidents of the post–Civil War era included two supreme military commanders (Dwight Eisenhower and Ulysses S. Grant) and a Senate majority leader (Lyndon Johnson). Maybe we should give a shot at the job to somebody who has exercised real public leadership before. Because electing guys who are just supposed to be good at one thing, and keep failing to accomplish it, isn’t working.

The Economy

Elizabeth Warren’s Big Whopper

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Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) speaks during a Senate committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 19, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/Reuters)

After demanding that the government investigate Big Oil, Big Cars, Big Poultry, and Big Semiconductors for allegedly gouging consumers, Elizabeth Warren now contends that Big Grocery is also conspiring to take advantage:

It is wild that all these grocery chains, which have been competing — and precipitously dropping prices — for decades, decided to collude at the very moment supply-chain problems hit, inflation spiked to a 30-year high, and Washington’s Covid-19 spending spree was needlessly swamping the economy. It’s even weirder that, according to Warren, virtually every boogeyman industry suddenly engaged in this dastardly behavior at the same time.

Big Grocery is one of the least profitable major businesses in the United States, with average margins coming in at a little over 2 percent. Warren has good reason to believe that voters aren’t aware of this fact. Walmart, for example, averages around 2 percent net profit; however, the public believes it pulls in 36 percent. But to put the numbers in context, health-care-products companies saw 10.91 percent net profits last year; home furnishers saw 4.63; household-product makers saw 11.71; restaurants saw 5.69; home builders saw 9.04; and online retailers saw 4.95.

Even with sales booming, grocery stores are having trouble realizing profits. One reason for this is that it’s one of the most competitive major industries in the country. There are numerous national chains (Kroger, Albertsons), regional chains (Meijers, Publix), higher-end markets (Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Whole Foods), big box chains (Walmart and Target), and Amazon. Competition has, and does, drive down prices.

So an alternative theory — and I’m just spit-balling here — is that inflation is really happening, and all of Elizabeth Warren’s flailing is simply meant to try and divert attention away from the economic tribulations facing voters, which Democrats had promised to fix.

World

Who Says ‘Yes’ When the Chinese Government Makes a Demand?

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Then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney arrives to in Swanton, Ohio, September 26, 2012. (Jason Reed/Reuters )

There’s a crude term that is used to describe fabulous and seemingly freeing levels of wealth: “[blank] you money.” That is when you have so much wealth, you can tell anyone, in any circumstance, “[blank] you” and not fear the consequences. You can walk away from any proposal, any deal, and suffer no fool gladly. You can live life on your terms, and never need to compromise what feels right to you. You never feel the need to go along with something that you think is wrong, unethical, or unwise, because of financial pressure.

You would like to think that if anyone on the planet had “[blank] you money,” it would be Jeff Bezos, currently the second-richest man on the planet behind Elon Musk, with an estimated net worth of $192 billion.

And yet, even with all that wealth, when the Chinese government demanded that Bezos’s company Amazon comply with a far-reaching censorship proposal . . . Bezos and Amazon agreed, according to Reuters:

Amazon.com Inc was marketing a collection of President Xi Jinping’s speeches and writings on its Chinese website about two years ago, when Beijing delivered an edict, according to two people familiar with the incident. The American e-commerce giant must stop allowing any customer ratings and reviews in China.

A negative review of Xi’s book prompted the demand, one of the people said. “I think the issue was anything under five stars,” the highest rating in Amazon’s five-point system, said the other person.

Ratings and reviews are a crucial part of Amazon’s e-commerce business, a major way of engaging shoppers. But Amazon complied, the two people said. Currently, on its Chinese site Amazon.cn, the government-published book has no customer reviews or any ratings. And the comments section is disabled.

That Reuters report offers an utterly depressing look at how Amazon knew what the Chinese government was doing, and chose to avert its eyes and treat it like just another customer:

An internal 2018 Amazon briefing document that describes the company’s China business lays out a number of “Core Issues” the Seattle-based giant has faced in the country. Among them: “Ideological control and propaganda is the core of the toolkit for the communist party to achieve and maintain its success,” the document notes. “We are not making judgement on whether it is right or wrong.”

And one of the key players in the Amazon–China relationship is a familiar name:

The 2018 briefing document spells out the strategic stakes of the China Books project for Jay Carney, the global head of Amazon’s lobbying and public-policy operations, ahead of a trip he took to Beijing. “Kindle has been operating in China in a policy grey area,” the document stated, and noted that Amazon was having difficulty obtaining a license to sell e-books in the country.

“The key element to safeguard” against its license problem with the Chinese government “is the Chinabooks project,” the document stated.

So the Obama administration’s former White House press secretary is helping Amazon and China work together on ensuring that criticism of the Chinese government never reaches Chinese readers. (Hey, remember when conservatives and libertarians noticed the Soviet propaganda posters on the wall of the Carney house, and it was a sign of how we were paranoid and humorless and the art selection indicated nothing about how Carney sees the world or his values? Good times, good times.)

You can find a lot of books critical of China on Amazon, available for sale in other countries. And Amazon is far from the only company that has compromised its purported values in order to ensure continued access to the Chinese market; that is now more or less standard operating procedure in U.S. companies now.

Look, it’s Jeff Bezos’s life and fortune and he’s free to make his own choices. But if Jeff Bezos isn’t willing to say “[blank] you” to censorship demands from the Chinese government . . . who will?

Law & the Courts

New York to Consider Bill Allowing Extrajudicial Detention in Health Emergency

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A New York City Police officer puts on gloves as people wait in line to be tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens N.Y., March 26, 2020. (Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters)

The New York State Legislature will soon consider a bill that would allow the governor to detain people without a court hearing or an immediate right to a lawyer in a state of emergency declared because of communicable diseases. Note how far-reaching the authority would extend. From A-416 (my emphasis, here and subsequently):

Upon determining by clear and convincing evidence that the health of others is or may be endangered by a case, contact or carrier, or suspected case, contact or carrier of a contagious disease that, in the opinion of the governor, after consultation with the commissioner, may pose an imminent and significant threat to the public health resulting in severe morbidity or high mortality, the governor or his or her delegee, including, but not limited to the commissioner or the heads of local health departments, may order the removal and/or detention of such a person or of a group of such persons by issuing a single order, identifying such persons either by name or by a reasonably specific description of the individuals or group being detained. Such person or group of persons shall be detained in a medical facility or other appropriate facility or premises designated by the governor or his or her delegee and complying with subdivision five of this section.

This means that local health officials could order people arrested and detained in a health or other “appropriate facility.” And there could be mass detentions of unidentified people deemed part of a “group.”

Under the proposal, if a detainee is found not to be infectious, the state authorities must release that person. Big of them. But people could be involuntarily detained for days before their case would have to be reviewed by a court:

When a person or group is ordered to be detained pursuant to subdivision two of this section for a period exceeding three business days and such person or member of such group requests release, the governor or his or her delegee shall make an application for a court order authorizing such detention within three business days after such request.

That could amount to more than a week of extrajudicial detention before the detainee would see the inside of a courtroom.

After any such request for release, detention shall not continue for more than five business days in the absence of a court order authorizing detention. Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions, in no event shall any person be detained for more than sixty days without a court order authorizing such detention.

The governor or his or her delegee shall seek further court review of such detention within ninety days following the initial court order authorizing detention and thereafter within ninety days of each subsequent court review.

!!!

What about the right to counsel? Not guaranteed!

A copy of any detention order of the governor or his or her delegee issued pursuant to subdivision two of this section shall be given to each detained individual; however, if the order applies to a group of individuals and it is impractical to provide individual copies, it may be posted in a conspicuous place in the detention premises. . . .

The detention order, says the bill, should set forth

a notice advising the person or group being detained that they have a right to be represented by legal counsel and that upon request of such person or group access to counsel will be facilitated to the extent feasible under the circumstances . . .

And further, it should

advise the person or group being detained that they have the right to request that legal counsel be provided, that upon such request counsel shall be provided if and to the extent possible under the circumstances, and that if counsel is so provided, that such counsel will be notified that the person or group has requested legal representation.

“To the extent possible under the circumstances” would allow a lot of detention without representation.

The bill will be taken up on January 6, 2022. May it sink quickly beneath the waves.

Media

Brian Stelter’s Brief Moment of Covid Sanity

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CNN host and senior media correspondent Brian Stelter speaks an event in New York, November 6, 2017. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

On CNN’s Reliable Sources last night, Brian Stelter experienced a brief, uncharacteristically reasonable moment of sanity. “With this inevitability about more and more and more cases, what’s the better metric to be using?,” he mused, before going on to suggest that “symptomatic” cases would be a better way to “evaluate the fight against COVID.” And then:

We collectively took action to protect the elderly from Covid. Now, shouldn’t we be doing more to protect children by letting them live normal lives? Are we really going to let the kids suffer even more? And are the facts about COVID getting through to the people who need to hear them?

Is this a weird, Covid-era rerun of Invasion of the Body Snatchers? I’m glad Stelter is coming around to something approximating rationality, although it is something of an out-of-body experience to hear someone who complained that Fox News hosts weren’t posting vaccine selfies to suddenly position himself as a hard-nosed Covid realist. Still, he’s right: We do need to make sure that “the facts about COVID” are “getting through to the people who need to hear them.” Including the people on his television network.

White House

White House Message on Covid Is Dehumanizing and Unpersuasive

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President Joe Biden meets with members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team on the latest developments related to the Omicron variant at the White House, December 16, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

If you’re anywhere on the Internet today and a conservative, you’ve probably seen what Jeffrey Zients, of the Biden Coronavirus Response Team, said during the White House briefing this weekend. This was the memorable passage:

Our vaccines work against Omicron, especially for people who get booster shots when they are eligible. If you are vaccinated, you could test positive.  But if you do get COVID, your case will likely be asymptomatic or mild.

We are intent on not letting Omicron disrupt work and school for the vaccinated. You’ve done the right thing, and we will get through this.

For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.

So, our message to every American is clear: There is action you can take to protect yourself and your family. Wear a mask in public indoor settings. Get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and get a booster shot when you’re eligible.

When a reporter sensibly observed that this kind of language is the opposite of persuasive, White House chief of staff Ron Klain responded, “The truth is the truth.”

For reasons that are mystifying to me, the White House refuses to note that they have presided over the fastest vaccine uptake in the history of this country, and one of the most successful campaigns in the world. The vast majority of the most vulnerable people have chosen to be immunized against Covid-19.

Instead, still terrified of increased case rates, and perhaps some waning immunity among the vaccinated, the White House has remained mostly silent about how it wants to proceed, and how it envisions a wind-down of this state of emergency. In the meantime, there is this scapegoating of the unvaccinated, which grows less and less plausible by the day as transmission rates among the vaccinated go up, and more and more of the population achieves some level of immunity, even from prior infection.

This is dehumanizing language. And overbroad even by the administration’s own terms. Many children are not eligible for vaccines, and many parents won’t choose to get their children vaccinated anyway, for obvious reasons — the danger posed by Covid to children is so remote and minuscule, and the benefit of reduced transmission among children is so diffuse and potentially tiny. These children won’t have a winter of severe illness and death.

The language also carries the unsubtle message that the government isn’t working for the unvaccinated, a loaded thing to say when the Biden administration has pressed the FDA so hard to approve juvenile vaccines and boosters but seems blasé about approval for effective therapeutic drugs.

And it’s also demented and untrue. Countries with higher vaccination rates than those in the U.S. are still imposing draconian interventions: lockdowns, curfews, closures. So draconian measures cannot be blamed plausibly on the unvaccinated. Attempts to lock down on the unvaccinated had no measurable effect on the seasonal spread experienced in Austria. Vaccine passports showed little or no utility in Scotland, according to the government’s own report.

The vast, vast majority of people who contract Covid from here on out will have some form of immunity to Covid. The vast majority of the unvaccinated will be people in mid life or younger who will survive their encounter with Covid. The administration desperately needs to project confidence in the vaccines, by communicating their hope that this is the beginning of the end.

Business

FedEx Says It Has Reached ‘Appropriate Staffing Levels’

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(Mike Blake/Reuters)

Supply Chain Dive reports: “FedEx has reached ‘appropriate staffing levels’ in its frontline workforce for the peak season, President and COO Raj Subramaniam said on its Q2 earnings call Thursday, after the company endured months of labor constraints that hurt service levels.” In a time when staffing shortages seem to be everywhere, this is welcome news.

The company was bleeding money due to a shortage of labor, losing $470 million in the past quarter because of it. “In September, FedEx Ground was rerouting more than 600,000 packages a day just to work around staffing shortages at company hubs,” the story says.

The company went on an aggressive hiring tear to bridge the gap, with 10,000 to 12,000 hires a week in the past quarter. Since September, the company is up more than 60,000 frontline employees. They were able to add so many by increasing pay, giving more paid time off, and offering tuition reimbursement, the story says.

Subramaniam doesn’t see these new employees as temporary hires to cover a shortage. He said that FedEx is “focused on retaining recently hired employees for the long haul to keep its network efficient,” Supply Chain Dive reports.

These changes won’t have an immediate effect. “Labor constraints will keep costs high through the second half of the fiscal year, though hiring challenges and network efficiencies are expected to ease in Q3,” the story says. (FedEx’s fiscal year begins June 1; Q3 is December 1 through February 28.) But FedEx is thinking long-term in response to a short-term crisis.

This is one example of a company taking initiative to rethink the way it does business in the wake of the pandemic disruptions. It responded to profit-loss signals, increased compensation to hire more workers, and is reorganizing the way it hires to respond to seasonal changes. This is what it looks like for the private sector to figure things out.

Whether this all pans out for FedEx (or any other company) remains to be seen. But it’s a private-sector response to the labor situation, and FedEx thinks it has the people it needs to do business right now.

Trade

Letters from Cabinet Secretaries Don’t Move Containers

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A record number of cargo container ships wait to unload due to the jammed ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach near Long Beach, Calif., September 22, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

“The Biden administration on Friday again urged global ocean carriers to accept more export freight and restore service at underutilized West Coast ports to ease supply chain constraints and give U.S. agriculture companies a fair chance to sell their goods in overseas markets,” begins a FreightWaves story. This move is a variation on the administration’s strategy of claiming conference calls as governance. Instead of a call, it’s a letter from the secretaries of agriculture and transportation.

The problem, according to the letter, is that American agricultural firms are having a hard time exporting their products because of port congestion. The proposed solution is that Pete Buttigieg and Tom Vilsack “strongly encourage you [ocean carriers] to help agricultural shippers of U.S. exports by restoring services to the Port of Oakland and more fully utilizing available terminal capacity on the West Coast.”

There are a few issues with this approach. First, it was already happening before the letter was sent. From the East Bay Times on December 16, the same day the letter was sent: “Container traffic at the Port of Oakland is starting to pick up again amid the supply-chain chaos.” The story says that “2021 could be Oakland’s busiest year on record.”

But the story also said that was because imports were up: “Export volumes declined 9.4% due to lack of ships heading to foreign markets.” Just sailing more to Oakland, as the secretaries’ letter pleads, will not guarantee exporters access to ocean shipping.

Second, while no port is as congested as Los Angeles/Long Beach, the other ports on the West Coast aren’t exactly “underutilized,” as the secretaries contend. In addition to Oakland’s possible record-setting year, according to DHL’s most recent port-situation update (from December 16), “all Seattle/Tacoma terminals are operating at full capacity.” The update also notes that in Seattle, “chassis counts remain low due to the surge in imports.” The administration has kept in place a 250 percent tariff on chassis, which is no help to the situation in Seattle.

Fundamentally, exporters need empty containers. They fill those empty containers with their goods to be shipped overseas. Lots of empty containers are stuck in Los Angeles/Long Beach right now. They take up yard space, and many are sitting on chassis. Every chassis that is used to store an empty container is a chassis that cannot be used to move a full container.

The empty-container situation is getting worse. “There are now 71,000 on Los Angeles terminals or near-dock depots, up from 65,000 a month ago, with 60% dwelling nine days or more,” according to FreightWaves. All those containers sitting at the port are not being loaded with American exports, and they are needed back in Asia to accommodate the unprecedented surge in imports. As Business Insider put it, “The US’ biggest export this year was air.” Through October, 59 percent of shipping containers left American ports empty this year.

Getting these empty containers circulating again would greatly help importers and exporters alike. In the FreightWaves story about the secretaries’ letter, Harbor Trucking Association president Matt Schrap is credited with suggesting that empty containers be relocated to Oakland. “That would help ease the space crunch at marine terminals in the San Pedro Bay ports and give farm exporters access to the containers they desperately need,” the story says.

That makes sense, but it’s very difficult to do. We’re talking about 71,000 containers (plus tens of thousands more elsewhere in the country, but let’s just focus on Los Angeles for right now). Trucks can carry one at a time, and they are very fuel inefficient compared with other modes of transportation. Trains are more fuel efficient, but they can only carry a few hundred containers at a time, and rail capacity is vital for full containers as well.

Ships, on the other hand, can move thousands of containers at a time in a very fuel-efficient way. A few ships shuttling empty containers up and down the West Coast would be very helpful to ease the burden in Los Angeles. That’s the only way to put a significant dent in the empty container backup in a relatively short amount of time.

And it’s essentially illegal because of the Jones Act. Without the ability to operate port-to-port empty-container shuttles within the U.S., the ocean carriers (which are all foreign-owned) feel as if they have to take every opportunity they can to get empty containers back to Asia. Their customers are mostly not Americans, and they don’t really care all that much that American exporters are having a hard time accessing containers.

Nothing about the letter from Pete Buttigieg and Tom Vilsack changes any of that. Words on paper do not move empty containers. To make that easier, the federal government should waive and ultimately repeal the Jones Act, and it should eliminate the truck-chassis tariff so ports like Seattle can order more from major manufacturers. We absolutely should be using our other ports more, but just asking carriers to use them doesn’t mean that they will.

Fiscal Policy

Warren, Musk, and Taxes

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Left: Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in 2013. Right: Elon Musk in Berlin, Germany, in 2020. (Evelyn Hockstein, Hannibal Hanschke/Pool via Reuters)

Elizabeth Warren, tweeting on December 13:

When someone makes it big in America—millionaire big, billionaire big, Person of the Year big—part of it has to include paying it forward so the next kid can get a chance, too.

Attached to her tweet was a doctored cover of Time’s “Person of the Year” cover, which incorporated the claim that Musk paid no federal income tax in 2018.

The same day, Warren also tweeted this:

Let’s change the rigged tax code so The Person of the Year will actually pay taxes and stop freeloading off everyone else.

As so often with Warren, it’s striking to see how quickly and how often she resorts to the language of conspiracism. It’s not enough for her to say that the tax code is, to use a gentle adjective, flawed (a view quite a few of us share — even if we disagree on the nature of the flaws), but no, it has to be “rigged.”

And as so often with Musk, he wasn’t slow to respond (I’ll pass quickly over the whole “Senator Karen” business), tweeting this on Dec 14:

And if you opened your eyes for 2 seconds, you would realize I will pay more taxes than any American in history this year

And this:

Don’t spend it all at once … oh wait you did already.

Ouch.

And (from yesterday) this:

For those wondering, I will pay over $11 billion in taxes this year.

And about the alleged $0 in 2018. CNN explains:

Musk is worth an estimated $251 billion, according to Forbes’ Real Time Billionaires estimate. But an investigation by ProPublica reported that in 2018, he and other billionaires paid zero in taxes. That year, he had little in the way of taxable income, given that he sold no shares of his stock and received no cash salary or bonus.

Having little in the way of taxable income will generally mean a low tax bill. That’s how the law works.

What Warren wants, of course, is a wealth tax, something that, regardless of its other malign consequences, is, in essence (as I’ve argued before), a form of feudalism (the “king” has a claim on everything you own), a stage I had hoped we had left behind. Or, if Warren cannot get a wealth tax, she would settle on something very close to it, a tax on unrealized capital gains, which adds absurdity to an already poisonous mix.

I wrote about that here in the wake of the ProPublica revelations:

“Gains” are ultimately meaningless until they are realized. Given how many digits can be involved, I wouldn’t want to push the claim of meaninglessness too far, but those who were worth millions on paper during the dot-com boom — and then next to nothing thereafter — might have a few thoughts on the evanescence of unrealized gains. In the event there had been a tax on the unrealized gains that they had “accumulated” during the bubble would they have been given refunds after they had been wiped out, say, the year after?

And there’s something else. We are frequently told by those on the left and their fellow travelers that short-term investment horizons are a discreditable feature of “casino capitalism.” Yet taxing unrealized gains penalizes those investors and business-builders who are in for the long haul.

Class warfare trumps consistency, it seems.

PC Culture

Today in Cultural Appropriation

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Matt Labash reports that idiot hipsters are flipping Bass Pro Shops caps online, the (notionally) riparian headgear having become trendy.

A note for these practitioners of cultural appropriation: If you want some real redneck cred, try NRS. But if you don’t already know what “NRS” stands for, maybe you’re not ready.

World

Good Riddance to Recorded ‘Hate Incidents’

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Today, the U.K. Court of Appeals decided to get rid of the police practice of recording non-crime “hate incidents” which, the judges determined, constitute an unlawful interference with freedom of expression.

The legal challenge was brought by Harry Miller, a former police officer, who was visited by police in January 2020 after writing tweets that criticized and mocked transgenderism. Miller soon discovered that this interaction was stored on a national database of “non-crime incidents.” The College of Policing defines a hate incident as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice.”

In her judgment, Dame Victoria Sharp, one of England’s most senior judges warned of the “chilling effect of perception-based recording.” This is the crucial point. This is all subjective. Nobody wants their speech to be monitored and registered by the police. If political speech is to be recorded in this way, the inevitable result will be self-censorship.

Politics & Policy

The Irony of Our Polarized Age

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy during a speech in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 23, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The intense polarization of this period in American politics results in a lot of close elections and narrow majorities. And yet, that same polarization makes it hard for both parties to respond appropriately to the message and meaning of a narrow election or a narrow majority. This is a key dynamic underlying the apparent collapse of the Democrats’ “Build Back Better” agenda, at least in its aggressively partisan form.

A close election and a narrow majority call for a modest agenda and for some bipartisan policy-making. That’s inherent in the logic of democracy: A close election means you don’t have a clear mandate and a lot of the public isn’t with you. And it’s inherent in the logic of our particular system of government, which guards large minorities against small majorities and often requires some cross-partisan accommodation for significant policy change.

But the political psychology of a bitterly partisan time firmly resists modest agendas and bipartisan policy-making. The sense of apocalyptic panic that drives our politics now persuades partisans that it’s impossible to work with the other party (despite obvious evidence to the contrary, like two years of huge pandemic-response bills or this year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, among other measures). And the same sense also persuades those same partisans that their own agenda — unattenuated by naïve compromises and unsullied by any loss of nerve — is utterly essential to the future of the country.

This leaves today’s two major parties incapable of processing the implications of today’s elections. Sometimes that incapacity takes truly dire forms. Over the last five years, each party has lost a narrow presidential election and gone on to essentially pretend the loss didn’t really happen. The Democrats blamed Hillary Clinton’s loss on misinformation on Facebook or Russian psyops. To explain Donald Trump’s loss, Republicans reached for even more delusional conspiracies about large-scale election fraud that wasn’t there. Both forms of denial were only possible because of the narrowness of the election in question, and yet both contributed to the intense fear and mistrust of the other party that makes it hard to respond appropriately to a close election result.

And each party has also managed to avoid learning from the narrowness of the presidential election it won in this same period. This is how the Democrats ended up looking at pretty much the narrowest congressional majority in history and seeing an FDR-style opportunity for transformative governance. The very narrowness of their majority meant that they had no margin for error in pursuing that agenda. And this also meant that the legislation that embodied their ambition had to be, in essence, a map of their coalition rather than a tool for addressing a problem the public prioritizes or appealing to any constituency beyond their base. Since it was a map of a coalition that is unpopular with half the public, the legislation didn’t prove appealing to people who weren’t already committed partisan progressives. And unfortunately for the Democrats, that category includes several Democratic members of Congress.

That doesn’t mean the bill didn’t have a chance. It surely did, and it came close to passing. Some form of it may yet pass next year. But it does mean that the bill has always been a symptom of the dysfunction that afflicts our politics now, rather than a remedy for the problems Americans face.

This is also why the response within the Democratic coalition to the setback the BBB agenda has suffered is taking the form of outrage at the endangered moderates who are essential to their narrow majority rather than at the safe-seat progressives who are threatening it. The notion that the bill was smothered by one senator’s opposition literally ignores the existence of half the Senate — since after all there are (at least) 51 senators opposed to the bill. Ignoring half of our politics is pretty much how both parties are getting through this period.

That’s one reason why Republicans shouldn’t take too much solace from the Democrats’ anguish. Some schadenfreude is appropriate, of course — it’s hard not to relish such a well-deserved failure of the other party. But Republicans are at least as guilty of ignoring all that recent elections have been screaming at us to notice. Even now, almost all Republican politicians are at least passively abiding (if not actively encouraging) the self-evidently stupid, reckless, and self-destructive prospect of Donald Trump running for president again — a prospect not only poisonous for our beloved country but also plainly abhorrent to the voters Republicans should want to win. But like the Democrats reacting to the fate of BBB by raging at Joe Manchin and promising to double down, many Republicans take a narrow loss as a reason to keep doing the same thing.

A bigger loss for either party would stand a better chance of getting it to change its ways. That’s part of what explains Manchin himself, of course: In his home state, his party lost the last presidential election by 38 points. But close elections are one of the symptoms of our intense division, so election results don’t seem likely in the near term to help bring our parties to their senses.

Generally speaking, the desire to win elections can be counted on to motivate political professionals and even many devoted partisans to respond to voter pressures. But the political psychology of this supposedly populist period actually makes it very hard for voters to be heard. The pros and the partisans have come to understand our politics as a sharp, binary choice, but close elections call for a politics of far more fine tuning. So even as it creates close elections, the partisanship of this era makes it nearly impossible for politicians to govern accordingly.

Politicians that grasp this have a real opportunity, and could advance their party’s agenda more than the blinkered partisans can. The recent Virginia governor’s election offers Republicans a hint of what that might look like. Joe Manchin offers such a hint for the Democrats. The infrastructure bill offers lessons to both. But so far it doesn’t look like either party is all that interested in taking a hint. Ironically, as long as each continues to ignore reality the other can afford to do the same.

Health Care

From Hero to Fired: Dr. Aaron Kheriaty and the University of California Irvine

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Dr. Aaron Kheriaty has been fired from the University of California Irvine, where he has worked as a professor at UCI School of Medicine and director of the Medical Ethics Program at UCI Health for almost 15 years. Back in the spring of 2020, he could have been a poster boy for the medical professionals we were cheering on every night. That was then. It seems that he has not only been dismissed because he is unvaccinated, but because he has dared to make the medical argument that natural immunity puts people in a similar — or better — place than a vaccine against Covid-19. I’m not a doctor, and I’d like to think doctors are free to raise questions based on their scientific judgment.

Kheriaty is not the only doctor I know who has found himself in situations where it is understood that you are to go along and not raise questions when it comes to Covid-19 protocols. I know that’s happened in other places in medicine — the scandal of women’s health is how they use the contraceptive pill for a whole host of problems, cover up symptoms, treat fertility as itself a problem, and sometimes leave women infertile when they actually want to have a child later on down the line. So it happens. And it’s not good.

Continue reading “From Hero to Fired: Dr. Aaron Kheriaty and the University of California Irvine”

Politics & Policy

The Wages of Not Listening

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My new Bloomberg Opinion column.

The Democrats should have listened to Joe Manchin. As their “Build Back Better” agenda assumed legislative shape, the Democratic senator from West Virginia kept telling them what he didn’t like about it.

On Nov. 1, he decried the bill’s “shell games” and “budget gimmicks” and called it “a recipe for economic crisis.” . . .

Politics & Policy

The Ugly Truth about Progressivism

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Don Boudreaux writes on his Cafe Hayek blog today:

Today’s hysteria for population-wide Covid vaccination is an early 2020s’ species of Puritanism. Ditto the demonizing and deplatforming of Scott Atlas, Jay Bhattacharya, Sunetra Gupta, Martin Kulldorff, and other individuals who point out that the dangers posed to the vast majority of people by SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t begin to come close to justifying lockdowns, school closures, canceled or postponed sporting events, and most other proscriptions and prescriptions imposed in the name of protecting humanity from the demon virus.

Progressivism has much more in common, than its adherents think, with Puritanism. Both ideologies are versions of statism. The ranks of both swarm with people who ridicule and reject liberalism. Each of these statist ideologies worships power as the one and only savior that will usher in its particular version of heaven on earth. Each of these ideologies regards the individual who is unbridled and unmolested by the state, and who refuses to catch whatever causes the current collective fever, as a public enemy deserving neither tolerance nor sympathy.

Progressives suppose that, because they have no qualms about alcohol use or about consensual sex outside of traditional marriage – and because many are not religious in the conventional sense – that they are the opposite of Puritans. But they are mistaken. These differences are superficial. Progressives, like Puritans (and like many Populists), cannot tolerate anyone acting differently from, or even thinking differently than, the particular ways that they have divined is correct.

These people are intolerant authoritarians, eager for any excuse to assert power over others. There have always been such people in any society, but now our vastly bloated government creates innumerable places for them, unlike in our past when the state had little power and no positions for busybodies. As Hayek observed, where you have big government, the worst get on top.