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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
BIDEN: "…and Joe (Manchin) went on TV today, uh, (I don't know) whether it's TV or not, I'm told he was speaking to the Liberal Caucus in the House and said, 'Joe Biden didn't mislead you, I misled you.'" pic.twitter.com/O21nnLsvE2
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.'”
WH cleans it up. Spox tells @jeffzeleny: “The President was underlining that constructive and respectful conversations are happening …. However, the President wanted to clarify that Senator Manchin did not characterize himself as having been ‘misleading.’”
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.
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.)
Angela Merkel has got out of Dodge just in time. Europe’s energycrunch has been buildingforsometime, 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.
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.
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:
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 wereall 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.
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.
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.
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:
Giant grocery store chains force high food prices onto American families while rewarding executives & investors with lavish bonuses and stock buybacks. I'm demanding they answer for putting corporate profits over consumers and workers during the pandemic. https://t.co/NvY2MKKJNP
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 Insiderput 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.
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 “SenatorKaren” 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.” . . .
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.
It’s true that Joe Manchin has often caved to the Left, but how could anyone really be shocked that he would deny Democrats their massive welfare expansion — a plan that circumvented normal Senate order, relied on a bunch of budgetary scams, and crossed numerous red lines the West Virginia senator had openly warned against for months?
Manchin might be adept at navigating the middle ground and rationalizing his support for liberal-agenda items in his deep-red state, but nearly 74 percent of West Virginia voters want him to oppose “Build Back Better.” This is surely among the highest, if not the highest disapproval rate for the Dems’ plan in any state. At the same time, Manchin enjoys over a 60 percent approval rating among West Virginians. Only 37 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing. Those numbers will likely improve now. On the other hand, Joe Biden, running one of the most unpopular first-year presidencies in history and holding one of the narrowest partisan majorities in history, has a 32 percent approval rating and a disapproval rating of 65 percent in West Virginia. If Biden, who functions under the mythology of Senate dealmaker, really wanted the support of a West Virginia senator — even one that often caves — he wouldn’t have let Bernie Sanders write his agenda.
Senators should be aware that the Senate will, in fact, consider the Build Back Better Act, very early in the new year so that every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television. We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act – and we will keep voting on it until we get something done.
The Consumer Price Index for December 2021 is scheduled to be released on January 12, 2022, at 8:30 a.m., and while we don’t know what those numbers will be . . . there’s a good chance this month will bring more bad news on the inflation front.
If Chuck Schumer wants the Senate to vote on $2 trillion or so in new government spending, he probably should schedule the vote before January 12, before the Bureau of Labor Statistics reminds the country that our economy is dealing with too much money chasing too few goods.
Today on the homepage, we publish a piece called “Great Companions: On Bach, Beethoven, and other musical friends of mankind.” My assignment: “Say something about the music of the West and what it has meant.” So I’ve said a few things, beginning with the subject of Bach — a subject as vast as the universe. I quote the column that William F. Buckley Jr. wrote on the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth. Bach, like Handel and Scarlatti (Domenico Scarlatti, not his father, Alessandro), was born in 1685. That was a helluva year.
“Three hundred years ago on March 21,” WFB wrote, “Johann Sebastian Bach was born. The event is as though God had decided to clear His throat to remind the world of His existence.”
If WFB had a favorite piece of music — and what music-lover truly has a favorite piece, with so much to choose from? — it was Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Readers might be interested in an article published in the New York Times, October 4, 1983:
Rosalyn Tureck played the Goldberg Variations at Mr. and Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr.’s house in Connecticut the other night. She came a day early to reacquaint herself with their Bösendorfer piano. The day of the performance, she practiced in the morning, the afternoon and into the evening while the host went sailing and the hostess repotted her begonias.
Here’s a little more:
The music lovers began to gather at 7:30 P.M. Since the drawing room was filled with chairs, Mary Sykes Cahan of the Metropolitan Museum and Henry J. Heinz 2d of the 57 Varieties took refuge among the chintzes in the sun room.
Mr. Heinz looked exceedingly fit for a man who celebrated his 75th birthday in London with Queen Elizabeth, then again in New York at his wife’s fireworks extravaganza. Mrs. Heinz, he said, had taken the evening off. Pat Buckley could understand that, though she never takes a night off, and she drifted about solicitously in yards of ecru and beige-striped chiffon sashed at the hips, and sandals.
“Usually I go barefoot,” she confided. “Shoes are a concession to the guests.”
The Times account concludes as follows:
Overfed New Yorkers began to head home, and the curtain fell on yet another of the Buckleys’ lovely days.
It’s hard to believe that such a world existed, but it really did.
Rosalyn Tureck made recordings at the Buckleys’, including of Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E minor, which you can listen to here. She was a guest of WFB’s on Firing Line, here. She was a guest again for a later episode on the legacy of Glenn Gould (another pianist known for Bach). That one, I cannot find online — perhaps some whiz can.
Toward the end of his life, WFB very much admired the recording of the Goldbergs made by Simone Dinnerstein, a young American. He and I listened to it together. And he invited her to his home to play the work, which she did. Her recording, by the way, is here.
In that column of his, written on the occasion of Bach’s 300th birthday, WFB said, “If a human being exists who is unmoved by the B-minor Mass, it should not surprise that human beings exist who are unmoved by democracy, or freedom, or peace. They have eyes but they do not see, ears but they do not hear.”
Anyway, that’s enough on this subject, here in the Corner. Again, my “Great Companions” piece is here. (Bill was a great companion himself — one of the best ever.)
For decades, politicians and higher-education leaders have pushed college as a great investment for students as well as a means of turbo-charging the economy. Obama said that it had to be a national goal for the U.S. to lead the world in the percentage of people with college degrees.
Huge numbers of students swallowed that, plunging into debt (and often draining off family wealth, too) to graduate (or not) with credentials of dubious market value. That’s the point of a recent study by Preston Cooper, who finds that while college appears to be a good choice for some, it’s a waste for many others. In today’s Martin Center article, Jay Schalin looks at Cooper’s work.
Schalin writes, “Initially using a simple measure of ROI that contrasts the expected lifetime earnings of high school graduates with those of college graduates, Cooper found a median ROI for all college ‘students who graduate on time’ of $306,000. But Cooper added an extra step to account for the fact that many students drop out of degree programs without gaining any skills or credentials that increase ROI. And, ‘after accounting for the risk of dropping out,’ the median average ROI drops to ‘only $129,000.’ Given that the lifetime earnings for students are based on 42 years of working, the increased income for roughly half of all degree programs is a paltry $3,000 a year—or less.”
Cooper’s analysis also belies the notion that graduating from a prestige school is necessarily a boon; some of the students at top institutions find themselves with credentials of little worth.
Furthermore, “Another factor he accounted for is the way many students have their degrees partially subsidized by various government agencies, such as direct student grants or state appropriations. As Cooper wrote, ‘a program that delivers a positive earning payoff only with a significant outside subsidy might not be worth subsidizing.’” Good point. State taxpayers cover much of the cost for students, but their tax dollars are largely squandered.
Schalin concludes, “At the very least, the reduction of or elimination of underperforming programs according to ROI are possibilities that must be explored by policy makers. For too long they have bought into myths and propaganda regarding the returns to society by state university systems. Cooper’s study gives great pause for thought about the value of an education and how state governments should respond to the insight he brings.”
Per John’s post below, in politics, there’s pointless emoting and then there’s swallowing hard to try to keep advancing where you want to go. The White House is clearly choosing the former today, and you’ve got to believe it’s going to make it that much harder to get Manchin on some much-reduced new version of BBB next year, which presumably should be the White House’s (perhaps totally unattainable) goal here.
Do they really think they are going to shame Manchin into playing ball with them? As a senior White House aide told Playbook, “Whoever at the White House who thinks it’s a good idea to go scorched earth needs to be fired. . . . He’s the president. He’s supposed to be the adult.”
Less than 30 minutes before he killed the Democratic Party’s most important piece of legislation, an aide was dispatched by Sen. JOE MANCHIN(D-W.Va.) to give the White House and congressional leadership a heads up.
The senator himself was about to go live and was prepping for his interview with BRET BAIER on “Fox News Sunday.” He was out of town with family and doing the hit via satellite, but still had his best Sunday show attire. He wore a red tie and pin-striped suit. His hair looked perfect. It would probably be one of the most viral video clips of his long career.
At the White House, there was panic and disbelief. He sent an aide to tell the president of the United States that he was about to go on Fox News and put a bullet in BBB?
Top White House officials scrambled to call the senator and talk him out of what he was about to do.
“We tried to head him off,” a senior White House official told Playbook, but Manchin “refused to take a call from White House staff.”
At Fox News’ Washington studio, Baier was hosting his first episode of “Fox News Sunday” since CHRIS WALLACE abruptly decamped for CNN+ last weekend. The show’s staff knew how much attention would be on them and how important it was, in the ongoing war between news and opinion at Fox, to prove that the news side still could drive the conversation about the network.
Manchin didn’t give Baier a heads up about the news he was about to break.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a lengthy statement on Sunday accusing West Virginia senator Joe Manchin of breaking a commitment “to support the Build Back Better framework.”
“Weeks ago, Senator Manchin committed to the President, at his home in Wilmington, to support the Build Back Better framework that the President then subsequently announced,” Psaki said on Sunday.
The meeting in Wilmington between Biden and Manchin took place on October 24, and Biden announced the framework on October 28. But on November 1, days before the House passed the multi-trillion-dollar “Build Back Better” bill, Manchin held a press conference blasting “shell games” and “gimmicks” in the bill that were a “recipe for economic crisis.”
“As more of the real details in the basic outline of the framework are released, what I see are shell games, budget gimmicks that make the real cost of the so-called $1.75 trillion bill estimated to be almost twice that amount if the full time is run out — if you extended it permanently,” Manchin said on November 1. “This is a recipe for economic crisis.”
Here’s Psaki’s full statement:
Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances. Weeks ago, Senator Manchin committed to the President, at his home in Wilmington, to support the Build Back Better framework that the President then subsequently announced. Senator Manchin pledged repeatedly to negotiate on finalizing that framework “in good faith.”
On Tuesday of this week, Senator Manchin came to the White House and submitted—to the President, in person, directly—a written outline for a Build Back Better bill that was the same size and scope as the President’s framework, and covered many of the same priorities. While that framework was missing key priorities, we believed it could lead to a compromise acceptable to all. Senator Manchin promised to continue conversations in the days ahead, and to work with us to reach that common ground. If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.
Senator Manchin claims that this change of position is related to inflation, but the think tank he often cites on Build Back Better—the Penn Wharton Budget Institute—issued a report less than 48 hours ago that noted the Build Back Better Act will have virtually no impact on inflation in the short term, and, in the long run, the policies it includes will ease inflationary pressures. Many leading economists with whom Senator Manchin frequently consults also support Build Back Better.
Build Back Better lowers costs that families pay. It will reduce what families pay for child care. It will reduce what they pay for prescription drugs. It will lower health care premiums. And it puts a tax cut in the pockets of families with kids. If someone is concerned about the impact that higher prices are having on families, this bill gives them a break.
Senator Manchin cited deficit concerns in his statement. But the plan is fully paid for, is the most fiscally responsible major bill that Congress has considered in years, and reduces the deficit in the long run. The Congressional Budget Office report that the Senator cites analyzed an unfunded extension of Build Back Better. That’s not what the President has proposed, not the bill the Senate would vote on, and not what the President would support. Senator Manchin knows that: The President has told him that repeatedly, including this week, face to face.
Likewise, Senator Manchin’s statement about the climate provisions in Build Back Better are wrong. Build Back Better will produce a job-creating clean energy future for this country—including West Virginia.
Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.
In the meantime, Senator Manchin will have to explain to those families paying $1,000 a month for insulin why they need to keep paying that, instead of $35 for that vital medicine. He will have to explain to the nearly two million women who would get the affordable day care they need to return to work why he opposes a plan to get them the help they need. Maybe Senator Manchin can explain to the millions of children who have been lifted out of poverty, in part due to the Child Tax Credit, why he wants to end a program that is helping achieve this milestone—we cannot.
We are proud of what we have gotten done in 2021: the American Rescue Plan, the fastest decrease in unemployment in U.S. history, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, over 200 million Americans vaccinated, schools reopened, the fastest rollout of vaccines to children anywhere in the world, and historic appointments to the Federal judiciary.
But we will not relent in the fight to help Americans with their child care, health care, prescription drug costs, and elder care—and to combat climate change. The fight for Build Back Better is too important to give up. We will find a way to move forward next year.
Some praise for Joe Manchin’s decision to come out against Build Back Better from across the aisle:
Sasse: “President Biden’s mega-spending bill is dead and Joe Manchin put the nail in the coffin…. Joe Manchin deserves credit for listening to West Virginians, rather than to bullies and screamers who follow those who disagree into bathrooms and who shut down traffic.” pic.twitter.com/N7PSZPRyHw
Senator Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) says he’s done with President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. And if saying so on Fox News wasn’t enough, he added an explanation point in a statement released shortly after his appearance, in which he declared: “My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face. I cannot take that risk.”
It is, of course, possible that once they stare into the abyss of defeat, Biden and Democrats may decide to finally cave and give Manchin everything he …
As Charlie noted, Joe Manchin announced on Fox News this morning his opposition to the Democrats’ social-spending bill. Here’s a full written statement from the West Virginia senator:
“For five and a half months, I have worked as diligently as possible meeting with President Biden, Majority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and my colleagues on every end of the political spectrum to determine the best path forward despite my serious reservations. I have made my concerns clear through public statements, op-eds and private conversations. My concerns have only increased as the pandemic surges on, inflation rises and geopolitical uncertainty increases around the world.
“I have always said, ‘If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.’ Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation.
“My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face. I cannot take that risk with a staggering debt of more than $29 trillion and inflation taxes that are real and harmful to every hard-working American at the gasoline pumps, grocery stores and utility bills with no end in sight.
“The American people deserve transparency on the true cost of the Build Back Better Act. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office determined the cost is upwards of $4.5 trillion which is more than double what the bill’s ardent supporters have claimed. They continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill.
“As the Omicron variant spreads throughout communities across the country, we are seeing COVID-19 cases rise at rates we have not seen since the height of this pandemic. We are also facing increasing geopolitical uncertainty as tensions rise with both Russia and China. Our ability to quickly and effectively respond to these pending threats would be drastically hindered by our rising debt.
“If enacted, the bill will also risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains. The energy transition my colleagues seek is already well underway in the United States of America. In the last two years, as Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and with bipartisan support, we have invested billions of dollars into clean energy technologies so we can continue to lead the world in reducing emissions through innovation. But to do so at a rate that is faster than technology or the markets allow will have catastrophic consequences for the American people like we have seen in both Texas and California in the last two years.
“I will never forget the warning from then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that he delivered during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing during my first year in the Senate. He testified that the greatest threat facing our nation was our national debt and since that time our debt has doubled.
“I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address the needs of all Americans and do so in a way that does not risk our nation’s independence, security and way of life.”
While Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer tried to spin the CBO’s report as a “Republican-requested fake CBO score,” the analysis of the bill’s true cost over ten years simply vindicated an argument Manchin himself has been making for many weeks. As I wrote on Monday:
On November 1, as the House prepared to pass both the infrastructure and reconciliation bills, Manchin blasted the “shell games” and “gimmicks” in the House Democrats’ reconciliation bill. “As more of the real details in the basic outline of the framework are released, what I see are shell games, budget gimmicks that make the real cost of the so-called $1.75 trillion bill estimated to be almost twice that amount if the full time is run out — if you extended it permanently,” Manchin said. “This is a recipe for economic crisis.”
Yet when Manchin spoke on November 1, he didn’t know that he was actually underestimating the true cost of the program, over ten years. Indeed, whereas his projection was that the bill would cost “almost” $3.5 trillion, the CBO made clear on Friday that number is actually more than $4.6 trillion.
At this point, something has to give for the Democrats to enact the “Build Back Better” reconciliation bill. Either Manchin caves and votes for a bill that is two or three times more expensive than the $1.75 trillion bill to which he has been amenable, or Democrats trim the bill down so the cost is actually less than $2 trillion. The problem with the latter approach, as the CBO made clear on Friday, is that extending new child tax credits over a decade will add $1.6 trillion to the deficit. That single provision would eat up almost the entirety of a Manchin-sized reconciliation bill.
Staffers who worked for Harris before she was vice president said one consistent problem was that Harris would refuse to wade into briefing materials prepared by staff members, then berate employees when she appeared unprepared.
“It’s clear that you’re not working with somebody who is willing to do the prep and the work,” one former staffer said. “With Kamala you have to put up with a constant amount of soul-destroying criticism and also her own lack of confidence. So you’re constantly sort of propping up a bully and it’s not really clear why.”
Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that the administration failed to anticipate the variants that have prolonged and worsened the COVID-19 pandemic and that she underestimated the role misinformation would play in prolonging the disease that has killed 800,000 Americans.
“We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming,” she said. “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”
It is extremely difficult to believe that the president and vice president were not briefed or warned about the potential for variants that were more contagious than the original strains of SARS-CoV-2. The top U.S. virology experts may not have said, specifically, “you will be dealing with a more contagious variant called Delta in mid-summer, and an even more contagious but likely milder variant called Omicron around Thanksgiving,” but it is simply implausible that in all the briefings Biden and Harris received, they were not warned on the potential threat of more contagious variants and updates on those variants as they emerged.
It looks as if Senator Manchin has followed his own advice — and the wishes of his constituents — and killed President Biden’s absurd, gargantuan “Build Back Better” bill.
On today’s Fox News Sunday, Manchin told Bret Baier that he was out:
Manchin: I’ve always said this, Bret. If I can’t go home and explain to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it. And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there. Baier: You’re done? This is a no? Manchin: This is a no on this piece of legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.
As Hans Bader points out in this Liberty Unyielding piece, the Biden administration is injecting racial considerations into the practice of medicine.
He writes, “But the Biden administration is now giving doctors a financial incentive to blame ‘differences in health outcomes’ on ‘systemic racism’ against minorities, and to adopt ‘value statements’ that treat race as a ‘political’ rather than ‘physiological’ reality, even though some health conditions (like sickle-cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease) have physiological causes linked to people’s racial background.”
Perhaps we’re not too far from the day when the voting blocs that the Democrats want to keep in their corral will stop being impressed by gimmicky stuff like this.
Phil Magness, that irrepressible foe of statism, managed to obtain emails between White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and NIH director Francis Collins in which they hatch an attack on the Great Barrington Declaration. (The GBD was authored by three well-known epidemiologists, arguing that the best approach to COVID was not locking down, but targeted protection for the truly vulnerable.)
Dissent from the federal government’s chosen strategy was quite unwelcome. “There needs to be a quick and devastating takedown of its premises,” Collins wrote in reference to the GBD. Real scientists would investigate the premises first, then decide if the declaration should be subject to a “takedown,” but no such thing ever happened. The authors were disparaged, their motives impugned, their conclusions ridiculed, but one looks in vain for anything like a scientific counter-argument.
It’s enough to make you suspect that the real objective of Fauci and friends was expansion of government authority rather than protection against disease.