Elections

Three Cheers for Kemp, Et Al.

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I wrote about Georgia for Politico today:

It is not often that politicians do the right thing and infuriate the most influential figure in their party and the most committed element of their political base and live to tell the tale. Kemp and Raffensperger have. Together with former Vice President Mike Pence, whose separation from Trump is more and more obvious, they form a cadre that resisted intense pressure to turn their backs on their duty in 2020 — showing backbone and a moral and institutional integrity that will redound to their credit in the history books.

They also point to a future when the GOP has escaped the box canyon of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” obsessions. That day is not here, but Tuesday’s results show it might not be impossibly far away, either.

Trump has lost Georgia three times within two years, which makes General John Bell Hood’s record look impressive by comparison. He lost it first to President Joe Biden in November 2020; then to the Democrats in the Senate special elections in January 2021 when his fulminations about how he’d been robbed in the presidential election depressed Republican turnout; and, finally, in this week’s GOP primaries when his handpicked candidates crashed and burned and his planned revenge ended up only embarrassing him and his epigones.

Law & the Courts

Appeals Court Lets Postal Service Punish Sabbath-Observing Letter Carrier

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A United States Postal Service (USPS) worker unloads packages from his truck in New York City, N.Y., April 13, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Religious-liberty cases sometimes involve very tough choices. Yesterday, the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit faced one of those: between a rural letter carrier who couldn’t work on Sundays because of his religious Sabbath observance, and the United States Postal Service, which repeatedly disciplined him after more than 20 occasions when it couldn’t find anybody to cover his shifts. Eventually, he quit. A divided panel, in Groff v. DeJoy, sided with the Postal Service. The opinion was written by Judge Patty Shwartz, an Obama appointee, and joined by Judge Julio Fuentes, a Clinton appointee. Judge Thomas Hardiman, a George W. Bush appointee, dissented.

The question is not an easy one. Nobody should have to violate his religious principles to keep his job, and the court was unanimous in agreeing that the Postal Service discriminated against Gerald Groff on the basis of his faith under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But that does not end the story: Title VII allows an employer to show that it “is unable to reasonably accommodate . . . an employee’s . . . religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” There is not an unlimited right to a job that you simply cannot do because of your religion: There’s no legal requirement that the Marines employ Quakers who won’t hold a gun, or that abortion clinics hire Catholics who won’t participate in abortions.

The majority quite reasonably noted that just finding substitutes for Groff every time his shift fell on a Sunday wasn’t working:

USPS attempted to facilitate shift swaps for Groff on each Sunday that he was scheduled to work. Between March 2017 and May 2018, Groff was scheduled to work on twenty-four Sundays. The Holtwood Postmaster testified that, for each week Groff was scheduled for Sunday work, he sent emails seeking volunteers from other offices. Despite these undisputed good-faith efforts, USPS was unsuccessful in finding someone to swap shifts on twenty-four Sundays over a sixty-week period. Because no coverage was secured and Groff failed to appear for work, he was disciplined. Thus, even though shift swapping can be a reasonable means of accommodating a conflicting religious practice, here it did not constitute an “accommodation” as contemplated by Title VII because it did not successfully eliminate the conflict.

Where the majority and the dissent disagreed was on whether it was reasonable for Groff to ask that the Postal Service instead just exempt him from Sunday work altogether. The majority thought not:

Groff’s proposed accommodation of being exempted from Sunday work would cause an undue hardship. Exempting Groff from working on Sundays caused more than a de minimis cost on USPS because it actually imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale at both the Holtwood Post Office and the Lancaster Annex hub. The Holtwood Post Office to which Groff was assigned had only a postmaster and three RCAs (including Groff) available for Sunday deliveries. Because Groff would not work on Sundays, only three individuals remained who could work on Sundays during the peak season…At the hub, Groff’s absences also had an impact on operations and morale. The hub supervisor testified that Groff’s absence made timely delivery more difficult, and carriers had to deliver more mail.

Judge Hardiman, however, argued that this got the legal standard wrong by confusing hardship on co-workers with hardship on the employer, and he concluded that the case should go back for more evidence:

In deciding Groff’s case, the District Court inferred an atextual rule from Title VII: “an accommodation that causes more than a de minimis impact on co-workers creates an undue hardship.” . . . The Majority gathers cases—all from other circuits—affirming that rule, but without an important correction to the District Court’s analysis. . . . Simply put, a burden on coworkers isn’t the same thing as a burden on the employer’s business. . . . Neither Supreme Court nor Third Circuit precedent establish a derivative rule that equates undue hardship on business with an impact—no matter how small—on coworkers. . . . Title VII requires USPS to show how Groff’s accommodation would harm its business, not merely how it would impact Groff’s coworkers. . . . The Majority renders any burden on employees sufficient to establish undue hardship, effectively subjecting Title VII religious accommodation to a heckler’s veto by disgruntled employees. (Citations omitted).

U.S.

Remember How ‘the Science’ Dictated Lockdowns?

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In early 2020, as the nation was starting to panic over Covid-19, we heard over and over from politicians that the way to combat the spread of the virus was to lock everything down as much as possible. We were told that the scientific consensus was that lockdowns would work, and if you suggested otherwise, you were anti-science.

In this Brownstone Institute article, Professor Edward Stringham points out that there never was any such scientific consensus. In fact, some 800 scientists signed a letter against the lockdown policy. Of course, they were ignored, as the likes of Anthony Fauci had their minds made up and couldn’t be bothered with counterarguments.

This is the way with statists — they are so eager to expand the scope of government power that they have no use for debate to clarify the issues and explore the trade-offs.

The Economy

Evidence of the Coming Freight Recession

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(WendellandCarolyn/iStock/Getty Images)

Rachel Premack of FreightWaves has a new piece about the prices of used semi-trucks. After a year and a half of soaring used-truck prices, the market is cooling off. That’s a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for a freight recession.

The cause for the soaring prices was a combination of increased demand and reduced supply. With freight rates going through the roof, many new entrants into the trucking market wanted to purchase trucks to capture the outsize profits. That process is exactly what we’d expect to see in a market with low barriers to entry, which trucking is. The largest single expense is buying a truck, and with low interest rates, financing was easy.

The increased demand coincided with a reduction in the supply of new trucks because of the computer-chip shortage and other Covid-related disruptions. Buyers who may have wanted new trucks had to go into the used-truck market instead, further increasing prices.

The way people purchased used trucks changed during the pandemic as well. Used trucks are usually purchased at a dealership or at auction. Premack writes:

Trucks are pricier at a dealership, but you’ll know what you’re buying has been repaired and has warranties. Usually, the only people at truck auctions are dealers who are trying to buy lots of trucks to sell to trucking companies.

That changed in 2021. Folks who own a trucking company decided to go to auctions themselves. Numbers from auctioneer Taylor & Martin lined up with that. [Taylor & Martin president Stacy] Tracy said Taylor & Martin’s weekly auctions attracted around 600 to 700 people before the pandemic, with a couple hundred of those folks attending virtually. But after that, the number attending shot up to 1,200 to 1,600. Most were virtual.

Skipping the dealership and going straight to auctions wasn’t all about saving money, [J.D. Power analyst Chris] Visser said. There was just so much demand for big rigs and so little supply. As a result of all of that interest, the price to buy a used truck at an auction now matches the price to buy one at a dealership.

All told, used trucks were selling for double, sometimes triple, the price they were selling for the year before.

That booming market is over. “Used trucks sold at auctions in the second quarter of 2022 are already 20% cheaper than those sold during auctions in this year’s first quarter,” Premack writes. A lot of those new market entrants who made big profits last year will go out of business this year. As shipper demand declines, freight rates decline, and operating costs — especially diesel — are much higher now than they were last year. The assumptions that made entering the trucking market last year a smart business move no longer hold.

Trucking could follow the same pattern that led to the last freight recession in 2019: softening demand for trucking rendering an oversupply of trucks and a crashing freight price that sends trucking companies into bankruptcy. One of the largest trucking companies in the country, Celadon, went out of business in 2019, along with about 800 others.

Trucking recessions can be leading indicators for the rest of the economy, but trucking is much more prone to booms and busts than the economy at large. While trucking recessions don’t always cause economy-wide recessions, four of the six most recent economy-wide recessions (before the pandemic recession) were preceded by trucking recessions.

Politics & Policy

More Public-Transit Failure in D.C.

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Commuters at a Metro subway system station in Washington, D.C., in 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Sometimes government incompetence, while expected, still manages to astonish.

The WMATA, which attempts to operate the Washington, D.C., subway system (crediting it with actually operating the system would be too generous), is struggling to provide a sufficient number of train operators to drive a fleet that’s already missing 60 percent of its trains and serving only about 30 percent of the riders it served as recently as three years ago.

First came the revelation that nearly half of its train operators had lapsed safety certifications and were no longer allowed to operate trains. The WMATA thinks it will take two to three months to recertify the roughly 250 operators whose certifications have lapsed.

Now, we learn that the WMATA has been working operators up to 16 hours per day, possibly leading them to make major mistakes owing to fatigue. Jordan Pascale of DCist reports:

On Jan. 7, a train operator overran the Yellow Line platform at Fort Totten before opening the doors on the wrong side of the train for more than 90 seconds, according to a WMSC Commissioner brief. The operator didn’t report any of this to the Rail Operations Control Center and didn’t perform a mandated walk-around check after the incident. The operator was eventually removed from service at Gallery Place, the report states.

Seems pretty bad. Pascale continues:

Officials found the operator had been working long days: more than 15 hours on Jan. 3 and 16 hours on Jan. 6 — the day before the incident — putting them at increased risk for fatigue. The operator had just 6.5 hours before the next shift, which is less than WMATA’s policy of 7 to 9 hours of sleep between shifts. The operator reported feeling fully alert at the time of the incident and did not report experiencing any symptoms of fatigue.

Whether fatigue was a factor is beside the point. The larger issue is this: The WMATA has repeatedly, over decades now, demonstrated an inability to maintain its own safety standards, and its negligence puts riders at risk. This operator, by the WMATA’s own policies, should not have been operating that train.

On top of that, the train should not have an operator in it at all in the year of our Lord, 2022. The subway system was designed for fully automatic operation in the 1970s, and instead of progressing toward that technological goal (which is completely achievable, as other transit systems around the world demonstrate), the system has regressed to fully manual operation by unionized public-sector employees who can’t even maintain their safety certifications.

And all of this is happening to an agency that was bailed out with federal money three times over the past two years and still does not believe it will be anywhere near financially solvent without further infusions of taxpayer money going forward.

It should not be a mystery to anyone why more Americans don’t ride public transit. It’s run by incompetent government officials who are incapable of providing high-quality (or even adequate) service. Buying a car to avoid dependence on it is the reasonable thing to do.

U.S.

Exploiting the Tragedy

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Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke (at right) disrupts a press conference held by Governor Greg Abbott the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022. (Veronica G. Cardenas/Reuters)

It takes an impressive level of narcissism to make something as tragic as a school shooting all about you.

As part of his duties as governor of Texas, Greg Abbott held a press conference immediately after the atrocity on Tuesday at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. It was a solemn moment for the state and the nation — a moment to put aside political differences, clearly establish the facts, and spare a thought for the victims’ families.

“All Texans must come together and support the families who have been affected by this horrific tragedy,” Abbot said.

But Beto O’Rourke, Texas’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, couldn’t pass up the chance to score a point against his Republican rival. He made his way to the front (of course) and instigated a loud confrontation with Abbott on gun control.

There was no reason, other than a self-serving publicity stunt, for O’Rourke to pick that moment to make that point. In doing so, he succeeded in making himself the story.

Meghan Markle also couldn’t resist the opportunity. Accompanied by her famous bodyguard (who used to work for Michael Jackson), she visited the memorial to the victims at Robb Elementary School, gazed at the crosses, laid a bouquet of white roses, and just happened to be caught doing so on camera.

Politics & Policy

Abbott, Noem, Cruz, Robinson and Trump Remain as NRA Speakers

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Then-President Donald Trump addresses the annual NRA convention in Indianapolis, Ind., U.S., April 26, 2019. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

As of this morning, the elected officials who are confirmed speakers for tomorrow’s National Rifle Association Leadership Forum include Texas governor Greg Abbott, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, Texas senator Ted Cruz, and North Carolina lieutenant governor Mark Robinson. President Trump who is scheduled to speak last, for about an hour.

In addition, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, NRA Institute for Legislative Action executive director Jason Ouimet, and other NRA officials will address the attendees.

Politics & Policy

Virginia Looking Smarter Than New York on Stadium Subsidies

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RICHMOND, VA – FEBRUARY 20: Virginia state Senator Chap Petersen participates in legislative session at the statehouse, Richmond, Va., February, 20, 2019. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Virginia state senator Chap Petersen (D) has withdrawn his support for a bill that would have provided hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies for a new stadium for the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Petersen was one of the most important senators who supported the subsidies before he withdrew his support yesterday. His statement announcing his opposition was scathing. Petersen said:

I don’t have confidence in The Washington Commanders as a viable NFL franchise. . . . I grew up a Washington Redskins fan and was a season ticket holder for 22 years. That team defined our community for multiple generations. The Washington Commanders are not that team. They have no history, no tradition and no fan base. I do not consider them an appropriate economic partner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, because I don’t think they have the community support to survive.

Stadium subsidies are always tempting to politicians. Republican governor Glenn Youngkin supports subsidies to move the Commanders to Virginia (probably the biggest mistake of his tenure so far). Petersen is wise to oppose the subsidies, and his opposition could end up killing the proposal. The Times-Dispatch says, “If the project fails, or doesn’t come up for a vote, the team that was once expecting a bidding war between three localities (D.C., Maryland and Virginia) is instead looking at receiving no direct public support from any of the three in its quest for a new stadium.”

That would be great news because the Commanders are completely undeserving of taxpayer dollars. Petersen’s statement likely refers to the team’s numerous ongoing scandals. The Commanders franchise is currently under congressional investigation for claims of sexual harassment within the organization and financial improprieties. The NFL began an independent investigation into the franchise in February as well. The team hasn’t performed well on the field, either, having not won a playoff game since 2005.

The Commanders (formerly the Redskins) currently play at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The team proposed a new stadium complex to be built in Woodbridge, Va., which is over 45 minutes away from Washington, D.C., on the highly congested I-95 corridor. The total project would cost $3 billion. The legislature had originally proposed $1 billion in public support for the project but narrowed it to $350 million in the most recent proposal.

That’s still $350 million too much. Stadium subsidies consistently fail to deliver the economic benefits they promise. If the Commanders want a new stadium, they can pay for it themselves. And it looks the the legislature may tell them exactly that.

The same can’t be said for New York, which is poised to give the Buffalo Bills the largest stadium subsidy in American history. As NR’s editorial pointed out last month, the subsidy is so bad that even Andrew Cuomo wrote in opposition to it.

Let’s hope Youngkin realizes his mistake. One of the reasons for his political success is rejecting the model of blue-state governance that has been perfected by New York. Blowing taxpayer money is something we expect from New York Democrats. Don’t follow their lead, Virginia.

Law & the Courts

Common Criticism

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As Ed Whelan notes, one of the dumbest lines of criticism of Justice Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs is that he cites Sir Matthew Hale on the common law’s treatment of abortion even though Hale held various opinions now widely understood to be terrible. (Whelan further notes that Justices Breyer and Kagan have cited Hale too.) Relatedly, critics have asked why we should care what these ancient figures, with their unfamiliar diction, thought about abortion.

You know who else talked a lot about the common-law writers on abortion? Justice Harry Blackmun in Roe v. Wade, that’s who. Alito could not explain his vote to overturn Roe without explaining what Blackmun got wrong — which, on the common law, was a lot.

If you’d like to see someone thoughtfully and persuasively address the best criticisms of Alito’s opinion, on the other hand, check out this (long but very good) post by Sherif Girgis.

Politics & Policy

Poll: Democrats View Palestine More Favorably Than Israel

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A new report published by Pew today finds that Democrats now view both the Palestinian people and the Palestinian government more favorably than their Israeli counterparts. Democrats and Democrat-leaning respondents gave the Palestinian people a net favorability of 64, and the Palestinian government a net favorability of 37. Alternatively, they gave the Israeli people a net favorability of 60, and the Israeli government a net favorability of 34.

There are wide partisan and generational gaps here: In contrast to Democrats, Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents gave Israeli people a net favorability of 78 over a net favorability of just 37 for the Palestinian people. They gave the Israeli government a net favorability of 66, versus just 18 for the Palestinian one. Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 gave the Israeli people a net favorability of 56, and the Palestinians a net favorability of 61, viewing the Israeli government favorably by a margin of 48, and the Palestinian government by a margin of 28. Americans over the age of 65 viewed the Israeli people favorably by a margin of 78, versus a margin of 47 for the Palestinians, and gave the Israeli government a net favorability of 64, versus just 24 for the Palestinian government.

Notably, young Americans seem to be moving against Israel — and toward Palestine:

An unsurprising development, given the atmosphere on American college campuses.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Stakeholder Capitalism and EVs

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David Bahnsen writes about the death of stakeholder capitalism:

National Review’s Capital Matters has been a leader in critiquing the so-called “stakeholder capitalism” movement. I have lectured on the topic extensively myself. My agenda here is less to reaffirm the self-defeating folly of this movement and more to demonstrate how the failures of these companies illustrate the fact that everyone agrees the movement has failed. There are varying degrees of self-awareness and consistency, but the societal response to each of these three debacles indicates the same thing: Stakeholder capitalism is a fraud. And a significant part of current market challenges comes down to the need to relearn the lessons that basically were forgotten in the insanity that these three drama series capture.

Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation writes about New Mexico’s new “clean car standards” and how other states may adopt similar measures:

Tripling sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in two years in New Mexico means dealerships will cross-subsidize EVs by raising prices on gasoline vehicles, or they will look to the state to further subsidize sales of EVs. This could make gasoline vehicles purchased in states following California more expensive, leading to more car buyers looking out of state. That would result in lost jobs, and tax revenues leaving those states. That situation will get far worse if California adopts the even more aggressive rules now under consideration.

There is nothing inherently wrong with EVs, but there are numerous public-policy implications in their mass deployment, especially if the tool is to simply mandate their sale at the state level.

And there’s a new episode of the Capital Record podcast, with guest Louis Gave of Gavekal Research talking about crypto and financial markets. Listen here, or wherever you get podcasts.

Law & the Courts

Revisiting Bakke

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Students and pedestrians walk through the Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., March 10, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Adam Liptak, writing in the New York Times, notes Jonathan Mitchell’s brief urging the Supreme Court to start applying the clear terms of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to colleges — which would entail getting rid of admissions practices that discriminate on the basis of race. It closes by citing a counterargument from Harvard’s lawyers: The Court decided not to apply those terms back in 1978 (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke), and Congress has not chosen to pass a statute clearly outlawing such admissions practices.

Except it did, back in 1964. It’s hard to imagine new language Congress could pass reiterating its point that a Supreme Court majority could not work its way around in the same way the controlling opinion in Bakke did. And anyway, this argument against reconsidering mistaken decisions about statutes — while very influential on the courts, including on conservative justices — should itself be reconsidered. It amounts to treating congressional failure to undo the effects of such decisions as acquiescence to them.

What that treatment ignores is that our constitution, by design, creates a bias against congressional action. We cannot infer from the fact that Congress has not mustered a majority in each chamber to reverse a particular policy and then gotten a president to agree that any Congress and president would have imposed that policy in the first place. I’m inclined to think the Court should not invest deep significance in congressional inaction when it is the system’s strong default, especially as an excuse to stick with its own mistake.

World

Contrasting Campus Challenges: Terrorism versus Gym Privacy

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Israeli soldiers work near the scene of a fatal shooting attack near a bar in Tel Aviv, Israel April 7, 2022. (Moti Milrod /Reuters)

“I think every Israeli is post-traumatic in some way. We are all impact-ready,” said Nadav Heipert about the effect of the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 7 that killed three people. Two of them were students at Tel Aviv University (TAU), where Heipart is also enrolled. This was one of a series of attacks that have killed 19 Israelis since March 22 in what Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has referred to as a “new wave of terror” facing Israel.

As an American student studying at TAU this past semester during this increase in terrorism, I was struck by the difference in the mettle of Israeli college students compared with their American counterparts. Some of my fellow students shared stories of coddled undergrads at their colleges back in the U.S. that highlighted the distinction.

Just a few weeks before the terrorism in Israel began, for example, students at Amherst College in Massachusetts objected to working out in the campus fitness center alongside the school’s athletes. Why? Because it made them feel uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, the Amherst administration catered to these students’ feelings of discomfort, announcing that the school would put exercise equipment in the Nicholls Biondi studio to accommodate “students who need or prefer greater privacy than the Wolff Fitness Center affords.” However, this move has caused further controversy, as this particular studio is frequently used by the campuses major dance clubs. So the move has been put on hold.

Things can be quite different in Israel. That could be, in part, because Israeli college students are older on average than American college students, which may account for their greater maturity. Kristina Reznikov, a TAU student studying biology, said, “I think that we mature quite fast because of the terrorism and because at the age of 18 we go to the army and deal with it. It’s not something you see in other countries.” There is a mandatory minimum 24 months of service in the Israel Defense Forces for women after high school and 32 months of service for men. (Some Israelis are exempt from serving.) After that, many Israeli young adults attend college or university for three or four years, depending upon the field of study.

At the same time, Israeli universities are not immune from the woke ideology that has become firmly entrenched in American campuses. TAU is openly one of the most liberal universities in Israel. In 2021, it formed an Equality and Diversity Commission, demonstrating that even an Israeli university can get sucked into pursuing the diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda. Yet this push toward wokeism does not seem homegrown; rather, it appears to be directly adopted from U.S. universities. Furthermore, given Israel’s “anti-P.C.” culture, it is unlikely that this recent leftward lurch will gain traction among Israeli students. After all, they have far bigger issues to deal with.

Reznikov said that, immediately following the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, which took place at a bar on Dizengoff Street (a popular thoroughfare for young people), she was reluctant to go out for two weeks. But three weeks after the attack, it seemed to me like things were back to normal in Tel Aviv.

As we were tragically reminded this week, students in this country are forced to reckon with the reality of threats and danger in their lives as well. But American college students are increasingly inclined to treat minor perceived slights or obstacles as traumatic or potentially traumatic incidents. They could use some perspective.

Education

‘How Institutions Crumble’

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Northwestern law professor John McGinnis has written an excellent essay by that title for Law & Liberty.

He begins with the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion in Dobbs and extends his analysis to the crumbling of other institutions, such as limited government under the Constitution and the way our universities are abandoning academic traditions in favor of the “progressive” agenda.

Can anything be done? McGinnis suggests that better education would help, writing, “Civic education in schools is also key. One problem on both sides of the political spectrum is that American history is often presented as a story of heroes, even if the constellation of heroes differs depending on political viewpoint. What is needed, however, is a greater focus on institutions and on the social norms that make for a democratic republic. That focus also has the virtues of getting students to think more abstractly — beyond the causes they espouse or politicians they like.”

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

After Today, the House and Senate Adjourn for Recess Until June 6

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House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) at the U.S. Capitol on July 28, 2021 (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

The U.S. Senate is set to adjourn Thursday afternoon for a 10-day recess, or as lawmakers prefer to call it, a “district work period.”

Nobody is making Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer do this.

As of this writing, after today, the U.S. House of Representatives adjourns until June 7. No one made Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Majority Leader Steny Hoyer do that, either.

Since the horror of the Uvalde elementary school massacre, you’ve heard a lot of rhetoric from gun control advocates along the lines of “the time to act is now,” and “we can’t afford to wait another day, our children are dying,” and things like that. But Schumer concluded that holding a vote on legislation would be pointless because it would be unlikely to pass, and declared Wednesday, “Americans can cast their vote in November for senators or members of Congress that reflect how he or she stands with guns.” That suggests he doesn’t foresee the Senate voting on gun control legislation at all before Election Day.

And so, members of Congress will be back in their districts and states next week, instead of debating or voting on any legislation.

Gun control activists often complain that lawmakers squander momentum and public attention in the aftermath of horrifying mass shootings. This would appear to be a classic example of that phenomenon, but in the end, those activists have no one to blame but the Democratic elected officials. The GOP does not have a secret mind control ray that influences Schumer, Pelosi, and the rest. Democratic congressional leaders choose this path.

And while gun control activists repeatedly insist that public opinion is overwhelmingly on their side, one can’t help but wonder if swing-district and purple state Democrats aren’t quite so eager to vote on gun control legislation.

Politics & Policy

Our Dead-End Gun-Control Debate

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At Bloomberg Opinion, I run through three lessons that we need to absorb if we want to reduce gun violence.

First: The mainstream gun control agenda of the last 30 years would have negligible effects even if enacted. When the Justice Department looked at the assault-weapons ban in effect from 1995 to 2004, it concluded that a renewal’s “effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” A 2020 review of the research on assault-weapons bans by the Rand Corporation found that even the effects on mass shootings were “inconclusive.” Expanding background checks would achieve little, either: Most mass shooters have already passed them.

You may also find interesting an article I wrote a few years ago in NR, about the curious parallels in our national arguments about gun control and abortion.

Education

San Francisco Schools Abolish the Word ‘Chief’ Because of Course They Did

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Apparently, February’s recall of school-board members in San Francisco did not cure the city’s public-school system of its preference for cultural leftism over such trivia as teaching children. You can’t make this stuff up: The San Francisco Unified School District is dropping the word “chief” from job titles (“chief technology officer,” “chief of staff,” etc.) for its 10,000-strong workforce because — you guessed it — the word is associated with Native Americans. According to spokesperson Gentle Blythe, “While there are many opinions on the matter, our leadership team agreed that, given that Native American members of our community have expressed concerns over the use of the title, we are no longer going to use it.” No substitute has been agreed upon, which suggests how much thought was put into the decision. Not only is this cultural erasure of Native Americans in the service of supposedly removing a source of offense, it is also a symptom of the educational illiteracy of our educators. As Chris Pandolfo at the Blaze notes, “The word ‘chief’ does not have Native American roots. It is an English word borrowed from an Old French word (chef) meaning ‘leader,’ derived from the Latin ‘capus,’ which means captain or chieftain.”

Just wait until they ban books by Laurence Tribe.

Politics & Policy

Progressive Activists: Why Can’t a City Just Declare the NRA Convention Is a Terrorist Meeting?

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Gun enthusiasts inspect FN Herstal handguns at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Texas, May 5, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The progressive activists in Houston who plan to boycott this week’s NRA convention are having another normal day, judging from this morning’s Houston Chronicle:

[Ashton] Woods, of Black Lives Matter Houston, said that he is coordinating with the [Discovery Green] Conservancy for Friday’s protest, which the Conservancy confirmed, and does not anticipate any issues.

“We’re not there to incite anything, we’re just there to make the (NRA) uncomfortable and run them out of Houston.”

…On Thursday, a protest led by the John Cornyn Houston Office Protest group is planned for 3:30 at City Hall to demand that Mayor Sylvester Turner cancel the NRA Convention.

“If the city can determine that protests are illegal gatherings and disperse them, then why can’t it declare an NRA convention with Trump and Cruz a center of insurrection and domestic terrorism?” said Neil Aquino, an organizer of the protest.

“I don’t understand how domestic terrorist and insurrectionists preaching replacement theory get use of the convention center in the most diverse city in America,” Aquino said.

As laid out in today’s Morning Jolt, big city mayors rarely cancel an event that brings in tens of millions of dollars at the last minute, just to placate progressive activists.

However, this morning mayor Turner did urge the NRA to postpone the convention: “What I would say to the NRA, even though the city cannot cancel a contract because we don’t agree with their position on guns, the NRA can postpone it a week or two to allow the families to bury their children.”

The NRA stated the convention will be held as planned. “Although an investigation is underway and facts are still emerging, we recognize this was the act of a lone, deranged criminal. As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”

Politics & Policy

Statistics Matter in Statistical Disputes

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Rep. Eric Swalwell (D., Calif.) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of H.R. 7120 the Justice in Policing Act on Capitol Hill, June 17, 2020. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

Addressing the atrocity in Uvalde, Dan writes that

numbers aren’t everything, but they should inform our sense of proportion in nationwide policy-making. Some perspective on the size of the problem and the direction of the trend is always important. The Associated Press counts 169 deaths in 23 years. That’s a lot in absolute terms, especially when we’re discussing innocent schoolchildren. But it is also seven deaths per year, compared with 43 per year by lightning, 300 per year by toasters, 800 per year by bedsheets, and of course, over 800,000 per year by abortion.

As Dan implies, these numbers can sound callous. But now that figures such as Representative Eric Swalwell have begun making contrary claims on TV, they are important to note nevertheless. “Look at the statistics!” is an ugly and non-responsive thing to say to a grieving parent, but it is an entirely necessary thing to say to someone who is making a hard claim about generalized risk, as Swalwell most certainly is.

On MSNBC yesterday, Swalwell claimed that “it’s a lie to tell our children that they are safe at school.” But it’s not. It’s a lie to tell them otherwise. Government data show that around 54 million American children currently attend school (public and private), and that somewhere between 3.4 million and 4.6 million children enter those schools each year. If we use 4 million as a rough guide for the latter number, by my back-of-the-envelope math, this means that, over the last 23 years, 146 million children have been enrolled in America’s 131,000 schools at some point. That 110 people in K-12 schools (including teachers and other staff, but not including people at colleges, which the AP’s number does) have been murdered in that period is utterly appalling. But it does not indicate that our schools are “unsafe.” It indicates that we have an extremely specific problem with extremely rare attacks. In no other circumstance would we conclude that a risk factor of just over one in 1.3 million makes one “unsafe.”

I will readily admit that, being human, I often fall victim to exactly the same instincts as Swalwell. When the news broke on Tuesday, I immediately worried about my own children, and I immediately adopted a view of American schools that was both entirely emotionally understandable and entirely statistically illiterate. As an adult, it was my duty to get those feelings under control, to put this issue in its correct context, and then to think seriously about what we should do next. It was not my duty to indulge my fear, to cynically tie it to my pre-existing political preferences, and to tell millions of other scared, hurting, frustrated parents that their children were statistically unsafe. Eric Swalwell is a U.S. representative. That he failed this test is a shame.

The Economy

Home Sales Fall

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A for-sale sign hangs in front of a house in Oakton, Va., in 2014. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Writing on Capital Matters a day or so ago, Kevin Hassett took a look at where the housing market was going.

In the course of his article, he noted that

The Fed’s actions are harming the housing market. Take, for example, the 30-year FHA mortgage rate, which was about 4 percent at the beginning of March, but is at almost 6 percent today. In 2020, that same rate was about 3 percent. The interest-rate jump, plus the increase in prices, has reduced housing affordability, and the carnage is beginning to be visible in market activity. For example, the National Association of Homebuilders conducts a sentiment survey of its members. It had steadily declined over the past five months, and then it plummeted in May. New home sales were down 8.5 percent in March, and are likely down much more in April and May.

If you are a home builder or home buyer, these numbers are terrifying.

And down the April numbers have gone.

Axios:

New home sales plunged in April, falling 16.6% from March, to 591,000, well below economists’ forecast of 750,000, according to data out Tuesday. It’s the slowest pace since April 2020 — when the economy froze for a minute before the boom began.

Existing home sales — perhaps a better measure of the U.S. market because it’s a much larger segment — are also trending down, falling for three straight months, according to the National Association of Realtors.

In the course of his article, however, Kevin made the argument that, for homeowners, the fundamentals were not so frightening:

Historically, one of the biggest threats to the value of existing homes is a surge in new construction. When construction booms, the supply of homes skyrockets, and prices of new and old homes fall to clear the market. Because of Covid, there has not been anything like the kind of construction boom that presages a collapse in prices. In 2008, for example, housing inventories climbed so much that there was a twelve months’ supply of homes on the market. Today, the supply of homes would be fully exhausted by six months of sales.

Back in 2008, housing prices did drop sharply to clear the market of all of that excess inventory.

Axios’s Matt Phillips noted that “the inventory of unsold newly built homes jumped sharply in April, up 8%, the largest monthly increase in 13 years. . . . Inventories are up 40% from the previous year.

But:

New home sales are actually a pretty small part of the overall U.S. housing market, compared to existing homes. And, at least through April, inventories of existing homes were still some of the lowest on record.

My best guess? While some of the froth may come off the market (prices are still at record highs), especially as the pandemic-linked mania wanes, a crash seems unlikely for now.

One sentence to remember (in particular) from Kevin’s article:

Stagflation is a strange thing in the housing market. The low growth wants to push the price down, but the inflation wants to push it up.

And stagflation is looking, I reckon, like an increasingly likely prospect.

White House

Harvard Poll Shows Majorities Believe Biden Is Too Old and Not ‘Mentally Fit’

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President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Harvard-Harris finds that 47 percent of Americans believe that Joe Biden is “mentally fit to serve as President of the United States,” with 53 percent having “doubts about his fitness for office.” Among independents, those numbers are 39-61. It also finds that 62 percent of Americans believe that Joe Biden is “showing he is too old to be President,” with 38 percent believing otherwise. Among independents, those numbers are 72-28.

This is the sort of problem from which a president cannot recover. The economy can change. Foreign policy can shift. Perceptions of the opposing party can deteriorate. But once people think you’re old and mentally unfit, you’re toast.

Politics & Policy

Jimmy Carter Argues King Cove Residents’ Safety Less Important Than Animal Sanctuary

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Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter gives a speech in Jerusalem, Israel on April 21, 2008. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

I thought this issue was settled, but apparently not.

King Cove is a remote town in Alaska with an airport that can only handle flight in good weather. This means that when people become seriously ill and need hospitalization, they may not be able to access life-saving help.

A simple solution was proposed that can save lives and not materially impact the environment. About 20 miles away, there is an all-weather airport from which sick people from King Cove could be flown for medical help if they could only get there. But that would require cutting a gravel road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which consists of 300,000 acres.

So, the people of King Cove asked for permission to build the road which could be used for such evacuations. They even offered a land exchange to minimize any overall environmental damage.

The Obama administration said no, because “the animals” were more important than the people. The Trump administration reversed course, and the deal was struck. The inevitable lawsuit was filed, and the people of King Cove — who are mostly Native Alaskans — won. And surprise of surprises, the Biden administration has continued to defend the case in court.

Now, there’s an attempt to have an en banc panel rehear the appeal, and Jimmy Carter has filed an amicus brief against the people of King Cove in support of that effort. From the DNYUZ story:

In a rare legal filing by a former president, Mr. Carter this month supported an appeal by conservation groups to have a larger panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rehear the case. He wrote that the earlier ruling by a three-judge panel “is not only deeply mistaken, it’s dangerous.” The panel voted, 2-1, to uphold the land deal, with two Trump-appointed judges in favor.

Dangerous is having a burst appendix during a winter storm and being unable to get to a hospital!

I try to like Jimmy Carter. I really do. I think he is a very well-intentioned man. He has done excellent work post-presidency, particularly on fighting Guinea worm disease in Africa.

But this intervention shows that he is profoundly lacking in wisdom. A one-lane road is not going to harm a 300,000-acre refuge. Let’s hope further proceedings are denied and that road finally gets built.

Politics & Policy

On School Shootings and Other Mass Shootings

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Law enforcement personnel work at the scene of a mass shooting in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022. (Nuri Vallbona/Reuters)

The mass-shootings debate has become a depressingly common feature of our politics. Scarcely anything needs to be said that hasn’t already been said. Sometimes, it’s a debate about politically motivated shootings. But in many cases, it’s just some form of alienated or disgruntled loner acting out. What have we learned?

One, there are three different angles to a school shooting: the shooter, the weapon, and the target. Potential solutions should look at all three angles, especially because no solution is likely to be 100 percent effective, at least not unless we adopt massively draconian and disproportionate restrictions on a free society, its gun owners and sellers, its teachers, its schoolchildren, and/or its police. As I have discussed at length before, there are some partial solutions to be found in “arm the teachers” and other methods of hardening the target of schools, but conservatives who focus only on the target are making the same mistake as progressives who focus only on the weapon. There may be more targeted ways to tie weapons-related solutions to shooter-related solutions. But fundamentally, the source is the shooters: typically alienated young men, often fatherless, sometimes with substance issues, often with a very long trail of obvious red flags. The media should also refrain from using the shooters’ names, and consider other ways of starving them of the publicity they obviously crave.

Two, as with any real problem, there are costs to every possible solution: “Human beings are the real weapons of mass destruction, and the tools they choose are not the causes of violence. If we want to weed out people who might commit violent acts in the future, we need to scale back due process protections and incarcerate more people on less evidence. Although that too is a trade-off many of us would find it hard to make, we could plausibly target privacy laws that make it difficult to compile records on people with a history of threatening behavior . . . There are only easy answers if you are willing to sacrifice rights you don’t care about, and that other people do.”

Three, laws only matter if they are enforced, and enforcing them means cops. Conservatives and Republicans have long supported aggressive and uniform enforcement of laws against gun crime and illegal guns. A “war on guns” conducted with more seriousness, however, would look like the War on Drugs on steroids. Moreover, if the Left mistrusts cops, the Right mistrusts bureaucrats who would doubtless use civil enforcement powers against political enemies (how quickly would we get, say, demands to take away Tucker Carlson’s guns, or those of peaceful January 6 protestors?).

Four, numbers aren’t everything, but they should inform our sense of proportion in nationwide policy-making. Some perspective on the size of the problem and the direction of the trend is always important. The Associated Press counts 169 deaths in 23 years. That’s a lot in absolute terms, especially when we’re discussing innocent schoolchildren. But it is also seven deaths per year, compared with 43 per year by lightning, 300 per year by toasters, 800 per year by bedsheets, and of course, over 800,000 per year by abortion. We can also compare the number with problems such as Central and South American gangs that liberals and progressives commonly dismiss as insignificant threats. Moreover, when last I looked at this in 2018, there were reasons to doubt that schools were actually less safe or that school shootings were actually more common. But if they have become more common, they have done so long after guns were readily available and prevalent in American society — which suggests, once again, that the problem is not in our guns, but in ourselves.

Law & the Courts

On Norman Ornstein’s Ludicrous Conspiracy Theory

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in 2010. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

AEI’s Norman Ornstein is peddling a conspiracy theory:

This is preposterous, illiterate nonsense. I’ve addressed why it’s preposterous, illiterate nonsense before at some length, but to that submission I’ll simply add that, in order to believe what Ornstein is selling, you have to believe that Justice Scalia was a time traveler.

45 of our 50 states have their own right to keep and bear arms, and the first among them — Pennsylvania — added its provision eleven years before the federal Constitution was even written. If the idea that American individuals have an inherent right to bear arms was invented by the Supreme Court in 2008, it seems somewhat unlikely that Pennsylvania would have declared that “the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state” in 1776.

Likewise (to pick a few at random), it seems unlikely that Connecticut would have declared that “every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state” in 1818; or that Colorado would have declared that “the right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question” in 1876 (or done so in a different section than the one that deals with its militia); or that, when granted statehood in 1959, Alaska would have copied the Second Amendment verbatim into its state constitution. (Perhaps we are supposed to believe that it thought that, as the newest star on the flag, it would be put in charge of the National Guard?)

From America’s earliest days, the assumption has been that the people would be armed, and that, if it came to it, they would be called to help the government out in a crisis. If this idea confuses you, I’d recommend reading Sanford Levinson’s terrific summary, The Embarrassing Second Amendment, which explains perfectly the “blending of individualist and collective accounts of the right to bear arms.” As Levinson correctly contends, a correct understanding of 18th century

republicanism might push us in unexpected, even embarrassing, directions; just as ordinary citizens should participate actively in governmental decision-making, through offering their own deliberative insights, rather than be confined to casting ballots once every two or four years for those very few individuals who will actually make the decisions, so should ordinary citizens participate in the process of law enforcement and defense of liberty rather than rely on professionalized peacekeepers, whether we call them standing armies or police.

One could just about imagine some red states electing to add their own Second Amendment equivalents after Scalia’s supposed contrivance. But 232 years before, and in 90 percent of cases thereafter? I rather think not.

Media

‘Technicalities’

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A customer holds an AR-15 rifle at a gun store in Provo, Utah, in 2016. (George Grey/Reuters)

My issue with Professor Saul Cornell and his made-up firearms “facts” is not a matter of terminology or technicality — I don’t give a hoot whether you know the difference between a “clip” and a “magazine” or anything like that.

But if you are going to — listen, now, kids — advocate public policies based on the particular characteristics of particular firearms, then you have an intellectual and moral responsibility to be honest about those characteristics and not misrepresent them, rather than do as Professor Cornell has done and simply invent some scientific-sounding fiction to bolster your weak rhetorical case. If you are going to say, “We should ban this rifle because of x,” then x had better be true.

Unfortunately, in nine cases out of ten, it isn’t.

Guns make people emotional. Consider a parallel case:

I do not know very much about U.S. food-regulation practices. But if there were an outbreak of, say, scombrotoxin cases from bad seafood and I wrote, “We should really regulate seafood more rigorously, particularly tuna, since tuna is 6,000 times more likely to give you food poisoning than salmon is,” you might ask: “Really? Where did you learn that?” And if I pointed to a famous study of the horsemeat trade in 19th-century Paris and told you I had “extrapolated” my tuna claim from those numbers, you would very understandably think me either a fraud or insane. But we accept that kind of thing — and not only from such dishonest figures as Professor Cornell — on firearms, because the cultural resonance of the issue gives people permission and incentive to suspend their critical-thinking faculties.

Again, I don’t think this has to be an issue of technicalities — but if you are going to make it a matter of technical questions, then you should do us all the favor of learning something about your subject matter before writing on it in a national media platform.

Academic life is not my area, but I was a newspaper editor for a long time, and I wish that journalists and editors would have some respect for the job. If you are going to lie to the public when it suits you politically, then don’t complain when people say the media lie to the public and dismiss you when you are telling the truth — Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.

Do your goddamned jobs. It would be refreshing to see you try.

History

Right Men, Wrong Decade

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Over at the New Criterion, Glenn Ellmers has written a review of Matthew Continetti’s book The Right, which seems mainly a review of Continetti and the book’s introduction and an argument that someone with Continetti’s background is not the right person to have written the book. I was puzzled by this critique of Continetti’s treatment of the 1920s, where he begins his narrative: “Several major conservative statesmen and writers from that era are either passed over quickly (William Howard Taft) or ignored entirely (Henry Cabot Lodge, Elihu Root).” Taft, however, left office in 1912, and his political career was very much a part of the Progressive Era; he spent the 1920s on the Supreme Court, happily leaving politics behind. Root, Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of state, left public office in 1915, and was 75 years old in 1920; while he remained an eminence grise involved alongside Lodge in various peace initiatives, it is difficult to rank him among the leading statesmen of 1920s America. Lodge died in 1924. All three men were central figures of the previous decade, with Root and Lodge being critical to the resistance to Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations–centered vision of foreign policy, but Ellmers seems to be grasping at straws in placing them as central players in the post-Wilson world of “normalcy.” One wonders why he could find no examples further into the book than the first chapter.

Culture

Re: Distasteful Comedy

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In response to How to Handle Distasteful Comedy

I suppose we all have grown inured to this kind of nonsense, but Vivian Kane and the Mary Sue are lying about Ricky Gervais, calling his work “violent bigotry.” That which is violent entails violence. Ricky Gervais has neither engaged in violence himself (it is laughable to imagine it) nor encouraged violence on the part of others. We’re just become so used to seeing the word “violent” thrown around that we no longer take it seriously, apparently. The idea that speech is violence is a pernicious one that should be always and everywhere resisted.

White House

Polls: No Boost for Biden and Congressional Democrats after Dobbs Leak

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From a new piece on the homepage looking at the (likely) victory of Henry Cuellar, the only House Democrat who voted against his party’s federal abortion bill:

Since the Dobbs leak on May 2, there’s been little sign that abortion is changing the fundamentals of November’s midterm elections. On May 2, Republicans held a 2.4-point lead over Democrats in the FiveThirtyEight average of “generic congressional ballot” polls; today, more than three weeks after the leak, Republicans hold a 2.3-point lead. Over that same time period, President Biden’s job-approval rating has ticked down a point from 42.0 percent to 40.9 percent, and his disapproval rating has ticked up a couple of points, from 52.3 percent to 54.4 percent.

Media

They Just Can’t Stop Making Things Up

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Slate tweets:

Kevin Williamson and National Review would rather nitpick over the relative violence of weapons of war than actually acknowledge the mass murder of school children with such guns.

These rifles are not “weapons of war.” There isn’t a military in the world of which I am aware that uses a 5.56mm semiautomatic rifle (which is what we are talking about here) as its standard issue.

But I’m not a global-military expert, and I’ve checked only the top 20. If somebody knows of a country that issues these so-called weapons of war to the people who fight its wars, do let me know.

A serious question for gun-control advocates: Why is it that you cannot simply stick to the facts rather than exaggerate what is under discussion? Don’t you think that if you had the better argument you wouldn’t need to make things up?

Politics & Policy

Beto O’Rourke’s Grotesque PR Stunt

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Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke walks outside Uvalde High School the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Beto O’Rourke, erstwhile candidate for U.S. Senate and current candidate for Texas governor, interrupted Texas governor Greg Abbott’s press conference on yesterday’s school shooting in Uvalde. Brittany Bernstein reports:

Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running for governor in Texas, interrupted Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s press conference on the Uvalde school shooting on Wednesday, shouting, “This is on you!”

“The time to stop the next shooting is right now and you are doing nothing,” O’Rourke said as he approached the stage where Abbott and other state officials were seated. 

As Charlie Cooke notes, O’Rourke’s actual accusation against Abbott — “this is on you” — is incomprehensibly vague, just as a simple question of public policy. O’Rourke didn’t care to specify which of Abbott’s policies, exactly, were responsible for the tragedy. He just intoned, repeatedly: “You are doing nothing. You are offering up nothing.”

But on a more basic human level, it’s also just gross. O’Rourke was weaponizing an unspeakable tragedy for a cheap campaign PR move, a pre-planned publicity stunt meant to turn the attention to him. Gun-control advocates would likely retort that the issue is political, and that it’s necessary to point out the public-policy failures that caused the shooting in the first place. But that’s not what O’Rourke was saying — his accusation was that Abbott, by “doing nothing,” was directly responsible for the children’s deaths. That he didn’t care about dead kids. A grotesque remark to make at any juncture but particularly when the blood has barely even dried.

After police escorted O’Rourke out, Abbott said: “There are family members who are crying as we speak. Think about the people who are hurt and help those who are hurt.” O’Rourke probably didn’t hear him. And even if he did, he obviously wasn’t listening.

Media

No, Joe Scarborough, Nobody in Texas Has ‘Gutted’ the Gun Laws at Issue in Uvalde

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Texas governor Greg Abbott (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Joe Scarborough tweets:

This isn’t true. Texas has had the same laws governing the purchase of rifles for decades, and none of the people in that “picture” have “gutted” any of them. The 1968 Gun Control Act set the rifle-buying age at 18, and, since then, Texas has followed suit. As a matter of fact, the only changes made in this area since that point have been issued by the federal government, and those served to tighten, rather than to loosen, the rules. In 1993, Congress passed the NICS background-check system (which the shooter in Uvalde passed).

I understand that Joe Scarborough would like what happened to be Greg Abbott’s fault. But it really isn’t. Indeed, not a single law that Abbott has signed since he became governor even intersects with what happened yesterday. From start to finish, Texas’s laws would have treated this purchase in exactly the same way in 2012, 2002, 1992, 1982, and so on. One can certainly argue that this should change — although, as ever, one has an obligation to explain exactly how — but one should not blame politicians for phantom alterations that neither they, nor anyone else, have made.

Economy & Business

CBO Projects Largest Sustained Deficits Since ‘At Least 1930’

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(Michael Burrell/Getty Images)

The Congressional Budget Office is out with a fresh report projecting that deficits will remain at a sustained level not seen since “at least 1930” even after coming down from their Covid-era peak.

President Biden likes to claim that he brought down deficits, but what really happened is that during the Covid era, the federal government responded with $6 trillion in deficit spending, and those elevated spending levels are not being replicated every year. But even though the CBO does not expect deficits to reach the extraordinary $3 trillion level achieved during the pandemic, it expects them to exceed $1 trillion in every year but one (in 2023, the projection is just shy at $984 billion). Over the next decade, CBO expects deficits to average $1.6 trillion and approach $2.3 trillion annually by 2032.

CBO provides some historical perspective:

Deficits average 5.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over that period, and in 2032, the deficit equals 6.1 percent of GDP. By comparison, over the past 50 years, the annual deficit has averaged 3.5 percent of GDP. From 2025 through 2032, projected annual deficits exceed 4.5 percent of GDP. At no time since at least 1930 have deficits remained that large for longer than five years.

This doesn’t mean that there was a period of higher deficits before 1930, just that this is where comparable data become available.

In terms of the cumulative debt, CBO sees it hovering around 100 percent of GDP every year, and then eclipsing the World War II record by the end of the decade.

Culture

How to Handle Distasteful Comedy

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Writing for the feminist website The Mary Sue, Vivian Kane warns about Ricky Gervais’s Netflix special:

I don’t think anything can prepare you for the level of violent bigotry Gervais put out. After just a few minutes, he starts on a tirade about trans women and rape. There’s a deep obsession with trans people’s genitals and he deliberately misgenders his hypothetical trans villains throughout.

After adding an “extreme content warning,” Kane then goes on to quote from the special — not something she would typically do for such offensive comments, she notes, but something she decided was necessary because “it needs to be made clear that there’s no way to overstate just how awful this is.”

Why does it “need to be made clear”? What’s her point, exactly?

I hate to state the obvious but if you find something to be intolerably offensive, there’s nothing stopping you from switching it off.

Law & the Courts

Leak Investigation Not Leaking Much

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Pro-abortion demonstrators hold up photographs of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts during a protest in New York City, May 3, 2022. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Josh Gerstein, Alex Ward, and Kyle Cheney of Politico are in the unusual position of reporting on a whodunit investigation where they know who the culprit is, and the investigators don’t. They still managed to produce a nearly 1,200-word report that says remarkably little:

The Supreme Court marshal’s probe into the disclosure of a draft opinion on Roe v. Wade is fully in progress, multiple people familiar with the proceedings told POLITICO, carrying out Chief Justice John Roberts’ order to investigate the leak. But questions about the investigation’s scope and process — some emanating from inside the court, these people said — reveal internal frustrations that in recent days have burst out into the open. Roberts ordered the internal investigation three weeks ago. . . . It’s unclear if justices will allow their staff to be questioned by the team assembled by Marshal Gail Curley, or even be questioned themselves. Furthermore, the exact process or deadline for a completed review is still unknown.

What exactly is the news here? We know when Roberts ordered the investigation and that it is headed by the marshal, because he said so in a public statement. It is not surprising that, three weeks later, the investigation has started. Everything else here is speculation. (You can read my own rundowns here, here, and here.) The Associated Press has just slightly more success adding to the biographical picture of the marshal, Colonel Gail Curley:

Overseeing an investigation isn’t new to Curley. In her military career she routinely oversaw a dozen or more criminal and administrative investigations and supervised large numbers of attorneys and paralegals. . . . The investigations she oversaw throughout her career could range broadly, from criminal matters involving service members to contract issues.

It is, however, good news that the investigation is not itself leaking. What remains to be seen is whether the Court is willing and able to not just identify but publicly expose the culprit.

Politics & Policy

Beto’s Disgraceful Interruption Was a Wholly Empty Gesture

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Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke disrupts a press conference held by Governor Greg Abbott the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022. (Veronica G. Cardenas/Reuters)

This afternoon, Beto O’Rourke disgracefully interrupted a press conference about the shooting in Uvalde so that he could shout at Governor Greg Abbott:

O’Rourke told Abbott, “This is on you.”

I’d like to know what he meant by this. The only thing I can think of is that O’Rourke believes that Texas should have banned the AR-15 that the killer used in his spree. But, when asked about that very issue in February, O’Rourke made it clear that he opposed such a move. Here’s ABC:

Speaking to reporters, O’Rourke also took a question about his controversial stance on guns and remarks made in 2019 about taking away AR-15s and AK-47s.

“I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone. What I want to make sure that we do is defend the Second Amendment,” he said. “I want to make sure that we protect our fellow Texans far better than we’re doing right now. And that we listen to law enforcement, which Greg Abbott refused to do. He turned his back on them when he signed that permitless carry bill that endangers the lives of law enforcement in a state that’s seen more cops and sheriff’s deputies gunned down than in any other.”

Obviously, Texas’s permitless carry law has absolutely nothing to do with what happened in Uvalde. I’m sure that, before the day is out, the press will ask for a detailed explanation of what O’Rourke believes Abbott has done wrong.

Elections

Alabama GOP Senate Race Heads to Runoff after Katie Britt Bests Mo Brooks by 16 Points

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Katie Britt, an attorney and former chief of staff to retiring GOP senator Richard Shelby, won 45 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary in Alabama. She is now the favorite heading into the runoff election against GOP congressman Mo Brooks, who came in second with 29 percent of the vote. 

Donald Trump endorsed Brooks in 2021 but then un-endorsed him in March of this year, claiming that he had dumped Brooks because the congressman had gone “woke” about the 2020 election. But that claim was hard to believe given that Brooks had appeared at the January 6, 2021 “Save America” rally outside the White House, where he shouted: “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!”

Trump’s decision to kick Brooks to the curb just so happened to occur immediately after a poll showed the GOP congressman trailing both Britt and former Army pilot Mike Durant by double digits. Although Brooks was able to manage a second-place finish in the first round of voting, he’s going to have a very steep climb against Britt, who nearly won 50 percent on Tuesday.

Elections

Brian Kemp’s Master Class in Political Strategy

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Georgia Governor Brian Kemp makes remarks during a visit to Adventure Outdoors gun shop in Smyrna, Ga., January 5, 2022. (Alyssa Pointer/Reuters)

Alex Isenstadt has a piece for Politico that explains how Governor Brian Kemp was able to solidify support within the Republican Party of Georgia and cruise to victory over David Perdue in yesterday’s primary election. It’s a master class in political strategy:

Perdue’s political network began to fracture nine months before he even got into the race.

That’s when reports emerged that Kemp was considering tapping the former senator’s cousin and the Perdue family patriarch, former Georgia governor and Trump Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, to become chancellor of the Georgia state university system. The appointment was formalized this March.

But Sonny Perdue was only one of several top David Perdue allies whom Kemp put in positions of power, effectively breaking down the former senator’s political infrastructure. Shortly after the 2020 election, Kemp appointed Alec Poitevint, a longtime Perdue friend and former campaign chair, to the Georgia Ports Authority. (Poitevint would end up backing Kemp’s reelection effort.) That spring, Derrick Dickey, Perdue’s former chief of staff, was tapped to oversee a pro-Kemp outside group.

Fundraising, too:

Last June, Kemp phoned Steve Hufstetler, a Georgia real estate developer and major GOP contributor, and asked if the two could meet at Hufstetler’s office.

At first glance, Hufstetler was the type of donor who could conceivably fund a Perdue primary effort: He had given six figures to Trump’s reelection effort, had served on Perdue’s Senate campaign finance committee and had been concerned about Kemp’s handling of the 2020 election. After the election, he had conducted an informal survey of the Kemp supporters he knew and found they no longer backed the governor.

But Kemp worked to sway Hufstetler during the 90-minute meeting, delivering what the developer later recounted to POLITICO as a “lengthy and data-driven explanation” about why he did not intervene in the vote count. Hufstetler walked away convinced — and eventually donated more than $100,000 to back the governor.

The courtship illustrates how aggressively Kemp moved to deprive Perdue of money, effectively shutting down his fundraising reservoir. The results were devastating for the former senator, who was outraised more than 6 to 1. Perdue, who had raised more than $99 million for his nationally watched Senate campaign in 2019 and 2020, disclosed raising just $3.5 million for the governor’s race.

The Kemp team did everything well, from start to finish.

Read Isenstadt’s whole piece here.

Economy & Business

ESG, HSBC, and the Silencing of Stuart Kirk

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A branch of HSBC bank is seen in central London, August 3, 2009 (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

I’ll be writing myself about the treatment of Stuart Kirk, the HSBC banker currently being canceled for his views on climate change and financial risk (the latter is a topic, incidentally, that has been analyzed at some length, and for some time, by the economist John Cochrane, including for Capital Matters, here). It’s an important story, and this piece on it by Rupert Darwall for the New York Post is well worth a read.

As background:

Last Thursday, something extraordinary happened: A senior HSBC banker, Stuart Kirk, told the world that climate change, though real, is not something financial markets need worry about. “Unsubstantiated, shrill, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong,” one of Kirk’s presentation slides read.

The reaction was instantaneous. Christiana Figueres, former head of the United Nations climate secretariat, denounced Kirk’s remarks as “abhorrently outrageous,” words that might well describe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — but a banker’s presentation analyzing climate financial risk for what it is? . . .

Figueres demanded HSBC immediately cleanse itself of Kirk’s remarks and fire the climate heretic. “I do not agree — at all — with the remarks made at last week’s FT Moral Money Summit,” bank chief executive Noel Quinn duly declared, avoiding any mention of Kirk by name. “I am determined that our team won’t be distracted by last week’s comments.” On Monday, it emerged HSBC had suspended Kirk.

This (please see the passages I have emphasized) was something of a surprise:

As Stuart Kirk has discovered, telling the truth is much more dangerous than playing it safe by recycling routine falsehoods about climate risk and existential threats. Distorted, alarmist climate reporting is the norm — and getting worse. Three months ago, the Associated Press announced it was for hire with an $8 million, three-year deal with billionaire climate activists, including the Rockefeller Foundation, to fund 20 climate journalists.

Earlier this month, Reuters ran a story headlined “Tuvalu, sinking in the Pacific, fears becoming a superpower ‘pawn’” with a note saying, “Sponsored by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.” The ESG-oriented plan, a top institutional investor, declares, “We invest to shape a better future for the teachers we serve, the businesses we back and the world we live in.” In fact, Tuvalu is not sinking. Quite the reverse. A study using aerial photographs and satellite imagery found that between 1971 and 2014, Tuvalu had grown by 2.9%. [My emphasis.]

I certainly wouldn’t claim to be an expert on Tuvalu (more on Tuvalu here), but why is a pension fund sponsoring that report? Here (it seems), we see yet another example of ESG and/or stakeholder capitalism widening the gap between investment managers and the interests of the owners, actual or prospective, of the capital they are managing.

One very small bit of comfort for Mr. Kirk. If he is canceled (which he most certainly should not be) by HSBC, he will be in good company. After all, HSBC has done (and is doing) its bit to cancel a free Hong Kong too.

The BBC (from 2020):

HSBC and Standard Chartered have given their backing to China’s new security laws for Hong Kong.

Both banks made statements saying the proposed law can help maintain long-term stability in the troubled city.

Reuters (March 2022):

Influential U.S. lawmakers have demanded that one of the world’s biggest banks, HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L), explain its actions in freezing accounts of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, moves that could leave it liable to severe sanctions under U.S. law.

The bipartisan group of six senators and seven members of the House of Representatives from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, made the call in a letter sent on Monday to Noel Quinn, group chief executive of HSBC, which has its headquarters in London.

That’s the same Quinn now distancing himself from Kirk.

Politics & Policy

On Uvalde

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Rage is a perfectly healthy response to the news out of Texas that an 18-year-old murdered 19 children at an elementary school. I felt sick dropping off my children at school today. At the gut level, I understand why people want to turn their rage into corrective action. America truly is unique in these horrors at schools. Even countries with lots of gun crime (mostly in the Western Hemisphere), don’t have this problem of nihilistic mass killings. I suspect that if there is any policy to address this scourge, it would be right at the intersection of mental-health and firearms control. Our old friend David French advocates for “red flag” laws at The Dispatch.

Politics & Policy

Nothing Greg Abbott Has Done on Guns Relates to the Uvalde Atrocity

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas, Texas, May 4, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Yesterday evening, former Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor tweeted out a piece from NPR that, in Vietor’s description, contains “a quick list of all the ways TX Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Republicans loosened Texas’s gun control laws in 2021 alone.” Vietor’s implication is that the changes that Texas made last year had something to do with the massacre in Uvalde, and that Governor Abbott and the Texas legislature therefore share some of the blame. This is false. Indeed, nothing Texas did in 2021 (or before) intersects with this atrocity at all.

Here’s the list to which Vietor linked. I’ll take its items one by one:

House Bill 1927: Known as permitless or constitutional carry, it allows Texans to carry handguns in public without a license and the background check and training that a license requires.

This bill made Texas’s concealed-carry permitting system optional. But it did not change the eligibility rules, which, with a handful of exceptions, require carriers to be 21-years-old. The shooter was 18, and therefore ineligible. Irrespective, under both federal law and Texas state law, schools are “gun-free zones.” Per Tex. Educ. Code § 37.007(b)(3)(B), “a student may be expelled if, while within 300 feet of school property, the student possesses a firearm.”

House Bill 2622: Known as the “Second Amendment Sanctuary State Act,” it prohibits state agencies and local governments from enforcing new federal gun rules.

This is a fairly standard anti-commandeering provision that applies the logic of Printz v. United States, and it has nothing to do with this case.

House Bill 1500: Prevents government entities from banning the sale or transportation of firearms or ammunition during a declared disaster or emergency.

This law is entirely unrelated.

House Bill 957: Exempts firearm suppressors that are made and remain in Texas from federal laws and regulations.

This law asserts that certain federal gun regulations contained within the 1934 National Firearms Act do not apply to purely intrastate commerce. The shooter did not use a suppressor. It is entirely unrelated.

House Bill 1407: Allows license holders to carry visible, holstered handguns anywhere in a motor vehicle, rather than having to wear the handgun in a shoulder or belt holster.

This law is entirely unrelated. The shooter used a rifle.

House Bill 1387: Allows certain foster homes to store guns and ammunition together in the same locked location, rather than requiring the items to be stored separately.

This law is entirely unrelated.

House Bill 1069: Allows certain first responders to carry handguns.

This law is entirely unrelated to what happened — although, if anything, it would potentially have helped in a situation such as Uvalde.

House Bill 2112: Removes the requirement that handguns must be carried in a “shoulder or belt” holster, expanding what kinds of holsters are legal.

This law is entirely unrelated.

House Bill 103: Creates a statewide active shooter alert system.

This bill is related to what happened in Uvalde, and, clearly, it was designed to aid in situations such as Uvalde. It is not, as Vietor suggests, a “loosening” of “Texas’s gun control laws.”

House Bill 4346: Prohibits certain firearm restrictions on a property during the use of an easement.

This law is entirely unrelated.

House Bill 29: Allows state-owned public buildings to provide self-service weapon lockers.

This law is entirely unrelated.

House Bill 1920: Expands and clarifies what constitutes a secured area of an airport in relation to possessing a firearm.

This law is entirely unrelated.

House Bill 2675: Requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to expedite the handgun license process for individuals “who are at increased risk of becoming victims of violence.”

This law is entirely unrelated.

House Bill 918: Makes young adults between the ages of 18-20 eligible for a license to carry a handgun if they are protected under certain court orders related to family violence.

This law could plausibly have applied here, given that the shooter was 18. But he didn’t get a license to carry a handgun — or even use a handgun — and it is therefore entirely unrelated to what happened.

House Bill 781: Allows junior college school marshals to carry concealed handguns rather than storing them.

This law is entirely unrelated.

Senate Bill 741: Allows school marshals in public school districts, open-enrollment charters, and private schools to carry concealed handguns rather than storing them.

This law didn’t affect what happened in Uvalde, but, if it had, it clearly would have helped to have had a school marshal on the premises who was allowed to conceal his gun, rather than store it in a lockbox.

Senate Bill 20: Allows hotel guests to carry and store firearms and ammunition in their rooms.

This law is entirely unrelated.

Senate Bill 19: Prohibits government entities from contracting with businesses that “discriminate against the firearm or ammunition industries.”

This law is entirely unrelated.

Senate Bill 162: Known as the “lie and try” bill, makes it a state crime to lie on a background check in order to illegally purchase a firearm.

This law is entirely unrelated, because the shooter passed a background check. It is also not a “loosening” of “Texas’s gun control laws,” but a tightening.

Senate Bill 313: Creates a sales and use tax exemption for firearm safety equipment.

This law is entirely unrelated. It is also not a “loosening” of “Texas’s gun control laws.”

Senate Bill 168: Requires schools to use best practices when conducting active shooter drills, so they’re less harmful to students’ mental health and wellbeing; went into effect immediately.

This law is related, but it’s designed to help in these situations. It cannot, in any sense, be cast as a “loosening” of “Texas’s gun control laws.”

I go through these examples not to pick on Vietor per se, but to point out just how enormously unhelpful — and, alas, typical — his contribution was. There is nothing remotely virtuous about shouting “do something,” and then pointing to a bunch of unrelated laws, and yet, inexplicably, this seems to be the go-to reaction from our most prominent gun-control activists each and every time this happens. Vietor doesn’t explain why any of the laws above are a problem. He doesn’t connect them, in any way, to Uvalde. He doesn’t connect them, in any way, to any other tragedy. He doesn’t know that, among them, was a strengthening of the background check system (Senate Bill 162) of exactly the sort that gun-control activists say they want. He doesn’t know that none of the other changes Texas has made to firearms law since Abbott won in 2014 — the legalization of open carry, for example — are also wholly unrelated. He just . . . gestures.

There are many problems with our national debates over firearms law, but this is probably the most potent among them. Last night, President Biden asked, “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?” But, of course, nobody is “letting” this happen. We’d be “letting this happen” if (a) we knew how to fix it, and (b) if there were no tradeoffs involved in that obvious solution. But, much as Biden might wish them to be, neither (a) nor (b) is actually true. (a) is untrue because the responses that Biden and his party have in mind never seem to have anything to do with what has actually happened, and (b) is untrue because the only thing that would actually plausibly work — repealing the Second Amendment, and then relentlessly attempting to confiscate 450 million guns by force — would involve a level of political upheaval, government violence, and civic unrest that would make Prohibition look like a cakewalk.

The core insinuation of President Biden’s speech last night was that everyone secretly knows how to stop this from happening, but that some people don’t want to, and that the debate is therefore between people who care about the problem (Biden) and people who don’t (anyone who disagrees with Biden). This is false, self-aggrandizing, and grotesque. In truth, the key difference between President Biden and those who are skeptical of his proposals is that the skeptics aren’t prepared to pretend that they know how to fix this, and President Biden is. Worse still, President Biden is prepared to pretend that a set of completely unrelated policies would fix it, and the skeptics are not.

This is not mere conjecture. Shortly before President Biden spoke, Senator Schumer introduced a pair of bills that have nothing whatsoever to do with what happened in Ulvede. The first bill would mandate federal background checks on private intrastate gun transfers. The second would extend the waiting period for buyers who have been flagged by those checks. Neither bill even intersects with Ulvede — or, for that matter, with the vast majority of the other mass shootings of the last thirty years — and yet, in short order, the Democratic Party and the press will begin insisting vehemently that anyone who objects to them does not care about the problem at hand. There is no reason for Americans to buy this premise, or any other that is peddled by figures who are so fundamentally unserious about engaging with the problem as it exists.

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