Politics & Policy

Manchin’s Actions Make Complete Political Sense

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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.

Politics & Policy

Whether Chuck Schumer Realizes It or Not, He’s Facing a Deadline

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer looks on after the Democratic weekly policy lunch on Capitol Hill, June 19, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, this morning:

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.

Traditionally, December is one of the biggest months, or the biggest month, for consumer demand with all of that Christmas shopping, as well as travel and big meals and parties and all of that. So demand will be up, and supplies of goods will continue to be limited, because of the continuing supply-chain issues. The past few days brought news of supply-chain problems with alcoholic beverages, candy canes, parts for snow removal equipment, motor-vehicle stickers, toys, tamales, eggnog, and wall panels.

With high demand and limited supply, it is likely that the inflation numbers for December will be bad — just as they’ve been bad for the past six months.

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.

Culture

Bill ’n’ Bach

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William F. Buckley Jr. at his favorite instrument, the harpsichord

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.)

Markets

College Is a Great Investment — NOT

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Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

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.”

Politics & Policy

The White House Makes It Worse

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President Joe Biden speaks before signing four bills from the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 30, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

In response to Biden White House Blasts Manchin

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.”

Politics & Policy

Some Juicy Details about How It Went Down This Morning . . .

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Senator Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) presides during a nominations hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 21, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

. . . courtesy of Playbook:

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

Biden White House Blasts Manchin

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 30, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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.

Politics & Policy

Sasse: Manchin Deserves Credit for Listening to West Virginians

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Senator Ben Sasse (R., NE) attends a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., June 16, 2020. (Tom Williams/Reuters)

Some praise for Joe Manchin’s decision to come out against Build Back Better from across the aisle:

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders says the multi-trillion-dollar bill should still be put up for a vote:

It’s hard to think of a better photo opportunity for Manchin, who represents a state Joe Biden lost by 39 points.

Joe Manchin May Have Just Killed Transformational Liberalism for a Decade

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counter-terrorism operations on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 28, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool via Reuters)

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

Politics & Policy

Manchin: Build Back Better Actually Cost $4.5 Trillion

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Senator Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 28, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool/Reuters)

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.

White House

Kamala Harris’s Pattern of Blaming the Staff Continues

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Vice President Kamala Harris takes part in a round table with faith and community leaders who are assisting with the processing of migrants seeking asylum at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas, June 25, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

From the Washington Post‘s profile of Vice President Kamala Harris, December 4:

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.”

From Harris’s interview with the Los Angeles Times, Friday:

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.

Politics & Policy

Senator Manchin Says He Won’t Support Build Back Better: ‘I Can’t Get There . . . This Is a No.’

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Senator Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) delivers remarks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., November 1, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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.

The Senate has adjourned until next year.

Politics & Policy

Will the Left Ever Stop Making Everything about Race?

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An anti-critical race theory sign is held at a Loudon County School board meeting in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

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.

Coronavirus Update

How Our Federal Overseers Do Science

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Dr. Francis Collins holds up a model of coronavirus, during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing in Washington, D.C., July 2, 2020. (Saul Loeb/Reuters)

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.

(Hat tip: Don Boudreaux)

Culture

Carols and Candidates

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In front of Grand Central Terminal, New York City, December 2021 (Jay Nordlinger)

A couple of links for you — starting with this one, to my latest Music for a While, which is a Christmas episode. This year, as usual, I have a variety of music associated with the season: from the Baroque era on up to, oh, Oscar Peterson jamming on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Besides Oscar, performers include Marilyn Horne, E. Power Biggs, and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

It occurred to me the other day: Doesn’t “E. Power Biggs” sound like the name of a gang leader, rather than an organist?

Here is another link: which is to my latest Q&A, whose guest is Josh Kraushaar. Josh is one of the best political journalists in all of America — one of the best reporters and analysts. He writes the “Against the Grain” column for National Journal. Incidentally, his name is pronounced “KRAUSE-hahr” (i.e., “curly hair”).

Josh was bitten by the political bug early. When he came home from summer camp in 1992 — age ten — he was glued to the political conventions: the one that nominated Governor Bill Clinton and the one that renominated President Bush. On Election Night that year, Josh taped CNN’s coverage on a VHS machine.

By the way, I listened to the Republican convention of 1976 — Ford vs. Reagan — on the radio. (I was twelve, and therefore a late bloomer, by Kraushaarian standards.)

For his tenth birthday, Josh’s parents got him a copy of The Almanac of American Politics, a.k.a. the bible (of American politics, that is). His first job in Washington turned out to be researcher for a later edition of the almanac, the bible.

In our Q&A, Josh Kraushaar and I talk over many things: Biden — is he all there? Harris — does she have what it takes? Trump — are he and the GOP at one? The leaders on the Hill: Pelosi, McCarthy, Schumer, and McConnell — what are their strengths and weaknesses? And so forth.

We also talk about the media, which, of course, play such an important role in our politics. Changes in our media have changed our politics, as Josh points out. No one agrees on basic facts (forgetting opinions). Everyone is in his own silo — going to his favorite Facebook pages, listening to his favorite talk-radio hosts, or what have you. This has made a huge difference (and not a positive one).

Josh Mandel, the frontrunner for the GOP Senate nomination in Ohio, recently tweeted, “General Flynn is a patriot, Adam Kinzinger is a traitor.” Does this style attract voters? Plenty of them, yes.

At the end of our podcast, I ask Josh Kraushaar to name some politicians he finds interesting and worth watching. He says he likes politicians who go against the grain (as in the name of his National Journal column). Who demonstrate independence of mind. On the Democratic side, he mentions Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, and Eric Adams, the incoming mayor of New York. (Incidentally, isn’t “Polis” an extraordinary name for a politician?) On the Republican side, he mentions Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Man, does Kraushaar know a lot about politics. He’s an encyclopedia, as you will hear. And he makes sense out of the information he garners. Again, to hear our pod, go here. And to hear the Christmas show: here.

Politics & Policy

Houston Chronicle: Liberal Texas County Might Use ‘Covid Relief’ Money to Fund Abortion

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The Houston Chronicle reports: “Harris County can spend public money to counter Texas’ strict new abortion law, analysts say.” I have more on the story on the homepage.

“President Biden and congressional Democrats spent trillions of dollars in reckless spending earlier this year without the Hyde Amendment to protect taxpayer dollars from creating a slush fund for the abortion industry,” Montana GOP senator Steve Daines, chairman of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, told National Review. “It’s shameful that Democrats are trying to pass another multitrillion-dollar tax-and-spending spree to provide even more taxpayer funding for abortions. This is a gross misuse of hardworking Americans’ tax dollars that will result in the loss of innocent lives.”

Immigration

Three Strikes — Is Amnesty Out?

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2021. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Reuters)

The Senate parliamentarian for the third time has ruled against inclusion of an amnesty for illegal aliens in the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. Two questions remain: Can Democrats conjure up yet another gimmick to try to sneak into the bill work permits and Social Security numbers to illegal aliens? And what about the other immigration provisions in the bill?

As soon as the ruling was announced, Durbin, Schumer, and the four Hispanic Democrats in the Senate issued a joint statement saying, in part, “we will pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act.” They could try to do this by overruling the parliamentarian or just abolishing the filibuster altogether, but that seems unlikely. Manchin has said he won’t support either move, and there are other Democrats who are more quietly opposed, however much the noisy Left demands it.

Perhaps more interesting is the second issue — the bill’s changes to legal immigration. The two main provisions would result in the issuance of about 1 million extra green cards, beyond the current numerical limits. One measure would “recapture” “unused” green cards from past years (they weren’t unused, but brazen lies are par for the course in immigration lobbying), while the other would allow certain people on green-card waiting lists to buy their way to the front of the line. In both cases, the main beneficiaries would be workers imported by tech companies on H-1B visas to replace Americans in the IT industry.

The parliamentarian hasn’t ruled yet on whether these can be included. It seems unlikely they’d qualify because they’re not strictly budgetary matters, but we’ll see.

But suppose they are ruled in-bounds and included in the bill. There’s both a class and an ethnic angle here: The amnesty would benefit mainly less-educated, blue-collar Hispanic illegal aliens, while the green-card expansion would benefit more-educated white-collar legal workers from India and, indirectly, Big Tech.

Reflecting on this prospect, Senator Menendez said earlier this month that “it would be the height of irony that all of our efforts on immigration would be to help business and not help people who are undocumented.”

This tension is not new. The Left and Big Tech have been allied on immigration for probably two decades, with the latter providing the money and the former providing the foot soldiers. But the deal has always been that amnesty is a quid pro quo for any changes that would benefit the IT industry. Back in 2008, I was a witness at a hearing on skilled immigration, and Representative Luis Gutierrez all but told the other witnesses, all tech lobbyists, that amnesty was a prerequisite for their demands for increased imports of cheap tech workers. An excerpt:

I think we should give the high-tech industry the innovators that they need and that they should be able to remain here. My point is not that, not that I am against you. I am for you. Expand on it, then, to say how do we do that at the same time we have farm workers in pesticide-ridden fields earning low wages and say to them, “You are not really smart. You are not really very educated,” but who I could state are just as critical and relevant to the innovation of that industry as the Ph.D. and master degree students are to the high-tech industry. So, yes, let’s work on this, but I think let’s work on it on a holistic approach . . .

It’s entirely possible that at least a few hard-left House members would vote against a Senate-passed version of BBB that had no amnesty but did include a green-card giveaway for tech workers, especially considering how disappointing a stripped-down bill would be to them in other respects. So, in the interest of killing the whole thing, both immigration hawks and opponents of BBB more generally might be better off if the parliamentarian were to give the green light to inclusion of the provisions expanding legal immigration.

Politics & Policy

Austria Legalizes Assisted Suicide

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(Pixabay)

A high court in Austria ruled late last year that the rights to self-determination and a “dignified death” encompass the right to commit suicide and receive assistance. Now, the parliament has legalized prescribing poison to terminally ill and disabled people starting next year. From the Deutsche Welle story:

The Assisted Suicide Act gives the option of an advance directive — similar to a living will — only to people over 18 who are terminally ill or suffer from a permanent, debilitating condition.

Each case is to be assessed by two doctors, one of whom would have to be an expert in palliative medicine. As part of their duties, they must determine whether a patient is opting for euthanasia independently.

At least 12 weeks must pass before a patient is granted access to the procedure, to ensure that euthanasia is not being sought due to a temporary crisis. However, for patients in the “terminal phase” of an illness, the period can be shortened to two weeks.

The individual would then draw up their will with a notary or a patient advocate before being able to obtain a lethal drug from a pharmacist.

No surprise. But don’t expect these supposedly “strict guidelines” — which are pretty wide open to begin with — to stick. The court ruled that suicide and assisted suicide are fundamental rights. Since when have core liberties been restricted to particular classes of people?

If Austria follows the usual pattern, the new law will be challenged by euthanasia activists as unduly restrictive — as happened when Canada’s parliament tried to restrict the scope of euthanasia there in the wake of a court ruling. That suit will succeed, and the law will be further loosened. Eventually, say within five or ten years, Austria will have an equivalent right to death on demand as in Germany.

Make no mistake: That is the ultimate destination — if not goal — of the international euthanasia movement. And that is the scope of the debate we should be having rather than the nonsense about terminal illness, which is a tactical subterfuge deployed by activists to get people to accept the death-on-demand principal — as enunciated in the ’90s by Jack Kevorkian.

Markets

‘Socially Responsible’ Investing and Other People’s Money

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(SARINYAPINNGAM/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

From the Financial Times’ nauseatingly named “Moral Money”:

The world’s biggest money managers have been talking an increasingly impressive game when it comes to their environmental and social impact. But when it comes to using their votes to drive action, there is a marked transatlantic divide.

Definitions of “increasingly impressive” may differ.

Money managers are, for the most, managing other people’s money. And unless those other people have specifically requested that their money be invested in a way that takes into account environmental and social impact even if it hurts return (spoiler: over time it almost certainly will), then the money managers’ job is solely to manage that money in a way that generates maximum risk-appropriate return. And that’s it. There is nothing remotely impressive about using other people’s money to pursue a social or political agenda to which they may not subscribe.

One small consolation is that American money managers appear to be less “impressive” than their European counterparts. According to the London-based nonprofit ShareAction (another denizen of “socially responsible” investing’s flourishing ecosystem), which has, reports the FT, “studied how 65 of the largest US and European asset managers handled shareholder votes on environmental and social issues,” European asset managers voted, on average, for nearly two-thirds of such proposals, while their U.S. equivalents “only” supported 39 percent:

“Power not used is power abused,” Catherine Howarth, ShareAction’s chief executive, told Moral Money. “The world is entitled to expect better of institutions that control this share of the votes.”

What Howarth means is that unless that power — which, to repeat myself, is derived from other people’s money — is wielded in a way of which her organization approves, it is “abused.” And as for what the “world is entitled to expect,” the answer is, apart from what has been laid down by law or regulation, absolutely nothing. The only question that matters is what the clients of those institutions are entitled to expect. It’s their money, and they are paying the fees. “The world,” not so much.

Media

Awakening to the Lessons, and Limits, of Vaccination

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Grace Demars receives a COVID-19 vaccine at North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond, La., August 5, 2021. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

I have served up a lot of grief to CNN’s Chris Cillizza lately, and . . . er, no, I don’t regret it, he’s deserved every bit of it. But today he laid out his thinking about the pandemic, in a CNN piece and on Twitter, and I think there’s something admirable about his self-awareness of what has been driving him since the pandemic started: a belief that if he, and enough other people, just did the right things, he and his loved ones would never run into Covid-19.

“Deep down, I think I believed that being vaccinated (and boosted) would keep me from getting Covid-19 AT ALL,” Cillizza wrote on Twitter. “Why? Not sure, honestly. But I spent the better part of a year waiting for a vaccine and doing everything I could to keep my family from getting the virus. It’s hard to just turn that switch off. I think that’s why yesterday — when it felt like every person I knew was either being diagnosed with Covid or had been exposed to it — hit me so hard. Because the reality is — and has always been even if I didn’t realize it — that the vaccines don’t, really, prevent you from getting the virus. Or, at least, they don’t guarantee it won’t happen.”

Correct. Vaccines mitigate the effects of the infection and help your body fight off the virus quicker, but they do not prevent all infections. As some of us have been trying to emphasize for a while now, Covid-19 infections do not reflect a moral failing and catching Covid-19 is not a sign of personal failure. Yes, certain actions like avoiding crowds can mitigate the risk somewhat, but now that we’re dealing with a variant of the virus that is 70 times more contagious than the Delta variant, you’re probably going to run into it sooner or later. It’s just dumb luck that someone you run into and come into close enough contact with is infected and is expelling viruses. It happens. Not wearing a seat belt is reckless. Coming within six feet of another human being in the grocery store is just part of life.

The good news is that so far, the Omicron variant seems pretty mild in most cases.

Cillizza mentions being worried about his mom, and he’s not crazy to feel that way. The U.S. and the world are full of people who are fully vaccinated and boosted but still might run into serious problems from a Covid-19 infection – those who are elderly, those who are immunocompromised, those who have multiple comorbidities, or, say, someone being treated for cancer. It’s rational to worry about accidentally spreading the virus to someone who is in a higher risk category. So you take the precautions that you can, make sure the fully boosted vulnerable person is in the best shape possible, try to stay out of a hospital for the next few weeks when the Omicron wave is likely to peak, and live your life. Sure, you’ll never run into Covid-19 if you stay in your home and never interact with another human being, but who wants to live that way? And remember that catching Covid-19 is not a death sentence, even for the elderly. A September CDC report found that vaccination reduced hospitalization among those 75 and older by 76 percent. That’s not 100 percent, but that’s considerable.

A lot of us have decried the “Covid Zero” mentality — that if governments just enacted enough strict vaccination mandates, lockdowns, mask requirements, stay-at-home-orders, quarantines, occupancy limits, travel restrictions and so on, then somehow the virus would disappear. The virus is going to become endemic — like the common cold, it will always be around, but (hopefully) it is in the process of getting weaker and weaker, while more and more of the population acquires natural immunity from prior infection or well-prepared immune systems from vaccination. Whatever else you think of what Cillizza has written lately, credit him for recognizing that the “Covid Zero” approach is simply unrealistic and unworkable.

Elections

Removing the Filibuster Would Destabilize American Democracy, Not Save It

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Dusk falls over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., November 18, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

In a speech last night announcing her about-face on the filibuster (from supporting it while in the minority to opposing it while in the majority), New Hampshire senator Maggie Hassan proclaimed that “we must pass legislation to protect American democracy.” She warned that “if the partisans who are attacking our democracy have their way . . . we’ll see an Election Day that is a charade, just like in countries where democracy doesn’t exist.” This is a common argument used to rationalize obliterating regular order in the Senate: Democracy itself is at stake, so the filibuster must be nuked to preserve it.

However, this is also an argument that grows weaker the more seriously you take its premises. Removing the filibuster dramatically expands the ability of a temporary partisan majority to meddle in elections. For example, a party controlling the presidency and the Congress could set national standards for elections in a way it thinks will be to its own partisan advantage.

A partisan majority could also revise the Electoral Count Act to make it easier to throw out a state’s electoral votes — by, say, allowing a vote of one branch of Congress to be enough to toss out those votes. Or it could revise the ECA to give the vice president the unilateral ability to throw out electors that he views as “disputed” or to choose between two competing slates of electors. (This authority, you’ll recall, was exactly what Trump’s legal advisors suggested already inhered within the office of the vice president, as they attempted to overturn the 2020 presidential election.)

Right now, the fact that bipartisan buy-in is usually required to change federal election law limits those kinds of partisan abuses. In changing the incentive structure of the Senate, detonating the nuclear option removes one line of defense against electoral meddling. The end of the filibuster and a post-nuclear Senate more broadly would mean a permanent reduction in the power of individual senators as senators. Thus, calling on a senator to nuke the filibuster to pass some change to the ECA is a much different ask from calling on her to change the ECA after an earlier Senate has already gotten rid of the filibuster. In the first case, she would be voting to reduce the power of her office; in the second case, that reduction has already taken place.

Washington talks a lot these days about the importance of defending democracy. Well, the institution of the Senate plays an important role in the infrastructure of American democracy — and prudent statecraft means looking at the long-term consequences of blowing up institutions.

Politics & Policy

Two Years to Slow the Spread

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People wait for COVID-19 testing at a mobile testing location along 5th Avenue in New York City, December 13, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

In a few weeks the U.S. will almost certainly shatter all records for coronavirus infections; looking over at the U.K., which is one-fifth our size, is more fully vaccinated than we are, and which has instituted a series of severely draconian lockdowns, there are 62,000 infections right now, and the number is still shooting up. That translates to 310,000 infections in the U.S. We’ve never logged worse than about 250,000 a day. When we see these kinds of numbers in the U.S., many heads are going to explode and many policy-makers are going to try to put the hammer down on the citizens for supposedly being “irresponsible” or “not taking the virus seriously.”

In New York City this week there has been a mood collapse. The city feels about ten seconds away from full-blown panic, led by our panicker in chief, our accidental Governor Kathy Hochul. In Broadway theaters — a fully vaccinated environment in which all audience members are required to be masked — a few performers have nevertheless come down with mild Covid cases and so Hamilton, Jagged Little Pill, Mrs. Doubtfire, and several other shows have canceled performances during peak tourist season. Moulin Rouge canceled a performance while audience members were in their seats waiting for the curtain to go up. New York Post restaurant writer Steve Cuozzo has the same feeling I do: Thanks to Hochul’s hysteria, urged on by neurotic and fear-driven media personalities, New York is on the brink of returning to a March 2020–style shutdown that will have catastrophic effects. Meanwhile, in Florida, which resisted both shutdowns and masking, life goes on as usual, and the infection rate is less than one-third what it is in New York City.

The prospect of going through another round of shutdowns and school closings is madness. We must not allow our leaders to entertain them.

People are going to keep getting Covid for some time. People who have been vaccinated and are willing to accept the risk of exposure should be able to go on with their lives. Pointing fingers in an effort to find bad people to blame is a waste of time. Just four months after the northern media threw themselves a party mocking southern troglodytes and Fox News watchers for supposedly enacting a cult of death after infections surged in the South, the virus is rampaging through the North again. The states with the highest infection rates are Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The states with the lowest infection rates are Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Louisiana, and Alabama. New York City’s infection rate is more than triple Florida’s.

All of this is just as I and many others predicted. By now it really should be dawning on progressives and the media that what we’ve all been saying at NR for many months has been true: The virus doesn’t care where you live or how virtuous you are. New York City has had vaccine requirements in place in restaurants and theaters for months, and the virus is spreading in restaurants and theaters. We’re developmentally crushing our children with unnecessary and ineffective masking requirements, and yet there are a few cases in schools that will doubtless make Hochul and others start to think that we can’t afford the risk of in-person learning. Yet thanks to the Bangladesh mask study, which found months ago that cloth masks had essentially no effect and even surgical masks only had a slight effect, we know that masking and other progressive-adored rituals are not going to be the path out of the pandemic. The virus is going to keep going until it burns out.

If you’ve been vaccinated, your chances of avoiding serious illness are excellent. If you haven’t been vaccinated, that’s your choice. But there will always be some significant number of Americans who shun the vaccines, and we’re going to have to live with that too. We can’t allow panicky leaders to treat us like prisoners of Covid as we head into Year Three of the pandemic in America. Life must go on.

Breaking: Cowardly Men Love Abortion

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Pro-life activists protest outside the Supreme Court building, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Earlier this week, a young man by the name of Kaivan Shroff published an article entitled, “Men like me benefit from safe abortion access.”

By “men like me,” Shroff clearly means successful men, men who are too busy doing important things to care about any aspect of their sexual activity other than enjoyment, let alone take responsibility for it. Thanks to abortion, neither the needs and desires of the woman involved nor the life of the child who might come into being must enter his calculation.

According to his lengthy bio, Shroff is very important. He’s a senior adviser to D.C. non-profit the Institute for Education,

Politics & Policy

Turning Point USA Is Doing the Wrong Thing for Kyle Rittenhouse

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Kyle Rittenhouse waits for his trial to begin for the day at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., November 10, 2021. (Sean Krajacic/Pool via Reuters)

This weekend, Kyle Rittenhouse will be speaking at a Turning Point USA conference in Phoenix, sharing billing with Ted Cruz, Tucker Carlson, and Donald Trump Jr. This is the wrong move for Rittenhouse. He did a round of media interviews after the verdict, but going on the speaking circuit is a further step toward celebrification. He was properly acquitted in November for exercising his right to self-defense, and one can even argue that his motives in being in Kenosha were noble. But he shouldn’t have been there, and the glare of a national spotlight and being turned into a folk hero, a villain, or an emblem of the times is bad for an 18-year-old who really needs to go do what 18-year-olds do: grow up and get on with his life. As I wrote when Democrats and left-wingers tried to make political spokespeople of the teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting:

If you have ever been, or known, a teenager, you know that even comparatively well-informed teens are almost always just advancing arguments they’ve heard from adults, and typically without much consideration of the opposing arguments. . . . I’m never in favor of the whole spectacle of using kids as political props, which both sides do, but it’s one thing when it’s relatively benign stuff — a politician campaigning with his family, a Trump or an Obama bringing out a young fan or honoring a kid who did something good. Those aren’t efforts to use kids as human shields against hard questions being asked in a serious public-policy debate. Turning “listen to the kids” into a mantra and marching a few steps behind them is. That’s particularly the case because divisive issue debates inevitably mean the people carrying the point of the spear are going to come in for a lot of pushback from people who feel viscerally about the other side of the issue. Pushing distraught teenagers to the forefront means they will be the ones absorbing that. As adults, we are supposed to know better than that.

Naturally, they went ahead anyway, and now David Hogg is a propaganda-addled zealot with a million Twitter followers who seems incapable of communicating like a normal college student. Rittenhouse, for his part, has an uphill battle getting a job or into a college right now, but it does a disservice to this young man for adults who should know better to try to turn him into our side’s answer to Hogg or Greta Thunberg instead of letting him go quietly back to the business of growing up.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly suggested Rittenhouse is being paid for his appearance. He is not. 

Politics & Policy

‘The Kamala Harris the Public Fell in Love With’

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Vice President Kamala Harris waves at panelists during a virtual townhall event to address different care policies in the Build Back Better Agenda at the White House in Washington, D.C., October 14, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Over the weekend, Politico had an extremely Politico article asking politicos for their political advice for how Kamala Harris could fix her disastrous run of low public approval and dismal press coverage. Some of it is exactly the sort of overoptimistic off-the-shelf advice that consultants give without regard to whether the politician receiving it is at all capable of doing any such thing. Probably the best and least encouraging advice comes from University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato and former John Kasich campaign manager Beth Hansen, both of whom argue that Harris’s fate is tied to the success of Joe Biden (good luck!) and will require careful, patient work rather than having any obvious solution.

In any event, the funniest and most delusional advice comes from Michelle Bernard, a onetime head of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum and now a roving commentator and a 2020 cheerleader for Harris:

Kamala Harris has always been and will always be a star. Regardless of the environment — from San Francisco district attorney to California attorney general, to U.S. senator and now vice president — she understands her duties are to the American people. The only thing that needs to be done to allow her star to shine brightly once again is to allow the Kamala Harris the public fell in love with to break free from the fairy dust sprinkled on her no doubt by some well-meaning handlers.

Unlike some of her predecessors, Kamala Harris is not a sedate, stodgy, older white man. The daughter of immigrants, she is a Black woman of Jamaican and Indian descent. She’s a feminist. And she’s a politician with a background as a former prosecutor who has worked tirelessly to put criminals where they belong, while advocating for the rights and dignity of all Americans. Harris is warm, charismatic and bright. Her laugh is infectious and her rapport with children heartwarming. The Kamala Harris who danced with a marching band and in the rain is the Kamala Harris the public misses. Unleash the Kamala Harris who left former Attorney General William Barr stuttering during a hearing; let loose the superwoman who, during a vice presidential debate, rebuffed Mike Pence’s attempts to cut her off by looking him directly in the eyes and boldly stated, “I’m speaking.” That Kamala Harris was fierce, and women and the public loved her.

The Kamala Harris the public fell in love with? There is no such person. As Charlie Cooke has detailed, Harris went from a mediocre politician winning elections in California almost entirely on the merit of the state’s partisan tilt to a presidential candidate who squandered a great-on-paper profile by being disastrously unable to inspire voters. Her approval ratings as a presidential candidate did nothing but go down into negative territory until she quit the race, they recovered mainly while Biden’s campaign was keeping her away from the national spotlight, and they have plummeted again as she has gained more attention. But sure, tell Harris to do more cackling, more cringe-inducing dancing, and more berating people, and see how that works out.

Politics & Policy

Resorting to ‘Violence’

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This just in: “Student debt is policy violence.”

So says Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

It seems the only definition more malleable these days than that of “infrastructure” is this one.

Speech is violence. Book promotion is violence. Shifting funding from one subsidized-food program to another subsidized-food program is violence. Lending is violence.

Does actual violence — being inflicted now at record levels — even rate? Just last year, Nikole Hannah-Jones insisted that property damage certainly is not violence, and she admonished the media: “We need to be really careful with our language.”

I couldn’t agree more on that latter point.

Dan McLaughlin wrote yesterday about the Left’s persistent effort to redefine commonly understood terms and about the complicity at times of the press. Nobody should fall for the crass attempts to redefine this one, considering how many Americans face the real stuff every day.

International

McKinsey Reveals Deeper Ties to Chinese Government Than It Previously Admitted

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Ethnic Uyghur demonstrators take part in a protest against China in Istanbul, Turkey, October 1, 2021. (Dilara Senkaya/Reuters)

Earlier this year, I surveyed the record of the consulting firm McKinsey. A stint at McKinsey is a common item on the résumés of many who end up influential in other parts of society. McKinsey’s business model tends toward a kind of soulless technocracy that can make it so attractive to the morally uncertain products of our higher-education system who emerge from said system sure primarily of one thing: that they should be telling people what to do. (Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg being the quintessential example.)

These are only two of the reasons why, as I wrote in May, “a commitment to free markets in the abstract does not oblige conservatives to defend McKinsey in particular.” Additional reasons to be uncomfortable with McKinsey arise from its record of dealing with foreign governments. Such dealings have been nefarious in multiple countries, but nowhere worse than in China:

Meanwhile, outside of the U.S., McKinsey has helped to facilitate the economic rise of China, in a manner beyond even the mere investment and engagement of other American companies with Chinese business. According to the New York Times, “In China, it has advised at least 22 of the 100 biggest state-owned companies — the ones carrying out some of the government’s most strategic and divisive initiatives.” One of McKinsey’s Chinese clients helped construct that nation’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, an obvious military venture. And perhaps most shocking, a few years ago some McKinsey employees attended a corporate retreat in Xinjiang Province, riding camels and relaxing in high-class resorts just a few miles away from Uyghur concentration camps.

Yesterday brought news that McKinsey’s relationship with the Chinese government goes deeper than it had previously admitted. According to NBC:

The management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. has acknowledged a commercial connection to “the Chinese government,” according to a court document, even though the firm told a senator it had no business ties to the Beijing regime.

According to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., McKinsey told him in July 2020 that it did not work with the Chinese government or the ruling Communist Party. Company executives repeated the assertion in a Zoom conference call in March with Rubio’s advisers, according to Rubio.

But in a bankruptcy case involving the offshore drilling firm Valaris, in which it applied to act as an adviser, McKinsey disclosed a commercial connection to the “Chinese government,” according to a September 2020 court document.

McKinsey, naturally, denies wrongdoing:

A spokesperson said that McKinsey did not perform work for the Chinese central government, only for provincial and local governments in China, and that it had made that clear in previous correspondence with Rubio’s office.

“We have been consistent and transparent in all of our communications with Sen. Rubio’s office,” the spokesperson said. In its July 2020 letter with Rubio, McKinsey had said a small part of its work in China was with local and provincial governments related to economic zones, urban planning and real estate, the spokesperson said.

The disclosure in the bankruptcy case “reflects an accurate description of client service that includes local and provincial government, and is entirely consistent with the type of work we communicated openly about with the Senator’s office,” the spokesperson said. “In no way does it refer to work for the Central Government, Communist Party of China or the Central Military Commission of China, none of which are clients of McKinsey, and to our knowledge, have never been clients of McKinsey.”

But, as Rubio points out, “any dealings with the Chinese government are necessarily dealings with the CCP.” Moreover, this same disclosure also revealed ties between McKinsey and Shenzhen Dajiang Baiwang Technology Co., “a manufacturing facility specializing in unmanned aerial vehicles that is owned by the Chinese drone maker DJI.” Just yesterday, the Treasury Department added DJI to a list of Chinese technology firms it was essentially cutting off from the U.S. market. According to the Treasury Department, the companies “actively support the biometric surveillance and tracking of ethnic and religious minorities in China, particularly the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.”

Good on Senator Rubio for forcing this disclosure. And shame on McKinsey for its supporting America’s enemy.

Politics & Policy

Today in Covid Panic Porn

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

A writer at The Atlantic canceled his 40th birthday party over Omicron and has thoughts.

Despite all of the guests being vaccinated and mostly boosted, and despite the fact that Omicron seems mild, Ed Yong frets:

My friends, of course, are adults who can make informed decisions about their own risks and their own loved ones’ risks. But the logic of personal responsibility goes only so far. Omicron is spreading so rapidly that if someone got infected at my party, my decision to host it could easily affect people who don’t know me, and who had no say in the risks that I unwittingly imposed upon them. Omicron is unlikely to land me in the hospital, but it could send my guests’ grandparents or parents to one.

The above logic can be used to never have birthday parties ever again. We know that Delta followed earlier variants, and that Omicron followed Delta. It only stands to reason that there will be future variants that will follow Omicron. Not to mention the regular flu season, which always carries the risk of unwittingly transmitting a potentially fatal virus to more vulnerable populations.

As I’ve said time and again, we must recalibrate to the understanding that Covid is now with us forever. Before taking any actions, we should ask ourselves whether we are prepared to live in such a manner indefinitely.

Books

Get a Child Off Screens with a Modern Ugly Duckling Tale

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(TAN Books/ Image via Amazon )

fIf you’re looking for a new children’s book for Christmas, The Handsome Little Cygnet may be what you are looking for.

As the publisher’s description reads:

A swan must waddle before a swan can fly!

Manhattan’s Central Park seems an unlikely place for a family of swans to raise their baby cygnet, but family life is full of surprises, happy mistakes, and mysterious joys. Join Father and Mother Swan and their Handsome Little Cygnet as they paddle through four beautifully illustrated seasons in Central Park. Smile a lot — and cry just a little — as you follow the journey of a baby swan who grows up to learn what and who he really is.

From best-selling author and illustrator team Matthew Mehan and John Folley, this wonderful and surprising revision of the Ugly Duckling will please the whole family with beautiful prose and page after page of lush watercolor illustrations. Even enjoy a seek-n-find in the back of the book, learning about the landmarks and wildlife of Central Park, among other amusing mysteries.

Matthew Mehan, who wrote The Handsome Little Cygnet, is the director of Academic Programs for Washington, D.C., and Assistant Professor of Government for the Van Andel Graduate School of Government, and he took some questions about why he wrote the book.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why did you write a book about a cygnet? I confess, I’m from NYC, the first time you told me about it, I had to look up what it was. I thought it was a class ring. (Signet.)

Matthew Mehan: As the first page says, a cygnet is a young swan. The book is set in New York City’s Central Park, and swans do live there sometimes. And they’re the biggest, most beautiful birds that ever visit there. So that made it an easy choice. And I love giving young readers new words, so I put one in the title and defined it on the first page. In general, the book is simple and sweet, but I wanted an echo back to my last book, Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mammals, which had a whole glossary of words in the back. And I used a family of swans because I wanted to write a modern Ugly Duckling story with a prescient twist to help young readers and their families navigate the pitfalls of growing up in what I’ll call chaos culture, which tells them a lot of things about themselves, about their identity, that simply aren’t so. I wanted swans because they are noble creatures, full of beautiful dignity, something every child has in them. I wanted to offer a beautiful story that would also teach children (and remind parents) that each human being is worth much more than our chaotic world seems to say.

Continue reading “Get a Child Off Screens with a Modern Ugly Duckling Tale”

Religion

Getting Back to Christ at Christmas

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Here are two beautiful and painfully personal pieces that point to what Christmas is really about — Incarnation, salvation. You might want to read and share.

Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P. writes about “Christmas and God’s ultimate answer to our anguish“:

My father died suddenly on Christmas Eve morning when he was 49 years old, leaving my mother a widow with seven children. The struggle I faced that Christmas, so I came to realize, was no different from the one that afflicts everyone every day: loss and longing.

My challenge was to pay special attention to Christmas — seeing past the superficial — to get to the mystery’s real meaning. Can Christmas offer an answer to keenly felt sorrow and pain? I have never forgotten consoling words I discovered years later from poet Rainer Maria Rilke to a hurting friend: “Celebrate Christmas in this devout feeling that perhaps God needs this very anguish of yours in order to begin.” And who of us these days is not feeling intense anguish?

The unexpected absence of my father made me yearn for something non-negotiable: a Presence to fill the void. The Son of God coming in the flesh — Emmanuel, God-With-Us — is that Presence. And only a Presence is adequate for answering the emptiness and need that the human being is. Why? Because a Presence is the beginning of the end of barriers in our life. Presence “is to know that there are experiences that lessen the dread of separation, loneliness, and even death,” wrote author Ralph Harper.

. . .

To woo us back to our own humanity, Jesus comes to us — not in magnificence and splendor — but as a baby. St. Bernard spelled out the stunning logic of the Incarnation: “The lesser Jesus became through his human nature, the greater was his goodness; the more he lowered himself for me, the dearer he is to me. Jesus comes as a little one lest we be terrified.”

The whole of Christ’s intention at Christmas is to share his life with us. “Christ did not live his life for himself but for us. . . . Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us (CCC 519, 521).

. . .

Our family custom on Christmas Eve was to open one gift. Returning home from the Christmas Vigil Mass, my brothers and sisters and I gathered, feeling awkward, wondering what we would do. Wouldn’t opening presents be disrespectful? But my mother assured us that opening gifts is what my father would have wanted. My mother never read the 20th-century Scandinavian writer and Catholic convert Sigrid Unset, but she certainly possessed her wisdom:

“When we give each other Christmas gifts in Jesus’ Name, let us remember that he has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans — and all that lives and moves upon them. And to save us from our own foolishness, from all our sins, he came down to earth and gave us himself.”

Read the whole piece here.

Karen Swallow Prior writes about being childless at Christmas:

Some holiday traditions offer particular challenges to those who aren’t part of a nuclear family at Christmas, challenges the rest of us might not even imagine. For example, when everyone else is sending out annual Christmas photos of a growing family, does the single person want to reciprocate with her own solo photo shoot? How does a childless member participate in family gift exchanges that only include the children? Does the pandemic mean singles need to give up indoor gatherings that would otherwise include friends from outside the household?

The church is just the place where traditions that include everyone can be cultivated for all members, those with family and those without — not only at Christmas, of course, but especially at Christmas.

Throughout my marriage, the most meaningful and significant time at Christmas for my husband and me was Christmas Eve at our church. For years, we helped lead the services, my husband as a musician and I as a reader of poetry and Scripture. As a worship team, we shared potluck meals and fellowship before and between services each time, a tradition that grew more important to us with each passing year. But then with the church’s closure, this beloved ritual was gone. But not the memories of it.

Traditions give birth to our sense of the past. It is this sense of — and, along with it, a longing for — the past that is the source of nostalgia. Nostalgia — whether for Christmases long gone, for a childhood outgrown or for dreams (like children) that never came to be — is a bittersweet reminder that this earthly place, filled with cherished traditions, treasured memories and painful disappointments — is not our permanent home. Yet, even so, the marvel of it all is that the God of the universe took on flesh, came here as a child and dwelt among us in this temporary home.

He is the gift that transcends all family ties and time-bound traditions. And, as one friend who experienced years of infertility and pregnancy recently reminded me, Scripture says it is “unto us a child is born.”

Because this child is for all of us, no one needs to feel childless at Christmas. But it can take the family of true community to help us unwrap the gift.

Read it all here.

Politics & Policy

Pelosi Made Vulnerable House Democrats Walk the Plank for Nothing

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Speaker Pelosi (D., Calif.) holds the final vote tally as the Build Back Better Act passes, on the House floor in Washington, D.C., November 19, 2021. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Last month, when House speaker Nancy Pelosi was pushing for a vote on a sweeping version of President Biden’s Build Back Better bill, Charlie marveled at the fact that she was sending her most vulnerable members to the slaughter. But it now seems that it was all for nothing.

To be sure, it is too early for conservatives to take any victory laps. The difficulty Democrats are having with passing a bill by the end of the year should not be seen as a sign of sure defeat for Biden’s signature legislation. It is still likely to reemerge, in some form, in the coming year. And Senator Joe Manchin is likely to find some version of it that he can get behind. He has signaled he’d be willing to spend $1.75 trillion, and that’s still a lot.

However, whatever emerges from further discussions, it’s pretty clear that it will be much different from what House Democrats voted for. If Manchin were close to supporting a bill that was roughly similar to the House version of the Build Back Better bill, they would have been able to make some tweaks to get it across the finish line by the end of the year. The fact that they cannot do so suggests that the differences are much more significant.

The bottom line is that in the coming year, the bill that vulnerable House Democrats voted for is likely to either die in the Senate, or change significantly. The decision by Pelosi to go full speed ahead is going to make next November even more painful for Democrats.

Sports

The NCAA Could Settle the Trans Swimmer Controversy

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Ten parents whose daughters are on the UPenn women’s swim team are among the latest to express outrage at a male swimmer being allowed to smash female records. The Daily Mail reports that in a letter to the NCAA, parents wrote that what’s “at stake here is the integrity of women’s sports.” And so, they are asking the NCAA to weigh in with an “official statement.” Good luck with that.

At present, the NCAA’s transgender policy is to allow male trans-identifying athletes to compete in the women’s team if they have undergone a year’s worth of testosterone suppression. Of course, this does next to nothing to mitigate the physiological sex-based advantages.

What the NCAA could do instead is settle the controversy once and for all by requiring transgender-identifying athletes to compete against their natal sex or else join a team willing to have a mixed team status. In many instances, including the case of the UPenn swimmer, the trans-identifying athlete did previously compete in the men’s team. Why does declaring a transgender status suddenly make this impossible? It’s not as if anything materially changes after saying, “I’m trans.”

Impromptus

Mailbag

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President Ulysses S. Grant in 1870 (Mathew Brady/Library of Congress/Wikimedia)

Steph Curry, of the NBA, has set a record — a record some say will never be broken. I lead with this in Impromptus today. When I was growing up, they said that the great unbreakable record was Lou Gehrig’s. And then . . .

In today’s column, I also discuss the streets of San Francisco (that was a television show in the 1970s), politics and the young, January 6, and other issues. Now, let’s have some mail.

Earlier this week, I touched on a very, very touchy subject: guns. Some congressmen are sending out Christmas cards showing themselves and their families, all armed to the teeth. Unto us a Saviour is born!

I wrote,

When I was growing up, lots of men had guns. Some of these guys were veterans — who once had to kill people with guns, overseas. They never preened about with guns. They never posed with them on Christmas cards. They would have regarded that as nuts.

Things are very different today.

A reader writes,

Look, I’m from Texas, born and bred. My late father was a big gun collector. We went hunting together and competed in NRA-sanctioned rifle matches. It would never have crossed Dad’s mind to carry one of his rifles into a public setting, unless it was a gun range. That would just be nuts. And his rifles were beautiful — works of art, almost. Beautiful grain in the stocks, diamond inlay or what-have-you on the bolts, silky smoke-like blues. Not at all like these weekend-warrior guns one sees nowadays.

Our reader adds, “Harrumph!”

In that same column, earlier in the week, I touched on the subject of “trans” athletes — such as the college student who swam on the men’s team for three years and is now swimming on the women’s team, smashing all records. Is this fair? (I don’t see how it can be.)

My friend Dave records a comment made by his grandson’s girlfriend: “If it had happened while I was competing in sports, my father would be in jail.”

In a blogpost, I wrote about the word “niblings,” which is a “gender-neutral” way of saying “nieces and nephews.” I said,

I’m afraid that, by the time I’m outta here, I won’t be able to understand my fellow Americans at all. Even now, I have to explain half my idioms to the people around me. (I think I got a good number of them from my grandparents.)

A reader writes about her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, all of whom hailed from Philadelphia. A portion of her letter:

My father also said, “He did that faster than Grant took Richmond.” When his company made him manager of the Charlotte office about 1948, he had to take care not to say that in earshot of Southerners.

Finally, several readers wrote something like this: “‘Niblings’ may be newfangled and politically correct, but my family likes to use it simply because it’s a fun word.” Yes, I’ll grant that (not Grant that).

Thank you, everybody. Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here.

Politics & Policy

Have Universities Forgotten Their Purpose?

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They certainly have, says Jessica Hooten Wilson of the University of Dallas in today’s Martin Center commentary.

What they should embody, she argues, is the pursuit of the contemplative life. Professors ought to lead students to what Plato called the “feast of discourse.” Unfortunately, few professors have the slightest interest in doing that, even if they were prepared to, which most are not.

Wilson writes, “Administrations focus on recruitment, retention, and data without considering the faces and stories of students. They copy best practices of other institutions without stepping outside of their fallacious presentism to be innovative or robustly distinctive. They have no courage for risk. While I’ve had devoted colleagues over the years at my institutions, I’ve also witnessed a vast number who never read a book on pedagogy or tried hospitable ways to reach students. Too often, professors go through the motions.”

What is sorely lacking on most of our campuses is anything approaching intellectual mentorship where professors guide students toward “the best that has been thought and said.” Students might graduate with some occupational skills, but without any development of their souls.

Wilson concludes, “Education is an apprenticeship to the tradition that leads to a contemplative life. Without this definition of education, universities will remain in crisis.”

Politics & Policy

It Could Have Been Worse: Kim Strassel and Ross Douthat Review 2021

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It’s the last show of the year for Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson, and as is our tradition (for the last two years, anyhow), we’ve invited two of our favorite journalists — Ross Douthat of the New York Times and Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal — to look back, discuss, and analyze the year that was. We delve, discuss, and predict politics, the law, Covid, the future of Roe v. Wade, and much more.

Recorded on December 13, 2021

Politics & Policy

Meet the New Leninists, Same as the Old Leninists?

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(snotra/iStock/Getty Images)

Kevin Williamson’s latest, “The March of the New American Leninists,” is bracing and eloquent. However, I also find myself disagreeing with it, at least in part.

Kevin writes that many of the chief culprits of our political discontent are Leninists — that is, ideological or political descendants of the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin — whether consciously (as in the case of Steve Bannon) or not. Regardless, their aims are, in his view, functionally revolutionary. And worse yet, they may succeed:

We are in a pre-revolutionary situation because the regime — by which I mean not the Biden administration but the American constitutional order itself and the principal institutions associated with it — is being made to compete for the loyalty of Americans against individual politicians (Donald Trump), particular political organizations and movements (BLM), and less well-defined political tendencies (right-wing identity and left-wing identity). There has always been partisan fanaticism, and there have always been demagogues. When loyalty to a political leader or a political movement supplants loyalty to the regime, the nation grows dangerously close to revolution in proportion to the degree to which such tendencies are general and widespread.

While Kevin does admit certain “reasons for hope” — the endurance of our legal system, Donald Trump’s failure to overturn the 2020 election — he finds ample cause for pessimism. I would like, however, to give him another reason for hope. And it is one that actually proceeds from one of his counsels of despair. He writes:

This being the United States of America, our revolutionary fervor is driven in some non-trivial part by cynical profit-seeking, with media figures as superficially different but fundamentally identical as the daft galaxy of Fox News and MSNBC pundits feverishly working to convince Americans that our society and our institutions are not in need of reform but are in fact so irredeemably corrupt that they must be overthrown. These arguments are made almost purely for commercial purposes — there isn’t a lot of money to be made from sensible conversations about incremental reform — but their influence extends well beyond the balance sheets of their corporate parents. I used to say, with unwarranted confidence, that the real world isn’t Twitter, and Twitter isn’t the real world. That turns out not to be true.

There is plenty of cynicism at work in the media business, but it would be wrong to think that figures such as Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow create revolutionary fervor on their own — they are only supplying a preexisting demand in the market. They do not create demand any more than Purdue Pharma or Pornhub do. The ultimate source of the revolutionary fervor is in the people themselves, in the “masses,” as the creaky old Marxists still call them.

If we are to take seriously the Leninist framework, then we should remember that Lenin himself found “the masses” (a condescending term) a frustratingly stubborn lot. In “What Is To Be Done?,” his famous revolutionary tract, Lenin identified this fact as an obstacle to his aims. Writing in 1902 about an earlier outburst of labor unrest in Russia, Lenin claimed that the workers behind it “were not, and could not be, conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system, i.e., theirs was not yet Social-Democratic consciousness. In this sense, the strikes of the nineties, despite the enormous progress they represented as compared with the ‘revolts’, remained a purely spontaneous movement.” 

The “best” workers could do on their own was to achieve what Lenin called “trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.” They would, that is, remain mired in false consciousness: the odious Marxist idea, which has since been repurposed all over the political spectrum, that the only reason someone is doing something you don’t like is because he is in hoc to some financial interest that is precluding his ability to agree with you, and that it is up to you to correct the situation.

Such circumstances would not suit Lenin and others of his revolutionary ilk. So the only option, naturally, was for them to intervene. Revolutionary consciousness, as Lenin put it, “would have to be brought . . . from without.” This conveniently demanded the creation of a revolutionary vanguard of people (like Lenin) who could “raise the level of the consciousness of the workers in general” to the point where they were sufficiently educated and prepared to carry out revolution. Able to consult the actual record of Marxist regimes, we can now see that, unsurprisingly, the interests of this revolutionary vanguard would remain paramount throughout the existence of such regimes, as they naturally transition to a dictatorial form of government instead of the state “withering away,” as Marxists predicted.

Kevin writes that today’s Leninists are not creating “revolutionary fervor on their own — they are only supplying a preexisting demand in the market.” There is perhaps more demand for this kind of thing than I am comfortable with. But I think there is a strong case that today’s Leninists view themselves in the same way that those of the past did — i.e., engaged in a supposedly necessary act of consciousness-raising for rubes that, it is reckoned, are incapable of knowing better themselves, and remain stubbornly anti-revolutionary.

In Lenin’s time, this required rejecting not only the possibilities of practical politics (and assassinating such beleaguered figures as Pyotr Stolypin, perhaps the last politician capable of keeping Russia away from the brink), but also the real economic and political progress that was occurring even amid the political chaos and failures of late czarist Russia. In our time, this requires a constant inculcation, from both left and right, that, as Kevin puts it, “our society and our institutions are not in need of reform but are in fact so irredeemably corrupt that they must be overthrown.”

The essence of my disagreement with Kevin comes primarily in two points. First, as I rejected the notion that we are approaching a new Civil War, I also reject the notion that America is “pre-revolutionary.” Perhaps this is overly optimistic, but I think much thinking along these lines percolates rhetorically and through perception, and thus that there is value in rebuffing it in the same way. And for similar reasons, I am not quite as willing to accept Lenin’s would-be heirs as quite the same danger as he was.

Second, I think Kevin’s understanding of Lenin is flawed on its own terms. Lenin may have believed that the “masses” desired revolution on some subconscious level, but he interpreted the fact that they weren’t doing it themselves as evidence that he had to do it for them, not as proof that they didn’t want it. I think we are in a similar situation here, where much of the apparent “demand” for “revolution” (to the extent that it exists) is being peddled by people who have an interest in calling for it.

This gives me reason for optimism. If such people are the problem, then refuting their agitation and pointing out constantly that what many of them ultimately seek, like their predecessors, is simply an elevated role for themselves, are both productive courses of action. And in doing so, one can direct attention to that large group of people communists so condescendingly call the “masses,” and remind them that such voices do not, ultimately, have their interests at heart. I retain enough faith in the American people that I believe them more than capable of rejecting such messages. So much of the “revolutionary” messaging we hear nowadays, in other words, is an elite phenomenon being wielded for elite advantage. In that, I suppose, it truly does have something in common with its predecessor after all.

Politics & Policy

Re: Covid Deaths

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In response to Covid-19 Deaths under Biden Surpass Deaths during Trump Administration

You know, Kyle, I am starting to suspect that Joe Biden is not going to cure cancer.

International

Taking China’s Technological Challenge Seriously

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China’s President Xi Jinping seen on a screen in the media center as he speaks at the opening ceremony of the third China International Import Expo in Shanghai, November 4, 2020. (Aly Song/Reuters)

There can be little doubt (surely) by now that China is aiming to be the most powerful country in the world. Dreams that growing prosperity would make Beijing want to play nice have proved to be just that, dreams.

And no small part of China’s push toward that goal will be in the technological side. As Xi has put it:

Technological innovation has become the main battleground of the global playing field, and competition for tech dominance will grow unprecedentedly fierce.

It will, it has, and China is doing rather well at it. Just how well was set out in a recent report from Harvard’s Belfer Center, which is a grim, but essential read. Writing for the Wall Street Journal the other day, Graham Allison and Eric Schmidt noted that:

The report isn’t alarmist but nonetheless concludes that China has made such extraordinary leaps that it is now a full-spectrum peer competitor. In each of the foundational technologies of the 21st century—artificial intelligence, semiconductors, 5G wireless, quantum information science, biotechnology and green energy—China could soon be the global leader. In some areas, it is already No. 1.

I discussed that article and the report at some detail in the latest Capital Letter, at the end of which I wondered what the U.S. should be doing. Schmidt and Allison call for “a national response analogous to the mobilization that created the technologies that won World War II.” I wasn’t so sure:

Better precedents (for now) can be perhaps found in the steps taken in the U.S. after the Soviets took an early lead in space, and another in the public–private sector cooperation that worked so well with Operation Warp Speed. One thing, however, is abundantly clear (as has increasingly been acknowledged in Washington). Where China is concerned, there can be no room for business as usual.

Quite what no more “business as usual” should mean is an area of legitimate area of debate, but, where possible, stopping U.S. exports that can help give China a technological edge in areas that matter ought to be an easy decision to make. This report was, therefore, encouraging.

Bloomberg:

The Biden administration is considering imposing tougher sanctions on China’s largest chipmaker, according to people familiar with the situation, building on an effort to limit the country’s access to advanced technology.

The National Security Council is set to hold a meeting on Thursday to discuss the potential changes, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. Agencies represented through their deputies will include the Commerce, Defense, State and Energy departments.

The proposal that’s being examined would tighten the rules on exports to Shanghai-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. If one proposal is adopted, companies such as Applied Materials Inc.KLA Corp. and Lam Research Corp. may find their ability to supply gear to SMIC severely limited.

Current rules specify that machinery “uniquely required” for making advanced chips can’t be exported. One proposal being considered at the meeting would change that to “capable for use,” which would include machinery that’s also used for making less advanced electronic components . . .

A related issue concerns American capital being used to fund Chinese technology, and so this was worth noting.

The Financial Times:

The Biden administration will place eight Chinese companies including DJI, the world’s largest commercial drone manufacturer, on an investment blacklist for their alleged involvement in the surveillance of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

The US Treasury will put DJI and the other groups on its “Chinese military-industrial complex companies” blacklist on Thursday, according to two people briefed on the move. US investors are barred from taking financial stakes in the 60 Chinese groups already on the blacklist.

The measure marks the latest effort by US president Joe Biden to punish China for its repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in the north-western Xinjiang region.

This week, SenseTime, the facial recognition software company, postponed its planned initial public offering in Hong Kong after the Financial Times reported that the US was set to place the company on the blacklist.

The other Chinese companies that will be blacklisted on Thursday include Megvii, SenseTime’s main rival that last year halted plans to list in Hong Kong after it was put on a separate US blacklist, and Dawning Information Industry, a supercomputer manufacturer that operates cloud computing services in Xinjiang.

Also to be added are CloudWalk Technology, a facial recognition software company, Xiamen Meiya Pico, a cyber security group that works with law enforcement, Yitu Technology, an artificial intelligence company, Leon Technology, a cloud computing company, and NetPosa Technologies, a producer of cloud-based surveillance systems.

The principle here is (clearly) the funding of technology that can be put to assist in the repression (and, by extension, genocide) of the Uyghurs.

Interestingly:

All eight companies are already on the commerce department’s “entity list”, which restricts US companies from exporting technology or products from America to the Chinese groups without obtaining a government licence.

Good.

Today’s chutzpah prize is won by Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign-ministry spokesman, who observed that “China has always opposed the US’s generalisation of national security concepts,” a bold complaint given the way that China is integrating its technological companies within its broader geopolitical strategy. The “harnessed capitalism” that is a feature of the Chinese regime — and was, of course, a characteristic of other fascist regimes in the past — is what it is.

World

Court Ruling Reportedly Confirms Russian Troop Presence in Ukraine

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The reason that it’s incorrect to refer to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine is that Russian forces are already involved in operations on Ukrainian territory, in Eastern regions of the country. If Moscow were to send the tens of thousands of troops it has recently amassed on its border with Ukraine into the country, that’d be a further invasion or a new incursion.

A Russian court seems to have confirmed the presence of Russian soldiers in the country for the first time, confirming that the Moscow’s long running denials of that fact were, expectedly, false.

The Moscow Times reported on the court ruling, a judgment against a manager convicted of fraud in his business activities around supplying Russian troops with food. Those troops, the court reportedly revealed before the judgment was taken off its website, were operating in Donetsk and Luhansk.

The revelation doesn’t change the facts on the ground, as Western officials already assumed that Russian forces were backing Ukrainian insurgents in Eastern Ukraine. But it does pull the curtain back, in an embarrassing way, on Moscow’s campaign to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and to force the country back into its orbit.

Politics & Policy

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act Is Finally Set to Become Law

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Uyghur ethnic minority employees work at the production line of a textile mill in Aksu, Xinjiang, March 31, 2012. (Stringer/Reuters)

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act cleared a final hurdle this afternoon, after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation. The White House said yesterday — for the first time ever — that President Biden will sign it into law.

The Uyghur bill will create a presumption that goods produced in Xinjiang were manufactured using forced labor; the Chinese Communist Party has facilitated the transfer of ethnic minorities to factories in the region and across China, where they produce textile products, polysilicon for solar panels, and certain agricultural goods.

Although there was widespread bipartisan support for the legislation, it stalled for months at the beginning of the Biden administration as congressional Democrats declined to take it up and, on a few occasions, blocked it. Meanwhile, major corporations launched their own lobbying campaign last year to water down the bill.

Companies that are using supply chains tainted with slave labor, Senator Marco Rubio said on the Senate floor today, will “no longer be able to continue to make Americans, every one of us, frankly, unwitting accomplices in the atrocities, in the genocide that’s being committed by the Chinese Communist Party.”

After the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a version of the bill in April, and the Senate approved its own version authored by Rubio and Senator Jeff Merkley in July, the House declined for months to take up the legislation. Only after Rubio attempted to include the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, prompting Democratic leadership to block the move twice, did Speaker Nancy Pelosi move forward with a version of the legislation proposed by Representative Jim McGovern.

After the Rubio and McGovern bills were reconciled, incorporating the strongest enforcement provisions from each into a bigger package, the House passed the legislation again. When Rubio yesterday evening sought Senate approval, he was blocked by Senator Ron Wyden, who demanded that the legislation include an extension of the child tax credit.

Nike, which has reportedly lobbied against the legislation, has its headquarters in Wyden’s home state of Oregon, and it has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Democratic lawmaker’s campaign fund over the years. But Wyden said he just wanted to bring more attention to the child tax credit, and declined to block the bill again today, paving the way for its approval by unanimous consent.

On the one hand, the Uyghur forced-labor legislation is a bipartisan triumph that demonstrates how overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Democrats can come together to take action on a defining human-rights crisis.

On the other hand, the story behind the legislation’s delay shows the cravenness with which certain officials operated behind the scenes to slow progress on the U.S. response to ongoing mass atrocity crimes.

Although the White House yesterday did endorse the Rubio–McGovern compromise, Press Secretary Jen Psaki for months declined to say that the Biden administration supports the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

Meanwhile, other officials, such as climate envoy John Kerry and deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman, reportedly lobbied against the legislation, urging members of Congress to water it down and slow walk its passage. Even after the Washington Post revealed Sherman’s comments opposing the bill amid the Rubio NDAA blowup, she declined on two separate occasions to affirmatively support it.

If the goal of that campaign was to give the administration space to reach the first stages of an agreement with Beijing on forging climate cooperation, it was a success. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act had languished for some six months when Kerry took to the podium at Glasgow to announce that he and his Chinese counterpart had struck an agreement including the establishment of a U.S.–China working group on climate issues.

Asked by a reporter how he views the Chinese Communist Party’s mass atrocities in Xinjiang, which the Biden administration labeled genocide and crimes against humanity, Kerry replied, “that’s not my lane.”

If the goal of the administration’s lobbying against the forced-labor legislation was to give Biden time to establish new stability in the U.S.–China relationship, through a round of personal, face-to-face diplomacy with party general secretary Xi Jinping, the strategy was also successful for that reason.

Biden and Xi held a virtual meeting on November 16, during which they tasked their aides with establishing a number of formats for dialogues across four issues. After the talks, the two sides also unrolled a tentative agreement that would ease visa restrictions on Chinese employees for state propaganda organs in the U.S. and journalists with American media outlets in China.

Throughout all of this, the entirety of the administration remained silent about legislation that the Senate had passed unanimously months before.

Top U.S. officials took office promising to put human rights “back at the center of U.S. foreign policy.” When it came time to do the bare minimum — to voice support of legislation designed to prevent Americans from being complicit in crimes against humanity — other priorities took center stage. That is, until Rubio pushed back.