Elections

The Democrats Are Probably Stuck with Kamala Harris

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the virtual Washington Conference on the Americas in Washington, May 4, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I wrote today about the Democrats’ Kamala Harris problem.

One objection I’ve seen to my argument is that the Democrats don’t have to take Harris if she runs in 2024 or 2028 — or if she becomes president upon Joe Biden’s death and then wants to run again. This, of course, is true. But it would be unusual for the party to ditch her, and it would likely yield a harsh split if it tried.

In the last century, every incumbent vice president who has sought his party’s nomination has got it — except one. Al Gore did. George H. W. Bush did. Hubert Humphrey did. Richard Nixon did. Only Alben Barkley, who went for the nomination in 1952 while he was 74 years old and in failing health, did not. In addition, every vice president who has unexpectedly become president has been his party’s nominee at the subsequent election. LBJ was. Harry Truman was. Calvin Coolidge was, too.

The Democrats could, indeed, drop Harris. But, at the very least, they’d have to explain why it is so inspiring and incredible for the United States to have her as the vice president, but so undesirable to promote her to the White House. Given the pathologies that are currently running rampant in that party, that would likely prove pretty ugly indeed.

Politics & Policy

Richard Dawkins: ‘Wise and Sensible’ to Abort Babies with Down Syndrome

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Author Richard Dawkins speaks at the Rock Beyond Belief festival at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2012. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

I have rarely seen a more vivid illustration of the lethal consequences of utilitarian thinking.

In 2014, Richard Dawkins was asked on Twitter what a woman carrying a Down baby should do. His response was blunt and curt:

Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

On what possible basis could it be “immoral” to bring one of these sweet and loving people into the world?

Seven years later, he explained in a podcast interview (ostensibly, about his new book) with Brendan O’Connor, the father of a child with Down syndrome. After some interesting back-and-forth about the importance of science, scientists and religion, and COVID, Dawkins was asked directly about the above tweet. The famous atheism prosylitizer explained:

That was probably putting it a bit too strongly. But given that the amount of suffering in the world probably does not go down, but probably does go up compared to another child who does not have Down syndrome . . .

When eliminating suffering because society’s first priority — instead of protecting innocent human life — it very easily metastasizes into eliminating the sufferer. And the suffering need not even be that of the person eliminated, but of family or society. Utilitarianism always leads to justifying killing.

O’Connor interrupted Dawkins at that point and asked how he knows that there would be less suffering. Dawkins responded:

I don’t know for certain. It seems to me to be plausible. You probably would increase the amount of happiness in the world more by having another child instead.

Good grief, if human life has intrinsic value — that is, it matters morally simply because one is human — the issue of whether there is more or less suffering, or more or less “happiness,” is utterly irrelevant! Indeed, if we are to maintain humane, equal, and moral societies — if we are to protect the weak, vulnerable, and dependent — such considerations must be of no consequence whatsoever.

O’Connor pushed back:

O’Connor: But you have no reason for knowing that.

Dawkins: I have no direct evidence.

O’Connor (sarcastically): Ok. You know you’re such a scientific, logical person I thought you could possibly have some logical backup to it.

Of course, this isn’t an issue of “science” but of morality and ethics. Do we have the love in our hearts to embrace these beautiful people? These days, so many precious people with Down syndrome are aborted, meaning so few are born that we are all the losers.

Dawkins admits he doesn’t know anyone with Down syndrome and O’Connor says that “everyone has their own experience of it” and that there are many who think he is not necessarily right.

O’Connor: Do you think it would be immoral not to do it?

Dawkins: Let’s leave out the immoral.

O’Connor: You brought immoral into it.

Dawkins: Okay. I take that back. But it would be wise and sensible.

O’Connor: Do you know children who are so-called perfect can cause terrible suffering in the world too. But I suppose we have no way of checking.

Dawkins. No. Of course.

I am glad O’Connor handed Dawkins his lunch.

But we need to reflect: Dawkins’s attitude illustrates the consequences that flow directly from rejecting human exceptionalism — which Dawkins has done repeatedly over the years. Human unexceptionalism (if you will) has led to so much evil in the world that it can’t be quantified — from slavery and  Jim Crow to eugenics and genocide.

Gratifyingly, Dawkins is being hit with the brickbats that he so richly deserves.

World

The Democrats’ Turn against Israel Did Not Start under Trump

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President Barack Obama meets with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in 2011. (Jim Young/Reuters)

This is from today’s Politico Playbook, which is turning into a newsletter version of MSNBC:

In another era, describing Israel as an apartheid state, as Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) did recently, or accusing Israel of committing “terrorism,” as Rep. ILHAN OMAR (D-Minn.) did, would have been met with widespread denunciation by Democrats. Not anymore.

“We have lost the emotional side of the argument,” lamented a staunch Democratic ally of Israel in the House.

In any other era, few, if any, elected Democrats would be making a moral equivalence between terror states and allies, much less spreading blood libel on the floor of Congress. But what amazed me is one of the explanations Playbook offers to explain the change:

    1. Former President DONALD TRUMP and Israeli PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU accelerated the process of support for Israel being turned into a partisan issue where many voters see it more like abortion or gun rights.

Undoubtedly, there are some voters who abandoned their pro-Israel position simply because Trump was an ally. But I’m not sure how anyone born before 2015 could possibly believe that the “process of support for Israel being turned into a partisan issue” was especially accelerated during the past five years. It was the Obama administration that attempted to boost the Iranian regime as a regional counterforce to the Jewish state, that used dual-loyalty smears, that voted against Israel in the United Nation, and that relied on leaks to embarrass and undermine Netanyahu while he was visiting the United States. One need look no further than former Obama official and current Hamas defender Ben Rhodes to understand the level of antagonism within the administration. It was unprecedented. Whether Obama was merely a reflection of changing left-wing attitudes or forging them is really the only thing up for debate.

Health Care

‘Who Cares If You Wear a Mask?’ Cuts Both Ways

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(klebercordeiro/Getty Images)

“Why does anyone care?” That’s one of the emerging lines being offered in defense of people who, despite having been fully vaccinated, have chosen to keep wearing masks. Generally, I agree with this. I don’t particularly care what anyone else does. Line yourself in lead if you wish to. It’s not my business.

But I can’t help but notice that those who are now touting this approach have been at least a little selective with it. When Joe Biden was wearing a mask long, long after he needed to, we were told that he was justified in doing so in order to “send a signal” that Americans should be wearing masks. That signal, we were informed, was one that President Trump had singularly failed to convey.

Okay. Fine. But, if signaling matters, surely it matters in all directions? Unlike a year ago, the primary aim of America’s public-health officials now is to encourage as many Americans as possible to get vaccinated. And a key way of doing that is to confirm that the vaccine works by showing that, once a person has been inoculated, he no longer needs to wear a mask. Yes, it is not the end of the world if people in influential positions decide that they will ignore the science and embark on a five-year-long snorkel-wearing kick. But it does send a message. As ever, “Who cares?” can cut both ways.

World

On a Party-Line Vote, House Democrats Reject Sanctions on Overseas Hamas Supporters

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Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in 2017. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Another sterling moment in American legislative history: “Democrats blocked a bid to bring the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act up for consideration in a 217-209 vote along party lines. The bill, introduced by Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., would impose sanctions on foreign entities known to have provided financial assistance to Hamas, among other measures.” The same bill passed the House unanimously in 2019, but was not taken up for a vote in the Senate. The U.S. currently has sanctions against Hamas itself and some limits on business dealings with the Palestinian Authority.

Still, there’s some evidence that Democrats who took this stance, opposing sanctions against Hamas supporters, are simply listening to their base. A new Trafalgar Group survey indicates that 38.5 percent of self-identified Democrats blame Israel for the current violence, 15.5 percent blame Hamas, about 6 percent each blame Iran and the Palestinian Authority, and 34.4 percent aren’t sure.

Meanwhile, 12.5 percent of self-identified Republicans blame Israel for the current violence, 42.5 percent blame Hamas, 14.6 percent blame Iran, 10.5 percent blame the Palestinian Authority, and 19.8 percent aren’t sure.

The Mast proposal forced Democrats’ hand. They could either take this action, and offer the potential of a genuine financial squeeze on Hamas, boxing in the Biden administration. Or the Democrats could look soft against a group launching rockets into civilian areas. (Maybe those Democrats saw an old photo of a Hamas rally and thought it was just Robert Byrd and Ralph Northam.)

I know, I know, it’s just the “militant wing” of Hamas launching rockets into civilian areas. As I wrote seven years ago, militant wings are the evil twins of geopolitics. If your organization has a military wing — as opposed to an actual, declared, uniforms-and-everything-military — you’re probably a troublemaker.

We keep getting told by foreign-policy poohbahs that Hamas is winning public-relations victories and the global messaging battle even as it loses the military battles. At some point, shouldn’t those public-relations victories and global messaging wins add up to something tangible? Israel and its enemies fight, Israel inflicts more damage on Hamas than Hamas does to Israel, we’re told that Israel has really stepped in it this time, and yet . . . the situation remains the same.

Bad publicity and international condemnations for Israel? Israeli leaders get denounced 20 times before breakfast. A lot of Europeans are always up for some rhetorical Israel-bashing, but how often do they really take action to improve life for Palestinians? Just what does Hamas think the rest of the world is willing to do to Israel?

When does shooting rockets at Israel ever turn out well for the average Palestinian?

Politics & Policy

The Overhyped Story on New York’s Trump Probe

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New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference in New York, June 11, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Despite all the clamor since news broke last night of a purportedly big development in the state of New York’s criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump’s real-estate organization, nothing very meaningful has happened. The development here has to do, merely, with who is investigating. Nothing has changed regarding what is being investigated.

For years, multiple New York state authorities have been eying the Trump organization and the former president himself. As I’ve previously outlined (see, e.g., here), the DA has homed in on suspicions of bank, insurance, and tax fraud, based on what has been reported (particularly by the New York Times) to be a decades-old pattern of inflating or deflating estimates of the value of Trump assets to seek financial advantage (e.g., higher values help with borrowing and real-estate coverage, lower values with tax obligations, and insurance premiums). Meanwhile, the Empire State’s attorney general, Letitia James, has been probing the same subject matter, in anticipation of using her authority to bring civil actions — the AG’s criminal-enforcement authority is more limited than the DA’s.

Last night’s news is that the two offices are now joining forces on the criminal aspect of the investigation. That’s all.

This is not surprising. As I explained back in February (in the column linked above), the DA’s office — which litigated the case all the way to the Supreme Court twice in order to get access to former president Trump’s financial records — has been staffing the probe up. Joining forces with the AG’s office means the DA’s criminal probe will have additional resources, including lawyers experienced in corporate-financial investigations.

James is an ambitious progressive politician who is frequently touted as a future gubernatorial candidate (maybe the not-too-distant future). It makes political sense that she would want a more prominent role in a probe of Trump, who is unpopular in New York (which President Biden carried by 2 million votes in 2020, and Hillary Clinton by 1.7 million in 2016). So the latest shuffling of the prosecutorial deck will add fodder to Trump’s claims that he, his family, and his organization are being subjected to an abusive political vendetta by New York Democrats. Nevertheless, the announcement that James and Vance will be working together, rather than pursuing the case on parallel tracks, does not change the subject matter under investigation.

It is worth adding, as I have noted before, that though the investigation has been going on for a long time, no one has been accused of a crime or sued civilly at this point.

Politics & Policy

Lindsey Graham vs. Lindsey Graham

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Senator Lindsey Graham, speaking on the Senate floor on the evening of January 6, 2021

“Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way. Oh my God, I hate it. From my point of view, he’s been a consequential president, but today, first thing you’ll see. All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough. I’ve tried to be helpful.” 

Senator Lindsey Graham, speaking to Sean Hannity on the evening of May 18, 2021

“I miss Donald Trump. I hope he’s considering running [for president]. Let’s start a ‘draft Trump’ movement. He’s the one guy I think can go to the American people and say, ‘Let me finish what I started. What I did worked.’”

U.S.

Mitch Daniels: ‘The Biggest Risk Of All Is That We Stop Taking Risks’

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Speaking at the spring commencement May 15, 2021, on the West Lafayette campus, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels offered a great message to the many Americans, government officials, and public-health “experts” who believed and may continue to push the fiction of our ability to live in a zero-risk world:

This last year, many of your elders failed this fundamental test of leadership. They let their understandable human fear of uncertainty overcome their duty to balance all the interests for which they were responsible. They hid behind the advice of experts in one field but ignored the warnings of experts in other realms that they might do harm beyond the good they hoped to accomplish.

Sometimes they let what might be termed the mad pursuit of zero, in this case zero risk of anyone contracting the virus, block out other competing concerns, like the protection of mental health, the educational needs of small children, or the survival of small businesses. Pursuing one goal to the utter exclusion of all others is not to make a choice but to run from it. It’s not leadership; it’s abdication. I feel confident your Purdue preparation won’t let you fall prey to it.

But there’s a companion quality you’ll need to be the leaders you can be. That’s the willingness to take risks. Not reckless ones, but the risks that still remain after all the evidence has been considered.

He added:

Maybe the great historian Jacques Barzun summed it up best: “The last degree of caution is cowardice.”

Certainty is an illusion. Perfect safety is a mirage. Zero is always unattainable, except in the case of absolute zero where, as you remember, all motion and life itself stop.

What is true for public health is also true for business and innovation and many other things in life. This is an important message. The whole thing is here. (H/T to Todd Zywicki)

Culture

The Siloed and the Silenced

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(Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

Our friend Sonny Bunch has an essay in The Bulwark referring to a kerfuffle over the weekend in which Catholic writer Sohrab Ahmari alleged that Amazon was hiding his (conservative) book from search results for ideological reasons. Though others discovered other right-wing materials that were hard to find in a search, this turned out to be a glitch that was fixed the same day, and affected a wide variety of products across ideological grounds. The glitch even made it impossible for Sonny to find The Underground Railroad, the Amazon-produced miniseries that is pretty much the single most promoted item on Amazon these days. Sonny draws from this a lesson that ideological siloing can conceal from us the truth.

Fair enough, but Sonny’s suggestion is that each side of the ideological divide is equally susceptible to being blinded by its priors. I’d say we all know that Silicon Valley companies such as Amazon are avowedly on the Left and in the last few months they have taken a big step toward codifying their ideology in their services, overtly and aggressively moving forward to silence undesirables on the right. President Trump is banned from Twitter and Facebook, and we’re all supposed to just get used to this being the case indefinitely; Facebook restricted dissemination of a (true, or at least undenied and unrebutted) New York Post story about what it found on Hunter Biden’s laptop, and Twitter not only banned the story, it shut down the New York Post‘s account for weeks during an election season in a fit of pique about the damage done to Twitter ownership’s favorite political party, then after the election said, “Oops. Sorry, shouldn’t have done that.”

You will pardon me if I don’t think the issue Sonny discusses is equally of concern to both sides. Yes, Fox News did, briefly, go nuts with a false claim that Joe Biden was going to take away our hamburgers, but it did correct itself after a couple of days instead of spending months repeatedly doubling down on a far more consequential lie — the ridiculous false story so much of the media promoted about the “Florida whistleblower” Rebekah Jones. These two media miscues are not equivalent.

Sonny does mention in passing that Amazon admitted pulling a respected book on transgenderism, Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally, but seems blind to the massive change this represents. Amazon yanked the book for ideological incorrectness. Once that principle of thought-policing is established at our largest bookseller, it is not at all implausible that the Sohrab Ahmaris of the world might be next. Amazon also seems to have disappeared from its streaming service a perfectly normal and mainstream (and first-rate) documentary on Clarence Thomas that last May aired on PBS, hardly a hotbed of extremism. Amazon has, as far as I can tell, still not even acknowledged that it pulled the Thomas documentary, much less offered an explanation. The disappearance of that film has been widely discussed in the media, including in this Wall Street Journal column by Jason L. Riley — hardly a fringe blog post — and Amazon has continued to stonewall the matter. (I’ll be happy to correct this piece if Amazon has in fact responded on the matter.)

We’ve got a much bigger problem than ideological confirmation bias (though that is a problem, and I do not claim to be immune to it). The principal conduits of information in this country are shutting down access to disfavored ideas and people, and it isn’t a bug.

Politics & Policy

Chris Cuomo’s Abortion Foolishness

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CNN’s Chris Cuomo at a Democratic town hall in Los Angeles, Calif., October 10, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

My colleague David Harsanyi had an excellent piece on the homepage yesterday afternoon eviscerating a recent CNN segment in which Chris Cuomo launched several ignorant attacks against the pro-life movement. There’s not much more to say on the subject, as David covered the rebuttal so thoroughly, but I’ll add one quick point.

In addition to various other ill-informed and illogical comments, Cuomo recycled one of the silliest claims favored by legal-abortion advocates: “It seems like the far right only cares about protecting humans before they are born.”

As David ably points out, Cuomo gives away the game with that verboten word: “human.” But he also falls into the same error that all abortion proponents do when they offer this comment.

Even if it were the case that pro-lifers cared about only those human beings still within the womb — a ridiculous and easily disproven assertion — such a state of affairs would not absolve the abortion supporter from defending his own animosity toward those human beings.

Abortion supporters make this assertion not because they have any evidence of the anti-abortion movement devaluing human beings outside the womb but because it helpfully deflects from their own refusal to acknowledge the right to life of those inside it.

Media

‘I Like to Try to Get All Points of View’

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Lincoln Center Plaza, in New York City, transformed into a park, on May 17, 2021 (Jay Nordlinger)

At the end of today’s Impromptus, I have some comments on the performing arts: Will they come back? When? Will the audience be there? How will the performing arts be changed, if at all?

Above, you can see a photo of Lincoln Center Plaza, in New York City. There are no concerts, operas, ballets, or shows going on. So the plaza is a bona fide park, with excellent fake grass laid down. If those people would get out of the way, I could practice my wedge shots.

Impromptus today begins with Mitch Daniels, and his commencement address at Purdue. (Also his unusual entrance into the ceremony.) I further speak of “identity politics,” fervent nationalism, capital punishment (specifically, means of execution), and other subjects.

In a column last week, I had an item on George F. Will, who has just marked his 80th birthday. A reader writes,

Your tribute brought back a flood of memories. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s (hitting the age of majority in 1990), and I believe I started reading our local newspaper’s op-ed page in the mid-’80s. George Will’s column was must-read for me, and I learned much from him during those years. He was eminently sensible and persuasive. I grew up temperamentally conservative, but Will helped me fill in the substance.

Our newspaper also carried Cal Thomas, Ellen Goodman, Leonard Pitts, Dave Barry, Richard Cohen, Nat Hentoff, and (my personal favorite) Mike Royko. I learned a lot from all these folks, and (I hope) learned to separate the wheat and the chaff.

What a beautiful note. Yes, you ordinarily had a variety of views on an op-ed page. You could get a taste of many points of view. Does that still happen? We hear that, today, everyone is in his own “silo,” consuming only what he will automatically agree with. Frankly, I’m glad I grew up in an earlier time.

Another reader says that he was a college freshman in 1981, taking an introductory course on American politics. “Our professor referred to George Will as a ‘classical conservative.’” The professor assigned a variety of reading, including An Inquiry into the Human Prospect and The Incredible Bread Machine.

The former is a once-famous book by Robert L. Heilbroner, a socialist (though a very intelligent and realistic one), and the latter a once-famous book by R. W. Grant, a free-market man.

At the end of the semester, says our correspondent, “I still could not tell what our professor’s politics were.” And “I hope beyond hope that courses are still taught in such a way in our universities.”

Well, that would be something.

Finally, our correspondent mentions Annie Hall, the Woody Allen movie of 1977. Alvy (played by Allen) notices that Annie (Diane Keaton) has a copy of National Review. “What are you turning into?” asks Alvy. Annie replies, “Well, I like to try to get all points of view.”

I wonder whether that spirit exists today. It is probably important to societal health.

Is my column today important to societal health? I wouldn’t go that far, but there are some interesting things in it. Again, here.

Fiscal Policy

An Obstacle to Beefing Up Tax Enforcement

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Back in 2019, I wrote a piece urging Congress to “enforce the tax laws we already have.” If fewer people got away with cheating on their taxes, we could raise the same amount of money with lower rates, or use the proceeds to reduce the deficit.

As it happens, Congress is currently considering some new enforcement measures — though the Democrats in charge want to blow the money on entirely new spending. But they’ve hit a snag.

Reports Politico:

The problem is budget scorekeeping rule number 14.

It prevents lawmakers from incorporating into calculations of how much legislation costs any savings from increasing IRS audits or other “program integrity” initiatives across the government designed to make programs more cost-effective — such as cracking down on fraudulent Social Security disability payments.

“No increase in receipts or decrease in direct spending will be scored as a result of provisions of law that provide direct spending for administrative or program management activities,” the rule says.

That’s because government forecasters have long considered those savings too iffy to be relied upon.

As you can see, the rule cuts both ways politically: It applies to going after rich tax cheats as well as folks who defraud welfare programs. The difficulty of estimating such savings is, of course, real, and scorers should probably err on the side of more cautious predictions. But it’s not as if scoring other types of provisions is an exact science. And it seems silly to entirely ignore parts of a bill that will, without a doubt, raise a non-trivial amount of revenue.

Education

The Crazy New Mania in Higher Education for ‘Equity’

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(Chris Ryan/Getty Images)

For many years, American higher education was obsessed with “diversity,” constantly trying to ensure that every group was “represented” on campus in proper percentages. (Well, not every group; firearms enthusiasts didn’t count, nor did opera lovers.) But within the last couple of years, a new mania has taken over — equity.

In today’s Martin Center commentary, Professor Caroline Breashears of St. Lawrence University looks at this new campus rage. She thinks it’s as crazy as Don Quixote in his mad adventures. Professor Breashears writes, “Don Quixote’s errors foreshadow those of today’s knights errant: the ‘equity practitioners’ for whom a new narrative of ‘inequity’ has given purpose. Like Don Quixote, they see oppression everywhere, especially within higher education. And like Cervantes’s knight errant, they are determined to destroy the supposed villains.”

One problem is the meaning of the word. In ordinary usage, equity means treating people justly and fairly. In law, courts of equity existed to bring justice to people where there was no remedy in a court of law. But, Breashears points out, in the new usage, equity is supposed to require arranging equal outcomes for each group. (Rather, not each group, but only those with political clout.) And that means treating some people differently than others. Asians on the whole are too successful, so they have to be sent to the back of the higher-education bus, under this system.

Also, “equity” demands that instruction and grading be changed so that outcomes by groups won’t be unequal.

Another characteristic of the equity zealots is that they won’t debate their ideas. Anyone who disagrees is likely to be subjected to personal attacks.

Breashears concludes:

And now, like Don Quixote’s audience, those of us in higher education have two choices: agree or “do battle.” If we agree, we must accept a world of forced “equality” by the modern knights errant of equity. We must agree to accept their definitions, their vision, their categories, their force.

Successful resistance will require a different narrative.  Ours should be that forced equality always fails but freedom enriches everyone. Let’s tell it.

 

Immigration

They Heard It through the Grapevine: Illegals Are Coming from All Over

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Migrants from Venezuela await transportation to a U.S. border patrol facility after crossing the Rio Grande river in Del Rio, Texas, May 11, 2021. (James Breeden/Reuters)

People around the world are responding to La Invitacion delivered by President Biden through his campaign rhetoric and executive actions.

The border crisis continues, with the total number of illegal immigrants encountered at the border in April at a 21-year high for that month, though up just 3 percent from March. But families (adults traveling with minors) from countries other than the usual Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador made up 30 percent of all illegal-alien families apprehended in April, up a whopping 34 percent from the previous month.

The New York Times reports that they’re coming not only from farther afield in Latin America — Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil — but also from India and the Middle East. The reporter quotes the director of a shelter in Tucson that helps illegal immigrants after they’ve been released into the U.S. by the Border Patrol as saying, “We never worked with such large numbers with this diversity,” including speakers of Arabic, Haitian Creole, Hindi, and Portuguese.

This being the New York Times, the story is framed as being about “pandemic refugees,” which is not a thing, because fleeing “unimaginable levels of illness and death and decimated economies and livelihoods” doesn’t make you eligible for the line-cutting exemption from immigration limits that is asylum.

But there’s no hiding the fact that the border crisis is entirely a creation of President Biden:

While most of the migrants do not necessarily understand the intricacies of U.S. border policy, many said in interviews that they perceived a limited-time offer to enter the United States. Friends and family members already in the country, along with smugglers eager to cash in, have assured them that they will not be turned away — and this is proving to be true.

“What we’re hearing back home is that the new president is facilitating entry, and there is demand for labor,” said Rodrigo Neto, who came from Brazil, where the pandemic killed his business and left him overwhelmed by debt. “I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.”

The article notes that Border Patrol agents have apprehended people from “more than 160 countries, and the geography coincides with the path of the virus’s worst devastation” – but since there are about 190-something countries in the world (depending on how you count), the “geography coincides” with the entirety of the Third World. As word spreads, more people will be coming from farther and farther afield to take Biden up on his “limited-time offer” of an open border. Or, as the Times story blandly put it, “The numbers in coming months are expected to be higher.”

And for anyone who thinks any of these people will ever be made to leave, regardless of what happens with their asylum claims (assuming they even bother to apply for asylum), there’s this:

Measures imposed under the Obama administration, such as fitting migrants with ankle monitors to ensure that they attend court hearings later, are only sparingly used.

We’re left to pine for the good old days of the Obama administration’s slightly less frivolous border policies.

Economy & Business

Here Comes the Biden Administration’s Generous Tax Credit for Buying Electric Vehicles

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A Tesla Model S electric car at a dealership in Seoul, South Korea, July 6, 2017. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

The Biden administration wants to provide $100 billion in new consumer rebates for those who purchase electric vehicles, and President Biden himself will be touting electric vehicles while visiting Detroit today.

Right now, almost all electric and plug-in hybrid cars purchased new in or after 2010 are eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500, depending upon the capacity of the battery used to power the vehicle. However, the tax credit was designed to spur the initial sales of electric models and stopped for a particular manufacturer after they sold 200,000 electric vehicles. General Motors and Tesla have reached that threshold, and GM CEO Mary Barra is pushing to have the tax credit restored for GM cars and made permanent. She contends the expiration of the tax credit amounts to punishing manufacturers who were most successful in developing the market for these vehicles.

As the comedic genius Remy observed back around Christmas 2018, the generous tax credit means those purchasing extremely expensive electric vehicles were effectively provided $7,500 in taxpayer money against the cost of their car, while lower-income Americans purchasing gasoline vehicles didn’t get anything. Americans may want to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles… but do they think a four-figure tax credit for purchasing a luxury vehicle is the right approach?

Right now, if you go down to your local Porsche dealer and purchase a Taycan Turbo S, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $185,000, the U.S. taxpayer will cover $7,500 of your purchasing cost. Meanwhile, your neighbor who decides to buy a non-hybrid $20,655 Hyundai Elantra, which boasts a very environmentally-friendly 37 miles per gallon, will get no tax credit.

There are some cheaper electric vehicles on the market; currently the cheapest is the 2020 Mini Cooper SE Signature, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $30,750. Motor Trend did not give it a rave review: “a tiny two-door with just 110 miles of range, plagued by a rough ride and an excess of road and wind noise. Its fast-charging ability isn’t that fast, taking 40 minutes to restore 80 percent of its range on a DC fast charge.” There are a handful of relatively cheap electric vehicles, but the price rises fast. The fourth-cheapest electric vehicle is the 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV LT at $37,890. By and large, the people purchasing electric vehicles are those who are on the wealthier side of the car-buying market. There has been some discussion about limiting the tax credit to those making $250,000 per year or less.

The Biden administration and their Democratic allies remain committed to making sure the wealthy pay their fair share… and then giving them their money back, in the form of the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles and the restoration of full tax deduction of state and local tax payments.

World

Joe Biden Wimps Out on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 Pipeline

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Then-Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Moscow in 2011. (Alexander Natruskin/Reuters)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, February 16: “Our position on Nord Stream 2 has been very clear, and it remains unchanged.  President Biden has made clear that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal.  It’s a bad deal because it divides Europe, it exposes Ukraine and Central Europe to Russia — Russian manipulation, and because it goes against Europe’s own stated energy and security goals.”

The Corner, April 15: “White House actions [against Russia] announced today strangely omitted congressionally mandated sanctions against the major Russia-Germany gas pipeline Nord Stream 2… Does Joe Biden really want to stop Nord Stream 2? Does he want to stop it particularly badly? If so, he’s got an odd way of showing it, by not sanctioning companies working on the pipeline, and rarely if ever mentioning the issue.”

Axios, today: “The Biden administration will waive sanctions on the corporate entity and CEO overseeing the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline into Germany, according to two sources briefed on the decision… The decision indicates the Biden administration is not willing to compromise its relationship with Germany over this pipeline, and underscores the difficulties President Biden faces in matching actions to rhetoric on a tougher approach to Russia.”

So a bunch of Russians can shut down our pipelines, but we can’t shut down construction of theirs.

Maybe Joe Biden’s clear opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is like his promise to not hold children in detention centers, his promise to send out $2,000 stimulus checks, his promise to establish a national commission on policing, or to not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000, or to punish the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, or his promise to end the use of standardized testing in schools…

Maybe Joe Biden just makes a lot of promises to a lot of people that he isn’t all that committed to keeping.

Media

ESPN Apes Anti-Israel Bias

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A Palestinian waves a flag during a protest in the West Bank, May 18, 2021. (Raneen Sawafta/Reuters)

You can’t escape it. In a story about the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving’s inability to concentrate on basketball because of world events — “our people are still in bondage across the world, and there’s a lot of dehumanization going on” — ESPN claims that the “latest outbreak of violence began in east Jerusalem last month, when Palestinian protests and clashes with police broke out in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.”

Of course, police showed up after rioting was already a threat. The violence was in reaction to Al-Aqsa restrictions precipitated by COVID fears (Palestinian authorities haven’t allowed Israel to provide vaccination centers) and Jewish celebrations of Jerusalem unification. Plus, Jewish “settlers” — only Jews can be “settlers” — aren’t empowered to evict anyone without legal cause. The Sheikh Jarrah case is a property-rights dispute being adjudicated in the courts. It was delayed by the supreme court.

It’s complicated stuff. So I suppose can’t really get mad at ESPN for lifting a sentence, verbatim, from the Associated Press, since PBS and the Chicago Tribune did the same thing.

PC Culture

You May Not Speak if You Use an ‘Aggressive Tone’

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( zimmytws/Getty Images)

America’s descent into an Orwellian nightmare continues apace. Now government officials see fit to keep you from speaking out on policy matters if they don’t like your tone.

That’s the upshot of a recent encounter between Center for Equal Opportunity president Devon Westhill and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As we read here, Westhill had been invited to speak before the commission, but was then disinvited when Commissioner Janet Dhillon turned thumbs down because she didn’t like his remarks.

Federal officials don’t care much for freedom of speech. They prefer controlled speech that supports their efforts. And they’re getting more aggressive themselves in deciding what may or may not be said.

I’m afraid that this will only get worse.

Politics & Policy

‘Roe v. Wade on the Chopping Block?’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Alexandra, and Jim discuss the announcement that SCOTUS is taking a major abortion case, unhinged masking views, and recent UFO revelations. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcast, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

PC Culture

Further Proof that the American Psychological Association Is Intellectually Bankrupt

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(Tommy Flynn/Getty Images)

Newsweek reports that John Staddon, a neuroscience professor at Duke University, was booted off the American Psychological Association’s email listserv for stating that there are only two sexes. The notification of his expulsion came in the form of an email from Indiana University Bloomington provost Jonathan Crystal, professor of psychological and brain sciences. Crystal wrote:

The division leadership has received complaints about some of the posts that you have sent to the division listserv. . . . I do not want to get into the particulars of the range of complaints over the years, but I will note that a number of members of the executive committee and others have voiced concerns publicly on the listserv in an attempt to make you aware of how readers of the list might view some of the posts.

This lack of specificity in communicating Staddon’s offense is a typical authoritarian technique. As Orwell argued, if it is possible to commit a thought crime without knowing what exactly the thought crime was, then the surest way to avoid trouble is to stop thinking altogether. This is how the assault on the biological reality of sex is gaining ground, despite being transparently absurd.

Staddon told Newsweek:

Science, real science, can and should be isolated from politics. Science has values, to be sure — curiosity, honesty, openness to debate, adherence to empirical facts, and so on — but they are not, and should not be political. Most of my comments have been devoted to that fact. I might add that a sense of humor would help.

Of course, having a sense of humor also requires an ability to think freely.

Culture

R.I.P. Charles Grodin

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Actor Charles Grodin attends the 51st New York Film Festival, September 27, 2013. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Veteran actor Charles Grodin has died at 86. Grodin’s best work was often as a supporting player, which allowed him to give free rein to his fundamental quirkiness and offbeat humor. Even his starring roles were often not quite starring; in Beethoven, he played second fiddle to a dog. In his most indelible and enduring screen role, Midnight Run, he was a quirky bookkeeper whose quirks drove Robert De Niro and Yaphet Kotto up the wall. (Kotto, himself a tremendous character actor, died earlier this year.)

And yet the most audaciously quirky of all of Grodin’s roles was himself, or at least a televised version of himself, as a late-night-talk-show guest and in his own, short-lived mid-1990s late-night talk show on (of all places) CNBC. Roger Ailes hired Grodin for that job, before leaving CNBC to start Fox News. In a way, Grodin’s earnest histrionics helped pave the way for the evening shout-show careers of Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann. Grodin’s politics were liberal, if not always quite conventionally so, but what made the show a must-watch was its bizarre unpredictability, amplified by Grodin’s hesitating delivery. Grodin had long been one of the oddball guests on David Letterman, prone to insulting Dave, but his show posed the question, “What if the weird, uncomfortable guest was the host?” As a Vulture retrospective (quoting a contemporary Entertainment Weekly review) described Grodin’s transition from guest to host:

Grodin, whose career spans nearly fifty years, is a well-known thorn in the side of hosts who have spent decades dealing with his aggressive demeanor. His early guest appearances on the talk show circuit were quickly categorized as schtick, the affectation of a combative character whose eye-rolling accusations aimed to expose the fake friendliness of celebrity culture — and to prove that audiences loved the abuse. Throughout his shifting career, Grodin’s maintained and expanded on this “character,” challenging hosts and audiences to play along with the joke, or become the target. . . . “As a guest on Letterman and, earlier, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Grodin excelled at the rude put-on, provoking reaction by seeming to appear angry or offended by his host. Now sitting in the opposite chair, Grodin frequently ignores his guest and gasses on about himself.” He became known for launching into off-topic digressions and demanding more camera time, tics that comic Dana Carvey repeatedly skewered on his short-lived variety show.

The New York Times called him “The Man Who Tortures the Stars”:

Mr. Grodin calls his series “dessert”: it is made up of chats mostly with show-business friends like Carol Burnett and Marlo Thomas and visits from favorite singers like Rosemary Clooney and Tony Orlando. Mr. Grodin, however, doesn’t make it easy for these performers to plug their latest projects — a staple of other talk shows. “Nobody cares what anybody has coming up next,” he says. “That’s a bad question.” . . . After 40 years in show business, he has accumulated enough opinions, stories and neuroses to fill several analysts’ logs. Instead, he fills his show with them. . . . Each hour opens with 10 minutes of vintage Grodin: a monologue in which he settles an old score or cocks an impatient eyebrow at politics, movies, whatever is irking him. In January he talked back to a replay of the President’s State of the Union Message, mocking the rhetoric that drew standing ovations: “Nobody wants fear and paralysis and terror. Good! Standing O. Clean up toxic dumps? Big! Stand, everybody, stand!”

Watching his show, you got the sense that nobody — including the host — quite knew what Grodin would do next, and that edgy volatility made it compelling television even when the actual content of Grodin’s rants was not all that interesting. For a sampling, here is his show reacting to the OJ verdict (complete with the slow jazz theme song).

And another 1996 episode, which among other things features a very young-looking Tony Snow:

Here he is as a genially rude guest on Hannity & Colmes, years later:

R.I.P.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden — Always Wrong But Never In Doubt?

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President Joe Biden speaks from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 13, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Last year, Joe Biden started out hating travel bans designed to combat the spread of COVID-19.

In January 2020 he claimed that “Trump sought to stoke fear and stigma during the 2014 Ebola epidemic” and was “in favor of reactionary travel bans that would only have made things worse.” His campaign later backtracked and said he “supports travel bans that are guided by medical experts.”

Well, now that the pandemic is under control will Biden listen to the experts who say it’s entirely possible to reopen transatlantic travel?

We could start with the U.S. and Britain. Citing a raft of scientific studies, the CEOs of 48 airlines are begging President Biden and British prime minister Boris Johnson to announce a travel corridor when they meet next month to “save economies and reunite families.”

Travel to the U.S. from Britain has been banned for non-U.S. citizens since March 2020. Travel to the U.K. from the U.S. is possible but requires a ten-day quarantine on arrival.

These restrictions have divided families, destroyed tourism, and cost tens of thousands of jobs in both countries. The airline CEOs note in a May 3 letter that over half of the vulnerable populations in both countries have been vaccinated. “The right tools now exist to enable a safe and meaningful restart to transatlantic travel. Safely reopening borders is essential for both countries’ economic recovery from Covid-19,” they conclude.

The question now is how long will President Biden continue to keep in place the sort of “reactionary travel bans” he used to rail against?

The Standing Arguments of the Obamacare Challengers Just Got Stronger

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The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. (Melpomenem/Getty Images)

It is a risky business reading tea leaves from the Supreme Court, because even when the Court does something in one case, it may not do the same in another, more politically charged case. That said, yesterday’s decision in CIC Services, LLC v. Internal Revenue Service would seem to be good news for the argument that the state plaintiffs in Texas v. California, who are challenging the Obamacare mandate, have standing to sue.

Recall what the states argued in Texas about why the Obamacare individual mandate injures them, even though the penalty on individuals has been repealed:

The lawsuit was brought against the federal

Immigration

Border Fentanyl Seizures Outpace 2020’s — by April

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Yet more evidence that the border crisis is actually a crisis.

From ABC:

Customs and Border Protection seized more fentanyl so far in 2021 than all of 2020.

As of April, 6,494 pounds of fentanyl were seized by authorities at the border, compared to 4,776 pounds in all of 2020. In fact, fentanyl seizures have been increasing since 2018.

Health Care

Get the Shot, Fellow Right-Wingers!

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Matthew Yglesias points us to a survey of registered voters from Civiqs — data you can break down yourself on this website.

The good news: As I discussed last week, the vaccines are widely available, and the overwhelming majority of people who want a vaccine have one. Asked if they plan to take a vaccine “if it becomes available,” 64 percent say they’ve already been vaccinated, 7 percent say they plan to take it, and 23 percent say they are refusing.

(The rest are still unsure. I imagine people who have their first shot, but not the second, mostly give the “already been” answer.)

The bad news: We right-wingers are holding out an awful lot. Only 45 percent of Republicans say they’ve been vaccinated, vs. 83 percent of Democrats. And while that gap may seem implausibly large, state-by-state data from Johns Hopkins suggest there’s definitely something going on here. There’s an obvious link between states’ partisanship and their vaccination rates. Southern states mostly have around around 25 or 30 percent of their populations “fully vaccinated,” for example, while northeastern states lead the pack, with several having rates above 40 percent. (The denominators here include kids too young to get a vaccine.)

Get the shot, people! It’s safe and effective. And while I, personally, am done supporting COVID restrictions no matter what you do — if you choose not to get the vaccine, the consequences are your problem — government officials in many states will use infection rates as an excuse for further measures. It’s our best, indeed only, way out of this mess.

PC Culture

EEOC Witness Disinvited

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Devon Westhill, the president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, was recently invited to testify before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — but then disinvited because the testimony he had submitted was too forthright in its criticism of corporate wokeness.  Mr. Westhill’s submitted testimony here, and his account of what happened here, are each worth reading.

World

Respected Scientists Want Investigation of ‘Viable’ Wuhan Lab-Leak Theory

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A security guard stands outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, on February 3, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

So, it turns out the theory that COVID leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology isn’t a conspiracy theory after all, as some, including Vox and MSNBC, have alleged. Despite a halfhearted investigation by the WHO — severely constrained by China — that determined the virus probably passed from bats to people, several repected scientists have signed a letter stating that the leak theory remains “viable.” From the letter published in Science:

On 30 December 2019, the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases notified the world about a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China. Since then, scientists have made remarkable progress in understanding the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), its transmission, pathogenesis, and mitigation by vaccines, therapeutics, and non-pharmaceutical interventions. Yet more investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic.

Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks.

The scientists believe — clearly rightly — that the investigations so far have been, shall we say, lacking. They want a real inquiry:

As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general, the United States and 13 other countries, and the European Union that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve. We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data.

A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest. Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public. Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts.

Pressure is building, but I don’t expect China to allow any such open and rigorous investigation. If I am right, the CCP’s refusal to cooperate reasonably on an issue of such crucial import to the entire world should be deemed circumstantial evidence that the lab has something to hide.

Law & the Courts

Gaetz Associate Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking, Agrees to Cooperate

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.) delivers an opening statement in Washington, D.C., December 11, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Joel Greenberg, a Florida politician who has been a close associate of Congressman Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty Monday to an array of federal charges, including sex trafficking of a minor. Greenberg is cooperating with prosecutors, and his lawyer has made public statements intimating that this could put Gaetz in criminal jeopardy. Some reporting indicates that Greenberg has been providing information to investigators for months, yet Gaetz, who has emphatically denied wrongdoing, has not been charged with a crime.

Greenberg, formerly the tax collector for Seminole County, Fla., pleaded guilty to six felony counts, including sex trafficking of a minor, aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, embezzlement from the state tax collector’s office, and defrauding the federal government’s coronavirus loan program.

He is in custody. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Greenberg is looking at a minimum of 12 years’ imprisonment and the possibility of decades’ more incarceration. The only way he can get out from under that is to satisfy Justice Department prosecutors that he has provided “substantial assistance” in the investigation and/or prosecution of at least one other person. If he does so, then, under the federal sentencing guidelines, prosecutors may file a motion that empowers the court to sentence him to as little as time served.

Given the mandatory prison time he’s looking at if his cooperation effort fails, it is reasonable to assume that Greenberg would have fought the case, rather than pleaded guilty, if he were not confident that he possesses information the government would find valuable. It is also reasonable to infer that, unless they were confident that Greenberg had the goods on other suspects who are important to the government (which could include Gaetz), prosecutors would not have given him a plea deal that anticipates cooperation and testimony. Greenberg is a bad guy with deep credibility problems, so we must assume that the Justice Department would not deal with him unless prosecutors were persuaded that he could deliver information they could use to make cases.

I would not put much stock in the media spin that Greenberg must have the goods on Gaetz, a political ally of former President Trump, just because the Biden Justice Department agreed to dismiss 27 charges in the plea deal. The investigation, including its focus on Gaetz, actually started during the Trump Justice Department (with then-Attorney General Barr’s endorsement). And the six guilty-plea counts carry so much potential time that prosecutors didn’t need the other 27 counts to ensure a severe sentence if the cooperation is a bust.

Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, has publicly stated that his client’s cooperation is bad news for Gaetz. It may well be . . . but Scheller also had a motive to portray his client as a potentially valuable accomplice witness, since a sentencing reduction based on cooperation is his client’s only real chance to see the light of day in the foreseeable future.

For now, in fairness to Gaetz, we should note that none of the charges to which Greenberg pleaded guilty identifies him (either by name or by one of the usual substitutes — such as “Congressman No. 1” — that DOJ uses to avoid publicly naming uncharged people). I also have not seen any reporting that suggests that Greenberg referred to Gaetz in his guilty-plea allocution (i.e., what a defendant says when the judge, under criminal-procedure rules, asks him to explain, in his own words, what he did that makes him guilty).

When I was a prosecutor and I had cooperating accomplices who were pleading guilty, I would usually have them refer to their co-conspirators in the allocution. Doing that locks them in under oath, making it hard for them, down the road, to change their minds and try to exculpate their confederates. I’d note that the same thing can be done by eliciting the cooperator’s testimony before the grand jury — and if prosecutors do that, or have already done that, we would not know about it at this point in their investigation.

I have not summarized the public reporting about sordid activities in which it is speculated that Gaetz may have engaged, in conjunction with Greenberg. If you’re curious, it is easy to find that on the Web. I am not a Gaetz fan, regarding him more as a performance artist in the wannabe-Trump mold than a responsible elected official. He is nevertheless presumed innocent and, to date, no prosecutor has even accused him of anything. It is worth watching how this story develops. If Gaetz really has broken any laws, we’ll find out soon enough, and then there will be plenty of opportunity to examine the allegations.

Culture

Prince Harry on the First Amendment

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Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive for the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London, England, March 9, 2020. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Oh dear! Prince Harry has said something stupid again.

Appearing last week on an actor’s podcast, Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert, he said, “I’ve got so much I want to say about the First Amendment as I sort of understand it, but it is bonkers.” He continued:

I don’t want to start going down the First Amendment route because that’s a huge subject and one which I don’t understand because I’ve only been here a short time. But, you can find a loophole in anything. You can capitalize or exploit what’s not said rather than uphold what is said. I believe we live in an age now where you’ve got certain elements of the media redefining to us what privacy means. There’s a massive conflict of interest.

The prince was speaking about the campaign he and his wife, Meghan Markle, have launched to prevent paparazzi from photographing celebrities’ children. This is yet another unseemly example of the royal couple shamelessly placing their petty rich-people problems before everything else. First, centuries-old institutions and family loyalty. Now the U.S. Constitution. What next?

Why Democrats Want Justice Breyer to Retire as Soon as Possible

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From left: Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Elena Kagan listen during President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address, January 30, 2018. (Win McNamee/Reuters Pool)

Democrats really want Justice Stephen Breyer to retire from the Supreme Court, but Breyer is giving them no reason to feel optimistic that President Biden will have the opportunity to appoint his replacement anytime soon.

Perhaps this reflects a worry that the current razor-thin Democratic Senate majority is not built to last, and the Biden administration may face the prospect of getting their choice confirmed by a GOP-controlled Senate sooner rather than later.

First, if something happens to 81-year-old Patrick Leahy (who was hospitalized in January) or Bernie Sanders (who had a heart attack in 2019), and Vermont governor Phil Scott appoints

Law & the Courts

Rebekah Jones Smears Governor DeSantis’s New Press Secretary

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(Vladstudioraw/iStock/Getty Images)

It is fairly hard to keep up with the sheer amount of misinformation that Rebekah Jones still throws out into the ether, but today brought with it a particularly useful example of how she operates, so I thought I’d examine it in detail and then share what I found as a follow-up to my larger piece from last week.

This morning, shortly after my appearance on MSNBC, Jones made a dramatic claim about a woman named Christina Pushaw, who wrote a piece about Jones in Human Events a few months back and who now works in Governor DeSantis’s press office. Pushaw, Jones suggested, is “facing criminal charges” for having violated a restraining order that Jones had taken out against her. In support of this assertion, Jones posted a screenshot from the District Court of Maryland’s website that, she implied, confirms that something is awry.

As is typical, Jones’s many followers have taken this as gospel. But it’s not. In fact, it’s yet another falsehood. Moreover, it is perfectly emblematic of what Jones has done throughout her attempt to convince people that Florida is cooking the books, which is to claim serious wrongdoing by someone else that, upon closer examination, turns out to be serious wrongdoing of her own.

To understand what is happening here, one needs to understand that Montgomery County, Md. (where Jones now lives) has an unusual way of treating  restraining orders, in that it allows residents to take state-aided action before a judge has so much as glanced at the evidence being presented. Specifically, a resident of Montgomery County can take both primary actions (obtaining a “peace order”) and secondary actions (filing a complaint for violations of that order) without having anybody but the complaining party herself decide if she has a case.

Naturally, this arrangement is ripe for abuse. And abuse it Rebekah Jones most certainly did. Here, in chronological order, is what happened:

  1. Claiming “harassment,” Rebekah Jones filed for an interim peace order (essentially, a restraining order) against Christina Pushaw, for the crime of having critically examined Jones’s claims on the Internet and then tweeted about it.
  2. As a matter of routine, an interim peace order was granted ex parte to Jones — not by a judge, but by a commissioner. To obtain it, all Jones had to do was give sworn testimony (verbal or written) that someone was threatening or harassing her.
  3. Before that interim peace order could be examined by a court, Jones filed a citizen complaint claiming that Pushaw was in violation of it. At this point, Pushaw had not even been served the interim peace order. As is standard, Jones’s complaint was placed into a pile of similar complaints, pending examination by a prosecutor.
  4. On April 30th, in Case No. 0602SP003672021, a judge in the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County denied Jones’s petition to extend the initial interim peace order on the grounds that the “petitioner could not meet required burden of proof.” Specifically, the judge explained to Jones that journalism is not harassment; that Americans are free to examine the falsifiable claims of public figures; and that there was no evidence of harassment, of any likelihood of future harassment, or of any item that “would be the basis of relief.” On the District Court of Maryland’s website, this case is now listed as “Closed,” with the result, “This order is denied because: There is no statutory basis for relief.”
  5. Although the interim peace order was immediately voided by the judge’s decision, the paperwork for the secondary complaint is still awaiting processing. Because there is no legitimate underlying peace order for Pushaw to have violated, this secondary claim will have to be dropped (or nolle prossed, in the lingo). But, for purely bureaucratic reasons, that hasn’t happened yet, and so . . .
  6. Jones is now pretending that there is an open “criminal” case against Pushaw, when there is no such thing.

As you can see, just as with the notion that Florida is “fudging” its COVID numbers, this entire incident is the product of a false claim by Rebekah Jones. The story is her, and her alone. Her claims are hers, and hers alone. The “evidence” she has presented is the product of things for which she is solely responsible. And, again, there’s no scandal here — except, that is, the one of Jones’s own making.

Law & the Courts

Yes, Overturn Roe

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Abortion supporters and pro-life advocates demonstrate on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Washington, D.C., January 24, 2011. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Of course the Supreme Court should take the first opportunity to throw out Roe v. Wade. It is an indefensible decision and always has been.

Throwing out Roe would not mean banning abortion. It would not even necessarily mean restricting abortion. Roe is a bad legal decision not because of any moral question related to abortion but because it is bad law. The Constitution does not say anything about abortion one way or the other, and it does not contain any provision that could reasonably be interpreted as mandating abortion rights or prohibiting abortion. The Constitution has no more to say about abortion than it does quantum physics. And the Founding Fathers knew where babies come from — if they had wanted to put something in the national charter relating to pregnancy, they could have done so.

A situation in which abortion is prohibited absolutely and everywhere in these United States would be entirely consistent with the Constitution. So would a situation in which there are no restrictions on abortion at all. This is a matter for legislators, not a matter for judges.

The question of precedent should not give the justices too much anxiety. Roe is bad law, a political preference imposed for political reasons through a flimsy constitutional rationale made up out of whole cloth. This is obvious to many honest-minded people, including some pro-choice constitutional scholars. An honest person can simultaneously believe: (1) that the right to abortion should be legally guaranteed and (2) that the Constitution says nothing about this. Precedents that are obviously pretextual deserve no deference. In fact, the Supreme Court’s duty is precisely the opposite in cases such as these. The actual law should always take precedence over the fictitious law, even if the fiction was authored by a gentleman in a black robe.

Because the Constitution is silent on abortion, a post-Roe order would be established legislatively. Put another way: Post-Roe, the law would be made by the lawmakers. That would probably mean that Oklahoma and Utah will end up with abortion laws that are very different from those of California and New Jersey. As a constitutional matter, that is appropriate — it is, in fact, how things are supposed to be: We have 50 different states for a reason.

Black ceremonial robes notwithstanding, the Supreme Court is not supposed to function as an Iranian-style guardian council keeping the state and society within certain moral guardrails. The Supreme Court is there to interpret the law — which is written down for a reason. We write the law down so that we don’t have to renegotiate the rules from scratch every time there is a disagreement and so that powerful people cannot simply dictate to the less powerful what is permitted and what is not. If the abortion-rights advocates want to have a constitutional right to abortion inserted into the Bill of Rights, we have a constitutional-amendment process for such purposes. Get to work.

Overturning Roe would not be a lasting victory for the pro-life side or a lasting defeat for the pro-abortion side. It is entirely possible that Roe could be overturned and that in 20 years we have even more permissive abortion laws than we have today. I wouldn’t put it past us. No-fault divorce wasn’t forced on the American public by left-wing activists — it was enacted by popular demand to popular acclaim.

Most Americans support access to abortion early in pregnancy and support restrictions late in pregnancy. Democracy is an unpredictable thing, but it is likely that a democratic settlement on abortion — something that the United States has not had in five decades — would to some considerable extent reflect those preferences.

The case against Roe is not that abortion is a great evil. The case against Roe is that it is bad law. That is all the Supreme Court is bound to consider.

Media

On Crackpot Theories and Nonwhite White Supremacy

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Proud Boys and supporters of the police participate in a protest in Portland, Ore., August 22, 2020. (Maranie Staab/Reuters)

In response to Bravo, <i>Washington Post</i>, You’re Now Spreading the Beliefs of Crackpots

As Charlie Cooke notes, the Washington Post‘s media correspondent Margaret Sullivan must have taken leave of her senses to endorse the theory that “the United States is on track to become functionally an authoritarian White Christian nationalist state in the very near future.” The reductio ad absurdum of wedding yourself to this sort of narrative is that you have to keep redefining your terms in order to keep selling it. That tension is alive in today’s Post story headlined “Black, Brown and extremist: Across the far-right spectrum, people of color play a more visible role.” As the story is framed:

People of color are playing increasingly visible roles across the spectrum of far-right activism. Today, non-White activists speak for groups of radicalized MAGA supporters, parts of the “Patriot” movement, and, in rare cases, neo-Nazi factions. Although a few have concealed their identities, many others proudly acknowledge their backgrounds and offer themselves as counterpoints to charges of pervasive racism in right-wing movements . . .

As with many mainstream media pieces on such topics, the reasonable parts are further down the page:

The common refrain that white supremacy is a main driver of the far right is complicated when Black or Brown figures speak publicly for Stop the Steal, the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer and other factions that are under scrutiny. The trend is forcing new ways to think about, and talk about, the far right’s appeal…Although the GOP’s hard-right turn in the Trump era has blurred the line between mainstream and extreme, there remains a divide between ordinary conservatives of color and those who align themselves with right-wing movements linked to hate and violence.

Let me suggest that the caveats in the story are right: Maybe we should reconsider the knee-jerk assumption that all right-wing groups are all about white supremacy. Some groups are, and some of their participants are — that should not be controversial to anyone paying attention — but the blanket overuse of “white supremacist” threatens to make the words meaningless. The more you equate the fringe of the fringe with everybody to the right of Elizabeth Warren, the more you end up having to convince your readers that black people are white supremacists. The story’s kicker would make Orwell chuckle:

Cristina Beltrán, an associate professor at New York University who researches conservatives of color, said the fact that far-right extremist groups are forced to diversify means “they’ve already lost the war.” “In America,” Beltrán said, “even white supremacy is multiracial.”

Media

Re: When Courage Dies, Hysteria Rules

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(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

In response to When Courage Dies, Hysteria Rules

In an earlier post about a false claim that a Jeopardy! contestant had used a white-supremacy gesture on the show, which led to a mob clamoring for blood against the innocent party, I held that people who don’t speak up for truth against such social-media frenzies are cowards. One previous contestant on the show, Shawn Buell, spoke about the phenomenon on the record to Ben Smith of the New York Times. I mentioned this contestant in passing because he admitted that he had misgivings about the lies the mob was spreading via a Facebook group, and thought their claims “unhinged,” but ultimately didn’t speak up because he “assumed he would be shouted down,” in Smith’s words.

Buell writes in to say it was unfair of me to charge him with cowardice, and he may be right. I didn’t mean to call attention to Buell in particular, not knowing much about his specific circumstances, but rather to a class of people who decline to offer any corrective when a group to which they belong turns into a mob amid false claims.

Buell notes that the peculiar constraints of the Facebook group to which a number of past Jeopardy! contestants belong seem to preclude any commentary that breaks with progressive conventional wisdom; one rule is “no politics,” but a specific exemption is alluded to in the assertion that “human rights are not political.”

Buell says: “This is code for ‘if you agree with us you’re in favor of human rights and scum if you don’t’ — which bothered me from the moment I was invited to join. Many of the folks who have signed this letter are very-online, extremely woke types and the admins themselves sport BLM avatars.” So Buell’s voice in this matter was probably not welcome in the first place. The Facebook group is itself an ideologically closed system.

Buell notes that he is the only one of the dissenting Facebook contestants who spoke to Smith of the Times on the record; others calculated that staying silent was prudent given the likely outcome of speaking out.

He adds,

I also don’t think “cowardice” on the part of non-signing members explains this as well as “discretion being the better part of valor.” You are invited to join this group for having achieved something unique and don’t expect to be recruited into a de facto political action committee whose self-appointed task is to police the ongoing production of a television show.

I leave readers to judge for themselves.

Culture

The Strong Grounds for Pessimism

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The great majority of human history was not liberal (in its true meaning), but instead authoritarian. People were expected to obey leaders and we fought endlessly. Tribes feared and hated each other. There was no progress, nor even such a concept. Life truly was nasty, brutish, and short.

Then, roughly 700 years ago, we broke free of those arrangements. We began to adopt what Deirdre McCloskey and Art Carden call “the bourgeois deal,” whereby humans were freed of the ancient constraints. The result was a huge explosion in prosperity.

Now, however, the liberal order is grave danger. The authoritarians among us are poised to throw the ratchet into reverse.

One of the pessimists is GMU economics professor Don Boudreaux. Writing for AIER, he reflects on a recent video by Daniel Hannan of Britain. Boudreaux writes:

The reaction to Covid-19 is powerful evidence that our primitive instincts remain alive and ready to reestablish their dominance over the happy accident that is the culture, and resulting institutions, of liberalism. The hysterical fear that Covid stirred in so many people — including in many who are highly educated, of a scientific mindset, and, until Covid, of a liberal bent — and the sheepishness with which people followed the “leaders” who promised protection from Covid prompts Dan Hannan to worry that 2020-2021 is the beginning of the end of modernity.

Indeed. Over the last 16 months, we have seen just how thin is the veneer of civilization.

Boudreaux concludes his essay:

Abruptly starting 16 months ago, modern men and women were not only given license to revert to atavistic dread of strangers, but positively encouraged to harbor such dread and to act on it. Such atavistic attitudes and actions came all too naturally.

Abruptly starting 16 months ago, humanity was encouraged to hold in contempt — even to censor — the relative few persons who refused to abandon liberal sensibilities.

Abruptly starting 16 months ago, we prostrated our panicked selves before our “leaders,” begging that they use their god-like knowledge and powers (called “the Science”) to safeguard us from one particular source of illness, believed to be demonic.

Abruptly starting 16 months ago, there quite possibly began the end of liberal civilization.

To that, I would add the eagerness with which many of our fellow citizens embraced the authoritarian policies and turned viciously against those of us who argued for liberty. We’re back to tribalism.

National Security & Defense

Re: Yes, Take UFOs Seriously

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In response to Yes, Take UFOs Seriously

Rich, with respect to Andrew Stuttaford, an admirably inveterate UFO enthusiast, he is not the only one on staff with a longtime interest in this topic. Yet I welcome the new obsessives grudgingly, much as a fan of a once-obscure rock band might feel about its new fans once the band gets big.

Politics & Policy

Is Governor Whitmer Facing a ‘French Laundry Moment’?

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Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a campaign event for Joe Biden in Detroit, Mich., October 31, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

California governor Gavin Newsom saw his poll numbers tumble and interest in a recall election skyrocket last November after he was photographed violating state lockdown guidelines by dining with lobbyists at the French Laundry, one of California’s most expensive restaurants.

Now it’s been revealed that Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, who for months had lectured state residents to stay at home and not travel, had a nonprofit group tied to her administration pay to charter a jet so she could visit her father in Florida. Whitmer did pay $855 for her own seat, a small fraction of the minimum $2,500 an hour it takes to operate the Gulfstream.

The “social welfare” nonprofit Michigan Transition, which was formed in 2018 to help pay for the cost of Whitmer’s inauguration, paid for the charter. As the Detroit News notes: “Federal tax law prohibits nonprofits from excessively benefiting an individual who has close ties with the tax-exempt organization.”

Whitmer’s office declined to answer questions, merely saying only that “ongoing security and public health concerns” merited use of the private jet.

Even before these revelations, Whitmer was in political hot water. A new MIRS/Target poll finds her with less than majority support against two potential Republican challengers. She leads retiring Detroit police chief James Craig by 48 percent to 42 percent. Against businessman John James, who nearly won last year’s U.S. Senate race, she has a 49 percent to 39 percent lead. Both Craig and James are African-American and won about a third of the black vote in the survey.

National Security & Defense

Yes, Take UFOs Seriously

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Senator Marco Rubio speaks at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing Jan. 9, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Marco Rubio was trending on Twitter a little while ago for saying during this 60 Minutes segment on UFOs that the government should take this seriously and try to figure it out. Of course, he’s right. Other UFO obsessives will have to tell us how much the 60 Minutes segment added to our knowledge (paging Andrew Stuttaford), since I believe the videos were already out there, but having credible people on camera talking about what they’ve experienced directly definitely moves the public debate.

(It’s a sign of the times, by the way, that a 60 Minutes report on UFOs is more reliable than a 60 Minutes report on the pandemic policies of a major state.)

Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar vs. Math

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Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019 (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Representative Ilhan Omar took a break from bashing Israel over the weekend to offer this observation about federal budgeting:

It turns out that her presentation of budget math is no more honest than her conspiracy theories about Jewish influence.

Omar’s budget tweet is in line with a popular genre of argument on the left which perpetuates the myth that if only we weren’t wasting money on weapons, we could afford to deliver free health care to everybody — and just about everything else. Her squadmate, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, tried something similar a few weeks ago.

As shown in the chart below, we already are expected to spend $19.9 trillion on existing health-care programs over the next decade (2022–31), according to the Congressional Budget Office, which is more than twice the $8.5 trillion we are expected to spend on defense. Yet Medicare for All, according to the liberal Urban Institute, would cost $34 trillion over a decade on top of that existing spending. That would mean that to achieve Omar’s vision, spending would be about $54 trillion over the next decade. (It would likely be more than this, as the Medicare for All estimate was made in 2019 and prices rise over time).

Put another way, even if we were to abolish the Pentagon and zero out defense spending, it wouldn’t even cover one-sixth of the cost of sustaining a Medicare for All system.

 

Film & TV

Godzilla vs. Kong vs. King Kong vs. Godzilla

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Godzilla and King Kong in Godzilla vs. Kong. (Warner Bros. Pictures/Trailer image via YouTube)

Last night, I finally got around to seeing Godzilla vs. Kong, the latest installment in what is somewhat awkwardly called the “Monsterverse.” I saw it in a theater, something I have now done three times in the past year (the first two times in Virginia, because until March, there was a period when theaters in northern Virginia were open but theaters across the Potomac in D.C. were closed — we all know viruses can’t cross rivers). I know the movie is available to be streamed on HBO Max, but I actually like movie theaters, and am keen on maintaining the theatrical experience.

Returning to a theater was enjoyable, particularly for something as big, dumb, and fun as Godzilla vs. Kong, which uses a bonkers core of conspiratorial nonsense — Hollow Earth, top-secret government and corporate shenanigans, ancient gigantic lifeforms — to give audiences what we want: King Kong fighting Godzilla. There probably isn’t an amount of giant gorilla fighting giant lizard monster that is sufficient, so I suppose one can complain about the movie on that score, but there was definitely a lot (and something else!).

Seeing it made me think of the first time these two famous movie monsters went at it, in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. The original kaiju films can seem laughably primitive in retrospect, although, as Michael Brendan Dougherty — not to be confused with Godzilla: King of Monsters director Michael Dougherty — has noted, they can have surprising poignancy. As for their laughable primitiveness, however: See Godzilla vs. Kong, and then, if you haven’t seen it already, watch the climactic final fight from the 1962 battle:

Now, I am circumspect enough about the technical limitations of the time not to be overly critical of this. Indeed, there are some genuinely thrilling moments of choreography here. But it remains, to our modern eyes, archaic. What’s worth keeping in mind, though, is that these movies did it anyway. The directors of these older movies had nothing like the nigh-limitless means of technological and financial wizardry that modern Hollywood blockbusters have at their disposal. And yet the older works still reflect a deranged imagination and commitment that we should admire. I came out of Godzilla vs. Kong wondering what these older creators would think of what has become of their men in rubber suits . . . but also wondering what they might have done with such free rein, and whether our monster movies, even at their most bonkers, live up to this anarchic spirit.