Politics & Policy

Democratic Deception about Right-to-Work Laws

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Workers construct a new house in Arvada, Colo., in 2016. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

The Washington Post has run a blatantly deceptive op-ed calling for the repeal of Virginia’s right-to-work (RTW) law. It was authored by one Sean Perryman, identified as a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia.

Perryman claims that RTW laws “prohibit or severely limit the ability of labor unions to represent workers . . . and to fight for decent pay, better conditions, retirement, insurance, and leave for sickness or vacation.”

That claim is simply false. What RTW statutes do is prevent workers from being fired just because they decline to pay dues to a labor union. It is the escape hatch for workers who conclude that the union that was elected to represent their interests either costs more than it’s worth to them or advances interests that they do not share. RTW laws protect freedom of choice for workers, but as we know, the Democratic party is only in favor of freedom of choice when it comes to abortion.

What happens if one or more workers in a union-represented business decide to exercise their freedom to stop paying union dues? Does that shut down the union? Does it “prohibit or severely limit” the union in collective bargaining? No. It just means that the union will have to do so with slightly less money. Union officials could make up the difference by taking somewhat less of a cut for themselves.

Democrats such as Perryman want to get rid of RTW laws because doing so would marginally increase the intake of dues for unions, which spend heavily on Democratic campaigns.

Perryman tries desperately to paint RTW as a racist conspiracy, but it won’t wash. Long ago, some racists supported RTW, just as racists were behind prevailing wage laws and minimum wage laws, as ways of keeping black workers from competing with whites. Giving workers freedom to leave unions without losing their jobs has always applied to workers of all races. It is racially neutral on its face and in its effect.

The op-ed has a lot more absurd rhetoric. If Perryman should be the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor next year, no doubt we will hear much more disinformation about RTW.

Health Care

Universal Medicaid for Ages 1–21 Pushed in New England Journal of Medicine

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(megaflopp/Getty Images)

The “Perspective” section in the New England Journal of  Medicine — probably the world’s foremost medical journal — isn’t technically an official editorial. But week after week the NEJM publishes advocacy pieces pushing the hard left-wing agendas (such as banning natural gas to combat global warming) favored by the editors and much of the medical establishment.

This week, the journal pushes a scheme to massively expand the depth and breadth of Medicaid, the godawful health-insurance plan for the poor, as “a key strategy for achieving greater fairness for Black, Latinx, and Native American children.” (The term “Latinx” is an irritating woke bit of word engineering, cultural appropriation not coming from the Latino/Latina community itself. But I digress.)

From “Medicaid and Child Health Equity”:

Making Medicaid work better for all children offers a strategy for achieving greater health equity among children now and as these children age into adulthood. We believe that Medicaid should be expanded to cover all children from birth through 21 years of age. Among children with employer-sponsored coverage, Medicaid would serve as a secondary payer for those whose special health care needs exceed limits on care imposed by plans.

More:

We also believe that the federal government should assume full financial responsibility for Medicaid for children, which would ease the fiscal pressures that cause states to reduce enrollment or impose burdensome renewal requirements. Finally, to lessen stigma and increase provider participation, Medicaid payments should parallel national Medicare standards.

Of course there is no mention of the cost, which would be almost unquantifiable.

Consider: More than 80 million people living in the country are age 19 and under, so we are talking about covering roughly 90 million on Medicaid. Also, note that the term “all children” would also include illegal aliens, adding millions more to the rolls and a huge incentive for destitute people to risk the terrible dangers of sneaking into the country.

Nor do the authors seem to care that Medicaid for every young person in the country would create a budget-busting incentive for families who have the ability to pay for their own health insurance to just leave it to the feds. And they don’t even try to estimate the cost of increasing Medicaid physician compensation to (already inadequate) Medicare levels.

Not to mention that the universal Medicaid plan would cover every adult in the country ages 18-21.

The U.S. needs to improve its health-care system. But the medical establishment seems utterly uninterested in investigating the efficacy potential of free-market systems and is indifferent to the important principle that we should be primarily responsible for taking care of our own needs — with social safety nets reserved for those who, due to no fault of their own, can’t.

It’s hard to believe that the medical establishment once opposed Medicare. Today, it is all-in for socialized health-care systems — including rationing — whether they are good for us or not.

Religion

One of These Days . . .

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(Patrick Semansky/Reuters)

. . . I am going to do a thorough writeup of a particularly irritating journalistic genre: “I was raised Catholic, and I was taught [x, which is not something the Catholic Church actually teaches].” An example from the New York Times:

I grew up Catholic, the type of Catholic that is encouraged to bargain. At the age of 7 I was fervently being told by a priest in a box that if I simply said half a dozen Hail Marys I’d be forgiven for being mean to my sister.

This is, of course, pure ignorance. Dean Baquet is right that the New York Times simply doesn’t “get religion,” though instead of “religion” he ought to have said what he means, which is, “We don’t get Christianity.” When the editor of the New York Times says his newspaper is too New Yorky to “get religion,” he isn’t talking about Mahayana Buddhism.

I imagine this kind of thing gets through the editing process in roughly this way: “Oh, the author is Irish, she must know Catholic stuff.” Soft bigotry of low expectations, as someone once put it.

The author says she now prays to “a different higher power. Science, maybe. Or the government.” I wonder whether she knows anything about those, either.

White House

Sasse on Trump

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Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2020 (Carolyn Kaster/Reuters)

In response to President Trump’s December 23 pardons of Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse issued a one-sentence statement: “This is rotten to the core.”

Although Sasse was one of the few Republicans who immediately denounced Trump’s pardons, some supporters of Joe Biden denounced Sasse for refusing to vote for Biden in November.

In a written statement, Sasse explained on Thursday afternoon why he decided to cast a write-in presidential ballot for Mike Pence in 2020 just as he did in 2016:

I get why many conservative voters chose President Trump over Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton — I couldn’t vote for either of those Democrats either. But I also swore an oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. Voting for president is about two things: It’s partly about who you want to lead the executive branch the next four years, but it’s also partly a civic duty to reiterate what America means, what we want to teach our kids about moral leadership, and what kind of candidates we want in future elections. From where I sit, Donald Trump’s character and dishonesty don’t fit that bill — so, just as in 2016, I wrote in Mike Pence this election again. I like many of the policies the current administration and the Republican Senate have advanced over the last four years (the judges, the regulatory reform, the conservative stuff), but I couldn’t tell my kids that I think they, the party of Lincoln, or the country are well-served by the narcissism at the top of the ticket. As a pro-life conservative worried about the future of religious liberty and the broader First Amendment, I couldn’t in good conscience vote for Biden-Harris either. We’ve had two elections in a row where the winner’s message was mainly ‘I’m not the other candidate’ — America needs better choices.

In 2019, in the midst of a Nebraska Republican primary, Sasse won the endorsement of Trump, but Sasse told National Review he wouldn’t endorse Trump in 2020. Asked at the time if he might cast his presidential vote for Pence again in 2020, Sasse refused to say — and he didn’t publicly reveal his decision in the 2020 presidential election until now.

While Sasse has angered Trump’s staunchest opponents for picking and choosing his battles and for refusing to vote for Biden or to convict Trump in his impeachment trial, the Nebraska senator has also managed to anger Trump loyalists for publicly criticizing Trump more than most elected Republicans have.

In August, Sasse called some of Trump’s executive actions “unconstitutional slop,” and Trump responded by tweeting: “RINO Ben Sasse, who needed my support and endorsement in order to get the Republican nomination for Senate from the GREAT State of Nebraska, has, now that he’s got it (Thank you President T), gone rogue, again.”

In an October conference call with constituents, one Nebraskan asked Sasse why he criticizes Trump so much. Sasse pointed to Trump’s erratic response to the pandemic, as well as “the way he kisses dictators’ butts. I mean, the way he ignores that the Uyghurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang. Right now, he hasnt lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong-Kongers. The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women.”

Trump responded by calling Sasse a “liability to the Republican Party and an embarrassment to the Great State of Nebraska” and suggested Nebraska Republicans “should find a new and more viable candidate.”

Sasse, who had won his GOP primary in May by 50 points, ran ahead of Trump in the November general election.

Culture

Xmas Pics

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(Jay Nordlinger)

As you can imagine, New York City is bereft of tourists this season. But some shops on Fifth Avenue are still getting dressed up. Behold Cartier:

How ’bout a shot of a window at Saks?

I do not spend much time at Cartier or Saks. But I do know the golf range. Check it out:

This year, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was supposed to be puny — kind of a pathetic, Charlie Brown-ish affair. I don’t know, looks all right to me.

Grand Central Terminal has a sole decoration, pretty much: clean, elegant, and just right:

A quick shot from a village on Long Island? The figure is familiar. But he is using an unaccustomed means of conveyance.

Merry Christmas!

Impromptus

The Cyberwar, Pardons, and More

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I begin my Impromptus today with a memory. In April 2015, I did a Q&A podcast with John McCain. He said he had recently received a briefing on cyber threats to America. And it was “the most disturbing briefing” he had ever received, he said.

That really made me sit up and take notice. McCain had been in Congress since 1983. At the time of that podcast, he was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He had received a lot of security briefings.

“The most disturbing briefing that I have ever received,” he said. “We better start paying attention.” And “we better start doing a helluva lot better job.”

Naturally, I thought of this when news came of the massive cyberattack against key departments and agencies of the U.S. government — including State, Treasury, and Homeland Security.

President Trump’s statement on the matter?

The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of….

….discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA.

This does not inspire me with confidence, though Trump always inspires a great many — tens of millions — with confidence.

I wrote my column before the president’s latest round of pardons. He is the “law and order” president, he says. Some of us beg to differ. Trump likes to use the terms “lowlife” and “human scum” — those are two of his go-to epithets. I think “lowlife,” at least, applies to some of his pardonees.

He has four weeks left to go. He can do a lot in that time. How about the next round of pardons? Will it include Snowden and Assange? With each outrage, the public gets a little wearier. Eventually, people are numb. “New normals” are driven ever downward.

Since 2015, there has been one big question, really: Is Donald Trump fit to be president, in mind and character? The divide on that question remains. In fact, I have the impression that very few people have changed their minds — either way — over the years.

My column today has several notes on recent passings — of John le Carré, Walter Williams, Paul Sarbanes, Ralph K. Winter, and William Winter (no relation).

William Winter was governor of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984. I learned many things from the relevant obit in the New York Times. Have a healthy paragraph:

He and his wife held a series of dinners at the governor’s mansion featuring prominent Mississippians, and not just white people like Walker Percy and Eudora Welty. Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of the slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, dined with them, as did Leontyne Price, the world-famous soprano whom previous governors had shunned. The Winters invited her to stay overnight in the Bilbo Room, named for Theodore G. Bilbo, an infamously racist governor and senator; the next day Mr. Winter renamed it the Leontyne Price Room.

It’s hard for me to imagine shunning Leontyne Price: pretty much the greatest singer there ever was. And a wonderfully entertaining personality, to boot. Racism is, among other things, weird.

I cherish a remark by Zora Neale Hurston — which went something like this: “I’m not so much offended by racism as astonished by it. Why would anyone want to deny himself the pleasure of my company?”

About a decade into her retirement, I said to Leontyne Price, “I attended 13 Price recitals.” “So few?” she answered. “I got a late start,” I pleaded (owing to the year of my birth). She seemed satisfied — though not entirely so.

Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here. Something for everyone to like or loathe. Ah, opinion-writing!

World

State Department Begins Xinjiang Genocide Determination Review

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Outside a “vocational skills education center” in Dabancheng, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, September 4, 2018 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Foreign Policy reports that the State Department has begun an official review into whether the Chinese Communist Party’s actions in Xinjiang constitute a genocide.

This has been a long time coming. Back in August, Politico reported that the Trump administration might undertake such a review process. Although administration officials have been outspoken on the plight of the Uyghurs, the path toward a potential atrocity determination has been a long time coming. It’s a tough legal case to make, particularly because it requires an assertion of what the intent of the perpetrators actually is. Needless to say, Beijing hasn’t copped to the systematic elimination of the Uyghur people — in fact, it runs a global disinformation campaign to deny its crimes.

As the Foreign Policy piece notes, the initiation of this review follows increased Congressional pressure for an atrocity determination. Lawmakers have pushed for the administration to make a decision, introducing resolutions calling for such a finding. The omnibus bill under consideration — whose fate remains unclear — included a provision that required the State Department to issue a determination within 90 days. With this latest news, it seems that this part of the legislation is no longer necessary. However, unlike the process required by that measure, the one reported today has an indefinite length and could potentially extend into the Biden administration. (For what it’s worth, Biden in a statement during the campaign called the situation a genocide, so there’s likely to be a pretty remarkable continuity of policy between administrations.)

Here’s the crux of the legal argument for the State team, from a piece I wrote on this in September:

In addition to establishing the perpetration of acts listed in the convention, though, State Department lawyers must prove that the CCP targets “members of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group” and that this targeting reflects an intent to destroy the Uyghurs “in whole or in part.” Clearly, the Uyghurs are an ethnic group protected under the genocide convention. Intent is the trickier part.

How can the State Department assert that CCP officials have acted with the intent to destroy the Uyghur people? The very existence of coordinated government efforts such as the birth-control drive and the separation of Uyghur children from their parents goes a long way toward demonstrating that intent. And even as Chinese-government officials have claimed that the Uyghurs pose a significant threat of terrorism, they’ve been exceedingly transparent about their real goal. “Break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins,” wrote one CCP religious-affairs official in a 2019 article. If such transparent statements of intent seem too tenuous, however, the State Department could also claim that the CCP’s cultural-genocide effort itself proves intent of “physical” genocide against the group’s members, a line of legal reasoning offered in a partially dissenting opinion in a case before the U.N.’s tribunal on war crimes in Yugoslavia.

Calling the situation in Xinjiang a genocide will hopefully bring more pressure to bear on forming an international response. It’s also just the most truthful description.

National Security & Defense

What Glenn Greenwald Gets Wrong about Russian Hacking

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(scyther5/Getty Images)

According to Glenn Greenwald, “one has to be drowning in endless amounts of jingoistic self-delusion to believe that” the SolarWinds hack of numerous U.S. government agencies and businesses “is a radical departure from international norms as opposed to a perfect reflection of them.”

The former Intercept editor — once seen on the right as the crank whose work with Edward Snowden harmed America’s national security — has gained cachet in conservative circles for his commentary on how the media have attacked Donald Trump and defended Joe Biden using baseless claims about the extent of Russian operations in the United States.

His latest essay on Substack shows that even while he has gained a reputation of late for telling it as it is, his perspective on broader U.S.–Russia issues is still blinkered, leading him to some odd, though characteristic, conclusions that ignore the nature of the Russian regime. He downplays the seriousness of the cyberattack, says that the alarm is a product of intelligence community lies, and writes that it’s nothing abnormal because the United States does the same things.

Of course, people with knowledge of the situation would disagree that it’s something to be brushed off. Here’s a brief, though incomplete, summary of the damage from the Wall Street Journal:

The hacking operation exposed as many as hundreds of thousands of government and corporate networks to potential risk and alarmed national-security officials in the Trump administration as well as executives at FireEye, some of whom view it as far more significant than a routine case of foreign cyber espionage, people familiar with the matter said.

While those familiar with the hack couldn’t precisely specify its scope or the resulting damage to the U.S. government, several described it as among the most potentially worrisome cyberattacks in years, because it may have allowed Russia to access sensitive information from government agencies, defense contractors and other industries. One person familiar with the matter said the campaign was a “10” on a scale of one to 10, in terms of its likely severity and national-security implications.

But the alarm around SolarWinds, Greenwald writes, has been manufactured by Democratic politicians (some Republicans, too) who have likened Russian political interference and to acts of war against the United States:

For those keeping track at home: that’s two separate “Pearl Harbors” in less than four years from Moscow (or, if you prefer, one Pearl Harbor and one 9/11). If Democrats actually believe that, it stands to reason that they will be eager to embrace a policy of belligerence and aggression toward Russia. Many of them are demanding this outright, mocking Trump for failing to attack Russia — despite no evidence that they were responsible — while their well-trained liberal flock is suggesting that the non-response constitutes some form of “high treason.”

Indeed, Democrats are wrong to mock Trump for failing to take a tougher stand against Russia, but not for the reason that Greenwald would suggest. Notwithstanding the president’s outrageous pro-Putin rhetoric, his refusal to speak out about Russian government perfidies (SolarWinds included), and his attempt to hold up lethal defensive aid to Ukraine, he has presided over a Russia policy that is decidedly tougher than that of his predecessor. From using expansive sanctions to kill a trans-European Russian pipeline, to initially deciding to send arms to Ukraine, to tightening the screws on the Assad government in Syria, the Trump administration hasn’t hesitated to do exactly what the previous one avoided for fear of entering an escalatory spiral.

And that’s an essential problem with Greenwald’s point here. He has set out to argue that Democratic Party-media collusion with faulty intelligence community assessments is bolstering the latest claims about SolarWinds. But he’s elided the fact that Trump loyalists, such as Mike Pompeo and Bill Barr have blamed Russia for the attack. His only explanation is that Pompeo said that Russia is “pretty clearly” to blame, leaving some room for doubt.

And while bad-faith actors in the media have used baseless claims of Kremlin disinformation as a political instrument for the past four years, this doesn’t mean that Russia’s conduct here is normal.

Greenwald would have you believe that, though:

Just as was true of 2016 fake Facebook pages and Twitter bots, it is not an exaggeration to say that the U.S. Government engages in hacking attacks of this sort, and ones far more invasive, against virtually every country on the planet, including Russia, on a weekly basis. That does not mean that this kind of hacking is either justified or unjustified. It does mean, however, that depicting it as some particularly dastardly and incomparably immoral act that requires massive retaliation requires a degree of irrationality and gullibility that is bewildering to behold.

The crucial thing here is “of this sort.” Although Greenwald furnishes some examples of U.S. cyber espionage, he offers no episode that seems to approach the potential scale of the SolarWinds operation. In addition to the still-unclear but apparently growing number of compromised U.S. government agencies, this also includes several large companies, such as Microsoft and IBM.

And he fails to reckon with just what foreign adversaries can do with it. It’s looking like SolarWinds could end up being a more damaging incident than the Office of Personnel Management hack discovered in 2015 in which the Chinese government got ahold of tens of millions of files on U.S. government employees. Greenwald rarely engages with the idea that an event damaging to the intelligence community could have disastrous consequences, but as it happens, we are starting to understand the consequences of these events.

Reporting in Foreign Policy this week, Zach Dorfman broke a huge story about how, almost a decade after discovery of the OPM breach, certain U.S. intelligence-community capabilities have been crippled. By using the personal information of U.S. operatives stolen from OPM, Chinese intelligence officials have been able to preempt American efforts to cultivate informants in China and around the world. But the Chinese weren’t the only ones playing this game:

There were other bad omens. During this same period, U.S. officials concluded that Russian intelligence officials, likely exploiting a difference in payroll payments between real State Department employees and undercover CIA officers, had identified some of the CIA personnel working at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Officials thought that this insight may have come from data derived from the OPM hack, provided by the Chinese to their Russian counterparts. U.S. officials also wondered whether the OPM hack could be related to an uptick in attempted recruitments by Chinese intelligence of Chinese American translators working for U.S. intelligence agencies when they visited family in China. “We also thought they were trying to get Mandarin speakers to apply for jobs as translators” within the U.S. intelligence community, recalled the former senior counterintelligence official. U.S. officials believed that Chinese intelligence was giving their agents “instructions on how to pass a polygraph.”

Of course, that doesn’t matter to Greenwald (as if this wasn’t made clear by his work with Snowden), who views the United States as morally equivalent to Russia and China:

What we have here, yet again, is the classic operation of the intelligence community feeding serious accusations about a nuclear-armed power to an eagerly gullible corporate media, with the media mindlessly disseminating it without evidence, all toward ratcheting up tensions between these two nuclear-armed powers and fortifying a mythology of the U.S. as grand victim but never perpetrator.

But one need not watch MSNBC to understand why Trump administration officials who rebuked Russiagate are alarmed by SolarWinds. Greenwald won acclaim on the right for his skepticism of specious media narratives on Trump and Russia, but he probably has more in common with other left-wing journalists — who share his mythology of the U.S. as grand perpetrator — than he’d care to admit.

Elections

Newt Gingrich, John Lewis, and Presidential Legitimacy

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In 2017, Representative John Lewis (D., Ga.) said that he didn’t see President-elect Donald Trump as a “legitimate president.” Newt Gingrich is now saying the same thing about President-elect Joe Biden. Lewis argued that Russian interference in the 2016 election made Trump illegitimate. Gingrich argues that the Left’s unfairness toward Trump over the last four years, including Lewis’s boycott of Trump’s inauguration, justifies his refusal to recognize Biden now. Gingrich also throws in some (false) allegations about the conduct of the election.

In both cases, though, there is something pitiful about the gesture. Lewis’s refusal to attend Trump’s inauguration didn’t make Trump any less the president. Biden will be president, too, whether or not Gingrich recognizes it. His recognition isn’t necessary for the system to function.

And he’s not serious about it anyway, any more than Lewis was. Is he calling for an armed insurrection against the illegitimate president? For the Armed Forces to ignore any commands Biden gives after January 20? Is he saying he won’t consider himself by any legislation Biden signs into law?

No, no, and no. He’s not even foreclosing the possibility of supporting bipartisan legislative deals over the next four years. As in the case of the late Representative Lewis, he doesn’t really mean anything except that he’s mad.

Music

‘In Grateful Chorus’

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(Dzurag/Getty Images)

I have a Christmas podcast for you: a Christmas episode of Music for a While. I have done a number of Christmas shows in the past. I have favorite carols and cuts — go-to tracks. This year, however, I’ve played other ones — other favorites, I should say; other go-to tracks. The Christmas repertoire is well-nigh inexhaustible. (I made this point in a post about Chanticleer’s latest Christmas album — their eighth such album. They could keep going to 80, if they wanted to.)

In my podcast, I start with Bach — he who should be started with. I begin with the opening chorus of the Christmas Oratorio. Then, “White Christmas,” as sung by Marilyn Horne — who includes the verse, which is seldom heard (and which explains the song). Then, more Bach, another chorus from the Christmas Oratorio.

As I say — like some entitled-feeling child — “It’s my show, it’s Christmas, and I won’t be denied it.”

Along the way, I have a little jazz, a little George Shearing, doing “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” while drawing on Dave Brubeck. (Inspired).

By the way, did you notice that punctuation? “Merry, Gentlemen” — not “Merry Gentlemen.” A critical distinction, too seldom observed.

Elsewhere in this podcast, I honor a listener request (“Once in Royal David’s City”). I have a dose of Russian, a dose of French, an American spiritual (“Everywhere I Go, Somebody Talkin’ ’Bout Jesus”). And, to end, a blockbuster “First Nowell” (as the old spelling has it).

What could go wrong? Nothing, and I hope you enjoy. Again, here. Merry Christmas.

Health Care

Save Short-Term Insurance

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Giving people freedom to buy it is one of the things that President Trump and HHS secretary Alex Azar got right. I wrote about it for Bloomberg Opinion:

The Democrats’ leading public argument against the short-term plans is that they are “junk insurance.” In fact, they have very high satisfaction rates. And as the CBO projection suggests, for a lot of people the alternative to these plans that’s affordable isn’t better insurance. It’s no insurance at all.

Politics & Policy

We Don’t Need COVID Vaccine Role Models

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One argument for getting politicians inoculated early (made, for example, here) is that it will allay people’s doubts about the vaccines and encourage them to follow suit. That’s also an argument for other high-profile people to be early in line.

But it’s not an argument that seems very pressing. There’s no shortage of demand for the vaccines. We may eventually reach the point where almost everyone who is highly motivated has gotten the shots, and persuading laggards serves the public interest. But we’re not there yet.

And by the time we reach that point, many millions of people will have gotten the vaccines. People who aren’t reassured by the vaccines’ track record by that point seem unlikely to be moved by hearing that a congressman got them.

There may well be other reasons for politicians to be toward the front of the line: In the normal course of things, they travel a lot and meet a lot of people. It’s the role-model argument that has me skeptical.

Politics & Policy

Fixing Advice and Consent

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All of the proposals that Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith make in this op-ed deserve consideration, but this one is especially attractive:

One sharp conflict between the executive and legislative branches needs an urgent fix and is ripe for a deal: the regulation of executive branch vacancies. Many presidential administrations — the Trump administration more aggressively than others — have circumvented the Senate confirmation process for top executive branch appointments by making unilateral temporary appointments.

These tactics exploited loopholes in federal vacancies law. Compounding this problem is that the number of Senate-confirmed executive branch positions has grown (it is now around 1,200), and the Senate in recent decades has become more aggressive in using holds and filibusters to block or delay confirmation. Congress should significantly reduce the number of executive positions requiring confirmation in exchange for substantially narrowed presidential discretion to make temporary appointments.

Immigration

Biden to Illegals: Never Mind!

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President-elect Joe Biden delivers a pre-Thanksgiving address at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., November 25, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Surprise!

Top advisers to president-elect Joe Biden said Monday they will not immediately roll back asylum restrictions at the Mexico border and other restrictive Trump administration policies, walking back some of Biden’s campaign promises for “Day One” changes.

As I noted on the home page last week, this was inevitable. The Post story notes that the comments by Biden’s incoming domestic-policy adviser Susan Rice,”reflect the incoming administration’s worries that easing up too quickly on Trump’s enforcement system could trigger a new migration surge at the border.”

Rice told Spanish-language wire service EFE that:

Migrants and asylum seekers absolutely should not believe those in the region peddling the idea that the border will suddenly be fully open to process everyone on Day 1. It will not.

The thing is, prospective migrants base their decisions on our government’s actions, not on officials’ words. When the migrant crisis started under Obama, U.S. officials ran ads in Central America warning that “there are no permits for the people trying to cross the border without papers” and promising “the immediate deportation of those trying to cross the border without documents.”

But the ads were false. There were permits for illegal migrants, especially if they had kids with them and they uttered the magic “asylum” word, as coached by smugglers and U.S. anti-borders activists, and no one uttering those magic words experienced “immediate deportation.” And so the border crisis continued to gather steam until the Trump administration took the aggressive steps that Biden deplored during the campaign but is now saying will stay in place for a while.

The problem for Biden is that it will be politically impossible for him to keep these programs — Remain in Mexico, Title 42 expulsions, safe third-country agreements with Central American countries — in place indefinitely. Nor is Mexico likely to continue for long its policy of blocking migrants at its own southern border with Guatemala — something it started to do only because of Trump’s threat of trade sanctions.

When those impediments are removed, the basic logic that drove the border crisis will reassert itself: If you can step across the border, or even just present yourself at a port of entry, and you claim to fear persecution, more likely than not you will be released into the interior (since Biden has also pledged to end detention of illegal immigrants, whether they brings kids with them or not). Then, whether or not you actually go through with an asylum application, whether or not you show up for hearings, whether or not you get a deportation order, you can stay indefinitely with no fear of deportation (because Biden has also said only violent criminals will be deported).

Ironically, by delaying the full effect of his immigration promises, Biden sets up a situation where news of the renewed border crisis caused by his rollback of Trump’s policies may only break through the inevitable media blackout just when the midterm-election campaign is underway. Republican candidates would do well to start preparing now.

Music

Night Fever

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I know Kyle Smith recommended it earlier this month, but I’d like to second his endorsement of the documentary hosted on HBO Max, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? I flipped it on last night and was impressed by the storytelling of the film itself, including a bravura section cutting together a night in 1979 when the Bee Gees were performing before an enormous arena crowd in Oakland even as their records were being blown up in a Chicago stunt.

I never felt anything particular about their music until watching this film. But the real heart of the film is the love of Barry Gibb for his brothers.

White House

Farewell, Dr. Birx

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White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 17, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus-pandemic coordinator, announced this week she will retire soon. She cited the recent reports about three generations of her family gathering at her vacation home in Delaware, the day after Thanksgiving, and suggested that the media had “dragged her family into this.”

“We never visited anyone, we never had anyone into the household. It was the same situation [as] if we had been here at home, but because of the perception it created, we obviously will not do that through any of the holiday seasons,” Birx said. “This experience has been a bit overwhelming. It’s been very difficult on my family. I think what was done in the last week to my family, you know, they didn’t choose this for me. They’ve tried to be supportive, but to drag my family into this when it’s — my daughter hasn’t left that house in 10 months. My parents have been isolated for 10 months.”

Birx said her parents have “become deeply depressed, as I’m sure many elderly have, as they’ve not been able to see their sons, their granddaughters . . . My parents haven’t seen their surviving son for over a year. These are all very difficult things.”

Birx is describing is the state of affairs for just about all families in the U.S. for much of the year. If she thinks it’s okay for her family to gather two households and three generations under one roof, it ought to be okay for everyone else, too. “These are all very difficult things” for every family, not just the Birx family.

Her difficulty grasping why people were so upset left even mild-mannered commentators such as The Blaze’s Leon Wolf fuming.

If Birx had been the first figure to violate the protocols about mixing households, perhaps the public might have shrugged it off after a bad news cycle. But Birx received grief because the public is tired of state and local governments restricting their activities and fed up with governors and mayors who casually violate their own edicts. People have by and large followed the rules and restrictions and edicts for nine months, and they’re now being asked to give up gathering with family for Christmas — and they’re largely ignoring the edicts. Birx ably served her country when America needed her, but her violation of the rules, and insistence that her family deserves an exemption because it’s been such a difficult time, suggest it’s probably the right choice for her to move on to a new chapter in her life.

Fiscal Insanity Is All Around

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The year 2020 will be remembered as the year when common sense, rationality, and the little that remained of fiscal responsibility and liberty were sacrificed once and for all by career politicians and the pundits that enable them. Public hysteria encouraged unrestrained abuse of the government’s regulatory, monetary, and fiscal powers.

On this December 23, I thought I had seen it all, but I was wrong. It was bad enough that the latest COVID “stimulus” bill failed to demonstrate any sense of proportion and priority. In a last-minute effort by senators Josh Hawley and Bernie Sanders, it now includes individual checks

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Record on Clemency

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The president’s powers of clemency are wholly discretionary: He can use them as much or as little as he likes. President Trump’s pardons have been frequently controversial, but they have not been frequent overall. As of now, he has issued fewer pardons than any president in 100 years. (He may end up issuing more than George H.W. Bush did by January 20.)

The pattern of his pardons and commutations is also unusual. Jack Goldsmith and Matthew Gluck have made some judgment calls in breaking down his record, but it’s quite clear that a very high proportion of Trump’s beneficiaries have been political allies or people with personal connections to him. A high proportion of his other beneficiaries have been convicted criminals championed by celebrities. A very low proportion of them, it appears, have been recommended for clemency by the Justice Department’s pardon office.

The president has no constitutional obligation to follow the department’s recommendations, and going beyond them may sometimes be right. (David French argued for the Blackwater pardons last year.) Ideally, though, a president would regard this power as something more than a perk of the office.

Politics & Policy

‘Christmas in a Time of COVID’

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This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Michael discuss Congress’s newly passed economic relief bill, the fight over who should be at the front of the COVID vaccine line, and their favorite Christmas memories. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

One More Round of Chaos for Trump

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President Trump holds a campaign rally in Winston-Salem, N.C., September 8, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Last week, Trump reportedly thought about demanding $1,200 or even $2,000 stimulus checks in the COVID-relief bill. But his aides advised him this would blow up the negotiations, so he didn’t.

Instead, he waited until after the bill passed — with $600 checks — and released this video last night. He is asking Congress to add $2,000 checks to the relief bill, extend a tax break for business meals, and remove the foreign aid and pork (most of which is actually in the omnibus appropriations bill that funds the government, not the relief bill itself, though the two were combined and

Education

Books We’d Like to Find Under the Tree

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The Martin Center has been accumulating a considerable library of books on higher education — more than 700 so far. There are always good new (and not-so-new) titles that we’d like to get, and the Center’s president, Jenna Robinson, lists ten she’d like to acquire.

  1. Mortimer Adler: How to Think about the Great Ideas
  2. Zena Hitz: Lost in Thought
  3. Richard Hofstadter: Anti-intellectualism in American Life
  4. Alasdair McIntyre: God, Philosophy, and Universities
  5. Richard Phelps: Correcting Fallacies about Educational and Psychological Testing
  6. Jeffrey Selingo: Who Gets In and Why
  7. Stuart Richie: Science Fictions
  8. Tom Wolfe: I Am Charlotte Simmons
  9. George Yancey: Compromising Scholarship
  10. Michael Young: The Rise of the Meritocracy
White House

Trump Warning Throws COVID Relief Bill into Doubt

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President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after participating in a Thanksgiving video teleconference with members of the armed forces at the White House, November 26, 2020. (File photo: Erin Scott/Reuters)

Just when it looked like a COVID relief (and catchall appropriations) package was sealed and delivered, President Trump gave a stark reminder that it’s not yet signed.

The president posted a four-minute video Tuesday evening on Twitter calling the $900 billion relief bill — the one that cleared Congress a day earlier, after months of partisan gridlock gave way to a seeming post-election compromise — a “disgrace.”

Without explicitly threatening a veto, he drew some clear lines — urging Congress to send him a “suitable bill,” which he defined as one that purges “wasteful and unnecessary items” and ups the value of stimulus checks from a “ridiculously low” $600 to $2,000 for individuals.

Trump decried funding for the Kennedy Center, foreign-aid promises, and more. Those are part of a massive appropriations package, not the COVID relief deal itself, though they were ushered through Congress together. Robert VerBruggen discussed these extras here, though noted that even the indefensible items pale in dollar-to-dollar comparison to “core COVID relief” such as small-business aid, expanded unemployment aid, and the stimulus checks that Trump wants increased. (Though, as NR wrote in its editorial on the matter, the stimulus checks are an unfocused antidote relative to targeted economic help such as unemployment aid.)

“Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists, and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it,” Trump bemoaned.

Just in case you’d forgotten Trump hasn’t — at least publicly — given up the thought of somehow finding a way to invalidate President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory, the president then called on Congress to send him a “suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package, and maybe that administration will be me — and we will get it done.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the president’s surprise video tweeting: “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!”

Whether the parties really would scramble up a revised deal, and whether Trump would tempt a possible veto override in the event they don’t, remains to be seen. Washington has a stubborn habit of taking negotiations over must-pass spending and other legislation to the brink right around the holiday time. A government shutdown and complete freeze on promised COVID aid could be in the offing if this drags out.

Which is to say: Around Washington, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

International

Another Junk Currency, the Iraqi Dinar, Bites the Dust

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Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Mustafa al-Kadhimi delivers a speech during the vote on the new government at the parliament headquarters in Baghdad, May 7, 2020. (Iraqi Parliament Media Office/Handout via Reuters)

On October 15, 2003, Iraq began to distribute new dinar bills, graced with the likeness of an ancient Babylonian ruler and a tenth-century mathematician. By January 15, 2004, new dinars replaced the two types of notes that were in circulation. Old Saddam dinars were swapped for new dinars at a one-to-one rate, and each so-called “Swiss” dinar fetched 150 new dinars. Bank accounts and contracts were converted at the same rates, and Iraqi salaries began to be paid in crisp new notes. The new currency became convertible into foreign currencies at market rates.

Iraq’s currency swap was heralded with great fanfare in Baghdad and Washington. As President George W. Bush put it: “The new currency symbolizes Iraq’s reviving economy.”

Not so fast. Iraq has lacked law and order, let alone the rule of law. Without these, we should never have expected the new notes to ignite an Iraqi Wirtschaftswunder. They most certainly have not.

Indeed, the neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense and engineer of the Iraq War infamously predicted on March 27, 2003, in front of the U.S House Appropriations Committee that “There’s a lot of money to pay for this . . . the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years . . . We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” Anyone who believed in this nonsense must put great faith in the Tooth Fairy.

Just look what has happened to Iraq’s junk currency, the Iraqi dinar. On Saturday, the Central Bank of Iraq announced a whopping 20 percent devaluation of the dinar.  So, next week’s “Hanke’s Currency Watchlist,” which is nothing more than a rogues’ gallery of junk currencies, will include the Iraqi dinar:

This brings me back to September 2003, when I recommended that Iraq replace the dinar with the U.S. dollar. If dollarized, Iraq would then have returned to a regime that it used from 1916-31, when the Indian rupee was its legal tender. The adoption of a stable international currency would have avoided the pitfalls of Iraqi central banking and would have immediately provide Iraqis with stable money. And, while stable money might not be everything — without it, everything is nothing.

Politics & Policy

McConnell on Biden’s Cabinet

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Some reporters and pundits have speculated that Mitch McConnell might block some Biden executive-branch nominees from making it to the Senate floor, but the Senate majority leader says in an interview with Scott Jennings that they will each get an up-or-down confirmation vote from the full Senate:

“They (Biden’s nominees) aren’t all going to pass on a voice vote, and they aren’t all going to make it, but I will put them on the floor,” McConnell said. Two Biden nominees who face a tough road are Neera Tanden, a hyper-partisan Democratic operative (with detractors on the right and left) nominated for director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; and Xavier Becerra, nominated for secretary of Health and Human Services with an extremist, pro-abortion record that most Senate GOP’ers can’t stomach.

That means that even if Republicans win both Senate seats in Georgia, any controversial Biden nominee would be confirmed in 2021 with the support of two Republican senators (such as moderates Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins), all 48 Democratic senators, and the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Harris.

Science & Tech

Pro-Choice Luddism

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For Vice, Amarens Eggeraat, drawing on the work of political scientist Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, laments that there exists no pro-choice “image powerful enough to match the foetus as an icon of the anti-abortion movement.” Apparently she doesn’t quite equate the symbolic power of the “pussyhat” with that of human life. Credit where it’s due.

Eggeraat’s premise is a false one, though. She presupposes that the clear images of what our offspring look like before they’re born — available thanks to the incredible leaps and bounds made in medical technology over the last few decades — are misleading. It’s entirely unclear why. They show a small, growing, developing human being because that’s what it is. Eggeraat protests that most abortions occur by 13 weeks gestation. Well, this is what a human fetus looks like at 12 weeks, complete with eyes, ears, and a nose. Teeth, toes, fingers, and nails too. Their brains have been working for weeks, and their hearts have been beating for over a month.

The pro-choice position is one that starts with an assumption — that abortion is morally permissible — and works backwards from there to prove it. Any facts and advances that cut against it must therefore be undermined. Of course, the idea that an unborn child may not be human until it looks human is decidedly unscientific in and of itself (what is it before it crosses the arbitrary threshold of “looking like” us?) but Eggeraat is correct to assert that prenatal imaging is a powerful part of the pro-life argumentative arsenal. How could it not be? For that reason, abortion activists have embraced a kind of Luddism that understands such imaging not as a tool helping us to ascertain the truth of the matter, but, much more ominously, a “public window into women’s private domain.”

Capital Matters

Pork Is a Problem, but It’s Not the Problem

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The Internet is awash in outrage over various line items in the massive stimulus/omnibus blowout that Congress just settled on. More than $25 million for the Kennedy Performing Arts Center! More than $100 million to Sudan, and $25 million to gender and democracy programs in Pakistan!

Why are the stimulus checks only $600 when the government clearly has plenty of money to throw around?

I’m not going to defend all this junk; much of it is indefensible. But spending like this is not why the stimulus checks weren’t twice as big, and it’s not why the federal government has a debt problem.

The biggest thing to bear in mind with budget numbers is that America has 330 million people in it. This means that dollar amounts in the millions, as opposed to billions or trillions, are frankly not that big of a deal in the federal-budget context. Every million dollars the federal government spends amounts to about a third of a cent per person. Even a billion dollars amounts to just $3 per person.

The overall stimulus bill spends almost a trillion dollars. The omnibus bill appropriates almost a trillion and a half. That’s real money, thousands of dollars per person.

And the vast majority of that cash isn’t spent on random hand-selected projects. Two-thirds of the roughly $900 billion stimulus is dedicated to core COVID relief in the form of small-business aid ($325 billion), $600 checks for most Americans ($166 billion), and expanded unemployment ($120 billion). The rest overwhelmingly goes to things such as help for schools ($82 billion), health care ($63 billion), and transportation ($45 billion).

As for the omnibus, it’s the annual round of appropriations that keeps the government running. It funds existing agencies, programs, etc., as well as including some new pieces of legislation. You can see a breakdown of all the stuff that got money here. About half of it is just defense funding, and it’s hard to go through the whole thing and come away with the sense that money for museums and foreign aid is the real problem.

You don’t have to like these bigger forms of spending either. I’m opposed to plenty of them, including those $600 checks everyone seems to think should have been bigger. You also don’t have to like the practice of bundling tons of different provisions into an “omnibus” and passing the whole thing at once. But if you actually want to put a dent in the new bills, these are the items you need to target.

And if you’re worried about the larger deficit and debt, you should know that three-quarters of all federal spending is on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, defense, and interest on the debt we already have, with much of the rest going to things such as poverty relief, education, and vets’ benefits.

Politics & Policy

Sorry, Dr. Fauci, Travel Bans Are Not ‘Draconian’

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The United Kingdom is dealing with a new strain of COVID-19 that is reportedly 70 percent more infectious than the previous one — though there’s no evidence yet that it is any more lethal. With British infections doubling in the past two weeks, Boris Johnson has shut London and much of the southeast of England. Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Israel, and other countries have implemented travel bans from the U.K.

When asked if the United States should follow, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who I assume will continue in his role under Joe Biden, advised against implementing border restrictions: “Travel bans are really rather draconian things to do … it is entirely conceivable that it’s already here.”

It’s fascinating to hear our political and expert class talk about our seemingly arbitrary coronavirus policy. Fauci apparently believes a travel ban is more “draconian” than instructing 330 million Americans not to see their families on Thanksgiving. I mean, is imposing a temporary travel ban to slow the importation of a potential super strain of coronavirus any more “draconian” than allowing governors to unilaterally ignore the Constitution and shut down religious services? Is it more draconian than destroying entire industries in major cities on scant evidence? Or keeping kids out of schools despite there being no evidence that such policies mitigate the spread of coronavirus in any substantial way?

Back when liberal pundits were pretending Europe was outperforming the United States on the pandemic front, countries that they pointed to as policy exemplars … Germany, Spain, Italy … well, basically every one of them had implemented some form of travel ban, and no one claimed it was “draconian.” When the European Union banned Americans travelers, some pundits mentioned it to gleefully accentuate how terrible we are – “The EU ban should be a wake-up call for the US. But will it be?” — but none, as far as I can tell, claimed the EU travel ban was draconian or ineffective. Then-Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden, in fact, reversed course to support Donald Trump’s China travel ban.

There are hundreds of pieces explaining why travel bans don’t work – well, when Americans want to implement them, at least. I have no special scientific insight on the matter. Or, I should say, I have roughly the same amount of expertise as Andrew Cuomo. Still, I’m a bit skeptical. Sure, the super strain is likely already here. But surely limiting the travel of foreigners who have it offers some modest benefits in any effort to contain new outbreaks. Whatever the case, it would not be a draconian measure.

Elections

Rita Hart Asks House Democrats to Overrule Iowa’s Certified Election Results

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As our John McCormack noted, Republican House candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks defeated Democrat Rita Hart by six votes out of 394,000 ballots cast, one of the slimmest margins of victory in American political history. The election results in this congressional district were counted and re-counted and certified by all state election authorities.

But that’s not good enough for Hart. She wants the House of Representatives to refuse to seat Miller-Meeks, contending some votes for her were not counted. Today she asked the House to investigate the election and conduct a third recount of the votes, declaring in her petition, “After the House has conducted its investigation and all lawful votes are accurately counted, Contestant Hart finally will be seated as the new U.S representative from the Second Congressional District.”

Some Congress-watchers are skeptical that 218 House Democrats will vote to ignore the state’s certified election results and begin an investigation that could take weeks or months. It will be interesting to see where Iowa’s lone remaining Democrat in Congress, Cindy Axne, comes down. Axne has avoided commenting on the election dispute; Hart is asking Axne to override the same certified election results that include Axne’s own reelection to Congress.

Politics & Policy

Pelosi Got Nothing from Her COVID-Relief Maximalism

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Nancy Pelosi never took any significant flak from the media for delaying passage of the COVID-relief bill for months (and, not coincidentally, past the election), but she could have taken a version of the current deal last summer. This table sets it out (warning: some stilted, partisan language since it’s a GOP product):

U.S.

On Liberty

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Ulysses S. Grant (Library of Congress)

“The fundamental things apply,” goes an old song. In a Q&A podcast, Richard Brookhiser and I talk some fundamental things — as they relate to the American project. Rick is a senior editor of National Review, as you know, and the author of many books, especially relating to the American founding. His latest book is Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exceptional Idea. It stretches from the Jamestown General Assembly to Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech.

In between? Well, the Declaration of Independence, of course, and the Constitution, and the Monroe Doctrine, and many other things. Some of those other things? The Seneca Falls Declaration, the Gettysburg Address, and Emma Lazarus (“Give me your tired, your poor”).

One of the most touching things I know, in all of American history, is Abraham Lincoln’s eulogy of Henry Clay. Rick quotes it: “He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country.”

There is a world of Americanism in that statement.

At the end of his book, Brookhiser tells a story about U. S. Grant and Otto von Bismarck. They met in Berlin, when Grant was on a world tour, after his presidency. “Here were two great nationalists of the modern era,” writes Brookhiser — “one who had beaten the armies of secession in the world’s largest republic, and one who had, through shrewdness and carefully chosen wars against neighbors, forged a collection of kingdoms and statelets into an empire.”

Yet they were very different. They had different conceptions of nationalism. (In his book, Rick makes no distinction between nationalism and patriotism. He treats them as the same.)

Bismarck expressed sympathy about the American civil war. They were the worst of wars, civil wars. Yes, but it had to be done, said Grant. Of course, replied Bismarck: You had to save the Union, just as we had to save Germany.

Not only that, said Grant: We had to destroy slavery.

Bismarck had to think about this for a moment. Well and good, he replied, but surely saving the Union was the main thing. At first it was, said Grant. But in due course, we saw that slavery had to be blotted out, forever.

“We felt that it was a stain to the Union that men should be bought and sold like cattle.”

Writes Brookhiser,

A union in which denial of liberty was a permanent feature, not a stain to be deplored, contained, or eradicated, was not a Union worth saving. It would not be America.

He continues,

Bismarck was half right. Nationalism, including national unity, is the organizing principle of the modern world.

But Grant was entirely right. American nationalism embodies the principle of liberty. Without that, it is nothing. Without that, we are a bigger Canada or an efficient Mexico.

Do you know my favorite statement about patriotism? It was uttered by Carl Schurz, the German immigrant who became a Union general, a U.S. senator, and other things. It was taught to me by Barbara J. Fields, the historian of the South. “My country, right or wrong — when right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be set right.”

Again, my Q&A with Rick is here. Like a handful of other people I have known — Paul Johnson, George Will, David Pryce-Jones, John O’Sullivan — Rick talks as well as he writes. He speaks in substantial paragraphs, which you could plop right down into text, without emendation. Extraordinary.

Law & the Courts

Death and Democracy

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Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, takes issue with my column advising death-penalty abolitionists to change their ways. I had suggested that they ought to “accept democracy.” Dunham responds, “No one who has brought about significant social change has ever done so by passively accepting the status quo because that’s just the way it is.”

Of course, I didn’t say anything about “passively accepting the status quo.” I said that abolitionists should try to persuade people to end the death penalty through legislation — but that, where laws provide for execution, abolitionists should refrain from asking “judges to override these laws, or for the executive branch to use its discretion and its powers of clemency to set a new policy.” The latter, anti-democratic kind of activism has been so central to the movement against the death penalty that some of its leaders must have a hard time imagining how to pursue the cause without it.

Regulatory Policy

(Another) Climate Warrior Aiming to Bypass Democracy

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Sen. Jeff Merkley questions Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt during his confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Whether it’s through their attempts of “legislation” by regulation, litigation, or the pressure of Wall Street’s corporatists, the climate warriors have long shown an interest in bypassing the usual democratic procedures in order to get their agenda through, and there is no doubt that some of the coercive measures that have been put in place to combat the pandemic will have given them additional ideas. That’s not a good thing.

In the meantime, Senator Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) has written this in the Washington Post (my emphasis added):

Our ability to take on the climate crisis through legislation will be challenged by the realities of the Senate. If Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emerges as the majority leader following the runoff elections in Georgia, no serious climate bill will ever get a hearing in committee, much less get to the Oval Office. And even if Democrats win the Senate, passing adequately ambitious legislation will be a struggle with such a razor-thin margin and the need for filibuster reform.

But we cannot wait. We need bold executive action that treats this crisis — quite literally — as the emergency it is.

The National Emergencies Act (NEA) and the Defense Production Act (DPA) give the president broad powers to act in the national interest during grave national emergencies. While President Barack Obama used the DPA to purchase green transportation fuels, neither of these acts has been fully used to address the climate emergency.

Declaring the climate crisis a national emergency under the NEA would not only send a powerful signal about the urgency of bold action, it would unlock powers that allow our nation to take significant, concrete actions regardless of congressional gridlock. Examples include redirecting spending to build out renewable energy systems, implementing large-scale clean transportation solutions and financing distributed energy projects to boost climate resiliency — all of which would help safeguard our communities and slash harmful pollution.

Invoking the DPA would complement a national emergency declaration and help address the national security threats posed by our climate crisis. These powers would allow the Biden administration to take essential steps toward strengthening our emergency preparedness, such as constructing resilient energy infrastructure and mobilizing domestic industry to ramp up manufacturing of clean energy technologies. These are necessary steps to protect Americans from the deluge of violent storms and extreme weather events that are on the horizon. Plus, spawning a robust clean energy industry could generate millions of high-quality American jobs vital to rejuvenating our post-covid economy.

If you believe that last sentence, you will also believe that these measures are compatible with a properly functioning democracy. Some “climate”-related spending — such as improving the resilience of low-lying coastal cities or, as Merkley suggests, toughening our energy infrastructure — can be justified regardless of one’s views about a climate “crisis,” which is supposedly either already with us or due the day after tomorrow. For the most part, however,  “spawning a robust clean energy industry”, particularly under a scenario where the costs will be front-loaded, will be an exercise in value destruction, replacing that which does not need replacing, at least any time soon. And when value is destroyed, jobs tend to be destroyed along with them.

That’s not to say that such a spawning would spawn no new jobs, or to deny that some collateral benefit may come from some of them, even if no small part of that benefit is uncomfortably reminiscent of this passage from Keynes’s General Theory:

If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again… the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.

Low bar.

Politics & Policy

Experts in What, Exactly?

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Frances Gogh receives the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine injections at Guy’s Hospital in London, England, December 8, 2020. (Victoria Jones/Pool via Reuters)

You probably saw some draft language from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which suggested prioritizing essential workers over the elderly in vaccine distribution, in part because elderly people who are most at risk of dying are more likely to be white and therefore privileged.

The New York Times explored the issue of giving vaccine priority to the elderly or essential workers — a category far larger than “front line workers.” (Essential workers includes media apparently.) They quote an “expert in ethics and health policy” from UPenn:

 Harald Schmidt, an expert in ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said that it is reasonable to put essential workers ahead of older adults, given their risks, and that they are disproportionately minorities. “Older populations are whiter, ” Dr. Schmidt said. “Society is structured in a way that enables them to  live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”

Now, notably, because the elderly are so much more likely to die of coronavirus, a policy of prioritizing essential workers actually doesn’t save more black lives, it means more elderly black people will die.  Author Wesley Yang understood the logic perfectly: “kill more black people in absolute terms so as to kill more white people in relative terms.”

Twitter user Spotted Toad alerts us that according to a report in the Washington Post, Joe Biden’s advisers are pretty happy about the kind of thinking going on at the CDC:

President-elect Joe Biden’s covid-19 advisory board supports the phases set forth by the advisory group, said one of its co-chairs, Marcella Nunez-Smith,  an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine.  She praised the panel’s experts for “taking political interference out of the process” and said she was “quite excited by their grounding in inequity,” referring to the importance given to factors such as housing and minority status in decisions about prioritization.

Now it seems like after the pushback, the recommendations are finally putting the elderly where they belong: at the front of the line for the vaccine they want.

What exactly is the expertise of the people in public health? And by “taking political interference out of the process,” I take it Marcella Nunez-Smith means taking political decisions away from the public and their representatives.

Music

An Early Beatles Christmas Gift from Peter Jackson

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Cover of Abbey Road from The Beatles.

When I learned last year that Lord of the Rings trilogy director Peter Jackson, fresh off of having created a stunningly immersive documentary about World War I, was now set to direct a documentary about The Beatles, I was so happy I was almost confused. As a lifelong fan of The Beatles and a near-lifelong fan of The Lord of the Rings, it seemed almost impossible to believe that my passions would combine so neatly. But sometimes we do get nice things, even if we don’t deserve them. Alas, I’ll have to wait until next year for The Beatles: Get Back, which will make use of hours of previously unseen footage originally filmed for the Let It Be movie, which documented the production process of what turned out to be the band’s final released album. Until then, I can tide myself over with this preview “montage” that Jackson and his team have put together:

The movie looks quite promising, and could do the one thing that listening to the band’s music and thinking about its legacy often has trouble with: humanizing the members. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, despite creating arguably the biggest phenomenon in the history of popular music, were only human. But that itself is also cause for mild concern about this enterprise. The original Let It Be film was not intended to show the band in the process of collapse, but it did end up capturing that, to a significant degree (or so I have heard; I haven’t seen it, partly for this reason). This new film, which will draw from footage used for that enterprise, is likely to do the same. Thus it could be both a fascinating experience for Beatles fans — and a painful one. Whatever it ends up being, I very much intend to find out for myself.

Politics & Policy

The End of Cherry-Pie Exceptionalism

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At Reason, Scott Shackford has more about our new cherry-pie freedoms:

While the FDA has been granted the power by Congress to regulate frozen foods and fruits, including pies, it’s very important to explain that these regulations were only implemented for cherry pies. There are no other similar regulations for other types of fruit pies. And there are no similar regulations for fresh pies to control the number and quality of the cherries in them. Just frozen pies, and only the cherry ones.

And so under Gottlieb and by request of the American Bakers Association (ABA), a trade association and lobbying organization, the FDA began rethinking this rule. . . .

What’s amazing about all of this, and very relevant given all the horrible foot-dragging we’ve seen from the FDA in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, is that the petition from the ABA was submitted to the FDA in 2005. It has taken 15 years and an FDA head who was actually interested in deregulation to get rid of an obsolete rule that didn’t really serve any valuable role in protecting consumers.

Politics & Policy

Nancy Pelosi and ‘Science’

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Virtually everything Nancy Pelosi utters in this clip about the bipartisan relief bill is untrue.

I’m relatively certain that not one person, much less “people,” in Congress has said: Hey, “I’m faith-oriented so I don’t believe in science.” No group has a monopoly on quackery, of course, but this is just a caricature of social conservatives. I’m also quite confident that Pelosi, who believes life begins whenever a woman decides on a case-by-case basis, isn’t any more concerned about genuine “science” than her conservative colleagues. Not that “science” alone – stripped of moral, ethical, legal concerns – should drive public policy, anyway. People who throw around the word “science” in this way are typically preening or appropriating the word for some ideologically motivated cause.

But the topper is hearing Pelosi jump from asserting that Republicans have done nothing but intentionally spread the virus to reach “herd immunity” to saying, “now we have a vaccine,” as if the White House hadn’t implemented Operation Warp Speed with the intention of speeding up discovery, production, and distribution.

Granted, government gets too much credit for the COVID vaccine accomplishment. Pfizer or Moderna would have dumped billions of dollars into the development of the vaccine with or without state help. It’s a fact that the profit motive saves lives. What the government did do is loosen restrictions that allowed fast tracking of the drug, hopefully saving thousands of lives. So how about reforming an FDA that take 15 years to work out how to deregulate frozen cherry pies? For science.

Sports

The Hilarity of the NFC East

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An amusing sidelight to the NFL season has been the sheer awfulness of the NFC East. A couple of the last place teams in other NFC divisions would be in the hunt for division champ in the East. As it is, if Washington wins this weekend and the Giants lose, the Football Team (such a compelling team name) will move to 7–8, clinch the division, and be able to rest its starters, yes, rest its starters in the final week:

Politics & Policy

In Replacing Kamala Harris in the Senate, Gavin Newsom Is Going to Have to Disappoint Someone

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The New York Times updates the world on the status of the debate over who should replace Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate:

Some Latino officials point to those [demographic] numbers and argue that the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, needs to — must, without question — appoint a Latino to the U.S. Senate, the first in California’s history.

But Black political leaders contend that Ms. Harris could not be replaced by anyone other than a Black woman. Without her, they noted, the Senate would have no Black women in the chamber.

(Notice the relative lack of discussion about who would actually be the best individual to represent the state until the next statewide election.)

Elsewhere, some liberals want the state’s other senator, Dianne Feinstein, to step down, contending she’s getting too old for her duties and she’s not combative enough. Feinstein’s resignation would give Newsom the power to select both senators representing California, which some columnists contend is “too much power for one politician.” (A truly opportunistic and race-obsessed politician would prefer Feinstein to retire early, so Newsom could select one Latino senator and one black senator, and placate both constituencies.)

The appointed senator will serve until the next regularly scheduled statewide general election in 2022. California’s statewide elections always rank among the country’s most expensive; incumbents enjoy a major advantage because of higher name ID and preexisting fundraising networks. Newsom is probably picking the person who will represent California in the U.S. Senate for many years to come.

Newsom could avoid the political headache — and leave the choice in the hands of the voters — by declaring he isn’t meant to be a kingmaker and that his selection will be a respected elder statesman figure who will not run for a full term. California has no shortage of veteran liberal Democrats who would happily vote the way Chuck Schumer wants for two years.

(Because of the potential for close votes between now and Inauguration Day, Harris will probably not resign her seat in the Senate until close to January 20. But that’s not that unusual for an incoming vice president. Al Gore resigned from the Senate on January 2, 1993; Joe Biden resigned from the Senate on January 15, 2009, and Mike Pence resigned as governor of Indiana on January 9, 2017.

Then again, Newsom may not want to leave the decision in the hands of voters, and probably prefers having an appointed senator who owes his or her Senate career to him. I’m sure the governor will get together with trusted advisors at the French Laundry soon to sort it all out.

World

A Confession in the Navalny Case

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. . . secured by Navalny himself. It’s a little bit LeCarré, a little bit Borat.

Navalny was not working on behalf of any police or security service, nor was he conducting a traditional journalistic investigation — rather, he was in the unique position of investigating his own assassination attempt at a time when no law enforcement agency is willing to do so. To our knowledge, it is without precedent that a target of a political assassination is able to chat for nearly an hour with one of the men on the team that tried to kill him and later cover up the evidence. Our supplemental research into the revelations of this call — detailed further in this article — shows that the information provided by Kudryavtsev is credible, and has led to new investigative leads we had not previously discovered.

Get Flynn and Powell away from the President

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President Donald Trump leaves the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., November 4, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

It’s never a good sign when a president publicly insists he’s not considering declaring martial law in an attempt to reverse the election results, or when high-level military officials feel the need to declare, “There is no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election.”

For what it is worth, the president tweeted Sunday, “Martial law = Fake News. Just more knowingly bad reporting!”

What we know is that Trump has met with retired General Michael Flynn, who has publicly advocated the president declare martial law and have the military organize a re-vote of the presidential election.