Politics & Policy

Biden’s COVID-19 Foreign Entry Restrictions Make No Sense

Loading...
President Biden and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the U.S.-Russia summit in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Shortly after taking office in January, President Biden issued an executive order to “restrict and suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of noncitizens of the United States (“noncitizens”) who were physically present within the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe), the Republic of Ireland, the Federative Republic of Brazil, and the Republic of South Africa during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.”

The executive order included exemptions for foreign diplomats and certain family members of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. But these travel restrictions are still in place, and unless a person is in those categories of exceptions, it is difficult, if not quite impossible, to legally enter the U.S. from those countries. A resident of one of the listed countries could, if they had the time and money, travel to a third country that isn’t on the list, spend two weeks there, and then fly into the U.S. with less hassle.

Biden’s list of countries appears to be based upon countries where a significant variant had emerged – the U.K., India, Brazil, South Africa, among others. But the list of countries has not been updated, and thus it is now easier to enter the U.S. from Russia than from any of the countries listed in Biden’s executive order. Even with its official figures of dubious accuracy, Russia has the fourth or fifth most cases in the world since the start of this pandemic (the United Kingdom is close). There are not similar restrictions for Turkey, which has the seventh most; Argentina, which has the eighth most, or Colombia, which has the ninth most.

This policy does not make sense, even if you look at the world’s current COVID-19 hotspots. The Philippines ranked fifth in the world in most new cases yesterday, with more than 22,000. Turkey ranked sixth with more than 20,000; Russia ranked seventh with more than 17,000, and Malaysia ranked eighth. None of these countries are covered by Biden’s executive order.

Nor do these policies make sense from the perspective of vaccination rates. The current policy of the administration is that it is easier to enter the U.S. from Egypt, where 3.5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, than Portugal, where 76 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. It is easier to enter the U.S. from non- Schengen European countries like Albania (22.8 percent vaccinated) than it is to enter from Malta (83 percent vaccinated).

The Biden administration policy does not make sense based on case numbers, vaccination rates, or treating our allies better than we treat, say, Russia. But this is far from the first time that Joe Biden and his administration have treated Vladimir Putin’s regime nicer than it treats our allies.

Anti-Vaccine People Aren’t the Only Ones Who Need Persuading

Loading...
Edgar Chavez, 31, receives a COVID-19 vaccination as part of a vaccine drive by the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians in Arleta, Calif., August 23, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

When will we return to normal? That has been the question looming over the coronavirus pandemic ever since we were told 18 months ago that we were starting “15 days to stop the spread.” We have crossed a lot of hurdles since then. Multiple effective vaccines are widely available in the United States and many other developed countries. Treatments are much better, reducing mortality rates. Some of the things we originally feared, such as transmission from surfaces and transmission in outdoor settings, turned out to be illusory. And yet, we are still living with a lot of fear and restriction:

Media

The ‘Misinformation’ Excuse for Censorship

Loading...
(Pixabay)

The Twitter user “Interpolations” points us to these responses to an Atlantic article that questioned student masking:

The Atlantic piece was written by an epidemiology professor at UC-San Francisco, Vinay Prasad, who concluded that the potential harms of masking young children may outweigh the benefits. He wrote nothing factually incorrect that I am aware of, and neither of the Twitter critics pictured above deigned to specify what they found. They have taken what is simply an opposing viewpoint and rebranded it as “misinformation,” hoping the label will lead to censorship.

It is dismaying that so many people have adopted the same censorious mindset. Last week the Washington Post ran this headline: “Misinformation on Facebook got six times more clicks than factual news during the 2020 election, study says.” The implication is that Facebook needs to more actively remove false claims, and who could be against that? Well, first note that the headline itself is misinformation. According to the text of the article, the content that received six times more clicks was not specifically alleged to be misinformation; rather, it was merely posted by “news publishers known for putting out misinformation.”

The Post article provides no examples of actual misinformation, but it does name Occupy Democrats and Dan Bongino as “publishers known for misinformation” on Facebook. I went to their pages to see for myself. Occupy Democrats mainly posts progressive memes. Dan Bongino mainly posts clips from cable-news shows and town halls. I don’t doubt that one could find factual problems on both pages with enough searching, but I saw nothing obvious. To censor either of these pages would be to go far beyond rooting out “misinformation.” And perhaps that’s the point. Dismissing entire sources of news as misinformation far more effectively narrows the boundaries of acceptable discourse than does stamping out individual ideas.

So who should get to speak on Facebook? The Post article contrasts the alleged misinformation-purveyors with “trustworthy news sources, such as CNN or the World Health Organization.” A large number of Americans will not find this situation satisfactory, to put it mildly. They have sought alternative news sources because the CNNs of the world have breached their trust repeatedly. Tarring the alternatives as misinformation will not help Americans have better political discussions. It will only further convince them that they live in a stifling, closed-minded society.

Economy & Business

Study: ‘Tipped’ Minimum Wage Kills Jobs, Too

Loading...
Stacks of $5 bills in the wrapping and binding department at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., March 26, 2015. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

The minimum-wage debate has quieted down a bit since the Senate parliamentarian put the kibosh on party-line federal legislation, but the research continues. A new study focuses on the “tipped” minimum wage.

Workers who make a lot of their money from tips have a lower minimum — federally, $2.13 instead of $7.25 — and some would like to change that. A Democratic bill, for example, would hike the overall minimum wage to $15 and eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers. The new study, however, looks at what happened when states experimented with variations in the tipped minimum wage and finds not-so-rosy results.

Specifically, the study looks at trends in full-service-restaurant employment in these states, using limited-service restaurants (basically, no-tip fast-food joints) as a control group, and also accounting for trends in places that didn’t change their tipped-minimum-wage policies. By this analysis, hiking the tipped minimum wage kills some jobs, and while those who remain employed do seem to make a little more money, it doesn’t appear to be enough to cancel out the losses for this group as a whole.

As the authors put it, “tipped restaurant workers do not gain, on average, from increases in the tipped minimum wage, and may even lose.”

World

Wuhan Institute of Virology Deputy Director: We Have Never Had Any Accidents

Loading...
A worker in a protective suit examines specimens inside a laboratory following an outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, February 6, 2020. (China Daily/Reuters)

This morning, the Washington Post offers a thorough history of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and includes a link to a June story about the institution’s concern about infiltration by foreign spies.

In May 2019, the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s staff filed into an old-fashioned lecture hall. A local representative of China’s National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets was at the podium.

The official, Tang Kaihong, discussed the national security risks of the institute’s research and warned of infiltration efforts by foreign spies, according to an account published by the institute’s parent organization, the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The researchers signed pledges to protect confidential information.

Why would a civilian medical research institution that is in full compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention, and not doing anything with any military or bioweapon applications, that is supposedly researching viruses in order to develop better treatments and protect people from viruses, be so worried about foreign spies?

The Post story begins with a sweeping assurance from Wuhan Institute of Virology deputy director Yuan Zhiming: “The Wuhan P4 lab has never seen any laboratory leaks or human infections since it began operating in 2018.”

Even aside from suspicions aroused by the COVID-19 pandemic beginning right outside one of the three institutions on earth doing gain-of-function research on coronaviruses found in bats, it is extremely unlikely that the Wuhan P4 lab or the WIV as an institution have never had a laboratory leak or human infection. They’re just too common elsewhere — and there are too many other examples of labs and governments attempting cover them up — to trust Yuan’s assurance.

As a National Center for Biotechnology Information report in 2014 summarized:

The causes of [Laboratory Acquired Infections]may be difficult to recognize at the time of the exposure. There may be no definitive moment that indicates an LAI potential, such as a needle stick, animal bite, or dropped pipette. It is estimated that only 20 percent of the causes of LAIs are actually recognized. To add to this problem, many countries under-report accidents or may claim to have never had an LAI. [Dr. Barbara Johnson (Biosafety Biosecurity International)] noted that to say that a lab has never had an LAI may mean that the operators have never been able to account for it, that it has never been investigated, or that it has never been reported.

Johnson pointed out, however, that the extensive regulatory framework in the United States is not replicated in many places elsewhere in the world. The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Western Pacific regional office investigated a number of biosafety incidents that occurred in countries under their jurisdiction. They found problems with laboratory management and lack of biosafety policies, procedures, training, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and supervision of less experienced lab personnel. Many laboratories do not have occupational health and safety organizations or programs, and there is also a need for greater quality control and assurance. Many nations do not have codified standards for laboratory work on pathogens. The WHO recommended the development of legislation for national biosafety standards, procedures for timely reporting and follow-up of accidents, worker health monitoring and countermeasures, accreditation or certification of Biosafety Level (BSL)-3 labs, and inventories of infectious agents.

Back in 2015, an extensive USA Today investigation found unnerving results, just looking at U.S. labs.

Vials of bioterror bacteria have gone missing. Lab mice infected with deadly viruses have escaped, and wild rodents have been found making nests with research waste. Cattle infected in a university’s vaccine experiments were repeatedly sent to slaughter and their meat sold for human consumption. Gear meant to protect lab workers from lethal viruses such as Ebola and bird flu has failed, repeatedly.

A USA TODAY Network investigation reveals that hundreds of lab mistakes, safety violations and near-miss incidents have occurred in biological laboratories coast to coast in recent years, putting scientists, their colleagues and sometimes even the public at risk.

Oversight of biological research labs is fragmented, often secretive and largely self-policing, the investigation found. And even when research facilities commit the most egregious safety or security breaches — as more than 100 labs have — federal regulators keep their names secret.

The International Society for Infectious Diseases concluded in 2018:

The actual risk of a laboratory-acquired infection is difficult to measure because there is no systematic reporting at a government or professional society level to monitor the number of laboratory workers that acquire infections associated with the workplace. Reports in the literature have all been survey-based. Sulkin and Pike reported on more than 4,000 laboratory-associated infections between 1949 and 1974, with a mortality of 4.1 percent. During those years, brucellosis, Q fever, typhoid fever, and hepatitis were the most common causes of LAIs. More recent surveys have revealed a shift in the pattern of LAIs from the early collective studies. A 2002-2004 survey of clinical laboratory directors revealed that approximately one-third of laboratories reported at least one LAI….

The Chinese government’s answers have not changed since early 2020; their laboratories and researchers are just too careful, too diligent, too smart and too cautious to ever make a mistake as consequential as this. But of course, they can’t allow international investigators to return, or turn over data about the earliest COVID-19 patients.

 

Media

CNN’s Daniel Dale Attempts to Defend False Ivermectin Story, Scolds ‘Critics on the Right’

Loading...
CNN
(Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters)

After Rolling Stone, Rachel Maddow and many progressives and well-known media brands and personalities advanced a ludicrous story from KFOR in Oklahoma deriving solely from a doctor in the state who said multiple hospitals in his area were being overwhelmed with patients who had taken ivermectin overdoses, CNN’s Daniel Dale rode to the rescue of the Left, to whom it is very important to believe that lots of dumb people are overdosing on ivermectin.

In a series of tweets, Dale mildly criticized the outlets who advanced this false story but suggested that those who pointed out that the story was unsupported by any evidence should do a little soul-searching because our gotchas lacked the full and proper context.

What is that context? Well, one Oklahoma hospital that the doctor in question, Jason McElyea, deals with, INTEGRIS Grove Hospital, said in a statement that “We have seen a handful of ivermectin patients in our emergency rooms” but “our hospitals are not filled with people who have taken ivermectin.”

What is a “handful”? Three? Four? Five? If five patients, spread out over some indeterminate period of time over multiple hospitals, overdosed on ivermectin, that would hardly be a story. The whole point of the original story was that it asserted a very large number of people in Oklahoma had overdosed on ivermectin. If the truth is that a very small number of people in Oklahoma overdosed on ivermectin, it isn’t a story. It’s not even a local story, much less a national story. For all we know, a handful of people have been treated in Oklahoma ERs this summer for injuries related to making sandwiches.

Dale, who is very obviously a rank partisan who applies nearly all of his energies to attacking the right, just couldn’t bear to admit that critics of this story on Twitter and elsewhere were perfectly correct to mock and debunk it. (Rolling Stone appended a correction that amounted to a nullification of its version of the KFOR story, but the broadcaster’s story remains up and uncorrected.)

Dale, who sees himself as having salvaged some shred of truth to the story by quoting a statement from INTEGRIS hospital that “a handful” of ivermectin patients have come through the doors of Oklahoma hospitals, proceeds to wag a finger at “some critics on the right” who he says “could’ve done a better job pursuing facts/waiting for facts before coming to conclusions.” Dale is upset that some critics on the right said Dr. McElyea “made up the whole thing.”

Well. As far as I know, McElyea, five days after the story initially ran, has not accused KFOR of lying about what he told them. The headline on that story was “Patients overdosing on ivermectin backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals, ambulances.” According to the KFOR story, which mixes quotation and paraphrase from McElyea, and cites no other source or authority, McElyea said (paraphrase) that “patients are packing his eastern and southeastern Oklahoma hospitals after taking ivermectin doses meant for a full-sized horse, because they believed false claims the horse de-wormer could fight COVID-19.” The story represents the following as the result of the large number of patients overdosing on ivermectin (not merely the result of large numbers of COVID patients): “the ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated….All of their ambulances are stuck at the hospital waiting for a bed to open so they can take the patient in and they don’t have any, that’s it. If there’s no ambulance to take the call, there’s no ambulance to come to the call.”

Dale is so bold as to say that there is a lesson here that applies equally to both sides!

Does Daniel Dale not accept that the burden of proof is on journalists who make shocking claims? There is no evidence to back up this headline: “Patients overdosing on ivermectin backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals, ambulances” or the many rewrites of that headline by Maddow and many others that appeared on social media. The lesson here is that journalists should get their facts straight before issuing reports, not that truth is an elusive thing. You’d think a guy who calls himself a fact-checker would grasp this.

What Dale is doing is deploying the classic motte-and-bailey fallacy to the  “fact-checking” game. Bailey: so many overdoses of ivermectin that multiple ERs overrun, gunshot victims must wait, no ambulances left. Motte: hey, all we claim is “a handful” of such cases over multiple hospitals over some unspecified period of time! We were kinda right!

Anyway, the real story is the pouncing of conservatives.

Whatever Happened to the Journalistic B.S. Detector?

Loading...
Rachel Maddow (MNSBC/via YouTube)

At some point the journalistic injunction, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” became “If it fits the Narrative, don’t bother to check it out.”

Rolling Stone — which really ought to know better by now — just ran the mother of all journalistic corrections when it nuked its own weekend story about how gunshot victims were supposedly going begging at several Oklahoma hospitals because the emergency rooms were being overwhelmed with patients who had overdosed on ivermectin. Rachel Maddow and a lot of other progressive stalwarts tweeted out their own versions of the story, all of them

Education

College Football Is Back, and the Scandals Seem to Be Hidden

Loading...
UNC takes on Clemson at Kenan Memorial Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C., September 28, 2019. (Nell Redmond/USA Today Sports/Reuters)

Scandals involving star players who barely, if at all, fit the description “student-athlete” have often roiled the big sports schools. A decade ago, UNC opened its season under a cloud, as whistleblowers and reporters had dug out the story that many football and basketball players over decades had benefited from fake courses and “help” that amounted to cheating to keep them eligible. As this year’s football season opens, there don’t seem to be any scandals making headlines, but does that mean that everything is fine?

A new book by journalist (and UNC grad) Andy Thomason titled Discredited recounts the university’s scandal and its aftermath. In today’s Martin Center article, I discuss the book and consider whether the “student-athlete” model is defensible.

Thomason ably takes readers through the ugly details of the UNC scandal, which was all the more shocking because UNC had long created the illusion that it was above reproach with its sports programs. Its “Carolina Way” was supposedly pure. All the athletes really belonged in college and they got real college educations. But that wasn’t even close to the truth.

When the story broke, UNC first went defensive, pledging to get to the bottom of things. Some people, including the football coach, were fired. The chancellor resigned. A series of investigations showed deep corruption. The university feared severe punishment from the NCAA and repercussions from its accrediting agency. But when it received a slap on the wrist from the NCAA and nothing at all from Southern states, it went on the offensive against the whistleblower.

UNC promised to be good. No more admitting of players whose academic level was at a middle-school level; no more cheating to get them through their classes. So things are good. The university gets top-flight teams and the players get their college degrees, thus enabling them to go on to a successful life.

But there’s still trouble. Many of the players are still very weak academically and get degrees that won’t do much for them in the job market. Underemployment among college grads generally is high and is probably much higher for sports players who didn’t make it into pro ranks. College education is oversold as a means of “making it” in life, and that’s particularly true for academically poor students who are so busy with their sports that they couldn’t devote much time to coursework even if they wanted to. It’s a scandal whether or not there is some headline “scandal.”

Culture

The Play of Memory

Loading...
A concert by the Pretenders at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Nooshig Varjabedian)

Today’s Impromptus, I open with the Saudis: Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em? A necessary, nasty ally? The issue, a perennial, has come up again, because an important 9/11 anniversary is approaching: and that means the question of declassification. Should the United States declassify information concerning the Saudis and 9/11, as President Biden appears ready to do, at least in part? (I would say yes, but the question is interesting, and not black-and-white.)

I then get into Republican politics, as exemplified by the Senate primary in Ohio. William F. Buckley Jr. labored for 50 or more years to create an intelligent and persuasive — even inspiring and stylish — conservative politics. How’s it going?

Anyway, much to chew on in this column today.

My latest Q&A podcast is with a singer: Regula Mühlemann, a Swiss soprano. Sparkling young woman. I have also done a post called “The Past Returns: On hearing a recording of a concert you attended long ago . . .” I thought you might like to tell me of your own experiences — whether with music or something else.

Let me quote my first paragraph:

“Misty water-colored memories” is a famous lyric. Many of us have memories of concerts, early on, that were important to us. Same with books, movies — people, even. What if we heard them again? What if we read them, saw them, met them again? That might be dangerous, right? What if our memories turned out to be — wrong? Even embarrassing?

Recently, I had the experience of hearing a pirate recording of a concert I attended in 1980. Yowza. Shortly before that, I heard a recording of a concert I attended in 1976. So interesting, on so many levels.

Terry Teachout shared with me a piece he wrote in 2005: “An Encore for Nancy LaMott.” He heard a recording of her final public performance — a performance that he attended. A marvelous and moving piece.

(Nancy LaMott was a great cabaret singer. How do I know this? Because Terry calls her “the best cabaret singer I ever heard.”)

Readers have sent me a variety of missives. One of them goes, “Different thing, but: Once in L.A. I stopped in a brewpub — had the best beer of my life, a ‘smoked Scottish ale.’ Went back years later, pub was gone. The memory lives on!”

Related, for sure. Anyway, I find this a terribly interesting subject — relates to stages of life, changing and unchanging perceptions, etc. I think I’ll write on this again. If you’d like to share some experiences — please feel free: jnordlinger@nationalreview.com. Talk to you soon.

White House

Ron Klain’s Master Class on Not Answering Basic Questions

Loading...
Ron Klain and then-vice president Joe Biden at a meeting with organization leaders responding to the Ebola crisis at the White House in 2014. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

This morning on CNN, White House chief of staff Ron Klain offered a master class on not answering basic questions.

DANA BASH:  Ron, let’s turn to Afghanistan. More than 100 American citizens were left behind when the last military flight left Kabul earlier this week. What is their status right now? Have any gotten out, and how many are still there? 

KLAIN:  We believe it’s around 100. We’re in touch with all of them who we have identified on a regular basis.

Obviously, we’re hopeful that, in the coming days, the Qataris will be able to resume air service out of Kabul. And, if they do, we’re obviously going to look to see if Americans can be part of those flights. We are going to find ways to get them — the ones that want to leave, to get them out of Afghanistan.

We know many of them have family members. Many of them want to stay. But the ones that want to leave, we’re going to get them out, as the president said. What happened on August 31 was, we transitioned from a military mission to a diplomatic mission to get the remaining Americans and the Afghan or Afghan allies, the so-called SIVs, out of the country. And we continue to work on that.

Klain doesn’t say if any Americans got out; if any had, he would probably enjoy bragging about a success story. Klain says, “many of them want to stay,” but having mentioned the families a moment earlier, it seems these Americans are more accurately characterized as afraid of leaving their family members behind than actually desiring to stay. (No one in this administration seems willing to acknowledge that the Taliban is using family members of Afghan refugees in the U.S. as hostages.)

BASH:  And on those [Afghans on Special Immigrant Visas], rather, the question is whether or not you’re hearing what we believe are credible reports about the Taliban systematically hunting them down, many of them, and killing them. Have you heard about that, and what is the administration doing about it? 

KLAIN:  Dana, we — there’s all kinds of reports coming in. We’re in close communication with our sources and our contacts in Afghanistan to try to get those SIVs out, to get them out safely. I know that some are coming out by land. We are again, continuing to work on efforts to get them out by air as well. We’re going to continue to move those SIVs out of the country.

What I will say is, as everyone knows, we launched a historic airlift that brought 124,000 people out of Afghanistan, American citizens, legal permanent residents of this country, residents of other countries, and a lot of Afghan nationals. And we are going to get those people — we have gotten those people to safety. We’re ultimately going to resettle them in Europe and the United States. And that’s a big part of rescuing that SIV population.

BASH:  I want to ask about infrastructure…

Klain brushes off the reports of the Taliban hunting down and executing SIVs with “there’s all kinds of reports coming in.” In the end, his answer is another list of promises – much like Biden’s promise that if there were still Americans in Afghanistan after August 31, we would “stay to get them all out.”

Voice of America interviewed a pregnant American woman who asked to be identified only as Nasria who was unable to get through the crowds outside Kabul International Airport, whose flight was canceled, and who was left behind, despite assurances from the U.S. State Department. Nasria said the Taliban are going door to door, looking for those with American passports.

 

Law & the Courts

There Is Nothing ‘Unprincipled’ about Noting Roe Is the Problem

Loading...
The Supreme Court Building in Washington D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait argues that I, among others, am a hypocrite for being less bothered by Texas’s end-run around the abortion-policy constraints contained with Roe v. Wade and its descendants than by Joe Biden’s decision to renew the CDC’s eviction moratorium. As usual, Jonathan Chait is wrong.

If the argument that Chait presents to his readers were an accurate description of my position, his charge would stick. But it’s not.

Of the CDC’s eviction moratorium, Chait writes:

NR had substantive disagreements with the policy, but its fury focused specifically on Biden’s willingness to implement a policy knowing full well the Supreme Court would likely strike it down. NR presented this move as a prima facie assault on the rule of law, hammering again and again at this unforgivable maneuver.

Later, he continues:

National Review believes gaming the judicial system by leaving in place a policy the Court is likely to strike down poses a threat to the rule of law as dire as any in modern American history.

The problem is, this isn’t actually my view. Rather, I was outraged by Joe Biden’s renewal of the eviction moratorium not because Joe Biden advanced a policy that he thought was clearly legal but likely to be struck down by the judiciary, but because Joe Biden decided to renew a policy that he knew without doubt was illegal, and in so doing, made a mockery of his oath of office. Or, to put it another way, I was outraged by Joe Biden’s renewal of the eviction moratorium for the same reason that I was outraged by Donald Trump’s stealing money for his border wall and by Barack Obama’s DACA order: Because, like Obama and Trump before him, Biden had made it clear to the public that he agreed that his actions didn’t pass legal muster, and yet, under pressure, he decided to go ahead with them anyway on the grounds that if the legislature wouldn’t act, he would.

When Donald Trump did this, I wrote:

The position at which President Trump has belatedly arrived is a farcical one. As recently as yesterday, Trump insisted that he would be within his power to build his wall in spite of Congress. But why, then, does he continue to ask Congress for permission? Why, then, was he sufficiently exasperated with Nancy Pelosi’s intransigence to have stormed out of a recent meeting? Why does he cast Democrats in Congress as his opponents? And why is the government shut down? The answer is as simple as it is boring: President Trump is asking Congress to give him the funds because, legally, President Trump needs Congress to give him the funds. He knows that. I know that. Everyone making bizarre, post-rationalizing arguments about how we might squint at this or that law knows that. For Trump to turn around and say to Congress, “well, thanks for the advice, but I’m going it alone” would be for him to declare himself a monarch. Americans are supposed to abhor monarchs.

(As he makes clear in his piece, Jonathan Chait doesn’t believe I really meant this, largely because it would be devastating to Jonathan Chait’s worldview if I really meant this. But that’s his problem, not mine.)

When Obama did this, I wrote:

 After he was excoriated by immigration activists in 2011 for having had the temerity to follow the law, the president reminded students at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C., that he was not a king. First, Obama praised his audience for understanding the rules of the American settlement, and then he launched into an impassioned defense of separation of powers of precisely the sort that he had delivered as a senator and as a candidate:

With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case. Because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed. And I know that everybody here at Bell is studying hard so you know that we’ve got three branches of government. Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws. There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply, through executive order, to ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president. 

This was a line that, in one form or another, he repeated more than 20 times. And yet, just one short year after he had told students that he was hamstrung by the rules, the president did precisely what he said he could not, refusing to “enforce and implement” those “very clear” laws and abdicating disgracefully his “appropriate role as president.”

In his essay, Chait argues that these positions render my supposed indifference to Texas’s law untenable:

You might think National Review’s all-in commitment to catastrophizing Biden’s eviction gambit would force them to signal at least some discomfort with the Texas Republican gambit. Indeed, the Texas scheme is far worse, by NR’s standards, because, while at least some scholars (like Tribe) argued Biden’s eviction extension passed legal muster, absolutely nobody even pretends Texas’s abortion restriction comports with existing law.

But herein lies the problem. It is simply not the case that “absolutely nobody even pretends Texas’s abortion restriction comports with existing law.” Why? Because “existing law” in this context is the Constitution, and a majority of lawmakers in Texas, along with a huge number of other people — including Laurence Tribe, who has written that “one of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found” — believe that the Supreme Court precedent in this area is flatly incorrect. (That the precedent is constantly challenged, and is currently being revisited by the Court in the pending Dobbs case, only serves to underscore the extent to which it remains a live issue.)

I will concede that this is a tricky area. As a staunch textualist who nevertheless desires legal stability, I struggle with identifying the best way forward when the Supreme Court has plainly lied about the Constitution, as it did in Roe. But it is simply not true that, as Chait suggests, my standard in this area is contingent upon whether or not I personally consider the law under dispute to be “good.” As I have noted repeatedly, I actually supported the aims of DACA, and I was indifferent toward funding the wall. What I was appalled by, in both cases, was the president’s willingness to acknowledge that to act in a given way would be a plain violation of the law, and then to act in that way nevertheless.

In the piece on Roe to which Chait so objects, I wrote that:

In this country, there exist profound and sincerely held differences of opinion on the question of abortion — views that run from the insistence that all abortion ought to be banned without exception to the claim that abortion is a positive good that ought to be celebrated. But there does not exist a set of rival cases for RoeRoe is a lie, a contrivance, a calculation. It is a 50-year-old imposter that has distorted our fundamental law, corrupted our politics, and damaged our Constitution. It is a gremlin.

As the pro-choice legal scholar John Hart Ely noted a few months after the decision was handed down, Roe was indefensible in every conceivable way that a Supreme Court decision could be indefensible. From whole cloth, Ely wrote, Roe created a “super-protected right” that “is not inferable from the language of the Constitution, the framers’ thinking respecting the specific problem in issue, any general value derivable from the provisions they included, or the nation’s governmental structure,” and thus answered “a question the Constitution has not made the Court’s business.” Roe “is bad,” he concluded, “because it is bad constitutional law, or rather because it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.”

This being so, those who still consider Roe to be the nonsense that it is have no other choice but to keep challenging it. They may have their efforts struck down, and if they do they must obey the courts’ decisions without exception. But if they candidly think the Court is wrong, as it was in Roe, they should say so.

As it happens, I do not much like Texas’s new law, and have said so on both The Editors and Mad Dogs and Englishmen. (Quite sincerely: I don’t expect Chait to have heard these, so he can’t be expected to know this.) But, as a general matter, I do not begrudge Texas its run against the status quo any more than I begrudge the efforts of those who tried to overturn Plessy or Schenck or any other of the decisions in which the Supreme Court obviously erred. Politicians take an oath to the Constitution, not to the Supreme Court, and there is a material difference between a state official arguing that the Supreme Court’s reading of the Constitution is clearly wrong and a president resolving to act ultra vires because he doesn’t like the rules that he acknowledges Congress has set. Chait is correct to note that I wrote in “angry, ominous, and even hysterical terms” when Joe Biden made his decision on the eviction moratorium. But his explanation is off. As with Trump and Obama, I did this not because I thought the policy at stake represented “the death of the republic,” but because, for the third presidency in a row, we were forced to watch something utterly deleterious: the most famous politician in the land publicly deciding to violate his oath of office — not in an attempt to uphold the supreme law of the land, but in the open knowledge that he was breaking it.

Science & Tech

When Human Life Begins Is Not a Matter of ‘Belief’

Loading...
President Joe Biden visits the FEMA headquarters as Hurricane Ida makes landfall over Louisiana, in Washington, D.C., August 29, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

President Joe Biden made an irrational statement the other day about when human life begins, saying at a press conference:

I respect those who believe life begins at the moment of conception. I don’t agree, but I respect that. I’m not going to impose that on people.

Except this is not a question of “belief,” but one of biological fact. It’s a question about which science–rather than politics or ideology–has long known the answer. Indeed, embryology text books are clear on that point. For example (my emphasis):

Human development is a continuous process that begins when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (or spermatozoon) from a male. (p. 2); … but the embryo begins to develop as soon as the oocyte is fertilized. (p. 2); … Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell. This higly specialized, titipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.

Keith Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th ed.) p. 18

Here’s another useful quote from another embryology textbook:

Although life is a continuous process, fertilization…is a critical  landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed...

Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd ed.

“A genetiucally distinct organism” is a technical way of saying that “a human life begins at conception” (when that organism is a member of the species Homo sapiens).

What the heck, one more:

“Zygote. This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. 

Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology. 7th edition.

In other words, Joe Biden’s life began when he came into being after conception as a one-celled human being–whether he “believes” it or not

Besides, at what other point could a new human life begin? Not implantation of the embryo in the uterus–although one could potentially say that is when pregnancy begins. But pregnancy’s inception is not the same thing as the beginning of life itself. And in any case, surgical abortions happen long after that point.

Life can’t begin when the mother decides that she wants the gestating child. Because that is not a biological event. And it can’t be at birth, because a fetus is clearly alive before that, and so asserting transforms the biological question into one of geography, i.e., where the baby happens to be at the moment.

The scientific fact that life begins at conception doesn’t settle the moral question of abortion. But proper moral analysis about such issues must begin with the best understanding of the scientific facts that apply thereto. Otherwise, we are left with nothing but feelings, irrationality, and naked ideological assertions–which make actual debate impossible.

But of course, that is the point of Biden’s statement.

Law & the Courts

This Is Your Brain on Identity Politics: Abortion Edition

Loading...
A woman holds a sign during a pro-life march in Queens, New York, October 20, 2012. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Identity politics doesn’t just make people annoying. It makes them stupid. If everything is ultimately about race, then, well, everything is ultimately about race. Tax cuts? Race. The Constitution? Race. Crime? Race. All of politics, with its nuances and its undulations, becomes nothing more than an investigation into skin.

There’s an oddball sketch from the British comedy troupe Big Train that mocks this sort of monomaniacal thinking. A new man is introduced to a couple of friends in a pub, and he responds to literally everything by contending that it must be a veiled reference to his not being married:

Person A: Yeah. Yeah, we were on the train. Um . . . Yeah, we were in the carriage and there were a couple of kids kicking a can of Coke about…
Person B: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I know how this story ends.
Person A: Yeah?
Person B: Ends with me not being married, doesn’t it?
Person A: What?
Person B: You think I don’t know what you’re saying? Coke cans. Not Tango, Coke cans. You’re talking about me not being married again.

Shockingly enough, the poor guy in the sketch who is trying to tell a story is not, in fact, talking about the man he has never met before not being married.

Enter Politico, which has a piece up today titled, The Real Origins of the Religious Right, the purpose of which is to suggest that the tens of millions of Americans who care deeply about abortion do not actually care about abortion, but are just good old-fashioned racists:

But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

It would be worth addressing the historical argument being made here at greater length. But, for now, I want to push back against the broader implication of the piece, which was summed up well by the editor-at-large of Newsweek, MSNBC’s Naveed Jamali, who argued this morning that “the pro-life movement has always been about white supremacy.”

This is the sort of nonsense that one begins to spout when one has turned off one’s brain, and, instead of thinking questions through, decided that there can be only two sort of people in America: Good People and White Supremacist People. It is also a ridiculous non sequitur. It is not true that the pro-life movement came out of “white supremacy.” But even if it were — as is true of, say, the gun control movement, which until 1970 really was inextricable from racism — that would in no way imply that modern pro-lifers were motivated by animus toward people who aren’t white.

They’re not. Indeed, the argument doesn’t even make sense. Per a research paper put together by the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, and presented to Congress:

According to the 2011 Abortion Surveillance Report issued by the Center for Disease Control, black women make up 14 percent of the childbearing population, yet obtained 36.2 percent of reported abortions. Black women have the highest abortion ratio in the country, with 474 abortions per 1,000 live births. Percentages at these levels illustrate that more than 19 million black babies have been aborted since 1973.

Moreover:

According to the Departments of Public Health of every state that reports abortion by ethnicity; black women disproportionately lead in the numbers. For example, in Mississippi, 79 percent of abortions are obtained by black women; in Washington, D.C., more than 60 percent; in Georgia, 59.4 percent; in Alabama, 58.4 percent.

Clearly, there is no white supremacist in the world who would look at these numbers and say, “boy, we’d better stop that.” The idea is self-evidently absurd, which is why real-life white supremacists tend to be militantly pro-choice. When one adds to this that, per polling from last year, white people seem to have almost identical views on abortion to Hispanic people, the claim becomes sillier still.

All told, the core position held by pro-lifers is simple: That an unborn child is alive, and that it is wrong to take innocent life. They may disagree on a few details or on the most appropriate set of government policies, and they may have arrived at their beliefs for different reasons or at different times (despite being an atheist, I have always been pro-life — even in England, where that is an unusual position). But the root contention is pretty elementary: That there are two bodies involved in a pregnancy, and that deliberately killing one of them is morally wrong. Jimmy Carter, as with almost everything else at stake in our modern politics, simply doesn’t enter into the equation.

Politics & Policy

Conservatives, the Fairness Doctrine, and Big Tech

Loading...
( No-Mad/Getty Images)

Paul Matzko, the editor for technology and innovation at Libertarianism.org, has responded to an essay I wrote for the latest magazine issue of The American Conservative. I’ll just share a few quick thoughts. The central aim of my original essay was to challenge the assertion that today’s attempts to re-think or amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — which provides liability protections for Internet platforms — are somehow a betrayal of long-standing conservative principles. I argued that the historical record is much more complicated: “In many of the right’s legacy institutions, the prospect of regulating or breaking up Big Tech is regarded as an affront to any number of long-standing principles . . . . But these arguments both misunderstand conservative principles and betray an ignorance of the conservative movement’s history.” 

The recent example I focus on to make this point is the Fairness Doctrine, a broadcasting and media regulation that mandated some amount of political balance on the radio airwaves through the mid-20th century. The Reagan administration repealed the rule in 1987, but the move was polarizing within the conservative movement; while Reagan and pro-deregulatory voices in his FCC pushed hard for the repeal, they encountered significant resistance from other conservative figures and institutions, including Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer, the NRA and Accuracy in Media, and National Review’s own Bill Rusher.

All of this is just to say: Things just aren’t as neat and clean as they’re often made out to be by those who argue that proponents of Big Tech reform are somehow “un-conservative.” Matzko tacitly admits this when he writes that “it is true that conservatives were divided over the Fairness Doctrine in the 1980s, with Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh opposed but National Review publisher Bill Rusher, American Conservative founder Pat Buchanan, and Phyllis Schlafly in favor.” His main argument seems to be that the Fairness Doctrine simply wasn’t a good idea, and that its effects were particularly bad for conservative media. That’s an argument I’m willing to have, but it doesn’t reckon with my main point. 

As I wrote, “practically speaking, the Fairness Doctrine itself is probably an unworkable framework for regulating internet platforms.” At no point did I suggest, or would I ever suggest, that something like the Fairness Doctrine should be brought back today. That would be nonsensical. I simply argued that there is a history of conservative support for using public policy to limit the power of private media monopolies, and that the Fairness Doctrine’s “underlying rationale” — i.e., the principle that beneficiaries of targeted government benefits could be expected to adhere to certain guidelines without violating the Constitution — could help us craft a modern approach to reining in Big Tech without betraying conservative principles. Matzko implicitly cedes my first point. Clearly he disagrees with my second. But I’m not sure he fully understands it. 

Health Care

Re: What the Highly Vaccinated States Are Showing Us

Loading...

In response to What the Highly Vaccinated States Are Showing Us

Jim, a little reservation about one point:

On July 6, Massachusetts had 1,349 active cases of COVID-19 infection; by August 31, the state had 34,671 active cases, a 25-fold increase. It cannot be emphasized enough: Vaccination does not prevent infection and cases, and an increase in cases is not necessarily a reflection of low vaccination rates in an area.

Massachusetts has a relatively high rate of vaccination. But, as you note, a third of its 7 million people are unvaccinated, meaning that there are about 2.3 million unvaccinated people in the state. That seems like a more than large enough population of people to produce 34,000 active cases, including the modest share of “breakthrough” cases. The unvaccinated account for about one-third of the population but three-fourths of the cases.

Or am I misunderstanding something?

Religion

I Get Mail . . .

Loading...

. . . including press releases from the Satanic Temple, and the most recent one begins: “Satanists Demand FDA Give Access to Abortion Drugs for Religious Ritual.”

Finally, we all agree about the exact character of what is going on here.

What the Highly Vaccinated States Are Showing Us

Loading...
Axel Cucinelli, 12, receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as his mom, Tracy Jensen, takes a photo to of him during an event hosted by the Southeast Michigan Pull Over Prevention in partnership with the Washtenaw County Health Department at Grace Fellowship Church in Ypsilanti, Mich., August 7, 2021. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

In yesterday’s Morning Jolt, I laid out how between July 6 and August 31, the number of active cases of COVID-19 infection in the state of Vermont increased 23-fold — from 114 to 2,668. But as dire as that sounds, the state is not really in a public-health crisis — hospitalizations and daily new deaths remain low in Vermont, in large part because the state is heavily vaccinated. (It also helps that Vermont is one of the least-populated states in the country.)

It’s a mostly but not entirely similar situation in the higher-populated, more urban state next door. Massachusetts ranks third

World

Why Afghan Refugees Don’t Go to Other Muslim Countries

Loading...
A child looks at the aircraft as he is carried towards his flight during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021. (Sergeant Samuel Ruiz/USMC)

In the aftermath of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, there’s going to be a refugee crisis. The Taliban’s reign will be brutal, but that’s only the start of Afghanistan’s problems. As Andrew Stuttaford explained on August 24, the Afghan economy is going to collapse, and it threatens to undo all of the gains in the standard of living the country made over the past 20 years.

Many who oppose allowing Afghan refugees to resettle in the United States wonder why they don’t go live in other Muslim countries instead. After all, they argue, refugees would be able to assimilate better in countries more similar to the one they are leaving, and the U.S. wouldn’t have to support any new people as they adjust to a completely different culture — win-win.

One of the problems with that argument is illustrated by a story in today’s Wall Street Journal: “Tens of Thousands in Afghanistan Are Trapped as Neighbors Close Borders.”

The “tens of thousands” refers to the interpreters and other Special Immigrant Visa applicants who are eligible to come to America, the majority of which were left behind after the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal. Afghanistan has 39 million people, and the refugee crisis (which is only beginning) will certainly be in the hundreds of thousands at least.

With the end of the U.S. airlift on August 31, no airport in Afghanistan is currently operating, the story says. Fleeing by land isn’t any easier. “The Taliban say they will allow Afghans with valid passports and visas to travel out of the country,” the story adds. “So far, the country’s passport offices remain closed. The embassies of all Western nations and India have shut down and their diplomats have left the country.”

In the past, 90 percent of Afghan refugees settled in Iran and Pakistan, and those countries aren’t willing to take in any more. It’s unclear where they’re supposed to go instead. Our supposed moral superiors in Europe aren’t too interested:

The U.N. called this week for the neighboring states to open their borders, and for countries outside the region to provide more resettlement places for Afghans. That is a tough sell, particularly in Europe, where anti-immigrant sentiment has become a major political issue in the wake of the 2015 Syrian refugee influx.

European interior ministers meeting this week said that they didn’t want to see large-scale illegal migration and that they would bolster support to Afghanistan’s neighbors “to ensure that those in need receive adequate protection primarily in the region.”

The State Department seems to be caught flat-footed, as it has throughout the withdrawal:

The U.S. State Department said that those wanting to apply for refugee status should make their way out of Afghanistan first, adding, “We recognize that it may be difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country or find a way to enter a third country.” The “special immigrant visas” for interpreters and others who worked closely with the U.S. is a separate program, and its application processes are still being worked out following the closure of the embassy in Kabul.

It’s not just “difficult” to leave Afghanistan right now; it’s nearly impossible. In the rush to meet Biden’s arbitrary deadline, many Afghans who America is obligated to help have been left behind. And many more who will be seeking refuge amidst a collapse in living standards and a brutal Islamist regime will have no place to go, in the Muslim world or anywhere else.

Law & the Courts

Justice Kavanaugh Refuses to Buckle

Loading...
Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh speaks during his ceremonial public swearing-in in the White House in Washington, D.C., October 8, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The press coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision not to block the implementation of a Texas law against abortion has been overwhelmingly negative and frequently idiotic. See, for example, this article by Felicia Sonmez in the Washington Post, which presents Kavanaugh’s vote with the majority as a sign that he deceived Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine) when he told her he would give some weight to precedent. Sonmez notes that liberal activists are saying that Roe has effectively been repealed, and doesn’t mention anyone who disputes this dubious contention. Beyond mentioning that the law was designed to overcome pre-implementation challenges, she says nothing about any of the pesky legal issues that came into play in the decision — which would have complicated her conflation of those issues with the ones involved in any reconsideration of Roe.

There is nothing in the logic of the decision about Texas that implies that Roe and Casey should be reversed. But it does tell us something worth knowing about how the justices will handle that question. There has been a lot of speculation that Justice Brett Kavanaugh will fear voting to reverse Roe even if his understanding of his constitutional duty would compel it: that he will seek to avoid the opprobrium that would be associated with such a vote; that he will see reaffirmation of Roe as a way to come back into good standing with liberal opinion after the trauma of his confirmation hearing; that he will especially hesitate to overrule the abortion precedents if it means breaking with Chief Justice John Roberts.

Whatever else one thinks of the justice, he is surely no political naïf. He had to have known that voting as he did in the Texas case would bring him bad press, including accusations of misleading Collins. He did what the law compelled anyway, and split with Roberts on the issue. None of this is a guarantee that he will see reversing Roe/Casey as the right thing to do in the pending case about a Mississippi law that presents that issue to the justices. It is, however, a good sign that he will do what he sees as the right thing and take the resulting flak.

Capital Matters

Job Growth Way Below Projections

Loading...
Job seekers at an employment center in San Francisco, Calif., November 20, 2009. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report for August came out today, and it was way below expectations. The economy added 235,000 jobs, about 500,000 fewer than expected. This year, monthly job growth has averaged 586,000 jobs, according to the report.

Last week, I wrote about how more government spending won’t solve this job situation. The unintended consequence of the pandemic is a huge increase in worker productivity. The pandemic motivated businesses to figure out how to do the same amount of work with fewer workers, and they don’t want to undo those gains now that the pandemic recession is over.

In June of this year, GDP was at the same level it was at pre-pandemic — with 6.6 million fewer people employed. We can produce the same amount of stuff as before the pandemic with 6.6 million fewer people making the stuff. That’s a huge gain in productivity per worker, and we’ve seen wages go up to compensate workers for their increased efficiency.

That’s all good. We have more jobs than people to fill them. It’s not a “job creation” problem. It’s a job-filling problem, and it’s going to take time to solve.

Our economy has been transformed by the pandemic. Think of services you use now that you didn’t use before, and services you used to use that you don’t use anymore. Then, remember there are 330 million other people like you. Businesses have to respond to those swings in consumer preferences, and that process is not immediate.

Smart entrepreneurs will see our post-pandemic economy as a huge opportunity. They’ll come up with ideas that we haven’t thought of yet to respond to consumers who want different things than they wanted before.

As the $300-per-month federal unemployment supplement comes to an end on September 6, some workers on the margin should be pushed into employment. But don’t expect any sea changes in the employment situation because of that. It’s going to take time. It takes time to match people with job openings. And it takes time for entrepreneurs to develop new opportunities to employ the people who want to work.

Politics & Policy

Sasse: The Americans Hiding from the Taliban Don’t Care about News Cycles

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

Echoing the theme of today’s Morning Jolt, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska stated this morning, “President Biden desperately wants to talk about anything but Afghanistan, but Americans who are hiding from the Taliban, ISIS, and the Haqqani network don’t give a damn about news cycles, long weekends, and polling — they want out. The Biden administration has a moral obligation to give a full accounting: What is the exact number of Americans trapped in Afghanistan? What is the exact number of legal permanent residents? How many SIV allies? Without answering those questions, they’re just doing political propaganda.”

On Wednesday, The Hill reported, “the White House is trying to move past the chaotic and deadly U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by turning its attention to domestic priorities like President Biden’s economic agenda. . . . Biden allies think the public’s attention could shift back to domestic issues as soon as the end of the week, when the August jobs numbers from the Labor Department will offer a more fulsome picture of how the economic recovery has held up amid the surge of the delta variant of the coronavirus.”

Well, maybe that jobs report wasn’t that big win that the Biden team was hoping for . . .

Education

Community Colleges Should Focus on Their Mission, Not on Frills

Loading...

The big problem with nonprofit management is that the managers are apt to spend money on things that they like but won’t make the institution any better. They’re easily gulled by consultants who lead them to believe that advertising or campus facelifts or something else will elevate the school.

In today’s Martin Center article, Esam Sohail Mohammed of Butler Community College in Kansas bemoans that fact and argues that community colleges need to stay centered on their educational mission.

He writes, “Once the million-dollar fancy marketing campaign for the brand new dorm or the cool robotics center runs its course, the core constituency of the community college remains: students who are seeking to save a significant chunk of money in the pursuit of their eventual baccalaureate degrees. That is the bread and butter, the raison d’etre if you will, of a vast majority of America’s community colleges.”

Community college leaders should learn to say “no” to the experts who ply them with costly advice. Mohammed mentions a $90,000 contract that a small school in northwestern Michigan entered into for “strategic planning.” Consultants fatten their wallets by peddling such plans. What school officials should focus on is good, low-cost education for their students.

Mohammed concludes, “Nonetheless, an imperfect and yet empirically sound solution is staring us in the face: promote the value proposition of the community college like never before. It might just work better than that expensive fancy new program with five students that is giving heartburn to legislators and board members about to face the electorate.”

Law & the Courts

Texas’s Absolutely Genius Victory for Life

Loading...
Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

With Texas’s victory for life yesterday, we have witnessed a true brilliancy and should savor the moment. For those who don’t play chess, a “brilliancy,” as defined by Grandmaster Kavalek, is “a moment when something astonishing, beautiful, and inspiring happens on the chessboard.”

The chessboard in the legal fight for preborn children has for decades carried on as an achingly slow war of attrition. Every move to defend life in law has been blunted by the Left’s dominance of the legal academy, its control of bar associations, its capture of for-profit and nonprofit law firms, and its historic influence on judicial appointments. As a result, any law challenging Roe v. Wade head-on only led to large attorneys’-fees awards filling the coffers of abortion-advocacy groups. Of course, the ultimate responsibility for this sad post-Roe history rests on the souls of David Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and John Roberts. Nevertheless, the pro-life movement soldiered on and notched some notable wins along the way, including instituting 24-hour waiting periods and banning the ghastly practice of partial-birth abortion.

While these successes have chipped away at Roe over the years, what if pro-lifers found a way around Roe instead of through it? After all, the Berlin Wall fell only after East Germans found alternate routes to the West and had changed the reality on the ground. Texas, in a master stroke, has found a way around the Roe Wall and is dramatically changing the facts on the ground on abortion as we speak. Here is how they did it.

The abortion industry has stifled pro-life laws by strategically bringing “pre-enforcement challenges” before liberal judges who dutifully prevent the laws from ever going into effect. This tactic upends the normal course of litigation by asking courts to consider what parties might or might not do and to weigh harms that might or might not be experienced, instead of judging concrete facts based on actual events. But in case after case, results-oriented judges have jettisoned legal norms on this point using what Justice Scalia famously dubbed the abortion “ad hoc nullification machine.”

Successful pre-enforcement challenges don’t result in laws being literally erased from the statute books. Rather, they work through a legal fiction established in the case of Ex Parte Young that allows federal courts to bar state officials from enforcing the challenged laws. But what if a state allowed private citizens to go to court to enforce violations instead? That’s exactly what Texas did. It passed a law prohibiting abortions of children with beating hearts but left enforcement exclusively to private parties who can sue in court for $10,000 in damages per illegal abortion. Lost in the media panic over this law is the fact that defendants can still prevail if they prove a damage award would pose a “substantial obstacle” to getting an abortion on women served by a clinic defendant.

The concept of private-party law enforcement is more familiar than you might think. Consider a typical small-claims court where disputes range from breach of contract, to slip-and-fall cases, to accidental damage to a neighbor’s property. Or consider someone who sues a landlord under a state fair-housing law for sexual harassment. In each of these cases, enforcement is handled by private parties through the courts, and state prosecutors need not have anything to do with securing plaintiffs any compensation.

You might be thinking that the Texas law differs because it allows private people to sue even when their own rights aren’t directly harmed or at stake. Fair point. However, third parties already sue for the benefit of (indeed on behalf of) the government with some frequency. The False Claims Act, for example, allows Joe and Jane Citizen to sue contractors who have defrauded the federal government. They need not be employed by the government or the contractor, or have anything to do with the contract, yet can receive up to 30 percent of the monies recovered if they prove fraud without any federal-government participation whatsoever.

Texas’s genius was applying these existing legal concepts and frameworks to neutralize the abortion industry’s most potent weapon, the pre-enforcement challenge. Abortion clinics are now in an impossible bind because on the one hand, there is no one to sue because no state official is allowed to enforce the law, while on the other hand, there are too many people to sue because they can’t identify who among the millions of Texas pro-lifers will step forward to enforce the law.

Texas’s giving up its extraordinary prosecutorial power while empowering private citizens is like a stunning queen sacrifice in chess that enables the weaker pawn pieces to spring a trap on an unsuspecting king. As a result of this brilliancy, for the first time since 1973, abortion clinics in Texas are now halting abortions en masse because they are unwilling to stand before a judge to justify every time they stop a child’s beating heart.

What a marvelous check.

World

Premier of South Australia: Boy, I Hope You’re Proud We’re Spying on You

Loading...
Park Hye-ri, 28, a startup business program manager, puts her mobile phone outside a cell at Prison Inside Me, a mock prison facility in Hongcheon, South Korea, November 10, 2018. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

I just read Conor Friedersdorf’s piece on Australia’s astonishing COVID-inspired restrictions and one part in particular jumped out at me.

Intrastate travel within Australia is also severely restricted. And the government of South Australia, one of the country’s six states, developed and is now testing an app as Orwellian as any in the free world to enforce its quarantine rules. People in South Australia will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The state will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person. “We don’t tell them how often or when, on a random basis they have to reply within 15 minutes,” Premier Steven Marshall explained. “I think every South Australian should feel pretty proud that we are the national pilot for the home-based quarantine app.”

The bit that jumped out is this:

“I think every South Australian should feel pretty proud that we are the national pilot for the home-based quarantine app.”

Sorry, what? Who, in his right mind, is likely to feel anything of the sort? How would that even happen? What does that even mean? I’m fairly sure that you could load me up on every hallucinogenic drug known to man and attach my temples to a car battery and, still, under no circumstances, would I willingly express pride at my government’s decision to run a national pilot for a home-based quarantine app. In what context could such a sentiment even plausibly arise? “You know what, Bruce? Things have been going okay here in South Australia, but until we get the Panopticon, I’ll never feel truly proud of my home.”

It’s a big world, and people are rightly pleased by all sorts of things: their kids, their work, their hobbies, their families, their sports teams. But home-based quarantine apps? Those seem about as likely to make the list as road repairs. At a stretch, people will put up with them, along with a phlegmatic “musn’t grumble.” But pride? There is not a single human being in the world likely to express that feeling. Hell, there are people working in North Korea’s Omniscient Surveillance Department who, upon reading this line, would raise their eyebrows and say, “well come on, old chap, that’s a little much, don’t you think?” What on earth is going on Down Under?

World

Afghanistan’s Last Hope under Taliban Siege

Loading...
Ahmad Massoud, son of the slain hero of the anti-Soviet resistance Ahmad Shah Massoud, waves as he arrives to attend a political movement in Bazarak, Panjshir province Afghanistan, September 5, 2019. (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)

The last hope for an Afghanistan with a haven for the Taliban’s enemies is in Panjshir Valley, just north of Kabul. Resistance fighters led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of a legendary anti-Taliban commander, are fending off the largest Taliban advance on the territory under their control to date, according to reports:

A member of the Taliban’s cultural commission claimed “the other side has suffered heavy casualties.” Hospital beds in the province are “filling up as violence escalates,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Frud Bezhan reported.

Massoud, and former Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh, who is sheltering in the valley as he asserts his role as the country’s vice president, have worked to build international support for the anti-Taliban resistance fighters, who have fended off a number of Taliban attacks over the past few weeks, as peace negotiations took place.

But those talks with the Taliban collapsed this week, and Amir Khan Muttaqi, a senior member of the group, which controls almost the entirety of the rest of Afghanistan, said, “Those who wish to surrender may do so; those who wish to fight will be combated.”

The Taliban began a significant offensive a bit before he issued that threat, and the campaign has escalated since then.

The stakes of the outcome of this fight are likely to have resounding implications for U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The Taliban continue to work with al-Qaeda, and there is overlap in the top ranks of the two groups. In fact, Al Arabiya reported that al-Qaeda has joined the Taliban offensive.

These developments only serve to back up what Representative Mike Waltz, who is leading a push to support the Panjshir opposition forces, told me yesterday about their potential to act as a “bulwark against what we know is going to come, which is a massive and significant threat from ISIS and al-Qaeda.”

With an American presence in Afghanistan, a Panjshir controlled by pro-American forces, as Waltz said, could play a role in disrupting terrorist plots.

Unfortunately, calls to back the Panjshir opposition have fallen on deaf ears, with the Biden administration unlikely to lift a finger. Congress can and should act, but by then it might be too late.

Culture

Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today: An Afghan Orphan Has a Home, Down Syndrome Bigotry & More

Loading...
Afghan refugees at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, September 2, 2021 (Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters)

1. BBC News: Amid violent reprisals, Afghans fear the Taliban’s ‘amnesty’ was empty

And a former Afghan special forces soldier still inside the country told the BBC that he and his family were in hiding after former colleagues were killed.

“Since the Taliban have come to power they haven’t stopped killing,” he said. “A few days ago, they killed twelve members of the special forces in Kandahar and three soldiers in Jalalabad as well. They were my close friends. I was in touch with them. The Taliban took them out of their homes and shot them.”

“The violence is overwhelming. It’s rampant and common and also very acceptable,” says Alishan Jafri, a freelance journalist who’s been documenting attacks on Indian Muslims for the past three years.

2.

3. Vatican News: Violence against Christians increasing in India, despite lockdowns

The watchdog group recorded 293 incidents of anti-Christian persecution in the first six months of the year.

Six of those cases resulted in murder. Two women were raped and killed for their faith, and another two women and a 10-year-old girl were raped for refusing to renounce Christianity.

4.

5. Ed Mechmann: Why We Support Unpopular Religious Objections

It’s the little guy that needs protection, not the powerful one.

6. Reuters: Number of people with dementia set to jump 40% to 78 mln by 2030— WHO

Only one in four countries has a national policy in place to support dementia patients and their families, it said, urging governments to step up to the public health challenge.

“Dementia robs millions of people of their memories, independence and dignity, but it also robs the rest of us of the people we know and love,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

Continue reading “Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today: An Afghan Orphan Has a Home, Down Syndrome Bigotry & More”

Elections

In Less Favorable Polling News . . .

Loading...

Phil mentioned Biden losing major ground among independents. Meanwhile, out in California it looks like Gavin Newsom has solidified his position in the recall. A new poll has the recall losing 58-39, part of a trend of recent polling running in his direction. We can always hope for a big polling error, but it looks like the massive Newsom spending advantage and the attacks on Larry Elder are having an effect.

Politics & Policy

Another Biden Pay-For Comes up Short

Loading...
( Natalia Bratslavsky/Getty Images)

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) today published its revenue estimate for President Biden’s proposed increase in IRS funding to close the tax gap, which is the difference in the amount taxpayers owe compared with what the IRS actually collects. The CBO estimates that an $80 billion increase in IRS funding would raise an extra $200 billion over the next ten years, so it would increase revenue by $120 billion on net.

That’s nowhere near what Democrats wanted. Back in May, the Treasury Department said $80 billion in extra IRS budget would raise $700 billion over the next ten years. Some Democratic members of Congress were hoping for $1 trillion in extra revenue from better enforcement, the Washington Post reported in July.

This is not the first time the Biden administration’s pay-fors have come up short. The CBO also poured cold water on their rosy projections for the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

There are parts of Democrats’ enforcement plans that the CBO did not score related to reporting requirements, but including those changes still wouldn’t get anywhere near $700 billion or $1 trillion in extra revenue over ten years.

An extra $80 billion would be a massive increase in the IRS’s budget. The CBO describes Biden’s plan as follows:

Spending would increase in each year between 2021 and 2031, though the highest growth would occur in the first few years. By 2031, CBO projects, the proposal would make the IRS’s budget more than 90 percent larger than it is in CBO’s July 2021 baseline projections and would more than double the IRS’s staffing. Of the $80 billion, CBO estimates, about $60 billion would be for enforcement and related operations support.

In other words, roughly doubling the size of the IRS would raise, on average, $12 billion per year for the next ten years. To put that in perspective, the federal government regularly spends more than $12 billion in a single day.

Last summer, the CBO estimated that a $40 billion increase in IRS funding would net $63 billion in extra revenue. Using that methodology, $80 billion (2 x 40 billion) in extra funding would have netted much less than $126 billion (2 x 63 billion) in extra revenue because there are diminishing marginal returns to extra funding. This time around, the CBO used a more generous methodology than before. The CBO rightly understands the issue as a competitive process:

First, CBO expects the IRS to prioritize the enforcement activities that it thinks will have the highest average return; additional enforcement spending would therefore have lower returns than previous spending. Second, CBO expects taxpayers to adapt to the IRS’s enforcement activities and adopt new ways of evading detection, so an enforcement activity may have a lower return in later years.

That’s the same understanding they had last summer. The difference this time is they believe the IRS would have a higher rate of return on enforcement activities than in their previous estimate. They also incorporate the effects of better technology making tax enforcement easier, which last summer’s estimate did not do. Even with that more generous methodology, they could still only find a $120 billion net revenue increase.

The CBO also points to the dilemma Democrats face on the tax-gap issue: If you successfully close the tax gap, there’s no tax gap left to exploit for revenue. “An increase in the IRS’s funding could signal that the agency was more capable of detecting noncompliance, thus increasing voluntary compliance and revenues,” the CBO says. “However, if there were fewer noncompliant taxpayers to audit, the [return on investment] from the IRS’s enforcement activities would drop, and the direct revenues from increased enforcement would be lower than CBO estimated.”

As I wrote in July, if the tax gap were the revenue jackpot that Democrats want it to be, politicians would have exploited it already. The fact that nobody has yet indicates it actually wouldn’t raise much money. For the second year in a row, the CBO has confirmed that intuition.

Politics & Policy

Manchin Isn’t Going to Kill the Bill

Loading...
Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) questions Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veteran Affairs nominee for President Joe Biden, during his confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., January 27, 2021. (Leigh Vogel/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Joe Manchin has given conservatives something to hope for in calling for a “strategic pause” in Democrats’ rush to spend $3.5 trillion in a partisan reconciliation bill. But after reading Manchin’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, I have to admit I’m less optimistic than Charlie that he’s going to tank Joe Biden’s presidency by blocking his entire domestic agenda.

Last week, I explained in a bit more detail why I got the sense that Biden’s spending plans had become too big to fail. There have been many moments for lawmakers to take the off ramp, but at every chance, they have consistently moved the ball forward. Nothing in Manchin’s piece has disabused me of the idea.

While many of Manchin’s arguments about the recklessness of jamming through a $3.5 trillion bill at a time of inflation and extraordinary debt could have been made by a conservative, reading between the lines, it’s quite clear that he isn’t saying he wouldn’t support a reconciliation bill point blank. He complained about the rush and the size. Yet timing complaints are completely arbitrary and could easily be massaged. Meanwhile, the starting point of $3.5 trillion is so high that there is plenty of room to negotiate. Manchin made it abundantly clear that he would not support the bill in its entirety. But nobody expects Democrats to get everything they want. Would he support a $3 trillion bill? $2.5 trillion? $2.2 trillion? A lower number wouldn’t directly contradict his op-ed, and it would still be enough to deliver on plenty of progressive priorities.

Also, don’t be fixated on the September 27 deadline for a vote on the separate $550 billion infrastructure plan that Manchin supports. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed for the chamber to consider the plan by Sept. 27th, but considering the plan does not guarantee passage.  The bill could always be considered or voted down. At a minimum, there’s no way AOC and company agree to vote for the bipartisan bill if Manchin is still creating a cloud of uncertainty over the reconciliation bill.

At the end of the day, Manchin and progressives are going to settle on a bill that that’s still large, but not quite $3.5 trillion. Everything that happens between now and then is just negotiation.

Politics & Policy

Republicans Shouldn’t Be Scared of the Texas Abortion Law in 2022

Loading...
The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C, June 14, 2021 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Dick Morris is out with what will likely be the conventional wisdom that Texas and the Supreme Court, by raising the possibility that abortion will be banned in many places, have given the Democrats a big gift in the next elections.

Obviously this is not a first-order or even second-order consideration about the law. On the merits of the Supreme Court’s decision, I agree with NR’s editors: The five justices in the majority did the right thing, and the failure of the justices in the minority to identify a plausible alternative course of action suggests how easy this decision would be in the absence of the political atmospherics around it. I also agree that the law is not the ideal of an anti-abortion law: It’s not what would or should have been written without a 50-year campaign of massive legal resistance to civil rights for unborn children. But we are where we are.

As for the politics: I’m not at all convinced Morris is right. But let’s give this case its due. The issue will fire up social liberals who might otherwise have been complacent during a midterm — when the party in the White House typically suffers losses because its base voters are complacent and the opposition party’s voters are angry. Voters who are ambivalent about abortion — voters whom pro-lifers can reach by concentrating on such sub-issues as late-term abortion — may be alarmed at the prospect of sweeping change. And while polling on this subject comes with big caveats, it is true that most voters favor Roe v. Wade (or what they think it is) and don’t want to see abortion banned altogether.

On the other hand: It’s pretty rare for the general rule of midterms to be overcome. The last time it happened was in 2002, when our country had recently suffered the worst attack on it in history and the incumbent president was more popular than he had been during his first months in office. So we might (at the least) be talking about Republicans’ seeing their gains being blunted rather than actual net losses. We are very likely also going to see more than a year of Democratic politicians, activist groups, and much of the press yelling that Roe is already dead — while abortion remains legal in most places, this law isn’t enforced (since it cannot be), pro-abortion Democrats occupy the White House, back alleys don’t come back, and the only people who wear those red outfits are people who choose it. That probably works out better for pro-lifers than a scenario where the Court strikes down Roe and Casey next summer without this prelude. Sustaining a fever pitch about coat-hangers and theocracy for more than a year is going to be a challenge.

Politics & Policy

Is Manchin Slowing, or Killing, the Democrats’ $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Bill?

Loading...
Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) speaks on the phone before a hearing in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2021. (Al Drago/Reuters)

In the Wall Street Journal, Senator Manchin of West Virginia calls for a “strategic pause” on his party’s absurd spending plans:

Over the past 18 months, we’ve spent more than $5 trillion responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Democratic congressional leaders propose to pass the largest single spending bill in history with no regard to rising inflation, crippling debt or the inevitability of future crises. Ignoring the fiscal consequences of our policy choices will create a disastrous future for the next generation of Americans.

Manchin continues:

Those who believe such concerns are overstated should ask themselves: What do we do if the pandemic gets worse under the next viral mutation? What do we do if there is a financial crisis like the one that led to the Great Recession? What if we face a terrorist attack or major international conflict? How will America respond to such crises if we needlessly spend trillions of dollars today?

Instead of rushing to spend trillions on new government programs and additional stimulus funding, Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation. A pause is warranted because it will provide more clarity on the trajectory of the pandemic, and it will allow us to determine whether inflation is transitory or not. While some have suggested this reconciliation legislation must be passed now, I believe that making budgetary decisions under artificial political deadlines never leads to good policy or sound decisions. I have always said if I can’t explain it, I can’t vote for it, and I can’t explain why my Democratic colleagues are rushing to spend $3.5 trillion.

Of course, something that is “paused” can be restarted. And Manchin isn’t saying he’s not willing to spend any money, but that he won’t “support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.” As usual, there’s wiggle room here.

And yet . . . Manchin also writes this:

In 2017, my Republican friends used the privileged legislative procedure of budget reconciliation to rush through a partisan tax bill that added more than $1 trillion to the national debt and put investors ahead of workers. Then, Democrats rightfully criticized this budgetary tactic. Now, my Democratic friends want to use this same budgetary tactic to push through sweeping legislation to make “historic investments.” Respectfully, it was wrong when the Republicans did it, and it is wrong now. If we want to invest in America, a goal I support, then let’s take the time to get it right and determine what is absolutely necessary.

One can read that a number of ways, but here’s one way: As it stands, Senator Manchin is against the reconciliation bill, and in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and, absent a big change, that’s where he may well end up.

Politics & Policy

BREAKING: The ACLU Doesn’t Understand Civil Liberties

Loading...
(David Becker/Reuters)

No one who’s been paying attention to the ACLU’s trajectory in recent years should be under the illusion that the organization has much to do with civil liberties anymore. It might strike civil-libertarian notes when they happen to align with the broader progressive agenda – criminal-justice reform, abolition of the death penalty, abortion-on-demand, and so on – but these are marriages of convenience, not expressions of principle. The fiercely independent advocacy organization that famously defended the First Amendment rights of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s is no more; in its place lies a standard-issue progressive activist group, one that is often a rabid cheerleader for the Left’s most authoritarian and illiberal ambitions. 

This is not a particularly new revelation, of course. The ACLU, once described by the New York Times as “America’s high temple of free speech and civil liberties,” has been moving away from its founding principles for decades. It is free to do so, though this move remains frustrating — particularly when the organization continues to insist that its turn away from civil liberties is entirely consistent with its traditional mission, couching support for any number of progressive power-grabs in the language of freedom and constitutional rights. 

The latest example of this is today’s New York Times essay arguing for vaccine mandates, co-written by ACLU national leaders David Cole and Daniel Mach. There is a legitimate range of debate to be had about vaccine mandates in public policy — but that’s not the ACLU’s argument. Instead, the authors go two steps further:

Far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties. They protect the most vulnerable among us, including people with disabilities and fragile immune systems, children too young to be vaccinated and communities of color hit hard by the disease.

Vaccine requirements also safeguard those whose work involves regular exposure to the public, like teachers, doctors and nurses, bus drivers and grocery store employees. And by inoculating people from the disease’s worst effects, the vaccines offer the promise of restoring to all of us our most basic liberties, eventually allowing us to return safely to life as we knew it, in schools and at houses of worship and political meetings, not to mention at restaurants, bars, and gatherings with family and friends.

Protecting the broader population from infectious diseases is a noble policy goal — but how does it further civil liberties? The ACLU’s best attempt at an answer seems to be that a vaccine mandate could restore other liberties down the line, with “the promise of restoring to all of us our most basic liberties.” Such a mandate would be “a justifiable intrusion on autonomy and bodily integrity,” the article admits. “That may sound ominous, because we all have the fundamental right to bodily integrity and to make our own health care decisions. But these rights are not absolute. They do not include the right to inflict harm on others.” Someone should have told the ACLU that yesterday; it might have prevented its ongoing meltdown over the new abortion restrictions in Texas, which the the organization’s Twitter denounced as “a racial and economic justice catastrophe,” “a full-scale assault on patients, our health care providers, and our support systems,” and “blatantly unconstitutional,” to boot. 

The article’s authors readily cede that vaccine mandates, while “justifiable,” are an “intrusion on autonomy and bodily integrity.” How can an intrusion on autonomy simultaneously be an expansion of freedom? Government mandates are government mandates. Sometimes, perhaps, they are reasonable or necessary — if that were the ACLU’s argument, it might stand on firmer ground. But the suggestion that such policies represent a furthering of civil liberties is an affront to the original — and legitimate — meaning of the term. 

Education

I’m Afraid This Is Typical of High School ‘Teaching’

Loading...
(skynesher/Getty Images)

Here is a post on “Cafe Hayek” today:

Here’s a letter to a high-school senior in Virginia:

Mr. H__:

Thanks for your e-mail, and for reading Cafe Hayek.

As you predict, I join you in rejecting your economics teacher’s belief that “Milton Friedman’s teachings privileged the powerful … and oppressed workers and the disenfranchised.” But it’s not my place to instruct you on how to respond.

You are, you say, familiar with some of Friedman’s writings. Re-read these writings, as well as others by Friedman – many of which are available free-of-charge here. As you do so, ask yourself which groups are identified by Friedman as suffering the most from government interventions and, hence, which groups are believed by Friedman to gain the most from a reduction in government intervention into the economy. Importantly, challenge yourself to read Friedman as your teacher and other of his critics read him. Try – really try – to understand just why these critics reach the conclusion they do.

If you take my advice, it’s possible that you’ll come to share your teacher’s critical view of Friedman. Leave yourself open to that possibility, for even if in the end you aren’t persuaded to that critical view, you’ll come to have a deeper understanding both of Friedman and of his critics.

I close with one substantive point: Your teacher is mistaken to describe Friedman as having been “a paid apologist for the privileged.” Even if you and I are incorrect, and your teacher is correct, about the consequences of Friedman’s policies, your teacher has no evidence that Friedman’s public-policy advocacy was fueled by any motive other than a sincere belief that those policies are the most humane and likely to improve the lives of ordinary people.

One of the substantive economic principles taught not only by Friedman, but also by Adam Smith and countless other economists, famous and obscure, is that (in the phrasing of David Henderson) “intentions are not results.” It follows that results do not necessarily reflect intentions. The very least your teacher should do with respect to Friedman is what I sincerely advise you to do with respect to your teacher: Take his arguments seriously and do not assume that disagreement with the conclusions implies he had evil motives.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

Here we have a blitheringly ignorant high-school teacher offering his ill-informed views to students as though he were instructing them on the quadratic formula. No wonder our colleges are swarming with “social-justice warrior” types.

Law & the Courts

Overturning Roe v. Wade Would Repair a Supreme Injustice

Loading...
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)

Last night, the Supreme Court denied the request by Texas abortion clinics for emergency relief against the Texas Heartbeat Act. Even though the Left’s hysteria machine was immediately cranked to eleven, we have no idea what this means for the future of Roe v Wade. Hillary Clinton, and a number of others, falsely claimed that the Court had “gutted” Roe v. Wade “in middle of the night” when, in fact, the Court stressed that it did “not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claims” or the “constitutionality” of Texas’s law.

The histrionics are expected. For nearly 50 years, abortion advocates have been able to circumvent any consequential political debate over one of the most contentious and divisive issues in America life. Because of the breathtaking act of judicial supremacy, abortion advocates — many of the same people who refuse to accept the veracity of Citizens United or Heller, cases that reenforced rights explicitly laid out in the Constitution — simply claimed that the issue had been decided in perpetuity. Seven justices in 1973 had concocted an inalienable right from the ether.

There is a good possibility that initial political implications of the Court overturning Roe — which, I am skeptical will happen — would be detrimental for Republicans. Indeed, I’ve noticed that many people on social media — so perhaps this is not indicative of the larger American public, though I fear it is — seem to be under the impression that overturning Roe means the end of abortion. It’s unlikely much would change on the ground. Polls find that most Americans believe abortion should be legal. But most also believe in limitations. Some states, the ones that already have few clinics, would likely pass twelve- or 20-week bans or enact stricter enforcement of late-term-abortion bans, while others would surely adopt the Democrats’ preferred position: no restrictions whatsoever. Elizabeth Warren, ranting about the Court last night, demanded that Congress pass its own version Roe v. Wade. I’d opposed to such a law because of its barbaric nature, but whatever the outcome, laws, not judges, should govern abortion.

Roe stripped Americans of the ability to find any compromise on the issue. It stripped them of the ability to construct laws that accounted for evolving technological or scientific understanding. It stripped them of any real debate. Democrats are happy to throw individual rights to the vagaries of “democracy.” Why not abortion — a procedure that isn’t even hinted at anywhere in the Constitution?

Politics & Policy

There’s Still Unspent COVID-Relief Money

Loading...
United States Capitol Building (rarrarorro/Getty Images)

In Phil’s cheery piece this morning on our long-term, slow-moving entitlement disaster, he says, “Right now, instead of grappling with fiscal reality, Democrats are rushing to enact an additional $4.1 trillion in new spending (a portion of it, it should be noted, with Republicans’ blessing).”

The new spending is troubling enough, but it’s worse than that: We haven’t even spent all the old spending yet.

According to the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget’s COVID Money Tracker, about $1.4 trillion that Congress has already allocated for COVID relief has not actually been disbursed. That includes money from the CARES Act, the very first COVID-relief bill signed by then-President Trump in March 2020.

It may seem quaint to say it these days, but $1.4 trillion is still a lot of money. We don’t know the full economic impact of the money that has already been spent, and there’s still so much more to go. Social Security’s sorry state is just another argument against new spending.

The economic effects of government spending only take place once the spending actually happens. As anyone who has ever been owed money knows, a promise to get paid is not the same as getting paid.

There’s a lag between policy creation and policy implementation (called “inside lag”) and between policy implementation and economic effect (called “outside lag”). A year and half after passage of the CARES Act, we’re still in the inside-lag period on some parts of it. We’ll still be in the outside-lag period for years to come.

It’s one of the strongest arguments against stimulus programs: Even if you calibrate the amount of stimulus perfectly to counteract an economic downturn, it still has to be implemented, and that implementation takes lots of time. By the time it’s all implemented, the crisis may well be over.

We seem to have reached that point with the pandemic recession. Congress’s time and effort would be much better spent ensuring that Social Security and Medicare will continue to exist. But they’ve still got a few election cycles to play with until benefits will have to be cut, so don’t get your hopes up.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Approval Craters to 36 Percent among Independents, NPR Poll Finds

Loading...
President Joe Biden reacts as he speaks about Hurricane Henri and the evacuation of Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, August 22, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

President Biden’s approval rating has cratered to 36 percent among independents after his disastrous handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to a new NPR/PBS/Marist poll.

Overall, the poll found that Biden’s approval is just 43 percent, with 51 percent disapproving. That is a staggering net swing of 13 points since July, when the same poll found a plurality of Americans approved of the job he was doing, 49 percent to 44 percent.

But it’s among independents where Biden has significantly lost ground, with 55 percent disapproving. Specifically, 71 percent of independents disapprove of Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

In the recent political era, with Americans much more divided into strict partisan camps, we are not used to seeing such dramatic swings in presidential approval ratings, especially when it comes to foreign policy, which tends to get tuned out. That’s what makes what’s happened to Biden over the course of a few weeks that much more stunning.

Politics & Policy

Tens of Billions of Dollars in Hospital and Nursing Home Aid Remain Unspent

Loading...
The west side of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

Early last month, we learned that the federal rental assistance program had used just 10 percent of the $46 billion that Congress had allocated to it. This week brings an appropriate sequel:

Tens of billions of dollars designated by Congress to help hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care providers stave off financial hardship in the coronavirus pandemic are sitting unused because the Biden administration has not released the money.

As many hospitals bulge again with covid-19 patients, a wide swath of the health-care industry is exasperated that federal health officials have not made available any more of the aid since President Biden took office. About $44 billion from a Provider Relief Fund created last year remains unspent, along with $8.5 billion Congress allotted in March for medical care in rural areas.

Last month I wrote, “Congress loves to throw money at a problem and ignore questions of whether the Byzantine federal bureaucracy and patchwork of programs and systems can actually allocate the appropriated money fast enough to address the problem.”

Our federal government is asked to do a lot by the citizenry — more than it can reasonably handle. In the past month, we’ve learned that the State Department’s e-mail for evacuations from Afghanistan started bouncing back to senders because it was full. The U.S. government still does not have a certain count of how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan, nor how many U.S. green card holders. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction detailed hundreds of cases of waste, fraud, and abuse in the U.S. government’s expenditures in that country.

Keeping track of where the money goes is hard work. Putting together another giant spending bill is easy, and it allows members of Congress to boast that they did something – even if the money never gets to where it was intended to go.

Politics & Policy

Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye: Afghan Evacuees, Veterans’ Suicide Hotline, Death of Music in Afghanistan

Loading...
Afghans are escorted to a bus taking them to a refugee processing center upon arrival at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, August 24, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

1.  

2. Josh Rogin: The U.S. government left its own journalists behind in Afghanistan

The RFE/RL journalists and their families made several independent trips to the airport, often spending long days and nights waiting just outside the gates, but never managed to get inside, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly told me during an interview. And now, they are stranded.

“You would have expected that the United States government, which helped create the space for journalism and civil society in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, would have tried to do more over the last several weeks to assist journalists who made a decision that it was best for them to leave the country,” Fly said. “But they consistently failed to do that.”

3. Crux: What comes next for the 5,000 Afghans evacuated to Italy?

At the moment, Forti said the main entity offering emergency support to Italy’s Afghan refugees is the Italian government, which he said is currently evaluating whether to allow direct involvement of other institutions, including those run by the Catholic Church, “given the great solidarity and willingness that is coming from individuals and associations.”

Forti said the Italian Ministry of the Interior is exploring ways to enhance its welcome system in light of the emergency arrival of so many, because while some things can be made up as they go along, “precise rules and uniform paths to integration are needed throughout the national territory.”

4. 

5. Washington Examiner: Veterans Affairs suicide hotline received more than 35,000 calls during Afghanistan evacuation

The VA is starting a new awareness campaign for the month of September, which is Suicide Prevention Month.

The campaign urges veterans to reach out, hear others’ stories, be prepared, find resources, and spread the word in an effort to “act now” so they can “prevent Veteran suicide later.”

6. Naomi Schaefer Riley: Foster Kids Need Their Own Advocates

A new document released by a group called Family Integrity and Justice Works, whose founders include recent employees of the federal Children’s Bureau, recommends turning “child advocates” into “family advocates.” And the leaders of the UpEnd Movement, which seeks to abolish foster care entirely, say that CASAs should reflect on how they are “contributing to … the oversurveiling of families.” Instead, their role should be “getting kids to be with their families whenever possible.”

But if you spend any time in family court, it is obvious that the voice of the family is being heard. For years, the mandate of child welfare agencies has been family preservation and family reunification at (almost) all costs. What’s missing from the proceedings is the voice of the child, who is often too young to know what his or her best interests are or too traumatized to be able to explain them.

Continue reading “Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye: Afghan Evacuees, Veterans’ Suicide Hotline, Death of Music in Afghanistan”

National Security & Defense

A Strong Rebuke of Progressive Defense-Cuts Proponents

Loading...
A Navy EA-18G aircraft assigned to Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., takes off during a U.S. Air Force Weapons School integration exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., June 2, 2021. (William R. Lewis/USAF)

The House Armed Services Committee just approved a $23.9 billion addition to the U.S. defense budget on top of the $715 billion President Joe Biden had requested, bucking his lowball request and progressives who had called for defense-spending cuts.

The committee’s approval of the measure doesn’t come as much of a surprise, since Republicans have been united against Biden’s low request, which slightly cut defense spending in real terms, and a few Democrats have expressed similar skepticism. “The bipartisan adoption of my amendment sends a clear signal: the President’s budget submission was wholly inadequate to keep pace with a rising China and a re-emerging Russia,” said Representative Mike Rogers, the committee’s top Republican and author of the amendment.

But the debate about the budget was illuminating nonetheless, demonstrating that congressional progressives don’t have nearly enough sway to get their way on defense issues. At least 14 of the committee’s Democrats supported the amendment, according to Politico.

Representative Ro Khanna, one of the panel’s sole progressive voices, panned the proposal during the debate that preceded today’s vote.

“My question is simple: If we are getting out of Afghanistan and we have money, why are we spending this 23.9 billion on increasing defense as opposed to, for example, giving the money to all our veterans who served in Afghanistan for 20 years?” said the California Democrat. “Why wouldn’t that be a better use of the money? Or, my Republican colleagues who’ve spoken eloquently about our obligation to our Afghan allies and to Afghan refugees, why not spend the money on resettling them, or helping with their evacuation?”

Khanna expressed frustration that unified Democratic control of government wouldn’t yield defense-spending cuts.

“If we don’t stand up now to make sure that we are not increasing the defense budget beyond what Trump wants, what good is it to control both chambers and the presidency?”

Ahead of the markup, Representatives Mark Pocan and Barbara Lee, co-chairs of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus, mounted a last bid push to dissuade their colleagues on Armed Services from boosting the defense budget, arguing that the end of the war in Afghanistan marked an opportunity to cut defense spending.

“America spends more on its military than the next 11 largest defense-spending nations combined. This will remain true if the President’s budget request were enacted, and the ratio will only increase under the Senate’s proposal,” they and 25 of their colleagues wrote in a letter to House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith on August 30.

Smith voted against the Rogers amendment, but 14 of his Democratic colleagues supported it, just as all but one of the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee did in July.

In the end, they joined with Republicans to reject a hackneyed talking point that fails to find any basis in America’s security needs. Their vote was a powerful rebuke of the defense cuts caucus’s — and the president’s — position.

World

What Did France Know That We Didn’t?

Loading...

An interesting piece in the Financial Times:

In May — three months before the fall of Kabul to the Taliban — France began evacuating Afghans working for its embassy and other French organisations, along with their families.

Officials said 623 people were flown to France in the weeks before the Afghan army collapsed and the Islamist militant group seized power. These evacuations came in addition to the 800 Afghans and relatives who had worked with the French armed forces and had already been moved after Paris ended military operations in Afghanistan in 2014. France also repeatedly told its citizens to leave.

At the time, the French decision prompted remonstrations from NGOs and from some of France’s European allies. They were concerned about this apparent abandonment of Afghanistan and accused the French of being unduly pessimistic about the security impact of President Joe Biden’s announcement of a full US military withdrawal by September . . .

When the French were able to take a more dispassionate view and draw the obvious conclusions about the consequences of the US withdrawal, the Americans were blinded by their long association with the Afghan armed forces, their $1tn-plus investment in the country, and by the cumbersome nature of their own intelligence systems.