Energy & Environment

Maybe the Pipeline Terrorists Are Just Environmentalists

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A supply depot servicing the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline lies idle in Oyen, Alberta, Canada February 1, 2021. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Presidents never get to choose events, and you can always count on their dreams of spending four years signing bills and doing other fun stuff being shattered as they instead spend unexpectedly large portions of their time running around with their hair on fire trying to manage various unexpected crises. Weirdly enough, Donald Trump’s presidency was just about crisis-free, for the first three years anyway. “President says something” isn’t an actual crisis, just a pretend one.

If Joe Biden doesn’t get out in front of the Colonial pipeline cyberattack that has shut down a major fuel pipeline for two days and is beginning to cause panic in some areas of the Southeast, it’s going to hurt him badly. People tend to closely tie the situation at the gas pump with the man sitting in the Oval Office. And guess what? In Biden’s case that is perfectly reasonable after his spokesperson blandly dismissed concerns about the ransom attack on a critical portion of U.S. infrastructure as merely a private matter for one business to hash out with their, I dunno, military and intelligence arms, I guess. You’re on your own, fellas! Good luck. Now Team Biden, the media report with uncharacteristic alarm, is “scrambling” to look like they’re doing something. Joe should ask his close pal Jimmy Carter how spending four years in perpetual scrambling mode worked out.

Here’s a little hunk of “whoa, things are getting bad”:

On Tuesday morning, more than 7 percent of gas stations in Virginia, 5 percent in North Carolina and nearly 4 percent in Georgia were without fuel, according to Patrick De Haan, an oil analyst at Gas Buddy. A number of stations in Florida, Alabama and South Carolina also reported dry pumps. De Haan said fuel demand in these states spiked 40 percent on Monday, and cautioned against panic-buying, which will only exacerbate the shortages.

If Biden himself were not on record as being himself a fan of shutting down fuel pipelines — Keystone XL not only was a menace to our American way of life by bringing us energy, Biden thought it had to be cut off before his first afternoon nap — this brewing crisis wouldn’t be so potentially damaging to him. Biden is an ardently pro-fuel-limits guy in a moment when fuel is limited. As one of his other first acts in office — “Let’s own Trump by endangering our energy future” — he also banned new fracking leases on federal land. Maybe it would be nice to have more energy supply rather than less given what’s happened since? Prices are already ticking up at the pump. The media can hide Hunter Biden’s influence-peddling and downplay Joe Biden’s lying, but they can’t hide gas prices.

Politics & Policy

Chris Murphy Wants to Beat China by Being More Like China

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Senator Chris Murphy speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 13, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Find someone who looks at you like Democrats look at antiquated, expensive, inflexible, and impractical trains.

It should be mentioned that the Chinese now rank 68th in per capita income according to the World Bank. The average Chinese worker is not nipping at your heels. They are nipping at the heels of the Romanians and Albanians. Some Chinese are gaining on us, mostly because the nation has adopted quasi-capitalistic institutions and created wealth. Which would be a positive development for the world if it weren’t for the slavery, ethnic cleansing, bellicosity, mass arrests, and generally tyranny.

Certainly, there is no evidence that China is “gaining” on us — by any increment — because of their reliance on faster trains. Perhaps Murphy is unaware that the average worker doesn’t need to take the Acela from Boston to D.C. very often — or ever. And if they do, a shuttle plane from Boston to D.C. takes only an hour and a half, as I’m sure Murphy is aware. A plane ride from Beijing to Shanghai takes two hours and 20 minutes. China is now the second-largest aviation market in the world, but it will soon be first. No one wants to be cooped up in a train 4.3 hours.

Then again, as a practical matter, cars beat every other form of transportation. The motor-vehicle-per-capita list and wealthiest-countries-per-capita list, in fact, are virtually identical. Cars are flexible, comfortable, and safer than ever. Prosperous people drive cars — unless they are in dense urban areas. China is behind Iran in the motor-vehicle-per-capita category, though perhaps not for long. In 2005, China sold under 6 million cars. By 2018, they were selling over 27 million (with a slight dip the past two years). China wants to be more like us. Murphy wants to be more like China.

In communist nations, where the state chooses how you travel, trains can be built with complete disregard for economic reality or property rights. This is why Tom Friedman types have authoritarian daydreams about “being China for a day.” Democrats are selling their proposed giant state-run technocracies as a way to “out-compete” China. Forget that China has erected a network of ghost towns and empty airports. Its trains are also often empty. Only one in six of China’s high-speed rail lines are able to cover their operating and debt costs. Which, come to think of it, is kind of like Amtrak, which has lost money every year since 1971. The cost of California’s high-speed rail project has likely gone over a trillion dollars. As Murphy recently admitted, the Northeast Corridor is the only one in the entire country “that has any chance of making money.” And yet, he wants taxpayers to foot the massive bill for rail lines that few would ever use.

Science & Tech

Fauci Asked about U.S. Funding Wuhan Lab

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Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies at the House Select Subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic on Capitol Hill, April 15, 2021. (Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Rand Paul asked Dr. Anthony Fauci about the United States’ role — and Fauci’s own as head of NIAID — in funding the Wuhan Virology Institute to study “gain-of-function” in coronaviruses. Basically, lots of outlets have reported that a subgrant to the EcoAlliance diverted U.S. tax dollars to study how to make bat coronaviruses more infective in humans.


The exchange got very testy.

And, it’s hard not to see that Fauci is responding in a technically correct but ultimately misleading way. Notice the shift between definitions from one question to the next? We need public officials and the press to push much harder on this line of questioning.

Politics & Policy

How to Change Minds

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(Eachat/Getty Images)

I’ve been reading through Thomas Carlyle’s History of the French Revolution recently, one of the greatest cultural artifacts of the 19th century. In Chapter III of that great work, he offers his readers a few words of sage advice on how best to combat lies. It’s advice that we who inhabit this partisan and polarized place and time still need to hear:

Where thou findest a Lie that is oppressing thee, extinguish it. Lies exist there only to be extinguished; they wait and cry earnestly for extinction. Think well, meanwhile, in what spirit thou wilt do it: not with hatred, with headlong selfish violence; but in clearness of heart, with holy zeal, gently, almost with pity. Thou wouldst not replace such extinct lie by a new lie, which a new injustice of thy own were; the parent of still other lies? Whereby the latter end of that business were worse than the beginning.

“Think well, meanwhile, in what spirit thou wilt do it.” This is where most of us, myself included, tend to stumble when we argue and debate with friends who disagree with us. If we truly want to change minds, we all have to be mindful of the fact that we gain nothing by winning the argument and losing the person. What’s more, people generally try to avoid changing their minds on big subjects whenever they can. Psychologically, it can feel humiliating, disorientating, and doubt-inducing in other areas of life. “If I’m wrong about this, what else am I wrong about?” As a result, it can radically diminish one’s confidence and sense of self. If people have to choose between changing their mind on something that matters and preserving their sense of self, they will always dig their heels in. 

This is why it’s so important, in the words of Sun Tzu, to “build a golden bridge for your opponent to retreat across,” when arguing over matters of substance. You have to express your point of view in such a way that allows your interlocutor to be persuaded without losing face or ceding status. There must be a way for them to climb down from their position while retaining their dignity. 

That so little of our discourse takes on this character is a testament to the fact that we have long since ceased all attempts at persuading our neighbors of the truth, goodness, and beauty of our respective positions. Take, for example, the rank condescension and contempt exhibited towards anti-vaxxers in this “Public Service Announcement” that was recently aired on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show: 

I, no less than the doctors in this video, am convinced that every eligible American should take the coronavirus vaccine. But the notion that a video like this would ever convince vaccine-hesitant Americans to change their position instead of entrenching it further is ridiculous. It’s clear that the video was never about persuasion in the first place. It was about servicing Kimmel’s progressive viewers with the intoxicating pleasure that all of us derive from having our priors confirmed and our self-satisfied sense of certainty fortified against all comers. 

The dispensation of this particular pleasure is what most of American news media is in the business of supplying to its consumers in 2021. In this respect, the Right is no better than the Left. The endless ream of YouTube clips that show Ben Shapiro “UTTERLY DESTROYING” a hapless college student a decade-and-a-half his junior are perhaps the most famous examples one could point to of how the schadenfreude-industrial complex can generate millions of dollars for conservatives as well as progressives. Nowhere in our national life today, for instance, are you likely to find any public conversation between Left and Right resembling the extraordinary debate conducted between William F. Buckley and Noam Chomsky on the April 3, 1969, episode of Firing Line, which you can (and should) watch in full on YouTube here.     

This is primarily because productive debate depends on the willingness of both sides to attribute benign motives to their interlocutors. You have to start from a point of agreement that there’s some shared vision of the Good that you’re both aiming at, even if you think your opponent’s vision of it is refracted and obscured to the point of error while your own is much closer to the mark. A productive debate about abortion, for example, would depend on the willingness of pro-lifers to concede that their opponents do not see themselves as out-and-proud baby murderers, and on the willingness of pro-choicers to get beyond their suspicion that opponents of abortion care about nothing more that “controlling women’s bodies.” But we simply will not extend one another this courtesy.

This is a great shame, because changing one’s mind is a lot like a trust exercise. You have to be willing to step off the precipice on which you previously took your stand, convinced that those who were previously your opponents will catch you without jeering you, flouting you, and insisting you divest yourself of all your dignity and self-respect. There’s a kind of intimacy and an assuredness of unconditional friendship between conservatives and progressives that has to be in place before the mind of either can be changed by the other. Hence Carlyle’s emphasis that lies must be corrected “in clearness of heart, with holy zeal, gently, almost with pity.”             

But how far we are from this kind of friendship today! In 2021, the relationship between progressives and conservatives in America looks a lot less like a trust exercise and a lot more like a violent video game. Both sides sit alone at home in front of a screen, stroking the prejudices of their ideological peers and congratulating one another as they “hit,” “slam,” and “destroy” their enemies, who in turn appear to them as little more than pixelated, two-dimensional avatars, tailor-made for recreational abuse. 

There’s no remedy to this state of affairs, and no hope of creating a polity characterized by persuasion, until both sides emerge from their partisan bunkers and greet one another in the clear light of day with the words of our shared nation’s greatest son, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” We all must convince our political adversaries that this proposition is true — with actions as well as words — before we can expect to convince them of anything else. 

U.S.

Babies or Bust

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I interviewed economist and demographer Lyman Stone for Bloomberg Opinion on the record-low U.S. birthrate. Among the topics we discuss: whether it’s a short-term consequence of COVID, what long-term effect it might have on our economy, and why more immigration can’t make up for it.

Politics & Policy

Liberalism vs. Illiberalism

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Colleagues the other day were lamenting the use of the word “liberal” to mean “statist.” In an older usage, still prevalent in Europe, it means the opposite. To its critics on the right, statism is a malady primarily of the Left. They call the Left “liberal,” at least in America. I’ve stopped using “liberal” in that sense. The far Left — call it the woke Left — is illiberal almost by definition.

So, alas, is the far Right, the other end of the horseshoe. The war between Right and Left is longstanding and traditional. Many of us know its rules of engagement well and have grown adept at the competitions in which they obtain. The war between liberalism and illiberalism is different. It has heated up in recent years, in Europe as well as in America, and is the more serious conflict, in my view.

I found this book to be helpful, The Lost History of Liberalism, by Helena Rosenblatt (2018). From the introduction:

Most scholars admit that there is a problem defining liberalism. They begin their work with an acknowledgment that it’s a slippery or elusive term. What’s strange, however, is that most of them then proceed to stipulate a personal definition and construct a history that supports it. This, I contend, is to argue backward. . . .

In colloquial parlance in France and other parts of the world today, being liberal means favoring “small government,” while in America it signifies favoring “big government.” American libertarians today claim that they are the true liberals. Somehow these people are all supposed to be part of the same liberal tradition. . . .

At heart, most liberals [in Europe through the nineteenth century] were moralists. Their liberalism had nothing to do with the atomistic individualism we hear of today. They never spoke about rights without stressing duties. Most liberals believed that people had rights because they had duties, and most were deeply interested in questions of social justice. They always rejected the idea that a viable community could be constructed on the basis of self-interestedness alone. Ad infinitum they warned of the dangers of selfishness. Liberals ceaselessly advocated generosity, moral probity, and civic values. This, of course, should not be taken to mean that they always practiced what they preached or lived up to their values.

. . . The idea that liberalism is an Anglo-American tradition concerned primarily with the protection of individual rights and interests is a very recent development in the history of liberalism. It is the product of the wars of the twentieth century and especially the fear of totalitarianism during the Cold War. For centuries before this, being liberal meant something very different. It meant being a giving and civic-minded citizen; it meant understanding one’s connectedness to other citizens and acting in ways conducive to the common good. [My emphasis]

Health Care

It’s as If the CDC Intends to Scare People

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

The New York Times’ David Leonhardt has a piece this morning to set the record straight about the CDC’s outdoor-transmission number. The CDC said 10 percent, which seemed incredibly high to me last month based on evidence I had seen, and which Leonhardt says today is “almost certainly misleading”:

It appears to be based partly on a misclassification of some Covid transmission that actually took place in enclosed spaces (as I explain below). An even bigger issue is the extreme caution of C.D.C. officials, who picked a benchmark — 10 percent — so high that nobody could reasonably dispute it.

That benchmark “seems to be a huge exaggeration,” as Dr. Muge Cevik, a virologist at the University of St. Andrews, said. In truth, the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me. The rare outdoor transmission that has happened almost all seems to have involved crowded places or close conversation.

Saying that less than 10 percent of Covid transmission occurs outdoors is akin to saying that sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers a year. (The actual worldwide number is around 150.) It’s both true and deceiving.

The whole thing is worth reading. By the way, Leonhardt has been very good at holding public-health experts accountable recently in a way that few in the media have been willing to, and he is playing an important role in calming those Americans panicking over this virus, or at least helping them to assess the risk better.

Finally, not so long ago, Tevi Troy — a wonderful presidential historian, author of the book Fight House, and a public-health expert — was interviewed by Jonah Goldberg on The Remnant about the United States’ COVID response. It is worth listening to, as it highlights very clearly the permanent damage done to the public perception about the usefulness of and trust in our public-health community. Troy reminds us that the public-health community is a nanny state-ish group, as well as detailing some of the strategic mistruths about mask-wearing, the BLM protests, and other matters.

Troy recommends reading this piece in the Washington Post by two public-health experts about how public-health experts make a real mistake by alienating large swaths of the population, such as conservatives. A tidbit:

Our credibility was nonetheless damaged by what seemed to be double standards. There’s a difference between trying to reduce harm wherever people are gathering during a pandemic, no matter their cause, and deciding that one cause is worth more risk than another. Americans need to know that public health professionals will not allow our political views regarding the second question to color our enthusiasm to engage the first set of challenges.

We cannot allow the public health enterprise to become estranged from conservative America. We can do better, starting with a reaffirmation that our shared values are more important than what sets us apart. No one wants their parents or grandparents to become sick from covid-19. Diabetes, substance-use disorders and cancer strike across every political line. The public health watchwords to do “nothing about us without us” apply just as surely within conservative religious communities as they do anywhere else.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden Is Still Thinking about It

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President Joe Biden listens to a question as he holds his first formal news conference in the East Room of the White House, March 25, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

In the most recent issue of The Economist, discussing the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, and the challenge of growing Chinese influence in global technology supply chains: “The plan, at present, appears to be unfinished. People close to Mr Biden’s staff say that policy on China and technology remains undecided.”

The Brookings Institution: “much is still publicly unknown about the Biden administration’s North Korea policy. Indeed, much is still probably undecided within the administration.”

It is mid May 2021. How many times in 2019 and 2020 did Joe Biden assure us that he and his team would be “ready from day one”? It is not like the issues of China’s increasing leverage in the international market of high technology or how to handle North Korea just popped up out of nowhere. These are two of the preeminent foreign-policy challenges of this era.

Biden is waiting to hear back on his commission about expanding the size of the Supreme Court. He’s still thinking about whether he will mandate COVID-19 vaccines for U.S. troops. He’s still thinking about border carbon adjustment tariffs. The Biden administration may or may not create a task force to help local prosecutors fight corruption in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Last month Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced that DHS would extend the REAL ID full enforcement date from October 1 of this year to May 3, 2023.

Hey, you can’t expect a guy like Joe Biden to know what he wants to do on complicated issues like these. He’s barely had any experience with the federal government, right?

President Biden has yet to name any nominations for 351 executive branch positions. At the State Department, Biden has yet to nominate an ambassador to China, NATO, Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Holy See, India, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Kingdom, or special envoy to North Korea.

I can’t wait to see what happens when Joe Biden becomes president.

Health Care

CDC Misleads: Calls .01 Percent Chance of Infection, ‘Less Than 10 Percent’

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People walk under cherry blossom trees at Battersea Park in London, England March 23, 2021. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

The CDC has published a technically true — but profoundly misleading — statistic about the chance of outdoor infection. The story is brought to us by New York Times journalist David Leonhardt in his daily, “The Morning Newsletter”:

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines last month for mask wearing, it announced that “less than 10 percent” of Covid-19 transmission was occurring outdoors. Media organizations repeated the statistic, and it quickly became a standard description of the frequency of outdoor transmission.

So, what’s the actual number?

The number is almost certainly misleading. It appears to be based partly on a misclassification of some Covid transmission that actually took place in enclosed spaces (as I explain below). An even bigger issue is the extreme caution of C.D.C. officials, who picked a benchmark — 10 percent — so high that nobody could reasonably dispute it.

That benchmark “seems to be a huge exaggeration,” as Dr. Muge Cevik, a virologist at the University of St. Andrews, said. In truth, the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me.

That is not merely an exaggeration. It’s what is known as a whopper.

Leonhardt makes an apt point:

Saying that less than 10 percent of Covid transmission occurs outdoors is akin to saying that sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers a year. (The actual worldwide number is around 150.) It’s both true and deceiving.

He also takes a generous view of the CDC’s motivation:

This isn’t just a gotcha math issue. It is an example of how the C.D.C. is struggling to communicate effectively, and leaving many people confused about what’s truly risky. C.D.C. officials have placed such a high priority on caution that many Americans are bewildered by the agency’s long list of recommendations. Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina, writing in The Atlantic, called those recommendations “simultaneously too timid and too complicated.

Let’s assume that Leonhardt’s analysis of this profound and intentional inaccuracy as simple, good-faith, precautionary-principle self-protection — rather than making risk appear greater than it actually is toward the end of accruing power in the technocracy — is right. It doesn’t matter.

Vastly overstating the risk of COVID transmission outdoors causes profound societal harm. As Leonhardt writes:

Erring on the side of protection — by exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission — may seem to have few downsides. But it has contributed to widespread public confusion about what really matters. Some Americans are ignoring the C.D.C.’s elaborate guidelines and ditching their masks, even indoors, while others continue to harass people who walk around outdoors without a mask.

All the while, the scientific evidence points to a conclusion that is much simpler than the C.D.C.’s message: Masks make a huge difference indoors and rarely matter outdoors.

“Follow the science” requires that the people can safely trust that “the scientists” will communicate facts accurately. The CDC has failed in this basic task abysmally.

Thanks to David Leonhardt for setting the record straight. The CDC should revise its communication accordingly.

Economy & Business

Congrats, You’re Paying for California’s Governor to Bribe the State’s Voters

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Gavin Newsom speaks after being elected California governor during an election-night party in Los Angeles, Calif., November 6, 2018. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

I’ve spent much of the last week arguing that the federal government needs to stop: to stop undermining the miracle that is the COVID-19 vaccine; to stop sending money to people who don’t need it and preventing them from returning to work; to stop borrowing trillions of dollars during an expansion and risking utterly disastrous inflation.

Now we learn that California — which received $42.3 billion in the Democrats’  recent “relief” bill, as a “bailout” of its supposedly damaged budget — has an enormous budget surplus, thanks mostly to the stock market having boomed last year and driven up capital gains tax revenues. From Politico:

California expects a staggering $75.7 billion surplus despite a year of pandemic closures — an amount that surpasses most states’ annual spending and prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday to propose sending cash back to residents as he faces a recall election.

California’s coffers are bulging thanks to the high-flying Silicon Valley, surging stock market and a large share of professionals who were able to continue working remotely during Covid-19. The state has a progressive income tax structure that leans heavily on top earners, allowing the state to enjoy record revenues despite widespread job losses in the travel and service industries that have kept California’s unemployment rate among the nation’s highest.

I’ll say it again: Stop! California’s government is now so flush with cash that it is considering spending more than 11 billion dollars sending every single Californian a $600 check.

Or, to put it another way: The Democratic Party has used its control of the federal government to borrow billions and billions of dollars so that the Democratic governor of California can try to bribe his way out of a recall election by sending his voters cash. There are many words for that sort of behavior, but “relief” is not among them.

Science & Tech

Age of Wonders, Etc.

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We do live in a time in which many of our most important and prestigious institutions cannot seem to do anything right — but we also live in a time in which scientists are using the AIDS virus to cure the “bubble boy” disease. From the AP:

Patients now are treated with twice-weekly doses of antibiotics and germ-fighting antibodies, but it’s not a permanent solution.

Doctors think gene therapy might be. They remove some of a patient’s blood cells, use a disabled AIDS virus to insert a healthy version of the gene that the kids need, and return the cells through an IV.

Seems to be working. Well done.

U.S.

Shock Study: Voluntary Gun Buybacks Are Pointless

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From a new working paper put out through the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Gun buyback programs (GBPs), which use public funds to purchase civilians’ privately-owned firearms, aim to reduce gun violence. However, little is known about their effects on firearm-related crime or deaths. Using data from the National Incident Based Reporting System, we find no evidence that GBPs reduce gun crime. Given our estimated null findings, with 95 percent confidence, we can rule out decreases in firearm-related crime of greater than 1.3 percent during the year following a buyback. Using data from the National Vital Statistics System, we also find no evidence that GBPs reduce suicides or homicides where a firearm was involved.

Of course, this won’t surprise anyone who’s paid attention to these programs. They collect very few guns — typically 1,000 or fewer — and by definition they collect only unwanted guns, which tend to be old or even broken. The U.S. has about as many guns as it has people, so destroying 1,000 unwanted guns isn’t going to make any meaningful difference, even in a pretty small city.

Economy & Business

The Ban on State Tax Cuts: An Update

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As I’ve noted previously, the latest COVID bill gives states far more money than they need to offset their declines in tax revenue, and then tells them they can’t use that money to cut taxes — even “indirectly.” Some states quickly sued over this vague and sweeping prohibition. And now the Treasury Department is issuing a rule to lay out its interpretation of the law.

Jared Walczak of the Tax Foundation has a good primer on the 151-page document. The rule clarifies that tax cuts will be measured relative to the 2019 fiscal year, so if a state brings in more revenue than it did that year (adjusting for inflation), it will be safe from claims that it used COVID money to cut taxes.

But the rule could still stop states from passing sensible tax cuts, even if those cuts are not, in reality, funded by federal COVID cash. Walczak notes, for example, that it could prove difficult for states to fund tax cuts with spending cuts:

Essentially, reductions in spending cannot be in any area where the state government has spent Fiscal Recovery Funds—determined at the department, agency, or authority level. This is true even if the budget reductions financing a tax cut are in no way being offset by Fiscal Recovery Funds, provided that any of those funds are used elsewhere in the department in equal or greater amount. . . .

Imagine if, for instance, a state reduces the size of its drug enforcement budget within law enforcement and corrections agencies following the legalization of marijuana. At the same time, suppose that the Department of Corrections uses federal dollars to treat coronavirus cases in prisons, or the Department of State Police uses funding to offset salaries or provide supplemental pay for officers. In neither case would these federally financed expenditures in any way offset the savings from reduced drug enforcement, yet it appears that the federal government would prohibit using these savings to help finance a tax reduction, since they coexist in the same department or agency.

Giving states tons of money they don’t need is bad policy. Using that money as leverage to meddle in state policymaking is even worse. And the incompetency of the meddling thus far only compounds the error.

Court-Packers Say Court-Packing Is Not Court-Packing

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

A good sign that your argument is neither good nor popular is when you have to keep changing the long-accepted meaning of words. So it is with Bloomberg Law op-ed by law professors Tonja Jacobi and Matthew Sag titled “The Supreme Court Needs 15 Justices.” The op-ed’s subhed leads off: “Changing the law to allow 15 U.S. Supreme Court justices would not be court packing. It would allow the court to take many more cases and address some of the urgent issues that it currently neglects.” Bloomberg uses the same line in promoting the op-ed on Twitter:

To be fair to Jacobi

Culture

20 Things Caught My Eye Today: Schoolgirls Killed in Afghanistan, Family Policy, & More

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Relatives attend a mass funeral ceremony for victims of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 9, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

1. Reuters: At least 68 killed in Afghan school blast; families bury victims

An eyewitness told Reuters all but seven or eight of the victims were schoolgirls going home after finishing their studies. On Sunday, civilians and policemen collected books and school bags strewn across a blood-stained road now busy with shoppers ahead of celebrations for Eid al-Fitr next week.

2. Associated Press: More than 300 Palestinians hurt in Jerusalem holy site clash

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the Al-Aqsa mosque, located in a compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the iconic golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the surrounding plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.

More than 305 Palestinians were hurt, including 228 who went to hospitals and clinics for treatment, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Seven of the injured were in serious condition. Police said 21 officers were hurt, including three who were hospitalized.

Monday’s confrontation was the latest after weeks of mounting tensions between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the Old City of Jerusalem, the emotional center of their conflict. The clashes have come during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, already a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

3. 

4. Iraqi journalist in critical condition after assassination attempt in Diwaniyah

An Iraqi journalist is in hospital fighting for his life after he was shot in the head in Diwaniyah, southern Iraq, early Monday morning, just 24 hours after a prominent activist was assassinated. 

Ahmed Hassan, a reporter for al-Forat TV channel, was shot in front of his home in Diwaniyah.

There have been 81 attempted assassinations of activists since the anti-government protest movement began in October 2019, according to Ali al-Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission of Human Rights. Thirty-four activists have been killed.

5. John Stonestreet, Roberto Rivera: Organ shopping is big business

The number of people worldwide seeking organs for transplant significantly outpaces the amount of organs available. This has created, in a morbid lesson about “supply and demand,” the reality of “organ tourism,” where affluent Westerners travel overseas to obtain what they can’t get at home.

As a result, there’s now a thriving black market for transplantable organs, in which poverty-stricken people sell kidneys or parts of their liver. This practice, which Wesley J. Smith has called “biological colonialism,” needs to be banned.

Some poorer nations have banned this exploitative commerce, but China is increasing supply, forcibly harvesting organs from prisoners alive and dead, especially from the Muslim Uyghur population.

6. Helen Alvare and Brad Wilcox: Biden’s elitist work-family policy won’t work for most families

Vance’s point is that the Biden administration’s plan to spend an extra $225 billion to expand child care, after already boosting child care spending by $40 billion in the American Rescue Plan, ends up supporting just one model of family life. That model is one in which both parents of young children work full-time and delegate the care of those children to institutional daycare. This is the most popular model for the American upper-class, according to a recent YouGov survey by American Compass. 

This is also the model the White House is clearly the most enamored with. “We want parents to be in the work force, especially mothers,” Susan Rice, head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told The New York Times. The only problem with the White House’s view is that it is not shared by a majority of the middle class, working class or the poor. Their favorite model when it comes to caring for young children? Having one parent work and one parent at home.

Continue reading “20 Things Caught My Eye Today: Schoolgirls Killed in Afghanistan, Family Policy, & More”

Politics & Policy

We Were Sent Here to Change Everything . . . Unless Someone Dies

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President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Pool via Reuters)

In response to The Rapidly Aging Democratic House Majority

Jim notes that:

Today’s New York Times has a morbid but insightful article pointing out that the Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress is dependent upon the continuing good health of quite a few elderly members.

As the Times itself observes, the history of politicians dying in office

has some Democrats worried that deaths or illnesses could derail President Biden’s efforts to pass ambitious bills through Congress, which his party controls by the narrowest margins in decades.

“Our ability to make good on Biden’s agenda is pretty much dangling by a thread,” said Brian Fallon, a former aide to Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader. “I don’t think it’s uncouth to talk about it. I think it’s a reality that has to inform the urgency with which we approach those issues.”

This is true. But at no point does it seems to have occurred to Fallon and Co. that if the Democratic Party is just a couple of deaths away from being in the minority in one or both legislative chambers, then maybe it shouldn’t be trying to remake the country in the first place.

Books

The Right Kind of Literary Tyranny

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Children’s reading books on a shelf inside Widnes Library in Widnes, England, September 12, 2018. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

It never ceases to shock me, when I am speaking with parents, how many of them utter some version of the following statement: “Oh no, I could never tell my child what they are or aren’t allowed to read. They know what they like, and I don’t want to fight them on it.” Erika J. Ahern has some strong words for these parents. While her main point in the piece centers on pushing back against Amazon’s recent book-bannings, her claim that she has “exercised with Draconian vigilance” her “right to decide what literature [her] children will and will not encounter,” should catch readers’ attention. No, it is not wise to allow your children to roam freely around the library. It’s also not healthy. We don’t just let children run through the grocery store, filling a cart with candy and ice cream, do we? There is an amazing amount of junk — plenty of it insidious, plenty of it just plain stupid — sitting on those shelves. Yes, certainly, there are many literary gems that deserve our time and attention. Libraries and bookstores can be a wealth of knowledge, a place of excitement and exploration ready for the taking. But how would children know the difference between pyrite and the genuine metal if it isn’t explained to them? And why would they care, unless the beauty of that metal is shown to them?

Words matter.

Ideas matter.

For heaven’s sake, the artwork matters!

Please choose for your children, and please choose wisely.

Capital Matters

Don’t Be Fooled: The Export-Import Bank Is in the Big-Business Business

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Ex-Im Bank president Fred Hochberg (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

I am sure many of you are thinking, “Here she goes again with another post about the Export-Import Bank.” You wouldn’t be wrong. That said, when you read stuff by me about this particular agency, you should know that it applies to many other agencies as well. I can’t monitor them all as I do the Ex-Im, and yet, I can tell you that each time I look at other programs, the same patterns of cronyism emerge — such as the fact that well-connected companies are the main beneficiaries of the program though they don’t need it, and that the benefits create serious economic distortions and are profoundly unfair.

With that in mind, here is something else that all of these programs do: They argue that they are mostly focused on small businesses. I get it, people love small businesses, so it is a good talking point. But all too often these claims are overstated or even frankly misleading. What follows is an example of the latter.

By now Ex-Im’s devotion to large corporations that do not need government support is well-established. On the foreign side, a vast majority of Ex-Im clients are large companies in higher-income countries with plenty of access to capital. On the domestic side, Ex-Im is committed to propping up large manufacturers and is especially devoted to Boeing

Notwithstanding the cronyism that underlies the bank’s business model, the agency and its supporters in Congress like to claim that Ex-Im is in the service of small businesses by pointing out that 90 percent of the transactions benefit them. Yet looking at the money, one can easily see that some 20 percent of the financing actually benefits small businesses. In fact, as Politico reported a few years back, “but not enough small businesses actually need loans for the bank to make more, even if it tried.”

These actual facts don’t stop the bank from claiming that it is all about small businesses. Adding insult to injury, this time around the agency has used the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide greater handouts to large firms, even as it claims that these activities primarily benefit small businesses.

In March of last year, as the pandemic was unfolding, Ex-Im introduced four purportedly “temporary” measures that it claimed would support the U.S. economy. I wrote about these measures when they were put in place, noting that the bank’s old clients appeared to have a hand in their design. First, at least two of these measures seemed explicitly designed for Boeing.  Moreover, for one facility — the Supply Chain Financing Guarantee Program — Ex-Im eliminated the program’s target for 50 percent of suppliers to be small businesses. In addition, for both this facility and Ex-Im’s Working Capital Guarantee Program, the bank raised the amount of its guarantee from 90 percent to 95 percent, shifting more risk away from commercial banks and toward the U.S. taxpayer.

As the saying goes, there is nothing as permanent as a temporary government program. So no one should be surprised that, last month, Ex-Im’s board of directors voted to renew the four programs — which it had touted last year as “temporary relief measures” — for another year. Here is how the press release reads:

Over the past year, U.S. small businesses benefited significantly from the relief measures. Since April 2020, the measures have resulted in $1 billion in EXIM working capital guarantee and supply-chain financing guarantee authorizations. In fiscal year (FY) 2021 to date, EXIM’s working capital guarantees for minority and women-owned businesses have risen to a total of $31.5 million—a 50 percent increase over the previous period in FY 2020.

This framing would lead a casual reader to assume that small businesses received a billion dollars in benefits from Ex-Im’s pandemic-related measures. A bit of digging, however, suggests otherwise. According to another Ex-Im press release, $510 million of Ex-Im’s claimed billion dollars in pandemic relief went to just one transaction: Boeing’s purchase of aircraft engines from an affiliate of the General Electric Corporation. Thus, in one fell swoop, half of Ex-Im’s overall pandemic-related support went to the bank’s two most-beloved corporations in a favored sector. Another $450 million, across two transactions, went to U.S. Steel. Freeport LNG, which is, as I mentioned last week, a large exporter of liquefied natural gas, received $50 million. Although the amount to Freeport was small compared to the giveaways to Boeing, GE, and U.S. Steel, the loan made big waves last week when the Financial Times reported how the bank used the loan to buy the U.S. gas industry’s acquiescence to an Ex-Im gas project in Mozambique. (My post about can be read here.)  

In short, in an economy as large and diverse as that of the U.S., the bulk of Ex-Im Bank pandemic-related responses went to help large corporations, including Ex-Im Bank mainstays Boeing and GE, along with Big Steel and a large energy producer. If, as the Ex-Im press release implies, small businesses were the key beneficiaries of these relief measures, why did Ex-Im eliminate the 50 percent small-business target for the Supply Chain Financing Guarantee? 

The board approved the renewal of these measures in an open meeting in April that Mercatus was able to listen to. I was struck by a few things. First, the waiver of small-business involvement in the Supply Chain Financing Guarantee Program is going to be continued, which means that large corporations will continue to be the primary beneficiaries of the Ex-Im’s COVID-19 response. Second, it seems that the two facilities explicitly designed for Boeing — the Bridge/Backstop Financing Program and the Pre-Delivery/Pre-Export Financing Program — are being renewed even though they were not used in the past year, but will sit in reserve for whenever Boeing is ready to use them. 

What I found most extraordinary, however, is a point made by an Ex-Im official on the call. He acknowledged that circumstances have changed over the past year — translation: Pandemic measures are not necessary anymore — but then he added that the COVID-19 measures were designed for specific needs. This point is dumbfounding since it is an admission that Ex-Im intended these COVID-19 relief measures not for the broad economy — and certainly not for small businesses — but really for some hand-picked corporations.  

The press release goes on to tout the benefits of the facilities to minority and women-owned businesses, noting that such businesses received $31.5 million in support so far this year. Compare that with the $1 billion that benefited large corporations, and it’s barely a rounding error. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the bank’s support for small businesses actually declined in dollar terms between 2019 and 2020, in the midst of a pandemic that pounded small businesses.

The bottom line is that as always Ex-Im is misleading Congress and the American people by claiming to be in the small business business when every step of the way, the agency takes measures to demonstrate its constant and growing commitment to large firms.

Now going back full-circle, I will ask you this: What is the probability misleading actions like the one above only happens at Ex-Im?

Politics & Policy

The Rapidly Aging Democratic House Majority

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) attend a House Democrats news conference to reintroduce the H.R.7 “Paycheck Fairness Act” on Capitol Hill, January 30, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Today’s New York Times has a morbid but insightful article pointing out that the Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress is dependent upon the continuing good health of quite a few elderly members.

One detail that the article doesn’t lay out is that while both parties have plenty of members that are long in the tooth, the oldest members of the House are mostly Democrats.

Yes, the oldest member of the House is Alaska Republican Don Young is 87, and Hal Rogers of Kentucky is 83. But among the seasoned citizens in the Democratic House caucus, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas is 85. Grace Napolitano of California, Bill Pascrell of New Jersey are 84. Maxine Waters of California is 82, Steny Hoyer of Maryland turns 82 next month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is 81, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, David Price of North Carolina and Allen Lowenthal of California are 80, Lucille Roybal-Allard of California and Danny Davis of Illinois are 79, and Frederica Wilson of Florida is 78.

For perspective, all of those elected officials are older than Joe Biden. Most of the House Democratic leadership has been too old to fly a commercial airliner for a decade and a half.

The increasing health risks to aging senators is somewhat less of a worry for Democrats, as most Democratic senators represent states where a Democratic governor would name an interim appointed senator.

But as the Times notes, “a single Democratic vacancy could hand Republicans committee gavels and the power to schedule votes until a Democratic successor was appointed or elected.” And in the case of Vermont, the current Republican governor, Phil Scott, is not obligated to appoint a Democrat if 79-year-old Bernie Sanders or 81-year-old Patrick Leahy cannot continue their duties. (Yes, among Vermont senators, Bernie Sanders is “the young one.”) Dianne Feinstein of California is the oldest U.S. senator, at age 87, a few months older than Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Law & the Courts

On Guns, New York City Wants It Both Ways

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North view of the Manhattan skyline from the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan in New York City, June 24, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal reports that most of the candidates for Manhattan District Attorney are opposed to jailing people for illegal firearms possession:

As New York City grapples with rising violent crime, the Manhattan district attorney candidates are responding with progressive law-enforcement proposals that underscore how different this election is for one of the nation’s top prosecutor jobs. With few exceptions, they have floated proposals for a gun court to keep young defendants out of jail, partnerships with community-based organizations and plans to funnel prosecutor resources to assist police in solving cases.

. . .

Such policies would mark a departure from how Mr. Vance and his predecessor, Robert Morgenthau, prosecuted gun cases for four decades. For instance, suspects charged with felony possession of a loaded firearm face a mandatory minimum of 3.5 years in prison. However, when the accused has a minimal criminal history and didn’t shoot or brandish the weapon, Manhattan prosecutors typically offer a plea to a lesser felony and a two-year prison sentence.

Critics have said the candidates’ alternative approaches may be well-suited for simple possession cases but won’t keep Manhattanites safe.

In 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio created a fast-tracked gun court in Brooklyn, but shootings went up in Brooklyn in 2020.

This development, the Journal notes, is not because New York City has become increasingly peaceful:

The next Manhattan district attorney will take over the $126.1 million, 1,500-employee office after the New York Police Department recorded 468 homicides citywide in 2020, a 47% increase compared with 319 in 2019. In Manhattan, the rise in homicides was higher at 61%.

The number of shooting victims citywide nearly doubled during the same period. In Manhattan shootings increased by more than 40%, hitting low-income neighborhoods and communities of color in northern Manhattan hardest.

City and police officials say increased gang activity has contributed to the violent-crime rise, as police resources were stretched thin by the pandemic and large-scale protests over the killing of George Floyd.

This really is quite bizarre. On the one hand, we hear progressives telling us that it would be a disaster for public safety if the Supreme Court were to strike down any of New York’s draconian firearms laws. On the other, we hear progressives proposing the abolition of serious punishment for violating those draconian laws. How can this possibly make any sense? In effect, the people who wish to run New York are arguing that the city ought to have the toughest laws in the nation, but that those laws will not be meaningfully enforced against criminals. Say what you will about the looser firearms laws that obtain in, say, Texas, but at least nobody in that state is suggesting that prohibited persons should be treated leniently.

Second Amendment advocates such as myself often argue that, in practice, gun-control activists are much more interested in going after law-abiding people than in targeting criminals. By rigorously enforcing its laws, New York City has long served as an exception to this rule. If it, too, descends into magical thinking and lax administration, it will make a farce of its claim to practicality — and, in turn, of the false-but-popular idea that governments in big cities have a compelling interest in safety that outweighs the protection of our right to keep and bear arms.

Health Care

HHS Interpretation of ‘Discrimination Based on Sex’ Shows Urgency of Defeating Equality Act

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(megaflopp/Getty Images)

Today, HHS announced it was reversing the Trump rule that defined “sex” as biological in order to forbid “discrimination” in health care based on sexual identity and orientation. From the HHS notice:

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Office for Civil Rights will interpret and enforce Section 1557 and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include: (1) discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and (2) discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  Section 1557 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in covered health programs or activities.  The update was made in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County and subsequent court decisions.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that people have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex and receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. That’s why today HHS announced it will act on related reports of discrimination,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.  “Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences. It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone – including LGBTQ people – should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.”

Who are they kidding? This interpretation would have been made regardless of Bostock.

But the change raises an important question. Refusing to, say, set the broken leg of a gay or transgendered person would clearly be unacceptable discrimination that I can’t imagine any religion validating.

But what about interventions that could violate a medical professional’s sincere religious beliefs about the nature of sex and morality, such as participating in transgender “transition” interventions or participating in IVF and gestational surrogacy to allow a gay couple to become parents? Those procedures unquestionably cut against long-standing religious dogmas of some faiths.

For now, that might not be a significant problem. The announcement promises that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and court rulings such as Religious Sisters of Mercy v. Azar will apply to the interpretation:

In enforcing Section 1557 as stated above, OCR will comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq., and all other legal requirements. Additionally, OCR will comply with all applicable court orders that have been issued in litigation involving the Section 1557 regulations…

That’s good. It allows comity.

But note: The Equality Act now pending in the Senate — and which President Biden has promised to sign — would gut the RFRA as a protection in issues involving sex, sexual orientation, sexual identity, abortion, etc.

That is why this legislation — and Medicare for All, which would similarly corrode medical conscience — must never become law. If they do, refusing to participate in transition procedures and other controversial medical interventions involving “sex” would be officially deemed “discrimination” and punished accordingly. That would force doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to choose between acting consistently with their religious beliefs on these controversial matters and risking crushing lawsuits, authoritarian government punishments, perhaps even being allowed to continue in their chosen professions.

Make no mistake, that is the ultimate goal of the Biden administration and politically progressive special-interest groups. Dissent and heterodox thinking on these cultural sexual issues will not be tolerated. The left intends to eviscerate the RFRA to obliterate the existing right to medical conscience and force full societal compliance with their cultural agendas. Republicans in the Senate must hold the line.

Susan Hennessey Brings Resistance Twitter to the Biden DOJ

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(Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

CNN and Lawfare contributor Susan Hennessey has announced that she has been hired by the Biden-Harris Justice Department in the National Security Division. Personnel is policy. This is yet another illustration of what this administration really is. The theory of Joe Biden’s presidency, at least when his boosters are talking to centrists rather than to each other, is that Biden was the “reality is not Twitter” candidate who won the Democratic primary and the general election by appealing to normal people who do not marinate in the insanities of the Democrats’ activist base. The reality is that Biden has been more

The Federal Government’s Own Statistics Are Undermining Biden’s Arguments

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President Joe Biden holds his first formal news conference in the East Room of the White House, March 25, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

This is a big week for the Biden administration. Tomorrow, the Customs and Border Protection will update the agency’s official data on April 2021 border enforcement actions. We don’t know what they will be, but CNN reported May 3, “throughout April, Customs and Border Protection has encountered an average of just under 6,000 people daily at the southern border, according to a Department of Homeland Security official, which is in line with the March average of around 5,560 people daily… During the first three weeks of April, around 122,000 people were encountered by US border authorities on the southwest border,

Politics & Policy

‘Pistol Pete’

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Pete du Pont in 2011 (Public domain via Wikimedia)

No, he wasn’t called that. But I thought of him that way. I’ll get to Pete du Pont in a moment.

My Impromptus today leads with Caitlyn Jenner and California. A reality-TV star, and tabloid celebrity, can make a big splash in American politics. (“Manifestly,” I can hear WFB saying.) But is it good for us? I also write on Anthony Gonzalez, Liz Cheney, Alexei Navalny, Hugo Wolf, and more.

Pete du Pont was one of my favorite people in all of politics. (He died on Saturday, at 86.) I was a big fan when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. He ran on what he called “damn-right ideas” – ideas that make you say, “Damn right.”

I met him for the first time in 1992. I said I was an admirer. He said, “Better not stand too close, then. I’m better from afar.” He was modest, bright, and charming.

More than once, I remarked that he was an unusual scion of wealth. Usually, they lean toward big government – governmental paternalism, noblesse oblige. But Pete du Pont was a free-market man. In this, he was like Steve Forbes – two scions of wealth, both of them strong for free markets, and hostile to socialism, etc.

Once, I asked du Pont about this. He said that, when he was in Congress (1971 to 1977), he was fairly friendly to big government. But when he became a governor (the governor of Delaware, from 1977 to 1985), he really learned. The experience changed him a lot, he said.

He also told me about the first du Ponts to emigrate from France. Wonderful stories. Wish I could remember them, with precision. I never got du Pont on tape, which I regret.

I always wanted him, in a Republican administration, to be named Treasury secretary or Fed chairman. Never happened.

And I thought of him as “Pistol Pete,” yes. The name comes Pete Maravich, the basketball phenom. I was enthusiastic about both Petes – both Pistol Petes. May we have more like du Pont (and like Maravich).

Education

Noem Pledges to Bar Action Civics and Critical Race Theory

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Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., February 27, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem has given major momentum to a new candidate pledge that not only vows support for honest and informed patriotic education, but promises to bar “action civics” (mandatory political protests for course credit) and critical race theory (CRT) (attacks on “whiteness,” “Eurocentrism,” etc.) from our schools. The pledge is sponsored by “1776 Action,” a new group founded by Adam Waldeck, a former aide to former speaker Newt Gingrich. The group enjoys support from former HUD Secretary, Ben Carson, as well as from Gingrich. After Noem signed the 1776 Action pledge, nearly every candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Virginia did the same. (Here’s a piece by Noem and Carson on the pledge she just signed.)

The 1776 Action candidate pledge and Noem’s decision to sign it are very positive developments. I’m about to count the ways. Note, however, that Noem has her work cut out for her. Even in a deep-dyed red state such as South Dakota, the threats that Noem has just pledged to battle have made shocking progress. Turning back those threats would truly make Noem a hero, but not before she undertakes the kind of action even red-state governors seldom initiate. We’ll get to the challenge Noem faces, but first let’s consider how good and important a development this pledge — signed by someone such as Governor Noem — really is.

It’s long past time that Americans dismayed by the turn to indoctrination in our schools demanded that candidates pledge to stop it. We’re familiar with the pledge device from Grover Norquist’s famous Taxpayer Protection Pledge, in which prospective office-holders commit to avoid raising taxes. I’ve argued that a similar pledge strategy ought to be used in higher education, especially to commit gubernatorial candidates to appoint public university regents who would support reforms designed to bring free speech and genuine intellectual diversity to our campuses. Getting public university regents to reform universities is the most important thing we are not doing to reform higher education. A candidate pledge strategy could change that.

A pledge strategy will work for K–12 as well, and we certainly need one now that our schools are being overrun by politicized action civics and CRT. Bravo to 1776 Action for applying this much-needed but seldom-used pledge device to education.

A pledge strategy is needed for K–12 because, sad to say, education is usually relegated to third-tier status by politicians. Without a pledge, candidates won’t pay attention. True, education has rocketed to first-tier status of late, but many politicians still don’t get that. Russ Vought, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, recently commented on Noem’s pledge and said: “Many establishment Republicans are slowly awakening to this being an issue that people care about. . . . So, if you’re a Republican, and you are not doing something to combat CRT, you have no idea where your people are.”

I’m afraid it’s worse than that. Too many members of the Republican establishment, from former Secretaries of Education, to U.S. Senators and Congressmen, to respected think tankers, have actually allied with the education left — at the worst conceivable moment. A pledge strategy just might get office-holders to ignore the decades-long follies and betrayals of the conservative education establishment and finally pay some attention to actual voters.

The 1776 Action pledge is also a sign that real resistance to indoctrination in our schools now depends on taking the battle to the state and local levels. With conservatives beginning to take school boards out of the hands of the woke, and states passing laws barring CRT, a candidate pledge is just the thing. It can and should be used for candidates at the federal, state, and local levels.

Finally, the folks at 1776 Action were clued-in enough to realize that not only a bar on CRT but a bar on action civics ought to be included in the pledge. Action civics is a deep violation of the non-partisanship that ought to characterize our public schools. Few people have even heard of it, yet a massive piece of federal legislative folly mistitled the Civics Secures Democracy Act is about to force not only CRT but also action civics on the states. This pledge can help stop that.

What does Governor Noem need to do in order to actually fulfill her pledge to block action civics and CRT in South Dakota? There are several steps she should take.

First, Noem needs to support legislation that would bar both action civics and CRT from South Dakota’s public K–12 schools. The model legislation I’ve published with the National Association of Scholars would do that, and Texas may soon pass a bill based on that model. Although South Dakota’s 2021 legislative session has ended, Governor Noem could conceivably call a special session to pass such a bill. There is a very good reason why such speedy action may be necessary.

If the disastrous Civics Secures Democracy Act should pass in Congress before South Dakota’s next legislative session convenes, it may be too late to stop both CRT and action civics from taking over the state. Leftist bureaucrats in South Dakota’s Department of Education will apply for the massive state grants funded by that proposed law. Once that happens, although Noem could pull the applications back, she would be under tremendous political pressure not to do so. At stake will be big federal grants for a small state with limited resources. That’s why it’s better to block action civics and CRT now, by state law.

Otherwise, President Biden’s outrageous new rule governing priority for history and civics grants — turbo-charged by a $6 billion federal appropriation and combined with priority criteria in the law itself — will effectively force action civics, CRT, and the 1619 Project even on red states such as South Dakota.

Unless the legislature comes back for a special session this year to address the issue, Governor Noem should prevent federal interference by ordering her Department of Education now to refrain from applying for any federal grants in history or civics until after the 2022 South Dakota legislative session. I wish I could say that this is all that needs doing, but it’s not. The rest of the story is itself an education on the deep-lying threats to America’s schools.

It turns out that South Dakota is already well along the road to crafting new statewide K–12 Social Studies standards. Unfortunately, those standards are appalling. The current draft of South Dakota Social Studies standards are filled with exercises in leftist action civics, precisely what Governor Noem has pledged to block. I doubt the governor has any idea that this is the case, nor do other governors realize that the same thing may be happening in their states.

How is such a thing possible? It’s easy! As I’ve noted previously, state education departments everywhere — including red states — are filled with leftist graduates of the same education schools currently turning out woke curricula. These education bureaucrats go to the same national conferences, drink up the uniformly leftist politics and progressivist instructional fashions, and swiftly infuse them into the standards, curricula, and regulations of their states. The political appointees who head many state education departments are often unschooled in the latest academic fashions, so tend to defer to the ridiculously biased and politically motivated “experts” they allegedly supervise. That is a big part of how schools across the country got into this mess in the first place.

South Dakota is a perfect example. There’s even a document that lays out how the pernicious practice of action civics worked its way into the state’s new draft Social Studies standards. (See the various links at the South Dakota Department of Education Civics Education webpage.) The document shows, for example, that in 2019, the South Dakota Department of Education’s “social studies specialist” attended the national conference of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the deeply left-biased national organization of social studies teachers. In 2019, NCSS had just committed itself to the newly fashionable practice of “action civics,” and the topic was a focus of the conference.

Consider this expanded version of the presidential address at that conference by Tina Lane Heafner. NCSS president Heafner touts action civics and CRT as the great new wave of social studies. (Keep in mind that this was before last summer’s woke revolution.) Heafner offers out-and-out political advocacy via action civics as the answer to the rise of “fake news” and the problems of the Trump era. (Heafner, here, means the Democratic Party’s definition of “fake news,” and is by no means referring to mainstream media bias as a conservative would see it). Heafner praises radical neo-racist Ibram X. Kendi, rejects the idea of political neutrality in the classroom, and urges her fellow teachers to ignore the complaints of parents who object to political partisanship from teachers. She openly invites teachers to create a generation of Greta Thunbergs.

Sure enough, the action-civics activities built into the new draft South Dakota state standards are drawn from the NCSS, and built with the NCSS so-called College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, with a few suggestions from South Dakota teachers thrown in. It’s also of note that the senior scholar involved in creating the revised South Dakota Social Studies standards, a University of South Dakota Associate Professor specializing in Social Studies methods, was once an official of the NCSS. You can find the various “civic engagement” activities, largely drawn from NCSS, embedded in the revised draft South Dakota Social Studies standards here. So, let’s have a look at action civics, South Dakota style.

Consider the exercise comparing “Soft Civic Action to Critical Civic Action.” (The word “Critical” is a tip-off to a neo-Marxist perspective, as in CRT, Critical Legal Studies, etc.) Students are asked to evaluate the impact of their volunteer activities, say, a food drive. The students must ask if food drives really solve the problem of people being unable to afford food. After students are shown the limits of volunteerism, they are to be introduced to the superior idea of “critical civic action” — i.e., the sort of policies that would “permanently solve” poverty. This, of course, is the typical socialist critique of volunteerism. (I guess the Soviets and Venezuelans must have “permanently solved” poverty.)

There are also exercises here that seem almost designed to turn students against the Electoral College and toward support of the admission of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as states. What a coincidence! These just happen to be major planks of the far-left wing of today’s Democratic Party.

Students are also urged to “participate in a dialogue as global citizens.” This is the very antithesis of the 1776 Action’s candidate pledge, which calls on our schools to cultivate the sense that Americans are “members of a national community united by our founding principles.”

The draft revised South Dakota Social Studies standards repeatedly call for the creation of a “class position statement,” or tell students to “advocate for legislation as a class.” [My emphasis.] This epitomizes the problem of action civics. Between teacher bias, peer pressure, and the machinations of the leftist non-profit groups who generously “help” students with their action-civics projects, conservative students end up intimidated and silenced by class-wide political projects. Who wants to be left out of all that fun? This is one of the reasons why public schools need to stay non-partisan and reject action civics.

The leftist bias of most activities in the standards is patent. Students are supposed to “raise awareness of how minority groups face bias in the mainstream media.” So, this is mainstream media bias? What universe are South Dakota’s education bureaucrats living in? Students are also told to “create a press release defending membership of the United States in a specific international organization.” Students are charged with studying global warming and then “debating” “whether there are civic responsibilities related to this issue.” Talk about a stacked debate question. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Yes, there are a few more moderate- or even traditional-leaning activities, no doubt from some of the South Dakota teachers who were consulted (although even in red states, many teachers are substantially to the left of their communities). The bottom line is that the lion’s share of the “civic engagement” activities tied to the new South Dakota Social Studies draft standards are clearly on the left. This is what has happened to America’s schools, even in the red states.

To be clear, I am not blaming Kristi Noem for this. The same thing happens in pretty much every state in this country, red or blue, regardless of who’s governor. Now that she has signed the wonderful 1776 Action pledge to fight action civics and CRT, however, we need rapid and decisive action from Governor Noem. She needs to sink the new, leftist South Dakota Social Studies draft standards (the unpacked document created by last summer’s work group and the NCSS C3 Framework used to create them), filled as they are with action civics and lessons tied to those exercises, and start over.

Above all, Noem needs to turn to respected education experts outside the club of leftists who dominate South Dakota’s Department of Education to craft new standards. Now that would be a pathbreaking move.

Governor Noem’s pledge to fight action civics and CRT is one of the very best and most encouraging moves I’ve seen by a political leader in a long time. It’s already had good effects in Virginia, and with luck, the pledge will soon spread nationally. As good as it is, however, that pledge won’t mean anything if Noem doesn’t take the steps necessary to truly follow through. We need state-level legislation, executive directives to the Department of Education to reject all forms of CRT, action civics, and related funding, and the deep-sixing of those terrible draft Social Studies standards (and the C3 Framework used to create them) that embody everything Governor Noem has just pledged herself to battle.

If she does follow through, Noem can rightly be acclaimed a hero, and a model for governors in every other state in the Union.

Education

Universities Need Better Oversight of Faculty Hiring, Especially at UNC

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Nikole Hannah-Jones, the mastermind behind the New York Times’ infamous 1619 Project, has been hired by the Hussman School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina. Her credentials for the position are very weak and the way she has responded to the voluminous criticism of her work on the 1619 Project bespeaks the mindset of a zealot, not of a scholar.

How did this happen? Did the university trustees consider Hannah-Jones and decide that she would indeed be an asset to the institution?

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at the process that in this case (and others) has failed to screen out poor choices. The Board of Trustees is supposed to have the final say, but, in this instance, the process was somehow circumvented. It appears that the Board designated its authority in this instance.

Watkins writes, “In other words, trustees can in effect give away their authority to the chancellor or the chancellor’s ‘designees.’ And who might the ‘designees’ of the chancellor be? It is not clear. The Martin Center requested a list of the names the board may delegate authority to in such matters, but the UNC system did not provide a response as of the date of publication.”

Since the point of requiring approval from the board is to avoid faculty hires that are apt to lead to trouble, current UNC policy obviously needs to be tightened up.

This case is reminiscent of one seven years ago at the University of Illinois, where the trustees, at the urging of the chancellor, refused to approve the contract offer to Steven Salaita, whose statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aroused great concern over his fitness for a faculty position.

Watkins concludes, “The Board of Governors should act swiftly to amend all relevant policies so that trustees are required to review every proposed hire. Trustees shouldn’t have the option to delegate their authority on matters of such central importance to the university. Otherwise, the public should expect to see more ‘Hannah-Jones’ hires in the future.”

Politics & Policy

Former Governor and NRI Chairman Pete du Pont Dies at 86

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Pete du Pont, the Republican governor who turned around Delaware and would have been a strong contender had he run for the U.S. Senate against Joe Biden in 1984, died yesterday in Wilmington at 86. Du Pont ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1988 in which he was bested by George H.W. Bush, and dropped out after the New Hampshire primary. Du Pont was also chairman of National Review Institute for three years in the 90s and wrote a regular column for the Wall Street Journal.

A graduate of Exeter, Princeton and Harvard Law School, Pierre Samuel du Pont IV was a wealthy scion of Delaware’s leading family. Democrats who had little of substance with which to attack him instead mocked his name and upbringing. After a stint in his family chemical business, du Pont won a seat in Congress in 1970, then won the governorship in 1976. He inherited a state deep in debt but got Delaware back on track by reining in spending and wooing new business with deregulatory reforms. He was reelected in 1980 with 71 percent of the vote and made Delaware a leading haven for banks with more deregulation. A surprisingly admiring obit in the New York Times notes:

The governor’s approval ratings approached 90 percent. By the time he left office in 1985, the state’s economy was humming, with unemployment down to 7 percent from a high of 13 percent; the top tax rate cut in half, and state budgets were balanced every year of his tenure. Even the Democrats praised his performance.

In 1988, du Pont ran for the Republican nomination for president on a libertarian-leaning platform that included school vouchers, ending farm subsidies and a plan that would have allowed Americans to choose private investment accounts in lieu of Social Security.

The Times obit notes that as a young man du Pont once had a blind date with Jane Fonda, not understanding who the girl was until her father, Henry, answered the door.

Religion

More Ellen Ripleys, Fewer Alien Queens: A Mother’s Day Appreciation of the Maternal

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Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens. (Twentieth Century Fox/Trailer image via YouTube)

Today is Mother’s Day, a time to honor those maternal figures who do so much, ask so little in return, and too often go unsung. It is a time to show appreciation, gratitude, and love for such people in our lives. It also has me thinking about Catholic teaching . . . and about aliens. Specifically, Aliens, the 1986 sci-fi action thriller starring Sigourney Weaver, directed by James Cameron. What do these things have to do with Mother’s Day? I’m glad you asked.

Let’s start with Catholic teaching. It is increasingly the view of the modern world that older institutions, such as the Catholic Church, and older mores, such as its teachings, merely exist to restrain women, and to justify the perpetuation of ‘patriarchy.’ This is not so. As is explained in, among other places, Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women), women have played an outsized role in the Church from its beginning. Most notably, this is the case with Mary, the Mother of God, and Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s early followers, among the many women (and only one man) of his followers to be present at the Crucifixion. Women, Mary Magdalene among them, are also the first to behold Christ’s empty tomb.

John Paul II carefully draws from Scripture and Church wisdom the meaning and significance of women in creation and in society today. The letter is replete with astute observations, but for Mother’s Day only a few will suffice. He notes the primacy of the maternal role in complementary parenthood, arguing that it is the model for how the family is to function:

It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man — even with all his sharing in parenthood — always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother.

He adds that “the ‘woman,’ as mother and first teacher of the human being (education being the spiritual dimension of parenthood), has a specific precedence over the man.”

And finally, concerning femininity more broadly, John Paul II argues that it possesses a distinct, transcendent quality that our age desperately needs. To argue that men and women are different is not to embrace stereotypes about them; rather, it is essential to acknowledging each in the fullness of their virtues. To the extent our age shies away from such thinking, it degrades both men and women. Sadly, such degradation, which has many sources, has already occurred to a considerable extent and wreaked its predictable yet tragic havoc. We must, Pope John Paul II argues, hope for a suffusion of feminine virtue as part of our road out of the debauched modern moral landscape:

In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! — and because “the greatest of these is love” (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).

Pretty straightforward, I think. Now: What does any of this have to do with Aliens? Well, in that movie, you have a pretty good demonstration of the kind of femininity that John Paul II means. To understand, a brief summary is necessary. Aliens, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien, follows Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, awakened from suspended animation on a spaceship after defeating the eponymous creature (also known as a “xenomorph”) of the original, though not before it vanquished the entire rest of her ship’s crew. When awakened, she learns she has actually been in suspended animation for several decades, meaning everything she knew in the past is long gone. She also learns that LV-426, the planet where she and her original crew originally began their encounter with the xenomorph, has become a human colony . . . and that others have lost contact with it. Ripley travels with an armed battalion to figure out what’s gone wrong, and she discovers that a horde of xenomorphs has wiped out the human colony — with the exception of Newt, a young girl who survived by hiding and scavenging about the colony.

Ripley ends up a mother figure for Newt, unsurprisingly. Also unsurprisingly for a sci-fi action movie, this role comes strongest in Ripley’s role as protector. Indeed, the deliberate contrast Aliens sets up between Ripley and Newt, on the one hand, and the Alien Queen and her offspring (she lays the eggs that hatch the facehuggers, which begin the xenomorph life cycle upon attaching themselves to a host body), on the other, is instructive. In one scene, Ripley finds herself in the Alien Queen’s clutches, then threatens its eggs with a flamethrower, which apparently causes the Queen to relent until one appears about to hatch; Ripley then sets all of the eggs aflame. And later, near the film’s end, there is a duel of maternal energies, as the vengeful Alien Queen seeks to kill Newt while Ripley fights back with the aid of one of the powered exoskeletons of which James Cameron is so fond. Ripley’s taunt to the Alien Queen is rightly famous: “Get away from her, you bitch!”

But this line is more than just a defiant and worthy addition to the badass action-movie one-liner canon. It is also a testament to the feminine genius. For the maternal energies on display in the climactic fight are not equivalent. One is superior to the other, and not only because the good guys have to win. Ripley’s maternal energy is fundamentally human and feminine, an example, in extremis, of the parental role of protection. Yes, one could see in the Alien Queen’s vengeful spite a kind of righteous maternal fury: Ripley did destroy all of her eggs, after all. But this would elide the fact that xenomorphs are, at their core, sterile, lifeless creatures, requiring host organisms to reproduce — hosts they must kill to perpetuate themselves. They are made to kill (their blood is literally acid), and bring only destruction. (Later movies reveal that the entire species was a horrific laboratory creation.) In this, they resemble not at all the feminine genius of which John Paul II speaks, but rather the insidious forces of today that attack our most human elements, driving us away from both our fully realized selves and from one another.

Is this too much for me to read into a work of science fiction? It wouldn’t be the first time. Regardless, women can embody their greatness without defending others from hostile extraterrestrials. Millions do it every day, in their ways. So this Mother’s Day, when they will again, tell your mother you love her, pray for a suffusion of truly feminine genius in our world — and hope for more Ellen Ripleys, and fewer Alien Queens.

Politics & Policy

New York City Shootings Up 94 Percent Over Pre-Pandemic Levels

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Mayor Bill De Blasio hugs his wife Chirlane McCray after dropping the ball on New Year’s Day in Times Square, New York City, January 1, 2021. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters Pool)

Two women and a four-year-old girl were shot in Times Square in broad daylight yesterday (or as the New York Times delicately put it, a beef between two men opening fire wound up “injuring” the trio). All three were expected to survive their injuries. One of the women who was shot told the New York Post that as she lay on the ground with a bullet in her leg people filmed her on their cell phones instead of helping. “I was screaming, ‘I don’t want to die, please help me!’ — and people were just recording, they weren’t helping,” she said.

At what point does crime in New York City become something that demands getting serious? Not yet, apparently. Disaster Mayor Bill de Blasio, who last year cut a billion dollars from the police budget while letting hundreds of prisoners out of city jails, predictably blamed outsiders: “The flood of illegal guns into our city must stop,” he said, which is a convenient way for him to claim that his crime problem is the fault of other states.

Shootings in 2019 up to this point in 2019 numbered  239; this year we’re at 469. That’s a 94 percent increase. And Times Square is, at least in theory, heavily policed. It must take a tremendous feeling of impunity to open fire in  a location with so much security. Also, shootings there carry outsized importance, not least for the image of the city and the many businesses that depend on tourists, who mostly come from places where 469 people don’t get shot every four months and hence are easily scared away. The area instantly turned into a gigantic crime scene: “By about 6:40 p.m., nearby streets were fully barricaded to traffic and most pedestrians. Shops and restaurants at the center of Times Square, like Starbucks, Gap and Taco Bell, had emptied out,” reports the Times. ” An eerie silence fell over most of the blocks in the immediate area, interrupted only by conversations among the dozens of officers who stood from 42nd Street up to at least 47th Street.”

Instead of getting serious about the problem, De Blasio is spending $30 million on an ad campaign meant to draw tourists. “We need to let people know– we’re open for business. It’s safe,” he said at a press conference last month.

In June, a Democratic primary for New York City mayor will be held, and the winner will almost certainly be elected the next mayor. Some promising noises have been made. Former NYPD captain Eric Adams, who has promised to bring along a sidearm whenever he enters a house of worship, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang are the leading candidates at the moment. Yang has blasted police defunding.

Last year murders were up 44 percent and shootings a dizzying 97 percent. Crime is so bad that Governor Andrew Cuomo, who ultimately controls the subway system, sarcastically said, “‘Come on the subway. It’s safe!’ Oh really. Have you been on the subway? Because I have, and I was scared.’” De Blasio fired back that the subways are fine.

Immigration

New England Journal of Medicine Pushes Open Borders

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An asylum seeker holds a child while they are detained by U.S. Border Patrol near Yuma, Ariz., April 19, 2021. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

I always say that if you want to see what will go terribly wrong in the country, read the professional journals. Radicalism. Woke perspectives. Transgender ideology. Critical Race Theory in health care. Socialized medicine. “Nature rights” advocacy. It’s all there in the world’s foremost professional publications, along with advocacy for policies reflecting those views.

That matters because the people who write for and publish these journals are part of the ruling elite who exert tremendous influence on legislation, executive decision making at federal and state levels, court rulings, business practices, etc..

The radicalization of the intellegentsia is a major factor in the hard-left shift we see in political advocacy and policy. In the latest example, the New England Journal of Medicine offers an article advocating for open borders for illegal alien children and their families. Literally. From, “When Undoing is Not Enough,” (the “undoing” refers to Trump border polices–which the authors claim was legal “torture,” and the goal is to reduce “trauma.”):

First, under the Biden administration’s leadership, the United States could minimize the amount of time that migrants spend in Mexico and in detention. We believe that unaccompanied children, pregnant women, and families should never have to wait to cross the border.

That would sure slow the flow, wouldn’t it? But not just “children:”

Second, the Biden administration could carefully consider the unintended consequences of allowing children, but not entire families, to enter the United States. This policy forces parents to choose between prolonging their children’s exposure to life-threatening trauma in Mexico and sending them into the United States unaccompanied.

And to sweeten the pot, free health care for all!

Third, it could provide access to high-quality and timely health, mental health, and dental care — on par with the care provided to U.S. citizens — for all immigrant children and families.

And, after opening the door, inviting them in, paying for their medical care, let them have every benefit of citizenship short of voting:

Finally, we believe that asylum seekers (people who seek protection at the border or when already in the United States) and refugees (people who are granted protection from outside the United States before arrival) should be treated equally when it comes to social benefits, work authorization, and economic-development opportunities.

These polices would create a stampede from around the world to get here and walk on in –exponentially higher than the current crisis. And the cost! It would cause our own systems to crumble.

It is also worth mentioning that the authors never get around to discussing the tremendous danger that would be faced by children and families from around the world in their desperate attempts to make it into the U.S.A. Human trafficking would become a growth industry, with associated predation and exploitation of the weak. Somehow, the authors never get around to worrying about that.

The best explanation for such advocacy is that elites no longer believe in national sovereignty. “We are the world,” and all that. What better way to accomplish the deconstruction of a nation and promote equity — which means equal outcomes for all, i.e., a rush to the lowest common denominator — than by erasing our borders?

World

Confronting an Outlaw State with Superpower Status

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Chinese president Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 10, 2021 (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters )

A follow-on thought or two to Friday’s Morning Jolt…

The Chinese space program is launching rockets and not caring whether the falling debris lands on populated areas.

The regime in Beijing spent the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic contradicting doctors on the ground in Wuhan and insisting the virus could not spread from one person to another. Then Chinese companies shipped faulty personal protective equipment all around the world. Their vaccine that they shipped abroad barely works, charging some countries $36 per dose. China’s regime said they would allow investigators unfettered access to investigate the origin of the virus, and then broke that promise. And they made the nonsensical accusation that COVID-19 originated at the U.S. biological defense program at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

And that’s just China’s actions relating to the pandemic!

That’s not getting into the genocide of the Uyghurs, the near-obliteration of democratic reformers in Hong Kong, military aggression towards Taiwan, the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management, helping other countries evade U.S. sanctions, large-scale theft of intellectual property, police harassment of U.S. students studying abroad, censorship of foreign journalists, co-opting of U.S. universities, corporations, and think-tanks… oh, and did we mention the large-scale harvesting of human organs from political prisoners?

They are an outlaw authoritarian state with superpower or near-superpower status. They represent a colossally failed gamble, going back at least three decades and arguably half a century, that greater American and Western interaction with China would soften the regime. President Bill Clinton declared in 2000, “the more China liberalizes its economy, the more it will liberate the potential of its people to work without restraint, to live without fear.” We now know that belief represented an epic misjudgment.

Very few Americans like the thought that we’re entering an era of growing and worsening conflict with China. They’re a nuclear power with 1.4 billion people, one of our biggest trading partners if not the biggest trading partner, the second-largest economy in the world, the largest army in the world, and soon the largest navy in the Pacific Ocean. Wargame simulations of a U.S.-China battle over Taiwan end in either a Chinese victory or a pyrrhic victory for the Americans. A lot of American institutions have become used to the benefits of Chinese “investment,” and a lot of American corporations have become near-dependent upon access to the Chinese market. Heck, even the Biden administration’s ambitious plans for electric vehicles, wind turbines and other green-energy infrastructure will require a lot more rare earth metals, and the biggest producer of those is… China.

Even if a nascent Cold War with Beijing never turns hot, it’s still going to be a long and arduous effort.

But if we make like an ostrich and bury our heads in the sand, it’s only going to get worse. None of our past conflicts with powerful ideological, military, or geopolitical rivals is quite parallel to this one. It took a while, but Communism’s internal contradictions eventually caught up with the Soviet Union. China’s “Xi Jinping Thought” – just enough capitalism to keep the system going, along with an extremely powerful state, massive propaganda and surveillance systems and the social credit system – represents a whole new kind of threat to Western democracy, values, and nations. The Beijing regime believes its system consistently offers stability, prosperity, and order, with an acceptable sacrifice of liberty, while Western systems, which seem to offer freedom, keep delivering chaos, paralysis from internal divisions, moral depravity, and decadence.

The challenge before us is pretty colossal. But you know what could really derail China’s global ambitions and completely wipe out the regime’s “soft power” of influence for a generation?

Being held accountable before the world for its role the origin of a pandemic that has killed millions of people!

Politics & Policy

Why the Federal Borrowing and Spending Binge Matters

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(Michael Burrell/Getty Images)

Leftist economists and pundits tell us that the current federal binge is nothing to worry about. It’s necessary to “build back” the economy and those right-wingers who talk about inflation are just glomy “market fundamentalists” who can be ignored.

Wrong, argues Veronique de Rugy in this Law & Liberty essay from a recent symposium. There must be costs. The dollar’s value will decline and economic growth will be stifled as the federal government absorbs resources that would otherwise have gone into productive investments. (The so-called “investments” in education and infrastructure are just transfers to interest groups.)

Here is her key paragraph:

Milton Friedman was correct: The true measure of government’s size is found in what it spends and not in what it takes in in taxes. Because borrowing allows politicians and citizen-taxpayers to push the bill for today’s spending onto future generations, borrowing encourages too much spending today—thus irresponsibly enlarging the size of government.

Right. The real problem is the enlargement of the federal leviathan. The bigger the government, the more potentially productive resources are squandered on things that politicians like (more IRS agents, more diversity bureaucrats) and the less is left for growth. People will see their government checks but will never see the increased output and innovation that was crowded out.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

AOC, Planned-Parenthood Baby

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Sign outside Planned Parenthood on Bleecker Street in lower Manhattan.

I couldn’t do it this morning — go stand outside Planned Parenthood, that is. There is no pro-life coverage currently on Fridays at the Manhattan Planned Parenthood. And Planned Parenthood has what amounts to a bouncer outside, ushering girls in. It’s hard enough to communicate some hope to a young woman who is scared of her pregnancy and what it’s going to mean for her life when you’re standing on a street corner and she’s headed for an appointment. Even more so when there’s a hostile element, assuming you mean ill. In truth, as people walk by yelling at you that abortion is a woman’s choice, an actual choice is what you are trying to provide scared 17-year-old black girls, in some of the situations I’ve encountered.

Wednesday, my heart sunk again as I saw the medical-waste boxes be taken away. I couldn’t face new ones again today. I know why we look away from abortion, it’s too ugly to see.

I get lots of emails chastising me for supposedly thinking women are stupid when I say something like that. No, I don’t think women are stupid. I know girls are being inundated with all kinds of pressure to act like men have the luxury to have sex without consequences. But there are consequences. And they are lied to when they are put on birth control by doctors who assume they are going to have sex anyway. Girls are treated as if they are animals by the medical establishment and the education system and the culture. They have no idea of their beauty and resilience. They have no idea God will give them the grace to be the mothers they are.

And yet, the infamous Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says that Planned Parenthood is a place for pre-natal care. A few weeks ago, I saw a mayoral candidate talk about maternity care outside Planned Parenthood’s Bleecker Street location in Manhattan. Yes, some do provide some of that. But not by much. And they kill babies. Not maliciously. They are blinded to — or choose to be in denial about — the truth. With the best of intentions, for the most part, I have no doubt. But that is what happens at Planned Parenthood. Just so we’re clear. That seems like something a humane society should care about — and at least be uncomfortable if not outraged immediately about, after almost a half century of the law lying to people about what’s worthy of protection. Perhaps we should all take turns praying outside abortion clinics so we don’t fall into ignorance about what we’re really talking about. Hurt girls being hurt all the more by “women’s health care.”

Culture

Dana, Christa, Et Al.

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Dana Perino (left), in her role as presidential press secretary, speaks at the White House in 2007; the late, great mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig (right) sits for an interview in 2018. (Larry Downing / Reuters; Tonkunstler Orchestra via YouTube)

I would like to offer a couple of podcasts to you — a Q&A and a Music for a While. The Q&A, here, is with Dana Perino, star of Fox News and onetime press secretary to George W. Bush. (She was the second female presidential press secretary, as she reminded me in our podcast. The first was Dee Dee Meyers, in the Clinton White House.)

Dana has written three books, full of warmth, experience, and smarts. Books tend to reflect their authors. The latest is Everything Will Be Okay: Life Lessons for Young Women (from a Former Young Woman). The book also has a great deal to say to men — and to people of all ages. Dana is a very good “life coach.”

In our Q&A, we talk about social media, “body issues,” and other big subjects. One of those others is time management — big indeed. Toward the end, we talk about three of the men in Dana’s life: George W. Bush; Jasper, her dog; and Peter, her husband. (I have not listed them in order of importance.) You will enjoy Dana Perino a lot. Again, here.

For Music for a While, go here. This episode has a range of performers and composers. There’s a teenage pianist, Maxim Lando, playing Sibelius. (Also his own arrangement of “Stairway to Heaven.” Seriously.) There’s a Kentucky violinist playing a John Corigliano piece, Stomp (which involves some actually stomping, not just fiddling). At the end, there’s a little tribute to Christa Ludwig, the late mezzo-soprano. I interviewed her in 2014, when she was in her mid 80s. As I think I mentioned the other day, she is one of the very few people I have ever been starstruck by. Utterly starstruck. I could not believe I was sitting across from her.

Anyway, that Music for a While, again, is here. I have Christa singing Brahms. Have a great weekend, y’all.

Religion

The Sexual Revolution Wasn’t about Freedom

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I’ll be talking with Fr. Gerry Murray tonight in Manhattan and unpacking a little bit about a powerful quote.

From Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence by Hans Urs von Balthasar:

Impurity and unchasteness are not merely an external obstacle to pure knowledge untroubled by the senses: they are, in fact, the internal destruction of the light that shines only in God. Unchasteness is secretly the same thing as unbelief, for faith is the evidence and knowledge of things in God, not in man himself, while unchasteness is one and the same as the curiosity to know oneself and all things only in oneself. Unchasteness is also one with madness, because reason remains intact only when it transcends itself in the direction of God. Why don’t we realize more often that the mask of pleasure, stripped of all hypocrisy, is precisely the mask of anguish?

We are so cruel to young people when we don’t invite them to live differently than Planned Parenthood profits from.

Politics & Policy

Twitter Covers for Joe Biden and Jimmy Carter

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(pressureUA/Getty Images)

Whatever one thinks of the conservative complaints about Big Tech’s bias, it is hard to deny certain concrete examples of it — particularly of the most blatant variety. Case in point, the “helpful” explainer Twitter provided when a tweet by Donald Trump Jr. comparing Joe Biden to Jimmy Carter began trending:

You don’t have to be Donald Trump Jr. to be aware that the historical record of Jimmy Carter’s presidency included a period of overlapping high inflation and high unemployment (“stagflation”), something many at the time thought was impossible. As today’s jobs report revealed persisting unemployment, and some indicators suggesting imminent inflation (following a massive federal spending spree), this comparison may ultimately prove apt.

So the only thing people should be “confused” about is why Twitter felt it necessary to play defense for Biden (and Carter, by extension) by creating an impossible-to-prove consensus of confusion over this comparison, one it then employed unrelated — and highly dubious — claims about Carter’s post-presidential activities to purportedly resolve — in the favor of the two Democratic presidents. (Forget for a moment the backhanded compliment implied by having to go to a president’s post-presidential activities to find something good to say about him.) When conservatives complain about bias in Big Tech, this is the kind of thing they mean. And here, it is impossible to dispute. So please share this Corner post widely; perhaps, if it becomes popular enough, Twitter will be forced to explain it as well. 

Politics & Policy

Will New York Democrats Try to Redistrict Elise Stefanik Out of a Seat?

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U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) listens during a House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., November 21, 2019. (Andrew Harrer/Reuters)

With news that Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik is very likely to replace Liz Cheney as GOP conference chair next week, will New York Democrats be tempted to use redistricting as a tool to try to end Stefanik’s congressional career?

On one hand, taking out a member of Republican leadership could be awfully tempting to Democrats. On the other hand, New York could benefit from having bipartisan representation in congressional leadership, and Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report makes the case that Democrats would maximize their advantage in New York by packing as many Republicans as they can into one Upstate New York congressional district:

Stefanik was first elected in 2014 and dubbed “a new Republican star” by Donald Trump during his first impeachment in 2019. If redistricting forced Stefanik to compete in a primary with freshman Republican Claudia Tenney, Stefanik would be a shoo-in.

Economy & Business

The Pandemic Has Left Us at Least 10 Million Jobs Short

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Jason Furman and Wilson Powell III (for the Petersen Institute) and Michael Strain (for Bloomberg Opinion) have written informative analyses of the new unemployment report. There are some differences of emphases, but also a rough convergence.

Here’s Strain: “Friday’s numbers add to the case that the demand side of the labor market is in much better shape than the supply side. The excessively generous unemployment benefits that are in place until September will keep workers on the sidelines, restricting employment gains and keeping wages artificially high. The longer schools and day-care centers are closed, the harder it will be for women with children to go back to work.” Furman and Powell make the same points, while also noting that some people may be staying away from work because of continuing concerns about the virus.

Strain also calculates that we are 10.8 million jobs below where the pre-pandemic trend would have taken us. Furman and Powell say we’re 10 million short.

World

Blinken at China-Led Meeting: Trump Admin ‘Undermined’ Rules-Based Order

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the release of the “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” at the State Department in Washington, D.C., March 30, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters)

China is making the most of its month-long U.N. Security Council presidency, using the mostly ceremonial role to advance the Chinese Communist Party’s version of multilateralism. During a high-level meeting this morning chaired by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, these efforts got a slight boost from the Biden administration.

This was no gathering that a U.S. secretary of state should have legitimized with his presence — and yet, Antony Blinken joined the livestream to represent Washington. Where Blinken could have sent a lower ranking official to poke holes in Beijing’s efforts to reshape international order and justify the Party’s abuses at home, he did this himself, though far more subtly than was warranted, and he said that the Trump administration had “undermined” the rules-based order.

First, though, he failed to clearly distinguish between Beijing’s preferred version of multilateralism — which traffics in Party-approved slogans but still sounds familiar to an American ear, with its emphasis on multilateralism and collective action to confront threats to climate change. The difference, of course, is stark: Chinese officials are only really offering up empty rhetoric to advance the party-state’s worldview, to justify human-rights abuses and excuse blunt exercises of political power.

The Party’s pronouncements, of course, amount to rank hypocrisy. “Splitting the world along ideological conflict line conflicts with a spirit of multilateralism, and is a regression of history,” Wang said, subtly rebuking Washington for working with its allies in non-U.N. arrangements, such as the Quad grouping, even though China pursues its own such pacts.

America’s top diplomat could have taken the occasion to point that out: When Chinese officials speak about multilateralism, they do so with false promises of peace and cooperation, when their intent is just to divert attention from severe human-rights abuses at home and coercive diplomacy abroad.

Blinken instead pledged to engage multilateral organizations on fighting the COVID pandemic and climate change: “We’ll also work with any country on these issues — including those with whom we have serious differences. The stakes are too high to let differences stand in the way of our cooperation.”

More promisingly, he went on to urge countries to meet their international commitment, and defend the rule-based order and human dignity, and speak out against countries’ political coercion.

Blinken’s defense of the equality of the U.N.’s members sounded like a rebuke of the gathering’s Chinese host, as well as of the Russian government (Blinken had just returned from a trip to Ukraine, where he emphasized U.S. support amidst the growing Russian military threat). “A state does not respect that principle when it purports to redraw the borders of another; or seeks to resolve territorial disputes by using or threatening force; or when a state claims it’s entitled to a sphere of influence to dictate or coerce the choices and decisions of another country,” he said.

He also took aim at another event that China is hosting during it Security Council presidency on the role of “emerging technology” in peace and security. Though this is likely Beijing’s attempt to make its case for its invasive use of surveillance and to justify other political priorities, Blinken appeared to flip the theme on its head, gently chastising the Party for its use of technology: “We must ensure that this new order is equipped to address new problems — like national security and human rights concerns raised by new technologies, from cyber attacks to surveillance to discriminatory algorithms.” This seems to be an effective way to turn Beijing’s diplomatic games into an opportunity to highlight its most egregious actions.

But these oblique references to unspecified instances of bad behavior were the extent of Blinken’s comments on China’s behavior on the international stage. If possible, he was more directly critical of the president’s domestic-political opponents, when describing why every country must be accountable for its violations of international law. “That includes the United States.”

“I know that some of our actions in recent years have undermined the rules-based order and led others to question whether we are still committed to it. Rather than take our word for it, we ask the world to judge our commitment by our actions,” Blinken said, seemingly referring to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from certain international bodies. He went on to list what he called the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to “re-engage vigorously” with a number of U.N. bodies and multilateral treaties.

“We’re also taking steps, with great humility, to address the inequities and injustices in our own democracy,”  he continued. “We do so openly and transparently for people around the world to see, even when it’s ugly, even when it’s painful. And we will emerge stronger and better for doing so.”

During his opening remarks, Wang did not offer a similarly conciliatory statement about his country’s failing; in fact, quite the opposite, he explained why China is triumphant at this point in time, the 100th anniversary of the Party’s founding and the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic’s replacement of Taiwan at the U.N. “China will remain a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, a defender of international order, and a provider of public goods,” said Wang.

There’s a place for a public reckoning with America’s historical injustices, and a place to reassure American allies about U.S. commitments to international engagement. That place is not, however, an international meeting hosted by a brutal authoritarian regime.