Health Care

The Life Hesitancy of Epidemiologists

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A woman works in a laboratory of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental coronavirus vaccine, during a government-organized media tour in Beijing, China, September 24, 2020. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The past year has seen the fields of epidemiology and public health rise to an incredible prominence in public life. The reason for this is obvious enough. What is not obvious is why, during that period, so many political actors have deferred entirely to the preferences of people in those fields. Their guidance is not to be ignored entirely. But for human beings living in actual polities, as opposed to public-health abstractions, there are always inherently political choices to make, and trade-offs to deal with. Simply to outsource one’s decision-making entirely to the science — or The Science — is to evade a fundamental responsibility of government.

There is also the fact that those in these fields bring their own biases to their work: chiefly, the understandable, if misguided, bias of viewing all of reality through the prism they were trained to. Some of the implications of this were made clear in an informal survey of epidemiologists conducted by the New York Times, the results of which were revealed yesterday. As a follow-up to the same survey last December, the Times asked various epidemiologists what activities they were willing to do with vaccines now available and coronavirus cases declining. Their willingness to do various things has expanded considerably from December, but is still worth highlighting as evidence of the mindset they bring to this situation.

The survey measured which of the following activities “they had done in the last 30 days, or would have done if necessary, assuming they would wear a mask or distance as needed.” Some highlights:

  • 8 percent had or would have attended a church or religious service
  • 25 percent had or would have traveled by airplane
  • 30 percent had or would have eaten indoors at a restaurant
  • 39 percent had or would have hugged or shaken hands when greeting a friend
  • 45 percent had or would have “interacted outside within 6 feet without a mask”

The group turned out to be fairly confident about doing errands in person (92 percent), and . . . bringing in mail without precautions (83 percent). All of these measures are improvements from December. And also, all of these are things that I have done, without much hesitation and when legally permitted, throughout this entire period. I strongly suspect I am far from alone.

Epidemiologists do important work, most of which I can barely comprehend, and to which we owe great deal. And right now, vaccine hesitancy is a serious problem worth addressing. But if this survey is any indication, the work epidemiologists do inculcates a kind of life hesitancy that their ascension to prominence in political decision-making has spread throughout much of society over the past year. Again, their counsel should not be ignored. But their demonstrable, abnormal risk aversion suggests that it should, at the very least, be qualified as our society looks to leave the pandemic behind.

Economy & Business

Rich States, Poor States: A Tale of Two Models

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Construction workers put the finishing touches on newly built single family homes in San Diego, Calif. March 25, 2013. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Less than a month after the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the population is continuing to flow from “tax and spend” blue states to more competitive red states, an important group of state legislators has filled in the astonishing details on why that’s happened.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has tracked the economic policies of state governments for 14 years. Once again, it found that states pursuing low tax and spending policies have faster growth and a brighter future. Utah came out in first place in the latest Economic Competitiveness report, its 14th straight year in the top spot. Florida was a big winner under Governor Ron DeSantis’s leadership, jumping from seventh place last year to second place now.

Who fared the worst? New York, Vermont, and New Jersey — a trio of neighboring states that are mired in a model that features high taxes, crushing regulations on business, and a precarious public-pension system.

The ALEC report is called “Rich States, Poor States.” One of its co-authors is Steve Moore, co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. He laments that once-vibrant economies such as New York, Illinois, and California have been ruined by bad policies. “People are moving to places like Utah and Florida, where you can’t even buy a house now,” he said. “You can’t get a construction crew for four months.”

Politics & Policy

One Way or Another, Change Is Coming to the NRA

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Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks at the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 26, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

It is now conceivable that sometime in the not-too-distant future — 2022? 2023? — the National Rifle Association will cease to exist. Even more likely is that a New York court severely sanctions its leadership, or the prospect of this spurs dramatic changes in the organization’s leadership.

Stephen Gutowski, the longtime gun and Second Amendment-focused writer at the Washington Free Beacon has launched his own gun-focused publication, The Reload. This morning Gutowski lays out the grim assessments from bankruptcy and nonprofit law experts in the aftermath of federal bankruptcy court rejecting the NRA’s filing. Federal Judge Harlin Hale ruled that the NRA was “inappropriately trying to use the bankruptcy court to avoid government oversight,” and stated “in recent years, however, it has become apparent that the NRA was suffering from inadequate governance and internal controls.” One nonprofit expert concluded, “I think it actually made dissolution more likely.”

(When a judge with the nickname “Cooter,” who grew up in a small town in Louisiana rules against the NRA, you know they had a weak case.)

An accurate sense of the NRA’s problems requires keeping two things in mind. The first is that New York state attorney general Letitia James is just about the worst person to lead any investigation of the NRA, because of her past statements labeling the group a “terrorist organization” and obvious ideological vendetta against the group. The second is that the NRA’s management genuinely did bad things that may well have violated the law, or at minimum, represented self-dealing and egregious waste of donor money.

At the 2019 NRA Annual Meeting, it was clear the NRA’s Board of Directors faced an enormously consequential decision with the accusations and counter-accusations between Wayne LaPierre and Ollie North. The board largely decided to act as if everything was fine, and contend that the accusations of self-dealing and wasteful spending represented the usual media bias. That non-response to insiders accusing other insiders now looks like a colossal error in judgment. Having rejected the option of making changes on their own, the NRA’s leadership is likely to have change forced upon it by a court.

The last few years showcased an odd split between the status of the NRA and the status of the cause the organization defends. The NRA spent about half as much as it did on political campaigns and elections in 2020 as it did in 2016, is beset by infighting and dueling lawsuits, ceased its NRATV operations, and has now just lost its bid for bankruptcy. And yet, in 2020, gun sales in the U.S. increased by 40 percent, more than 5 million people bought a gun for the first time last year, and this January, more than 4.1 million guns were sold. Polling indicates gun control is actually less popular now than it was three years ago.

With the cause of the Second Amendment relatively strong, and the NRA relatively weak, some gun owners may see the dissolution or wholesale replacement of the current NRA leadership as less of a tragedy and political setback than a necessary step.

Energy & Environment

Another California Drought with No New Reservoirs

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A visitor walks near the receding waters at Folsom Lake in Folsom, Calif., January 22, 2014. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Drought and monsoon are chronic and predictable contrasting California weather patterns. Now, it’s drought time again. From a CNN story:

About 98% of California is currently experiencing drought conditions, according to the US Drought Monitor, with nearly 75% of the state seeing extreme drought conditions. Droughts have been intensifying, especially in the West and Southwest US, according to the latest National Climate Assessment, with climate change playing a key role in the scarcity of water in the West.

“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” Newsom said in a statement. “We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water.”

Dealing with both too much and too little water — depending on the year — requires reservoirs to catch water in times of flood and store it for the times of drought. It’s not that complicated.

But California environmental policy has prevented any new reservoirs from being built for years — no, decades — despite a huge increase in the state’s population. As I explained last year over at the Acton Institute:

In 1979, California’s population was a little more than 23 million. Today, it is more than 39 million. Yet in that entire time, California did not construct one additional, large-scale water storage project – meaning water infrastructure that once suited the state’s irrigation, livestock, and human needs has become chronically inadequate to meet its essential tasks.

The Bible tells us that Joseph was told by the Lord to store food during the seven years of plenty in preparation for seven years of famine. That’s the kind of water pattern California experiences predictably. And yet, there have been no new large-scale water-storage/flood-control projects completed in over 40 years! Why?

Blame environmental ideology that puts human needs last. Whether it is the desire to protect fisheries, antipathy toward water-centric agriculture, or the desire to maintain or restore wild areas, California leaders have not met the task of assuring that the state has adequate water supplies to meet its burgeoning and varied needs.

Wait. It gets even stupider! The state has plans to reduce storage:

There are political efforts afoot to tear down existing reservoirs. Hetch Hetchy, which supplies San Francisco’s water, is the prime target, because it was once a valley of great natural beauty akin to Yosemite. But other dams are in the crosshairs, too. Newsom wants to destroy four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River to help the salmon. This, at a time when many farms are withering on the vine, and state-imposed rationing policies will ultimately limit individual water usage to 50 gallons a day over the next 10 years.

So, let’s just make things worse! That’s the ticket!

Meanwhile the state wasted tens of billions on the unneeded high-speed “train to nowhere.” This is also the state that took more than 20 years to rebuild a new eastern span of the Bay Bridge because of ideological infighting, when the entire original bridge took less than six. Oh, and by the way, critical cable sections began to rust within a year.

No wonder people are leaving California in droves. It is becoming Venezuela.

Economy & Business

Transient Inflation Is Still Worrisome

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

Yesterday’s inflation data show that consumer prices surged in April, growing at a 4.2 percent annual rate — faster than they have grown in well over a decade.

Inflation skeptics were quick to point out that the surge was driven by factors that are unlikely to persist over time, such as a 21-percent increase in the price of used cars (likely due to a shortage of computer chips needed to make new cars) and the fact that inflation in April of last year was relatively low, artificially boosting price growth last month by comparison.

The skeptics are right that these factors were key, and that they won’t persist over time. But I argue in my latest Bloomberg column that they are wrong to conclude from that that yesterday’s inflation data don’t increase the chances that the U.S. enters into a period of sustained inflation:

Any period of sustained inflation is likely to begin with aberrant economic phenomena. The pattern takes months to emerge. In April, a fluke in the semiconductor supply chain sent the price of used cars soaring. Maybe this will return to normal in May, but then a transportation problem could suddenly push up the price of meats and eggs. Imagine that June brings them back to earth, only to see the cost of children’s clothes going through the roof. July and August each have rapid price growth, as well, for their own quirky reasons.

Inflation skeptics seem to think that explaining the quirks dismisses the problem. It doesn’t. The relevant issue isn’t whether one-off factors explain any one month’s data. Instead, the question is whether the accumulated effect of several months of price spikes — each driven by unique factors — leads consumers, workers and businesses to change their expectations about the pace of future price increases.

Is this happening? It’s too early to say. But the trend in market expectations about future inflation is rising. It would be troubling if that continues.

Check out my column for my full argument.

Culture

Pronouns and Other Fighting Words

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Caitlyn Jenner at Vanity Fair‘s Oscar party in Beverly Hills, Calif., on April 3, 2018 (Danny Moloshok / Reuters)

My Impromptus today is headed “Splitsville, &c.” Why? I lead with Bill and Melinda Gates, who are getting divorced. This is not only a personal matter, I think, it is also a blow to society. You may differ (as always).

What else? I have some Vladimir Putin in my column. He is a very, very good hockey player — though maybe not as good as Kim Jong-il was a golfer, or Elena Ceausescu a chemist.

I also touch on Liz Cheney, George Will — and Jack Fowler, that pillar of National Review.

Language, too. My column includes some notes on language, as it usually does, and I’d like to do some more typing on the subject, here in the Corner.

I often say that I’d last about a week — maybe three days? — on a typical college campus. I’d use the wrong pronoun or something, there’d be a blow-up, and I’d be gone.

Language is a minefield. You never know what you’re going to step on. In my column today, I use the word “accompanist,” to describe a pianist who plays in a voice recital. A lot of people don’t want you to use this word. They want you to say “collaborative pianist.” I have not quite gotten with the program. (When do I?)

I smile at the memory of one musician, who when called a “collaborative pianist” said, “No, I’m an accompanist. ‘Collaborator’ makes me sound like a Frenchman on the wrong side in World War II or something.”

My Impromptus on Monday led with Caitlyn Jenner, who is a minefield unto herself — himself? A lot of people feel very, very strongly about this. Some readers thought I had used the wrong pronouns, and they let me know, in no uncertain terms. I say: I have resisted the language cops all my life. Usually, they come from the left. But I’ll resist them wherever they come from.

One of the reasons I rejected the Left, long ago, was that they were always telling you how to talk. They were always saying what you could say and not say. They were language cops. The American rebel in me says: Get stuffed.

There is policing on the right, too. I’ll give you two examples, beyond the pronouns thing. I have been admonished for saying “gay marriage,” instead of “homosexual marriage.” Also for saying “Fourth of July.” Oh, you don’t like American independence, do you? Don’t you know it’s “Independence Day”? You think it’s just another date on the calendar? Do you refer to Christmas as “the Twenty-fifth of December”? Why are you trying to erase Independence Day?

To which I can only say, as our forefathers did, Ay, caramba.

There are a million more things to say about language, and I have said many of them — half a million? — over many years of writing. There is this essay, for example: “Adventures in Lexical Fashion: Today’s progressive term may become tomorrow’s slur.” Bottom line, if I have one: Good will means a lot. Good will über Alles.

Which brings up another language issue (in English, not German): Do you like good will or goodwill? There was a debate at The Weekly Standard, way back. I think that good will and goodwill are pronounced differently. I think the stress in goodwill has to go on the first syllable, which I dislike.

But we can debate this little question another time. Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here.

Religion

Bishop McElroy on Abortion and Communion

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President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attend a service at St. Matthew the Apostle Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., before his presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Salvatore Cordileone, the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, has explained why politicians who support exposing unborn children to lethal violence are ineligible for Communion. Responding to him without naming him, Robert McElroy, the Catholic bishop of San Diego, writes in America that “the Eucharist must never be instrumentalized for a political end, no matter how important.” He goes on to argue that millions of laypeople would run afoul of a more stringent standard; that it would be wrong to withhold Communion for officials who are in error on abortion but not those who have made grave moral errors on other issues; that the unity of the Church would suffer as many Catholics failed to see any good reason for this selectivity; and that we must keep in mind that we are “a church of sinners and questioners, who must face intense pressures and complexities in their daily lives.”

One can disagree with each and every argument Bishop McElroy makes. What can’t be denied is that they add up to a case that the Church owes some segregationists an apology.

White House

No, Really, Why Is Joe Biden Wearing His Mask Around Other Vaccinated People?

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President Joe Biden meets with (from left) Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office of the White House, May 12, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In the Oval Office today, while doing a brief appearance before the cameras, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all wore masks and sat very deliberately spaced apart — if not six feet apart, then as close to that distance as possible.

Every elected official in that room was vaccinated months ago and is considered fully vaccinated. Their immune systems are as prepared for an encounter with SARS-CoV-2 as they can get. Yes, McConnell, Biden and Pelosi are getting up in years. But the CDC itself states, “preliminary data from Israel suggest that people vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine who develop COVID-19 have a four-fold lower viral load than unvaccinated people. This observation may indicate reduced transmissibility, as viral load has been identified as a key driver of transmission.”

Biden was asked about this late last week, and the president answered, “when we’re inside, it’s still good policy to wear the mask.”

You often hear the argument, “Biden wears a mask to set an example.” Okay, an example for whom? Which Americans are going to start acting recklessly if they see Biden in an Oval Office meeting without his mask? Who is the anti-masker out there who’s going to change his mind because Biden keeps wearing his mask, five months after getting his second shot?

What message does it send, seeing four of the highest-ranking officials in our government, all fully vaccinated months ago, all more than six feet away from the pool reporters, photographers and camera crew, all still wearing their masks as if their vaccinations changed nothing?

Is the mentality really that because one of the White House staffers, pool reporters, photographers and camera crew might not be fully vaccinated, it’s not safe for Biden or anyone else in that room to take off their masks?

When will it be considered safe for Joe Biden to be unmasked in the Oval Office? Will it ever?

World

Beijing Lies Again about the Communist Party’s Atrocities during U.N. Event

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Zhang Jun, China’s Ambassador to the United Nations speaks at a Security Council meeting in New York, March 10, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

At the U.N. this morning, evidence of the Party’s brutal conduct was put on full display during a side event hosted by the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and human-rights groups.

Chinese diplomats over the past week had railed against the event — and unsuccessfully asked other countries not to attend — but, sure enough, this morning the video feed for the panel was the first thing displayed on the U.N.’s livestream platform. “We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., during opening remarks for the discussion that followed.

Participants focused on the Party’s abuses and skewered the refusal of U.N. officials such as Secretary-General António Guterres and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, to decisively condemn Beijing. Jewher Ilham, a Uyghur advocate and daughter of Ilham Tohti, an intellectual detained by the Xinjiang authorities, spoke movingly on the personal toll of Beijing’s abuses: “Families have been separated, hearts have been torn, children and wives are screaming and crying for the missing or the loss of their fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, aunts, sisters, cousins, and mothers.”

There was an additional, implicit takeaway from the event: Wherever China goes in the world now, condemnation of its genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang must follow — even at the U.N., where top officials have yet to strongly condemn the Chinese Communist Party’s atrocities against the Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.

This month was supposed to be a productive one for the Party’s advances at international organizations, as China assumed the presidency of the U.N. Security Council for May. Beijing seems to view this routine responsibility as its latest opportunity to shape international discourse in its favor, as the Chinese Communist Party turns 100 this year and as it celebrates the People’s Republic’s displacement of Taipei at the U.N. 50 years ago. During a press conference last week, Zhang Jun, China’s U.N. ambassador, described all of the ways in which he says the party-state has contributed to global humanitarian goals.

The U.S. and its allies don’t see it fit to leave that laughable narrative unchallenged, and have made clear that they will confront the Party over its atrocities by highlighting what such an order renovated by Beijing would actually mean: acceptance of wanton brutality on the international stage.

To be sure, the Biden administration did have a worrying stumble recently, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined a Security Council meeting convened by China’s U.N. ambassador last week to discuss multilateralism as Beijing defines it. Not only should Blinken not have blessed the gathering with his presence, instead of explicitly condemning the Party’s conduct, he panned former President Trump’s foreign policy, saying that the U.S. has not always upheld its international commitments.

His statement amounted to unilateral disarmament in the diplomatic battles that take place at Turtle Bay. The Chinese party-state, of course, never traffics in that sort of conciliatory rhetoric.

Ahead of the side event this morning, Chinese governmental social-media accounts continued to whitewash Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang. China’s mission to the U.N. even sent a lower-ranking diplomat to voice the Party’s position during the Uyghur panel: “So-called genocides are lies of the century. China has nothing to hide.” And, in a statement after the event, “What gives these countries the right to judge the human rights situation in Xinjiang?”

These lies will only grow louder and more effective with the Party’s rising global clout, unfortunately; already dozens of countries have endorsed them at the U.N. All the more reason for opponents of genocide to redouble their efforts to prove that the Party should be treated as an international pariah for its crimes.

World

Sure, We Should Reform WHO, but the Chinese Regime Is the Real Problem

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World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference after a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the coronavirus in Geneva, Switzerland January 30, 2020. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Over in the United Kingdom, a government panel has determined “the worst ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic could have been avoided had the world not ‘lost’ a month at the start of the crisis to indecision and complacency.”

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), led by two former heads of governments and a host of international experts including former UK Foreign Secretary David Milliband, says the international health system led by the World Health Organization (WHO) is “clearly unfit” to prevent another outbreak and calls for radical reform.

“Covid-19 is the 21st century’s Chernobyl moment,” says the report. “The system as it stands now is clearly unfit to prevent another novel and highly infectious pathogen, which could emerge at any time, from developing into a pandemic”.

The 86-page report, supported by a raft of supplementary annexes, describes the WHO as being “underpowered and underfunded”. It adds that it was hamstrung by conservative international regulations which prevented it from acting “immediately and independently” with respect to China and more quickly declaring an international health emergency.

Give the World Health Organization a healthy serving of blame and ridicule. The Biden administration rejoined the WHO, contending that U.S. membership will give us better leverage to force improvements within the organization, instead of leaving, as former president Donald Trump wished. It not quite clear how the U.S. will manage to force through changes for better performance and accountability in the organization. The WHO does love the Biden administration’s decision to waive the intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.

But as satisfying as it might be to knock around WHO like a piñata for failing in their primary duty, let’s keep in mind what the primary problem was at the start of this pandemic in Wuhan: The Chinese government kept lying to everyone — from their own people to the WHO to other governments and the international media. From the first cases in Wuhan hospitals until January 20, both the local and national Chinese government lied, and lied, and then lied some more, insisting that “The investigation so far has not found any obvious human-to-human transmission and no medical staff infection.” Medical personnel in hospitals suspected they had caught the virus from their patients in late December!

For the crucial opening weeks of this pandemic, the official stance of the Chinese government was:

  • The virus wasn’t contagious.
  • “The disease is preventable and controllable.”
  • Doctors who said the virus was a serious threat, like Dr. Li Wenliang, needed to be threatened by law enforcement for “spreading rumors.”
  • There was no reason to alter plans for mass gatherings in Wuhan at the Lunar New Year.
  • There was no reason to interrupt international travel into and out of Wuhan.

Direct flights from Wuhan to New York City continued until January 23! By that point, the rest of the world was doomed.

What you have is an authoritarian government that hates to acknowledge problems, prefers to hope they go away, reflexively lies even when the stakes are life-and-death, and has no regard for the lives of people inside or outside their borders. No WHO reform is going to fix that!

The British review includes all kinds of proposals that are fine on paper — peer review of countries’ pandemic plans, “national pandemic coordinators,” running simulations for practice, etc. But most of that is window dressing. The most important proposal is, “allow the WHO to send teams to investigate outbreaks and publish data without prior approval of the countries concerned. Make surveillance fully transparent.”

But that’s extremely unlikely to happen, unless Beijing gets boxed in by a furious international pressure campaign. China micromanaged every detail of the WHO team’s investigation in Wuhan in January 2021. The Chinese government refused to share some requested data. If another virus escapes from a bioweapons research lab — er, pardon me, I meant if another virus just naturally jumps from some bat that we never found — and sets off another pandemic in China, why would we expect the Chinese government to act any differently than they did last time?

Elections

As It Stands, Governor DeSantis Is in Good Shape for 2022

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and wife Casey at his election-night party in Orlando, Fla., November 6, 2018. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Florida elections are always close. There are eighteen months between now and the midterms. And nobody knows what changes to the political landscape we will see between now and then. But . . . things look pretty good for Governor DeSantis’s re-election campaign.

Per a Cherry Communications poll, released today, DeSantis’s approval-disapproval rating is 55-40. His net approval rating with independent voters is +20. His approval-disapproval rating on vaccine distribution is 70-26, with 74 percent of independents and 48 percent of Democrats saying he’s done good job getting people inoculated. If anything, Florida polls tend to underestimate Republican support.

Even more encouraging for DeSantis are the head-to-head numbers for next year’s re-election campaign. DeSantis leads Charlie Crist by ten points, 51-41; he leads Nikki Fried by 12 points, 51-39; and he leads Val Demings by 15 points, 53-38. There’s a lot of room there for the Democrat nominee to grow into. But still. I know who I’d rather be at this point in the cycle.

Prior to COVID, DeSantis was putting up remarkable approval numbers — of 65, 68, even 72 percent. The partisan reaction to the pandemic has clearly hurt him among Democrats (although not so much that they’re pretending that he’s messed up vaccine distribution), but it doesn’t seem to have dented him a great deal among independents. And if he can add the enthusiasm we’re seeing among Republicans to a majority of independents, he’ll be governor once again.

Economy & Business

Even Matt Yglesias . . .

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I confess to subscribing to Matt Yglesias’s newsletter, and I usually find his missives interesting and informative. Today, he takes up the question of whether bonus unemployment benefits are discouraging employment and pushes back against those on the left who are resisting the idea that there’s a problem:

. . . here’s why I think it probably is an issue:

  1. As of our most recent data, job openings were at a high level.
  2. In the latest jobs report, we saw a huge fall in people who said they were working part-time but would prefer full-time hours.
  3. We also saw a substantial rise in employment by teenagers.
  4. The Ioana Marinescu, Daphné Skandalis, and Daniel Zhao research that found the $600/week bonus UI didn’t cost jobs did find that it reduced job search intensity — they just found it didn’t matter because jobs were so scarce that even with reduced search intensity, all the positions got filled.
  5. Low-end wages are clearly rising as employers try to attract workers.

If you ask me, points (1)–(3) all paint a picture of an economy where employers want to hire back folks who suffered pandemic-related job losses, but FPUC money is making those people reluctant to accept those jobs. Consequently, a lot of positions are being filled by people who are ineligible for FPUC either because they weren’t in the labor force previously (teens) or because they had steady part-time jobs.

Point (4) is also important here because FPUC fans liked this study when it came out, but it clearly supports the proposition that FPUC would now be elevating the unemployment rate.

Last, the fact that a lot of people on the left are reacting to (5) by essentially saying “good, the real issue here is that some employers are trying to get away with not paying a living wage” strikes me as revealing that there is actually less analytic disagreement here than a surface read of tweets would suggest.

White House

The White House’s Approach to the Colonial Pipeline Is Baffling

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Holding tanks at Colonial Pipeline’s Linden Junction Tank Farm in Woodbridge, N.J., May 10, 2021 (Hussein Waaile/Reuters)

Sometimes I’m left unsure as to what progressives believe the government is for. In response to the news that the key energy pipeline on the East Coast had been hacked, the White House said this:

Earlier Monday, White House national security officials described the attack as financially motivated in nature. Biden administration officials, however, would not say if Colonial Pipeline agreed to pay the ransom.

“Typically that’s a private sector decision,” Anne Neuberger, deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technologies, told reporters at the White House when asked about the ransom payment.

“We recognize that victims of cyberattacks often face a very difficult situation and they have to just balance often the cost-benefit when they have no choice with regards to paying a ransom. Colonial is a private company and we’ll defer information regarding their decision on paying a ransom to them,” Neuberger said.

Really? I’m one of those guys who thinks that government should do very little — especially the federal government, which I think should do almost nothing. But in what universe is this primarily a “private sector decision”? And in what universe does the Biden administration, which seems to want pretty much every aspect of American life to fall under the purview of the state, believe that ransom demands made against core energy infrastructure is outside of its remit?

The Colonial pipeline, which runs through twelve states, is, by definition, a matter of “interstate commerce” — and it would have been perceived as such long before the New Deal redefined that term into open-ended meaninglessness (see: Gibbons v. Ogden). The pipeline is also extremely important. It supplies nearly half of the fuel that states on the East Coast use for driving and flying, and it is hooked up to a number of crucial airports, including the nation’s busiest, Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta (air travel is another intrinsically interstate concern). There can be no doubt about the federal government’s regulatory jurisdiction here, nor any doubt that it has an interest in keeping the pipeline safe. In addition, there are national security implications — and real ones, for once, rather than the usual “tax policy is a national security issue” guff to which we’re treated whenever politicians don’t get their own way.

This being so, one has to wonder why on earth the administration would be content to leave the issue to Colonial? Hacking, damaging interstate infrastructure, and demanding ransoms are all illegal under federal law — yes, even when the perpetrator is within the United States. Indeed, it is to step in when such eventualities arise that we have a federal government in the first place. If a person is kidnapped, the relevant authorities do not say, “well, families are private, so I guess we’ll just leave the cost-benefit balance to the parents.” If a train or steamboat is hijacked, the relevant authorities do not say, “well, the operators are privately owned, so I guess we’ll just leave the cost-benefit balance to the board.” They take over the response. So it should be here.

At the very least, the White House needs to work on its messaging. The administration has waived some transportation rules in order to help alleviate the resultant shortages, and it has now “convened the inter-agency principals leading the administration’s whole of government response.” But the nonchalance with which it has discussed the incident from the outset is jarring given that the president is currently trying to convince voters to let him spend two trillion dollars on . . . well, infrastructure. Thus far, Biden’s push has mostly taken the form of recasting anything that has ever been given a name as “infrastructure,” and then insisting that it is crucial to the nation’s future. And yet here we are, with a real infrastructure problem — a problem that is about as infrastructure-y as infrastructure gets — and his staff seem content to sound like Murray Rothbard.

Weird.

Energy & Environment

The Not-So-Green Biden Plan

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the April jobs report from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 7, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Last week, I wrote a column in which I argued that Biden’s infrastructure plan wasn’t as green a plan as the administration would like us to believe. This fact was first pointed out to me by Chris Edwards at Cato, who explains that:

Perhaps the most striking contradiction in Biden’s plan is that it is supposed to combat climate change, but the plan’s $2 trillion in taxpayer funding is not green. The green way to fund infrastructure is through user charges that restrain consumer demand. But Biden’s plan relies on income taxes to pay for infrastructure subsidies, and that approach does not moderate consumption or reduce resource use.

One other major factor that few green advocates want to acknowledge is that the greener our lives are, the more minerals we need. Unfortunately, as I noted last week, the terribly burdensome regulatory regime in the U.S. makes it harder to open mines here, and shifts some of the mine production to less-than-environmentally-friendly countries:

Those higher-income taxes on top of the many costly labor and environmental mandates in the bill would also raise production costs in the United States. That would shift production of many products to other countries that have more competitive tax rates and lower production costs — but also, oftentimes, questionable environmental standards. This was nicely highlighted in a recent Kite & Key Media video that explains how our already burdensome labor, health and climate regulations make it impossible to open a mine or to operate one profitably in the United States. This matters because the greener our lives, the more we need minerals like graphite, lithium and manganese.

Here is the Kite & Key video.

As it happens, the International Energy Agency (IEA) agrees with Kite & Key Media. The WSJ has an informative piece this morning by Mark P. Mills that starts with this paragraph:

The International Energy Agency, the world’s pre-eminent source of energy information for governments, has entered the political debate over whether the U.S. should spend trillions of dollars to accelerate the energy transition favored by the Biden administration. You know, the plan to use far more “clean energy” and far less hydrocarbons — the oil, natural gas and coal that today supply 84% of global energy needs. The IEA’s 287-page report released this month, “The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions,” is devastating to those ambitions. A better title would have been: “Clean Energy Transitions: Not Soon, Not Easy and Not Clean.”

He adds this:

The IEA finds that with a global energy transition like the one President Biden envisions, demand for key minerals such as lithium, graphite, nickel and rare-earth metals would explode, rising by 4,200%, 2,500%, 1,900% and 700%, respectively, by 2040.

The world doesn’t have the capacity to meet such demand. As the IEA observes, albeit in cautious bureaucratese, there are no plans to fund and build the necessary mines and refineries. The supply of ETMs is entirely aspirational. And if it were pursued at the quantities dictated by the goals of the energy transition, the world would face daunting environmental, economic and social challenges, along with geopolitical risks.

Read the whole thing here. And here is an interesting thread from the executive director of the IEA. This is a bummer for central planners such as our president. The question is: Will the administration acknowledge this reality? I doubt it, but would love to be surprised.

For a few greener policies go here.

The Economy

Inflation: Over by Christmas?

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(Nerthuz/Getty Images)

As Isaac Schorr noted on the home page this morning, today’s inflation news is . . . not good:

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which tracks the cost of a variety of consumer goods as well as housing and energy prices, has risen 4.2 percent from a year ago, notably higher than the estimated 3.6 percent. It is the largest yearly increase since September 2008.

Even controlling for food and energy prices, the CPI was up three percent, higher than the estimated 2.3 percent. The 0.9 percent CPI increase from March, again controlling for food and energy prices, is the highest since April 1982.

This data comports with Americans’ everyday experiences. On Tuesday, the average price of a gallon of gas rose to $2.99, the highest figure since November 2014.

The news also contradicts the Biden administration’s line on the risk of inflation — that it’s nearly nonexistent . . .

The hope, of course, is that this is just a blip, the product of baseline effects, temporary supply-chain disruptions, and (once again, temporarily) distorted labor markets; but now might be the moment to re-up a piece by John Cochrane and Kevin Hassett that we ran a couple of weeks ago on Capital Matters.

In particular, when it comes to assessing the extent to which this jump in inflation might be more than a blip, it is worth paying attention to this passage in that piece:

When demand soars and supply is constrained, inflation will rise. When people question policy and find it feckless, they expect more inflation, and inflation grows more and becomes entrenched. Persistent inflation grows suddenly, unexpectedly and intractably, just as it did in the 1970s.

I don’t believe that I am the only person to think that additional spending of as much as $6 trillion might be on the “feckless” side, and that is before we get to what the Fed is (or is not) doing.

Here is an extract from an article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph:

Jamie Fahy from Citigroup says inflation is flashing red and the Fed has fallen “behind the curve”. Money is being printed to fund government spending that goes directly into the veins of the economy, or for transfers to poorer Americans with a higher propensity to spend. To all intents and purposes it is helicopter money. The character of QE has self-evidently changed.

Mr Fahy said the immediate inflationary build up is likely to end in one of two ways. Either the Fed blinks, turns hawkish, and winds down QE earlier than it now suggests. This would trigger a taper tantrum and major sell-off in asset markets. Citigroup thinks it could be comparable to the Bernanke tantrum in 2013, a memory that dollar debtors and emerging markets would rather forget.

Or the Fed persists with loose money regardless, stoking a consumption boom that sucks in imports and leads to a balance of payments scare. This second course would send the dollar into a tailspin and potentially lead to a vicious circle as China, Japan, and the eurozone stop recycling a large part of their $720bn combined current account surpluses into the US debt markets.

Such a monetary boom would be much more painful in the end. Mr Fahy says a little inflation may be elixir for stock markets but this turns toxic once the CPI index crosses 4pc. At that point bonds and equities both deteriorate, and there is nowhere to hide in a conventional portfolio. “It could be a painful adjustment process from the current frothy valuations,” he said.

It is worth remembering that Wall Street equities lost half their value in real terms in the decade after the onset of the Great Inflation in 1967. I keep hearing claims that this is nothing like the “guns and butter” fiscal expansion of the Johnson era but actually Joe Biden’s $6 trillion plans are an order of magnitude greater, if defined by deficit-to-GDP ratios . . .

Commodity inflation is by now beyond doubt. Lumber futures have risen fivefold from their pre-pandemic level to over $1,600 (per 1,000 board feet). This alone has pushed up the cost of a new home by $24,000. Record prices for copper and iron ore add a further layer of cost.

New US home prices are rising faster (11pc) than during the final parabolic phase of the subprime property bubble in 2006 — a modest affair in retrospect. The property surge is enabled by ample Fed liquidity and by bond yield compression that has held down the standard 15-year Freddie Mac fixed mortgage rate to 2.3pc — half the level two years ago.

There is plenty more in Evans-Pritchard’s piece to think about, none of it reassuring. Sadly, the article is paywalled, but I will add his conclusion:

Janet Yellen explained in a speech as Fed chief in 2015 how inflation pauperises households and pensioners that depend on fixed incomes to survive, and how it eats into the real earnings of poorer workers least able to defend themselves.

She also argued that the Fed was ultimately responsible for the destructive consequences of the Great Inflation in the 1960s and 1970s. In her words the institution allowed chronically over-heated labour and product markets to crystallise what was otherwise just a commodity shock. It caused an “inflationary psychology” to take hold.

Hmm.

Hmm, indeed.

Culture

No, Your Two-Year-Old Is Not ‘Transgender’

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( LemonTreeImages/Getty Images)

A British couple recently went on national television to explain that their very young daughter is really a boy because the small child said, at two years old, “I’m not a girl, I think I’m a boy.” And that, these days, is enough to make it so!

In his deposition to the James Younger trial, Dr. C. Alan Hopewell, the senior clinical neuropsychologist in the state of Texas, testified that a seven-year-old child “can’t make rational decisions” and is “very easily influenced.” This fact is “settled science,” he said — “at the level of Galileo’s statement of how the Earth revolves around the sun.”

Whatever confusion or bad advice they may be suffering from, these parents are peddling madness. This is dangerous for their toddler and for our culture.

World

Coping with Plagues

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A man runs past the funeral pyres of coronavirus victims during a mass cremation in New Delhi, India, April 26, 2021. (Adnan Abidi / Reuters)

Nicholas Christakis is a famed academic — to the extent that academics are famed. He was in the news in 2015, when he stood up to a student mob — literally and figuratively. He is a champion of free speech. And he is my guest on Q&A, here. Among our subjects is free speech, yes. Mainly, however, we talk about the plague: the epidemic that was inflicted on us more than a year ago. Professor Christakis has written a book on the subject.

Man, is he educated — with degrees from St. Alban’s, Yale, Harvard, Harvard again, and Penn. He has an M.D. from Harvard and a Ph.D. in sociology, from Penn.

Wait a minute: Medicine is hard — rigorous, scientific — while sociology is a joke, right? Akin to basket-weaving. Not necessarily, as Christakis explains in our podcast. In fact, not at all, when the discipline — truly, discipline — is done right.

Christakis has been a prof at Chicago, Harvard, and Yale. Today, he is Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale. He directs the university’s Human Nature Lab.

That’s a pretty big writ: human nature.

Christakis has now written Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live. In our podcast, he takes us through the opening of The Iliad, movingly.

The Achaean army is suffering from a plague, thanks to Apollo’s nasty arrows. Day and night, the funeral pyres burn.

Is not the same happening in India right this second?

Professor Christakis emphasizes that plagues are as old as man. They are new only to us, the living, and dying. Last year, I was talking with Mark Helprin, and wondering when the current plague would end. He reminded me that people used to speak of “the plague years” — plural. That was a sobering point.

Nicholas Christakis is a Greek American, who grew up in both countries. He speaks fluent Greek. His father — a nuclear physicist — lives in Crete (on Crete?). At the beginning of our podcast, Christakis talks about his family background, which is highly interesting.

He is a big brain, who has a big heart. You’ll love getting to know Nicholas Christakis. Again, here.

Education

Arlington’s Public-School System

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(maroke/Getty Images)

When it comes to public schools, this pandemic has made one thing quite obvious: Many in the public-school system have lost sight of the fact that their main goal is to educate children. Employing teachers, bus drivers, or others, and even distributing school lunches to low-income kids, is not what’s it about, even though they are all nice byproducts.

When you lose sight of this, you get a system that treats educating children as a byproduct of serving its employees. Unfortunately for Arlington public-schools kids, and many others, that’s the situation we are in. Though the teachers have been prioritized for vaccination — so that they could then safely return to school — as of May 7, only 39 percent say they preferred in-person instruction. I wonder in which private sector, where staying home inevitably produces subpar work outcomes, this would be tolerated.


Incidentally, Arlington also just announced the following:

Despite having offered financial incentives to teachers to teach summer school, there are fewer applicants than the number of students who are eligible for summer instruction at the elementary level, making it impossible for APS to offer summer strengthening support to all eligible elementary students. Summer School is optional for teachers, and previous communication about the program indicated that final enrollment is contingent upon staffing.

As a result, they will offer some summer-school education for a subset of children. This is the sign of a bad system. It seems crazy to me that they would not figure out a way to serve the children, especially after having reduced instruction so dramatically for over a year. Maybe pay the teachers more, or hire substitutes and cut spending elsewhere?

Unfortunately, we Arlington taxpayers are assumed to have no say in the matter. The superintendent probably thinks that parents will read the news and accept it without a fight. And many parents do. However, some parents have been fighting the system for over a year, while others have hired tutors or left the public-school system altogether. In fact, Arlington has been bleeding students, as 2,000 have left permanently in the last year alone — roughly 7 percent of the already-small school district.

But not everyone has this luxury. Many parents are captive in a school system that takes them for granted and does not make their kids its priority. If this is not a strong case for school choice, I don’t know what is.

How Serious Would This New Former-Republican, Anti-Trump Third Party Be?

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Former DHS official, Miles Taylor, appears in a Republican Voters Against Trump ad. (Screenshot via YouTube)

There will be a lot of scoffing – and some cheering – for the news that Miles Taylor – formerly known as “Anonymous” – has organized more than 100 Republicans, including some former elected officials, to sign a letter this week threatening to form a third party.

People will point out, accurately, that the signers are largely retired and, as far as we know, not intending to run for public office again anytime soon. “Reuters reported earlier that the former governors Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey will sign it, as will former Transportation Secretary Mary

Politics & Policy

Don Boudreaux on James Buchanan on Government Borrowing and Spending

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Sheets of $1 bills get rotated before being cut into individual pieces during production at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., November 14, 2014. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

If you took economics from a Keynesian, you might recall hearing that government deficit spending is sometimes necessary to stimulate an otherwise sluggish economy, and that there is no reason to worry about the debt because “we only owe it to ourselves.” That kind of thinking is currently espoused by Modern Monetary Theory advocates, as well as politicians who want to spend endlessly on their favorite things.

Such thinking is completely unrealistic, as Nobel Prize winner James Buchanan explained back in a 1958 book. In this AIER article, Professor Don Boudreaux applies Buchanan’s logic. After reading it, there is no excuse for maintaining the fairyland view that when government borrows there is no actual cost. Boudreaux writes, “Government borrowing changes the identities of the particular taxpayers who incur the costs of government projects; government borrowing does not, however, enable taxpayers — considered as a group over time — to escape these costs.”

So divorced from reality are many of our political leaders and opinion shapers that they have people thinking that government can (and should) borrow and spend without limit to achieve the wonderful society they envision. Boudreaux enlightens they as to scarcity and opportunity costs.

He writes: “But let’s assume, contrary to fact but for argument’s sake, that an actual government — an agency with a monopoly on the lawful authority to initiate coercion — can forever fund all of its operations with borrowed funds. This fairytale government repays and services all of its debts simply by borrowing, infinitely into the future. Contrary to the belief of many, this situation would be especially bad for freedom and free markets. Government would grow even larger and more intrusive.”

In other words, it would put us on track for, to borrow the title of a book by Ludwig von Mises, omnipotent government. That’s their goal.

All government actions shift resources from whatever they would otherwise be used for to the purposes determined by the rulers. Imagine a long-ago emperor who decides that he needs a lot of castles to protect his realm. He doesn’t have much money, so he decrees that thousands of workers must labor on them and that the stone, wood, and other materials will be seized from their owners.

The castles go up, apparently at no cost. But there was a cost — the loss of output from those workers and the materials consumed. It would be no different than if the emperor had taxed the people to pay for “their” castles or if he had borrowed from financiers or had created money through inflation.

Frederic Bastiat called government the great fiction through which we try to live at the expense of everyone else. It can try to hide the expense, but can’t make it disappear.

Politics & Policy

D.C. Statehood Debate

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I debated D.C. statehood on the New York Times’ The Argument podcast, hosted by Jane Coaston, defending the anti-statehood position in my National Review cover story, with Professor George Derek Musgrove making the pro-statehood case.

Economy & Business

Inflation Soars as Biden Pushes for $4 Trillion in More Spending

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President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 2, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Inflation has seen its largest increase in decades even as President Biden pushes another $4 trillion in spending at a time of historic U.S. federal debt.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday reported that the core Consumer Price Index increased 0.8 percent in April, meaning that it has now increased 4.2 percent over the last 12 months, which is the highest increase since 2008.

For several segments of the economy, one has to go back even further to find a comparable increase.

The index for all items excluding food and energy rose 0.9 percent in April, which was the highest monthly increase since 1982. The index for used cars and trucks rose 10 percent in April, which was the largest since statistics began being record in 1953.

These numbers come at a time when the U.S. debt level has eclipsed 100 percent of the gross domestic product for the first time since World War II. The government authorized about $4.1 trillion in spending in 2020 to fight the coronavirus and the economic effects of lockdowns.

Then Biden followed up with an additional $1.9 trillion upon taking office. And now, he’s pushing for another $4 trillion in spending. If passed, the government will have enacted $10 trillion in new spending in a little over a year.

This is completely reckless. The federal government does not have money to spend. The economy does not need more government spending, it just needs officials to step out of the way and allow businesses to completely reopen now that the vaccine is widely available.

The $1.9 trillion in spending that Biden signed into law already exceeded the output gap, or the difference between the economy’s projected performance and potential performance. To add $4 trillion when we are already seeing the signs of inflation would be absolutely reckless.

 

Education

The Decline of the American University — as Forecast in 1968

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Members of various anti-fascist groups yell at police officers on the campus of Michigan State University outside of a Richard Spencer speech in East Lansing, Michigan on March 5, 2018. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

The last few years have witnessed a lot of turmoil on our college and university campuses, but that is nothing new. Back in the late-60s and early-70s, they were wracked by riots, building takeovers, and even bombings. Talk about “unsafe places.”

A famous American academic, Richard Hofstadter, warned of trouble to come in a commencement address he gave at Columbia University in 1968. In today’s Martin Center commentary, Jay Schalin looks at his prescient thoughts on the direction we were taking.

Schalin writes, “Hofstadter had been a Communist Party member in his early career, but gradually shifted his political beliefs to more standard mid-20th century liberalism. The commencement address signified an even greater departure from his leftist past; he saw in the student protests the very sort of ‘anti-intellectualism’ for which he had often criticized the political right.”

Hofstadter correctly foresaw that strong forces were building up to turn American higher education away from the search for truth and into an engine of political change. In his view, education was about unfettered inquiry into all sorts of truths. He was right to see danger to that. Many questions are now forbidden because they challenge entrenched “progressive” ideology.

His mistake, in Schalin’s view, was in failing to see how the faculty (which Hofstadter regarded as “the university”) would turn away from academic norms and embrace radical politics.

Hofstadter also thought that our universities needed governance reform to “redistribute power.” That was a bad idea, Schalin notes: “Governance structures in place at that time gave little power to those who wished for universities to maintain their academic focus and to uphold standards of excellence. Any reform that has occurred since then has made the wrong constituencies more powerful, not less. As a result, truth has been sacrificed for more immediate concerns, and academia has become both more vocational and more political.”

True, and we are much worse off for it.

Culture

The Bitterest Class War . . .

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. . . is fought not by the poor but by the superrich-adjacent.

Why not headline this New York Times story — Stephen Colbert makes fun of Jeff Bezos’s new boat — something like: “Guy Who Is Paid $1.25 Million a Month Thinks Other Guy Has Too Much Money”?

Books

‘Andrew McCarthy’s New Memoir’

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Kyle, I was expecting this to be a story about the Omar Abdel-Rahman case and Rudy Giuliani.

Politics & Policy

Liz Cheney Goes Down Swinging: ‘Our Election Was Not Stolen’

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Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) at the “Congress of Tomorrow” Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Pa., January 25, 2017. (File photo: Mark Makela/Reuters)

Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney has been quiet over the past week as the House GOP caucus decided to kick Cheney out of leadership because of her continued comments defending the legitimacy of the 2020 election and blaming Donald Trump for the January 6 attack on Congress. 

Ahead of tomorrow’s vote to oust her, Cheney spoke on the House floor Tuesday night to explain why she’s said what she’s said and why she will continue saying it. 

Some excerpts: 

A former president who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol, in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence. … 

Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy. …

We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen and America has not failed.

You can watch the full six-minute speech here: 

World

Yes, the Abraham Accords Were a Historic Success

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From left: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani pose for photos before signing the Abraham Accords with President Donald Trump at the White House, September 15, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

This is a popular talking point on the left today:

The Abraham Accords were predicated on the idea that the United States could broker peace between Israel and once-antagonistic Arab nations by bypassing the intractable Palestinians, who have actively stood in the way of every agreement since 1994. Though they are mentioned in passing, the agreement has nothing to do with Palestinians, who grumbled at the time, “Our Arab brothers have abandoned us.”

Jared Kushner, whose approach had more results than anything tried by the Obama administration retreads who now populate the Biden administration, never claimed the normalization deals would fix the Palestinian situation.

Here is what he said at the time:

You have 5 million Palestinians who are really trapped because of bad leadership. So what we’ve done is we’ve created an opportunity for their leadership to either seize or not. If they screw up this opportunity — which again, they have a perfect track record of missing opportunities — if they screw this up, I think they will have a very hard time looking the international community in the face, saying they are victims, saying they have rights. This is a great deal for them. If they come to the table and negotiate, I think they can get something excellent …

The Palestinian leadership have to ask themselves a question: Do they want to have a state? Do they want to have a better life? If they do, we have created a framework for them to have it, and we’re going to treat them in a very respectful manner. If they don’t, then they’re going to screw up another opportunity like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.

Indeed, the Palestinians have extended their perfect track record of “missing opportunities” (really, more like blowing them up). And the fact that Iranian-funded Hamas rockets are falling on Jewish cities or that riots are being perpetuated by the Palestinian Authority only further proves that Kushner was right: Waiting around for the theocrats in Gaza or corrupt former PLO officials in West Bank is a foolish endeavor. Now, maybe Frum and others believe that those who indiscriminately fire Qassam rockets at civilians deserve their own state. But that has nothing to do with the Abraham Accords.

World

Why Is Twitter Letting Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei Incite Rocket Attacks on Israeli Civilians?

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009. (REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

As the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians intensified on Tuesday night, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who helps fund and direct Hamas’s actions, tweeted out the following:

Within minutes, the IDF reported sirens were sounding in Tel Aviv as one of its largest cities came under a barrage of rocket fire.

It’s worth remembering that when Donald Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter while still an office holder, Twitter cited, “the risk of further incitement of violence.”

Yet in this case Ayatollah is using Twitter to directly signal to his terrorist proxy group Hamas that they should continue attacking civilians. Why does that not count as inciting violence?

To be clear, this is not a one off tweet by Ayatollah. He has continually used the account to urge Palestinian terrorists to continue attacks on Israel. Here is a sampling of tweets over just the past few days.

Will Twitter apply its Trump standard and ban Khamenei? Or is Jewish blood just cheap to them?

Politics & Policy

‘Get a Job’

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the April jobs report from the East Room of the White House, May 7, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Maddy, and Jim discuss Liz Cheney tenuous hold on her leadership position, waning COVID restrictions, the terrible jobs report, and much more. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Infrastructure Bait and Switch

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Ron Klain arrives in the White House East Room in Washington, D.C., October 29, 2014. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

White House chief of staff Ron Klain is known as a master of numbers and details, which is why both former vice president Al Gore and President Joe Biden hired him to run their offices. That’s why it’s disappointing to see Klain mislead people about Biden’s massive $2.3 trillion spending bill.

Mike Allen of Axios challenged Klain during a Sunday interview on whether he could reconcile Biden’s claimed interest in working with Republicans with his big-government proposals.

I don’t think it’s big government to fix the ten bridges in this country that are most economically significant and are in serious disrepair,” Klain claimed.

“Most of these Republicans have stood in front of a Rotary Club or a Kiwanis Club and given a speech about how we need to fix our bridges, roads, our highways, our infrastructure. . . . It’s basic, basic things that we’re putting forward.”

Klain has to know better. The Biden bill proposes to spend $115 billion to “modernize” bridges and roads. That represents less than six percent of the bill’s total spending. Even if you expand the definition of infrastructure, Biden’s bill spends more on electric cars than on roads, bridges, ports, airports, and waterways combined.

In carnivals, what Biden is doing is called “bait and switch.” The con artist tries to bait the unsuspecting customer with an attractive offer he likes and then tries to sell him something else entirely. In this case, it’s a massive expansion of new entitlements with a thin veneer of road and bridge repairs slapped on to hide the real spending.

World

IDF: ‘Israel Is Under Attack’

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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, May 11, 2021. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

“Israel is under attack,” the Israel Defense Forces have declared.

With Israel under barrage of Hamas rocket fire, Israel Defense Forces have released this map, indicating all the sirens going off alerting residents to seek shelter as rockets are fired toward the southern and central parts of the country:

This incredible video shows the success of the Iron Dome Missile system in shooting down the rockets in mid air:

But the system is not 100 percent, and at least one rocket slipped through and hit this civilian bus:

Hamas’s decision to exploit the current unrest in Jerusalem and shoot rockets into the highly populated Tel Aviv region is an escalation by the terrorist group that is likely to trigger a swift and forceful response.

Media

It’s the Little Things

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A sign warns customers of a Shell gas station shut down by lack of electric power in Pflugerville, Texas, February 16, 2021. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman/USA Today Network via Reuters)

It’s only a tweet, but it’s a nice little example of media bias nevertheless:

“Since the shutdown, there have been no long lines or major price hikes for gas.” That isn’t true, of course. But, irrespective, why was it put in? There’s no way that the Times could know this so definitively, and there’s no way that the paper could prevent it becoming a hostage to fortune, either.

I understand why a defensive DNC might add that assurance into a tweet on the topic. I don’t understand why the Times felt the need to. Unless . . .

Economy & Business

How Many Jobs Would Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Create? Zero

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President Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic National Committee’s “Back on Track” drive-in car rally to celebrate the president’s 100th day in office at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Ga., April 29, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Would President Biden’s infrastructure plan — the American Jobs Plan — create around 3 million new jobs? Or 16 million? 19 million? All three numbers have been discussed. I’m quoted in CNN with a different estimate: zero.

Strain said it’s good that Biden’s plan aims to make long-term infrastructure improvements over a period of years rather than trying to give the economy a quick jolt through immediate spending on so-called “shovel-ready” projects. But Strain said that, because the economy is already likely to be at full employment over this extended time horizon, the number of additional jobs the Biden plan will create “is zero.” The plan, Strain argued, is likely to merely shift jobs toward industries “favored by the infrastructure plan,” such as clean energy, while shifting them away from other industries.

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.