Slate’s Sleazy Claim That Amy Coney Barrett Isn’t as Smart as Her Male Colleagues

Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett arrives in the House Chamber for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 1, 2022. (Win McNamee/Pool via Reuters)

Amy Coney Barrett is, by any standard, a vastly more accomplished legal scholar than Mark Joseph Stern of Slate. Among other things, she graduated summa cum laude from Notre Dame Law School, clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, distinguished herself over an 18-year teaching career at Notre Dame with both her teaching prowess and her academic writings (including more than a dozen law-review articles), and served for six years on the Advisory Committee for the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. During her three-year tenure as a federal appeals judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, she participated in 622 cases and wrote 81 majority opinions, as well as four concurrences and seven dissents. (By comparison, at the time of her nomination to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson had published a grand total of two published opinions as an appeals judge.) Both her scholarship and her judicial writings covered a broad range of legal issues, and her core focus as an academic was jurisprudence itself: statutory and constitutional interpretation, precedent, separation of powers, and other meta-topics that require scholars to be conversant in the interpretation of many different areas of the law.

There is, however, a certain species of progressive — of whom Stern is an unfortunate exemplar — that is simply unable to encounter conservatives in general and non-white-male conservatives in particular without insulting their intelligence. Thus, we get a particularly contemptible column entitled “Amy Coney Barrett Is in Over Her Head,” complete with an illustration of her drowning in paperwork and a subtitle, “Even as her votes enabled the court’s hard-right turn, the newest justice has floundered on the intellectual sidelines.” Stern sneers that Barrett came “ill-prepared for many aspects of her job.” He claims that, “of all the current justices, Barrett had the least amount of preparation and training for the unique requirements of the job,” even though Justice Elena Kagan had never been a judge, and Barrett spent more time on the bench than Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Clarence Thomas. Stern claims that Kagan made up for her lack of judicial experience because she “spent nearly six years as dean of Harvard Law School, presiding over a snake pit of clashing egos—a perfect training program for the Supreme Court,” as if Barrett’s long faculty tenure and seven children would leave her unprepared for this. More to the point, this argument is bizarrely out of place in a column attacking Barrett for being too deferential to her colleagues in the building of majority opinions. Stern also claims that Barrett “refused to answer questions at her hearings, proffering opaque platitudes to avoid derailing her confirmation,” as if this distinguishes her in any way from every other nominee since Robert Bork. In fact, Barrett’s authoritative performance at her hearings left little doubt to anyone watching them of her firm grasp of the whole field.

Stern asserts that Barrett has never produced “a scintilla of public thought,” a confession on Stern’s part that he hasn’t read, or at any rate understood, her academic work, which he characterizes as “often dry and technical, verging on esoteric” — Stern may as well just come out and say that he finds topics like the interpretation of statutes and the Constitution, and the value of precedent, “Boooo-ring!” He even describes one of her opinions this term, in the Boston Marathon bomber case, as “a snoozer about federal appeals courts’ authority to impose procedural rules on district courts” — exactly the workaday stuff of courts. Barrett’s judicial writing may tackle the technical side, but it is typically brisk and clear.

Stern’s main argument, once the random insults are out of the way, is that Barrett has been too quiet in her first full term on the Court, often signing on without her own separate concurrences to majority opinions in the big cases. Stern frames this as “cynically withdrawing into the intellectual shadows.” “When the decisions come down, Barrett is frequently missing in action . . . Barrett has chosen a different tack: silence.” Of course, there is a reason for this so obvious even Stern has to mention it: Barrett spent the term as the newest justice, and “as the junior justice, she does not get assigned blockbuster opinions.” Most likely, she did not write separately in those cases because she had ensured that her own input was part of the majority opinions written by colleagues such as Thomas and Samuel Alito who had preceded her to the bench by many years. If you are looking for an analysis of how Barrett’s first year differs from previous junior justices, don’t hold your breath; Stern doesn’t bother to offer any comparisons.

Overall, in fact, Stern is woefully short on actual examples to support any of his arguments; the best he can do is complain that Barrett said things progressives dislike, which he calls “tone-deaf” but most people would just call common-sense questions. While Stern hits Barrett for doing her job without fanfare as the newest justice, he leveled the opposite criticism when Neil Gorsuch took the bench, claiming in 2017 that Gorsuch’s active questioning was “slightly irritating to his colleagues” and perhaps a sign of sexism:

Adam Feldman, the scholar who runs Empirical SCOTUS, told me that during his first argument, Gorsuch was interrupted by his colleagues exactly zero times—despite asking a record 22 questions. Perhaps Gorsuch’s free pass is thanks to his not being a woman: A recent study by Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers found that the female justices are interrupted much more frequently than the male justices and often by their own colleagues. In 2015, for instance, 65.9 percent of interruptions were directed at the three women on the bench. “Overwhelmingly,” Jacobi and Schweers wrote, “it was men doing the interrupting: Women interrupted only 15 percent of the time and men interrupted 85 percent of the time, more than their 78 percent representation on the court.”

So, if a man talks a lot, that is proof that he is sexist; if a woman defers to her more senior colleagues, it’s proof that she’s just not smart enough to keep up with the menfolk. This is embarrassing tripe, and it feeds into the very stereotypes about women that Stern professes to find offensive.

Law & the Courts

Indiana Doctor Filed Legally Required Report about Rape Victim’s Abortion


Indianapolis’s Fox59 reports:

After Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita threatened to go after the license of an Indiana physician who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio, documents obtained by FOX59 through a public record request proved the physician not only filed a terminated pregnancy report but filed the report within the required timeframe.

The terminated pregnancy report, obtained by FOX59’s Angela Ganote, shows that Caitlin Bernard, an Indiana obstetrician-gynecologist, reported the abortion on July 2, two days after the abortion was performed and within the three days required for terminations to be reported to the Department of Child Service and the Indiana Department of Health.

In the report, Bernard also indicated that the child suffered abuse.

National Review can confirm Fox59’s report that a public records request shows Bernard filed the legally required form.

The gut-wrenching story of abuse has drawn national attention since it was first recounted by Bernard in the Indy Star on July 1, but doubts about the story’s veracity were raised when both Snopes and the Washington Post Fact Checker reported last week that they couldn’t independently corroborate it. While Bernard appeared on MSNBC on July 6, she did not give interviews to Snopes and the Post for articles published, respectively, on July 5 and July 9. President Biden repeated the story at a July 8 White House press conference. A statement from Bernard affirming she had filed the legally required forms would have been one clear sign that would have helped confirm that the story was true without jeopardizing patient confidentiality, but on July 12 Bernard told National Review in a text message that she had “no information to share” when asked if she had filed the form. On July 13, the Columbus Dispatch confirmed the story was true and that an arrest had been made in the case. According to the Dispatch, the alleged rapist is a 27-year-old illegal immigrant. On the form about the abortion filed with Indiana’s state department of health and department of child services, the section requiring an “approximate age” of the father “if age not known” lists the age of 17.


Today In Stupid Gun-Scare Journalism

A Saint Victor AR-15 Rifle displayed during the National Rifle Association annual convention in Houston, Texas, May 27, 2022. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

And here is another ignorant and erroneous claim, this time from Nicole Karlis writing in Salon,  about the AR-type rifle: that it is especially dangerous because the bullets that come out of it are going so fast.

Besides its efficiency, what makes an AR-15-style rifle dangerous is that it has a higher muzzle velocity, meaning that a bullet travels nearly 3,000 feet per second. . . . the velocity is a huge factor, regardless of bullet size.

This is not true.

That it is not true — and could not be true — ought to be obvious to anybody who took high-school physics. It is, in fact, as matter of physics impossible that velocity could be a huge factor “regardless of bullet size.”

Physics—how does it work?

Velocity is not the thing that matters. Bullet weight is not the thing that matters. What matters is a combination of velocity and bullet weight—which is to say, energy.

You have experienced this in your everyday life: A ping-pong ball coming at you at 3,000 feet per second is not very dangerous. A bullet coming at you at 3,000 feet per second is dangerous. A bullet coming at you at 150 feet per second is not very dangerous — you probably wouldn’t even feel it through a decent winter coat; a Buick coming at you at 150 feet per second—100 miles per hour—is.

(And if I’m remembering my high-school physics correctly, you can get hit by a cosmic ray going damned near the speed of light and not notice it at all, because it doesn’t have very much mass.)

The cartridge we’re talking about when we talk about AR-type rifles usually is the 5.56mm NATO, which does typically leave the muzzle at about 3,000 feet per second. The considerably less powerful .17 Remington moves a lot faster—about 4,000 feet per second—but is much smaller, and hence carries less total energy. I’m not going to inflict the equations on you, but the numbers are about 900 foot-pounds for the .17 Remington going 4,000 feet per second compared to about 1,400 foot-pounds for the bigger but slower 5.56mm.

Which is to say, the much slower round is about 60 percent more powerful than the faster one.

Which is also to say, Karlis’s claims about the role of “velocity” are ignorant bullsh*t, as is so much “journalism” on the subject of firearms.

The fact is—as much as the anti-gun people do not want to admit it—the 5.56mm round fired by the most common AR-type rifles is a pretty middling performer. It is, for example, less powerful than the typical round fired out of an old-fashioned .44 Magnum revolver (1,600 foot-pounds), less powerful than your granddad’s old .30-30 (2,000 foot-pounds), and just a little over one-third as powerful as a common hunting rifle cartridge such as the .458 Winchester Magnum (5,000 foot-pounds). An ordinary 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot produces significantly more energy than does a typical 5.56mm round.

This is why the 5.56mm is classified as a medium-power round and always has been. The anti-gun cranks always say that they don’t want to take away anybody’s hunting rifles, but many of those are much more powerful and sometimes several times as powerful as the 5.56mm—if you have a choice between getting shot with a 5.56mm AR or getting shot with some nice Canadian’s .303 moose gun, pick the AR—you might live.

There are, of course, other factors, such as bullet design. But leave that for now.

AR-type rifles are not uncommonly dangerous. What they are is uncommonly common—the most common rifle among American shooters. Contrary to what the anti-gun people habitually claim, they are very commonly used for hunting small to medium-sized game (especially for predators such as coyote and for hogs, though I personally think it is a little small for that), for pest control on ranches and farm, and for things of that nature. The 5.56mm round is not nearly a powerful enough cartridge to ethically hunt large animals such as elk or mule deer. Until fairly recently, most states wouldn’t let people hunt whitetails with 5.56mm rifles—not because they are so powerful but because they are not powerful enough to ensure a humane kill. That purportedly terrifying weapon of war will not reliably kill Bambi. There are in fact a non-trivial number of veterans and military analysts who think it is not powerful enough for war-fighting, either — which is probably why the U.S. military is replacing it.

This isn’t some gun-nut secret. You can read non-stupid accounts of firearms physics at the Trace, for example.

Some advice to so-called journalists writing about firearms: Ask somebody who knows. Maybe read a book. Do a little—what shall we call it?—journalism.

And maybe go back and retake one of your high-school science classes—and pay attention this time.

(Correction: That 3,000 feet per second pingpong ball was out of a pingpong-ball cannon, not served with a paddle. Also, in the original version of this post, I wrote “.17 Winchester” when I meant “.17 Remington.”)

Woke Culture

Looking for the Wrong Words on Abortion

Signs at the 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C. (Katie Yoder/National Review)

Every once in a while in the abortion debate, someone who favors legal and subsidized abortion will complain that the opponents have loaded the dice rhetorically by referring to human beings in the embryonic or fetal stages of development as “children,” as in “unborn children.” Jill Filipovic is the latest example, calling it an “Orwellian term” that aims at “replacing reality with right-wing orthodoxy.” She allows that it’s fine for parents and health-care workers to use such terms but “journalists, politicians, and others should prioritize accuracy and not adopt the new language.”

Her larger argument about the politicized recasting of language by pro-lifers is not compelling, coming as it does from someone whose own side of the debate has given us “pro-choice,” “abortion provider,” “reproductive justice,” “terminate a pregnancy,” “pregnancy tissue,” and many other euphemisms. But let’s zoom in on that bit about “new language” for a minute.

Here’s the first definition of “child” (1a) from the Oxford English Dictionary: “An unborn or newly born human being; a fetus, an infant.” It adds, “The primary sense appears to have been ‘fetus’.” Where does the term come from? “Cognate with Gothic kilþei womb, inkilþō pregnant woman, probably.”

When I last wrote about this terminological question, nine years ago, Merriam-Webster had the unborn sense of “child” as its primary definition, too. That is no longer true. It’s now 3a: “an unborn or recently born person.” Scroll down to “First known use of child” and you’ll find “before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3a.”

The word “fetus” is a comparative latecomer.


Film & TV

New Lord of the Rings Show Trailer: Lavish Production, Uncertain Overall Quality

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. (Trailer image via YouTube)

A new trailer for this September’s Amazon Prime series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been released:

I’ve gone back and forth about this show, which will depict, in temporally compressed fashion, events from the Second Age, when the Rings of Power were first forged. Readers familiar with my extensive “coverage” know that my basic concern is this: Even with all the resources being poured into and pedigree involved in this show, will it respect J. R. R. Tolkien’s vision in the way that Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings did (imperfectly, but still excellently)? Or will it instead concede to modern conventions such that the essence is lost? I’ve gone back and forth about this as more information has been revealed, though my last sense of things, after the Super Bowl teaser from earlier this year, was mixed-to-negative.

This new trailer doesn’t really change my view. You can clearly see all the (deserved) millions on screen. What remains to be seen is whether the essence of Tolkien’s world has been compromised. We already have a bit of license being taken: the fact that proto-hobbits (being called “harfoots”) have been invented for the show. Other licenses are getting dubious justifications, such as the character of “young” (heh) Galadriel. It’s not unusual or improbable that the show would focus on her; she is one of the most important figures in the entire history of Middle-earth, and has been present for many of its key events. It’s a bit more of a stretch to place her in the warrior-queen role she looks set to occupy in the series. Tolkien did describe her as having had an “Amazon” disposition in her youth, but this ignores the possibility that, in Tolkien’s Legendarium, there are other sources of power besides mere martial virtue. Also dubious is the reported inclusion of female orcs. Tolkien did write in at least one instance that orcs reproduced as the children of Illuvatar did, but female orcs were never referenced directly, and certainly not as part of any battles. But I know everyone was crying out for just orc representation.

At any rate, we’ll see in September how well Amazon stewards Tolkien’s legacy.


The Pros and Cons of Big Ten Expansion

Michigan Wolverines running back Hassan Haskins (25) stiff arms Michigan State Spartans safety Emmanuel Flowers (20) in the first half at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., October 31, 2020. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Matthew Walther, editor of the Lamp magazine, has a piece today in the New York Times expressing his dismay at the recent addition of the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles to the Big Ten Conference.

He has some fairly legitimate grievances, chief among them the financial aspect of the move:

Adding schools with large fan bases in remote parts of the country means more television money. This is a familiar gambit. The Big Ten welcomed Maryland and Rutgers as its 13th and 14th members a decade ago in the hope of bringing its cable network to television packages in the Washington and New York metropolitan areas.

Sports is and has always been a business, and thankfully so, because it allows people with extreme talent to earn serious amounts of money for the great joy they bring to residents of the places they represent and sense of community they foster. Additionally, it produces jobs in which people who are not as talented as the world-class athletes can earn a living. That said, it is better when the business aspect of the game stays off the field.

Unfortuantely, we’ve already seen some business on the field in professional sports, and recent NCAA rules changes about branding and sponsorships have opened college sports up to the problem somewhat. Anything that detracts from players’ commitment to their teams can negatively affect the game; the intersection of the business and athletic aspects of sports is no different. The addition of USC and UCLA makes the pathetic West division of the Big Ten more competitive, which will be good for the sport. But that could soon wear off, even as the amount of money the conference will get makes the executives apathetic about the downsides.

Walther also makes an interesting point about the cultural implications of the conference, writing:

Rivalries often involved implicit, class-based rooting interests: urban versus rural, research versus land grant, upper-middle-class professionals and the exurban working classes versus middle-class suburbia. These games were played for ancient, often absurd trophies such as the Old Brass Spittoon, which goes to the winner of the annual Indiana-Michigan State game.

Even as the conferences slowly evolved and occasionally welcomed additional members, they retained distinct personalities that seemed to have the force of terroir-based European Union food designations — the cornfed Big Ten, where all the quarterbacks are named Brian; the aristocratic SEC; the rootin’ tootin’ Big 12; the Pac-12 and its Hollywood mystique.

As Walther correctly points out, there are obvious cultural differences both within and between the conferences. In the Big Ten, the Michigan Wolverines, representing the top public research university in country, compete each year in a rivalry game against (and usually defeat) the Spartans of Michigan State, the “little brother” land-grant university.

Though the Wolverines’ and Spartans’ fan bases dislike each other, they can agree that they are distinct from (and distinctly better than) the coastal elitists in the PAC-12. The Big Ten schools who stand for the Midwestern values of hard work, determination, and an enthusiasm unknown to mankind may be able to teach the hoity-toity schools on the west coast. We can bring them out of their comfortable states with 70-degree Decembers and into the frozen tundra of the Big House, giving their teams some grit.

That, or maybe they’ll corrupt us. Who’s to say? Either way, I look forward to seeing Michigan beat both USC and UCLA.

Go Blue!

National Security & Defense

Will Biden Change Course in the Middle East?

President Joe Biden, Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz stand in front of Israel’s Iron Dome defence system during a tour at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, Israel, July 13, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via Reuters)

President Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East has raised questions about whether his foreign-policy strategy may shift to mimic his predecessor’s strategy in the region. Donald Trump’s Middle East strategy was to build a coalition between Israel and Arab Gulf nations against their regional rival, Iran. Biden could leverage something like Trump’s strategy in the region to yield potential economic and political benefits. During his Middle East trip so far, Biden has followed this plan by, for example, becoming the first president to fly directly from Israel to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, signaling his intentions to preserve the united Middle East coalition.

But will it work? Questions remain. Concerning the economic, Biden is seeking a better oil deal amid an ongoing global oil crisis that has contributed to skyrocketing levels of inflation. Unfortunately, the Saudi government has maintained it will not adjust oil production, not wanting to renege on a previous agreement made with other nations, including Russia. 

As for the political, it’s worth noting that, during Biden’s tenure, the Biden administration has made decisions that counter the interests of our allies in the Middle East in this regional coalition and threaten their national security. The United States has, for example, been less friendly to Israel. Recently, Biden reversed a decision made by his predecessor when the State Department moved the Office of Palestinian Affairs to Jerusalem and confirmed a plan to reopen a Palestinian consulate in the city. This decision was not well-received by the Israeli government, which saw it as undermining Israel’s sovereignty and its claim over the capital city, Jerusalem. 

Biden has undermined the political prerogatives of Saudi Arabia as well. Since Biden’s presidency began, his administration has persistently tried to renew a Iranian nuclear agreement, which would ostensibly reduce economic sanctions in exchange for the mitigation of Iranian nuclear programs. Arab and Israeli officials have lampooned this decision as empowering Iran by providing more economic capital to fund proxy wars and organizations that threaten Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries.

Despite these missteps, the Biden administration hopes to pursue meaningful relationship with these and other nations and better promote the Middle East coalition. Speaking with National Review, Ambassador Hesham Youssef, former cabinet member of the Egyptian foreign ministry, confirmed that the Biden administration wishes to strengthen relations between Arab nations and Israel. Ambassador Youssef said he hopes Biden’s visit “will allow the United States to be involved in a meaningful and constructive way in the Middle East.” For the sake of Middle East stability and American interests, it would indeed behoove President Biden to consistently follow a foreign-policy strategy that strengthens the coalition established by Trump in the region.


Transportation Strikes Continue around the World

A local train leaves the Pont Cardinet railway station during a strike by all unions of the French SNCF and the Paris transport network in Paris as French transportation workers strike continues for a 26th day against pension reform plans in France, December 30, 2019. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

So far this year, we’ve seen in numerous examples around the world that unions have the upper hand in labor negotiations, and they have no qualms making supply-chain problems worse.

Here’s a quick update of how things are going.

In the U.K., passenger-train operators are set to strike again, in what Bloomberg describes as an “escalating crisis”:

UK rail travelers face more misery this summer as train drivers said they’ll strike on July 30, three days after a separate walk out and only weeks after earlier labor action shut down much of the network.

The Aslef labor group said Thursday that members will stage the day-long stoppage after failing to reach a pay deal with employers. Two other unions, including the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers that led the worst strike in three decades last month, will stage a 24-hour walkout on July 27.

In Germany, dockworkers are striking again, according to the Journal of Commerce, after the sixth round of negotiations wound up fruitless:

Germany’s busiest ports are preparing for a 48-hour “warning strike” as the country’s dockworkers union escalates industrial action following another failure to reach a settlement in its long-running wage negotiations with port employers.

Container terminals in Hamburg, Bremerhaven, and Wilhelmshaven will shut down for 48 hours from 6am July 14 until 6am July 16. Maersk told customers in an advisory Wednesday that it will stop all rail, road, and ocean freight for both imports and exports across its German terminals for the duration of the planned strike.

The pilot strike for Norway, Sweden, and Denmark’s flag-carrier, SAS, is in its eleventh day, according to Reuters:

SAS and unions were locked in more talks on Thursday to end a strike among most of its pilots at the peak of the holiday travel season, over conditions related to the Scandinavian carrier’s rescue plan.

“The strikes … threaten the company’s ability to ultimately successfully raise critically needed near-term and long-term capital to fund the company’s successful reorganisation,” SAS said in a statement. . . .

SAS said the strike so far had caused 2,550 flight cancellations, affecting 270,000 passengers, and cost it between $94 million and $123 million.

Meanwhile in the United States, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has voted to approve a strike. That does not mean a strike will occur, and there are still many more legal hoops to jump through before one would. President Biden is expected to use his power under the Railway Labor Act to appoint an emergency board to help resolve the dispute. When he does, the earliest date a rail strike could legally occur would be September 16.

If such a strike did occur, it would be disastrous for the U.S. economy. Approximately 125,000 workers are covered under the bargaining process, and a strike could effectively immobilize the freight-rail sector. The Railway Labor Act has a long history of effectively resolving rail disputes, and President Obama appointed an emergency board in 2011 that got the job done.

That being said, the U.K., Germany, and Scandinavia have also had few strikes over the past 30 years. This is the first time in most workers’ careers that inflation has been a significant factor in wage negotiations. Workers in transportation just came out of a pandemic where they were considered “essential,” and many worked longer hours than ever before.

After reaching a tentative agreement for a 14 percent pay raise last month, United Airlines and its pilots’ union are restarting negotiations. After United’s tentative agreement was announced, American Airlines pilots were offered a 17 percent raise. If they get raises that large, what’s to stop other unions from insisting on the same ask?

Transportation is one of the last sectors with significant unionization in the United States. Labor action can occur in waves, as we’ve already witnessed around the world. Whether the wave will hit our shores remains to be seen.

Regulatory Policy

California vs. Truckers

Semi-trucks line up at the Port of Long Beach, in Long Beach, Calif., in 2018. (Bob Riha Jr./Reuters)

Since the Supreme Court declined to hear the California Trucking Association’s appeal regarding AB5 on June 30, it’s still unclear exactly how California’s trucking industry will be affected.

AB5 seeks to classify more workers as employees instead of independent contractors. About 70,000 truckers, and 70 percent of the drayage truckers who work near California’s seaports, are independent owner-operators. That gives them more flexibility in setting their schedules and allows them to be small-business owners by owning their trucks and contracting for deliveries.

Some truckers protested against the law yesterday. Cindy Perez said she and her husband have been employees and owner-operators at various stages in their careers, and they prefer the latter:

“We worked for a company that served the ports of LA/LB that offered us some benefits and paid for diesel fuel and permit costs, but we also got paid peanuts, didn’t get to choose our loads, and instead of owning the whole pizza, we only got a slice,” Perez told FreightWaves. “Instead, we worked hard to save our money to become owner-operators and purchase our own trucks. Yes, we are aware that we incur more costs as owner-operators, but we’re no longer company drivers and we get paid as business owners.”

The protests did not disrupt terminal activity, according to a port spokeswoman quoted by FreightWaves. Truckers in Oakland plan to protest AB5 near that city’s port on Monday. Some of the protesting truckers caused traffic delays on Los Angeles freeways (which they should not do).

AB5 adds completely unnecessary uncertainty to an already chaotic and stressed market. We still don’t know what the ultimate effects will be, according to John Kingston at FreightWaves. Some trucking companies have already altered their organizational structures to comply with the law, but others have not. It’s unclear when full enforcement of the law will actually begin, or what full enforcement will mean when it does. Kingston writes:

There is nothing specific in AB5 that says a company cannot take certain actions or must perform specific activities. Converting the text of the law to a PDF results in a document of just 12 pages, and many of those pages are either recapping the findings of the 2018 decision in a civil case known as Dynamex from which the ABC test was drawn, or spelling out the long list of professions that are exempt from the law.

As several observers of AB5 in California trucking have said, what is going to need to occur would be enforcement actions taken by the state against trucking companies. As those cases are adjudicated, a body of law and precedents will develop. Those precedents then will provide both guidance to companies trying to stay in compliance with the law and a legal foundation for further enforcement. And that is going to take time.

An easier solution than outright repeal for California politicians would be adding trucking to the long list of professions that are exempt from the law. But that would upset organized labor, which has pushed for AB5 (and similar rules at the federal level). Paul Berger writes at the Wall Street Journal:

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which aims to organize drivers in California, says trucking companies have misclassified drivers as independent contractors to deprive them of fair wages and benefits.

Shane Gusman, director of the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, said much of the confusion among drivers surrounding the law is being spread by trucking companies and organizations “putting out this information to these drivers and scaring the heck out of them.”

Anytime unions say they are looking out for non-union members, it should set off your B.S. detector. Independent owner-operators are ineligible for unionization because they aren’t employees. Not one Teamster’s employment status will be affected by AB5. Their interest here is in expanding their power, not in looking out for the interests of owner-operators.

The culprit for confusion is the California government. Berger writes:

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a Grain Valley, Mo., trade group representing small trucking companies and independent drivers, says California hasn’t indicated how drivers can comply with the law, creating confusion for truckers trying to figure out how they can keep working. . . .

Trucking associations say they are being peppered with questions, especially from smaller trucking firms, about compliance. Firms say they are meeting with lawyers to consider next steps.

Bianca Calanche, chief executive of Jaspem Truck Line Inc., in Compton, Calif., which uses roughly 15 owner-operators along with 15 employee drivers, would face sharply higher employment costs to bring independent drivers in-house and would need to buy more trucks for its fleet. Ms. Calanche said she is seeking legal advice “to see if there is any way we can keep operating, even if it means helping the owners get their own permits and own insurance.”

On top of these concerns, California truckers are also facing new emissions rules from the state government, which are set to begin on January 1, 2023. The new rules ban diesel trucks with engines made before 2010. That means approximately 80,000 trucks will become illegal on New Years Day. John Ramos reports for CBS:

“They’re going to knock out of the Port of Oakland with this rule. About 1,800 owner-operators who simply don’t have the wherewithal, because of these economic conditions, to replace these trucks,” said Joe Rajkovacz with the Western States Trucking Association.

That includes Daniel Cuellar of Pinole. He bought his used tractor trailer five years ago, but its engine missed compliance by one year. At the end of the year, he says his truck can be described in one word:

“Trash. You’ve got to sell it to another state or take it to another country,” he said.

Even putting California’s seaport issues aside, Sacramento’s regulatory hostility to trucking prevents the efficient flow of goods in and out of the largest state economy in the country. Truckers are fed up, and they should be.


Italy: All Is Well, Draghi Doesn’t Go After All

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi speaks during a news conference at a European Union leaders summit, as EU leaders attempt to agree on Russian oil sanctions in Brussels, Belgium May 31, 2022. (Johanna Geron/Reuters)

Mario Draghi is a technocrat’s technocrat. As president of the European Central Bank, he famously declared in 2012 that “within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.” These lines (and an extremely flexible interpretation of the ECB’s mandate) probably saved the euro from yet another crisis (whether the euro should — in its current form — have been saved is an entirely different question) and, for that matter, paved the way for what has, by the dismal standards of the EU’s single currency, been a period of relative calm.

Draghi’s term at the ECB ended in 2019, but in 2021, with Italy still roiled by the pandemic and its aftermath, he was picked by the country’s president — Draghi is not a democrat’s democrat — to form a broad-based government of national unity, something that probably only he had the stature to do. Draghi is nothing if not competent. He has proved fairly effective.

Ominously, however the Economist, the magazine that, among various brilliant calls, once described Merkel as the “indispensable European,” made Italy its “country of the year” for 2021, an honor that surely tempts fate. The language — high Davos — in which the Economist summed up the reasons for its decision contains a few gems worth pausing to contemplate:

The Economist has often criticised Italy for picking leaders, such as Silvio Berlusconi, who could usefully have followed the Eurovision-winning song’s admonition to “shut up and behave.”

Because, of course, politicians should just quietly do what they are told by their supposed betters in Brussels, Berlin, and Frankfurt (home of the ECB). Berlusconi felt otherwise and was forced out under circumstances that remain controversial.

Back to the Economist:

Because of weak governance, Italians were poorer in 2019 than they had been in 2000.

Not really. Italy’s governance has not been the best, but its underlying problem has been that it cheated its way into a currency, the euro, for which it was not only thoroughly unsuited but was always likely to remain so.

In any event, Mr. Draghi seemed for a while today to be on his way out.


Mario Draghi on Thursday said he would quit as Italian prime minister, after a political party in his ruling coalition in Rome refused to participate in a confidence vote earlier on in the day.

The party in question, the left-populist Five Star Movement, voted against the motion for reasons partly connected with a trash incinerator in Rome (Five Star has an environmentalist strain) but that also reflect divisions within the party. Draghi’s government has the parliamentary support to soldier on without Five Star, but he has been eyeing the door for a while.

However, Draghi’s meeting with Italy’s president to talk things over does not seem to have included his resignation.


Italy’s Mario Draghi did not offer his resignation in a meeting with the head of state on Thursday, according to people familiar with the issue, a move which swiftly reassured investors.

What happens next?

No one knows.


If Draghi does submit his resignation in the near future, Mattarella could ask the former head of the European Central Bank to seek support from all allies in a new vote, after a round of talks. A collapse of the coalition could prompt an early election, possibly in the fall, but most parties would seek to avoid this.

Italy’s political turmoil comes as Europe grapples with an energy crunch caused by Russia curtailing gas exports amid its war in Ukraine, stoking fears of a recession. The European Union, whose industries are heavily dependent on Russia gas, cut its growth forecast for 2023 in new projections.

A Draghi exit could throw in doubt his country’s reforms needed to benefit from EU recovery funding, the administration’s strong pro-European stance and its staunch backing for military shipments to Ukraine. . . .

Investors dumped Italian assets earlier Thursday, spooked by the risk of a government collapse and complications for ECB efforts to support the market. Italy’s stocks and bank debt led regional losses, and the euro fell below parity against the dollar.

My guess is that Draghi will hang around for now, and so will some form of the current government (my wish is that this “prediction” could vanish from the web in short order).

As I noted yesterday (quoting the Daily Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard), Goldman Sachs has forecast that Italy’s GDP could fall by as much as 4.1 percent if Putin turns off Russia’s gas pipelines rather than merely reduce what flows through them.

I added:

Think for a moment about that fall of 4.1 percent predicted for Italy and what this might mean for market concerns about Italian government debt, something that has (off and on) once again been causing anxiety within the euro-zone. Only silver lining (from the ECB’s point of view) is that the central bank might use the gas crisis as yet another excuse to preserve Italy’s position with the euro zone. And to be fair, that’s understandable on a very short-term view. Having both a gas crisis and an Italy-in-the-eurozone crisis at the same time would be . . . a bit much.


Economy & Business

The Biden Team’s Sad State of Denial

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 16, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, one week ago:

JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t think it’s that our plan is not popular with the American people.  We know that the American people are feeling the high costs.  We understand what they are feeling.  Because — because when you look at inflation; when we look at where we are economically — and we are in a strong — we are stronger economically than we have been in history; when you look at the unemployment numbers of 3.6 percent; when you look at the jobs numbers — more than 8.7 million of new jobs created — that is important.

You just can’t spin your way out of a problem this large. You can’t fool people into thinking their grocery bill isn’t all that high, that filling up their tank doesn’t cost way more than a year ago, that their 401(k) hasn’t shrunk, that their hopes of buying a house aren’t more challenging, and that they aren’t feeling squeezed.

Overall, the economy is in a lousy spot right now. That low unemployment rate that Jean-Pierre likes to cite is preferable to a high unemployment rate, but it also reflects a serious and ongoing labor shortage; there are 11.3 million unfilled jobs in the country in the most recent figures – down a bit from the peak of 11.8 million in March, but still high by historical standards. Worker shortages are creating problems for construction and infrastructure projects, tampon production (!), pools and summer attractions, and even Independence Day fireworks displays.

Last month, a monthly measurement of small-business optimism reached an all-time low. “Small business owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months decreased seven points to a net negative 61 percent, the lowest level recorded in the 48-year survey. Expectations for better conditions have worsened every month this year.”

The Atlanta Fed’s projection for GDP growth in the most recently completed quarter is negative 1.2 percent – which would make two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, the traditional definition of a recession. As I have noted, there is a good chance that, on the morning of July 29, the headline will be, “U.S. Now in Recession.”

The silver lining to that dark cloud would be that a recession would end the inflationary cycle – but then the country is left dealing with the problems of a recession instead of the problems of an inflationary cycle.

It is good that gas prices have come down about 40 cents since mid-June. But this is largely because of declining demand; “according to new data from the Energy Information Administration, gas demand dropped from 9.41 million barrels per day to 8.06 million b/d last week, while total domestic gas stocks increased by 5.8 million bbl (barrels of crude). The price of gas is coming down in part because Americans are choosing to not drive around on summer vacation the way they usually do. The problem is that our refinery capacity isn’t increasing, and in fact another refinery is scheduled to shut down at the end of 2023, or perhaps even earlier. So that problem isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

America will get through this; we’ve gotten through worse. But we’ve got a long, difficult slog ahead, and the Biden team isn’t doing anyone any favors by pretending that the economy is in great shape and that good times are just around the corner.


The Bipartisan Abraham Accords

President Joe Biden speaks in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

In a speech in Israel today, President Biden embraced one of his predecessor’s chief foreign-policy accomplishments: The Abraham Accords between Israel and Arab countries.

Biden pledged to deepen U.S. support for the normalization push: “We will also continue building on the Abraham Accords, which I strongly support because they deepen, they deepen Israel’s integration into the broader region and establish lasting ties for business, cooperation and tourism.”

CNN reported yesterday on how U.S. officials are thinking about this effort:

In the lead-up to the trip, US officials have been working to deepen Israeli-Arab security coordination and broker agreements that will inch Israel and Saudi Arabia — which do not have diplomatic relations — closer to normalization.

People familiar with the matter said Saudi Arabia is expected to announce this week that it will allow all commercial flights to and from Israel to use its airspace and allow Israel’s Muslim minority to take charter flights directly to Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Biden will also fly directly to Saudi Arabia from Israel, a moment that he called a “small symbol of the budding relations” between the two countries.

Senior Biden administration officials said full Saudi-Israel normalization remains out of reach, though covert coordination between the two countries has expanded.

“It’s changed the security situation in the Middle East,” a senior US official said of the Abraham Accords signed in late 2020. “Our job is to go deeper with the countries that have signed up and to go wider if we can.”

The administration had previously taken a cagey approach to the accords, with the State Department reportedly declining to even use the phrase “Abraham Accords.” At one point last year, that led to a bizarre exchange between the Associated Press’s Matt Lee and State Department spokesman Ned Price during the daily briefing.

Now, however, it sounds increasingly like the Biden administration is accepting the premises on which Trump-era officials built out their Mideast diplomacy. As CNN reported:

The Biden administration’s focus on expanding normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries has frustrated Palestinian officials who would prefer the US focus on reviving the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But US officials say their focus on Arab-Israeli normalization is a recognition of realities in the region: The momentum for growing Arab-Israeli ties coupled with dead-end political conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

That sounds remarkably similar to what top Trump officials, such as Mike Pompeo, were saying in late 2020: “We can’t stand by as we have for 40 years and allow that conflict to be the precondition for further enhancement of peace and stability.”

Politics & Policy

A Chips Breakthrough?

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo testifies before a Senate subcommittee in Washington, D.C., February 1, 2022. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

After months of back-and-forth, there’s a growing possibility that Congress will pass only a stripped-down version of the Bipartisan Innovation Act, the industrial-policy package that’s been branded as a counter-China measure. If lawmakers reach an agreement in the coming weeks, it looks increasingly likely that they will advance a bill on semiconductor chip subsidies, without the other provisions under consideration.

For well over a year, lawmakers debated various versions of the legislation, the main components of which were massive investments in the National Science Foundation and a $52 billion allocation for semiconductor chip grants. The Senate passed its version of the package last June, while the House approved its own version earlier this year.

A bipartisan group of conferees from both houses had been hashing out the differences in the hopes of securing a compromise version to send to the president. But a threat by Senator Mitch McConnell to tank the bill over Senate Democrats’ plans to revive the Build Back Better Act had left the China bill’s fate up in the air.

Meanwhile, the administration, led by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, has repeatedly warned lawmakers that failing to pass the chips subsidies would lead firms such as Intel to scale back their plans to build chip facilities here in lieu of expanding elsewhere.

Those warnings, however, rang hollow this weekend, when Raimondo took to ABC’s This Week to defend the potential Build Back Better revival, in addition to expressing a sense of urgency on chips.

Attacking McConnell for threatening the chips bill over Build Back Better, Raimondo asked, “Why can’t we do both?” She later added, “It’s a false choice,” and accused McConnell of “playing politics with our national security,” saying “it’s time for Congress to do its job on both of those dimensions.”

That cast doubt on the sincerity of Raimondo’s urgent pleas on the chips subsidies, throwing into question whether she truly viewed it as a national-security imperative or just one more chance, among others, to secure a legislative win for the president ahead of the midterms.

Yesterday, however, Raimondo indicated that she’d bless a solution proposed by McConnell: passing the chips subsidies as a stand-alone measure. She explained in an interview with Axios:

“I talked to a dozen lawmakers in the past 24 hours,” Raimondo said. “I feel like they are coalescing around the path of [passing] CHIPS immediately and then live to fight another day on the rest of it.”

Key Senate Democrats like Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) have been pressing for a standalone CHIPS bill since March.

Between the lines: Raimondo, who has taken the lead in pressing Congress to pass bipartisan China legislation, isn’t giving up getting a more expansive legislation passed by Congress down the line.

“Having said that, we are literally out of time. And the national security risk, as Lloyd Austin and I laid out in our letter today, is immediately significant,” she said.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Big Tech Antitrust


Daniel Savickas of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance writes about the hypocrisy of supporters of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act:

In a recent Washington Post report it was noted that proponents of AICO were enlisting social-media influencers to garner support and get their message across. The videos in question reportedly garnered hundreds of thousands of views.

Using TikTok and Instagram to pass anti big-tech legislation is rich with irony. TikTok is a direct competitor with a number of the companies targeted by AICO. As a content platform, it competes heavily with Google — which owns YouTube — for viewers and ad revenue. As a social-media platform, it also competes for users with Facebook. The very fact that TikTok is a prominent enough platform that AICO proponents are taking advantage of its market position to push their agenda demonstrates the absurdity of the claim that any of the companies targeted by the bill constitute a “monopoly” in any sense of the word.

The newest episode of the Capital Record is out, with guest Michael Matheson Miller of the Acton Institute. Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.


30 Things That Caught My Eye: The Beacons of Love That Are Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers & More


1. Nigerian bishop, a former New Yorker, calls church massacre ‘my own Sept. 11th’

2. Pastor of Catholic church in Bethesda, Maryland, describes arson, desecration of tabernacle



5. Pro-Life Centers Under Attack – Even After Saving 800,000 Lives Since 2016


Continue reading “30 Things That Caught My Eye: The Beacons of Love That Are Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers & More”

Politics & Policy

The Culture of Law after Roe: Join Me Friday with Carrie and Roger Severino


This week I learned that Carrie and Roger Severino have never been on a panel together. I’m excited that’s going to change this Friday, the three-week anniversary of the end of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. At 2 ET, I’ll be interviewing the husband and wife about the legal situation after Roe. The two of them met at Harvard Law and, as the New York Times actually quite beautifully profiled recently, had a heart for seeing that unjust, unconstitutional law overturned. And now it has been. And, as we have seen, it is not the end of lawsuits and court action.

Carrie Campbell Severino is the president of the Judicial Crisis Network and a co-author with Mollie Hemingway of the bestselling book Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court (Regnery Publishing, July 2019). She was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and to Judge David B. Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Roger Severino is the vice president of domestic policy and the Joseph C. and Elizabeth A. Anderlik Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. He created the HHS Accountability Project to monitor the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and hold it accountable to its mission of furthering the health and well-being of all Americans. He was director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

RSVP to join us live here.

Politics & Policy

Adoptee Makes the Case for Her Birth Mother’s Right to Abort Her

(Nastco/iStock/Getty Images)

Adoption is increasingly being presented as the enemy of abortion.

The Cut at New York magazine’s website has a column on adoption from a woman who says she was adopted by force birthers. She says her biological mom was led to adoption by a crisis-pregnancy center* that insisted on adoption. She goes on to talk about how pro-adoption pro-lifers (my word, not hers) consider babies who can be adopted instead of aborted to be second-class citizens. She says she was guilted into gratitude that she was adopted and that her situation wasn’t worse.

She writes:

It makes my blood boil when I see people frame adoption as an alternative to abortion. A lot of the time parents adopt for themselves, because they want kids, but many people in Christian environments don’t ask themselves why they want them — you’re just expected to marry young and have them, and if you can’t have them, it’s a trial given to you from God and you resort to adoption. But we’re not a backup. So many people on the right who say either “We’ll adopt your baby” or “You can put your baby up for adoption” see adopted kids as second-class kids. A lot of people on the right see kids as property without agency, and it’s worse when you’re adopted because they think they did you a favor. My dad and his mother, my adoptive grandmother, constantly made me feel I should be more grateful to them, like I could have been in a worse situation if I hadn’t been adopted, which felt like gaslighting.

I don’t know her parents. But I do know plenty of adopted parents who insist that they — the parents — are the ones who are blessed by adoption. Just the other day, I was talking to an adoptive couple during the National Review Institute’s post-Roe Fridays for Life virtual series, and they talked about how adopting their daughter from China was the best decision they ever made, how they could not imagine life without her. They do not see themselves as mini-saviors for adopting her.


As for second-class citizens: The pro-lifers are the ones who don’t want the babies killed.

The author was raised in a Christian household and says it wasn’t until watching a YouTube recently on “bodily autonomy” that she decided there should be no restrictions on abortion.

She writes:

Abortion is a touchy topic for Christians. Until recently. Now she’s decided:

If someone no longer wants to be pregnant, that’s their choice, period. People on the right will say abortion is murder. Is it murder if you don’t donate a kidney, you know someone needs it, and they die? Fetuses are not entitled to anybody’s body, even for survival, just like the rest of us aren’t entitled to anybody’s body.

This culture is so poisonous. That anyone could compare her unborn self to a kidney.

She concludes with the conviction that her birth mother should have had the choice to abort her:

I’m angry and heartbroken about Roe being overturned, and fear it’s going to be used as a way to put more kids into the adoption or the foster system. When I share my views about adoption, so many people are like, “Would you rather have been aborted then?” And I tell them, for the last time, adoption is not the alternative to abortion. It’s forced birth. And I was a forced birth. But even if I had been aborted, if that meant my bio mom had a choice, I’d be fine with that. I’d be none the wiser. It would have been her choice. It pisses me off that she wasn’t given one.

Please pray for this woman and all who suffer. We need to inundate women and children and families with love and resources. We need to celebrate birth mothers and make clear that each human life is the most precious resource there is — the mother, the child, the adoptive family. We need to encourage birth fathers to step up to the plate. We need to make sure everyone is loved and not made to feel alone or outcast or a mere incubator. Life is mess, painful, and beautiful. Let’s be with one another more. And especially for the poor, the scared, the lonely, the desperate.


* Pro-lifers tend to not use the phrase “crisis-pregnancy center” in no small part because mothers do amazing things — they just need to have the resources. Love them and look at them with the full knowledge that a mother is capable of amazing things, and they might be able to see it too.



Europe’s Gas Crunch: When It Doesn’t Rain, It Pours

(Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)

The news surrounding Europe’s (natural) gas crunch goes from bad to worse.


Some German power plants are not getting enough coal delivered because of low levels on the river Rhine, threatening to derail the country’s plan to store more fuel ahead of winter.

A heatwave has sent levels on parts of the river, key for shipping everything from coal to oil, to the lowest in at least 15 years on a seasonal basis. Europe’s biggest economy is doing all it can to secure coal to its plants ahead of winter after Russia curbed gas supplies.

Drought also (obviously) affects hydropower.


Seasonally, Spanish hydro generation is running at the second-lowest level in 20 years. In France, hydro generation is the weakest in a decade. In a typical year, hydropower is the fourth-biggest source of electricity across the European Union, after gas, nuclear and wind, generating nearly 14% of all the electricity.

And low water reserves also have an implication for nuclear power.


Electricite de France SA, which runs the biggest fleet of nuclear power stations in Europe, has warned it’s likely to trim output at some atomic plants this summer as the drought reduces the amount of river water available for cooling. The French company, which has closed dozens of reactors to check their welding, was forced last month to curb output at its Saint-Alban nuclear plant, nearly Lyon after the Rhone river level dropped. Another five EDF nuclear plants are at risk, the company said last week.

All this increases the demand for (natural) gas, and that, with Putin in the catbird seat, is something of a problem. The chances of Europe being able to build up the gas reserves it needs ahead of winter are worsening, it sometimes seems, daily.

Meanwhile, it’s an indication of how seriously (abandonment of nuclear power aside) that Germany is taking the crisis that may lie ahead that, the Daily Telegraph reports, Deutsche Bank estimates that the country has already cut demand for natural gas by around 10 percent. More, including the use for wood for heating homes, will, the bank warns, be required.

The Daily Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, a writer not always known as a ray of sunshine, adds some more to the pile of guesses estimates of what a full switch-off of Russia’s gas pipelines could mean:

Goldman Sachs estimates that the eurozone would contract by up to 2.7pc if the gas stops flowing, with GDP potentially falling by 3.2pc in Germany and 4.1pc in Italy.

All those numbers are bad, no, terrible enough, but think for a moment about that fall of 4.1 percent predicted for Italy and what this might mean for market concerns about Italian government debt, something that has (off and on) once again been causing anxiety within the euro zone. The only silver lining (from the European Central Bank’s point of view) is that the ECB might be able to use the gas crisis as yet another excuse to bolster Italy’s position within the euro zone. And to be fair, that’s understandable on a very short-term view. Having both a gas crisis and an Italy-in-the-euro-zone crisis at the same time would be . . . a bit much.

But back to Evans-Pritchard and another twist of the knife:

What is less explored is what would happen if Mr Putin triggers a full-blown oil shock on top of the gas squeeze order to push the cost of living crisis to breaking point.

It is widely assumed that he would not play the oil card because the import revenue is too valuable – worth $700m a day, viz $400m for gas – and because crude is too fungible a commodity on global markets for targeted use against Europe. But this overlooks the internal structure of the Russian economy, and may underestimate Mr Putin’s willingness to create maximum havoc as an instrument of foreign policy.

Natasha Kaneva and Ted Hall at JP Morgan think the Kremlin may be seriously tempted to try. They argue that Russia could halve its total output temporarily and starve the world of up to five million barrels a day – 5pc of global supply – without doing lasting damage to its drilling infrastructure, or suffering an intolerable economic hit. They estimate that a shock and awe squeeze of this magnitude would drive prices to $380 a barrel, levels that would bring the global economy to a shuddering halt.

The more likely calibration is a cut of three million barrels a day. This would lift Brent to $190, still high enough to blast through the all-time record of $148 in mid-2008. “The tightness of the global oil market is on Russia’s side and strong public finances could absorb the revenue losses without too much difficulty,” they said.

There are some good reasons, discussed by Evans-Pritchard, why Putin may not take this step. Nevertheless, it seems that this may be another weapon in the Russian leader’s arsenal, and it would be unwise to discount his willingness to use it.

To repeat my concluding comment from an earlier post:

Quite what all this will do to the willingness of many European countries to stand alongside Ukraine is not hard to guess.

Politics & Policy

Nationalize or Not?: Matthew Continetti and Chris DeMuth Debate the Future of Conservatism


 Matthew Continetti is the author of the new book The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism, an extensively researched and reported history of the conservative movement in America. Chris DeMuth is a former president of the American Enterprise Institute and currently a fellow at the Hudson Institute. In this conversation, DeMuth states that national conservatives (or “NatCons”) “are conservatives who have been mugged by reality. We have come away with a sense of how to recover from the horrors taking America down.” Continetti counters — in a typically conservative argument — that there is no need for NatCons to break away from the traditional movement, since they’re all in the same boat and agree on most of the important issues of the day. The elephant in the room in this debate is former president Donald Trump. What he says and does in the next year or two will be crucial in determining the future direction of the conservative movement. Continetti and DeMuth agree on that. 

Recorded on May 14, 2022.

White House

Will Biden Condemn Any Assassination Attempts?

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

After a man brought a gun to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s front door, the conservative movement produced a cacophony of condemnation. Many called on President Joe Biden to also condemn the assassination attempt, but they were met with silence.

His administration has certainly not helped the environment in which this incident occurred. After Kavanaugh was harassed by protesters at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Washington, D.C. in response to his vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “This is what a democracy is.”

Now our country has seen an attack on someone with whom Biden agrees politically. A man was arrested yesterday for bringing a gun to the home of Representative Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The man allegedly shouted threats of violence outside of her home. 

The attempt bore remarkable similarity to the one on Kavanaugh’s life. And the Biden administration has responded to it much as it did to that on Kavanaugh: with characteristic silence. Americans have heard not a peep of condemnation.

Biden’s silence on the Kavanaugh incident means he can’t make a principled denunciation of Jayapal’s apparent would-be assassin. Were he to do so without saying a word about the attempt on Kavanaugh’s life, he would be engaging in selective outrage.

Americans have a right to ask when Biden will finally condemn these attempted instances of political violence. What will have to happen for him to declare that some terrible situation merits his comment as the leader of our country?

The answer may be that an assassination attempt has to succeed. Although he has not said anything about the Kavanaugh and Jayapal incidents, he did release a statement about the killing of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Even then, the statement was hardly laudable. Although he gave the requisite praise to Abe, he also decided to lament how “gun violence always leaves a deep scar on the communities that are affected by it.”

Condemning only successful violent attacks (and doing so poorly) does not fulfill the duty the president has to be a unifying leader for the country. Nor is it what the American people were expecting when they elected Biden.

He promised unity throughout the 2020 election cycle all the way up to his inauguration. He famously said that we would not need to worry about his tweets. We expected Biden not to have many tweets that would be as toxic as his predecessors’, but we did not expect him to have hardly any meaningful tweets at all.

Amid the recent uproar in our country, he has been derelict as members of his own side and the opposite side of the aisle face assassination attempts. Remaining silent was never advisable, and his continued taciturnity has become more and more inexcusable.

Law & the Courts

Is This the Precedent Democrats Want to Set?

Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 3, 2018 (Jabin Botsford/Reuters)

Last Wednesday, Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh was harassed by protesters while eating dinner with his family at Morton’s The Steakhouse in downtown Washington, D.C. ShutDownDC activists showed up outside the restaurant after receiving a tip that the justice was dining there. The far-left activist group tweeted:

The protesters called the manager of the restaurant to urge him to kick out Kavanaugh. According to Politico, a person familiar with the matter said Kavanaugh did not see or hear the protestors outside and left the restaurant before having dessert. However, about an hour after their original tweet, ShutDownDC tweeted: 

However, the restaurant came out in support of the justice. A representative for the restaurant chain gave a statement to Politico, saying, “Politics, regardless of your side or views, should not trample the freedom at play of the right to congregate and eat dinner.”

ShutDownDC plans on making life hell for the other conservative justices as well. They have started a tipline, claiming they are willing to pay people who alert the activist group when they see one of the justices out in public. The group tweeted:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), mocked the harassment of Kavanaugh, saying, “Poor guy. He left before his soufflé because he decided half the country should risk death if they have an ectopic pregnancy within the wrong state lines. It’s all very unfair to him. The least they could do is let him eat cake.” Of course, as John McCormack points out, no state bans treatment for ectopic pregnancies. 

Other Democrats joined AOC in effectively defending the harassment of Kavanaugh. MSNBC contributor and the Nation writer Elie Mystal tweeted:

Andy Campbell, senior editor at the Huffington Post, tweeted:

What is most disconcerting about AOC and left-wing media members’ mockery and belittlement of the Kavanaugh incident is the precedent that it sets. If it is okay to harass a Supreme Court justice while he is at dinner, what is off-limits? Supreme Court justices are public officials, but they are not elected politicians. They are meant to be immune to public opinion, not bend to it. Their job is simply to interpret the Constitution. Treating the justices like they are congressmen, who often change their positions to appease their voters, will only further erode Amercans’ distrust in our most-sacred institutions and foment greater political polarization.

When Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked where the White House believes the line can be drawn regarding protesting Supreme Court justices, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded, “Peaceful protest, people should be allowed to be able to do that.” Doocy fired back, “In a restaurant?” “If it’s outside of a restaurant, if it’s peaceful, for sure . . . this is what a democracy is,” Jean-Pierre responded. This is ridiculous. Harassing a Supreme Court justice should never be condoned. That is not “democracy.” It is an attempt at intimidation.

The game can be played both ways. It is doubtful that Democrats would be okay with far-right groups harassing Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, or Ketanji Brown Jackson. Presumably, if that happened, they would be just as outraged as conservatives are right now over the harassment of Kavanaugh, who was the subject of an attempt on his life just over a month ago. Democrats are playing a dangerous game by endorsing this shameful behavior. Intimidation should always be condemned. Why hasn’t Attorney General Merrick Garland weighed in?

Economy & Business

Bookstores Make Surprising Comeback

(Mike Segar/Reuters)

It’s foolish to deny that Amazon is efficient and convenient. The corporate behemoth started primarily as a book-seller, but has since successfully branched out into . . . well, just about everything, even necromancy. And though book sales represent 10 percent of its overall revenue (“only” $280 billion), that was enough for the company to sell “substantially more than half” of all books in the U.S., “including new and used physical volumes as well as digital and audio formats,” according to a 2019 New York Times story. That story adds that Amazon is also “a platform for third-party sellers, a publisher, a printer, a self-publisher, a review hub, a textbook supplier and a distributor that now runs its own chain of brick-and-mortar stores.”

Given all that, and other economic challenges, both specific to bookstores and to the economy at large, you’d think that your classic brick-and-mortar would be in trouble. Not so. According to a recent New York Times story, such establishments are, in fact, thriving. From the story:

Two years ago, the future of independent book selling looked bleak. As the coronavirus forced retailers to shut down, hundreds of small booksellers around the United States seemed doomed. Bookstore sales fell nearly 30 percent in 2020, U.S. Census Bureau data showed. The publishing industry was braced for a blow to its retail ecosystem, one that could permanently reshape the way readers discover and buy books.

Instead, something unexpected happened: Small booksellers not only survived the pandemic, but many are thriving.

“It’s kind of shocking when you think about what dire straits the stores were in in 2020,” said Allison Hill, the chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, a trade organization for independent bookstores. “We saw a rally like we’ve never seen before.”

The association now has 2,023 member stores in 2,561 locations, up from 1,689 in early July of 2020. Some of the growth reflects the renewal of memberships by existing stores that put off doing it last year amid the uncertainly caused by the pandemic. But there has also been a sharp and sustained rise in new bookshops, and more than 200 additional stores are preparing to open in the next year or two, Ms. Hill said.

Many stores have also seen a bump in profits. In a survey of booksellers earlier this year, the association found that some 80 percent of respondents said they saw higher sales in 2021 than in 2020, and nearly 70 percent said their sales last year were higher than 2019, Ms. Hill said.

This being the New York Times, there is a focus on the fact that many of these bookstores are women- and minority-owned and focused. Which I don’t oppose; let a thousand bookstores bloom — just don’t make me buy something from all of them. Especially ones that may resemble the parody feminist bookstore in Portlandia (sketches about which were filmed in a real feminist bookstore . . . until the real one grew offended at the parody and cut ties with the show).

Regardless, I find this trend encouraging. For though I support free markets, my support thereof is most tested when institutions I like fall victim to economic churn. In this, I embody in myself a familiar tension on the right: Conservatives generally support markets, but also tend to embrace what Russell Kirk called the “permanent things,” whose physical manifestations can fall victim to creative destruction. Proponents of Amazon — a company I respect, and whose services I use — can talk all they want about how effective a bookseller it is. (Though they might be harder-pressed to defend the company’s own bookstores. They are sterile locales, stripped by algorithm of any real character. They resemble the newsstand-type establishments found at airports — airports, themselves paragons of neoliberalism, hence Pete Buttigieg’s affinity for them.) But bookstores have value that goes beyond the merely economic. They can, for example, serve as community hubs. As the Times story notes, many of the bookstores that survived the pandemic lockdowns were important for their communities and supported by them through that difficult time; many remain community-driven.

There is, moreover, more to buying a book than algorithms can capture. Sure, a lot can be gleaned by surveillance capitalism’s tracking of our digital identities, telling us what we want before we even realize we want it. (At some point, is it too much to wonder where the algorithms end and where our identities begin?) But some of the best books are unexpected discoveries, dependent on the physical inventory of an actual location. I’ve found some of my favorite books by wandering into a bookstore unsure of what I was going to get. I procured The Time Traveler’s Almanac, an excellent, 72-story anthology of time-travel short stories, in precisely this manner. In life, and in books, we don’t always know what we want; there is often merit in spontaneity, and in “variety,” to use another term Kirk favored.

At any rate, in this instance, the surprising success of bookstores — even amid challenges from economic reality and the convenience of competitors — resolves (temporarily) a thorny conservative dilemma. And that is far from the only reason to celebrate their prosperity.


The College Party

Supporters wait for then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign rally in Columbia, S.C., February 11, 2020. (Randall Hill/Reuters)

Josh Kraushaar says we are witnessing “a political realignment in real time.” He writes that “Democrats now have a bigger advantage among white college graduates than they do with nonwhite voters, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.

It’s also very much worth your time to look at Nate Cohn’s writeup of the results at the Times. “The liberal backlash against conservative advances in the court appears to have helped Democrats most among white college graduates, who are relatively liberal and often insulated by their affluence from economic woes,” he writes. “Just 17 percent of white college-educated Biden voters said an economic issue was the most important one facing the country, less than for any other racial or educational group.”

Cohn adds:

The fight for congressional control is very different among the often less affluent, nonwhite and moderate voters who say the economy or inflation is the biggest problem facing the country. They preferred Republican control of Congress, 62 percent to 25 percent, even though more than half of the voters who said the economy was the biggest problem also said abortion should be mostly legal.

This is really the most massive electoral shift over the course of my political consciousness. A quarter century ago David Brooks used to write humorous essays in the Weekly Standard about how affluent, college-educated Republicans in Chicago were starting to feel alienated from their party during the Gingrich-revolution era. Here’s a taste from his 1998 essay “Rich Republicans“:

Winnetka still has a Republican congressman, John Porter, but you wouldn’t exactly call him a Gingrich or a Lott or even a Dole Republican. His voting record makes him an extremist in the pursuit of moderation: He scores about a 50 percent in the liberal/conservative vote ratings year after year. He opposed more of the items in the Contract With America than any other Republican but one. He tends to support spending cuts but oppose Republican tax cuts. He enthusiastically backs federal funding for the arts, gun control, and environmental initiatives (he’s been endorsed by the Sierra Club). He’s also pro-choice, rejecting the gag rule that would have banned abortion counseling at federally funded clinics.

When you ask Winnetkans why they are disenchanted with the Republican party, they sometimes go an entire six or seven seconds before they mention the religious Right. To be elected in Winnetka you have to demonstrate you are on the correct side of the cultural divide that splits the GOP between the sane moderates and the Bible-thumping crazies.

Winnetka is now in the ninth Congressional district, which has been represented by Democrat Jan Schakowsky since 1999. It’s a D+20 seat.

Brooks predicted that the future belonged to rich Republicans because everyone was getting rich, and so culture-war politics would die down. What he missed is that college-educated Democrats were going to make peace with financial markets and upward mobility. In many parts of the country, the noisy protest against the liberal establishment has driven rich Republicans out. For me the great shift was signaled when moderate Republican Chris Shays lost his seat along the Gold Coast of Connecticut to a Goldman Sachs Democrat. The natural predominance of affluent voters (college-educated whites for Dems) over their party is reinforced and magnified by the same class’s dominance in media, nonprofits, and academia. This ascendance coincided with the diminution and dissolution of organized labor. Now, the Democrats go to conferences with college-educated “Latinx” voters, and compare all Hispanics to tacos, as mere tokens of diversity. In this environment, Republicans are getting off easy. It’s no surprise they are attracting more Hispanic voters.

National Security & Defense

U.S. Intelligence Warns about Iranian Assassination Plots: Report

Demonstrators hold placards depicting Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, during a protest against the killing of Soleimani, in Istanbul, Turkey, January 5, 2020. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

Iran’s terrorism campaign targeting top current and former U.S. government officials continues, according to a National Counterterrorism Center report obtained by Yahoo News. The center reportedly sent an assessment on the threat to law-enforcement offices across the country last month.

In the document, the National Counterterrorism Center reportedly warned that Iran is advancing a “multipronged campaign” against several U.S. officials, and especially those who played a role in the killing of Iranian Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani.

“Since January 2021, Tehran has publicly expressed a willingness to conduct lethal operations inside the United States and has consistently identified former President Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and former CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie as among its priority targets for retribution,” the report stated. “Iran would probably view the killing or prosecution of a US official it considers equivalent in rank and stature to Soleimani or responsible for his death as successful retaliatory actions.”

The report cited a number of incidents linked to Iran’s campaign against the U.S., including the attempted kidnapping of Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad last year.

Yahoo quotes the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Behnam Ben Taleblu as calling it “baffling” that the Biden administration has not abandoned its talks with Iran over the assassination plots.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken seemed to confirm during a congressional hearing that Iran was targeting current U.S. officials. Previously, it was reported that Iranian terrorism plots are specifically aimed at Pompeo, in addition to former national-security adviser John Bolton.

In recent weeks, U.S. officials have attempted to break the logjam that has restricted Washington’s nuclear talks with Tehran. Officials from the U.S. and Iran held indirect negotiations in Qatar last month — the first discussions since March — which were reported to have adjourned without any substantive breakthroughs.

The two sides have been at an impasse over Iran’s demands that the U.S. lift its designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. U.S. officials have claimed for months that they would not lift the designation, a stance that President Biden described again today during an interview with an Israeli television network.

In a statement to Yahoo, the National Security Council pledged that the U.S. “will protect and defend its citizens,” without commenting directly on the intelligence report, and said that U.S. reentry into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is “in America’s national interest.”

NR Webathon

Thanks, Mitch!

National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

Okay, not that Mitch. This gratitude is directed toward a different Mitch, an NR reader (we assume) who just put us over the top in our webathon drive toward $100,000 in donations.

“This should put you over the goal,” Mitch wrote, along with his generous contribution.

With that, we hit $100,063.

That means we’ve actually raised double that, counting the largesse of a donor who offered to match our scrappy, grassroots fundraising campaign dollar for dollar up to a hundred g’s.

We’ll keep this link up for a bit longer, for anyone still wishing to chip in (as some of you still are).

Thank you to everybody who has helped make this fundraising drive a success, and for the steady stream of encouraging notes you all have sent us.


The Mideast Handshake Ban That Wasn’t

President Joe Biden, Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz stand in front of Israel’s Iron Dome defence system during a tour at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, Israel, July 13, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via Reuters)

The White House’s apparent efforts to publicly distance President Biden from the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman are making for a diplomatic spectacle. A ban on presidential handshakes during his trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia this week lasted only a few minutes after Air Force One landed in Israel today.

From the New York Times dispatch on President Biden’s arrival:

President Biden avoided shaking hands upon landing in Israel on Wednesday, just as aides hinted he would, citing the rapidly spreading new coronavirus subvariant, and fist-bumped local leaders instead. But only minutes later, he evidently forgot and shook hands with two former prime ministers anyway.

Outsized attention was focused on what Mr. Biden would do, because his staff appeared to be laying the ground to make it possible for him to avoid a much more politically unhealthy handshake later in his trip with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Because of Covid, aides suggested, he might refrain from all handshakes during the four-day swing through the region, sparing him a photo that he would prefer to avoid.

Previously, the president had attempted to obscure the fact that he even planned to meet MBS. A White House statement that conspicuously omitted any mention of a Biden–MBS meeting was quickly undercut by a statement from the Saudi embassy confirming that there would in fact be a meeting between the two.

Law & the Courts

Local ‘Water Rights’ Law Invalidated in Florida

St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park in Fellsmere, Fla. (Public Domain/via Wikimedia)

I have written here previously of several attempts to enact “nature rights” kinds of laws, specifically targeting water, in the State of Florida. The threat became so real — with Orange County passing a “rights of water” ordinance — that a law was enacted at the state level prohibiting granting rights to nature.

That didn’t stop a “lake” in Orange County from suing. But the case was just tossed based on state preemption. The same thing happened in Ohio when a local election (with a 9 percent voter turnout) granted rights to Lake Erie.

Good. That’s how it is done.

But this victory should not make us sanguine. “Nature rights” and “animal rights” activists will keep trying. And there is no denying they are making incremental inroads. Six rivers and two glaciers have “rights.” More than 30 U.S. cities have granted rights to nature. So have several Latin American countries’ statutes and/or constitutions, and so ruled a court in India. An Argentine court granted “nonhuman personhood” to an orangutan. The New York Court of Appeals denied personhood to elephants, but only by a 7–2 margin. When that was tried on chimps in the same court just a few years before, it didn’t even get a hearing. Step by step, inch by inch.

The time is now for all U.S. states and the federal government to enact laws that restrict “rights” to the human realm and deny direct legal standing to any animal or aspect of the natural world in any court of law. As the Florida lawsuit’s outcome shows, such laws could stop these subversive movements cold.

That would not stop debate about environmentalism and animal welfare. Nor should it. But it would allow debate on these important issues to be approached from the correct perspectives that also includes cost–benefit considerations and the importance of human thriving and economic well-being.

Politics & Policy

Literally, Mr. President


Joe Biden is one of those guys who uses “literally” to mean the opposite of “literally,” which is “figuratively.”

But the often-misused word of the moment is “decimate.” To decimate something is to reduce it by one-tenth, from the Roman practice of killing every tenth member of a mutinous legion as a punitive measure. If you have a dollar and you lose a dime, your holdings have been decimated.

With inflation at almost 10 percent, the Biden administration’s policies are contributing to the (almost) decimation of Americans’ savings.

The old electoral question is, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

Two years in, the answer is: No, we’re feeling financially decimated.

Literally, Mr. President.



Ohio Man Arrested for Rape of Ten-Year-Old Girl Who Traveled to Indiana for Abortion


The Columbus Dispatch confirms the story that a young girl in Ohio who was raped traveled to Indiana for an abortion, and an arrest has been made in the case:

​​A Columbus man has been charged with impregnating a 10-year-old Ohio girl, whose travel to Indiana to seek an abortion led to international attention  following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade and activation of Ohio’s abortion law.

Gershon Fuentes, 27, whose last known address was an apartment on Columbus’ Northwest Side, was arrested Tuesday after police say he confessed to raping the child on at least two occasions. He’s since been charged with rape, a felony of the first degree in Ohio.

Columbus police were made aware of the girl’s pregnancy through a referral by Franklin County Children Services that was made by her mother on June 22, Det. Jeffrey Huhn testified Wednesday morning at Fuentes’ arraignment. On June 30, the girl underwent a medical abortion in Indianapolis, Huhn said. . . .

The criminal charges and testimony from the Columbus detective confirms the disturbing story that has become a key flash point in the national furor over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

The Indianapolis Star, a Gannett sister paper of The Dispatch, first reported earlier this month that a 10-year-old rape victim traveled from Ohio to Indiana for abortion services after most abortions became illegal in her home state. The account was attributed to Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis physician who provides abortion services.

Politics & Policy

Arnold Kling on Our Political Culture, Awash in Enablers


The always sharp Arnold Kling writes here about the three major forces in American political culture: the Deceivers, the Skeptics, and the Enablers.

Among our Deceivers — Clinton, Obama, Trump. Among the Skeptics — Thomas Sowell, Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan.

Kling devotes most of his analysis to the Enablers. He writes, “Enablers are those who help Deceivers gain power. Think of people of strong partisan faith. They think that the candidate they are voting for is not a Deceiver. They take the professed intentions of political activists at face value.”

Yes, and the media and our higher-education system are awash in Enablers. Kling continues, “The academy and the press used to be bastions of skepticism. Professors once defied the bully Joseph McCarthy. Now, left-wing McCarthyism rules the campus. The press used to question the official narrative coming from Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon. Today, those same newspapers denounce as ‘disinformation’ anyone who dares to question the official narrative of Deceivers like Dr. Fauci.”

There is a lot of money and prestige to be gained through Enabling, just as there used to be for royal courtiers.

Hat tip: Don Boudreaux.

Film & TV

Happy 80th Birthday to America’s Greatest Living Movie Star

Harrison Ford attends the premiere of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in Los Angeles, Calif., December 16, 2019. (Phil McCarten/Reuters)

Last month marked the 80th birthday of the greatest living rock star. Today marks the same milestone for our greatest living movie star: Harrison Ford.

Oh, sure, you could make the case for the Everyman actor Tom Hanks, or for a more chameleon-like performer such as Robert DeNiro or Meryl Streep. But there is more to being a Movie Star than being an actor, and besides that, there is a pretty good case to be made that even Hanks, even DeNiro — even compelling movie stars such as Denzel Washington and Tom Cruise — have not made quite as many iconic films and created quite as many indelible characters as Ford. Maybe the only living Hollywood figure bigger than Ford — the only one who would clearly surpass him in the “if he died, he’d be the anchor of the Oscar montage” test — is Steven Spielberg.

Of course, I’m biased: I have seen more than two dozen of his movies, more than those of any other star, and having been five years old when Star Wars came out, I was in the heart of the generation that grew up wanting to be Han Solo and Indiana Jones. But even if he’s not No. 1, Ford is unquestionably in the pantheon of the greatest movie stars in history. Ford could have done little after his breakout role in Star Wars and its original two sequels, and he’d still be at least as iconic as Mark Hamill. He followed that up with Raiders of the Lost Ark, turning Indiana Jones into a second career-making, trilogy-spawning character, one that was just as identifiably Harrison Ford, yet distinct from Han Solo: an adventurous rogue, but one with a scholarly side. He took over the Jack Ryan character from Alec Baldwin in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. He brought Scott Turow’s best novel to the screen in the morally tangled Presumed Innocent, and memorably rebooted a classic Sixties TV character in The Fugitive. If the space opera of Star Wars invented modern science-fiction blockbusters, Blade Runner invented the dystopian sci-fi film, with Ford as its harrowed protagonist — then, Ford took basically the same big-city detective character into the opposite situation in Witness. Romantic comedy? He co-starred in Working Girl, as the foil who allows Melanie Griffith to shine, and stepped into Humphrey Bogart’s shoes in a remake of Sabrina. He plausibly played the president as an authority figure and an action hero in Air Force One. He had small roles in big pictures early in his career (Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, American Graffiti) and has done memorable turns as a major supporting player late (42, in which he played Branch Rickey, and Ender’s Game). And he’s stretched out his acting muscles at times, too, in films such as Regarding Henry and What Lies Beneath. Even returning late in life to revive his original characters amid shambolic scripts and ill-considered stunts, he brought gravitas and wry humor to lines like “It belongs in a museum!” and “That’s not how the Force works!”

The fact that Ford is only a month younger than Paul McCartney — who was a household name 13 years before Star Wars — is a reminder of something striking: He turned 35 not long after his breakout role hit theaters. Ford is four months older than Joe Biden, who was elected to the United States Senate five years before Star Wars. He spent a decade as a struggling actor, supporting himself working as a carpenter and other jobs, before he hit it big. As a result, his career as a star has always been grounded in realism, mature confidence, and a certain world-weariness that sometimes comes off as cynicism and sometimes as exasperation. Offscreen, he can be blunt and cranky, but also, as a pilot, just as daring as his characters. Doing his own stunts in Raiders, he had to outrun a 300-pound boulder that could have crushed him — for three takes in a row. Never tell him the odds.

Star Wars in particular doesn’t work without the grounding that Ford’s humor and swagger brought to the film, a leavening presence that was badly missing in the prequels. Hamill memorably imitated Ford’s grasp of what Star Wars was all about:

Ford’s superpower has always been that he doesn’t have a superpower. He may look great in a white tuxedo, but there is an old-fashioned lunch-pail masculinity to his screen presence. Han Solo didn’t carry a lightsaber or use the Force. Indiana Jones could approach the supernatural with reverence, but he couldn’t command it, and he was terrified of snakes. Deckard was a man against superhuman machines. Ford did a lot of his own stunts not only because he had the physical guts and athleticism to do them, but because his characters didn’t do things that a normal man couldn’t match. He was well-built but never had the gym-ripped physique of a Schwarzenegger or a Rambo-era Stallone; he looked like what he was, a guy who built his muscles doing hard work. Over and over in his action scenes, Ford’s characters got beat up, battered, and left for dead, or managed to escape through wit, daring, and luck — all of which made us care more about his heroes because we could see them pay the physical toll of heroism. The most characteristic of his scenes is when, as a bruised Indiana Jones getting bandaged by Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, he at first protests that “I don’t need any help,” then tells her, “it’s not the years, it’s mileage” — then, when he finally accepts help, uses it to get her to kiss him until a damaged Indy dozes off:

Real heroes aren’t Superman. They get cut, and they bleed, and they keep going. Thanks for sharing the mileage with us.

Film & TV

What Worked, and What Didn’t Work, in This Season of Stranger Things

From the Stranger Things Season 4 official trailer (Stranger Things/Screengrab via YouTube)

I will try not to duplicate what Bradley J. Birzer and Jack Butler wrote in their assessments of the fourth season of Stranger Things . . .

Spoilers ahead!

The good news is the fourth season was epic and served up a long buffet table of satisfying moments. The bad news is that the lengthy and overstuffed season proves that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing – and that this fun, charming show is starting to get too big and unwieldy, and maybe starting to run off the tracks . . .

I expected this season to show some growing pains; when filming gets delayed for six months because of the pandemic, and nearly three years pass between seasons, teenage actors are going to sprout a few inches. I can cut the show slack over Finn Wolfhard looking really tall for a high school freshman and Caleb McLaughlin looking like he’s ready to get drafted into the NBA.

Credit the Duffer brothers for their willingness to try something new, even if not every new change worked. Your mileage may vary, but to me, the longer episodes turned into a slog. The storytelling pattern of building up to a cliffhanger in one storyline and then suddenly switching to another storyline became more annoying and frustrating than dramatic and exciting. Nor was it possible to pretend that all the subplots were equally interesting; Mike, Jonathan, Will and Argyle disappeared for about two episodes because they were just driving across the country.

The greatest strength of Stranger Things is the varied cast of likable, relatable, well-acted characters. The Duffer brothers were almost showing off with that first episode scene of Chrissy, the popular but troubled cheerleader, trying to buy drugs from Eddie, the heavy-metal troublemaker. Here we have a scene with two new characters, with only a minimal connection to our protagonists, and once again those 80s stock characters defy the stereotypes – Eddie’s a kind and empathetic guy, Chrissy’s sweet and vulnerable, and by the end of the scene, we’ve warmed to each character enormously. (And then, of course, because this is Hawkins, terrible things happen to them.)

This pattern of introducing a seemingly stereotypical character and then flipping everything upside down (no pun intended) is Stranger Things’ most reliable trick. Heavy-drinking small town sheriff Hopper is actually a good detective, popular handsome guy Steve wants to be a better person, Joyce is way more resilient than she initially seems, good-girl-next-door Nancy’s tough as nails when it counts, and goofy nerd Dustin is usually the most level-headed and clear-thinking character in any crisis. I would watch a show about the town of Hawkins even when it isn’t being besieged by terrible monsters.

And maybe that’s one of the problems with this season. As this year’s storylines ventured well beyond the town to far-flung Russia and California, Stranger Things seemed to become less easily distinguished from those typically overstuffed Hollywood blockbusters at the multiplex: crashing helicopters! Crashing planes! Secret underground U.S. military bases! Secret Russian prisons! Long trips through the increasingly-less-mysterious Upside Down! Murray’s got a flamethrower!

We’ve come a long way from that first season masterpiece, where the budgetary limits kept the antagonist offscreen for long stretches – it was like Jaws on land, where a mysterious, predatory monster could strike at any time. We’ve had a serious threat inflation over the past few seasons; in the first season, just one Demogorgon seemed like a nearly insurmountable menace. Now we’ve got Vecna, demo-bats, the vines, the Soviets and their experiments, Russian Demogorgons who are connected to the Mind Flayer, the maniacal vigilante basketball team, Brenner, rogue military units…

This was the first season where I felt like the kids were genuinely bratty ingrates to their parents; it makes little sense for the perpetually-at-wit’s-end Joyce to be read into the town’s sinister secrets, but for the Wheelers, Dustin’s mom, or the Sinclairs to be considered too old and closed-minded to understand. And during the whole “the team suits up and gets ready for battle” montage, for the first time, our heroes looked ridiculously naïve and in denial about the severity of the threat they were about to confront. Vecna is telekinetically snapping bones and making teenagers bleed from their eyeballs without breaking a sweat, and the team is convinced a shotgun will stop him – while simultaneously believing the local cops or any other armed government authority will only get in the way.

The “Satanic panic” storyline made the reverse point of what the Duffers likely intended. In real life, the “Satanic panic” featured allegedly responsible adults becoming insanely paranoid about relatively harmless teenage activities like Dungeons and Dragons or heavy metal music. In Stranger Things, the town really is being menaced by malevolent demon-like extra-dimensional creatures who target teenagers! As much as we’re supposed to hate Jason, the near-psychotic leader of that maniacal vigilante basketball team, he’s right on the facts! If the Devil isn’t in Hawkins, Vecna is close enough.

I’ll give the Duffers a little credit for paying off that season two scene of a former Hawkins lab employee claiming that Brenner was still alive. But no one is even going to try to explain how Brenner survived that extremely fatal-looking Demogorgon attack in season one, huh? We watched lovable Bob Newby get ripped up like a chew toy for Rottweillers, but that Demogorgon just gave Brenner a little scratch, huh? Okay.

The California boys may have been the most extraneous thread in the narrative, but the Brenner subplot worked the least. As good an actor as Matthew Modine is, there’s no way we, the audience, are ever going to trust, like, or begrudgingly respect Brenner. All the way back to the first couple episodes of season one, we could see he was callous, abusive and manipulative to Eleven! Putting Eleven (and for that matter, Paul Reiser’s often-hilarious Dr. Owens) in situations where they begrudgingly trust Brenner makes those characters look naïve and foolish.

Finally, it’s tough to shake the feeling that the Duffer Brothers wrote themselves into a corner, similar to the way that Hopper’s fate at the end of season three meant that much of season four would have to focus on his rescue from the Soviet Union. With the awkward split between the characters’ ages and the actors’ ages, it made sense to jump ahead at least a year or two – to let Hawkins enjoy a respite and check back in on the town’s mysterious events in 1988 or so. (I did like the creators’ idea that the story had to end before the release of Beetlejuice in theaters in March 1988, because that’s the kind of movie the characters would watch, and they would realize that young actress Winona Ryder looks so much like a young Joyce Byers.) Instead, this season’s cliffhanger ending makes the threat seem immediate, and season five appears likely to begin very shortly after the closing scene and the ominous final image of the nightmarish Upside Down spilling out into the Rightside-Up world.

It all looks like we’re headed to a big, series-finale climax, but . . . what if bigger isn’t better?

NR Webathon

Running the Race

Wave one runners cross the Boston Marathon starting line in Boston, Mass., April 15, 2019. (Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports)

Rich and Mark have had fun with our ongoing webathon, going back-and-forth about college football. But I’m not much of a football man. My heart (and lungs, and hamstrings, and quads . . . ) is in long-distance running. “My sport is your sport’s punishment” reads at least one of the race shirts I’ve accumulated over the years. “No half times, no time outs, no substitutions: It must be the only true sport” is another one of the cheesy (yet true) quotes I’ve seen circulated about this insane pastime.

Indeed, as our webathon approaches its finish line, I can’t help but to think of one of the most famous – and most ridiculous – examples of distance-running prowess in the history of the sport: the 1982 Boston Marathon. Famously chronicled in John Brant’s Duel in the Sun, that year’s race was a 26.2-mile battle between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. Salazar, already famous nationwide for his running feats, was the favorite. But Beardsley was dogged. Both persisted through unfavorable conditions and setbacks for themselves. The outcome was in doubt until the very end, when Salazar edged out Beardsley by two seconds. Imagine that: 42,000 meters, and a race ends up being decided by approximately nine of them.

Forty years ago, only one of those two could win. (And both were severely weakened by the effort.) But today, those who give to our latest NR webathon can all win, and NR can only get stronger. If you’ve enjoyed our coverage of abortion, of the transgender assault on reality; if you’ve cottoned to our affirmation of America’s founding principles, of the heritage of Western civilization – please consider giving to our webathon. Salazar and Beardsley ran alone against each other that day, but we’ve always run our race with our readers alongside. We wouldn’t have it any other way, and remain grateful for your support – which, as a reminder, will be matched by a generous donor up to $100,000.



Politics & Policy

New Reporting from Fox News on Story of Caitlin Bernard and Young Ohio Rape Victim


On Tuesday evening, I reported on the homepage that Dr. Caitlin Bernard sat down for a friendly interview with MSNBC last week but has refused to answer key factual questions — from the Washington Post Fact Checker, Snopes, and National Review — about her story of a ten-year-old Ohio rape victim who traveled to Indiana for an abortion allegedly due to Ohio’s six-week legal limit on abortion.

The anonymous Ohio doctor in the story would be obligated to report a case of suspected child rape to the authorities, but Ohio’s attorney general says there is no indication such a case has been reported anywhere in the state. Bernard would not tell the Washington Post Fact Checker the jurisdiction in which the alleged crime occurred.

Shortly after my report was published, Fox News reported that according to an anonymous “source familiar [with] the situation” there was a ten-year-old girl from Ohio who went to Indiana seeking an abortion, but “what is still unclear tonight,” Fox News reporter Aishah Hasnie said, “is whether this girl was forced to cross state lines as [President Biden] alleged, or was she simply referred to an expert in a different state? As Ohio’s attorney general told [Fox News host] Jesse Watters last night, the girl did not need to leave the state, she would have been legally able to get an abortion in Ohio.”

Update (July 13, 1:27p.m.): The Columbus Dispatch confirms the story that a ten-year-old girl in Ohio who was raped traveled to Indiana for an abortion, and an arrest has been made. 

Economy & Business

‘Beware Wishful Thinking About Inflation and Recession’


A sobering column from Greg Ip in the Wall Street Journal:

Inflation has peaked. The Fed’s tightening has accomplished its mission. Strong labor market and consumer fundamentals will keep any recession mild.

These are among the story lines providing a tailwind to stocks in recent weeks. They feed hopes the Federal Reserve has achieved a soft landing: bringing inflation down to 2% without pushing up unemployment or tipping the economy into recession.

A reality check is in order. A soft landing is certainly possible, but these story lines look more like wishful thinking than a tough-minded appraisal of the Fed’s task. Let’s review.


This Is the Post-Roe Way: Illinois Bishop Prioritizes Moms


The Catholic bishop of Belleville, Ill., has decided to sell the mansion where bishops there have lived for 70 years to raise money for a maternity fund for pregnant mothers.

Bishop Michael McGovern is planning to move from the bishop’s residence at 925 Centreville Ave. to the rectory of the Cathedral of St. Peter on Harrison Street in downtown Belleville this summer. The bishop’s residence is a 2 ½ story, brick home that was built around 1860 and has 13 rooms. . . .

“I have prayed and reflected on this decision for many months,” McGovern said in the news release. “I enjoy Belleville and think it is important for the Bishop of the Diocese to continue living near the Cathedral. I hope to live more simply and, as a pastor, I believe the proceeds from the sale of the home can be better used in helping pregnant mothers in need, assisting families seeking a Catholic education and providing programs for our youth.”

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, McGovern released a statement saying the decision “gives fresh hope to Americans who wish to work to create a compassionate culture where every human being is welcomed in life, cherished in the community, and protected by law. “Because abortion law in Illinois continues to be among the most extreme in the nation, all Illinoisans must strive to assist women who are pregnant to welcome their children, even in the most difficult circumstances,” he wrote.

More from the local paper here.

Hopefully, someone will buy it and make it a maternity home or transitional housing for moms. People need to think boldly and creatively in post-Roe America.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch headline, by the way, was: “Belleville Diocese to sell bishop’s residence, use cash for anti-abortion battle.” The more people see Christians unmistakably living the Beatitudes, the less everything will be seen through a political lens, I pray.


Pompeo Impressive on Fake Civics Bill

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waves at the Conservative Political Action Conference crowd in Orlando, Fla., February 25, 2022. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

Last week, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo issued a solid and thoughtful takedown of the “Civics Secures Democracy Act” (CSDA), a bill that purports to promote civics education, but that in fact empowers the Biden administration to push critical race theory (CRT) on the states. Pompeo now joins former President Trump, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and Florida governor Ron DeSantis as a prominent Republican opponent of CSDA.

Pompeo’s CSDA takedown shows impressive command of the issue. Although we think of him as a former secretary of state, Pompeo was a four-term congressman too. Back then, Pompeo was a member of the Congressional Constitution Caucus, “dedicated to downsizing the amount of power usurped from the states by the federal government.” (He also finished first in his class at West Point.) This background shows in Pompeo’s remarks on CSDA.

Pompeo understands that handing $6 billion to Biden’s Education Department will enable it to “lure and bribe states into adopting its woke agenda.” “Lure and bribe” is exactly right. CSDA doesn’t openly or formally impose CRT on states. Pompeo understands, however, that the bill will force a choice between state and local control of schools and a giant bundle of cash for jumping onto Biden’s woke bandwagon. “Soft coercion,” Pompeo rightly calls it. That phrase implicitly answers defenders of the bill, who stress that CSDA doesn’t formally “mandate” curriculum. Why force you to dance to my tune when I can bribe you to do it instead?

As a congressman, Pompeo denounced Common Core, co-sponsoring a resolution that condemned it. He understands that the “civics” bill is an effort to complete Common Core by extending those failed standards into areas deemed too controversial for the initial version. In general, Pompeo’s grasp of the issues at stake in the CSDA debate is impressive. There’s obviously more to Pompeo than defense and foreign policy.

It’s no secret that Pompeo is mulling a presidential run. In light of his facility with education issues — and his willingness to jump into the fray well ahead of Republicans on the Hill — I’d say he deserves a serious look.


Of Latinos and Hispanics and Tejanos

First lady Jill Biden speaks next to President Joe Biden during an Independence Day celebration on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

A little bit more about Jill Biden and the “Latinx” peoples.

I was born and raised in Texas, and grew up in a county in which about 40 percent of the people may, if they choose, legitimately check the “Hispanic” box on Form 4473, had some Riveras in the extended family, etc., and I suppose I made it to the end of the 20th century there without ever meeting a single “Latino,” much less a “Latinx.” (Is that pronounced Latin-Ex or La-TINKS?) I did know a lot of “Mexicans.” Sometime in the late 1990s, I began to meet a few Mexican-Americans, but, until then, the Perezes and Mendozas and Esquivels were self-identified as Mexicans — few of whom had ever set foot in Mexico, much less been born there, and who signified residents and citizens of the Republic of Mexico with the identifier “Mexican Mexican,” the way Germans call a guy with an M.D. and a Ph.D. “Herr Doctor Doctor.”

Mexican wasn’t exactly accurate, but everybody seemed to understand what everybody else meant.  Those were less exacting times, as I recall.

I follow the usual rule of calling people whatever they want to be called (within reason, “Dr.” Biden), and if “Mexican” is too rough and imprecise, “Hispanic” too synthetic, “Latino” too . . . obviously associated with the grammatical facts of the Spanish language, etc., I’ll use the name the people in question prefer. I remember when “Chicano” had a moment.

But the problem with “the people in question” is the issue of exactly which people it is we are talking about. The idea that there is some kind of overarching identity conjoining all of the world’s Spanish-speaking people and descendants of Spanish-speaking people is preposterous. That’s one upside of the Mexican-American, Cuban-American, etc., formulation: Those descriptors at least take notice of some distinction among people from really very different backgrounds.

But it’s still pretty lumpy: There are Texas families from Mexican backgrounds (or, more accurately, from backgrounds in the Spanish empire) who have been in the same communities — and, in some cases, on the same land — for hundreds of years. They aren’t necessarily culturally, economically, or politically very much like recent arrivals and itinerant agricultural workers. Some Tejano people have a pretty strong preference for “Tejano.”

“Latino” is a little like how Italian-American Catholics in Philadelphia and Czech-speaking people in Texas used to be lumped together as “white ethnics.” I can imagine some Dr. Biden type seeing them all as cannoli and kolaches, respectively.

(Incidentally, there’s your real Texas fusion: the breakfast-taco kolache.)

This complexity sometimes perplexes political observers, who wonder how it is that “Latinos” in Texas vote so differently from “Latinos” in California.

My working theory is that the Latino voters in Texas are Texans and the ones in California are Californians. My experience is that people with Spanish surnames in Texas tend to vote like city folk if they live in cities and like country folk if they live in the country, like bankers if they are bankers and like church-goers if they are church-goers.

People who are surprised to meet Republican Party county chairmen in Texas with such names as Peña-Garza and Rodriguez and De la Garza mixed in with Kuciemba (Polish) and Hadju (Hungarian) and Hagenbuch (German) don’t really know the state or its people.

Hence “Dr.” Biden’s risible breakfast-taco pandering.

I once asked a Republican campaign manager who had had pretty good luck connecting with Mexican-American voters in Texas what kind of outreach he did. He explained that he didn’t do any “Latino” outreach at all — his district was about half Mexican-American, and he did small-business outreach that included all the business associations, Christian outreach that included all the churches, school-choice outreach that included all the neighborhoods, farm-policy outreach that included all the farmers, etc.

And that is a better idea than having your candidate show up in front of an interest group once or twice a year and mumble some bad Spanish at people who, in many cases, wouldn’t understand that Spanish even if it were any good. At least “Dr.” Biden — with the exception of her weird failed attempt to pronounce the word bodega — spared her audience that.


Biden Insists He Merely Wanted to ‘Reorient Relations’ with the Country He Pledged to Make a ‘Pariah’

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

It is easily overlooked, but last week, previewing his trip to the Middle East, President Biden offered another whopper of a lie:

From the start, my aim was to reorient — but not rupture — relations with a country that’s been a strategic partner for 80 years.

“Reorient — but not rupture — relations” is a curious way to characterize Biden’s position, as he described it on November 21, 2019:

ANDREA MITCHELL: Mr. Vice President, the CIA has concluded that the leader of Saudi Arabia directed the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The State Department also says the Saudi government is responsible for executing nonviolent offenders and for torture. President Trump has not punished senior Saudi leaders. Would you?

JOE BIDEN: Yes, and I said it at the time. Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered, and I believe on the order of the crown prince. And I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are. There’s very little social redeeming value of the — in the present government in Saudi Arabia. [Emphasis added.]

So Biden just wanted to “reorient relations” with the pariah state that had very little social redeeming value? Huh?

Biden says or has his staff write this stuff, and he just hopes no one notices.

Have you noticed that the media’s fact-checkers very rarely get around to Biden statements like this? Meanwhile, Reuters fact-checkers assure us that the “U.S. Supreme Court has not voted to overturn 2020 presidential election result,” as some random schmo on social media claimed. Yeah, no shinola, Sherlock. I know the Supreme Court has had a lot of big decisions lately, but I figure that if the Court overturned the presidential election nearly two years after it occurred — not an authority they have under the U.S. Constitution! — we would have heard about it from someone beyond the Twitter account “DJTTracker.”

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Business Taxes


Casey Mulligan writes about how inflation distorts the corporate-income tax:

As inflation rises, as it did in 2021 and 2022, many businesses see their revenue, labor costs, and materials costs increase together. However, the depreciation expense stays fixed, because the IRS defines depreciation according to what the business paid in the past for its capital, rather than what it would pay now to replace and maintain the capital it uses during the course of doing business. This makes a business’s income subject to tax — and its tax liability — grow faster than its revenue, labor costs, and materials costs. If inflation were high enough, it would about double the share of revenue going to corporate tax, even with no change in the statutory 21 percent rate.

To the extent that inflation is expected to continue, the inflation tax on business discourages investment today because businesses expect that the government will get a bigger slice of the proceeds from today’s investment. Indeed, the two-percentage-point increase in corporate bond rates suggests that market participants do not see today’s inflation as entirely transitory.

Read the whole thing here.