Coronavirus Update

How Our Federal Overseers Do Science

Loading...
Dr. Francis Collins holds up a model of coronavirus, during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing in Washington, D.C., July 2, 2020. (Saul Loeb/Reuters)

Phil Magness, that irrepressible foe of statism, managed to obtain emails between White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and NIH director Francis Collins in which they hatch an attack on the Great Barrington Declaration. (The GBD was authored by three well-known epidemiologists, arguing that the best approach to COVID was not locking down, but targeted protection for the truly vulnerable.)

Dissent from the federal government’s chosen strategy was quite unwelcome. “There needs to be a quick and devastating takedown of its premises,” Collins wrote in reference to the GBD. Real scientists would investigate the premises first, then decide if the declaration should be subject to a “takedown,” but no such thing ever happened. The authors were disparaged, their motives impugned, their conclusions ridiculed, but one looks in vain for anything like a scientific counter-argument.

It’s enough to make you suspect that the real objective of Fauci and friends was expansion of government authority rather than protection against disease.

(Hat tip: Don Boudreaux)

Culture

Carols and Candidates

Loading...
In front of Grand Central Terminal, New York City, December 2021 (Jay Nordlinger)

A couple of links for you — starting with this one, to my latest Music for a While, which is a Christmas episode. This year, as usual, I have a variety of music associated with the season: from the Baroque era on up to, oh, Oscar Peterson jamming on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Besides Oscar, performers include Marilyn Horne, E. Power Biggs, and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

It occurred to me the other day: Doesn’t “E. Power Biggs” sound like the name of a gang leader, rather than an organist?

Here is another link: which is to my latest Q&A, whose guest is Josh Kraushaar. Josh is one of the best political journalists in all of America — one of the best reporters and analysts. He writes the “Against the Grain” column for National Journal. Incidentally, his name is pronounced “KRAUSE-hahr” (i.e., “curly hair”).

Josh was bitten by the political bug early. When he came home from summer camp in 1992 — age ten — he was glued to the political conventions: the one that nominated Governor Bill Clinton and the one that renominated President Bush. On Election Night that year, Josh taped CNN’s coverage on a VHS machine.

By the way, I listened to the Republican convention of 1976 — Ford vs. Reagan — on the radio. (I was twelve, and therefore a late bloomer, by Kraushaarian standards.)

For his tenth birthday, Josh’s parents got him a copy of The Almanac of American Politics, a.k.a. the bible (of American politics, that is). His first job in Washington turned out to be researcher for a later edition of the almanac, the bible.

In our Q&A, Josh Kraushaar and I talk over many things: Biden — is he all there? Harris — does she have what it takes? Trump — are he and the GOP at one? The leaders on the Hill: Pelosi, McCarthy, Schumer, and McConnell — what are their strengths and weaknesses? And so forth.

We also talk about the media, which, of course, play such an important role in our politics. Changes in our media have changed our politics, as Josh points out. No one agrees on basic facts (forgetting opinions). Everyone is in his own silo — going to his favorite Facebook pages, listening to his favorite talk-radio hosts, or what have you. This has made a huge difference (and not a positive one).

Josh Mandel, the frontrunner for the GOP Senate nomination in Ohio, recently tweeted, “General Flynn is a patriot, Adam Kinzinger is a traitor.” Does this style attract voters? Plenty of them, yes.

At the end of our podcast, I ask Josh Kraushaar to name some politicians he finds interesting and worth watching. He says he likes politicians who go against the grain (as in the name of his National Journal column). Who demonstrate independence of mind. On the Democratic side, he mentions Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, and Eric Adams, the incoming mayor of New York. (Incidentally, isn’t “Polis” an extraordinary name for a politician?) On the Republican side, he mentions Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Man, does Kraushaar know a lot about politics. He’s an encyclopedia, as you will hear. And he makes sense out of the information he garners. Again, to hear our pod, go here. And to hear the Christmas show: here.

Politics & Policy

Houston Chronicle: Liberal Texas County Might Use ‘Covid Relief’ Money to Fund Abortion

Loading...

The Houston Chronicle reports: “Harris County can spend public money to counter Texas’ strict new abortion law, analysts say.” I have more on the story on the homepage.

“President Biden and congressional Democrats spent trillions of dollars in reckless spending earlier this year without the Hyde Amendment to protect taxpayer dollars from creating a slush fund for the abortion industry,” Montana GOP senator Steve Daines, chairman of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, told National Review. “It’s shameful that Democrats are trying to pass another multitrillion-dollar tax-and-spending spree to provide even more taxpayer funding for abortions. This is a gross misuse of hardworking Americans’ tax dollars that will result in the loss of innocent lives.”

Immigration

Three Strikes — Is Amnesty Out?

Loading...
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2021. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Reuters)

The Senate parliamentarian for the third time has ruled against inclusion of an amnesty for illegal aliens in the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. Two questions remain: Can Democrats conjure up yet another gimmick to try to sneak into the bill work permits and Social Security numbers to illegal aliens? And what about the other immigration provisions in the bill?

As soon as the ruling was announced, Durbin, Schumer, and the four Hispanic Democrats in the Senate issued a joint statement saying, in part, “we will pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act.” They could try to do this by overruling the parliamentarian or just abolishing the filibuster altogether, but that seems unlikely. Manchin has said he won’t support either move, and there are other Democrats who are more quietly opposed, however much the noisy Left demands it.

Perhaps more interesting is the second issue — the bill’s changes to legal immigration. The two main provisions would result in the issuance of about 1 million extra green cards, beyond the current numerical limits. One measure would “recapture” “unused” green cards from past years (they weren’t unused, but brazen lies are par for the course in immigration lobbying), while the other would allow certain people on green-card waiting lists to buy their way to the front of the line. In both cases, the main beneficiaries would be workers imported by tech companies on H-1B visas to replace Americans in the IT industry.

The parliamentarian hasn’t ruled yet on whether these can be included. It seems unlikely they’d qualify because they’re not strictly budgetary matters, but we’ll see.

But suppose they are ruled in-bounds and included in the bill. There’s both a class and an ethnic angle here: The amnesty would benefit mainly less-educated, blue-collar Hispanic illegal aliens, while the green-card expansion would benefit more-educated white-collar legal workers from India and, indirectly, Big Tech.

Reflecting on this prospect, Senator Menendez said earlier this month that “it would be the height of irony that all of our efforts on immigration would be to help business and not help people who are undocumented.”

This tension is not new. The Left and Big Tech have been allied on immigration for probably two decades, with the latter providing the money and the former providing the foot soldiers. But the deal has always been that amnesty is a quid pro quo for any changes that would benefit the IT industry. Back in 2008, I was a witness at a hearing on skilled immigration, and Representative Luis Gutierrez all but told the other witnesses, all tech lobbyists, that amnesty was a prerequisite for their demands for increased imports of cheap tech workers. An excerpt:

I think we should give the high-tech industry the innovators that they need and that they should be able to remain here. My point is not that, not that I am against you. I am for you. Expand on it, then, to say how do we do that at the same time we have farm workers in pesticide-ridden fields earning low wages and say to them, “You are not really smart. You are not really very educated,” but who I could state are just as critical and relevant to the innovation of that industry as the Ph.D. and master degree students are to the high-tech industry. So, yes, let’s work on this, but I think let’s work on it on a holistic approach . . .

It’s entirely possible that at least a few hard-left House members would vote against a Senate-passed version of BBB that had no amnesty but did include a green-card giveaway for tech workers, especially considering how disappointing a stripped-down bill would be to them in other respects. So, in the interest of killing the whole thing, both immigration hawks and opponents of BBB more generally might be better off if the parliamentarian were to give the green light to inclusion of the provisions expanding legal immigration.

Politics & Policy

Austria Legalizes Assisted Suicide

Loading...
(Pixabay)

A high court in Austria ruled late last year that the rights to self-determination and a “dignified death” encompass the right to commit suicide and receive assistance. Now, the parliament has legalized prescribing poison to terminally ill and disabled people starting next year. From the Deutsche Welle story:

The Assisted Suicide Act gives the option of an advance directive — similar to a living will — only to people over 18 who are terminally ill or suffer from a permanent, debilitating condition.

Each case is to be assessed by two doctors, one of whom would have to be an expert in palliative medicine. As part of their duties, they must determine whether a patient is opting for euthanasia independently.

At least 12 weeks must pass before a patient is granted access to the procedure, to ensure that euthanasia is not being sought due to a temporary crisis. However, for patients in the “terminal phase” of an illness, the period can be shortened to two weeks.

The individual would then draw up their will with a notary or a patient advocate before being able to obtain a lethal drug from a pharmacist.

No surprise. But don’t expect these supposedly “strict guidelines” — which are pretty wide open to begin with — to stick. The court ruled that suicide and assisted suicide are fundamental rights. Since when have core liberties been restricted to particular classes of people?

If Austria follows the usual pattern, the new law will be challenged by euthanasia activists as unduly restrictive — as happened when Canada’s parliament tried to restrict the scope of euthanasia there in the wake of a court ruling. That suit will succeed, and the law will be further loosened. Eventually, say within five or ten years, Austria will have an equivalent right to death on demand as in Germany.

Make no mistake: That is the ultimate destination — if not goal — of the international euthanasia movement. And that is the scope of the debate we should be having rather than the nonsense about terminal illness, which is a tactical subterfuge deployed by activists to get people to accept the death-on-demand principal — as enunciated in the ’90s by Jack Kevorkian.

Markets

‘Socially Responsible’ Investing and Other People’s Money

Loading...
(SARINYAPINNGAM/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

From the Financial Times’ nauseatingly named “Moral Money”:

The world’s biggest money managers have been talking an increasingly impressive game when it comes to their environmental and social impact. But when it comes to using their votes to drive action, there is a marked transatlantic divide.

Definitions of “increasingly impressive” may differ.

Money managers are, for the most, managing other people’s money. And unless those other people have specifically requested that their money be invested in a way that takes into account environmental and social impact even if it hurts return (spoiler: over time it almost certainly will), then the money managers’ job is solely to manage that money in a way that generates maximum risk-appropriate return. And that’s it. There is nothing remotely impressive about using other people’s money to pursue a social or political agenda to which they may not subscribe.

One small consolation is that American money managers appear to be less “impressive” than their European counterparts. According to the London-based nonprofit ShareAction (another denizen of “socially responsible” investing’s flourishing ecosystem), which has, reports the FT, “studied how 65 of the largest US and European asset managers handled shareholder votes on environmental and social issues,” European asset managers voted, on average, for nearly two-thirds of such proposals, while their U.S. equivalents “only” supported 39 percent:

“Power not used is power abused,” Catherine Howarth, ShareAction’s chief executive, told Moral Money. “The world is entitled to expect better of institutions that control this share of the votes.”

What Howarth means is that unless that power — which, to repeat myself, is derived from other people’s money — is wielded in a way of which her organization approves, it is “abused.” And as for what the “world is entitled to expect,” the answer is, apart from what has been laid down by law or regulation, absolutely nothing. The only question that matters is what the clients of those institutions are entitled to expect. It’s their money, and they are paying the fees. “The world,” not so much.

Media

Awakening to the Lessons, and Limits, of Vaccination

Loading...
Grace Demars receives a COVID-19 vaccine at North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond, La., August 5, 2021. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

I have served up a lot of grief to CNN’s Chris Cillizza lately, and . . . er, no, I don’t regret it, he’s deserved every bit of it. But today he laid out his thinking about the pandemic, in a CNN piece and on Twitter, and I think there’s something admirable about his self-awareness of what has been driving him since the pandemic started: a belief that if he, and enough other people, just did the right things, he and his loved ones would never run into Covid-19.

“Deep down, I think I believed that being vaccinated (and boosted) would keep me from getting Covid-19 AT ALL,” Cillizza wrote on Twitter. “Why? Not sure, honestly. But I spent the better part of a year waiting for a vaccine and doing everything I could to keep my family from getting the virus. It’s hard to just turn that switch off. I think that’s why yesterday — when it felt like every person I knew was either being diagnosed with Covid or had been exposed to it — hit me so hard. Because the reality is — and has always been even if I didn’t realize it — that the vaccines don’t, really, prevent you from getting the virus. Or, at least, they don’t guarantee it won’t happen.”

Correct. Vaccines mitigate the effects of the infection and help your body fight off the virus quicker, but they do not prevent all infections. As some of us have been trying to emphasize for a while now, Covid-19 infections do not reflect a moral failing and catching Covid-19 is not a sign of personal failure. Yes, certain actions like avoiding crowds can mitigate the risk somewhat, but now that we’re dealing with a variant of the virus that is 70 times more contagious than the Delta variant, you’re probably going to run into it sooner or later. It’s just dumb luck that someone you run into and come into close enough contact with is infected and is expelling viruses. It happens. Not wearing a seat belt is reckless. Coming within six feet of another human being in the grocery store is just part of life.

The good news is that so far, the Omicron variant seems pretty mild in most cases.

Cillizza mentions being worried about his mom, and he’s not crazy to feel that way. The U.S. and the world are full of people who are fully vaccinated and boosted but still might run into serious problems from a Covid-19 infection – those who are elderly, those who are immunocompromised, those who have multiple comorbidities, or, say, someone being treated for cancer. It’s rational to worry about accidentally spreading the virus to someone who is in a higher risk category. So you take the precautions that you can, make sure the fully boosted vulnerable person is in the best shape possible, try to stay out of a hospital for the next few weeks when the Omicron wave is likely to peak, and live your life. Sure, you’ll never run into Covid-19 if you stay in your home and never interact with another human being, but who wants to live that way? And remember that catching Covid-19 is not a death sentence, even for the elderly. A September CDC report found that vaccination reduced hospitalization among those 75 and older by 76 percent. That’s not 100 percent, but that’s considerable.

A lot of us have decried the “Covid Zero” mentality — that if governments just enacted enough strict vaccination mandates, lockdowns, mask requirements, stay-at-home-orders, quarantines, occupancy limits, travel restrictions and so on, then somehow the virus would disappear. The virus is going to become endemic — like the common cold, it will always be around, but (hopefully) it is in the process of getting weaker and weaker, while more and more of the population acquires natural immunity from prior infection or well-prepared immune systems from vaccination. Whatever else you think of what Cillizza has written lately, credit him for recognizing that the “Covid Zero” approach is simply unrealistic and unworkable.

Elections

Removing the Filibuster Would Destabilize American Democracy, Not Save It

Loading...
Dusk falls over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., November 18, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

In a speech last night announcing her about-face on the filibuster (from supporting it while in the minority to opposing it while in the majority), New Hampshire senator Maggie Hassan proclaimed that “we must pass legislation to protect American democracy.” She warned that “if the partisans who are attacking our democracy have their way . . . we’ll see an Election Day that is a charade, just like in countries where democracy doesn’t exist.” This is a common argument used to rationalize obliterating regular order in the Senate: Democracy itself is at stake, so the filibuster must be nuked to preserve it.

However, this is also an argument that grows weaker the more seriously you take its premises. Removing the filibuster dramatically expands the ability of a temporary partisan majority to meddle in elections. For example, a party controlling the presidency and the Congress could set national standards for elections in a way it thinks will be to its own partisan advantage.

A partisan majority could also revise the Electoral Count Act to make it easier to throw out a state’s electoral votes — by, say, allowing a vote of one branch of Congress to be enough to toss out those votes. Or it could revise the ECA to give the vice president the unilateral ability to throw out electors that he views as “disputed” or to choose between two competing slates of electors. (This authority, you’ll recall, was exactly what Trump’s legal advisors suggested already inhered within the office of the vice president, as they attempted to overturn the 2020 presidential election.)

Right now, the fact that bipartisan buy-in is usually required to change federal election law limits those kinds of partisan abuses. In changing the incentive structure of the Senate, detonating the nuclear option removes one line of defense against electoral meddling. The end of the filibuster and a post-nuclear Senate more broadly would mean a permanent reduction in the power of individual senators as senators. Thus, calling on a senator to nuke the filibuster to pass some change to the ECA is a much different ask from calling on her to change the ECA after an earlier Senate has already gotten rid of the filibuster. In the first case, she would be voting to reduce the power of her office; in the second case, that reduction has already taken place.

Washington talks a lot these days about the importance of defending democracy. Well, the institution of the Senate plays an important role in the infrastructure of American democracy — and prudent statecraft means looking at the long-term consequences of blowing up institutions.

Politics & Policy

Two Years to Slow the Spread

Loading...
People wait for COVID-19 testing at a mobile testing location along 5th Avenue in New York City, December 13, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

In a few weeks the U.S. will almost certainly shatter all records for coronavirus infections; looking over at the U.K., which is one-fifth our size, is more fully vaccinated than we are, and which has instituted a series of severely draconian lockdowns, there are 62,000 infections right now, and the number is still shooting up. That translates to 310,000 infections in the U.S. We’ve never logged worse than about 250,000 a day. When we see these kinds of numbers in the U.S., many heads are going to explode and many policy-makers are going to try to put the hammer down on the citizens for supposedly being “irresponsible” or “not taking the virus seriously.”

In New York City this week there has been a mood collapse. The city feels about ten seconds away from full-blown panic, led by our panicker in chief, our accidental Governor Kathy Hochul. In Broadway theaters — a fully vaccinated environment in which all audience members are required to be masked — a few performers have nevertheless come down with mild Covid cases and so Hamilton, Jagged Little Pill, Mrs. Doubtfire, and several other shows have canceled performances during peak tourist season. Moulin Rouge canceled a performance while audience members were in their seats waiting for the curtain to go up. New York Post restaurant writer Steve Cuozzo has the same feeling I do: Thanks to Hochul’s hysteria, urged on by neurotic and fear-driven media personalities, New York is on the brink of returning to a March 2020–style shutdown that will have catastrophic effects. Meanwhile, in Florida, which resisted both shutdowns and masking, life goes on as usual, and the infection rate is less than one-third what it is in New York City.

The prospect of going through another round of shutdowns and school closings is madness. We must not allow our leaders to entertain them.

People are going to keep getting Covid for some time. People who have been vaccinated and are willing to accept the risk of exposure should be able to go on with their lives. Pointing fingers in an effort to find bad people to blame is a waste of time. Just four months after the northern media threw themselves a party mocking southern troglodytes and Fox News watchers for supposedly enacting a cult of death after infections surged in the South, the virus is rampaging through the North again. The states with the highest infection rates are Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The states with the lowest infection rates are Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Louisiana, and Alabama. New York City’s infection rate is more than triple Florida’s.

All of this is just as I and many others predicted. By now it really should be dawning on progressives and the media that what we’ve all been saying at NR for many months has been true: The virus doesn’t care where you live or how virtuous you are. New York City has had vaccine requirements in place in restaurants and theaters for months, and the virus is spreading in restaurants and theaters. We’re developmentally crushing our children with unnecessary and ineffective masking requirements, and yet there are a few cases in schools that will doubtless make Hochul and others start to think that we can’t afford the risk of in-person learning. Yet thanks to the Bangladesh mask study, which found months ago that cloth masks had essentially no effect and even surgical masks only had a slight effect, we know that masking and other progressive-adored rituals are not going to be the path out of the pandemic. The virus is going to keep going until it burns out.

If you’ve been vaccinated, your chances of avoiding serious illness are excellent. If you haven’t been vaccinated, that’s your choice. But there will always be some significant number of Americans who shun the vaccines, and we’re going to have to live with that too. We can’t allow panicky leaders to treat us like prisoners of Covid as we head into Year Three of the pandemic in America. Life must go on.

Breaking: Cowardly Men Love Abortion

Loading...
Pro-life activists protest outside the Supreme Court building, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Earlier this week, a young man by the name of Kaivan Shroff published an article entitled, “Men like me benefit from safe abortion access.”

By “men like me,” Shroff clearly means successful men, men who are too busy doing important things to care about any aspect of their sexual activity other than enjoyment, let alone take responsibility for it. Thanks to abortion, neither the needs and desires of the woman involved nor the life of the child who might come into being must enter his calculation.

According to his lengthy bio, Shroff is very important. He’s a senior adviser to D.C. non-profit the Institute for Education,

Politics & Policy

Turning Point USA Is Doing the Wrong Thing for Kyle Rittenhouse

Loading...
Kyle Rittenhouse waits for his trial to begin for the day at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., November 10, 2021. (Sean Krajacic/Pool via Reuters)

This weekend, Kyle Rittenhouse will be speaking at a Turning Point USA conference in Phoenix, sharing billing with Ted Cruz, Tucker Carlson, and Donald Trump Jr. This is the wrong move for Rittenhouse. He did a round of media interviews after the verdict, but going on the speaking circuit is a further step toward celebrification. He was properly acquitted in November for exercising his right to self-defense, and one can even argue that his motives in being in Kenosha were noble. But he shouldn’t have been there, and the glare of a national spotlight and being turned into a folk hero, a villain, or an emblem of the times is bad for an 18-year-old who really needs to go do what 18-year-olds do: grow up and get on with his life. As I wrote when Democrats and left-wingers tried to make political spokespeople of the teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting:

If you have ever been, or known, a teenager, you know that even comparatively well-informed teens are almost always just advancing arguments they’ve heard from adults, and typically without much consideration of the opposing arguments. . . . I’m never in favor of the whole spectacle of using kids as political props, which both sides do, but it’s one thing when it’s relatively benign stuff — a politician campaigning with his family, a Trump or an Obama bringing out a young fan or honoring a kid who did something good. Those aren’t efforts to use kids as human shields against hard questions being asked in a serious public-policy debate. Turning “listen to the kids” into a mantra and marching a few steps behind them is. That’s particularly the case because divisive issue debates inevitably mean the people carrying the point of the spear are going to come in for a lot of pushback from people who feel viscerally about the other side of the issue. Pushing distraught teenagers to the forefront means they will be the ones absorbing that. As adults, we are supposed to know better than that.

Naturally, they went ahead anyway, and now David Hogg is a propaganda-addled zealot with a million Twitter followers who seems incapable of communicating like a normal college student. Rittenhouse, for his part, has an uphill battle getting a job or into a college right now, but it does a disservice to this young man for adults who should know better to try to turn him into our side’s answer to Hogg or Greta Thunberg instead of letting him go quietly back to the business of growing up.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly suggested Rittenhouse is being paid for his appearance. He is not. 

Politics & Policy

‘The Kamala Harris the Public Fell in Love With’

Loading...
Vice President Kamala Harris waves at panelists during a virtual townhall event to address different care policies in the Build Back Better Agenda at the White House in Washington, D.C., October 14, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Over the weekend, Politico had an extremely Politico article asking politicos for their political advice for how Kamala Harris could fix her disastrous run of low public approval and dismal press coverage. Some of it is exactly the sort of overoptimistic off-the-shelf advice that consultants give without regard to whether the politician receiving it is at all capable of doing any such thing. Probably the best and least encouraging advice comes from University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato and former John Kasich campaign manager Beth Hansen, both of whom argue that Harris’s fate is tied to the success of Joe Biden (good luck!) and will require careful, patient work rather than having any obvious solution.

In any event, the funniest and most delusional advice comes from Michelle Bernard, a onetime head of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum and now a roving commentator and a 2020 cheerleader for Harris:

Kamala Harris has always been and will always be a star. Regardless of the environment — from San Francisco district attorney to California attorney general, to U.S. senator and now vice president — she understands her duties are to the American people. The only thing that needs to be done to allow her star to shine brightly once again is to allow the Kamala Harris the public fell in love with to break free from the fairy dust sprinkled on her no doubt by some well-meaning handlers.

Unlike some of her predecessors, Kamala Harris is not a sedate, stodgy, older white man. The daughter of immigrants, she is a Black woman of Jamaican and Indian descent. She’s a feminist. And she’s a politician with a background as a former prosecutor who has worked tirelessly to put criminals where they belong, while advocating for the rights and dignity of all Americans. Harris is warm, charismatic and bright. Her laugh is infectious and her rapport with children heartwarming. The Kamala Harris who danced with a marching band and in the rain is the Kamala Harris the public misses. Unleash the Kamala Harris who left former Attorney General William Barr stuttering during a hearing; let loose the superwoman who, during a vice presidential debate, rebuffed Mike Pence’s attempts to cut her off by looking him directly in the eyes and boldly stated, “I’m speaking.” That Kamala Harris was fierce, and women and the public loved her.

The Kamala Harris the public fell in love with? There is no such person. As Charlie Cooke has detailed, Harris went from a mediocre politician winning elections in California almost entirely on the merit of the state’s partisan tilt to a presidential candidate who squandered a great-on-paper profile by being disastrously unable to inspire voters. Her approval ratings as a presidential candidate did nothing but go down into negative territory until she quit the race, they recovered mainly while Biden’s campaign was keeping her away from the national spotlight, and they have plummeted again as she has gained more attention. But sure, tell Harris to do more cackling, more cringe-inducing dancing, and more berating people, and see how that works out.

Politics & Policy

Resorting to ‘Violence’

Loading...

This just in: “Student debt is policy violence.”

So says Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

It seems the only definition more malleable these days than that of “infrastructure” is this one.

Speech is violence. Book promotion is violence. Shifting funding from one subsidized-food program to another subsidized-food program is violence. Lending is violence.

Does actual violence — being inflicted now at record levels — even rate? Just last year, Nikole Hannah-Jones insisted that property damage certainly is not violence, and she admonished the media: “We need to be really careful with our language.”

I couldn’t agree more on that latter point.

Dan McLaughlin wrote yesterday about the Left’s persistent effort to redefine commonly understood terms and about the complicity at times of the press. Nobody should fall for the crass attempts to redefine this one, considering how many Americans face the real stuff every day.

International

McKinsey Reveals Deeper Ties to Chinese Government Than It Previously Admitted

Loading...
Ethnic Uyghur demonstrators take part in a protest against China in Istanbul, Turkey, October 1, 2021. (Dilara Senkaya/Reuters)

Earlier this year, I surveyed the record of the consulting firm McKinsey. A stint at McKinsey is a common item on the résumés of many who end up influential in other parts of society. McKinsey’s business model tends toward a kind of soulless technocracy that can make it so attractive to the morally uncertain products of our higher-education system who emerge from said system sure primarily of one thing: that they should be telling people what to do. (Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg being the quintessential example.)

These are only two of the reasons why, as I wrote in May, “a commitment to free markets in the abstract does not oblige conservatives to defend McKinsey in particular.” Additional reasons to be uncomfortable with McKinsey arise from its record of dealing with foreign governments. Such dealings have been nefarious in multiple countries, but nowhere worse than in China:

Meanwhile, outside of the U.S., McKinsey has helped to facilitate the economic rise of China, in a manner beyond even the mere investment and engagement of other American companies with Chinese business. According to the New York Times, “In China, it has advised at least 22 of the 100 biggest state-owned companies — the ones carrying out some of the government’s most strategic and divisive initiatives.” One of McKinsey’s Chinese clients helped construct that nation’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, an obvious military venture. And perhaps most shocking, a few years ago some McKinsey employees attended a corporate retreat in Xinjiang Province, riding camels and relaxing in high-class resorts just a few miles away from Uyghur concentration camps.

Yesterday brought news that McKinsey’s relationship with the Chinese government goes deeper than it had previously admitted. According to NBC:

The management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. has acknowledged a commercial connection to “the Chinese government,” according to a court document, even though the firm told a senator it had no business ties to the Beijing regime.

According to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., McKinsey told him in July 2020 that it did not work with the Chinese government or the ruling Communist Party. Company executives repeated the assertion in a Zoom conference call in March with Rubio’s advisers, according to Rubio.

But in a bankruptcy case involving the offshore drilling firm Valaris, in which it applied to act as an adviser, McKinsey disclosed a commercial connection to the “Chinese government,” according to a September 2020 court document.

McKinsey, naturally, denies wrongdoing:

A spokesperson said that McKinsey did not perform work for the Chinese central government, only for provincial and local governments in China, and that it had made that clear in previous correspondence with Rubio’s office.

“We have been consistent and transparent in all of our communications with Sen. Rubio’s office,” the spokesperson said. In its July 2020 letter with Rubio, McKinsey had said a small part of its work in China was with local and provincial governments related to economic zones, urban planning and real estate, the spokesperson said.

The disclosure in the bankruptcy case “reflects an accurate description of client service that includes local and provincial government, and is entirely consistent with the type of work we communicated openly about with the Senator’s office,” the spokesperson said. “In no way does it refer to work for the Central Government, Communist Party of China or the Central Military Commission of China, none of which are clients of McKinsey, and to our knowledge, have never been clients of McKinsey.”

But, as Rubio points out, “any dealings with the Chinese government are necessarily dealings with the CCP.” Moreover, this same disclosure also revealed ties between McKinsey and Shenzhen Dajiang Baiwang Technology Co., “a manufacturing facility specializing in unmanned aerial vehicles that is owned by the Chinese drone maker DJI.” Just yesterday, the Treasury Department added DJI to a list of Chinese technology firms it was essentially cutting off from the U.S. market. According to the Treasury Department, the companies “actively support the biometric surveillance and tracking of ethnic and religious minorities in China, particularly the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.”

Good on Senator Rubio for forcing this disclosure. And shame on McKinsey for its supporting America’s enemy.

Politics & Policy

Today in Covid Panic Porn

Loading...
People line up for a COVID-19 test in Times Square in Manhattan, December 13, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

A writer at The Atlantic canceled his 40th birthday party over Omicron and has thoughts.

Despite all of the guests being vaccinated and mostly boosted, and despite the fact that Omicron seems mild, Ed Yong frets:

My friends, of course, are adults who can make informed decisions about their own risks and their own loved ones’ risks. But the logic of personal responsibility goes only so far. Omicron is spreading so rapidly that if someone got infected at my party, my decision to host it could easily affect people who don’t know me, and who had no say in the risks that I unwittingly imposed upon them. Omicron is unlikely to land me in the hospital, but it could send my guests’ grandparents or parents to one.

The above logic can be used to never have birthday parties ever again. We know that Delta followed earlier variants, and that Omicron followed Delta. It only stands to reason that there will be future variants that will follow Omicron. Not to mention the regular flu season, which always carries the risk of unwittingly transmitting a potentially fatal virus to more vulnerable populations.

As I’ve said time and again, we must recalibrate to the understanding that Covid is now with us forever. Before taking any actions, we should ask ourselves whether we are prepared to live in such a manner indefinitely.

Books

Get a Child Off Screens with a Modern Ugly Duckling Tale

Loading...
(TAN Books/ Image via Amazon )

fIf you’re looking for a new children’s book for Christmas, The Handsome Little Cygnet may be what you are looking for.

As the publisher’s description reads:

A swan must waddle before a swan can fly!

Manhattan’s Central Park seems an unlikely place for a family of swans to raise their baby cygnet, but family life is full of surprises, happy mistakes, and mysterious joys. Join Father and Mother Swan and their Handsome Little Cygnet as they paddle through four beautifully illustrated seasons in Central Park. Smile a lot — and cry just a little — as you follow the journey of a baby swan who grows up to learn what and who he really is.

From best-selling author and illustrator team Matthew Mehan and John Folley, this wonderful and surprising revision of the Ugly Duckling will please the whole family with beautiful prose and page after page of lush watercolor illustrations. Even enjoy a seek-n-find in the back of the book, learning about the landmarks and wildlife of Central Park, among other amusing mysteries.

Matthew Mehan, who wrote The Handsome Little Cygnet, is the director of Academic Programs for Washington, D.C., and Assistant Professor of Government for the Van Andel Graduate School of Government, and he took some questions about why he wrote the book.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why did you write a book about a cygnet? I confess, I’m from NYC, the first time you told me about it, I had to look up what it was. I thought it was a class ring. (Signet.)

Matthew Mehan: As the first page says, a cygnet is a young swan. The book is set in New York City’s Central Park, and swans do live there sometimes. And they’re the biggest, most beautiful birds that ever visit there. So that made it an easy choice. And I love giving young readers new words, so I put one in the title and defined it on the first page. In general, the book is simple and sweet, but I wanted an echo back to my last book, Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mammals, which had a whole glossary of words in the back. And I used a family of swans because I wanted to write a modern Ugly Duckling story with a prescient twist to help young readers and their families navigate the pitfalls of growing up in what I’ll call chaos culture, which tells them a lot of things about themselves, about their identity, that simply aren’t so. I wanted swans because they are noble creatures, full of beautiful dignity, something every child has in them. I wanted to offer a beautiful story that would also teach children (and remind parents) that each human being is worth much more than our chaotic world seems to say.

Continue reading “Get a Child Off Screens with a Modern Ugly Duckling Tale”

Religion

Getting Back to Christ at Christmas

Loading...

Here are two beautiful and painfully personal pieces that point to what Christmas is really about — Incarnation, salvation. You might want to read and share.

Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P. writes about “Christmas and God’s ultimate answer to our anguish“:

My father died suddenly on Christmas Eve morning when he was 49 years old, leaving my mother a widow with seven children. The struggle I faced that Christmas, so I came to realize, was no different from the one that afflicts everyone every day: loss and longing.

My challenge was to pay special attention to Christmas — seeing past the superficial — to get to the mystery’s real meaning. Can Christmas offer an answer to keenly felt sorrow and pain? I have never forgotten consoling words I discovered years later from poet Rainer Maria Rilke to a hurting friend: “Celebrate Christmas in this devout feeling that perhaps God needs this very anguish of yours in order to begin.” And who of us these days is not feeling intense anguish?

The unexpected absence of my father made me yearn for something non-negotiable: a Presence to fill the void. The Son of God coming in the flesh — Emmanuel, God-With-Us — is that Presence. And only a Presence is adequate for answering the emptiness and need that the human being is. Why? Because a Presence is the beginning of the end of barriers in our life. Presence “is to know that there are experiences that lessen the dread of separation, loneliness, and even death,” wrote author Ralph Harper.

. . .

To woo us back to our own humanity, Jesus comes to us — not in magnificence and splendor — but as a baby. St. Bernard spelled out the stunning logic of the Incarnation: “The lesser Jesus became through his human nature, the greater was his goodness; the more he lowered himself for me, the dearer he is to me. Jesus comes as a little one lest we be terrified.”

The whole of Christ’s intention at Christmas is to share his life with us. “Christ did not live his life for himself but for us. . . . Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us (CCC 519, 521).

. . .

Our family custom on Christmas Eve was to open one gift. Returning home from the Christmas Vigil Mass, my brothers and sisters and I gathered, feeling awkward, wondering what we would do. Wouldn’t opening presents be disrespectful? But my mother assured us that opening gifts is what my father would have wanted. My mother never read the 20th-century Scandinavian writer and Catholic convert Sigrid Unset, but she certainly possessed her wisdom:

“When we give each other Christmas gifts in Jesus’ Name, let us remember that he has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans — and all that lives and moves upon them. And to save us from our own foolishness, from all our sins, he came down to earth and gave us himself.”

Read the whole piece here.

Karen Swallow Prior writes about being childless at Christmas:

Some holiday traditions offer particular challenges to those who aren’t part of a nuclear family at Christmas, challenges the rest of us might not even imagine. For example, when everyone else is sending out annual Christmas photos of a growing family, does the single person want to reciprocate with her own solo photo shoot? How does a childless member participate in family gift exchanges that only include the children? Does the pandemic mean singles need to give up indoor gatherings that would otherwise include friends from outside the household?

The church is just the place where traditions that include everyone can be cultivated for all members, those with family and those without — not only at Christmas, of course, but especially at Christmas.

Throughout my marriage, the most meaningful and significant time at Christmas for my husband and me was Christmas Eve at our church. For years, we helped lead the services, my husband as a musician and I as a reader of poetry and Scripture. As a worship team, we shared potluck meals and fellowship before and between services each time, a tradition that grew more important to us with each passing year. But then with the church’s closure, this beloved ritual was gone. But not the memories of it.

Traditions give birth to our sense of the past. It is this sense of — and, along with it, a longing for — the past that is the source of nostalgia. Nostalgia — whether for Christmases long gone, for a childhood outgrown or for dreams (like children) that never came to be — is a bittersweet reminder that this earthly place, filled with cherished traditions, treasured memories and painful disappointments — is not our permanent home. Yet, even so, the marvel of it all is that the God of the universe took on flesh, came here as a child and dwelt among us in this temporary home.

He is the gift that transcends all family ties and time-bound traditions. And, as one friend who experienced years of infertility and pregnancy recently reminded me, Scripture says it is “unto us a child is born.”

Because this child is for all of us, no one needs to feel childless at Christmas. But it can take the family of true community to help us unwrap the gift.

Read it all here.

Politics & Policy

Pelosi Made Vulnerable House Democrats Walk the Plank for Nothing

Loading...
Speaker Pelosi (D., Calif.) holds the final vote tally as the Build Back Better Act passes, on the House floor in Washington, D.C., November 19, 2021. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Last month, when House speaker Nancy Pelosi was pushing for a vote on a sweeping version of President Biden’s Build Back Better bill, Charlie marveled at the fact that she was sending her most vulnerable members to the slaughter. But it now seems that it was all for nothing.

To be sure, it is too early for conservatives to take any victory laps. The difficulty Democrats are having with passing a bill by the end of the year should not be seen as a sign of sure defeat for Biden’s signature legislation. It is still likely to reemerge, in some form, in the coming year. And Senator Joe Manchin is likely to find some version of it that he can get behind. He has signaled he’d be willing to spend $1.75 trillion, and that’s still a lot.

However, whatever emerges from further discussions, it’s pretty clear that it will be much different from what House Democrats voted for. If Manchin were close to supporting a bill that was roughly similar to the House version of the Build Back Better bill, they would have been able to make some tweaks to get it across the finish line by the end of the year. The fact that they cannot do so suggests that the differences are much more significant.

The bottom line is that in the coming year, the bill that vulnerable House Democrats voted for is likely to either die in the Senate, or change significantly. The decision by Pelosi to go full speed ahead is going to make next November even more painful for Democrats.

Sports

The NCAA Could Settle the Trans Swimmer Controversy

Loading...

Ten parents whose daughters are on the UPenn women’s swim team are among the latest to express outrage at a male swimmer being allowed to smash female records. The Daily Mail reports that in a letter to the NCAA, parents wrote that what’s “at stake here is the integrity of women’s sports.” And so, they are asking the NCAA to weigh in with an “official statement.” Good luck with that.

At present, the NCAA’s transgender policy is to allow male trans-identifying athletes to compete in the women’s team if they have undergone a year’s worth of testosterone suppression. Of course, this does next to nothing to mitigate the physiological sex-based advantages.

What the NCAA could do instead is settle the controversy once and for all by requiring transgender-identifying athletes to compete against their natal sex or else join a team willing to have a mixed team status. In many instances, including the case of the UPenn swimmer, the trans-identifying athlete did previously compete in the men’s team. Why does declaring a transgender status suddenly make this impossible? It’s not as if anything materially changes after saying, “I’m trans.”

Impromptus

Mailbag

Loading...
President Ulysses S. Grant in 1870 (Mathew Brady/Library of Congress/Wikimedia)

Steph Curry, of the NBA, has set a record — a record some say will never be broken. I lead with this in Impromptus today. When I was growing up, they said that the great unbreakable record was Lou Gehrig’s. And then . . .

In today’s column, I also discuss the streets of San Francisco (that was a television show in the 1970s), politics and the young, January 6, and other issues. Now, let’s have some mail.

Earlier this week, I touched on a very, very touchy subject: guns. Some congressmen are sending out Christmas cards showing themselves and their families, all armed to the teeth. Unto us a Saviour is born!

I wrote,

When I was growing up, lots of men had guns. Some of these guys were veterans — who once had to kill people with guns, overseas. They never preened about with guns. They never posed with them on Christmas cards. They would have regarded that as nuts.

Things are very different today.

A reader writes,

Look, I’m from Texas, born and bred. My late father was a big gun collector. We went hunting together and competed in NRA-sanctioned rifle matches. It would never have crossed Dad’s mind to carry one of his rifles into a public setting, unless it was a gun range. That would just be nuts. And his rifles were beautiful — works of art, almost. Beautiful grain in the stocks, diamond inlay or what-have-you on the bolts, silky smoke-like blues. Not at all like these weekend-warrior guns one sees nowadays.

Our reader adds, “Harrumph!”

In that same column, earlier in the week, I touched on the subject of “trans” athletes — such as the college student who swam on the men’s team for three years and is now swimming on the women’s team, smashing all records. Is this fair? (I don’t see how it can be.)

My friend Dave records a comment made by his grandson’s girlfriend: “If it had happened while I was competing in sports, my father would be in jail.”

In a blogpost, I wrote about the word “niblings,” which is a “gender-neutral” way of saying “nieces and nephews.” I said,

I’m afraid that, by the time I’m outta here, I won’t be able to understand my fellow Americans at all. Even now, I have to explain half my idioms to the people around me. (I think I got a good number of them from my grandparents.)

A reader writes about her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, all of whom hailed from Philadelphia. A portion of her letter:

My father also said, “He did that faster than Grant took Richmond.” When his company made him manager of the Charlotte office about 1948, he had to take care not to say that in earshot of Southerners.

Finally, several readers wrote something like this: “‘Niblings’ may be newfangled and politically correct, but my family likes to use it simply because it’s a fun word.” Yes, I’ll grant that (not Grant that).

Thank you, everybody. Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here.

Politics & Policy

Have Universities Forgotten Their Purpose?

Loading...

They certainly have, says Jessica Hooten Wilson of the University of Dallas in today’s Martin Center commentary.

What they should embody, she argues, is the pursuit of the contemplative life. Professors ought to lead students to what Plato called the “feast of discourse.” Unfortunately, few professors have the slightest interest in doing that, even if they were prepared to, which most are not.

Wilson writes, “Administrations focus on recruitment, retention, and data without considering the faces and stories of students. They copy best practices of other institutions without stepping outside of their fallacious presentism to be innovative or robustly distinctive. They have no courage for risk. While I’ve had devoted colleagues over the years at my institutions, I’ve also witnessed a vast number who never read a book on pedagogy or tried hospitable ways to reach students. Too often, professors go through the motions.”

What is sorely lacking on most of our campuses is anything approaching intellectual mentorship where professors guide students toward “the best that has been thought and said.” Students might graduate with some occupational skills, but without any development of their souls.

Wilson concludes, “Education is an apprenticeship to the tradition that leads to a contemplative life. Without this definition of education, universities will remain in crisis.”

Politics & Policy

It Could Have Been Worse: Kim Strassel and Ross Douthat Review 2021

Loading...

It’s the last show of the year for Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson, and as is our tradition (for the last two years, anyhow), we’ve invited two of our favorite journalists — Ross Douthat of the New York Times and Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal — to look back, discuss, and analyze the year that was. We delve, discuss, and predict politics, the law, Covid, the future of Roe v. Wade, and much more.

Recorded on December 13, 2021

Politics & Policy

Meet the New Leninists, Same as the Old Leninists?

Loading...
(snotra/iStock/Getty Images)

Kevin Williamson’s latest, “The March of the New American Leninists,” is bracing and eloquent. However, I also find myself disagreeing with it, at least in part.

Kevin writes that many of the chief culprits of our political discontent are Leninists — that is, ideological or political descendants of the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin — whether consciously (as in the case of Steve Bannon) or not. Regardless, their aims are, in his view, functionally revolutionary. And worse yet, they may succeed:

We are in a pre-revolutionary situation because the regime — by which I mean not the Biden administration but the American constitutional order itself and the principal institutions associated with it — is being made to compete for the loyalty of Americans against individual politicians (Donald Trump), particular political organizations and movements (BLM), and less well-defined political tendencies (right-wing identity and left-wing identity). There has always been partisan fanaticism, and there have always been demagogues. When loyalty to a political leader or a political movement supplants loyalty to the regime, the nation grows dangerously close to revolution in proportion to the degree to which such tendencies are general and widespread.

While Kevin does admit certain “reasons for hope” — the endurance of our legal system, Donald Trump’s failure to overturn the 2020 election — he finds ample cause for pessimism. I would like, however, to give him another reason for hope. And it is one that actually proceeds from one of his counsels of despair. He writes:

This being the United States of America, our revolutionary fervor is driven in some non-trivial part by cynical profit-seeking, with media figures as superficially different but fundamentally identical as the daft galaxy of Fox News and MSNBC pundits feverishly working to convince Americans that our society and our institutions are not in need of reform but are in fact so irredeemably corrupt that they must be overthrown. These arguments are made almost purely for commercial purposes — there isn’t a lot of money to be made from sensible conversations about incremental reform — but their influence extends well beyond the balance sheets of their corporate parents. I used to say, with unwarranted confidence, that the real world isn’t Twitter, and Twitter isn’t the real world. That turns out not to be true.

There is plenty of cynicism at work in the media business, but it would be wrong to think that figures such as Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow create revolutionary fervor on their own — they are only supplying a preexisting demand in the market. They do not create demand any more than Purdue Pharma or Pornhub do. The ultimate source of the revolutionary fervor is in the people themselves, in the “masses,” as the creaky old Marxists still call them.

If we are to take seriously the Leninist framework, then we should remember that Lenin himself found “the masses” (a condescending term) a frustratingly stubborn lot. In “What Is To Be Done?,” his famous revolutionary tract, Lenin identified this fact as an obstacle to his aims. Writing in 1902 about an earlier outburst of labor unrest in Russia, Lenin claimed that the workers behind it “were not, and could not be, conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system, i.e., theirs was not yet Social-Democratic consciousness. In this sense, the strikes of the nineties, despite the enormous progress they represented as compared with the ‘revolts’, remained a purely spontaneous movement.” 

The “best” workers could do on their own was to achieve what Lenin called “trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.” They would, that is, remain mired in false consciousness: the odious Marxist idea, which has since been repurposed all over the political spectrum, that the only reason someone is doing something you don’t like is because he is in hoc to some financial interest that is precluding his ability to agree with you, and that it is up to you to correct the situation.

Such circumstances would not suit Lenin and others of his revolutionary ilk. So the only option, naturally, was for them to intervene. Revolutionary consciousness, as Lenin put it, “would have to be brought . . . from without.” This conveniently demanded the creation of a revolutionary vanguard of people (like Lenin) who could “raise the level of the consciousness of the workers in general” to the point where they were sufficiently educated and prepared to carry out revolution. Able to consult the actual record of Marxist regimes, we can now see that, unsurprisingly, the interests of this revolutionary vanguard would remain paramount throughout the existence of such regimes, as they naturally transition to a dictatorial form of government instead of the state “withering away,” as Marxists predicted.

Kevin writes that today’s Leninists are not creating “revolutionary fervor on their own — they are only supplying a preexisting demand in the market.” There is perhaps more demand for this kind of thing than I am comfortable with. But I think there is a strong case that today’s Leninists view themselves in the same way that those of the past did — i.e., engaged in a supposedly necessary act of consciousness-raising for rubes that, it is reckoned, are incapable of knowing better themselves, and remain stubbornly anti-revolutionary.

In Lenin’s time, this required rejecting not only the possibilities of practical politics (and assassinating such beleaguered figures as Pyotr Stolypin, perhaps the last politician capable of keeping Russia away from the brink), but also the real economic and political progress that was occurring even amid the political chaos and failures of late czarist Russia. In our time, this requires a constant inculcation, from both left and right, that, as Kevin puts it, “our society and our institutions are not in need of reform but are in fact so irredeemably corrupt that they must be overthrown.”

The essence of my disagreement with Kevin comes primarily in two points. First, as I rejected the notion that we are approaching a new Civil War, I also reject the notion that America is “pre-revolutionary.” Perhaps this is overly optimistic, but I think much thinking along these lines percolates rhetorically and through perception, and thus that there is value in rebuffing it in the same way. And for similar reasons, I am not quite as willing to accept Lenin’s would-be heirs as quite the same danger as he was.

Second, I think Kevin’s understanding of Lenin is flawed on its own terms. Lenin may have believed that the “masses” desired revolution on some subconscious level, but he interpreted the fact that they weren’t doing it themselves as evidence that he had to do it for them, not as proof that they didn’t want it. I think we are in a similar situation here, where much of the apparent “demand” for “revolution” (to the extent that it exists) is being peddled by people who have an interest in calling for it.

This gives me reason for optimism. If such people are the problem, then refuting their agitation and pointing out constantly that what many of them ultimately seek, like their predecessors, is simply an elevated role for themselves, are both productive courses of action. And in doing so, one can direct attention to that large group of people communists so condescendingly call the “masses,” and remind them that such voices do not, ultimately, have their interests at heart. I retain enough faith in the American people that I believe them more than capable of rejecting such messages. So much of the “revolutionary” messaging we hear nowadays, in other words, is an elite phenomenon being wielded for elite advantage. In that, I suppose, it truly does have something in common with its predecessor after all.

Politics & Policy

Re: Covid Deaths

Loading...

In response to Covid-19 Deaths under Biden Surpass Deaths during Trump Administration

You know, Kyle, I am starting to suspect that Joe Biden is not going to cure cancer.

International

Taking China’s Technological Challenge Seriously

Loading...
China’s President Xi Jinping seen on a screen in the media center as he speaks at the opening ceremony of the third China International Import Expo in Shanghai, November 4, 2020. (Aly Song/Reuters)

There can be little doubt (surely) by now that China is aiming to be the most powerful country in the world. Dreams that growing prosperity would make Beijing want to play nice have proved to be just that, dreams.

And no small part of China’s push toward that goal will be in the technological side. As Xi has put it:

Technological innovation has become the main battleground of the global playing field, and competition for tech dominance will grow unprecedentedly fierce.

It will, it has, and China is doing rather well at it. Just how well was set out in a recent report from Harvard’s Belfer Center, which is a grim, but essential read. Writing for the Wall Street Journal the other day, Graham Allison and Eric Schmidt noted that:

The report isn’t alarmist but nonetheless concludes that China has made such extraordinary leaps that it is now a full-spectrum peer competitor. In each of the foundational technologies of the 21st century—artificial intelligence, semiconductors, 5G wireless, quantum information science, biotechnology and green energy—China could soon be the global leader. In some areas, it is already No. 1.

I discussed that article and the report at some detail in the latest Capital Letter, at the end of which I wondered what the U.S. should be doing. Schmidt and Allison call for “a national response analogous to the mobilization that created the technologies that won World War II.” I wasn’t so sure:

Better precedents (for now) can be perhaps found in the steps taken in the U.S. after the Soviets took an early lead in space, and another in the public–private sector cooperation that worked so well with Operation Warp Speed. One thing, however, is abundantly clear (as has increasingly been acknowledged in Washington). Where China is concerned, there can be no room for business as usual.

Quite what no more “business as usual” should mean is an area of legitimate area of debate, but, where possible, stopping U.S. exports that can help give China a technological edge in areas that matter ought to be an easy decision to make. This report was, therefore, encouraging.

Bloomberg:

The Biden administration is considering imposing tougher sanctions on China’s largest chipmaker, according to people familiar with the situation, building on an effort to limit the country’s access to advanced technology.

The National Security Council is set to hold a meeting on Thursday to discuss the potential changes, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. Agencies represented through their deputies will include the Commerce, Defense, State and Energy departments.

The proposal that’s being examined would tighten the rules on exports to Shanghai-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. If one proposal is adopted, companies such as Applied Materials Inc.KLA Corp. and Lam Research Corp. may find their ability to supply gear to SMIC severely limited.

Current rules specify that machinery “uniquely required” for making advanced chips can’t be exported. One proposal being considered at the meeting would change that to “capable for use,” which would include machinery that’s also used for making less advanced electronic components . . .

A related issue concerns American capital being used to fund Chinese technology, and so this was worth noting.

The Financial Times:

The Biden administration will place eight Chinese companies including DJI, the world’s largest commercial drone manufacturer, on an investment blacklist for their alleged involvement in the surveillance of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

The US Treasury will put DJI and the other groups on its “Chinese military-industrial complex companies” blacklist on Thursday, according to two people briefed on the move. US investors are barred from taking financial stakes in the 60 Chinese groups already on the blacklist.

The measure marks the latest effort by US president Joe Biden to punish China for its repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in the north-western Xinjiang region.

This week, SenseTime, the facial recognition software company, postponed its planned initial public offering in Hong Kong after the Financial Times reported that the US was set to place the company on the blacklist.

The other Chinese companies that will be blacklisted on Thursday include Megvii, SenseTime’s main rival that last year halted plans to list in Hong Kong after it was put on a separate US blacklist, and Dawning Information Industry, a supercomputer manufacturer that operates cloud computing services in Xinjiang.

Also to be added are CloudWalk Technology, a facial recognition software company, Xiamen Meiya Pico, a cyber security group that works with law enforcement, Yitu Technology, an artificial intelligence company, Leon Technology, a cloud computing company, and NetPosa Technologies, a producer of cloud-based surveillance systems.

The principle here is (clearly) the funding of technology that can be put to assist in the repression (and, by extension, genocide) of the Uyghurs.

Interestingly:

All eight companies are already on the commerce department’s “entity list”, which restricts US companies from exporting technology or products from America to the Chinese groups without obtaining a government licence.

Good.

Today’s chutzpah prize is won by Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign-ministry spokesman, who observed that “China has always opposed the US’s generalisation of national security concepts,” a bold complaint given the way that China is integrating its technological companies within its broader geopolitical strategy. The “harnessed capitalism” that is a feature of the Chinese regime — and was, of course, a characteristic of other fascist regimes in the past — is what it is.

World

Court Ruling Reportedly Confirms Russian Troop Presence in Ukraine

Loading...

The reason that it’s incorrect to refer to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine is that Russian forces are already involved in operations on Ukrainian territory, in Eastern regions of the country. If Moscow were to send the tens of thousands of troops it has recently amassed on its border with Ukraine into the country, that’d be a further invasion or a new incursion.

A Russian court seems to have confirmed the presence of Russian soldiers in the country for the first time, confirming that the Moscow’s long running denials of that fact were, expectedly, false.

The Moscow Times reported on the court ruling, a judgment against a manager convicted of fraud in his business activities around supplying Russian troops with food. Those troops, the court reportedly revealed before the judgment was taken off its website, were operating in Donetsk and Luhansk.

The revelation doesn’t change the facts on the ground, as Western officials already assumed that Russian forces were backing Ukrainian insurgents in Eastern Ukraine. But it does pull the curtain back, in an embarrassing way, on Moscow’s campaign to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and to force the country back into its orbit.

Politics & Policy

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act Is Finally Set to Become Law

Loading...
Uyghur ethnic minority employees work at the production line of a textile mill in Aksu, Xinjiang, March 31, 2012. (Stringer/Reuters)

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act cleared a final hurdle this afternoon, after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation. The White House said yesterday — for the first time ever — that President Biden will sign it into law.

The Uyghur bill will create a presumption that goods produced in Xinjiang were manufactured using forced labor; the Chinese Communist Party has facilitated the transfer of ethnic minorities to factories in the region and across China, where they produce textile products, polysilicon for solar panels, and certain agricultural goods.

Although there was widespread bipartisan support for the legislation, it stalled for months at the beginning of the Biden administration as congressional Democrats declined to take it up and, on a few occasions, blocked it. Meanwhile, major corporations launched their own lobbying campaign last year to water down the bill.

Companies that are using supply chains tainted with slave labor, Senator Marco Rubio said on the Senate floor today, will “no longer be able to continue to make Americans, every one of us, frankly, unwitting accomplices in the atrocities, in the genocide that’s being committed by the Chinese Communist Party.”

After the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a version of the bill in April, and the Senate approved its own version authored by Rubio and Senator Jeff Merkley in July, the House declined for months to take up the legislation. Only after Rubio attempted to include the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, prompting Democratic leadership to block the move twice, did Speaker Nancy Pelosi move forward with a version of the legislation proposed by Representative Jim McGovern.

After the Rubio and McGovern bills were reconciled, incorporating the strongest enforcement provisions from each into a bigger package, the House passed the legislation again. When Rubio yesterday evening sought Senate approval, he was blocked by Senator Ron Wyden, who demanded that the legislation include an extension of the child tax credit.

Nike, which has reportedly lobbied against the legislation, has its headquarters in Wyden’s home state of Oregon, and it has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Democratic lawmaker’s campaign fund over the years. But Wyden said he just wanted to bring more attention to the child tax credit, and declined to block the bill again today, paving the way for its approval by unanimous consent.

On the one hand, the Uyghur forced-labor legislation is a bipartisan triumph that demonstrates how overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Democrats can come together to take action on a defining human-rights crisis.

On the other hand, the story behind the legislation’s delay shows the cravenness with which certain officials operated behind the scenes to slow progress on the U.S. response to ongoing mass atrocity crimes.

Although the White House yesterday did endorse the Rubio–McGovern compromise, Press Secretary Jen Psaki for months declined to say that the Biden administration supports the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

Meanwhile, other officials, such as climate envoy John Kerry and deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman, reportedly lobbied against the legislation, urging members of Congress to water it down and slow walk its passage. Even after the Washington Post revealed Sherman’s comments opposing the bill amid the Rubio NDAA blowup, she declined on two separate occasions to affirmatively support it.

If the goal of that campaign was to give the administration space to reach the first stages of an agreement with Beijing on forging climate cooperation, it was a success. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act had languished for some six months when Kerry took to the podium at Glasgow to announce that he and his Chinese counterpart had struck an agreement including the establishment of a U.S.–China working group on climate issues.

Asked by a reporter how he views the Chinese Communist Party’s mass atrocities in Xinjiang, which the Biden administration labeled genocide and crimes against humanity, Kerry replied, “that’s not my lane.”

If the goal of the administration’s lobbying against the forced-labor legislation was to give Biden time to establish new stability in the U.S.–China relationship, through a round of personal, face-to-face diplomacy with party general secretary Xi Jinping, the strategy was also successful for that reason.

Biden and Xi held a virtual meeting on November 16, during which they tasked their aides with establishing a number of formats for dialogues across four issues. After the talks, the two sides also unrolled a tentative agreement that would ease visa restrictions on Chinese employees for state propaganda organs in the U.S. and journalists with American media outlets in China.

Throughout all of this, the entirety of the administration remained silent about legislation that the Senate had passed unanimously months before.

Top U.S. officials took office promising to put human rights “back at the center of U.S. foreign policy.” When it came time to do the bare minimum — to voice support of legislation designed to prevent Americans from being complicit in crimes against humanity — other priorities took center stage. That is, until Rubio pushed back.

Economy & Business

‘The Left’s Excuses for Inflation Are Getting More Absurd’

Loading...

I wrote today at Politico on the “corporate greed” explanation for inflation:

No one on the left seems to deny that supply chain disruptions are playing a role in inflation, but the focus on corporate greed is an absurdly reductive depiction of the U.S. economy — as if a broad-based, multicausal economic phenomenon is being mainly or at least significantly driven by a handful of corporate malefactors wielding nearly unchecked power over the consumer price index. It is a fairy tale transparently intended to shift the political blame for an economic discontent that is hobbling Biden’s presidency.

From the broadest point of view, the focus on the supposed monopolistic power of corporate America to set prices at whim makes no sense. Did the American economy, after 30 years of notably low inflation, suddenly become more concentrated earlier this year, such that companies could arbitrarily jack up prices? And why was it that this economic power made itself felt just as supply chain disruptions took hold and the Democrats’ massive Covid relief bill further stoked demand in an already growing economy?

If greedy corporations are to blame, they are at work across the board. In November, food prices were up 6.1 percent from the year before, with meat, poultry, fish and eggs up 12.8 percent, cereals and bakery products up 4.6 percent, and nonalcoholic beverages up 5.3 percent. Energy increased 33 percent. All other commodities outside food and energy jumped 9.4 percent. Used trucks and vehicles went up 31.4 percent.

It is true that most big companies have increased their profit margins. An analysis reported by the Wall Street Journal last month found that quarterly profits as a share of GDP are among the highest they’ve been since 1960. But demand is higher than it was pre-pandemic in many sectors of the economy, providing a strong foundation for profitability, and a standard feature of an inflationary environment is companies seeing how much they can raise prices without hitting a wall of consumer resistance.

This is one reason it’s best not to have an inflationary environment in the first place.

World

Who Blocked Action to Fight Assad’s Drug Trade?

Loading...
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets with Syrian army soldiers in eastern Ghouta, March 18, 2018. (SANA/Handout via Reuters)

When Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense package, sending it to the president this week, it kicked off a legislative whodunnit with a multibillion dollar trade in illicit narcotics on the line.

Captagon is an addictive amphetamine that’s made massive inroads across the Middle East; experts fear that this could be the start of an epidemic-level crisis that could destabilize U.S. allies in the region and spread to Europe. Forces controlled by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad produced billions of dollars worth of the substance in 2020 — a kleptocratic enterprise that props up the Syrian government and lines Hezbollah coffers.

Worse, the New York Times quoted a Jordanian official as observing a threefold increase in the amount of crystal meth — which shares some chemical similarities with captagon and can be made in converted captagon labs — leaving Syria since the start of the year.

The captagon issue came to a head in Washington this month when, after the House released new compromise language for the defense bill, it came to light that an amendment dealing with the captagon issue had been mysteriously removed. The stripped provision would have required the president to come up with an interagency plan to stem Assad’s captagon smuggling activities. In the end, congress only expressed its support for cracking down on captagon exports in a non-binding statement explaining the NDAA compromise language.

Although the Biden administration isn’t standing in the way of crafting such a strategy, observers note that it also has yet to prioritize the issue by crafting a government-wide and multilateral approach to push back against Assad’s narcotic trade. The White House did roll out an administration-wide effort to combat drug trafficking this week, but that doesn’t seem to have much to do with captagon smuggling specifically, which experts say will require a concerted campaign coordinated between different government agencies.

Senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaking to a group of Syrian Americans said that the amendment was removed due to an administrative error and pledged to get it back into the final version of the NDAA. “We continue to support and hope the Senate provides a path to amend the House-passed language to include priorities for the Chairman, including tackling the Assad regime’s Captagon production,” his spokesperson told me last Thursday, before the Senate passed the NDAA without amendments.

What’s strange about the situation is that the captagon provision received support from Republican and Democratic leaders of multiple committees in both houses that needed to sign off on its inclusion in the compromise text.

While a source said that Senator Sherrod Brown, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, opposed the amendment in favor of a watered-down version, his office flatly denied that, saying: “He supported efforts to have administration officials report to Congress about drug trafficking in Syria. He did not push for the removal of the amendment, and he did not object to including it as a reporting requirement.”

A Republican Senate banking spokesperson also said that Brown didn’t oppose the amendment.

A Republican staffer who worked on the amendment suggested that hair-splitting disagreements at the staff level over the text of the provision, not its substance, could have tanked it.

“Because Congress couldn’t agree where to put a comma, Assad can sleep soundly at night knowing he can produce more drugs, make more money, and the U.S. government won’t be coming up with a strategy to stop him.”

This isn’t the end of U.S. efforts to counter the production of captagon. Representatives French Hill and Brendan Boyle yesterday introduced a standalone version of the NDAA amendment they championed, and the administration could still act without congressional pressure. The State Department, for instance, could soon roll out some of its own measures to counter the captagon trade.

But Assad’s drug smuggling is the sort of intractable problem that lies latent until it bursts into full view in the most destructive way possible, and Congress just missed a big opportunity to get this right.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the NDAA contains a weaker version of the captagon amendment. The bill’s text includes no provisions on captagon, though an accompanying statement calls for action on disrupting captagon trafficking networks. 

Science & Tech

How Did SARS-CoV-2 Become So Contagious among Humans So Quickly?

Loading...
The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in an illustration released by the CDC in Atlanta, Ga., January 29, 2020. (Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM/CDC/Handout via Reuters)

Yesterday’s Morning Jolt quoted a passage from CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s recent book, World War C, where Gupta discusses his conversations with Dr. Robert Redfield, the former CDC director. A subsequent passage lays out even more clearly why the natural spillover theory requires us to believe several unlikely events happened in rapid succession:

Redfield finds it implausible, if not impossible, that a virus could jump directly from an animal like a bat or civet cat to a human “and immediately become one of the most infectious, transmissible pathogens known to humanity.” He explained to me that it doesn’t make sense for a pathogen to go from a wild animal to human and spontaneously be extraordinarily efficient at human-to-human transmission. It takes a while for pathogens to gain that level of fitness, or function. They sputter along for a while as they gain their athleticism to flex their muscles in human hosts. Like [WHO advisor Jamie] Metzl, Redfield finds it more plausible that the virus was being studied and educated in the lab, interacting with human cells – the training grounds for superb adaptation – before being accidentally unleashed upon the public.

“Most of us in a lab,” Redfield explained, “when trying to grow a virus, we try to help make it grow better, and better, and better, and better so we can do experiments and figure out about it.” It is often referred to as gain-of-function research – you tweak microorganisms in a lab in either petri dishes or other animals to make them more infectious. You teach it to do certain things. It’s performed with the expectation that the transmission, and possibly the virulence, of the pathogen will be enhanced. Why would you do that? To stay one step ahead of the virus – to one-up mother nature. In nature, viruses don’t want to become too lethal because if they kill their host, they “die” too. They reach a dead end, failing to multiply. Viruses devolve to something weaker, thereby surviving and and proliferating. So when a bad virus gains a unique advantage to efficiently infect more and more humans, you have to wonder how it earned its wings.

Covid-19 is not the first major viral outbreak that the world has dealt with in recent years — Ebola, the first SARS, MERS, Zika, H1N1 . . . but none of those naturally-occurring viruses were so spectacularly effective at jumping from one human being to the next. SARS-CoV-2 is different. The question is, did it just spontaneously evolve to be so different, or did this virus’ evolutionary process get a little human-driven assistance along the way?

Gupta continues:

“That’s the way I put it together,” Redfield concluded. He was clear that he’s merely giving his opinion now that he’s a private citizen, but an opinion from the former CDC chief, who had access to raw data and intelligence gathering, is not the opinion of just any private citizen. Even Chinese scientists in Wuhan were raising concerns as early as January 2020, as two from separate universities asked an excellent question: How did a novel bat coronavirus get to a major city in the dead of winter when most bats were hibernating, and turn a market where bats weren’t sold into the epicenter of an outbreak? Their resulting paper, which pointed to two local laboratories where research on bat coronaviruses took place, lived on the Internet for a blip in time before vanishing. We may never know how many papers like that as well as scientists and journalists were disappeared from China.

Some of us would strongly suspect that if there is a large cover-up, then it is an attempt to cover up an equally large crime.

Gupta doesn’t endorse any particular theory about the virus’ origin in his book. But the fact that he spends so much time on the lab-leak theories indicates he does not find it to be a crazy conspiracy theory, but rather a scenario worth investigating further.

Politics & Policy

Just Do It!

Loading...
A Superman balloon floats during a Christmas parade along the waterfront of Acapulco, Mexico, December 25, 2013. (Jesus Solano/Reuters)

In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin reminds us all why she is widely considered the preeminent political mind of her generation:

In dealing with Manchin, Democrats should borrow some advice from Nancy Reagan: Just say no. And while they are at it, they should nail down an agreement with him to reform the filibuster in a way that would allow Congress to preserve democracy with voting rights reform

Brilliant. Why did nobody else think of that?

Law & the Courts

The Meanings of Words Are Negotiable to the Media If Democrats Contest Them

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

Take a gander at this sentence from Washington Post report, written by Ann Marimow (a repeat offender), on the Biden commission on judicial “reform”: “Liberal lawmakers continue to back legislation that would expand the court’s size, a move Republicans consider court-packing.”

Now, if you used the term “court-packing” in America at any point in time between 1937 and 2016, everybody understood your meaning. The term, drawn from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s effort to expand the size of the Supreme Court in 1937 to affect the outcomes of its decisions, had a very settled meaning: changing the size of a court to affect the outcomes of its decisions. Everybody knew and agreed that expanding a court for that purpose was court-packing. Most everyone knew and agreed that reducing a court’s size for the same purpose was court-packing. Politicians would occasionally misuse the term, as politicians do, but because its meaning was firmly anchored in history to a particular event, those efforts were unsuccessful and were often greeted with derision.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the term as: “the act or practice of packing a court and especially the United States Supreme Court by increasing the number of judges or justices in an attempt to change the ideological makeup of the court.” Webster’s, which dates the term’s venerable etymology to 1897, is not alone:

  • Dictionary.com: “[Noun]: the practice of changing the number or composition of judges on a court, making it more favorable to particular goals or ideologies, and typically involving an increase in the number of seats on the court [2] U.S. History. an unsuccessful attempt by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 to appoint up to six additional justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, which had invalidated a number of his New Deal laws.”
  • Lexico/Oxford: “The practice of increasing the number of seats on a court (especially the US Supreme Court) in order to admit judges likely to further one’s own ends or make decisions in one’s favor.”
  • Collins Dictionary: “an unsuccessful attempt by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 to appoint up to six additional justices to the Supreme Court, which had invalidated a number of his New Deal laws”

Dictionaries have become a fashionable ground for redefining words to advance left-leaning political goals, but even this one has remained constant (so far). But proponents of court-packing have kept up a drumbeat: that their ideas for expanding the Supreme Court in order to affect the outcomes of its decisions are not court-packing, while merely playing hardball over who gets nominated to a settled number of seats on the courts is newly redefined (when Republicans do it) as court-packing. The term “gaslighting” and references to Orwell’s Ministry of Truth get overused in political journalism these days, but this is as vivid an example as you could ask for. Simply by insisting that a longstanding word’s meaning is in dispute, propagandists get the Washington Post to treat the literal dictionary definition of a term as just what “Republicans consider” it to mean.

Law & the Courts

Elizabeth Warren Lamely Calls for Adding Four More Supreme Court Justices

Loading...
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) listens during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee nomination hearing for Marty Walsh to be the next labor secretary, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 4, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters)

Let’s add four more justices to the Supreme Court!” cries Senator Elizabeth Warren . . . shortly after President Biden’s commission reforming the Supreme Court punted on the issue of expanding the number of justices on the Court.

“Mirroring the broader public debate, there is profound disagreement among commissioners on these issues,” the commission stated.

“No serious person, in either major political party, suggests court packing as a means of overturning disliked Supreme Court decisions, whether the decision in question is Roe v. Wade or Citizens United. Scholars could say, until very recently, that even as compared to other court reform efforts, ‘court-packing’ is especially out of bounds,” it reads. “This is part of the convention of judicial independence.”

If you look at the 2020 Democratic presidential primary . . . Joe Biden is president, Kamala Harris is vice president, Bernie Sanders is still seen as the leader of the party’s progressive wing, Pete Buttigieg is at the Department of Transportation and is somehow generating “presidential buzz,” and even Beto O’Rourke is running for governor of Texas. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren is just kind of there, still serving in the Senate, getting into Twitter fights with Elon Musk, and complaining about corporate greed driving up the price of car rentals. Warren was one of the media’s favorite candidates in 2019 — and yet, in 2021, she’s become something of an afterthought on the political scene.

Politics & Policy

Hillary Tries to Rewrite Her Sordid History . . . Again

Loading...
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at a panel in Pasadena, Calif., January 17, 2020. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows used a personal cellphone, a Signal account, and Gmail accounts for government business without turning it over to the National Archives. This revelation triggered a reaction from a former presidential candidate:

Setting aside the debate over the legality of Meadows’s emails, Hillary’s tweet is a revisionist falsehood. It was never the “personal emails” that were problematic. It was her engagement in corrupt behavior. Let’s recall that she set up a secret server to circumvent government transparency, likely to hide favor-trading related to her bogus foundation. She then repeatedly sent unsecured, classified, and top-secret documents through that illegal server, although she surely knew — or should have known, because, after all, she was the most qualified presidential candidate in history, according to Barack Obama — that it was both risky and illegal. According to the FBI, Clinton sent 110 emails containing clearly marked classified information, and 36 of those emails contained secret information. Eight of the email chains she sent contained “top secret” information. “We assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account,” James Comey explained at the time. The New York Times also reported that the probability that those documents were intercepted by foreign powers was quite high.

Hillary was then responsible for attempts to destroy evidence related to that illegal server. Comey noted in his original congressional testimony that Hillary’s staff had “cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” It is implausible that none of her top aides informed Clinton about this effort (though Comey would shower Clinton’s staff with immunity deals, so he really had no interest in finding out the truth). And then Hillary’s top aide — a person who would have been at the highest levels of government should Clinton have the won the presidency — failed to inform the FBI of classified emails on her laptop, which would be used by her husband for sexting with a teen girl. Comey didn’t charge Hillary, asserting he couldn’t prove intent, even though “gross negligence” was the only standard he needed. Comey rewrote the law to save Hillary, but we shouldn’t let her rewrite history.

Health Care

Covid-19 Deaths under Biden Surpass Deaths during Trump Administration

Loading...
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy during a speech in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 23, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Strange how the media is almost totally silent about the fact that more than 400,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 since Joe Biden was sworn in January 20, with more than 1,000 deaths a day adding to the toll. As you’ll recall, there was a full-blown national day of mourning on January 19, Trump’s last full day in office, which was the day deaths hit 400,000. The New York Times has the current death count at 801,037. It seems likely that at least another 100,000 will die as the winter storms in. It’s not hard to imagine that there could be twice as many Covid deaths on Biden’s watch as on Trump’s. But what was Trump’s fault under Trump is America’s fault under Biden.

It turns out that Joe Biden’s Secret Plan to End Covid worked about as well as when he promised to “cure cancer.” Thanks in pertinent part to Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, Biden was able to take office with the vaccination effort already well underway, and he declared victory over the virus in an Independence Day speech. At that point, 200,000 Americans had died of Covid on his watch, and since then, another 200,000 have perished.

Remember all the pundits and Democrats proclaiming that Trump had “killed” 400,000 Americans? Will Chris Hayes and Kamala Harris blame Biden for “mass slaughter” now that he has presided over even more deaths? Or even the 200,000 since Biden’s “Mission Accomplished” speech? Failing that, will they at least acknowledge they were wrong to blame Trump for America’s suffering much the same fate as comparable nations? Will they at least say, “I’m sorry”?

Politics & Policy

How Build Back Better Was Derailed — For Now

Loading...
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following the weekly Senate lunch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 21, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Last night, as it was becoming clear that the Senate would not be able to advance the Democrats’ partisan reconciliation bill this year, Representative Cori Bush released a disappointed public statement.

Bush is a member of the so-called “squad” of younger and more extreme progressives in the House. Reflecting on where things stood with the Democrats’ agenda at this point, she said:

After spending months building support for the President’s entire agenda, I voted ‘No’ on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package because the Build Back Better Act had not yet passed the Senate, and the Senators who had been blocking lifesaving funding had not yet made any public commitments to support the bill. I put my reputation on the line to make it clear that if we want to deliver the entire, much-needed, and long overdue Biden agenda, we must not undermine our power as a government nor the power of the people by placing the fate of Build Back Better at the feet of one Senator: Joe Manchin. I dealt with the unfair criticism that came my way because St. Louis so desperately needs the Build Back Better Act — from climate action and universal preschool, to community violence prevention and the expanded Child Tax Credit. Today’s reporting that the Build Back Better Act may be put on the shelf for the foreseeable future is alarming.

Her point was hard to miss. She thought separating the infrastructure bill from the Democrats’ more partisan agenda, let alone moving that infrastructure bill in a bipartisan way first without a commitment to move the rest of the agenda, could doom that larger agenda. And she now thinks that fear has been proven right.

This was of course exactly the strategy of most of the Republicans who supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the Senate. They wanted it for its own sake, to be sure, and also to help preserve the filibuster (which their effort surely did help to do). But they also saw that separating the more popular and traditional legislative elements from the more partisan and radical ones could make it much harder for the Democrats to move their broader agenda.

Three months ago, I wrote around here that I thought:

Senate passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill has badly undermined the Democrats’ capacity to pursue their more partisan progressive agenda. That doesn’t mean it will doom that agenda, of course, but it has harmed it. Separating actual infrastructure spending from the more ambitious progressive agenda has intensified the divisions between moderate and progressive Democrats, and has set their interests squarely against one another, rather than giving them a single legislative vehicle to champion for their separate purposes.

That is more or less what Bush suggests happened as well.

Concerns about this strategy among House Republicans and others on the right were not unreasonable. It was a risky thing to do, and it easily could have gone very differently. But the risk does seem to have paid off.

That doesn’t meant the Democrats’ reconciliation bill is dead. It’s still entirely possible that they will pass some form of it next year. But I think there is no question that their ambitions for that bill have been dramatically scaled back, and that its prospects have been badly undermined, by the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

If the infrastructure bill had not happened, it’s very likely that the Democrats would have passed a larger Build Back Better bill by this point. So although the battle over Build Back Better is far from over, it’s pretty clear that the strategic logic of McConnell and the Senate Republicans who backed the infrastructure bill was right.

Culture

Mamas, Papas, and Others

Loading...
At a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Mich., April 4, 2021 (Emily Elconin / Reuters)

My Impromptus today begins with an urgent issue: Ukraine. Putin has been preparing the ground for an invasion (another one). Does this matter? I mean, to the world outside Ukraine? It does. I also touch on Jimmy Lai and China; Donald Trump and dictators; political violence in America; etc. Not the merriest Impromptus, but worthwhile all the same, I think.

You want merry? Let’s do some restaurant names. I said on Monday that Kevin Williamson had informed me of the greatest restaurant name in world history: “El Mofo Loco.” Were there any candidates for second place?

A reader writes,

A couple of my siblings and my parents arrived home from a safari in South Africa just ahead of the omicron variant (my parents probably gave me more gray hairs than I ever gave them with canceled flights and then traveling home via Ethiopia). While spending a couple of days in the gorgeous surfing town of Jeffreys Bay my mom noticed “Sergeant Pepperoni’s J-Bay Pizza.”

I love a good play on words and a Beatles reference.

Another reader writes,

My favorite is “The Obstinate Daughter,” from Sullivan’s Island, outside Charleston, S.C.

We have two daughters in our blended family of nine, and both of them would wear the title proudly!

Great restaurant as well.

Speaking of Charleston: Another reader cites “Swig & Swine,” where you can get your barbecue and beer.

You got Fat Ho Burger in Waco, says a reader. Elsewhere there is “Nacho Daddy.” And then this:

I give you the now-defunct Nacho Mama’s. Not to be confused with the dozens of similarly titled establishments . . .

What made this Nacho Mama’s great? Because I encountered it as a juror for a personal-injury case. The plaintiff alleged to have tripped during a restaurant-organized conga line and injured his knee.

Picture all these stone-faced attorneys and witnesses attempting to keep a straight face while having to say “Nacho Mama’s” in court. To everyone’s credit, nobody cracked up laughing.

My time with Nacho Mama’s taught me one important lesson, among others: Be careful what you name your business, should you have to defend it in court.

Marvelous. Thank you to one and all. I’ll publish more mail later. Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here.

Politics & Policy

Questions and Answers

Loading...

Writing in the New York Times, Gail Collins asks:

Guns, often loaded, are left lying around a terrifying number of homes. Why doesn’t Congress at least pass a law requiring they be kept under lock and key?

The answer to her question is: Because Congress does not have the authority to do so.

I feel like maybe there’s some good way to get these questions answered before putting them in a national newspaper column. Maybe we could organize some kind of emergency airlift of Charles C. W. Cooke columns or, you know, a book.

Politics & Policy

No Chance Manchin and Sinema Will Nuke the Filibuster to Pass Voting Legislation

Loading...

Senate Democrats are poised to kick their multitrillion-dollar reconciliation bill to 2022 and take up voting legislation before Christmas. The news prompted yet another round of media speculation that maybe Democrats would change rules governing the legislative filibuster, but both Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin are making it clear (for what seems like the hundredth time) that they don’t support employing the nuclear option to change Senate rules by a simple-majority vote.

Politics & Policy

Wyden Blocks Uyghur Forced-Labor Bill

Loading...
Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) on Capitol Hill, October 19, 2021. (Rod Lamkey/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) is standing in the way of legislation to crack down on Chinese Communist Party–perpetrated Uyghur slavery.

For the third time in a month, Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) sought a Senate vote on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — bipartisan legislation to end the import of forced-labor-produced goods — and, for the third time in a month, a congressional Democrat blocked the measure.

Since Rubio’s abortive effort to insert the legislation into the annual defense bill, he successfully prodded Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) to instead allow a vote on the House’s version of the Uyghur legislation — which passed resoundingly. The House and the Senate, as of this week, had ironed out a consensus draft of the legislation, which borrowed the strongest enforcement provisions from Rubio’s and Representative Jim McGovern’s (D., Mass.) versions, and the House once again voted on it.

Even the White House came out this afternoon with a pledge that President Biden would sign the Uyghur bill. This is significant because for months the administration declined to endorse the legislation, and reports indicated that top administration officials opposed the bill. But facing public pressure, and with the COP26 summit and Biden’s first virtual meeting with Xi Jinping in the rearview mirror, the White House relented.

But others picked up the baton, blocking the legislation. When Rubio sought a vote on the legislation this evening, Senator Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) and Wyden said they would block a vote unless they could get votes on the president’s diplomatic nominees and an extension of the child tax credit, respectively. Rubio agreed to Murphy’s demand for a vote on President Biden’s nominations for ambassador to China and two other State Department posts, but he declined Wyden’s request. Wyden then blocked Rubio’s request to approve the bill by unanimous consent.

Rubio pointed out the absurdity in all of this, citing the widespread bipartisan opposition to Wyden’s request. “It cannot pass unanimously, and even if it could and it did pass we would have to send it back over to the House, not to the President, when the House isn’t even in session until January 10.”

Even with a ridiculous flap over overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation and a Biden-administration lobbying campaign out of the way, enacting a law to confront a modern genocide continues to face unseemly hurdles.