Politics & Policy

How Close Is America to the ‘Tipping Point’?

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Storm clouds gather over Washington D.C.. (Willard/Getty Images)

In this superb Law & Liberty essay entitled “The Descent into Tyranny,” Daniel Klein (of George Mason University) and Michael Munger (of Duke University) ponder a troubling question: How close are we to the tipping point? That is to say, the point from which there is no righting our canoe, where the forces of statism have won and use their power to extinguish opposition to their power.

Our “progressives” are certainly doing their utmost to bring that about.

I particularly like the way the authors note that, before the Civil War, the unjust rulers in the South became increasingly authoritarian in their efforts at preserving slavery and that we’re seeing something very similar among our current crop of authoritarians in power.

The authors write, “A tyranny — once capacities for control and despotism are constructed, in some cases including expansive government employment, dependency, and largesse—can be nearly impossible to reform. The key to the descent into tyranny, and the stability of tyranny once it is achieved, is this: Tyrants use tyranny to fortify their keep and to protect themselves against the sanctions due them for their crimes.”

That is precisely what Biden, Schumer, Pelosi et al have in mind — using governmental coercion to cement themselves into permanent control. The cracking down on freedom of speech, the expansion of the IRS, the threats to judicial independence, the weaponizing of the federal bureaucracy against the opposition, etc. are all part of a project meant to solidify leftist control so it can never be reversed.

Read the whole thing.

Does AOC Want to Be Anything More Than a Celebrity?

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to the media before the “Get Out the Vote Rally” in San Antonio, Texas, February 12, 2022. (Jordan Vonderhaar/Reuters)

Ben Shapiro offers an astute observation, spurred by three glossy magazine profiles of famous women:

Ben sadly concludes, “we live in serious times, and we are led by completely unserious people. Our enemies are not. And they know this.”

My one quibble would be questioning whether any significant number of Americans really see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the ideal choice to lead Americans against dangerous enemies. No doubt, she has her ardent

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: ESG and European Energy

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Richard Morrison of the Competitive Enterprise Institute writes about the growing backlash to ESG:

For the last several years, much of the corporate world has, to a greater or lesser degree, adapted to the demands imposed by “environmental, social, and governance” (ESG) theory, and in that time, those three letters have created a minefield of unintended consequences. Despite the enthusiasm that has fueled the ESG machine, leaders in politics, policy, and the business world have begun to question where it is leading us, with high-profile critics from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to former vice president Mike Pence lining up to denounce it. While we’ve been hearing warnings of a backlash against ESG for some time, it’s worth reflecting on how we got here.

Jorge González-Gallarza of Spanish think tank Fundación Civismo writes about Europe’s energy-pricing problems:

Europe’s power sector is in a bind. Since harmonizing electricity markets in the mid 1990s, EU leaders believed that the comparatively higher price of natural gas in the wholesale market for energy would spur investment in renewables and thus aid the bloc’s transition to a net-zero-emissions economy. Indeed, the bloc’s “marginal pricing system” is designed such that wholesale electricity prices are set by the last power plant called in to meet overall demand on any given day, a role routinely played by the natural-gas power plants meeting approximately 20 percent of the EU’s electricity demand. The hope behind the pricing system was, in other words, that the forces at work in global energy markets would align with the EU’s ambitious environmental agenda.

But this pricing system is now under severe duress. After undergoing a planned three-day maintenance, Russia’s Gazprom announced on Friday that its Nord Stream 1 pipeline linking Russia to Germany underneath the Baltic Sea, which supplies about 20 percent of the gas Europe imports from Russia, would stay shut indefinitely. Gas storage has attained 80 percent of capacity across Europe, two months sooner than targeted. Meanwhile, the marginal pricing system is delivering too much of the results it was designed to deliver. Power plants running on renewable energy, for instance, are raking in windfall profits from selling power at a market price set by their gas-powered competitors.

Law & the Courts

Warrants and Evidence in the Trump Case 

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Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2017. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Brittany Bernstein has an excellent post on former AG Bill Barr’s latest public comments about the Mar-a-Lago investigation. You should read the whole thing, but I want to home in on one part of it because it pertains to something I’ve been asked about a number of times: items of former president Trump’s personal property that were seized by the FBI.

Many of the former president’s non-lawyer supporters understandably assume that (a) if the investigation is about government documents but (b) the FBI seized items of personal property that were not government documents (e.g., passports, medical records, tax information), then (c) the FBI must have gone beyond the lawful scope of the search warrant. That’s possible, but unlikely.

Preliminarily, it is indisputable that the warrant explicitly permitted the agents to seize non-government documents (see, e.g., the warrant’s Attachment B, para. a, permitting seizure of “containers/boxes that are collectively stored or found together with” documents marked classified). But let’s put that aside. Brittany relates Barr’s observation that investigators executing the search warrant were authorized to seize Trump’s personal items because they could constitute evidence of the way the government documents were stored. As he put it, “If you find very sensitive documents in Trump’s desk along with his passports, that ties Trump to those documents.”

This is an iteration of the principle that evidence of a crime is a concept broader than what we might call the corpus of the crime. For example, if the government were investigating the crime of selling cocaine, a search warrant would permit agents to seize not only the cocaine (the corpus of the crime) but also a container of plastic bags found near the cocaine. While the latter may be personal property that is ostensibly legal to possess, it is also evidence that the person intended to package and distribute the cocaine for sale.

Here, the former president is under investigation for, among other things, mishandling classified documents. This could implicate a couple of crimes under the Espionage Act (Section 793). Consequently, the fact that Trump was in possession of documents with classification markings is key evidence. But it’s not the only relevant evidence.

One Espionage Act crime (subsection (e)) requires proof that a person was merely in unauthorized possession of national defense information and willfully failed to deliver it to the government. (The information in question need not be marked classified, though it could be, and possession that started out authorized could become unauthorized if the information was not lawfully retained and safeguarded.) Under this provision, then, merely establishing possession of the documents might be sufficient to prove guilt. Yet, if the documents were also found under other personal items in a manner suggesting concealment, those personal items would be relevant evidence of intent to refrain from delivering the documents to the government.

(Note: I am not addressing here Trump’s potential defenses that his possession and storage were lawful. I am only talking about what the warrant authorized the agents to seize.)

A second crime (subsection (f)) applies, even if a person lawfully possesses national-defense information, if that person “through gross negligence permits [it] to be removed from its proper place of custody,” or delivered to anyone who is not entitled to see it. Clearly, it would be relevant on the issue of gross negligence, as well as the issues of permitting the information to be moved and seen by unauthorized persons, that documents marked classified were found interspersed with the former president’s personal property, or with other, non-classified records to which others at Mar-a-Lago had access (e.g., people who packed, stored, or moved containers).

The documents with classification markings are thus akin to the corpus of the crime — the things that were mishandled. But the relevant evidence includes not only what was mishandled but also any indicia of how the items were mishandled (e.g., the condition in which they were found, strewn among personal property and non-classified files), as well as personal property (such as passports) that shows who was mishandling them.

A court-authorized search warrant permits investigators to seize evidence of the commission of the crimes cited in the warrant (here, mishandling national defense information, unlawful retention of government records, and obstruction). The commission of a crime is proved not only by establishing the suspect’s possession of clearly incriminating items, but also by proving how those items came to be where they were found and how they were handled before being seized. Evidence is not a limitless concept, but it is significantly broader than clearly incriminating items.

World

Liz Truss on Transgenderism

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VICE World News reported that the new British prime minister Liz Truss “is trying to block Scotland’s plans to allow trans people to self-identify as male or female.” According to two government insiders, Truss is seeking legal advice on how to “pause or prevent” the Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

The Scottish government, which has devolved powers for equality legislation, intends to pass a law reducing the need for a medical diagnosis, lowering the minimum age from 18 to 16, and requiring people to live just three months as their “acquired gender” before allowing the legal switch.

A spokesperson for the U.K. Government Equality Hub said: “The Government is working with Scottish counterparts and other stakeholders to explore the considerations of the bill and any implications for England and Wales.”

Here are four reasons to be hopeful that Truss will uphold the biological reality of sex.

  1. Last year, when asked during an interview about the requisite sex organs for being female, Truss replied “women do have vaginas.”
  2. As equalities minister, Truss oversaw the decision to remove “gender identity” from the ban on conversion therapy.
  3. She scrapped “self-identification” proposals.
  4. Last month, when asked about medicalized gender transitions for minors, she said that “under-18s shouldn’t be able to make irreversible decisions.”
Religion

Hope after Roe for Women Who Are Pregnant and Scared, from the Sisters of Life

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(Prostock-Studio/Getty Images)

National Review alumna Katie Yoder wrote about my beloved friends the Sisters of Life last week:

“In the heart of every woman is the longing to be heard. To be understood. To be believed in,” Sr. Marie Veritas, SV, told [The Catholic News Agency]. “To be seen for her unique beauty and goodness . . . a beauty and goodness that all too often she doesn’t see in herself.”

Among other things, the Sisters of Life

dedicate their lives to serving women vulnerable to abortion, offering life-affirming support to pregnant women in need, hosting retreats, evangelizing, practicing outreach to college students, and helping women who suffer after abortion.

Katie interviewed Sr. Marie Veritas, who listed eight messages of hope that the sisters want to tell any pregnant woman who might be struggling and considering abortion. After she gets comfortable and settled and loved, the Sisters — and any one of us — should want a pregnant woman to know, “Your dreams are not out of reach.”

The interview continues:

There are real options that will get you back on your feet again, never regretting what might have been,” Sr. Marie Veritas urged. “You don’t need to feel pressured to have an abortion.”

She also stressed that “circumstances can change.”

“It may seem like this pregnancy could not have come at a worse time,” she said. “Perhaps, you know your family will be disappointed and you expect that they will not support you. You are terrified that your dreams and plans for the future will never be realized. The struggles of your current situation are real, but hope holds the promise of a new beginning.”

Before making a decision, she encouraged women to “Give yourself space.”

“Impulsive decisions may lead to regret,” she cautioned. “We make the best choices when our hearts are calm. Allow yourself time to research all the facts and think clearly through the options. There is time to make a plan that will bring you to a place of freedom and to a decision you won’t regret.”

At the same time, she said, women should remember that they have support: “Secret decisions lead to heartache,” she said, adding, “You are not alone.”

You can read the whole piece here.

And make sure all the young women and men know they have no reason to be scared of you if they find themselves pregnant and afraid. We must be available to help. And the Sisters of Life sure do.

Learn more about the Sisters of Life. Subscribe to their free magazine here. Donate to them here.

Film & TV

How The Rings of Power Gets Galadriel Wrong

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Morfydd Clark in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. (Amazon Studios)

Not to be out-Tolkien-nerded by Jack Butler, I feel compelled to rise to the defense of J. R. R. Tolkien’s creation against some poor choices regarding the character of Galadriel that are apparent in the first two episodes of Amazon’s The Rings of Power, to which Jack has given a cautiously optimistic review.

Let me get four things out of the way up front. One, I am not trashing the show; I generally enjoyed the first two episodes and am likely to stick it out unless and until it really decides to abandon the path of wisdom by breaking Tolkien’s work to find out what it is. Two, I’m not much invested in weighing in at length on the tempest in a teapot over multiracial casting; while I prefer casting decisions that are faithful to the original work and am skeptical of the motives of Hollywood in prioritizing “representation” of the audience over representing the actual characters as conceived by an author, the choice of actors in the first two episodes has fit comfortably within Tolkien’s vision. If anything, Tolkien emphasized the visible differences among the races of Middle-Earth precisely in order to demonstrate the need for their cooperation in a great cause in spite of their divergent natures and folkways. Interestingly, given Tolkien’s original vision of his work as an English mythology, the accents and behavior of the Dwarves and the proto-Hobbit Harfoots in this series seem to drive home that they are identified with the Scots and the Irish, respectively. Third, I am not such a purist that I object to adding new things to flesh out Tolkien’s story, which in the Second Age of Middle-Earth is especially sparse, so long as additions do not detract or subtract from what he has already created.

Fourth, my complaint with the presentation of the character of Galadriel is not about the choice to make her a warrior. We know, from Tolkien’s writings, that Galadriel was not a warrior in the wars with Morgoth that consumed the First Age, having instead spent most of that time in the peaceable forest kingdom of Doriath. We similarly know that she was not a warrior in the Third Age, having settled in the new, peaceable forest kingdom of Lothlórien in order to maintain it as a refuge. Nonetheless, it is consistent with the character of Galadriel for her to have spent much of the Second Age of Middle-Earth in armor fighting Sauron. We know that her personality is fierce and domineering, and that she was an implacable foe of Sauron who had been close with her brother Finrod Felagund, who died at Sauron’s hand. (The Rings of Power presents Finrod as having died “hunting Sauron,” which is incorrect; he died fulfilling a vow to Beren, but he nonetheless was killed by Sauron. This is an unnecessary but forgivable simplification.) We know that Elf-women are said to be equal in strength and agility to the men, and that they spent only a tiny portion of their lifespan in bearing children, so female Elf-warriors are not that hard to envision. We know that, while Tolkien’s view of women did not ordinarily depict them as soldiers, he was quite capable — witness the character of Eowyn — of writing fierce female warriors.

To Tolkien devotees, however, there are still two problems with Galadriel as she appears in The Rings of Power. The first: Where is her family? We know that she married Celeborn long before the end of the First Age, and that theirs was such a powerful love that she forsook her own kin — with whom she had braved the terrible crossing of the grinding ice of the Helcaraxë — in order to reside with Celeborn’s people in Doriath. It is further written, or at least suggested, that it was in the early centuries of the Second Age that she gave birth to her only child, her daughter Celebrían, who is important in the story because she eventually marries Elrond. Yet, when The Rings of Power shows Galadriel being sent off by Gil-galad to leave Middle-Earth and return across the sea to Tol Eressëa, there is not even the slightest suggestion that there might be a problem with leaving behind her husband and daughter. This is entirely inconceivable, either that it would be commanded or that her response would not focus on the separation of her husband. (For that matter, we get a scene where Elrond seems to be making goo-goo eyes at the woman who becomes his mother-in-law.) Even if we can accept Galadriel spending years at a time away from home on a military mission against Sauron, this makes no sense with the character Tolkien wrote. The only known example provided by Tolkien of a marriage separated by a return of one spouse to Aman is, ironically, when Celebrían returns without Elrond, and this is presented as a tragedy caused by her wounding by orcs.

The second problem is the relationship between Galadriel and Gil-galad. As High King of the Noldor, Gil-galad would enjoy great respect and significant influence over the deployment of Elven military forces. But it is ridiculous in two ways to present him as having the power to silence Galadriel and order her across the seas. One, that is not how the politics of the Elves worked. The Silmarillion is full of incidents that illustrate that the High King ruled more by consensus than by dictatorial power, and often had tremendous difficulty getting the other Noldorin princes to go along with his priorities. He was more like a Native-American war chieftain negotiating the allegiance of related tribes than like a modern generalissimo. He would be within his rights in reprimanding Galadriel for disobeying orders in where and how she led his warriors, but he could scarcely be expected to have the power to order Galadriel as to where she lived. Two, Galadriel is the first cousin of his father Fingon, a previous High King, and is thousands of years older than Gil-galad. She is, at the time depicted in the show, the only surviving member of the generation of Noldorin leaders who led their people in rebellion against the Valar and into Middle-Earth. She would accordingly be seen as an elder stateswoman with prestige and honor among the Elves unrivaled by anyone besides the High King himself. Ordering her around is about the last thing Gil-galad would do.

The richness of Tolkien’s world — which birthed the entire fantasy genre — is uniquely unsuited to being tampered with, and there is a powerful case both commercially and artistically against doing so. None of these decisions were in any sense necessary in order to tell a compelling story. Let us hope that the remainder of the series is more faithful to Tolkien’s vision (including the deeply theological Downfall of Númenor) in portraying the events of the Second Age.

Politics & Policy

Hillary Says She Won’t Run for President Again. Good Riddance

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Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the opening of “Vital Voices Women’s Embassy” in Washington, D.C, May 5, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Retuers)

Hillary Clinton recently remarked she would never seek the presidency again. Good riddance.

The former First Lady, senator, secretary of state, and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee has graced the national stage for over 30 years, and the country could not be more ready to see her depart. From stoking fears of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” to denigrating millions of voters as a “basket of deplorables,” Clinton was undoubtedly one of the most divisive political leaders in modern American history . . . that is, until Donald Trump came along. She managed to lose to him, and probably is the only person who could have pulled off this impressive defeat.

On the subject of achievements, Clinton’s are few and far between. Liberal commentators will often go to great lengths to extol her résumé without ever actually discussing what she accomplished in these posts.

Scandals are a different story. From Whitewater to Email-gate, she certainly kept the country engrossed in her political and legal quagmires. But alas, the time has come for the country to wipe itself clean of her. Perhaps even with a cloth?

Culture

Tom Bombadil: Mystery Solved?

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Tom Bombadil as depicted in 1991’s Khraniteli, a Soviet adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Screeenshot via Пятый канал Россия/YouTube)

In July, I posed a question that has long occupied fans of The Lord of the Rings: Who is Tom Bombadil? Inspired by Jeremy Johnston’s review of In the House of Tom Bombadil by C. R. Wiley for Front Porch Republic, I took stock of all we know about the enigmatic figure J. R. R. Tolkien quite deliberately inserted into his work. I concluded about Bombadil that “some things are meant to remain unresolved at a more basic level, testaments to transcendent reality or meaning.”

Recently, I had a chance to read Wiley’s book, getting the full taste of his appraisal of Bombadil. Wiley does not fully attempt to “solve” the mystery, either, though he does run through some of the leading theories. “My hope is that you will come to love Tom for his own sake, and that the mystery of Tom will haunt you for the rest of your life,” Wiley writes.

Wiley does, however, attempt to make sense of Tom’s place in Tolkien’s story. As he sees it, Bombadil is set directly against some of the vices of the fantasy epic’s villains, especially the corrupted wizard Saruman. Bombadil is completely immune to the Ring of Power’s temptations, has a more holistic approach to knowledge, and prefers “dominion” over the natural world, living in harmony with it. He thus stands in direct contrast to Saruman’s lust to “become a Power,” his willingness to “break a thing to find out what it is,” and his preference to subjugate and despoil the natural world.

Though Wiley’s work is short, it ends up touching on some of the major characters, moments, and themes of The Lord of the Rings. That he can do so while never straying from a focus on a character so allegedly inconsequential as Tom Bombadil suggests that Tom might be important after all. Indeed, though Tolkien was famously averse to allegory, the last words Wiley includes in the book — a “postscript to the postscript” (though not supplied by a sub-sub-librarian) — might be of even greater significance: “The first time that Tom saved the hobbits it was at a tree, and the second time that he saved them it was at a tomb. For those pondering what Tom represents, that’s an even more encouraging thought.”

Indeed. Those interested in reading more of what Wiley has to say about Tom Bombadil and related matters should give his book a read. (It is unlikely to include spoilers for The Rings of Power.)

Economy & Business

You Can’t Fight Inflation by Reducing Output

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President Joe Biden speaks before signing into law the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 16, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Biden tells us that he’s determined to fight inflation. Really?

We get inflation (i.e., generally rising prices) in part because the government has pumped up the supply of money relative to the production of goods and services. What is he doing with regard to those variables? Federal spending continues unabated, while Biden’s relentlessly statist economic agenda is driving down the output of goods and services. So, instead of “fighting” inflation, Biden is making it worse.

That is the argument Michael N. Peterson makes in this AIER essay.

He writes, “With this much federal spending and so little regard for its adverse consequences, something’s got to give, and that something is likely going to be the economy. If Biden’s policies continue apace, we could be marching toward a period of stagflation, defined by low economic growth and high inflation.”

Indeed. Peterson proceeds to enumerate some of the worst aspects of Biden’s economic (or perhaps anti-economic) policies: the disincentives for people to work, increased taxes, subsidies for college students, strengthening of unions, and so on. What Biden & Co. has in mind is the antithesis of supply-side economics. It’s redistributive meddling.

Peterson sums up: “The uncertainty that follows from Biden’s reckless and heavy-handed agenda is perhaps the greatest factor holding back the American economy. With no solid ground on which to stand, producers and consumers face a future defined by low economic performance and persistently high inflation expectations.”

Media

Coming Soon to MSNBC: Jen Psaki, Fact-Checker

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 6, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It turns out that the recently canceled Brian Stelter was a prophet when he asked then–White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “What does the press get wrong when covering Biden’s agenda?”

At the time, Stelter got a decent amount of grief for asking the softest of softballs, and essentially asking how coverage of the White House could get even nicer and more flattering. But apparently Stelter isn’t the only person who thinks Psaki makes an ideal critic of media coverage of politics.

Because Jen Psaki will soon be on MSNBC, “debunking things, calling out BS.”

“First of all, my business is not rage,” Psaki said at Vox Media’s Code Conference in Los Angeles. “What I hope to do is bring that passion for explaining things, debunking things, calling out BS when you see it to my next job.”

That’s right, we’re about to enter the era of Jen Psaki, fact-checker. I expect this means we’ll get more declarations that the CDC director offers separate personal assessments of health policies, that President Biden meant to say the opposite of what he actually said, that the White House doesn’t have a view on whether it’s wrong to leak drafts of Supreme Court decisions, that it is “unfair and absurd” for companies to increase costs on consumers in response to higher tax rates, that anyone who criticizes a Biden speech is proving that the president struck a nerve, or that the supply-chain crisis is mostly a matter of treadmill deliveries being delayed.

If MSNBC wants to hire Psaki to be a left-of-center talking head who will defend whatever Biden says or does 99.9 percent of the time, that’s their right. But please don’t try to sell us that she’s offering a show that serves up explanatory journalism, debunks falsehoods, and calls out “BS.”

Oh, and in other news, regarding Biden’s Thursday night speech where he declared, “the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country,” Psaki said it was “bizarre” that some thought Biden’s speech was partisan.

Culture

Twelve Things That Caught My Eye: Pregnant People, a Mother’s Testimony, Inept Republicans, and More

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1. Freed Nigerian priest recounts details of his kidnapping by insurgents

2. My baby saved my life. Now I help save others.

“Danielle Nicholson’s daughter Lei’Lani helped put Danielle on the path to fixing her own life”:

There was something about that positive pregnancy test that motivated me, igniting a deeper drive than I’d ever known myself capable of possessing. Envisioning my future daughter struggling with the cycle of abuse and trauma that had plagued me for so many years, I broke down sobbing. “My daughter will NEVER be exposed or subjected to what I have been through,” I promised myself through my tears.

I knew right away that I needed to live a sober life, and that I couldn’t indulge in laziness anymore. I was determined to be strong and do whatever it took to change my life for her. But where would I even start?

That’s when I met Randy and Evelyn, the founders of a local maternity home called the Paul Stefan Foundation, who welcomed me with open arms. The next few years of learning how to take care of myself and my growing baby were the hardest of my entire life, but they transformed me and my future in an incredible way.

3. Charlie Camosy: If Republicans can’t run against Democrats on abortion, they can’t run against them on anything

If U.S. pro-lifers had been ready for the activist onslaught, we could have been creating a (true) counter-narrative about the fact that pro-life hospitals and OB/GYNs are 100% committed to saving the lives of women.

But not all the blame lies with activists. It is difficult to create a national counter-narrative, frankly, when the supposedly pro-life national party is running scared.

Gallup consistently finds, for instance, that about 8-13% of Americans want no legal restrictions on abortion after 24 weeks. To put this into perspective, the worst approval rating for a president belonged to Harry Truman: 22%.

The Democratic position on abortion is almost twice as unpopular as the most unpopular president in our history. If you can’t run against the Democrats on abortion, then you can’t run against them on anything.

4. California blocked from forcing Christian doctors to assist suicides

5.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should: A synthetic embryo, made without sperm or egg, could lead to infertility treatments

6.

7. Andrew Kubick: Why Religious Freedom Can’t Protect Abortion

No religion, or any adherent thereof, has the lawful or moral claim to kill an innocent human being in the name of that faith. To deny the tragedy of abortion and make a rights claim to defend abortion is not religious freedom; rather, doing this uses religion as a license for unconscionable acts. And a just political community and the whole of society ought to categorically reject that license.

8. CNN: The language we use to talk about pregnancy and abortion is changing. But not everyone welcomes the shift

From patient waiting rooms to the halls of Congress, the language being used to talk about reproduction is shifting.

Across the US, mainstream institutions such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and CNN are increasingly opting for gender-neutral terms such as “pregnant people,” “people who get abortions” and “birthing parent” in favor of “women” when referencing pregnancy, fertility and abortion.

These shifts in terminology signal an effort to be inclusive of transgender and nonbinary people who can also get pregnant. But the changes have also prompted pushback — not just from Republican politicians who are openly hostile to LGBTQ people but also from some cisgender women (women whose gender identity conforms with the sex they were assigned at birth) who consider themselves LGBTQ allies and who support abortion rights.

“We’re not just talking about the same people that we were before. We’re broadening the scope,” said Kristen Syrett, an associate professor of linguistics at Rutgers University. “And I think that’s where people get more uncomfortable because it’s so different from the way we’ve been thinking of reproductive rights and pregnancy for a long time.”

Debates about language can seem arbitrary at a time when so many no longer have access to abortion services in their home state. But at the crux of these debates are questions about who is targeted by restrictive laws and policies, who is affected and who is included in the conversation.

9. R. J. Snell: Don’t Panic

We remain just what we are: dependent rational animals, limited creatures within space and time, prone to error and confusion. But this reality, this impoverishment, is the condition of our freedom, our being human. This panic, irritation, and reluctance to forgive reveals a distaste for humanity. It betrays what Walker Percy among others has called “angelism.” I see this as a pathology of mind or spirit, and it is has infected the left and right, liberal and conservative, believer and unbeliever.

The antidote is not confusion or skepticism or uncertainty; rather, the cure is hope. Moral panic reveals despair at the state of things. Craving the fullness of the kingdom of heaven now, but upon discovering decadence and depravity—and who can deny our time’s troubles—too many respond with the sadness of despair. Despair cannot be overcome with certainty or eternity, but only by hope.

For the rationalist or fundamentalist character, hope cannot but seem inadequate, even corny. The world is in flames and you want me “to hope?” How quaint. But hope is not blind, or merely optimistic, nor is hope something we churn up in ourselves as a kind of subjective attitude. Hope, rather, is a virtue. It is a state that perfects us, makes us well, capable of thinking, living, and acting in the freedom of excellence, as flourishing human beings.

10.  I’m looking forward to Naomi Schaefer Riley’s Adoption After Roe event at the American Enterprise Institute next week (if you are not in DC, there is a livestream option)

11.

12. Sisters who survived Holocaust die days apart in Alabama

White House

A Terrific White House Portrait

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Former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama attend the unveiling of their official White House portraits in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., September, 7, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Even though it looks a little like an Apple advertisement, I love Barack Obama’s new, official White House portrait. Robert McCurdy has truly captured the defining political essence of his subject — his belief that he is the only thing that matters.

Culture

Attacks on Churches and Pro-Life Centers Are Attacks on Religious Liberty and Pluralism

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A fire-bombed pregnancy center in Gresham, Ore. June 13, 2022. (@LilaGraceRose/Image via Twitter)

Since the leak of the draft of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on May 2, there have been criminal attacks on 63 pro-life organizations, in 26 states and the District of Columbia, according to a new report from the Religious Freedom Institute (as Wesley Smith mentioned earlier here).

There have also been 32 Catholic churches attacked since the Dobbs leak, and in 17 of those attacks it was clearly about abortion. But it didn’t start with Dobbs. According to the report: “Since late May 2020, attacks have occurred against at least 174 Catholic targets in 38 states and the District of Columbia, including arson, desecration and defacement, property destruction, theft, and other state and federal crimes.” This ought to be taken more seriously by government, law enforcement, and the media.

Join the National Review Institute for a webinar with Nathaniel Hurd of the Religious Freedom Institute and Dr. Grazie Christie, who volunteers at a pregnancy center that was targeted by “Jane’s Revenge,” moderated by me.

Our conversation will be hosted in partnership with the Religious Freedom Institute.

RSVP here to watch live — and ask questions — for tomorrow (Thursday, September 8) at 2 p.m. Eastern.

UPDATE: You can watch the conversation now at your convenience on the National Review Institute’s YouTube channel:

Education

Discrimination at Harvard, Part II

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The exterior of The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 30, 2020. (Katherine Taylor/Reuters.)

Segregated dormitories, programs, and graduations are proliferating on college campuses. That fact undermines, if not vitiates, the “compelling state interest” of educational benefits that are purportedly derived from colleges’ having a diverse student body, and which gives colleges legal permission to maintain racially discriminatory admissions policies.

Ironically, the racial preferences accorded to black and Hispanic applicants in admissions may be the very reason for the trend toward segregation.

Professor Richard Sander, who has studied affirmative action for decades, notes in his amicus brief in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard an interesting study by Duke University economists showing the evolution of students’ social interaction over four years of attendance. The study found the following:

Freshmen arriving on campus developed a significant number of interracial relationships—a good outcome. But over time, friendships became stratified by academic achievement; “A” students tended to maintain friendships with the “A” students, and “B-” students tended to maintain friendships with other “B-” students. These patterns developed independent of race, but (entirely) because of large admissions preferences, academic performance was also strongly stratified by race. The result was that friendships Duke students left college with were racially stratified—indeed, student networks were, on average, more racially stratified at the end of college than the students’ friendship networks had been in high school. In other words, large preferences counteracted a key purpose of the preference: they led to performance differences that pulled students apart rather than fostering close interracial exchange and understanding. [Emphasis added.]

You don’t need a degree from Harvard to figure out that racial discrimination might well lead to racial segregation. Indeed, the degree might be an impediment to clear-eyed analysis, if not just common sense.

Politics & Policy

Congressional Republicans Could Benefit from a Policy Vision

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) holds his weekly news conference with Capitol Hill reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 3, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

For a while now, a number of voices on the right have been pushing for Republicans to develop more of a substantive policy message heading into the midterms. In fact, the need for a policy agenda is on the cover of the latest issue of National Review.

Axios now reports that House Republicans are floating the idea of a “Commitment to America” to lay out some policy vision. Drafts of documents released by Axios outline broad policy themes on the economy, national security, freedom, and oversight of the Biden administration. The draft documents combine messaging on overall policy vision and concrete policy recommendations.

On immigration, recommendations include restoring the “Remain in Mexico” policy, finishing border barriers, and requiring job applicants to show proof of legal status. Republicans see a new political opportunity in education, so this plan also calls for expanding school choice and empowering parents. Insisting on more antitrust efforts, the “Commitment to America” would replace Section 230 protections for the “largest tech companies” with some policy to be determined. It hits policy points on crime (by withholding federal funds from district attorneys who announce that they will not enforce certain laws) and energy (by encouraging more energy production at home). It aims to cut medical costs by promoting competition and transparency.

Implicit in these draft documents is the vision of a national economy shaped by national interests. For instance, these documents call for more domestic energy production and manufacturing as well as more friend-shoring: concentrating sourcing and supply chains in allied nations. The “Commitment to America” also stays away from specific commitments on areas that have tripped up Republicans in the past, especially entitlement reform.

Political parties out of power can often benefit by running as blank slates — to make an election a referendum on the party in power. However, the blank-slate strategy has its own risks for Republicans in 2022. It could allow Democrats to set the terms for political debates leading up to the midterms. Democrats have also been working hard to transform the 2022 midterms into a choice between them and Trump. Engaging more rigorously on the issues could allow Republicans to turn to more favorable political ground and highlight some of the shortcomings of the Biden administration.

White House

When Is It Acceptable for Biden’s Team to Work With ‘MAGA Republicans’?

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President Joe Biden and (from left) Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attend a meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 10, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

There’s a detail in a Wall Street Journal profile of commerce secretary Gina Raimondo that further illuminates Dan’s point that Joe Biden’s definition of “MAGA Republicans” expands or contracts, depending upon whatever he needs at the moment.

As a $52 billion bill to bolster semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S. approached a critical juncture, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo reached out to some unusual figures to cultivate support in Congress: former Trump administration national security officials.

A member of her security detail told her that H.R. McMaster, national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, praised her on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Ms. Raimondo brought in Mr. McMaster and three other former Trump officials to talk up the importance of semiconductors to national defense alongside Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

The event “defined competition with China as a nonpartisan issue,” Mr. McMaster recalled. The legislation passed the Senate four months later with 17 Republicans in support.

Those other Trump administration officials were former deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Bonnie Glick, former undersecretary of state Keith Krach, former deputy national-security adviser Matthew Pottinger, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who served as a commissioner on the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence during the Trump years.

Are H. R. McMaster and the other Trump administration officials “MAGA Republicans”? They would seem to be by any reasonable standard; after all, they left private-sector jobs to work for Donald Trump and to enact his agenda.

But MAGA Republicans represent “an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” in Biden’s words. Why would anyone on the Biden team be asking them for help? Why would anyone on the Biden team accept their help?

Is it that by helping the Biden administration persuade lawmakers to pass one of their legislative priorities, those Trump officials wash away their sins of MAGA-dom?

What Raimondo did was once normal and smart politics; when someone on the other side of the aisle agrees with one of your priorities, you form a temporary alliance and hope your new ally can persuade his usual political brethren.

But once you start labeling your opponents semi-fascist, malicious, threatening to the country, and evil, as President Biden recently did, it not only makes it hard to make any new bipartisan alliances; it also makes it seem that, having made bipartisan alliances in the past, you’ve gotten in bed with the devil.

There’s no moral or political coherence to Biden’s position now. . . . But that’s never been an insurmountable obstacle to him in the past.

Politics & Policy

California Nightmare

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A man lays passed out on the sidewalk n the Tenderloin area of San Francisco, California, February 28, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The woes of the dystopian hellscape that California has become under Gavin Newsom continue to mount, as the state just declared an energy emergency with possible rotating power outages. To add insult to injury, San Francisco says it will cost $14 billion to filter nutrients from human excrement to contain a massive algae bloom responsible for poisoning the fish of the city’s waterways. The Bay Area’s homelessness and public-defecation crises certainly don’t help the problem. Could it get any worse for residents of the Golden State?

After years of gross mismanagement, it seems that these problems are finally coming to a head. But when will voters finally wake up and stop rewarding Democratic incompetence? They lost their chance after the 2021 gubernatorial recall election. And despite some promising recent developments, there doesn’t seem to be any change in leadership on the horizon.

The greatest irony of all this is that Newsom thinks he’s qualified to be president after turning what once was the most coveted place to live in America into a nightmare. Republicans will be able to make mincemeat out of his tenure in Sacramento should he become the Democratic nominee in 2024.

Media Tolerate Fetterman’s Lack of Transparency at Their Own Peril

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Lt. Gov. John Fetterman looks on as he speaks to attendees at a meet-and-greet at the Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton, Penn., May 1, 2022. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)

As Rich writes in his column today, while John Fetterman deserves empathy for his struggle to overcome his stroke, given that he is running for U.S. Senate, it is fair to ask questions about his health and fitness for office, especially as he avoids debates, minimizes public appearances, and clearly struggles to get through the few speeches his campaign does schedule.

My former colleague Salena Zito, who has been covering Pennsylvania politics for decades, writes what it has been like for reporters to cover Fetterman:

The few speeches he has given have been short — he visibly struggled in giving them —

World

Red Flags

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Ukrainian servicemen load projectiles into a weapon belt next to a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft cannon at a position near a front line in Kharkiv Region, Ukraine, August 24, 2022. (Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters)

George Packer went to Ukraine to write for the Atlantic, and in the very first paragraph he begins levitating the Pentagon, in his way: “I told myself and others that Ukraine is the most important story of our time, that everything we should care about is on the line there. I believed it then, and I believe it now, but all of this talk put a nice gloss on the simple, unjustifiable desire to be there and see.”

This is a massive red flag. War as an opportunity for perfect moral clarity leads so many astray. Christopher Hitchens wrote after 9/11:

In order to get my own emotions out of the way, I should say briefly that on that day I shared the general register of feeling, from disgust to rage, but was also aware of something that would not quite disclose itself. It only became fully evident quite late that evening. And to my surprise (and pleasure), it was exhilaration. I am not particularly a war lover, and on the occasions when I have seen warfare as a traveling writer, I have tended to shudder. But here was a direct, unmistakable confrontation between everything I loved and everything I hated. On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan. (Those are the ones I love, by the way.) On the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism. I am prepared for this war to go on for a very long time. I will never become tired of waging it, because it is a fight over essentials. And because it is so interesting.

This delusion was possible before the complicated matter of actually dealing with the war — before the reality presented itself that releasing democratic and demotic energies in Iraq would inevitably and predictably result in the persecution to near extinction of Chaldean Christianity and the Yezidis. It was possible to believe the war on terror had something to do with cosmopolitanism and secularism before the AUMF was used to ally with “moderate rebels” in Syria — who carried on beheading kids and persecuting Shia Muslims in kind.

But how many times are we going to repeat the error of Guy Crouchback in Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy? Many times.

“It ought to be possible to want Ukraine to win this war and still tell what you see and hear there honestly,” writes Packer. He will go on to narrate the mini-Stalingrads Russia is creating in the Ukrainian countryside. Packer’s piece promises that Ukrainians are fighting for the values America claims to hold dear. But does Packer have much affection for America?

I had come from a country where the bonds of trust have been worn down to nothing, where earnest declarations about building a new country while winning a war can’t be swallowed without a heavy dose of irony, and where cynicism is a protective reflex against these losses. So, as an American, I had begun to question Olesya’s cheerful optimism. Yet almost every Ukrainian I met shared it: “We will win.” And also: “No compromise.”

The moral and political unity forced on a people by an invasion of their country is not something to envy, actually. Not for someone who values democracy. And in fact there are clues in Packer’s piece that Ukrainians know better. He relays that many Ukrainians shared with him criticism of Volodomyr Zelensky, something that has been deeply frowned upon in American newsrooms since the war began.

The piece ends by reiterating Packer’s preference for a society united by war to the one he lives in. He reflects for a moment that the American volunteers he meets might not be latté liberals like himself:

I didn’t know what these men thought of American politics, and I didn’t want to know. Back home we might have argued; we might have detested each other. Here, we were joined by a common belief in what the Ukrainians were trying to do and admiration for how they were doing it. Here, all the complex infighting and chronic disappointments and sheer lethargy of any democratic society, but especially ours, dissolved, and the essential things—to be free and live with dignity—became clear. It almost seemed as if the U.S. would have to be attacked or undergo some other catastrophe for Americans to remember what Ukrainians have known from the start.

Well, with Packer’s readers in charge of American foreign policy, I’m sure catastrophe is in the mail. In the end, he lands on confusion. Russia must lose, he says; otherwise, “authoritarians in Ankara and Tehran and Beijing will understand that history is on their side.” Packer should ask Google which side of the war Ankara is on.

But of course this would risk understanding that wars such as these aren’t about pure moral and political abstractions, but about long-term national interests. “Moral clarity” of the sort sought by Packer is a deluded man’s way of justifying a persistent and stubborn geostrategic confusion. It is actually the refusal to think both strategically and morally.

Culture

RFI: ‘Religious Pro-Life Americans Under Attack’

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A shattered window at The Lennon Pregnancy Center left by vandals in Dearborn Heights, Mich. (@LennonCenter/Twitter)

Joe Biden missed an opportunity in his manic “red speech” the other day to exhibit equal concern against violence from the Left as he did from the Right. While properly decrying 1/6, he said not a word about attacks against pro-life and religious institutions that are happening with disturbing frequency, apparently in the name of protecting abortion rights.

How frequently? The Religious Freedom Institute conducted a study and has some disturbing results. From “Religious Pro-Life Americans Under Attack“:

As of late August 2022, perpetrators have attacked at least 63 pro-life organizations, across 26 states and the District of Columbia, since the Dobbs leak. Twenty-eight of the 63 pro-life organizations are religious. In the majority of organizations attacked, most of the staff and volunteers are motivated by religious convictions to do this work. While Christians have been at the forefront of the pro-life movement in the United States for decades, Jews, Muslims, and those of other religious traditions, as well as some atheists and agnostics, have made important contributions to the effort.

Catholic churches have also been attacked:

Criminal attacks on Catholic sites across America over the past two years — mostly targeting churchesand the negligible public response from federal law enforcement agencies and the media, provide essential context for assessing recent crimes against pro-life institutions. Perpetrators have attacked 32 Catholic churches since the Dobbs leak, including 17 churches where the criminals demonstrated their pro-abortion motive through graffiti or by damaging pro-life memorials or symbols.

As have other Catholic sites:

From the arson in Minneapolis to the present, offenders have attacked at least 174 Catholic sites across 38 states and the District of Columbia.

This is disturbing, but the media and the president would seem to not care less.

The report makes a threat assessment:

  • The social environment for committing criminal attacks on pro-life congregations and organizations is “permissive.” It is likely that perpetrators have sufficient numbers, commitment, and capability to continue these attacks; law enforcement’s posture in preventing or investigating attacks is oftenpassive, especially at the federal level…

  • Pro-life congregations and organizations will be at elevated risk of ongoing targeted violence for the remainder of 2022 and into 2023.

  • There is an ideological overlap between some of the groups that engaged in large-scale violencein cities following the murder of George Floyd, and those who have attacked or would likely attack pro-life targets, particularly actors whose ideologies are Marxist or anarchist, and that envision the elimination of religion and the family…

  • Cyber-attacks on pro-life entities, including states with laws protecting the unborn, are also likely.

There’s more, but I will let those interested in further details dig into the report themselves

The other night, President Biden said, “This is a nation that rejects violence as a political tool. We do not encourage violence. We are still Americans who believe in honesty and decency and respect for others. Patriotism. Liberty. Justice for all. Hope. And possibility.”

True. But there is such a thing as encouraging violence with faint damnation — as Biden has done with the above referenced attacks and the assassination attempt against Justice Kavanaugh.

One of the most divisive causes of our current disunity is the abiding sense among conservatives that there is a dual standard of justice and law enforcement afoot — vigorous protection for progressives and establishment institutions and a shrugging attitude toward real and growing threats aimed at conservatives, pro-life adherents, and traditional institutions.

That’s a dangerous strategy. If we can’t unite around a common commitment to peaceful democratic engagement and protecting those with whom we disagree from threats and illegal attacks, we truly are in danger of an irrepressible breach.

Trade

Brazil Capitalizes on U.S. Soybean Failures

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Farmer Jim Schielein inspect his soybean crop in Dixon, Ill., in 2013. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Bloomberg:

US farmers facing supply-chain bottlenecks and a surging dollar are losing their competitive edge in the global market for soybeans to their biggest rival: Brazil.

In many of the years through 2020, it was about twice as expensive for China — the top importer — to ship Brazilian rather than American soybeans. But logistics issues in the US, upgrades of the South American country’s ports and supply infrastructure, and a strong dollar have almost eliminated that gap, US Department of Agriculture data show.

It now costs roughly the same for a Chinese buyer to transport a ton of soybeans — used for everything from animal feed and cooking oils to biofuels — from Brazil’s biggest-growing state of Mato Grosso as it does from No. 2 US producer, Iowa. And the differential has closed despite a surge in fuel prices this year that’s stoked inflation.

As the article says later on in greater detail, a large part of the reason for parity between the U.S. and Brazil is the extraordinary strength of the dollar relative to other currencies right now, which is good for American importers and bad for American exporters. The level of relative strength we’re currently seeing likely won’t last too long, and the U.S. advantage will likely return.

But this news is nonetheless troubling for the other reasons listed in the article. Brazil’s busiest port is at Santos, near São Paulo. The Port of Santos has seen improvements in the past few years, but it’s still not a great port by world standards. It ranks 188th on the Container Port Performance Index (CPPI), a statistical ranking compiled by the World Bank and S&P Global. The index is structured such that a globally average port would have a score of 0, and Santos’s score is 9.866, which means it’s just slightly above average.

Just slightly above average is still enough to school American West Coast ports. The Port of Long Beach ranks second-to-last and the Port of Los Angeles ranks last in the world on the CPPI, with scores of -952.47 and -954.086. No other port in the world has a score worse than -600. The Port of Oakland is ranked 359th, with a score of -207.413, and it looks highly efficient by comparison to the San Pedro Bay ports.

Bloomberg notes that the bipartisan infrastructure law includes $17 billion in port funding, but it fails to note that none of that money can be used for what American ports most need. Congress wrote into the law that funding can’t be used for automation, which will no doubt make the dockworkers’ union happy. The Department of Transportation is emphasizing that the funding will be used to mitigate climate change and “create jobs.” The law’s Buy American provisions also ensure, for example, that federal funds can’t be used to buy automated cranes from Finland, as the Port of Virginia (America’s most efficient port on the CPPI and the 23rd most efficient in the world) did in 2016. In short, port modernization is essentially illegal in the United States, and the bipartisan infrastructure law did nothing to change that, so don’t expect any major efficiency improvements because of it.

On top of these problems is the trade war with China, which turned American soybean farmers into welfare cases by denying them their largest export market. USDA analysis from January found that the trade-war tariffs first imposed in 2018 during the Trump administration invited retaliatory tariffs that disproportionately harmed American soybean farmers, with losses most heavily concentrated in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas. Soybean farmers went from being a major exporting industry to being the recipient of billions in federal aid to keep them afloat. And who benefited? The USDA analysis said, “For soybeans, most of the trade lost by the United States was gained by Brazil.”

Global competitiveness isn’t just a buzzword used by coastal elites; it has real-world ramifications for Americans in the heartland. Our uncompetitive ports and protectionist trade policies have cost American soybean farmers, and Brazil is capitalizing on our policy failures. In just a few years, the U.S. went from having a clear advantage over Brazilian soybeans to being roughly the same. Brazil still has bigger structural problems than the U.S. does, but the self-inflicted wounds from Congress and the executive branch have helped put us on par with them. And with the tariffs still in place and no signs of significant port modernization on the horizon, it does not seem that policy-makers are learning from past mistakes.

Politics & Policy

Coming Soon to Saudi Arabia: A New ‘Red Sands’ U.S. Military Base

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman fist bumps U.S. President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Al Salman Palace, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 2022. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters)

In yet another sign that President Biden has thoroughly abandoned and effectively renounced his pledge to make Saudi Arabia a pariah, the Biden administration reportedly plans to open up a new U.S. military testing facility in Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. military command responsible for the Middle East and Iran is developing plans to open a new military testing facility in Saudi Arabia, according to three U.S. defense officials familiar with the plans.

The facility will test new technologies to combat the growing threat from unmanned drones, and it will develop and test integrated air and missile defense capabilities. Early planning by Central Command, or CENTCOM, includes calling the facility the Red Sands Integrated Experimentation Center, drawing a parallel to the White Sands Missile Range, the U.S. military testing facility for extended-range missiles in New Mexico.

While the location has not yet been finalized, the officials said Saudi Arabia makes the most sense because it has large open spaces owned by the government and the ability to test various methods of electronic warfare, like signal-jamming and directed energy, without interfering with nearby population centers.

…Early planning by Central Command, or CENTCOM, includes calling the facility the Red Sands Integrated Experimentation Center, drawing a parallel to the White Sands Missile Range, the U.S. military testing facility for extended-range missiles in New Mexico.

Beyond the fist-bump, we’re not just not making Saudi Arabia a pariah, we’re opening up a new U.S. base over there.

Those of us cursed with long memories will remember U.S. forces deploying to Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, because of concerns that the Iraqi army could move further south and seize some Saudi oil fields. After the coalition kicked the Iraqi army back into its own territory in 1991, U.S. troops remained in Saudi Arabia for years afterwards, and this caused some controversy in the Muslim world. In fact, in 1995, one irate Saudi citizen wrote an open letter to King Fahd:

Do not we have the right to question the objective for allowing them to remain on the land of the two Great Mosques with all their staggering numbers and equipment? Does Iraq still pose a real danger to your throne after the destruction of its army and the starvation of its Muslim people? All facts tend to prove otherwise and emphasize that the danger these forces are stationed here to deter is not an illusive peril from a starved and destroyed Iraq but, as the experts suggest, from the Islamic danger on the inside since the kingdom is witnessing a blessed and heightened Islamic awakening in all the military and civilian sectors.

That irate Saudi citizen was… Osama bin Laden.

The point is not that the U.S. should not refrain from deploying military personnel on Saudi soil because Islamist maniacs like Osama bin Laden have a problem with it. The overwhelming majority of U.S. troops left Saudi Arabia by 2005, with a few hundred at any given time remaining for training operations with their Saudi counterparts. The world’s Islamists didn’t seem to notice or care much; they certainly didn’t mitigate their anti-American rage much, even though one of the factors that allegedly outraged them had disappeared.

The point is that every move in Middle East policy offers a combination of benefits and drawbacks. A long-lasting U.S. military presence on Saudi soil could well, as CENTCOM suggests, “grow intelligence capabilities, strengthen human intelligence networks and develop new and innovative technologies with allies.” Iran isn’t going anywhere, the Iranian regime isn’t getting any nicer, and closer ties to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are a good thing. But this proposal also means building a big new target in a country where Islamists killed U.S. servicemen at Khobar Towers and Islamist attacks are not exactly rare, although thankfully they seem to be occurring less frequently.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: IRS Audits

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Daniel Pilla writes about the prospects of more audits by the IRS:

In a letter to members of the United States Senate, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig did his part to carry water for the Biden administration’s push for $80 billion in new funding to his agency. Rettig argued that the IRS does not have “the resources that it needs to ensure the tax laws are enforced fairly and that Americans receive the level and quality of service they deserve.” On the heels of this plea, the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which the president signed on August 16, 2022.

The IRS will get its $80 billion. Nearly $46 billion is going to enforcement. With that, the agency intends to hire nearly 87,000 new employees over ten years, the same window of time over which the $80 billion will be spread. (For context, the agency currently has about 82,000 employees. And so there is no way that, with normal attrition and retirement over ten years, the IRS will end up with a doubling of its workforce in that time.) The commissioner’s letter provides a glimpse into the administration’s thinking when it comes to tax policy generally, and IRS enforcement in particular. It isn’t encouraging.

Read the whole thing here.

Education

The DEI Infestation Grows

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The Left has long sought to control education so as to shape the minds of students, making them receptive to the blandishments of socialism. In recent years, that effort has accelerated with the Diversity Equity, Inclusion (DEI) agenda. All three words sound innocent, but the underlying philosophy is adamantly anti-American.

In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Bruce Gilley examines the rapid spread of DEI. In particular, he wants to measure its spread. He writes: “The oft-heard complaint that a given institution has been “taken over” by DEI raises the question of whether such a takeover is the same and is equally extensive in all places. Surely not, and if we can compare the worst affected to the least affected, perhaps there are lessons to be learned about the conditions that cause DEI to spread or be arrested.”

Gilley’s organization, the Oregon Association of Scholars, has developed a diagnostic tool that’s meant to enable people to see how far DEI has entrenched itself — the extent to which it has a fixed status on a campus. The tool measures the penetration of DEI into administrations, faculty affairs, student affairs, and libraries.

He admits that he and his colleagues didn’t think of everything, such as the possibility (recently advanced by some professors) that schools should start to demand “diversity statements” by applicants so they can filter out any who don’t seem to be dedicated to “social justice.”

Gilley concludes:

To return to the cancer analogy, DEI is like a particularly aggressive form of cancer that can jump from patient to physician, thus rendering the physician incapable of treating either the disease or himself (sorry, ‘zirself’). In that sense, our DEI-sickness diagnostic tool will play a dual role: charting and measuring the spread of DEI institutionalization on campus in a way that allows us to make comparisons and treat the disease and providing a model and example of what it means to uphold Western Enlightenment values in an age when the very idea of truth is being infected with a painful malignancy. If we don’t act, it will eventually kill off the patient entirely.

World

The Challenges Facing Britain’s New Deputy Prime Minister

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London — As expected, Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has announced a major cabinet reshuffle. Steve Barclay, Boris Johnson’s health secretary, has been replaced with Truss’s close ally Therese Coffey, whom she has also named deputy prime minister. Combining these roles has the symbolic value of underscoring one of Truss’s main priorities: the National Health Service.

This is one of the toughest jobs in government. Coffey is the third health secretary to be appointed in three months after Sajid Javid resigned in July. The NHS is facing terrible problems. The Office for National Statistics has recorded “excess” (non-Covid) mortality of around 1,000 deaths a week in England in Wales. There is also a glaring staff shortage, with 132,000 vacancies, 6.7 million patients waiting for routine care, and the looming possibility of doctors and nurses going on strike.

Coffey has a political reputation as a workhorse. She has outlined an “ABCD mantra,” referring to a focus on reforming ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors, and dentistry and is expected to unveil an emergency plan for the NHS next week. However, when it comes to medical ethics — she is seen as a controversial figure. Coffey has been criticized for her opposition to abortion and assisted dying and is suspected by those critics of being influenced by her Catholic faith. Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Coffey told Sky News, “I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve but it’s undoubtedly part of who I am . . . I would prefer that people didn’t have abortions, but I’m not going to condemn people who do.”

That such a mild anti-abortion statement — voiced by a conservative, no less — is enough to shock people reflects the sorry state of pro-life politics in the United Kingdom.

Elections

It’s Okay to Be a Partisan Recusant

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A poll worker deposits a ballot into a box as people wait in line to cast votes at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland, Ohio, October 24, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

In response to When Contact-Tracing Republicans for Party Loyalty Goes Too Far

I thank Dan for his reply to the Corner post in which I said that I would “contact-trace” politicians to Trump’s auto-coup attempt. Here’s Dan’s key paragraph:

I won’t judge Jason [Thanks!or Kevin on their choices of which Republicans they won’t support in a general election against a Democrat based on that politician’s own conduct. But it seems to me that adding the additional step of anathematizing any Republican “who is now campaigning” in the general election against a Democrat for problematic Republicans is going a step too far in terms of burning bridges with people who’ve made different choices. Like it or not, politics is a team sport. I judge Republicans who were fool enough to back, say, Doug Mastriano or Kari Lake in their primaries. I do not judge Republicans who refuse to vote for them over the Democrat — but I also do not judge those Republicans who think that even bad Republican candidates such as these are preferable to their opponents, given the great stakes of gubernatorial and House and Senate races on a great many issues of consequence on which Democrats are wrong about nearly everything and aim to make permanent changes to our system of government. We should have some tolerance for differences of opinion in that regard.

Here is what I disagree with:

(1) I decline the word “judge” as a description of what I’d do as a voter if it’s meant to carry a lot of emotion or suggest some kind of self-righteous scolding. That’s usually connoted when we speak of “judging someone on” this or that. I did write in the first person, about how I would vote. If you would vote otherwise, I’d disagree with you, sure. Lots of people I respect and care about probably vote quite differently from the way I would. My strongest emotional reactions in politics are not for voters but for politicians who lead voters astray. And I’d note that Dan is the one calling certain voters fools. [Second thought: But perhaps I slightly misread him there and he meant “I judge Republicans who were fool enough to back, say, Doug Mastriano or Kari Lake in their primaries” to apply only to the other Republican politicians who endorsed them. Apologies if so.]

(2) “Problematic Republicans” does not fitly describe the ones I said I wouldn’t vote for, and indeed it suppresses my view. I was more specific, writing: “I don’t vote for people who try to steal elections, let alone presidents who do, and I don’t vote for anyone who enables or defends them or their enablers or defenders.” I explained that this was my line because nothing is more basic to our political order than that government is by the consent of the governed. (You might be asking whether “unalienable rights” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not even more basic. I would call them the pre-political criteria by which we decide whether we consent to the political order.)

(3) Dan’s point about the Democrats’ being wrong on nearly everything and wanting to make permanent changes to our system of government is the kind of prediction in the specific that I said I didn’t feel able to make with confidence. You hear such predictions a lot in politics — “Get with the team or the sky will fall.” I don’t know whether or when the sky will fall. To know that, I’d have to be sure not only that I was correct in my overall view of the specifics but also that current trend lines would hold. I do, however, feel a general confidence that normalizing election denialism, especially at the attempted-presidential-auto-coup level, would have bad effects sooner or later. That’s enough for me. Maybe I’m an eccentric voter, but my approach is often negative and lexical. That is, there are general principles that have a certain order of priority for me. I run through them in order, throw out any candidate who runs afoul of them, and take whoever seems best among whoever is left, if anyone is left. (Or so it would emerge, I think, if I reconstructed my rationales.) Partisan politics does often resemble a “team sport,” as Dan says, but it’s a sport I don’t want to play. I think it would be better if everyone felt less emotional about partisan identity and understood it less categorically. And if there were more partisan recusants among us, the parties might well have to compete for our votes, which could alter current trend lines. But, again, I couldn’t predict that in any specific way with much confidence.

Politics & Policy

Department of Veterans Affairs Enters the Abortion Wars

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U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Last week, I wrote about President Biden’s shameless exploitation of two active-duty servicemen for political purposes at his divisive address in Philadelphia. Now, his administration wants to subject the entire Veterans Affairs Department (VA) to the same inapposite treatment.

On Friday, the VA announced it was planning to provide abortion services to female veterans in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. While these are standard exceptions to the pro-life position, irrespective of the policy considerations, the timing of this pronouncement is curious, to say the least.

Less than three months after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Biden administration seems intent on eviscerating as many protections for the unborn as possible. The new VA abortion services will be available even in states that have outlawed the procedure, a clear warning shot aimed at pro-life lawmakers. This is an attempt to subvert the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion by taking the issue out of state legislatures’ hands, which is what the Dobbs ruling intended to restore. The Hyde Amendment still bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, except in the three circumstances in which the VA will be offering the procedure. But this does not mean that pro-lifers can rest easy.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised to work to repeal the Hyde Amendment if elected. On two occasions, his administration has neglected to include the legislative provision in its budget proposals. The lesson for the pro-life movement is to remain vigilant. It may have scored a major victory in Dobbs, but the battle for what a post-Roe America looks like has just begun.

World

Russia Buying North Korean Weapons Another Sign in Ukraine’s Favor

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Pro-Russian troops ride an infantry fighting vehicle in Lysychansk, Luhansk Region, Ukraine, July 4, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Moscow is now purchasing artillery and rockets from Pyongyang for its war effort in Ukraine, as Diana Glebova reports. Oh, how the tables have turned. As troubling as this development is, especially regarding the efficacy of our sanctions on North Korea, it’s a welcome sign that Russia has come a long way from the zenith of its influence on the world stage during the Cold War, when it was the one supplying North Korea with weapons.

Add this to the list of profound embarrassments Vladimir Putin has endured since the Russian invasion began six months ago. This is also further evidence that the international effort to alienate and remove Russia from the global financial system is working. Only a weak and ailing regime would enlist the help of North Korea, a state with incredibly unreliable weaponry, in its war effort. This is not the behavior of a great power.

One can only hope that this news mutes the chorus of naysayers across the ideological spectrum, who seem to believe that our strategy since the war started is somehow self-defeating. Our investment is paying off. We’ve witnessed a nadir for Russian power and prestige, the Ukrainians have made significant strides in regaining their lost territory, and the West is more united than ever as a result.

History

The Anti-slavery Activist That Time Forgot: Historian Walter Stahr on Salmon P. Chase

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Historical biographer Walter Stahr has given us definitive biographies of William H. Seward and Edwin Stanton, two of the ablest and most influential members of President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. Earlier this year, Stahr followed those books with Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital Rival, the definitive biography of Salmon P. Chase, treasury secretary under Lincoln and one of the country’s most important anti-slavery lawyers, one of the few who defended fugitive slaves against state and federal prosecutors. After his stint as a lawyer, Chase was elected to represent Ohio in the U.S. Senate, where he was instrumental in helping to settle the slavery question in the United States. Chase also served as governor of Ohio and then as treasury secretary, where he standardized the dozens of currencies then being issued by local banks and gave us a national currency and a system of national banks. Spend an hour learning about this man, who contributed greatly to the country but whom almost no one today remembers.

Recorded on April 15, 2022, at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.

Woke Culture

My Dear Wormwood, on the Matter of ‘Discrimination’

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(Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

I was most disappointed to receive your recent letter in which you report, quite triumphantly, that having seduced the patient into the profligate use of the term “bigot,” you now are on the verge of completing instruction on the use of the term, “discriminate.” Apparently, you believe congratulations are in order, but, in fact, you’ve not even skimmed the surface of that term’s potential, for proper education on the complexities and nuances of such a powerful tool cannot possibly be accomplished in such a short period of time.

Indeed, the groundwork for the term’s effective deployment must be laid in two stages (in this regard, you are fortunate that your progenitors have spent the last half century preparing the field for you, primarily by enhancing the term’s scope and elasticity).

First, you must exploit the patient’s frustration that he will not have an opportunity to demonstrate his moral heroism in the manner others have in the past. This will not be difficult, for you will find that despite the fact that most forms of cruel or invidious discrimination have long been outlawed or otherwise dramatically reduced, the patient’s zeal for detecting “discrimination” somewhere — anywhere — has increased exponentially. His zeal has become so great that it clouds his ability to discern that not all discrimination is invidious; and, as a bonus, it feeds his totalitarian impulse to cancel anything with which he disagrees.

Having persuaded the patient to treat nearly any discrimination as invidious, you will be prepared for the second stage — convincing him that there is no intrinsic difference between “equal” and “same.” Listen closely, for this, dear nephew, is the lodestar: A finding of sameness between two things eliminates the need for prudential judgments. And when prudential judgments are eliminated, the patient will accept all manner of fallacies and absurdities.

And when fallacies and absurdities are routinely accepted — even mandated — we, dearest nephew, are in business.

In my next letter, I shall more fully instruct on the mischief that may be wrought by stimulating the patient’s innate desire to appear more just and morally heroic than others.

Apologies, once again, to Mr. Lewis.

Elections

Dr. Oz Can’t Run from Who He Is

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Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz addresses attendees at former President Donald Trump’s rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., September 3, 2022. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

I’ve written relatively recently about how Dr. Oz is a, uh, less-than-ideal candidate for Republicans to run in a battleground state such as Pennsylvania. Last month, in response to this incredibly weird, maybe-even-a-little-bit-creepy cartoon attack ad, I wrote:

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate nominee in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, is flailing. He’s down by about eleven points in the polls, despite the fact that his Democratic opponent, John Fetterman — the goateed, heavyset, six-foot-eight-inch lieutenant governor of the state whose down-home, working-class public presentation is straight out of Pennsylvania central casting — was off the campaign trail for the past three months after suffering a stroke. (Fetterman held his first post-stroke public rally late last week.) Oz needs a course correction, and quickly. Whatever he’s doing right now clearly isn’t working.

Encouragingly, Fetterman’s lead over Oz appears to have shrunk somewhat — the same FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate that I cited as showing an eleven-point spread as of August 16 now shows Fetterman leading Oz by just over eight points. As Jim Geraghty reported this morning, the two most recent one-off polls have Fetterman’s lead down to four and five points, respectively. Some of that may have to do with the strikingly obvious fact, made more apparent by his return to public speaking events, that Fetterman is far from recovered from the effects of his stroke:

As Jim noted, “There is also reason to think that Fetterman’s refusal to debate is reawakening concerns about whether he’s really healthy enough to serve as a senator. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board declared today that the Democrat’s decision to dodge a debate legitimizes the critique that Fetterman is hiding how slowly he is recovering.”

With all that being said, all of the problems that have caused Dr. Oz to consistently trail Fetterman by wide margins over the course of the race remain — and while it may have closed some, a Fetterman average of +8 is still not great for our intrepid magic-weight-loss-pill-salesman-turned-Republican-Senate-hopeful. Part of that is at least partially because the kind of populist, workingman’s-Republican profile that tends to resonate in states such as Pennsylvania — an image that Oz, at various junctures, has attempted to cultivate — is just . . . not Oz. The latest example of this weakness is this video — leaked a couple of days ago from the left-wing PatriotTakes group — of a past speech that Oz delivered to the National Governors Association in which he expressed his belief that companies “shouldn’t hire smokers”:

In a follow-up clip, Oz adds that “One day, and I think this will be true for the state employees as well . . . they won’t be allowed to smoke.” 

I’m somewhat reluctant to give free media coverage to left-wing messaging groups such as PatriotTakes, which devotes most of its resources to digging up old clips of conservatives in an attempt to make them look bad. But this is important, as it pertains to the broader issues with Oz. Clips like the one depicting Oz arguing for nanny-state efforts to effectively relegate cigarette smokers to the status of second-class citizens are just going to feed into the Fetterman campaign’s attacks that Oz is an out-of-state elitist — attacks that are made all the more effective by Oz’s vague efforts to style himself as a populist outsider. The Republican’s recent surge in the polls is salutary; for all his cringeworthiness, Oz would obviously take better votes in the Senate than Fetterman, who’s staked out hard-left positions on a number of issues — but if he wants a shot at making it over the finish line, he’s going to need to find a more authentic message.

As the “don’t-hire-smokers” clips hammer home, Oz isn’t a working-class man of the people — he’s as elite (and even more importantly, elitist) as it gets. Voters aren’t stupid. He’d have a better shot explaining how he can best deliver on their priorities in line with a more honest accounting of who he is — see: Trump 2016’s “I’m so rich I can’t be bought,” my tax plan “is going to cost me a fortune,” etc. — than whatever he’s doing now.

Woke Culture

Doing What the KGB Failed to Do

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The Statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

Earlier this summer my alma mater, Cornell, removed a bust of Abraham Lincoln as well as a copy of the Gettysburg Address from display at Kroch Library. The manuscript is one of only five in Lincoln’s handwriting.

The removal was noticed by a professor who asked the librarians why the exhibits had been removed. They informed the professor that the removal was in response to a complaint. But when the media asked about the removal, Cornell’s administration explained that the display was only temporary, and the removal was not in response to a complaint.

Whom do you believe? (Note that this temporary display had been up for more than nine years at the time of removal. Clearly, Cornell’s curators must be incredibly backlogged.)

Forty years ago, KGB defector Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov explained that “cancellation” of revered historical figures was an essential part of the Soviets’ “active measures” program to undermine Western institutions and culture. The aim was to have the West enervate itself–defeat it without firing a shot. Of course, all of the smart people laughed and scoffed. Yet it’s unlikely even Bezmenov could have predicted the enthusiasm with which cancellation would be embraced by so many of our institutions. Witness especially the ongoing flood of cancellations post–George Floyd.

Bezmenov and others warned that once such impulse to cancellation was voluntarily embraced by educational institutions, the game would be over: It would be all but impossible to salvage rationality and freedom. If the KGB was right, are we near, at, or beyond the point of no return?

White House

White House Covid Adviser: ‘God Gave Us Two Arms’ for Covid and Flu Vaccines

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White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha speaks in Washington, D.C., July 25, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“I really believe this is why God gave us two arms, one for the flu shot and the other one for the COVID shot,” said White House Covid response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha at a Tuesday briefing while pitching the public on new, Omicron-specific vaccine boosters.

The briefing also featured familiar faces such as Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Rochelle Walensky of the Centers for Disease Control, and Xavier Becerra, the secretary of Health and Human Services.

Jha’s quip about the teleology of human anatomy was presented as a joke, but given his company and employer, you could be forgiven for taking Jha literally.

Both I and National Review institutionally have been strong proponents of the Covid vaccines, which have saved no small number of lives and made a return to some semblance of normalcy possible. However, the Biden administration’s vaccine advocacy can fairly be described as the product of religious dogma — a conviction that the human body was designed by the Divine Creator himself to accept the coronavirus vaccines as many times as possible — rather than of considered medical research.

On July 21, 2021, President Biden declared that “you’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations.” Exactly one year later, the White House announced that its occupant — not two, not three, but four inoculations later — had contracted the virus.

In August 2021, Biden announced that the government would begin rolling out a booster shot program before such a program had received Food and Drug Administration approval. The premature announcement led to resignations and chaos at the FDA.

“FDA officials are scrambling to collect and analyze data that clearly demonstrate the boosters’ benefits before the administration’s Sept. 20 deadline for rolling them out to most adults,” reported Politico at the time.

That sounds like good process.

Under Walensky, the CDC recommended that unvaccinated children attending summer camp in 2021 be forced to remain masked “at all times,” including while outdoors.

Fauci called President Biden’s executive order requiring private employers with more than 100 employees to institute a vaccine mandate or institute a burdensome testing regime “moderate.”

Becerra is so reviled by members of the White House that “they have openly mused about who might be better in the job” and charge him with failing to carry out a “core responsibility of his job.” Moreover, he had lost the trust of the other side of the aisle even before assuming his present office by unjustly prosecuting and violating the First Amendment to hamstring pro-lifers.

And now, the administration is advocating that Americans twelve and older, regardless of what and how many vaccines they’ve already been administered, seek out Omicron-specific boosters that, in contrast to the original vaccines, have never been tested on humans. “If you’re 12 and above and previously vaccinated, it’s time to go get an updated COVID-19 shot,” submitted Dr. Jha on Tuesday.

This could easily be mistaken for a polemic against the coronavirus vaccines. Quite the opposite, it’s one against their most exaggerative, vindictive, and reckless advocates, who have done a disservice to vaccines and those who might otherwise have benefited from them. We all deserved better than a dressed-up Cult of the Supreme Vaccine.

Woke Culture

State Department to Combat Trans ‘Conversion Therapy’: Report

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a Pride Month celebration at the State Department in Washington, D.C., June 17, 2022. (Tasos Katopodis/Reuters)

The State Department might soon launch an international campaign against conversion therapies for trans-identifying individuals, according to a leaked memo obtained last week by Manhattan Institute fellow Leor Sapir. This effort fits into the Biden administration’s overarching efforts to promote what it calls gender-affirming health care.

Sapir’s report, published in City Journal, suggests that State will soon note various countries’ handling of certain gender-identity-related treatments in its congressionally mandated assessments on human rights in various nations. Diplomatic outposts around the world, per the wording of the memo reported on by Sapir, will “submit robust information on the so-called ‘conversion therapy’ practices” of different countries “as part of the annual Human Rights Reports.” The office of Jessica Stern, the State Department’s special envoy on LGBTQI+ issues, will then launch an “action plan to combat the practice across foreign policy and foreign assistance lines of effort.”

Sapir writes that the memo, which was issued by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, also defines conversion therapy as efforts to “suppress or change an individual’s . . . gender identity.” While the Blinken memo says that such therapies include “electric shock” and “corrective rape,” it also includes “talk therapy” in the same category.

Sapir argues that this wrongly conflates two distinct things. “Using psychotherapy to help a child in distress about her changing body feel more comfortable in it rather than undergo expensive, risky, and irreversible hormonal and surgical interventions is, according to the State Department, no different from electrocuting gays and lesbians in order to ‘liberate’ them from their innate sexual attractions,” he writes.

In addition, Sapir identifies a number of potential diplomatic problems with that plan, arguing, in essence, that State has targeted a more or less innocuous practice used by several Western countries with well-regarded human-rights records. “Is the U.S. State Department about to classify Sweden, Finland, and the U.K. as human rights abusers?” he asks. Sapir provides the following context about those countries’ approach to gender-related health care:

The problem, for countries like Sweden, Finland, and the U.K., is that medical authorities in these places have concluded over the past two years that the evidence for pediatric “gender affirming care” is extremely weak and that, as a result, hormonal and surgical interventions are (as Finland’s COHERE put it) “experimental.” Sweden and Finland are now instructing clinicians who deal with minors to utilize an approach that emphasizes talk therapy as the first line of defense and “affirming” drugs only in extreme situations, if ever. Sweden has banned gender surgeries for minors—surgeries that are practiced in the United States, notwithstanding the repeated gaslighting of gender clinics and left-of-center media outlets. . . .

Other implications of the new “human rights” policy are anyone’s guess. Will the United States use its long financial arm to pressure Sweden, Finland, and the U.K. to restore “affirmative care,” against the judgment of experts in those countries that—unlike here—have conducted systemic evidentiary reviews? Will economic and cultural cooperation between the U.S. and other Western nations be made contingent on these countries demonstrating that a sufficient number of teenagers every year are medically transitioned? (Bureaucrats like to define objectives and measure outcomes numerically.) Or will the harm be largely symbolic and reputational, underscoring the extent to which American elites are willing to sacrifice reason and common sense to the ever-proliferating and increasingly destructive demands of wokeness?

That said, it seems less likely that Washington would punish those U.S. allies with financial penalties than that it would mention the countries’ stances in State’s annual report on human rights, with Stern raising the issue in diplomatic meetings with officials from those countries and at U.N.-sponsored and other multilateral events.

Still, even a softer State Department advocacy campaign on gender-affirming care could well carry consequences that erode Washington’s standing in the world. As Sapir argues:

Making “gender affirming care” a foreign policy requirement will dilute the moral authority of America’s broader commitment to human rights. Are foreign leaders now to believe that China’s persecution of its Uyghur minority, Venezuela’s use of arbitrary detentions and torture against regime dissidents, and the Taliban’s systematic oppression of women and girls are all on par with, say, Sweden urging its psychologists to help kids feel comfortable in their own bodies? Transgender activists will argue that ending “conversion therapy” and pushing back against other state-sponsored abuses are not mutually exclusive, but of course they are—and pretending otherwise will empower critics of the United States to argue that our understanding of human rights is absurd.

State’s reported work on gender-affirming care reflects the sharp turn that the department has taken to promote progressive conceptions of gender identity over the past year and a half. This followed a move to add a third gender marker, “X,” for “unspecified or another gender identity,” to passports starting in 2021. The department’s approach has been reflected in other communications, such as Foggy Bottom’s celebration of “International Pronouns Day” in a tweet that promoted an article discussing certain pronouns used by non-binary people, such as “ze/zir/zirs.”

Internally, too, State, which did not respond to National Review’s request for comment on Sapir’s report, adopted the language favored by gender-identity-focused activists throughout 2021, as NR reported last month:

In May of that year, in guidance on sensitivity to transgender employees, the department urged officials to “consider a shift in language to avoid making assumptions that can be offensive to transgender and gender nonconforming employees.” Officials were encouraged to use “words like everyone, colleagues, and esteemed guests rather than ladies and gentlemen.”

The document included a warning to those who don’t get with the times: “Persistent misuse of any employee’s name, pronoun, and/or honorific may be considered harassment.” The Family Liaison Office, which supports diplomats’ families, was renamed the “Global Community Liaison Office” in order to “better reflect and include diverse individuals and family types.”

In short, State’s reported move on gender-affirming care is consistent with the policy that it has advanced under the Biden administration. As the White House makes a series of further bold moves on this issue, State is likely to be a critical part of that effort, reshaping American diplomacy in noteworthy yet barely recognized ways and potentially pitting the U.S. against some of its allies on the finer points of gender ideology.

Sports

Wrong Again, Mark

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I didn’t know why Mark was badgering me late last week for a prediction for the UVa-Richmond game, and I figured that if he was making some complicated wager on DraftKings, he’d find a better source of information elsewhere.

Well, it turns out he was doing a prediction blog post, and he completely blew his UVa call, saying Virginia would only beat the Spiders 24–17, when actually they doubled them up 34–17. (Not much is certain in UVa football, except that we will beat William & Mary or Richmond at the outset of the season and lose to Virginia Tech at the end.)

The game of the weekend — or maybe the year or decade — involving an ACC team was the completely bonkers UNC–Appalachian State game.

World

The New Prime Minister’s Popularity Problem

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New British Prime Minister Liz Truss delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain September 6, 2022. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

London — Amidst the rain, Liz Truss delivered her first speech as prime minister outside No. 10 Downing Street. She began by paying tribute to Boris Johnson, whom “history will see as a hugely consequential prime minister,” for having delivered Brexit, facilitating the Covid vaccine, and standing up to Russian aggression. Nevertheless, she said, “now is the time to tackle the issues that have been holding Britain back.” Her three priorities are cutting taxes, addressing the energy crisis, and strengthening the National Health Service.

During her victory speech, Truss said, “I campaigned as a conservative and I will govern as a conservative,” perhaps a dig at Johnson’s left-leaning economic policies. Much to the chagrin of free-market Tories, tax cuts were not a priority for Johnson, who instead raised the minimum wage, pursued lavish infrastructure investment, and oversaw the biggest increase in public spending in 15 years.

Clearly, Truss is making a conspicuous right turn on the economy. But this will not be easy. After all, the reason Boris Johnson decided to spend so much is that doing so was popular with the electorate. (Never mind the consequences.) Of course, Truss was elected by the Conservative Party, not the country. But while popularity may not matter that much to her now, it will be a persistent challenge in the months ahead — especially as the United Kingdom continues to experience a severe cost-of-living crisis owing to soaring gas prices and as pressure on the National Health Service increases during winter.

Elections

When Contact-Tracing Republicans for Party Loyalty Goes Too Far

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Attendees clap as President Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech as the 2020 Republican presidential nominee during the final event of the Republican National Convention on the South Lawn of the White House, August 27, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In response to Contact-Tracing Trump’s Auto-Coup Attempt

I must add a note of disagreement with Jason’s weekend post on “contact-tracing” Republicans for their connection to Donald Trump’s “stop the steal” effort. Jason writes: “I could never vote for a candidate who tried to help Trump steal the election, who defended Trump’s attempt to steal the election, who is now campaigning for anyone who did either of the first two things, and so on” (my emphasis).

Now, the question of where to draw the line on voting for or supporting Trump has been a hard one for serious conservatives these past six years. I have at all times tried to extend some grace and understanding to people who agree with me on the conservative cause as a whole but made different choices on Trump. I wrote a whole defense in 2016 of Trump’s general-election voters. Some people I respect a great deal supported Trump, worked for Trump, and would gladly support him again in a general election in 2024. Others I also respect a great deal voted for Hillary Clinton and/or Joe Biden to stop Trump. Others landed in various places in between. I lost respect for people who sold out their conservative beliefs to become partisan Democrats, and for people who fell to being Trump propagandists, but at the point of decision, there were no good choices between Trump, a Democrat, and a “none of the above” protest.

So, I won’t judge Jason or Kevin on their choices of which Republicans they won’t support in a general election against a Democrat based on that politician’s own conduct. But it seems to me that adding the additional step of anathematizing any Republican “who is now campaigning” in the general election against a Democrat for problematic Republicans is going a step too far in terms of burning bridges with people who’ve made different choices. Like it or not, politics is a team sport. I judge Republicans who were fool enough to back, say, Doug Mastriano or Kari Lake in their primaries. I do not judge Republicans who refuse to vote for them over the Democrat — but I also do not judge those Republicans who think that even bad Republican candidates such as these are preferable to their opponents, given the great stakes of gubernatorial and House and Senate races on a great many issues of consequence on which Democrats are wrong about nearly everything and aim to make permanent changes to our system of government. We should have some tolerance for differences of opinion in that regard.

One thing I have learned over many years watching politics is that nothing will disappoint you more about a politician than whom he or she endorses. Americans used to have a more lenient understanding of the notion that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” And as a matter of strategy, if we try to read out of the party people who are across-the-board loyal to the party in the general, we may find those people unavailable as allies when the big fight comes in 2024 to keep Trump from being the party’s standard-bearer.

Politics & Policy

How Many Quacks?

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A woman casts her vote beside her children at Chesterbrook Elementary School in McLean, Va., November 2, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

In response to ‘A Normal Politician’

Kevin Williamson is no longer moved by lesser-of-two-evils arguments for voting for Republicans — not after Trump and January 6, not if it means raising the profile of the Republicans he finds to be cretins and quacks, from Marjorie Taylor Greene to Lindsey Graham. He says to me and Dan: “I get it. I do.”

And I suppose my response is “I get it” too.

My attitude toward the Republican Party between, say, 2004 and 2008 was probably closer to what Kevin’s is now — I basically detested the organization and identified with people on the margins of it. I think it was Joe Sobran who said that an unjust war is simply organized mass murder. Even if Sobran said a lot of things I can dismiss, I’ve never shaken off that one. During those years, I viewed the war in Iraq as unjust. Consequently, as the Republican Party bound itself to defend the war from too-late and too-little criticism from Democrats, and then nominated Mr. “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb” Iran as its candidate, my feeling was “to hell with them.” Around this time I viewed even the party’s nominal commitments to the other issues I cared about — stopping abortion, for instance — as insincere ruses. The Office of Special Plans got what it wanted; when would the March for Life? Probably never.

I just never voted for Republicans — and besides, even where the party nominally agreed with me, the local Republicans in New York probably didn’t. Why would I vote for a party that was defending the reintroduction of torture as a means of war? How could I listen to the GOP blather about the Constitution as it continued to grow the number of countries in which we fought undeclared wars? I even detested some of the same figures Kevin does now — hi, Senator Graham. And the conservative movement itself — all those figures in it were turning out psychotic books about how we could do regime changes in another half dozen or dozen countries. The Republicans were the party of corrupt boobs that Matt Continetti exposed in The K Street Gang — weirdos like Senator Wide Stance.

But I also realized that, in principle, Obama was nearly as against me on foreign policy as the Republican establishment was. He saw American power in similarly messianic terms. So in those years, I tended to drift to whatever Republican was willing to say anything remotely sensible or sane on foreign policy. Once it was a libertarian goldbug like Ron Paul. In 2012 I think Tim Miller and his guys got the idea that I might cotton to their candidate. I had no idea. But when Jon Huntsman responded to a question I asked about Iraq by saying he did not believe in preemptive war, that was it — I was for him. He had a pro-life and pro–Second Amendment record in Utah (thanks partly to the deep-red legislature there), and he made sense on the most important issue to me — war. It didn’t matter that he bled and cried purple, and refused to even smell red meat.

I haven’t really changed on the foreign-policy stuff, but as that issue faded from salience and Republicans got used to my sort of criticism aimed at Obama, I found chances to work with and collaborate with Republicans and conservatives on issues other than foreign policy that I also cared about. In the last decade, even before Trump, I found that the GOP’s pro-life commitments were becoming more credible with state legislatures really making a difference. I was surprised by the level of Democrats’ hostility toward hospice nuns and religious schools, and then more recently by their ever-clearer commitment to overthrowing the minoritarian constitutional limits on their and only their governance. I don’t intend on ever making excuses for January 6, either, and I do hope the party moves on from Trump. I’ve gotten older and realized that, this being politics, the psycho ideologues and partisans, the corrupt boobs and weirdos, will always be with us. But on balance, I want ours to win now more than ever.