History

I’ll Be Teaching an Online Course: ‘The Right to Bear Arms: A History’

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Minuteman statue in Lexington, Mass. (flySnow/iStock/Getty Images)

This just a quick heads up to let you all know that, starting in late January of next year, I’ll be teaching an online course on the history of the Second Amendment. I’ll be doing it with a new startup named Chapter, which describes its system as “like a book club, but way more fun.” (You don’t need any special apps; it’s just a website.)

The course will last four weeks, and it will run the gamut, starting in the colonial era and ending in the present day. Because people are busy, everything will be “asynchronous” — that is, you’ll be able to take part whenever you’re free, rather than at times set by me. Here is an outline of the four weeks:

  1. Pre-Revolutionary America: We’ll explore how the right to keep and bear arms came over with the colonists from Britain, before making its way into the heart of American law.
  2. The Founding Era: Why was the Second Amendment added to the federal constitution, and what were the Founders’ intentions in including it? What did militias have to do with a right “of the people”?
  3. Post-Civil War: The Second Amendment took on a new meaning after the Civil War — especially during the era of Jim Crow. You’ll learn how the right to keep and bear arms was changed by the 14th Amendment, and the lengths many states went to in resisting this change.
  4. The Second Amendment today: The Second Amendment has taken center stage in the 21st century, after a long period in which it was largely ignored. We’ll discuss contemporary American jurisprudence, the Heller decision, and the political rebirth of this most fundamental right.

Each week, I’ll provide a reading list (which could be articles, reviews, videos, podcasts, or primary source documents), along with insights and tips on each one. There will be a community forum in which you can discuss each topic, as well as a rolling Q&A in which I’ll answer questions.

The course will start on January 24th, 2022. You can sign up here. Hope to see some of you there!

Politics & Policy

Psaki Is Right; the CBO Score Is ‘Fake’

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a media briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., December 13, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Congressional Budget Office’s verdict that the Democrats’ Build Back Better Act could add as much as $3 trillion of federal debt over ten years is a “fake score for a bill that doesn’t exist.” This isn’t the first time that the Biden administration has tried to diminish the importance of the CBO score on welfare expansion. In 2017, we were subjected to a slew of concerned columns defending the honor of the CBO from Republican harassment. Suddenly, the CBO is “fake” again.

But Psaki’s not wrong. She’s just not wrong for the wrong reasons.

The CBO forecasts on important bills are rarely in the vicinity of correct. For instance, it estimated that 21 million Americans would get coverage through Obamacare by 2016. Not even close. And as Alan Reynolds once pointed out, the CBO systematically underestimates economic growth as well. From 1983 to 1999, the CBO issued two-year forecasts that added up to a 2.7 percent growth rate, when the real average was 3.7 percent.

Some of this isn’t the CBO’s fault. It underestimates the cost of a bill because it can only measure the numbers it is given. And those numbers are often manipulated. “This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” one of Obamacare’s architects, Jonathan Gruber, famously explained. “If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that.”

What we do know is that “Build Back Better” — which, if it passes, promises to be one of the most expensive bills in history – will cost trillions more than “zero dollars,” and it won’t be even close to “fully paid for.” The CBO, in fact, notes that the Dems’ bill includes 10 years of tax hikes to cover just a few years of benefits. Indeed, Build Back Better and other similar expansions of the welfare state create a slew of programs that will not only live on in perpetuity but balloon with unforeseen costs and mission creep. The cost can’t be measured properly.

History

Another Victim of Shoddy Abortion History

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A demonstrator holds a pro-abortion sign as she listens to speakers at a Black Women Take Action event outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., September 15, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In his syndicated column, Steve Chapman writes that abortion has

a spacious place in our history and traditions. In his 2017 book “Sex and the Constitution,” University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone notes that abortion was legal and widely performed in the United States at the time the Constitution was ratified — and wasn’t outlawed for more than a century afterward.

Oddly, I can’t find the “widely performed” claim in the 2017 book; all I see is the observation that “we do not know the precise extent to which people used contraception or abortion” in the 18th and early 19th centuries and the inference that rates of both must have risen over the course of the 19th century.

Chapman may have picked up this idea from a 2018 Stone article that indeed asserted that “[a]t the time our Constitution was drafted, abortion was often relied upon by single and widowed women to avoid the consequences of illegitimate births.” He also asserts there that abortion “was both common and legal.” This article purports to be based on the 2017 book, so it’s not clear where Stone got the idea that abortion was common at the time of the Founding.

We have several reasons for rejecting the idea. As Joseph Dellapenna emphasizes in his own thorough history of abortion, until modern times there weren’t widely available methods of abortion that were effective without putting mothers in serious danger. Birth rates in colonial America were extremely high: Stone himself, in the book, notes that the average family had nine children, which tells against the common use of abortion that he asserts in the article.

And historians who are more careful and trustworthy than Stone, even historians who themselves favor constitutional protection for abortion, have concluded that abortion was a “marginal practice” (James Mohr) that was “rarely employed” (Estelle Freedman). Stone’s book cites the books in which they recorded these conclusions.

Chapman, and his readers, have been had.

For more on this, including why Stone’s claims about the legal status of abortion at the time of the Founding are misleading, read my recent NR article on the historical mythology that sustains Roe.

Fiscal Policy

Climate Policy and Your Pension

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(robertsrob/Getty Images)

It is, I think, suggestive of something that so much “climate action” depends on spending, directly or indirectly, other people’s money without the degree of consent and/or democratic approval that ought to be expected given the sums involved (something, incidentally, that also holds true for the expensive burden that will be heaped on companies and individuals as a result of climate-related regulatory action). This also applies in many areas of finance, not least in the way that investor funds, retirement savings, and monies earmarked for pensions are increasingly being deployed.

And so, via News 10 ABC (WTEN), here’s one example of how that works:

The New York State Common Retirement Fund will invest $2 billion into the Climate Transition Index (CTI) focused on reducing the risks of climate change, announced State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. This is part of the Comptroller’s Climate Action Plan and his goal for of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

“The New York State Common Retirement Fund has been recognized for leading the way with its comprehensive approach to addressing the enormous challenges posed by climate change, as well as investing in the tremendous opportunities created by global efforts to address this crisis,” said DiNapoli.

He’s not wrong, you know. Just the other day Xi Jinping was telling me how impressed he’d been by the lead taken by the New York State Common Retirement Fund (this is not the first time it has been active in this area) to combat climate change. “It is a tremendous example,” he acknowledged: It would lead him to change China’s ways.

Fact check: dubious.

News 10:

The fund will allocate $2 billion within its internally managed public equity portfolio to FTSE Russell’s Russell 1000 TPI Climate Transition Index in connection with the Fund’s Sustainable Investment & Climate Solutions program.

“By using the Climate Transition Index, the fund will have an investment tool that incorporates a robust data-driven approach to invest in corporations that are ensuring their businesses are ready for the low-carbon transition and stand to perform well in the years ahead,” said DiNapoli.

It may also be buying into a green bubble by buying into this index at this point.

Bloomberg Green (September):

The rapid pace of growth in green investing raises the prospect of a bubble that could burst further down the road, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

Price-to-earnings valuations for clean energy companies are high and more analysis is needed to understand how green investing is playing out in the credit market, the Basel-based institution said in its quarterly report published on Monday.

History indicates that assets related to fundamental economic and social change may experience a significant price correction after an initial surge of interest, according to the BIS analysis, which took as its example 19th-century railroad stocks and the dot.com bubble…

To be sure, opinions can differ on the wisdom of a particular investment. Where there should be no disagreement is that the purpose of investing this type of money should be to generate maximum risk-adjusted financial return for those whose money it is, or those who money it will be, and, in the case of public pension funds, with the financial interest of the taxpayers who are often underwriting all or part of the pension liability firmly in mind. The one exception ought to be where those whose own monies (whether actual or potential) is on the line choose to sacrifice some return for other ends.

As for (financial) climate risk, it’s worth taking a look at this piece by John Cochrane for Capital Matters, and for more on games with pensions, check out Richard Morrison, also writing in Capital Matters, just today:

Economic policy is changing fast in Washington, and your retirement account may soon experience the whiplash. One of the best policies enacted by the previous administration was a rule that made it clear to the people who manage pension funds that, when selecting investments, they need to prioritize returns for beneficiaries instead of pursuing their own political agendas. Unfortunately, Joe Biden’s Department of Labor is currently in the middle of repealing that rule. This effort, while obscure to the average American, is part of a much larger effort to redefine the world of saving and investing to permanently serve progressive policy goals. That should alarm not just conservatives, but anyone who wants to be able to enjoy a comfortable retirement someday.

U.S.

Wally World

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(Chinnapong/Getty Images)

After initial sea farings in the mid 90s, National Review’s cruise program quickly hit its stride — ever-growing contingents numbered 300 and 400 conservative passengers (the peak — 794!) for the typical week-long floating conference. A consequence of this success meant the need to have more worker bees on hand to engage in daunting customer service. Howard Moses, founder of the Cruise Authority, and overseer of all these expeditions from the Caribbean to Alaska, the Baltic to the Mediterranean, had an inspiration: He’d bring along his dad.

And so Wallace Moses, a.k.a., Wally and Big Wally, came into the life of National Review, and for a decade or so of voyages he was a fixture — a beloved one. Wally was big indeed, maybe six-foot-three, built like he had played linebacker in college. Coming from deep Georgia, he possessed a classic Southern-fried accent, heard through a loud bass accessorized by an infectious laugh. He oozed charm and friendship, and in his native gregariousness told many a marvelous tale while his large mitts worked their way through packs of Marlboros. And then there was Wally’s age-belying youthfulness — many thought he was Howard’s big brother.

What Wally Moses was . . . was a man’s man (and it seemed the women’s too; because the strapping Southerner was handsome to boot). Put the package together and one was tempted cast him à la Foghorn Leghorn (but one never really did, if only because of the infamous rooster’s game-playing and duplicity). And what Wally was was admired, and loved (as Jay Nordlinger rightly and wonderfully remembers).

It was not unimportant that, although Wally was no employee of NR, he de facto represented it to friends, subscribers, and supporters. This he did this with ease and wisdom, even a sense of authority. And prudence. (Fun fact: The Moses clan grew up neighbors of Jimmy and Billy and Miss Lillian, and their affinities, rarely raised but for private conversation, leaned thataway.)

The dynamics were this: You sailed with NR once, odds were that you’d sail again, so over the years Wally came to be a recognized and friendly face. Often too, a friend. He could do more than share a tale or a laugh: An entrepreneur who endured years of running and growing a small empire of women’s clothing stores (the man could tell deadly serious stories about the crushing effects of shoplifting), Wally if asked to would disclose to NR cruisers contemplating ideas of retail their pitfalls and realities. He bore the scars.

But whatever the reasons he found himself engaged with customers, Wally did it well, and to the benefit of NR. My opinion: We have a great indebtedness to him. If it matters, and it does — Bill and Pat Buckley were fond of him.

The day came when Wally’s turn at pop-helping cruise work ended, his new and lovely wife Joanne and he finding happiness in their beautiful home in Albany, in traveling (sans duties), and in boating on a lake or in the Gulf of Mexico or in Alaska’s waters, to the detriment of the vicinity’s fish. He could wield a pole, and loved to.

On occasion we’d chat, usually with Howard handing over a phone, and there came the instant thrill of hearing that wonderful laugh and being in Big Wally’s presence, even if only via the ether.

As November ended, so did Wally’s happy life. Those Marlboros caught up with him — still, it took 83 years. A long time that, in which he shared a special bonhomie with countless people. He mattered to us. A lot. To our dear pal Howard and his sister Alissa, to her husband David, our paisan and the other force at the Cruise Authority, to Wally’s wife Joanne and to the grandchildren he loved so much, you have our sympathies and condolences, personal and institutional. NR shares both in your sadness, and in the knowledge that Wally Moses was a special and very good man, and a friend we will miss sorely.

Education

There Is No ‘Conservative Case for CRT’

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An anti-critical race theory sign is held at a Loudon County School board meeting in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The Washington Post published a piece this morning by contributing columnist Gary Abernathy, ostensibly one of the Post’s right-leaning voices, arguing that “there’s a lot for conservatives to embrace in critical race theory.” It’s the latest in the budding subgenre of “the conservative case for [insert X left-wing policy here] think pieces: “the conservative case for the Democratic Party,” “the conservative case for Roe v. Wade,” “the conservative case for ditching the Electoral College,” and so on. But it is in a league of its own when it comes to the sheer absurdity of its line of argument, which operates off of a surprisingly shallow understanding of both CRT and conservatism. (Note: The Post capitalizes “white” and “black”; quotations from Abernathy here will duplicate this style for the sake of accuracy in quoting, not to endorse it.)

Abernathy argues that “conservatives should consider that maybe [the Left] has a point” about CRT because “many conservatives pride themselves on being grounded in logic rather than emotion,” and “logic dictates that something as historically obvious as the impact of slave labor on the success of our nation should be acknowledged and more comprehensively taught, along with the fact that our legal, governmental and economic institutions were crafted, intentionally or otherwise, to favor White people.” He does not elaborate on which of today’s American institutions unfairly favor whites, or by what standard he’s judging the unfair privileges they bestow. He simply asserts that “logic dictates” it is so.

Certainly, many on the left would agree with that assessment. But many on the right don’t; conservatives tend to be skeptical of claims that disparate outcomes — the social-justice Left’s favorite metric to cite as proof of discrimination — are inherent evidence of injustice. Abernathy frames his argument as addressed to the Right, but makes no attempt to actually engage with these conservative critiques of CRT. Nor does he even make any reference to basic conservative principles beyond the fact that “many conservatives pride themselves on being grounded in logic rather than emotion.” In other words, it’s not entirely clear why Abernathy thinks conservatives should support CRT, beyond the fact that he wants them to.

There are many reasons to object to CRT from a conservative perspective. It is a corrosive racialist ideology that undermines American institutions, it teaches citizens to categorize one another on the basis of race, and it presents a dark and twisted view of U.S. history. Most of all, however, the doctrine’s view of the individual as a mere “ensemble of the social relations,to use Marx’s language, is fundamentally contrary to the conservative understanding of the human person, portraying citizens as helpless conduits for faceless power structures rather than as sovereign agents. 

Abernathy waves all this away by suggesting that “critical race theory should be welcomed in schools” so long as it occurs “within a curriculum that stops short of sermonizing to today’s white Americans or force-feeding politically driven solutions.” Arguments like these are difficult to take seriously. How might one teach an ideology that explicitly categorizes different races as “oppressors” and “oppressed” without “sermonizing to today’s White Americans”? And how would one avoid “force-feeding politically driven solutions” with an ideology that is explicitly Marxist and revolutionary, views everything as inherently political, and rejects the freedom of expression that is so crucial to liberal education?

You can’t. And it’s exceedingly odd for anyone — let alone a conservative — to pretend otherwise.

Politics & Policy

Go Figure, It Turns Out That Enforcing Vaccine Mandates Is Difficult!

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A woman holds a placard as people march to protest against New York City’s COVID vaccine mandate in New York City, October 25, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Lo and behold, it turns out that proposing and announcing a Covid-19 vaccine mandate is a lot easier than actually enforcing one.

As our Dan McLaughlin has been tracking, vaccine mandates have hit a lot of obstacles in court. OSHA awaits a decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on challenges contesting the legality of the President’s orders. A judge enjoined the mandate on federal contractors. And until next year, unvaccinated federal workers will be given “counseling and education” urging them to get vaccinated – not suspended or fired.

A few days ago, Amtrak announced it will need to reduce service in January unless more employees get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Pentagon has found that while the vast majority of troops have gotten their shots, a sizeable number have refused:

Military leaders have few options to address the dissent other than to hope that, as waiver requests are denied, more troops will choose to fall in line. The alternative, the Pentagon has said, is to purge the ranks of those failing to meet requirements, though some of those roughly 40,000 service members opting out had already planned to leave the military.

In New York state, some municipalities have declared they will not enforce the governor’s edict that all establishments must require vaccinations or masks. And Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer turned some heads when she declared that the federal employer vaccine mandate is a problem: “I know if that mandate happens, we’re going to lose state employees. That’s why I haven’t proposed a mandate at the state level. Some states have. We have not, we’re waiting to see what happens in court.”

As of this morning, 484 million Covid-19 vaccine shots have been administered, and 202 million Americans are fully vaccinated, and 239 million have received at least one shot. Lots of Americans were willing to get vaccinated, and would urge others to do so. But the public support for firing unvaccinated workers appears pretty thin — and so far, most judges seem pretty unconvinced that this is a legitimate and Constitutional expression of government authority.

Politics & Policy

Dr. Oz and the Swedenborgians

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A geographical-religious note about the entry of Dr. Mehmet Oz into the Pennsylvania Senate race. Oz has little personal connection to Pennsylvania, though he took his medical degree and an MBA from Penn. (Harvard undergrad; he’s a quack, but not a slacker.) When Oz decided to run for the Pennsylvania Senate seat, he moved (notionally) to the town of Bryn Athyn in Montgomery County, a nice little town that is, among other things, the world center of the Swedenborgian religion — or Swedenborgian cult, as many Christians would characterize it. Doctor Oz is a Muslim, but one who has at least one foot in the Swedenborgian cult, as he makes clear in this 2007 interview.

Dr. Oz’s weakness for quackery and hoo-haw is not limited to faddish medical pseudoscience, as it turns out. A cult-adjacent celebrity crackpot with no practical experience: Dr. Oz may be the perfect Republican candidate for our time. Sean Hannity’s excitement already is palpable.

Law & the Courts

White Evangelicals and Abortion

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Signs at the Supreme Court during the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

David French writes:

There’s powerful statistical evidence that white Evangelicals aren’t really that committed to the legal pro-life cause.

Majorities don’t want to ban abortion. Majorities don’t prioritize abortion. Indeed, there’s strong evidence that “white evangelical Republican support for Donald Trump is based more on immigration policy than his view of abortion.”

As a pro-lifer myself, I wish every demographic group made the right to life a political priority. But I think David is selling his fellow white evangelicals short here.

His statistical evidence consists of a link to a thread from a scholar who points out (for example) that in a March 2018 survey, 80 percent of the group did not want all abortions to be illegal. I’d note, though, a few points that reduce the force of this observation. First, 54 percent believed abortion should be either completely illegal or “very difficult” to obtain. Second, many of the “very difficult” group are probably thinking of abortions in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s life. People who believe such abortions should be legal are almost always, and justifiably, considered pro-lifers. (This was the stated position of the last three Republican presidents, for example.) Third, what’s our comparison group? In the same survey, only 31 percent of all respondents believed that abortion should be impossible or very difficult to obtain. If my math isn’t mistaken — and I was, admittedly, a history major — that means white evangelicals were 74 percent more likely than the average respondent to take the relatively pro-life positions. Obviously that number would be even higher if we compared white evangelicals to the population excluding them.

The scholar also notes that only 30 percent of white evangelicals think restricting abortion should be the “highest priority.” That is, again, a much bigger number than the whole sample generates (18 percent).

PRRI’s August 2019 survey gives us more comparative data. Sixty-five percent of white evangelicals in that survey believed abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. A few religious groupings had a slightly higher number — Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses — but there is no question that white evangelicals are the largest group with such a strong anti-abortion lean. Only 42 percent of white Catholics, 52 percent of Hispanic Catholics, and a pathetic 37 percent of my fellow other Catholics fit the category.

My guess on the last set of findings David highlights, meanwhile, is that it mainly tells us that if by now you are a white evangelical Republican who is pro-choice, you don’t prioritize abortion very much.

Suffice it to say that without the relatively strong support of white evangelicals for the pro-life position, its strength in American culture and politics would be radically diminished. Those of us who hold pro-life convictions would be completely marginalized — and surely not on the verge, instead, of overturning Roe v. Wade. This non-white, non-evangelical pro-lifer is grateful.

Law & the Courts

Dobbs and the Supreme Court’s Self-Interest

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The main argument supporters of Roe are currently making is that reversing it would undermine the Supreme Court. In Bloomberg Opinion, I argue that there’s a sense in which they are right — but cutting down the Court to something closer to its constitutional dimensions would be a good thing.

Religion

The Bell Tolls for Notre Dame Cathedral

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The National Heritage and Architecture Commission in France has greenlighted at least some of the hideous proposals to modernize Notre Dame Cathedral as part of the renovation effort following the 2019 fire, the New York Times reports.

There is potent symbolism in this dumbing down of religion in an increasingly secular country and the continued vandalism of our shared cultural inheritance. What’s most disappointing is that these proposals were made by the diocese of Paris.

The 100 or so French public figures put it well in their letter published in Le Figaro: “Notre-Dame de Paris: What the fire spared, the diocese wants to destroy.”

Politics & Policy

No Surprise — District Judge Rules in Favor of Racial Preferences at UNC

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The Wilson Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill in North Carolina, August 18, 2020. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)

Students for Fair Admissions has sued a number of universities over their admissions policies that give large advantages to applicants who happen to fit into certain racial classifications. Their case against Harvard is awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court to grant cert or not. And back in October, federal judge Loretta Biggs ruled in favor of the University of North Carolina in SFFA’s suit against it.

I write about that ruling in today’s Martin Center article.

SFFA never had a chance with this Obama appointee, who declared that UNC ought to be doing more to bring about “diversity.” She is completely on board with the notion that “diversity” is purely a matter of ancestry rather than individuality.

All that Judge Biggs needed to ground her decision was a “showing” by UNC that it was reaping the educational benefits of diversity (that is the magic phrase that must be uttered in these cases, thanks to Justice Lewis Powell in the Bakke case). The evidence consisted of a few former students saying that they learned from students who were different while enrolled. But those same students might also have learned from the students who were rejected because of their ancestry.

Moreover, it’s plain that UNC, Harvard, and other institutions don’t really care about anything except having what they regard as sufficient minority percentages, since they do nothing to seek “diversity” in aspects of life where there is real controversy in America. They don’t look to admit students who would add differing points of view regarding religion or philosophy. If they were actually concerned about crafting student bodies where the students would learn from and about each other, they’d seek out students who are deeply religions and others who aren’t religious at all, students who have military backgrounds and others who are anti-militarists, students who believe in omnipotent government and students who are libertarians, etc.  The “educational benefits” claim is just a smokescreen for administrators pursuing their notions of “social justice.”

White House

Veterans Group: The White House Admitted They Left Most Special-Immigrant Visa Holders Behind

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Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan October 5, 2021. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Matt Zoeller, co-founder of No One Left Behind, met with White House officials who are coordinating the resettlement of Afghan allies.

Zoeller wrote on Twitter last night that he was told from August 15 to August 31, the U.S. evacuated 86,000 Afghans. Out of that group, 5,000 were U.S. citizens, 3,5000 were green-card holders, or legal permanent residents, and 3,000 were on special immigrant visas (SIV). The nonprofit group Association of Wartime Allies estimated that as of August 15, roughly 88,000 Afghan SIV holders needed to be evacuated — meaning that the overwhelming majority of SIV holders were left behind.

The remaining 71,000 or so evacuated Afghans were “humanitarian parolees,” who qualified because they “have a compelling emergency and there is an urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit to allowing [them] to temporarily enter the United States.” SIV holders were supposed to be given top priority, because their past work as interpreters or other roles for the U.S. military made them the top targets for Taliban retribution.

Unfortunately, there is some evidence that the U.S. government security vetting for the Afghans who did make it out was slipshod, disorganized, and insufficient:

An internal memo, drafted by Republican aides to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who visited U.S. military bases used to process Afghans domestically and overseas, said that certain standard steps for refugees, such as in-person interviews and document verification, were skipped or delayed. The memo, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, was prepared ahead of a closed-door briefing from Biden administration officials for committee members, including Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), the top Republican on the panel.

Those without paperwork or identifying biometric or biographic information were allowed to give their own names and dates of birth for entry into U.S. government tracking systems, an additional source of concern, the memo said. The screenings also didn’t include an assessment of the individual’s ties to the U.S., it added.

Ten evacuees who made it to the U.S. have been detained because they are national security risks, an administration official told lawmakers in the Tuesday briefing, according to a person familiar with the matter. It wasn’t clear how they were determined to be security risks.

Then there is the issue of Americans left behind. Roughly one month ago, Task Force Pineapple said it knew of five American citizens who wanted out but who couldn’t leave, the September Group knows of seven, Project Exodus says it knows of nine, and Task Force Argo’s database includes 45 American citizens and 116 green-card holders — although no one knows if these groups’ lists overlap. On November 3, Foreign Policy reported that the State Department believes as many as 14,000 U.S. legal permanent residents remain in Afghanistan.

I’m afraid my reader nicknamed Samaritan doesn’t have a lot new to report, and the meager updates he has are not good. One of the former employees he’s trying to get, out, a civil engineer is continuing to hide with his family. This civil engineer reported that his friend, a doctor, was beaten and killed by the Taliban shortly before Thanksgiving. The civil engineer and his family are scrounging for food as their savings run out.

Those with green cards have heard that they can’t get through passport control or immigration in Afghanistan, because the Taliban will yank them out of the line. The land borders remain closed. “The only way to get these guys out is through an unconventional airlift extraction, which are not happening at the moment,” Samaritan told me.

It would be easy to blame the U.S. State Department for the colossal failure to prioritize the evacuation of those who had SIVs, but most front-line State workers did the best they could in overwhelming circumstances. No one in the U.S. government had prepared to get 88,000 or so people out of a war zone, with a collapsing central government, with only one airport. (President Biden says he doesn’t remember his military advisers urging him to keep 2,500 troops in the country. Biden also claimed his advisers told him that there was not much value in keeping Bagram Air Base open.)

Last month, Politico checked in with State Department employees involved in the evacuation, and found that some who worked on the evacuation said the harrowing experience of being unable to help so many desperate people “broke a lot of people.”

Interviews with more than half a dozen State Department employees in addition to government officials and advocates, as well as a review of internal administration emails POLITICO obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, reveal the desperation and disorganization that consumed frontline State Department employees. As they feverishly attempted to assist Afghans and Americans stranded in the war-torn country and fielded a crush of calls and emails — the inbox where the State Department directed Afghans to send Special Immigrant Visa applications crashed at least once — officials say they were unclear of their own authorities and what policies they were allowed to employ to help evacuate people. It all triggered mental health issues for some staffers, from which some are still attempting to recover, months later.

Their stories are a testament to the U.S. government’s lack of preparedness for the cratering security situation, even as President Joe Biden pushed through his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31.

“This experience broke a lot of people, including me,” a second State Department official said. “We were all getting inundated by personal requests to help specific people from everyone we’ve ever known or worked with. And we were powerless to do anything, really. Feeling like you’re supposed to be the government’s 911, but knowing the call for help didn’t go very far beyond you was extremely demoralizing.”

The evacuation of U.S. forces from Afghanistan went about as badly as it possibly could. Even beyond the terrorist attack at the airport that killed 13 American service members, American citizens, and green-card holders were left behind, the overwhelming majority of Afghan allies who were supposed to be evacuated were left behind, the ones who did get out included at least a handful of people who were security threats, and the State Department employees who tried to do the most to get people out were left traumatized by the experience.

On December 6, State Department spokesman Ned Price said:

In our engagement with the Taliban, we have made very clear to them, and we made clear to them before they took over Kabul, and certainly after, including last week when Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West met with a senior Taliban delegation, that we would be looking to the Taliban’s conduct in key areas, and that includes in human rights, that includes in terms of their counterterrorism commitments, that includes in terms of providing safe passage to Americans, LPRs, and to others who wish to leave the country.

Culture

Elon Musk Says Have More Children

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SpaceX founder Elon Musk speaks at a news conference after the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off on an uncrewed test flight from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., March 2, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Elon Musk, father of six and a billionaire, has said that “One of the biggest risks to civilization is the low birth rate and the rapidly declining birthrate.” He told the Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO Council:

So many people, including smart people, think that there are too many people in the world and think that the population is growing out of control. It’s completely the opposite. Please look at the numbers. If people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble, mark my words.

This is certainly true of Western civilization, where declining birth rates are already significantly below the replacement rate. If only the climate-obsessed baby doomers would listen!

Impromptus

Touchy Subjects

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A scene outside the Plaza Hotel in New York City, December 2021 (Jay Nordlinger)

My Impromptus column today begins with transgenderism in sports — and moves on to other touchy subjects: racial and sexual hoaxes; paganism around guns; etc. You want touchy? I got touchy. I also have some language, courtesy of a reader — who introduced me to the word “niblings.” This is a “gender-neutral” way of saying “nieces and nephews.”

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

What is the greatest restaurant name of all time? Kevin Williamson informed me of it — and I discuss it in my column. (Spoiler alert.) What are some other great restaurant names? If you’d like to share one or two or more, please write me at jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

Today’s column ends with some photos, of Christmastime New York, one of which is at the head of this post.

Okay, let’s have some mail. My Impromptus of last Thursday had an item on abortion. A reader writes,

I am an abortion absolutist. I think abortion should be outlawed except when it’s a question of balancing lives. . . . I knew a young lady years ago who was pregnant and found out she had a brain tumor. Her doctors recommended an abortion. She refused. She gave birth, then fought for life, HARD. She lost eventually when her son was two. Hard choice, and if she had made the other, I couldn’t have faulted her. I strongly respected her, though, for making what she knew was potentially, maybe even likely, a sacrificial choice.

Bottom line for me, abortion is the death of a human being. Without a strong cause, I believe that this death is murder. And this is the problem. Not everyone agrees with me. If they did, abortion would not even be an issue. We would recoil from it in horror. So, I accept the victories I can get, and I make the arguments I can that will save lives.

If Roe is overturned, I will celebrate and mourn at the same time. Celebrate because some states will move to save lives, but mourn because others will not. In the meantime, I will try to keep making my arguments, remembering that the people on the other side don’t feel what I feel, don’t see what I see. At least not yet. And I will remember that this does not make them evil people.

Want something lighter? Here it is. In that column of mine last Thursday, I had a little item about squirrels. Foreigners in Central Park are fascinated by them. Every day, they bend down to photograph them. Conclusion (not that you have to be Sherlock Holmes to draw it): They must not have squirrels at home.

I got several notes about this subject, including the following:

Your item reminded me of my own great-grandfather, who took his wife on an anniversary tour of Europe back in the 1920s. He kept a diary that I have treasured.

They were awed by many magnificent sights, but one mention struck me in particular. They were in London, I believe, and he wrote about the swarms “of a certain variety of large gray dove.” It took me a second to realize he was talking about pigeons. He didn’t know pigeons?! But I can imagine that the winged rat of the big cities would be uncommon in their small Ohio village.

Wonderful. And thank you to one and all. Again, today’s Impromptus is here.

Education

Don’t Ban Woke School-Library Books, Balance Them

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(pcess609/Getty Images)

I can’t think of a more encouraging development than the national movement of parents pushing back against woke education. Nothing can beat parents organized to halt the erosion of core American ideals like freedom of expression or equality before the law. Thankfully, a record of early successes is rapidly building a larger movement to take back our schools.

Yet a crusade on the rise always risks overreach. Lately, some parents and public officials fighting woke education have considered pulling books from the shelves of public-school libraries. That isn’t always inappropriate, even for strong defenders of free speech. Libraries serving K-12 students legitimately take criteria like age-appropriateness and community standards into account when it comes to explicit sexual material. Because those lines are notoriously difficult to draw, battles over sexually explicit school library books are sure to play out for years.

Bracketing the issue of age-appropriateness and explicit sexual content, however, I want to suggest that the best way to deal with woke school library books is not to ban them, but to balance them. If Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist is on your school-library shelf, don’t ban it. Have your library buy a copy of John McWhorter’s Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, instead. If your school library has a copy of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, have it order a copy of Heather MacDonald’s The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe. And so on.

It’s true that a public K-12 school is not a public university. Public universities stock their libraries with books representing multiple points of view. They also grant professors freedom to conduct classes in their areas of expertise as they see fit. All this is on the theory that college students are old enough to choose their schools, their courses, and then decide for themselves the truth or falsity of the various perspectives they encounter. Public K-12 is different. Students are essentially a captive audience, and are young enough to be swayed by teachers who indoctrinate. That is why state laws barring certain content from K-12 teaching are permissible to begin with.

Nevertheless, preparing the young for mature citizenship means exposing them to contrasting perspectives. The pernicious new educational practice of “action civics” allows biased teachers to draft whole classes into after-school political protests for course credit. I’ve argued that instead of forcing students into one-sided after-school political advocacy, schools ought to return to the tradition of high-school debate. That’s where students learn to take both sides of current controversies, which builds respect for all. Ensuring that our K-12 libraries are stocked with books that offer arguments on both sides of our most controversial public-policy issues is very much in the spirit of high-school debate, and entirely appropriate to K-12.

This past weekend, the New York Times made much of a story out of Texas. In October, supposedly following up on the new Texas law barring teacher advocacy of critical race theory, a member of the Texas State House sent out a letter listing about 850 books. The letter called on K-12 schools to identify and review the books to see if they contained any “material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.” Opponents of woke education ought to avoid this sort of overreach.

The legislator’s request was not justified by the new law (which was based, in part, on model legislation that I authored). In the first place, the new Texas civics law does not bar teaching that makes students feel uncomfortable because of their race or sex. That would give any offended student a curricular veto. Instead, the law bars teaching children that they should feel discomfort because of their race or sex, as CRT treatments of “Whiteness” often do, for example. Second, with one exception, the Texas law does not bar the presentation of any given concept. Instead, it prevents teachers from inculcating CRT-based ideas of collective racial guilt. In other words, CRT-based ideas can be discussed, so long as they are not taught as truth. So, for example, a comparison and contrast of Ibram X. Kendi’s CRT-based ideas with John McWhorter’s critique of CRT would be fine. That’s why having both books in the school library would make sense. (The Texas law rightly prevents teachers from “inculcating” the core claims of the 1619 Project, but then goes too far, in my view, by effectively barring even a discussion of the 1619 Project.)

In short, the new Texas civics law provides no basis whatever for mass recalls of library books. Even books that advocate the very CRT-based concepts barred by the law can still be used, if they are presented alongside contrasting perspectives, rather than presented as true.

Scattershot recalls of hundreds of library books, presumably under consideration for banning, is neither good policy nor good politics. Our woke elites are only too eager to paint parents pushing back at woke excess in our schools as intolerant book-burners. Why not turn the tables by reviewing school libraries for leftist advocacy books, then balancing them with a more conservative point of view? Keep leftist political books, then dare your opponents to ban the new conservative books you’ve ordered. I hope both sides hesitate to ban. The end result would be school libraries filled with both points of view — a big win, as far as I’m concerned.

No doubt, the children’s and young adult book markets are dominated by entries with a leftist bias. There are conservative alternatives, however. The Goldwater Institute recently held an event on a series of children’s books that fights back against the woke cultural trend. I’ve seen lists of conservative books for young adults as well. Some enterprising individuals and groups should put together a list of conservative, non-woke, or anti-woke books for children and young adults. Parents and school libraries could work from those lists.

This is largely unexplored territory. Are most school libraries filled with books like Kendi’s? I really don’t know. If your school library isn’t particularly political, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest rushing to stock it with conservative-leaning policy books. On the other hand, if your school’s civics teachers focus on current events, and have stuffed their school library’s shelves with woke tracts, let the balancing begin.

The new Texas civics law does say that civics teachers who choose to discuss controversial current events should strive to do so from “diverse and contending” perspectives. That isn’t a mandate for school libraries, but it certainly does offer a reason for school librarians to stock up on competing public-policy books. (And no, the Texas law’s provision calling for a balanced exploration of current public-policy debates does not mandate the teaching of Holocaust denial or flat Earthism.)

In short, it is legally unnecessary, substantively ill-advised, and politically foolish to ban woke school-library books. Setting aside the challenge of determining age-appropriate sexual content, don’t ban woke books, balance them.

Politics & Policy

Bernie’s ‘Build Back Better’ Bill Is Unpopular in New Hampshire

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden orders ice cream with New Hampshire State Senator Martha Fuller Clark (left) during a campaign stop at Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream in Portsmouth, N.H., July 12, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

This morning’s New Hampshire Journal brings us an update on the Democrats’ “Build Back Better” bill, which Senator Bernie Sanders insists is “overwhelmingly” popular :

If Buttigieg is counting on the Build Back Better plan to give Democrats a bounce, he may be disappointed. Despite having the backing of all four members of the state’s federal delegation, a narrow majority of New Hampshire voters oppose it (45-52 percent.)

And 55 percent of Granite Staters believe an additional $2 trillion in federal spending will make inflation worse, while just 9 percent agree with Biden administration officials that it will decrease inflation. Another 20 percent say it will have no impact and 16 percent aren’t sure.

As it happens, the Biden administration is “overwhelmingly” popular in New Hampshire in much the same way as is the bill:

A new New Hampshire Journal poll finds a jaw-dropping 70 percent of New Hampshire registered voters believe the country is on the wrong track. That may explain why [Biden is] underwater with Granite Staters by -14 points, with a 43 percent favorable/57 percent unfavorable number.

In the country at large, BBB has an “overwhelming” 41 percent support. In West Virginia, where Joe Manchin remains uncommitted, it is supported by an “overwhelming” 26 percent of voters.

It’s a dud. Kill it.

Politics & Policy

‘A Letter to Send to Venues That Exclude the Unvaccinated’

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In this letter, GMU economics professor Don Boudreaux seeks to persuade people who make such decisions that there is no reason to demand either proof of vaccination or the wearing of masks. Neither does any good, so stop with the theatrics.

Health Care

Bioethicists Okay Human Extinction to Eliminate Suffering

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(solarseven/iStock/Getty Images)

These days, anti-humanism is as thick as molasses among the intelligentsia. That includes an ongoing conversation in bioethics whether — all things considered — human extinction would be a fine thing because of the suffering that never coming into existence would avoid.

Example: A few months ago, Oxford professor Roger Crisp opined that we might not want to stop a huge asteroid from hitting the Earth. From “Would extinction be so bad?”:

Consider the huge amount of suffering that continuing existence will bring with it, not only for humans, and perhaps even for “post-humans”, but also for sentient non-humans, who vastly outnumber us and almost certainly would continue to do so. As far as humans alone are concerned, Hilary Greaves and Will MacAskill at the University of Oxford’s Global Priorities Institute estimate that there could be one quadrillion (1015) people to come – an estimate they describe as conservative.

These numbers, and the scale of suffering to be put into the balance alongside the good elements in individuals’ lives, are difficult to fathom and so large that it’s not obvious that you should deflect the asteroid. In fact, there seem to be some reasons to think you shouldn’t….

Perhaps one reason we think extinction would be so bad is that we have failed to recognise just how awful extreme agony is. Nevertheless, we have enough evidence, and imaginative capacity, to say that it is not unreasonable to see the pain of an hour of torture as something that can never be counterbalanced by any amount of positive value. And if this view is correct, then it suggests that the best outcome would be the immediate extinction that follows from allowing an asteroid to hit our planet.

Crisp equivocates a bit at the end, writing, “I am not claiming that extinction would be good; only that, since it might be, we should devote a lot more attention to thinking about the value of extinction than we have to date.” Good grief. Is the issue really debatable?

Not to be outdone, writing in response to Crisp in the Journal of Medical Ethics Blog, University of Calgary professor Walter Glannon shrugs his big brain at the prospect of us being gone. From “A world without us”:

We cannot predict the sort of lives future people would have because we do not know the sort of world they would inhabit.  But the circumstances described above make it difficult to be optimistic. Regardless of the hypothetical value or disvalue of these lives, possible people are not deprived of anything if they do not come into existence.

We have an obligation to collectively act to prevent or reduce the suffering that present and future humans will actually experience. This depends on controlling natural habitats, deforestation, carbon emissions and other processes.  Future actual people have the same rights and interests in avoiding suffering as present actual people.  The extent of suffering may provide a pro tanto reason to prevent them from existing.  Even if there is no such reason, merely possible people do not have these rights and interests because they do not and will not exist.  If we become extinct, then the world will go on without us and will be good or bad for no one.

Why do ivory-tower discussions like this matter? Because these nihilists are teaching the society leaders of tomorrow, those who will exert tremendous influence over future public policies and cultural attitudes. With our supposedly best minds suggesting that human extinction could be desirable, is it any wonder why so many of our young people seem to be despairing?

Moreover, the utter terror of suffering is pathological and leads directly to evil and/or terribly wrongheaded utilitarian policies such as eugenics and social Darwinism. It is also the moving force behind the euthanasia movement, which seeks to eliminate suffering by eliminating the sufferer. Avoiding suffering is also the central philosophical core of the transhumanism quasi-religion, which seeks to create a corporeal immortality by instilling a new eugenics with very sharp teeth.

So, what should be our attitude toward suffering? It should not be utopian scheming. Nor, to be sure, should it be indifference. Rather, we have a human duty to mitigate each other’s suffering, to love and “suffer with” each other — which is the root meaning of compassion. And we can harness our own suffering to grow and become better individuals.

In this regard, for my Humanize podcast, I recently interviewed the quadriplegic Christian evangelist and disability rights activists Joni Eareckson Tada, who unexpectedly took a deep dive into this very issue, and in a very intimate and personal way. Regardless of faith issues, her attitude toward — and personal response to — her own deep suffering is much healthier than the nihilism that has grown so dark within utilitarian bioethics that some don’t reject the prospect of human extinction out of hand.

Politics & Policy

Once Again, Bernie Sanders Struggles with the Concept of a Majority

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, (D., Vt.) questions former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm during a hearing to examine her nomination to be Secretary of Energy on Capitol Hill, January 27, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via Reuters)

I can comprehend why Bernie Sanders is stressed out. The Biden agenda — which is really the Bernie agenda now — probably represents Sanders’s last chance to vote for a slew of big government programs. After this year, we’ll likely get divided government for a while, and by the time the Democrats are back in power, Bernie will have retired.

But goodness me is he embarrassing himself in his desperation.

Yesterday, Sanders tweeted this.

The “American people” have “expressed” no such thing. Per NPR:

Democrats have staked their political future on enacting President Biden’s plans for trillions in social spending, but a new NPR/Marist poll shows that most voters are skeptical of the party’s proposals.

Just 41% of the survey’s respondents said they support the Build Back Better bill, the roughly $2 trillion bill currently being negotiated in Congress. Nearly three-quarters of all Democrats said the support the bill but only 36% of independents and 13% of Republicans agreed.

Moreover:

The survey respondents were less optimistic about the in-process Build Back Better legislation. Just 42% said they thought it would help people like them.

This is not “support.” And it is certainly not “overwhelming support.”

Bernie seems to have a real problem grasping concepts such as “support” and “majorities.” As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake has pointed out, Bernie frequently argues that Senators Sinema and Manchin “shouldn’t be able to thwart what 48 of 50 Democratic and independent senators support,” as if the only majorities that matter in the Senate are those within the Democrats’ caucus. But they’re not. Indeed, as Blake notes,

it’s not just two senators standing in the way, but in fact 52 — a majority that includes those two Democrats and all 50 Republicans. Bills passed via reconciliation require a majority (in this case, 50 votes plus a tiebreaker from Vice President Harris), and a majority of the Senate does not presently support this one.

Taken together, Sanders’s position is that “democracy” requires a minority of the U.S. Senate to pass a bill that a minority of Americans supports, and that its failure to do so reflects a preference for “voter suppression.” Do they not teach math in Burlington?

Film & TV

Why West Side Story Flopped on Opening Weekend

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David Alvarez (Bernardo) in West Side Story. (Niko Tavernise/20th Century Fox)

I assume Steven Spielberg’s $100 million remake of West Side Story isn’t being advertised quite as heavily in your neighborhood, but on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I live, you can scarcely take a breath without being hit with advertising for the movie. 20th Century Studios/Disney treated this as an event movie, it had the weekend all to itself, it had considerable critical acclaim/hype and some of the target demographic (the theater community, extending out to everyone who ever performed in the show in high school) was intensely interested.

Unfortunately, the movie also suffers from having no stars (sorry, Ansel Elgort, but you make Timothée Chalamet look like Marlon Brando) and it’s based on a property that may be beloved by people over 50 but is, I suspect, totally unknown to those under 40.  People over 50 don’t go to the movies. The single comment I most often hear from people when I tell them I’m a film critic is, “Oh, I haven’t been to the movies in years.” TV is where it’s at these days. West Side Story is on track to gross $10.2 million in North America on its opening weekend — less than the $11.5 million earned by In the Heights in June, even though In the Heights is a little-known property and it debuted on HBO Max the same day. Certainly, the public sense that the pandemic was over in June provided a boost and the reverse is true six months later.

West Side Story is, despite the terrific songs and attempts to update it, still an extremely dated property — corny, maudlin, contrived, phony. I saw it in a huge theater full of enthusiastic fans, and even there reaction was muted. It just isn’t that great. Word of mouth is not going to help this movie earn out.

It’s not really fair to call the movie a flop yet, though; its target audience of women over 25 is, famously, distracted by holiday-season activities, which is why movies like this tend to be released on Christmas Day rather than in early December. People have to see something Christmas Day and Christmas week (if they’re not too scared to go back to the movies), so it should keep drawing interest through the new year. However, it can’t expect much of a boost in January from the Golden Globes, which are not being broadcast by NBC this year due to a scandal, and it also won’t get much of a boost from the Oscar nominations because, as I’ve been writing for several years, the Oscars no longer matter to the average person. The Academy Awards went woke and have, culturally, gone broke. When you’re an awards-granting body and you stop giving out statuettes based solely on merit, people notice. Then they stop paying attention. The Oscars are actually even more corrupted by political correctness than the Golden Globes are by being lavished with goodies.

For all I know, West Side Story could win either of the two top Oscars (I doubt it; Hollywood dislikes Spielberg, which is why he has still won only two Best Director awards after all these years, the same number as Alejandro González Iñárritu), but it’s hard to picture the movie approaching the $100 million domestic that would signal that the project might have a chance to break even.

Sports

Teammate of Trans Swimmer Speaks Out

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The Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan, August 2021. (Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters)

A male swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania has been smashing female records after being allowed to compete as a woman. Lia Thomas, who swam for the men’s team as recently as 2019, back when he was going by Will, identified as transgender and was moved into the women’s team.

Now Thomas’s female teammate spoke to the sports website OutKick anonymously, saying, “Pretty much everyone individually has spoken to our coaches about not liking this. Our coach [Mike Schnur] just really likes winning. He’s like most coaches. I think secretly everyone just knows it’s the wrong thing to do.”

She added, “When the whole team is together, we have to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, go Lia, that’s great, you’re amazing.’ It’s very fake.”

It’s not enough to be displaced and cheated at their own sports. These young women have to endure not only the fear of punishment if they speak out but the additional humiliation of feigning enthusiasm.

Politics & Policy

After Roe, Would Congress or the States Determine Abortion Law?

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Would Congress set a nationwide policy on abortion if Roe is overturned? It’s a question a couple writers have examined in recent days, but, as I write on the homepage, America won’t be getting a federal abortion law anytime soon unless Democrats hold the House and gain at least a couple of Senate seats in 2022 and then nuke the legislative filibuster in 2023.

Elections

CNBC Poll: Republicans Take Big Lead on Generic Ballot

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A brutal poll from CNBC shows President Biden’s job approval rating at 41 percent and the GOP taking a commanding lead on the generic ballot test:

Republicans now sport a historic 10-point advantage when Americans are asked which party they prefer to control Congress, holding a 44%-34% margin over Democrats. That’s up from a 2-point Republican advantage in the October survey.

In the past 20 years, CNBC and NBC surveys have never registered a double-digit Republican advantage on congressional preference, with the largest lead ever being 4 pints for the GOP.

“If the election were tomorrow, it would be an absolute unmitigated disaster for the Democrats,″ said Jay Campbell, partner at Hart Research Associates and the Democratic pollster for the survey.

Republicans hold a more modest 3-point lead over Democrats in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

The Economy

Inflation — from WIN to DIN

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy and the Labor Department’s September jobs report at the White House in Washington, D.C., October 8, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

And just like that, we’re back at the Volcker era — except there’s no Volcker in sight:

Colby Smith for the Financial Times:

US consumer prices increased at the fastest pace in nearly 40 years in November, piling more political pressure on the Biden administration as it seeks support for a massive spending plan.

The consumer price index, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, rose 6.8 per cent last month from a year ago — the fastest annual pace since 1982 and a significant pick-up from the 6.2 per cent rate in October…

Stripping out volatile items such as food and energy, core CPI climbed 0.5 per cent from October. That is roughly in line with the previous period, and pushed up the annual pace to 4.9 per cent. Last month, it registered 4.6 per cent.

Not only is there no Volcker in sight, but the current administration’s policy seems focused on minimizing the extent of the current problem rather than acknowledging it, not something that was the case in 1982. Going even further back, to 1974, President Ford might have invited ridicule with his ‘Whip Inflation Now” campaign, but it beats Biden’s “Deny Inflation Now.”

The FT’s Smith:

The Biden administration assumed a defensive stance ahead of Friday’s report, and the president issued a rare statement that sought to play down the relevancy of the incoming data.

“The information being released tomorrow on energy in November does not reflect today’s reality, and it does not reflect the expected price decreases in the weeks and months ahead, such as in the auto market,” Biden said on Thursday.

Gasoline prices have moderated in recent weeks, as have natural gas prices, though a senior administration official said this “relief” was not captured in the November report. Price pressures are set to abate further in 2022, the person added, noting that such a forecast aligns with most official and private sector projections.

Well, we’ll have to see what happens to energy prices next year (note that they are not included in core CPI), but I would like to see more discussion by the administration on what the effect of its climate policies will be on the longer-term cost of energy. There will be nothing transitory about greenflation.

Via the Wall Street Journal, here’s another example of how that might bite:

It could be a rough winter for energy prices across the U.S., and the Democratic spending plan will make it worse. The House passed what it calls a “fee” on methane that amounts to a stealth tax on natural gas and everyone who uses it.

The bill slaps an escalating tax on methane emissions by oil and gas producers that will reach $1,500 per ton by 2025. The fee is meant to be President Biden’s contribution to the recent Glasgow vow to reduce global methane emissions 30% by 2030. The tax is estimated to raise $8 billion over 10 years.

Producers will naturally pass the cost of the tax along to customers. Some 180 million Americans use natural gas to heat homes and run appliances, while some 5.5 million businesses use it to run their workplaces and manufacturing facilities.

Even without this new tax, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) is warning that about half of U.S. households that primarily heat with natural gas will pay 30% more this winter than they did a year ago—50% more if this winter is cold. The American Gas Association estimates the methane tax could add another 17% to an average customer’s bill.

In the meantime, if I had to focus on one element in today’s numbers it would be on “shelter,” which reflects rental costs and (indirectly) housing prices.

Smith (my emphasis added):

Shelter-related costs, which represent about a third of the CPI index, rose 0.5 per cent over the month, with owners’ equivalent rent — which measures what homeowners believe their properties would rent for — up 0.4 per cent, for an annual increase of 3.5 per cent.

Under current circumstances, which include ultra-low interest rates, inflation fears, and a chronic shortage of housing, that number, I suspect, is only likely to increase. And, yes, it represents a third of the index.

Some of those trying to spin the data are arguing that, after taking international comparisons into account, the numbers are not that bad, but look carefully at the charts supplied and the case is rather less convincing than they might think. That said, I for one am delighted that we are doing better than, among others, Venezuela, Argentina, and Turkey. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

On the other hand, check out the chart accompanying this tweet from economist Jason Furman (a former chairman of Obama’s CEA):

I’ve seen the argument many, many, many times that inflation is up everywhere so there is nothing US-policy specific to what we’re seeing. Look at this comparison of US and euro area core inflation (trying to use as comparable measures as possible) and tell me if you agree.

For a look at economists’ consensus expectations for 2022, go to this FT article. The U.S. comes out at around 3.5 to 3.7 percent. That may be optimistic.

Politics & Policy

The Emerging Democratic Minority

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Trump supporters hold signs on the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 20, 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Bit of a needle-scratch sound to this, considering it comes from Ruy Teixeira (in his Substack newsletter The Liberal Patriot):

Democrats like to believe that, since a relatively conservative white population is in sharp decline while a presumably liberal nonwhite population keeps growing, the course of social and demographic change should deliver an ever-growing Democratic coalition.

Democrats think that, because Ruy Teixeira has been telling them that Latino-driven demographic changes point to endless victory (known in some precincts of the right as “replacement theory”) for many years.

I don’t really blame Teixeira for changing his mind; when he wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority with John Judis in 2004 the Democratic Party was not yet a cult of lunatics dedicated to explaining that men can give birth, gigantic new federal spending programs reduce inflation, the comptroller of the currency should be someone who believes in “ending banking as we know it,” energy production should be re-outsourced to Saudi Arabia and Latinos should be referred to as “Latinx.”

Teixeira is extremely alarmed that the Democrats’ various 1918-style attacks on our history and culture, and their government-first notions of how success is achieved, are pushing millions of Latino voters to the right. Teixeira points out that Latinos give Joe Biden a 25 percent approval score on the economy and only 42 percent overall (!), are evenly split between supporting Democrats and Republicans in the midterms (!!) and that Democrat Terry McAuliffe actually lost the Latino vote in Virginia (!!!). He warns, “Democrats have seriously erred by lumping Hispanics in with ‘people of color’ and assuming they embraced the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer.” Hispanics oppose reparations payments to descendants of slaves by more than two to one, which makes perfect sense when you consider the Hispanic story is loving America and bootstrap success in a single generation or maybe two.

Here’s hoping the Democrats ignore their former demographics guru.

The Economy

Inflation Is Now the No. 1 Issue

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Today’s inflation report found prices rose 6.8 percent in November, making the fastest rate of inflation since 1982. Even before these new numbers were released, the latest Monmouth University poll found that in an open-ended survey question — meaning the pollster asked the question but did not provide multiple-choice answers — 29 percent of Americans said that inflation or rising prices was their biggest concern. This far outpaces Covid — which was named by just 18 percent of respondents — or any other single issue as the top worry in the country.

Things were a lot different as recently as August, when Monmouth found that a total of 8 percent of Americans cited rising prices as their chief worry.

World

China Committing Cultural Genocide against Tibetan Children

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Students attend a class inside a classroom during a government-organised media tour to Lhasa Naqu Second Senior High School in Lhasa, Tibet, June 1, 2021. (Martin Pollard/Reuters)

In illegally occupied Tibet, China is separating children from their families in boarding schools for the purposes of indoctrination in communism, to make them think of themselves as “Chinese” instead of Tibetan, and for the purpose of severing their attachment to Buddhist culture. From the Tibet Action Institute report:

  • Tibet’s education system has become primarily residential; official data shows that approximately 800,000 Tibetan children aged six to 18 – 78% of Tibetan students – are living in colonial boarding schools;

  • Tibetan parents are compelled to send their children to boarding schools due to a lack of alternatives and are unable to advocate for other options in Tibet’s repressive environment. Individual accounts show that intimidation and threats are used to coerce reluctant parents to send their children to such schools;

  • Students are at risk of losing their mother tongue and connection to their cultural identity because: 1) classes are primarily taught in Chinese;2) they live apart from their families and communities and are, therefore, unable to practice their religion or access the most authentic expressions of Tibetan culture and traditions; and 3) they are subjected to a highly politicized curriculum intended to make them identify as Chinese;

  •  China’s boarding school policy is discriminatory in that it targets Tibetans and other “ethnic minorities,” while the rate of Chinese students in boarding schools is dramatically lower, even in rural areas;

  • Researchers have shown Tibetan boarding school students to be experiencing great emotional and psychological distress, including extreme feelings of loneliness and isolation, as a result of being separated from their families, communities, and culture.

Read the whole report. This is naked cultural genocide.

The time has come to disengage financially from China until it ameliorates its many wrong and immoral policies.

We should also boycott the Olympics. Not the diluted “diplomatic” protest announced by President Biden but a complete refusal to participate, starting with our athletes. And this one is easy: None of us should watch the Olympics. The tyrants of China care a lot about “face.”  If there are no ratings, it will send a salutory message that we reject the CCP’s “Fourth Reich” policies.  

The Economy

Ocean, Air, Profits, and Losses

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Shipping containers are unloaded from ships at a container terminal at the Port of Long Beach-Port of Los Angeles complex in Los Angeles, Calif., April 7, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

What’s the difference between shipping by ocean and shipping by air? It might be the difference between a profit and a loss, at least for Japanese electronics manufacturer Murata.

Bloomberg reports that Murata has had to ship its lithium-ion batteries by air because ocean-shipping capacity wasn’t available. Despite record-high demand, Murata’s battery unit is set to post a loss for this fiscal year:

“It might still be possible that our battery business posts a profit this term, but I believe I will probably need to apologize for a loss,” [Murata president Norio] Nakajima said. “We are being forced to use airfreight to deliver our batteries because ships are unavailable, and that costs an outrageous amount of money. If we were able to use sea routes, we should be able to make a profit.”

On top of inflated base cargo fees fueled by high demand, batteries shipped via air incur extra handling charges because they’re a fire hazard. The Kyoto-based component maker’s transportation woes are yet another sign that the global supply crunch affecting holiday deliveries isn’t likely to ease anytime soon. Meanwhile, the new omicron coronavirus variant may push up container rates further next year if the mutation triggers Chinese port closures like those in 2021, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst James Teo.

This illustrates another distortive effect from the supply-chain crisis. Profit-loss signals are used in market systems to indicate what’s working and what isn’t. Profits reward businesses for successfully meeting some existing demand, and losses warn them that they aren’t meeting demand effectively. But when shipping costs are making the difference between a profit and a loss, those signals become worthless.

It’s especially unfortunate that the product in question is lithium-ion batteries. Improving batteries is one of the key technological challenges of our time. The extra money that Murata had to spend on shipping is money that it couldn’t spend on making better batteries.

The consequences of the supply-chain crisis are more than just delays and higher prices, as if those aren’t bad enough. It is also warping market signals and harming innovation. Those effects are much harder to measure than counting the number of boats waiting for a berth at Los Angeles/Long Beach, but they are no less real.

World

China Marks 20 Years of Evading Its Trade Responsibilities

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Tomorrow (Saturday) is the 20th anniversary of China’s World Trade Organization (WTO) entry. There is no doubt that its membership helped contribute to the explosion of global trade: China was the sixth-largest exporter of goods in the world in 2001, and since 2009, it has been the largest.

But the WTO rule book was designed for market economies in which politics exercise a minimum of control. That does not describe China today.

China entered the WTO with a special status as a “developing nation,” but that was to end at a pre-determined date. Since then, China has used every trick to keep the special “developing nation” status it was granted 20 years ago and to keep its trade-distorting network of subsidies in place.

The Chinese government reformers who signed the WTO agreement are long gone, replaced by aggressive economic nationalists. A 2017 report to Congress from the United States’ trade representative stated that, “It seems clear that the United States erred in supporting China’s entry into the WTO.”

Jim Bacchus, a former Florida congressman and a former chief judge of the WTO’s highest court of world trade, told National Review that it’s unrealistic to expel China from the WTO. But the U.S. has been slow to file legal complaints against China which include forced technology transfer, general intellectual property protection and enforcement, trade-secrets protection, and trade‐distorting subsidies. When confronted with a firm WTO decision, China has often complied with the letter of the law. It might do even more in return for the U.S. cutting its agricultural subsidies and standardizing its national-security trade barriers.

China is clearly a bad actor on trade, and the U.S. may have to again impose tariffs to counter its most egregious moves. But it would be far better if the Biden administration first used the WTO framework to press for as much progress as it can.

The True Debt Added by Build Back Better: A Staggering $3 Trillion

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his Build Back Better infrastructure agenda in Kearny, N.J., October 25, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Democrats have used every trick in the book to make their Build Back Better Act appear less costly than it really would be. The Congressional Budget Office’s estimate using its ordinary budget-scoring rules (and including Democrats’ tax-enforcement provisions) projected it would add $160 billion to the deficit over the next ten years.

The CBO’s estimate today without gimmicks: $3 trillion.

The CBO provides official scores to Congress for legislation based on agreed-upon budget-scoring rules. Those rules allow politicians to game the system to make legislation appear less costly than it will really be. Both parties know these rules and use them to

Politics & Policy

The Paradox of the 2020 Gun-Sales Spike 

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A customer looks over a hand gun at a gun shop in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2012. (Ralph D. Freso/Reuters)

In a City Journal piece over the summer, I cast some doubt on the idea that 2020’s massive homicide spike — a 30 percent increase — had been driven by strong gun sales. America has so many guns that even a really strong year for sales doesn’t boost the supply that much, and most crime guns tend to be fairly old anyway. 

Most interestingly, places with the biggest gun-sales spikes didn’t also have the biggest shooting spikes, according to a then-new study in Injury Prevention. I further noted, however, some NYPD numbers suggesting that while guns purchased less than a year ago accounted for 10 percent of crime-gun traces in 2019, they were 18 percent in 2020. 

Now we have national data to update both the geographic and the gun-trace findings. Oddly enough, they both hold up. Comparing all of 2020 with all of 2019, the states with the biggest gun-sales spikes were not the same as the states with the biggest homicide spikes. But nationwide, new guns did show up quite a bit more in police departments’ gun traces. 

Here’s a simple, per capita way of comparing changes in homicide rates with changes in gun sales (as measured via background checks for gun purchases, with a few states with quirky data excluded). There’s no obvious connection between the two, and the picture is the same when you plot the percentage change in one variable against the percentage change in the other. 

The new trace data, however, are less kind to the latest additions to America’s gun stock. In 2019, about 20 percent of traced guns had been purchased less than a year prior; in 2020, this rose to about 30 percent. (The Trace has some more ways of cutting these numbers here, as does my colleague Charles Fain Lehman here.) 

Both these data sets have their limitations. The background-check data don’t include certain transfers, such as private gun sales completed without background checks, and obviously they don’t account for the fact that a gun can be purchased in one state and trafficked to a different one. Meanwhile, the gun-trace data comprise a mishmash of different situations in which police thought it useful to trace guns, from assaults and murders to suicides and “found” guns. Ideally, we’d want to look at the “time to crime” of guns used in shootings specifically, but those data are not publicly available, so we’re stuck looking at a broader yet non-random sample of guns that police recovered. 

If I had to take a stab at reconciling these two patterns, however, my guess would be this: There were two separate phenomena unfolding in 2020. One was a massive surge in fully legal gun sales owing to the pandemic and the riots; this had little to do with driving crime. The other, though, was the increase in violence itself — which likely led to a surge of criminals’ seeking guns in various ways, including by trafficking new guns bought via “straw purchasers” and so on, and then getting caught carrying them or using them in crimes. This would be a small share of all gun sales and not enough to affect geographic correlations, especially since trafficked guns often cross state lines anyhow, but an undeniable flow of guns to criminals all the same. It’s an interesting question how that scenario might fit into our partisan mudslinging about guns. 

Economy & Business

No Thanks, Joe Biden

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(Karimala/Getty Images)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee posted a graph on Twitter on December 2 that showed a two-cent decline in gas prices from November 15 to November 29. The caption said, “Thanks, Joe Biden,” apparently giving the president credit for the ever-so-slight decline in gasoline prices. It was widely mocked, even by many on the left, for being tone-deaf at best and dishonest at worst.

Somehow now it looks even dumber.

In the November CPI report, gasoline prices are up 58.1 percent over last year. A fair amount of that is base effect because gas prices were depressed last year due to the pandemic, but it’s still an astonishing number.

More astonishing is that gas prices are up 6.1 percent since just last month. That is the same monthly increase as the October CPI report, which also reported a 6.1 percent monthly increase in gas prices. So even in the short term, gas prices are going up, not down, and they are going up at a consistently high rate.

It’s true that if you zoom in close enough on any time series, you can find a spot that’s moving the way you want it to. But given that the best Democrats could do on gas prices was one two-cent decrease over two weeks, they should probably focus more on energy policy and less on graphic design. “People who purchase gasoline” is a very large voting bloc.

As Agustin Forzani wrote for us today, Biden’s major proposals to reduce gas prices — releasing fuel from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and siccing the FTC on oil companies — will do nothing to bring gas prices down. In truth, there is very little President Biden can do to bring gas prices down. They largely reflect the price of oil, which is set on a global market.

But in the Democrats’ worldview, the two-cent decline from November 15 to November 29 was due to the genius of Joe Biden. They do believe government has the power to bring gas prices down. They had better hope voters don’t think the same. “Thanks, Joe Biden” can become sarcastic pretty quickly.

We had all better hope Democrats don’t take their view of presidential power to its logical conclusion and impose price controls on gasoline. One of the saving graces of Biden’s age might be that he remembers firsthand the effects of price controls — especially the political effects — the last time they were implemented. He doesn’t want to be president over a country with gas lines.

Democrats have a completely nonsensical energy policy that refuses to capitalize on America’s natural advantages, and they should change that. Joe Biden is not responsible for the global price of oil, but he could become more responsible for high national gas prices if he pursues an interventionist policy that tries to use government to bring those prices down.

Gas prices didn’t go up because of Joe Biden. When they eventually come down, it will not be thanks to Joe Biden. But the last thing Democrats should want right now is for voters to think Joe Biden bears any responsibility for back-to-back 6.1 percent monthly increases in the price of gasoline.

Education

They Only Want Leftist Zealots Teaching

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In this PowerLine post, Paul Mirengoff highlights the blatant discrimination practiced by many officials in our public-education system. They want to ensure that students are only taught by people who completely embrace the “woke” agenda.

Mirengoff writes that, “One principal says she will ask applicants what they’ve done personally or professionally to be more anti-racist or how they ensure that the values of diversity and cultural awareness are reflected in their practice. Just giving a ‘woke’ answer isn’t enough. The principal claims ‘we can tell—are you just talking language or are you able to connect your language with what you actually do?’”

What this ensures is that (a) many highly competent teachers will be tossed aside and (b) students will be immersed in leftist cliches and disinformation daily.

Unless the people like that principal can be dislodged (and no doubt their jobs are as heavily fortified as Fort Knox), the only thing for parents to do is walk away.

The Economy

Biden: Today’s High Inflation Numbers Show We Have to Pass Build Back Better

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the November jobs report at the White House in Washington, D.C., December 3, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Today President Biden contended that inflation hitting the highest level in 39 years meant that the federal government needs to spend a lot more money:

We are making progress on pandemic related challenges to our supply chain which make it more expensive to get goods on shelves, and I expect more progress on that in the weeks ahead.

Finally, the challenge of prices underscores the importance that Congress move without delay to pass my Build Back Better plan, which lowers how much families pay for health care, prescription drugs, child care, and more.

You may recall that back on July 19, Biden declared:

We also know that as our economy has come roaring back, we’ve seen some price increases. Some folks have raised worries that this could be a sign of persistent inflation.  But that’s not our view. Our experts believe and the data shows that most of the price increases we’ve seen are — were expected and expected to be temporary… Now, I want to be clear: My administration understands that if we were to ever experience unchecked inflation over the long term that would pose real challenges to our economy.  So while we’re confident that isn’t what we are seeing today, we’re going to remain vigilant about any response that is needed.

And later that day speaking with reporters:

Q    Yes, thank you, Mr. President.  At what point would you consider inflation unchecked to a point at which you would either consider taking action or you would want to see the Fed take action?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  There’s nobody suggesting there’s unchecked inflation on the way — no serious economist.  That’s totally different.

November was the sixth straight month in which inflation has surged more than 5 percent, year over year.

Politics & Policy

Finding the Right Tactics in the War for Education

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Students and pedestrians walk through the Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., March 10, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

For a long time, we have known that we’re in a war over education with the Left, which insists on complete control so it can sculpt young minds to accept “progressivism.” But the Left has been winning that war because our tactics have been defective. I’m reminded of the American Revolution in the South in 1780-’81, when patriot forces were routed until General Nathaniel Greene was put in command and came up with tactics that turned the tables on Cornwallis.

Could it be that our Nathaniel Greene is a young man named Christopher Rufo?

The Martin Center’s Sumantra Maitra recently heard Rufo speak about change in education and writes about Rufo’s talk here.

Maitra quotes Rufo: “Critical theory . . . is entirely a creature of the state. It was born, and nurtured, and raised within publicly financed and publicly subsidized universities and it now survives only in this vast constellation of publicly supported and publicly subsidized bureaucracy; It also gives us a tremendous opportunity because what the public giveth the public can take [ ] away . . . We should never fight directly. It’s very hard. We should fight indirectly, in a more sophisticated way, to start slowly chipping away at these bureaucracies and institutional powers.”

What he advocates is nothing less than a counter-revolution to reclaim higher education for the actual purposes of education, not leftist thought-control. The key element in that would be to disrupt the flow of federal money into our colleges and universities. Requiring that schools accept some responsibility for student-loan defaults would be a step in the right direction.

Maitra sums up with another historical analogy: “It is a strategy, that Polish Solidarity movements, for example, utilized against their communist overlords, during the end days of the Cold War. It is also the same strategy the left in the West forever used, subversion instead of revolution. Just this time, it is in reverse. What Rufo gets, and what is seemingly creeping in the ideas of the new right, is: you cannot conserve an already overwhelmingly revolutionary edifice, you topple it and start fresh.”

Religion

Leonardo’s Last Supper for Advent

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Today is the last day to view a life-sized reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in lower Manhattan. The exhibit also included zoomed-in stand-alone parts of the painting. I walked through it a few times, truth be told, meditating on the scene and what Judas must have felt like at the table. Was his heart so hard at that point? I can’t imagine so — since he despaired and took his own life. I thought of how each and every little sin is a betrayal of Jesus. And we believe that at Baptism the Holy Trinity is present within us. So we are even closer to Jesus than Judas was at the table. I appreciated that the Last Supper was on display during Advent, because you really can’t meditate on the Incarnation without the whole story of salvation. That’s why it’s so amazing. God comes as man to redeem us in His life, death, and Resurrection. It was a gift that the Sheen Center brought New York City this fall. It’s a concept that’s existed in Europe, but debuted in the U.S. for the first time there.

The exhibit also got me thinking about being at the table with Jesus. This happens at every Mass. And it’s so much more — really where Heaven and earth meet.

Walking through the Last Supper up close reminded me of what Pope Francis said in what’s believed to be the Upper Room in Jerusalem:

The Upper Room reminds us of sharingfraternityharmony and peace among ourselves. How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room! How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent. All the saints drew from this source; and hence the great river of the Church’s holiness continues to flow: from the Heart of Christ, from the Eucharist and from the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, the Upper Room reminds us of the birth of the new family, the Church, our holy Mother the hierarchical Church established by the risen Jesus; a family that has a Mother, the Virgin Mary. Christian families belong to this great family, and in it they find the light and strength to press on and be renewed, amid the challenges and difficulties of life. All God’s children, of every people and language, are invited and called to be part of this great family, as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of the one Father in heaven.

These horizons are opened up by the Upper Room, the horizons of the Risen Lord and his Church.

From here the Church goes forth, impelled by the life-giving breath of the Spirit. Gathered in prayer with the Mother of Jesus, the Church lives in constant expectation of a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30)!

We need that!

Art historian Liz Lev, who is also the author of the new book The Silent Knight: A History of St. Joseph as Depicted in Art, talks about the painting here.

Religion

2021 No. 1 Podcast Host Fr. Mike Schmitz Talks with Me about Fulton Sheen & Much More

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Fr. Mike Schmitz ( Sheen Center/Screenshot via YouTube)

Forty-two years ago today, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen died. He was the popular television host, preacher, and writer. If his canonization cause moves forward, December 9 might very well be his feast day in the church.

For the anniversary, the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture usually has an annual Sheen lecture — about him or with someone who is similar things as he did. Since Covid, it’s now become a little bit of a virtual tradition for me to interview someone. Today they debuted my conversation with Fr. Mike Schmitz from earlier in the week. He talks about his favorite Fulton Sheen books, what it’s like having had the No. 1 podcast in America during this year, and much more.

Watch here:

And if you don’t know Fr. Mike, his Bible in a Year podcast is transforming lives, according to testimony from National Review Institute’s Amanda Herbert, Fellowship for Catholic University Students NYU missionary Darin Howell, and many more. (The popularity of the most popular podcast in the country at the start of the year is evidence itself.) I interviewed him as someone making use of the media to share the Good News in clear and practical ways. And he gushed a little about his gratitude for Fulton Sheen along the way!

He can also be found at Ascension Presents, the Hallow app, and on Twitter here.

Politics & Policy

Newly Flush Amtrak Can’t Make the Trains Run on Time

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his wife Jill greet supporters as they prepare to board an Amtrak train to begin a campaign train tour in Cleveland, Ohio, September 30, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

You couldn’t make it up. Reacting to the passage of the infrastructure bill last month, the head of Amtrak, Bill Flynn, gushed that the infusion of cash would be “absolutely transformational and more funding than we’ve had in our 50 year history combined.”

Today, Amtrak confirms that, thanks to President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate, it will not be able to run its trains properly next year:

Amtrak expects it won’t have enough employees to operate all its trains next month when it plans to enforce Covid-19 vaccine requirements.

As Amtrak prepares to comply with the federal vaccine mandate, it will likely need to temporarily reduce frequency, particularly on its long-distance services, Stephen J. Gardner, president of Amtrak, said in written testimony for a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing. About 94% of the rail company’s workers have been fully vaccinated as of this week.

Top men.

World

Mr. President, This Does Not Constitute ‘Standing Up to Putin’

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they arrive for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (Sputnik/Sergey Bobylev/Reuters)

If reports are accurate that the Biden administration “will press Ukraine to formally cede a measure of autonomy to eastern Ukrainian lands now controlled by Russia-backed separatists who rose up against Kyiv in 2014” and declare that Ukraine is not going to join NATO for the next decade, in order to avoid a war with Russia, it will be another terrific example of how I should never give the Biden administration any credit for anything.

In yesterday’s Morning Jolt, I wrote, “let us pause and credit the administration for spending a good portion of yesterday attempting to send a clear message to Vladimir Putin and galvanize U.S. allies in order to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine.” After a long stretch of the Biden administration seeming to ignore Russia, Biden and his national-security adviser Jake Sullivan publicly said they had communicated to Putin, “things we did not do in 2014 [when Russia invaded Crimea] we are prepared to do now.”

Apparently… nevermind. If the recent report from the AP is accurate, Biden is willing to reward Putin with Ukrainian territory in order to avoid a conflict, ignoring the fact that he’s just set up an incentive system for further aggression.

In yesterday’s Morning Jolt, I also wrote, “for most of Biden’s presidency so far, he and his top officials have talked a good game about standing up to Vladimir Putin and then inched away from any actual conflict.” It looks like old habits die hard.