Markets

The Woke Exchange (Continued)

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(lucadp/Getty Images)

Late last year, I wrote a brief piece prompted by this Wall Street Journal report on a proposal by Nasdaq:

Nasdaq Inc. is pushing to require the thousands of companies listed on its stock exchange to include women, racial minorities and LGBT individuals on their boards, in what would be one of the most forceful moves yet to bring greater diversity to U.S. corporations.

The exchange operator filed a proposal with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday that would require listed companies to have at least one woman on their boards, in addition to a director who is a racial minority or one who self-identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Companies that don’t meet the standard would be required to justify their decision to remain listed on Nasdaq.

Banks, asset managers and lawmakers in California have taken various steps to diversify the predominantly white and male boardrooms of American corporations. Nasdaq’s move could have greater impact because of its ability to set rules for the nearly 3,000 corporations listed on its exchange….

This did not strike me as a good idea. A company’s board is elected by the firm’s shareholders, or, to put it another way, its owners. That’s their right, and they should be left to get on with it without interference.

That Nasdaq believed that it was appropriate for it to intervene in this way is a reflection of the way that the principle of shareholder primacy is being eroded in an era in which stakeholder capitalism, an insidious and increasingly influential ideology in its own right, has become intertwined with the peculiarly aggressive variant of “socially responsible” investing (SRI) known as ESG, under which companies are benchmarked against various environmental (the ‘E’), social (‘S’) and, more reasonably, governance (‘G’) benchmarks.

That said, I observed that:

Nasdaq, a private institution, is, of course, entitled to set its own rules, just as (to quote the Journal) “banks and asset managers” are entitled to try to push their clients or portfolio companies to change their ways.

But…

it is hard to miss the mission creep that is currently occurring across a wide range of institutions, some private, some parastatal (take a look at the effort central banks are increasingly making with regard to climate change) to impose different aspects of a “progressive” agenda on private companies without the bother of going through the usual democratic mechanisms. In effect, they are, in different ways, gnawing away at the right of shareholders to have the last word on the way that their companies are run.

Traditionally, denying that last word to shareholders has been justified on prudential grounds directly related to the core function of the body that is setting the rules — it makes clear sense, for example, for Nasdaq to insist that listed companies satisfy certain disclosure requirements. It is, however, an entirely different matter when the reason for restricting the ultimate shareholder right of decision is, one way or another, political.

If shareholders’ rights are to be eroded on political grounds, then, in a democracy, the decision to erode those rights should be taken by a democratically elected body. In a corporatist (or other even more authoritarian) regime matters would be arranged differently, but I would hope that the U.S. has not yet reached that point…

I returned to Nasdaq’s plans a month or so later in another piece, in which, perhaps unkindly, I noted that it was also turning to SRI as a source of income.

As I noted:

One entertaining feature of SRI — at least for cynics — is the rich ecosystem that it has nourished: consultants here, new funds there, and fees scattered all over the place.

Nasdaq had no intention of missing out in this bonanza. In an interview earlier this year, its CEO explained:

Our investor-relations business, for instance, is well established among corporate clients. They know they have to establish great investor-relations capabilities, and they know we have a lot of data and analytics that can help them target investors the right way. Many were less sure, however, that they would need advisory services around ESG. Still, we launched an ESG advisory practice in 2019. We took a risk in launching it ahead of the demand curve, but that business is now growing.

Fast forward to this month.

The Financial Times:

Nasdaq-listed companies will be required to have diverse boards after a divided Securities and Exchange Commission approved the US stock exchange’s unprecedented proposal.

The SEC on Friday signed off on Nasdaq’s proposed listing rules, which would require companies to disclose consistent diversity statistics for board directors and have two diverse directors — including one who identifies as female and one who identifies as an under-represented minority or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

If companies do not meet that quota, they will have to explain why…

It’s a mark of the degree to which this was a political decision that the SEC’s two Republican commissioners dissented from it.

And:

Republican senators had called on the SEC to reject Nasdaq’s proposal. “All of the risks associated with Nasdaq’s proposal could cause some private corporations to avoid going public at all,” Pat Toomey, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, and 11 other conservatives said in a February letter to the agency. “Nasdaq appears to be motivated by an inappropriate desire to influence social policy.”

Those senators were right. It is not for Nasdaq to be pursuing a political agenda. That the SEC has signed off on this move is just another sign of how politicized — and thus degraded — the agency has already become under its new chairman, Gary Gensler.

The FT:

Nasdaq’s new rules codify what large asset managers and proxy advisers have been demanding from companies in recent years, said Betty Huber, an attorney at law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell.

Yes and no, I’d say. Some of them might indeed have been “demanding” just this, but if they had been, they weren’t demanding very hard: There has been nothing to stop shareholders voting for suitably diverse boards, and, if enough fellow shareholders felt likewise, getting their way.

Perhaps these shareholders didn’t have the votes to get their way — or perhaps they just didn’t care. Not that much.

I will note, once again perhaps unkindly, that law firms will do quite nicely out of helping their corporate clients navigate yet another set of rules.

The ecosystem is what it is.

The Economy

Do Consumers Think High Prices Will Be Long Lasting?

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Media

Look Who’s Calling Xi Jinping ‘the Most Dangerous Enemy of Open Societies in the World’!

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Xi Jinping gives a speech in Beijing on July 1, 2021, to mark the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the CCP. (Li Xueren/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Readers of today’s Wall Street Journal might at first yawn when they see another long op-ed denouncing Xi Jinping, the ruler of China:

I consider Mr. Xi the most dangerous enemy of open societies in the world. The Chinese people as a whole are among his victims, but domestic political opponents and religious and ethnic minorities suffer from his persecution much more. I find it particularly disturbing that so many Chinese people seem to find his social-credit surveillance system not only tolerable but attractive…

…He is intensely nationalistic and he wants China to become the dominant power in the world. He is also convinced that the Chinese Communist Party needs to be a Leninist party, willing to use its political and military power to impose its will. Xi Jinping strongly felt this was necessary to ensure that the Chinese Communist Party will be strong enough to impose the sacrifices needed to achieve his goal.

…The authorities have always been flexible enough to deal with any crisis, but they are losing their flexibility. To illustrate, a state-owned company produced a Covid-19 vaccine, Sinopharm, which has been widely exported all over the world, but its performance is inferior to all other widely marketed vaccines. Sinopharm won’t win any friends for China.

…To prevail in 2022, Mr. Xi has turned himself into a dictator. Instead of allowing the party to tell him what policies to adopt, he dictates the policies he wants it to follow. State media is now broadcasting a stunning scene in which Mr. Xi leads the Standing Committee of the Politburo in slavishly repeating after him an oath of loyalty to the party and to him personally. This must be a humiliating experience, and it is liable to turn against Mr. Xi even those who had previously accepted him.

…In other words, he has turned them into his own yes-men, abolishing the legacy of Deng’s consensual rule. With Mr. Xi there is little room for checks and balances. He will find it difficult to adjust his policies to a changing reality, because he rules by intimidation. His underlings are afraid to tell him how reality has changed for fear of triggering his anger.

For the typical conservative who has paid any attention to China, not much of this is news, or all that surprising. But what is surprising is the author: George Soros.

Yes, that George Soros. The same George Soros who declared in 2010 that China has “a better functioning government than the United States.” (China is arguably more authoritarian, aggressive, and shameless than it was in 2010, but it’s not that different.)

And while conservatives have a lot of reasons to oppose and mistrust Soros, there is something spectacularly refreshing about seeing the godfather of international progressivism and one of the largest donors on the left declaring that the ruler of China is “the most dangerous enemy of open societies in the world.” Maybe we can inch our way towards a bipartisan consensus that the authoritarian regime in China represents a serious and multifaceted threat.

World

‘All of Those Dreams and Hopes Seem to Be Ending’

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A convoy of Afghan Special Forces during a rescue mission of a police officer besieged at a check post surrounded by Taliban in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, July 13, 2021. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

To get a true sense of the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan right now, listen to this NPR interview with Rangina Hamidi, the country’s acting education minister.

She’s in Kabul but has watched her home city of Kandahar fall this week to the Taliban, the same wretched band of zealots who assassinated her father when he was mayor.

Hamidi, who lived for years in the U.S. before returning, discusses the gains made over the last 20 years in educational opportunities for women, nonexistent under Taliban rule. Despair and a sense of defeat cling to every word as she reckons with what will be lost:

And I believe I’ve done a lot, not only me, but everybody who did their best to make the best out of our opportunity — our limited opportunity and limited resources that we’ve had recently — but we were hoping to still have a peaceful and a slowly progressive, prosperous life. And unfortunately, all of those dreams and hopes seem to be ending. As the situation unfolds itself, holding on to that hope is becoming grimmer and grimmer, day by day.

World

Dutch Don’t Care Much for Climate Agenda

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An aerial view of tulip fields near the city of Creil, Netherlands, April 18, 2019. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

The Netherlands is a relatively small country, with less than half the population of California, but it punches above its weight economically: It is the world’s No. 2 exporter of agricultural products, behind only the United States, sending out nearly $120 billion in produce annually — about $7,000 in farm exports per capita every year.

And that’s not tulips: It’s mainly meat, dairy, and eggs — which means a lot of nitrogen emissions.

When we talk about climate change, we talk most often about carbon dioxide, but there are other more powerful greenhouse gasses, too — nitrogen (here meaning mostly nitrous oxide) is hundreds of times more potent as a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. The government of the Netherlands has been trying to reduce the trotter print of the pork industry in the national economy, at first as a matter of aesthetics (pig farms stink) but then also as part of a climate-change program. They went about this in the most direct way — by offering to pay pig-farmers to do something else for a living. But there was only limited interest in that. Dutch farmers want to farm.

More aggressive measures are in the works, and Dutch farmers are resisting and protesting. Some have even gone so far as to move their operations across the border into Germany, which has a friendlier regulatory climate.

The Dutch are among the world’s great conformists and rule-followers, a people whose national motto is Doe normaal! “Act normal!” But they are not sitting still for disruptive climate rules handed down from on high.

American progressives who believe that a more Western European model of government and politics will get them what they want should pay more attention to the news. Because the kinds of disruptive and radical Green New Deal policies they would like to try to impose on disorderly and borderline ungovernable Americans are not being met with adulation, or even cooperation, in much of Western Europe. As I wrote earlier this week, progressives are at some point going to have to deal with the fact that their climate agenda has been exposed time and again to the acid test of actual democracy and has, for the most part, failed.

The Dutch aren’t going to tank their farmers — or their manufacturers, or their transportation sector — in the service of a climate crusade that offers only limited and uncertain benefits at some point in the future in exchange for disruption and impoverishment in the present. Neither are Americans, including the leadership of the Democratic Party: President Joe Biden is out there begging OPEC to ramp up oil production because he is unwilling to risk paying a political price for modestly higher gasoline prices.

You can blame Big Oil, but the obstacle is Big Democracy.

Politics & Policy

Why Are So Many Americans Now Hostile to Freedom?

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A nurse holds a sign as she attends a protest against coronavirus disease vaccine mandates being implemented by various hospitals, universities and business, at the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., August 6, 2021. (Seth Herald/Reuters)

COVID has really highlighted a long trend in America, namely that many people are hostile to freedom. Not their own freedom, of course, but that of other people who don’t make good decisions. Not the kinds of decisions that people educated at the best universities make.

Writing at RealClearMarkets, John Tamny sees that problem. Many Americans don’t want to get the COVID vaccine. Might they have solid reasons for their choice? The “progressive” authoritarians don’t care.

Writes Tamny, “Whatever the reasons for the unvaccinated remaining that way months into the mass vaccination process, wise minds in the political and scientific class should encourage the right of individuals to refrain, even if they disagree with the holdouts. They should do so because they crave knowledge. Free people making choices without any force are crucial in the face of a spreading virus. Sadly, this truth has been forgotten from Day One of the virus panic.”

His exemplar of the coercive know-it-all is New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who sneeringly writes, “There are Americans who are determined to prove they are right, even if it puts them on the wrong side of a eulogy.” Is he not aware that the evidence — scientific evidence — makes it clear that for healthy people, COVID is seldom worse than the seasonal flu? (I know several people who had it and quickly got over it, just as with the flu.) Why not respect their estimate of the risks?

Many people like Blow believe that they should be able to dictate to others what risks they will take. Should Americans be allowed to engage in risky sports such as skiing, diving, and mountain climbing? We haven’t yet heard Blow’s pronouncements, but since he would insist that healthy people who don’t think that COVID poses any serious risk nevertheless submit to vaccination, it’s hard to see why people should be free to take even greater risks in sports or other activities.

Americans used to be, by and large, a live-and-let-live lot. They were content to mind their own business and allowed others to mind theirs. But the rise of the Nanny State seems to have spawned a huge and growing class of busybodies who think they’re entitled to run their own lives and also entitled to dictate how others will run theirs. This is the exact antithesis of liberalism. It is a return to old social modes where people were expected to obey their superiors.

I doubt that Charles Blow cares whether vaccine dissidents live or die. What he cares about, and dislikes, is that they are exercising their freedom to say “no” when he thinks they should agree to be vaccinated. What such authoritarians don’t understand is that only through liberty can we discover which ideas are good and which are bad.

Politics & Policy

Rebekah Jones Invents a New Insane Lie about Ron DeSantis’s Press Secretary

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Former data manager Rebekah Jones (Screengrab via WPTV News/YouTube)

A few months ago, I noted that Rebekah Jones had disgracefully and deliberately lied about Ron DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, having turned an administrative fracas that Jones herself manufactured into a public insinuation of serious wrongdoing. Today, I received official confirmation from the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office that my initial reporting was correct. Those who have repeated Jones’s falsehoods — or continue to repeat those falsehoods — owe Pushaw a sincere apology.

In my initial post, I explained what Jones had done in detail. It’s a little complicated (so if you want a full understanding, click through), but the gist is that, angered by Pushaw writing a piece about her lies, Jones took out an interim restraining order against Pushaw in Maryland, and, before that order had even been reviewed by the courts, filed a second claim alleging that it had been violated. Because the grounds for the original order were utterly ridiculous, the court dismissed it for lack of evidence, but, for long and boring bureaucratic reasons, it didn’t dismiss the secondary claim — even though that claim had been rendered moot by the dismissal of the order on which it was based (and was set to drop off the docket the moment it was addressed). Aware that most people wouldn’t understand the minute details of all this, Rebekah Jones then spent months pretending that there was an open criminal charge against Pushaw — which, of course, there was not.

This morning, the District Court of Maryland nixed the secondary case — just as it was always going to — on the obvious grounds that Pushaw cannot have violated a restraining order that had been dismissed for lack of evidence (and, as it turns out, that she hadn’t even seen). And, at long last, the saga was over.

Or, at least, it would have been, had Jones not preempted the news by inventing a brand new lie. Writing on his personal blog this morning, a man named Grant Stern claimed that “according to text messages with Jones about the matter”:

Press secretary Christina Pushaw stands accused of criminally violating a Maryland court order to cease contact with former Florida Department of Health geographer, Jones who accused her of cyberstalking activities and impersonating a federal employee.

In response to repeated requests for comment, Pushaw lied and prevaricated to avoid admitting that she’s subject to serious criminal proceedings with a maximum penalty of 90-days in jail and a $1000 fine for the first offense.

The case is being heard this morning, August 13th, 2021 in a Montgomery County district court just northwest of America’s capital, Washington D.C.

According to text messages with Jones about the matter, Pushaw is set to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement at tomorrow’s hearing at 9 am.

“Tomorrow is just a status hearing for Pushaw. They are making a deal with her for deferred prosecution,” says the whistleblower, who learned of the proceeding in a phone call. “This is something that the state attorney’s representative told me.”

None of this is true. It’s a wild, absurd, defamatory fabrication.

But don’t take my word for it. This afternoon, I called Lauren DeMarco, the director of public affairs for the Montgomery County State’s Attorneys Office, and I asked her whether any of the claims made by Jones were true.

DeMarco’s answer: “None of them.”

I asked DeMarco whether Christina Pushaw had been accused by the state of Maryland of “criminally violating a Maryland court order” of any type. DeMarco confirmed that Christina Pushaw had not. I asked DeMarco whether the state of Maryland had filed any “criminal charges” against Christina Pushaw. DeMarco confirmed that it had not. I asked whether Christina Pushaw had entered into a “plea deal” or “deferred prosecution” agreement with the State of Maryland. DeMarco confirmed that she had not.

The story, DeMarco said, was simply “not true.” Earlier this year, Rebekah Jones did, indeed, level a set of accusations against Christina Pushaw. But, having looked into it, Maryland concluded that “there was insufficient evidence to do anything.” And that was that. There are “no documents I can hand out,” DeMarco told me, “because it was dismissed.”

U.S.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Absurd Deployment of the COVID Excuse

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Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot speaks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 88th Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C., January 23, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

H/t to Ed Morrissey for flagging this chain of events, but here’s one of the sorriest uses of the COVID excuse I’ve seen.

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot tried to blame (as it turned out, irrelevant) COVID protocols for a top-ranking police official’s decision to cut off the ritualistic playing of the bagpipes for a fallen officer last weekend.

The Sun-Times reported that, on the night in question, First Deputy Police Superintendent Eric Carter barked: “We don’t have 20 minutes for this s—.” He instead directed an ambulance crew to take Ella French’s body right to the medical examiner’s office.

In the face of officer outcry, per WGN, Lightfoot offered this explanation:

With COVID protocols, the coroner has made a lot of new restrictions on what can and cannot happen at the morgue, is my understanding.

Wrong. The medical examiner’s office told the same network:

Protocols for processions at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office have not changed since the pandemic began. First responders have always gathered in the office parking lot and dock to pay respects to fallen police officers and firefighters. Early Sunday morning, police officers gathered in the parking and dock area as usual and bagpipers accompanied the body of Officer Ella French through the parking lot to the dock. At no time did personnel from the Medical Examiner’s Office try to impede officers or bagpipers.

The mayor, while defending Carter, went on to claim something about there being “no official honor guard” and a group “that wanted to hijack the procession.” You can read more about it here, including the mayor’s discovery that we in the media feed off conflict.

Guilty. We do. But that conflict usually speaks to something deeper, in this case tensions within the city government at a time when Chicago is nearing 500 murders for the year and an officer was just killed at a traffic stop.

It’s unclear from these explanations what really drove Carter to stop the send-off — perhaps a tragic and stressful moment got the better of him; we can all relate to that — but throwing a hodgepodge of excuses at a board to see what the media, the public, and the force might believe is a sign of leadership lacking.

Politics & Policy

No, American Democracy Isn’t as Bad as the Congo

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The west side of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

The last six years have taken a toll on the faith Americans have in their elections. The two recent presidential losers have both loudly claimed that their election was rigged. Furthermore, local politicians who find themselves on the losing side of the vote count have begun vociferously telling supporters that their election was stolen. New academic reports feed into this narrative that American democracy is fundamentally rigged, but they, like so many other claims of fraud, they are fatally flawed.

The rhetoric around the decline of our democratic principles has ratcheted up in the last few years. Listen to the way The Guardian describes “democracy deserts”:

It’s time for [alarm bells] to ring. The situation is dangerous.

Our democratic crisis is not just the stuff of academic studies. Who controls our states is increasingly a matter of life and death. Recent history is riddled with examples. For instance, the Flint water crisis began after a gerrymandered Michigan legislature reinstated an emergency manager provision even after voters repealed it in a statewide referendum.

This cry for reform stems, in part, from a new report from the Harvard Kennedy School on election integrity. The report finds that some states in America have elections as poor as those in Jordan, Bahrain, and the Congo. This new study confirms the results of other data sets, such as the ones published by V-Dem, which show a significant decline in liberal-democratic values, especially in the United States. 

However, the methodology of these reports deserves scrutiny. Both the Harvard Kennedy School report and the V-Dem study rely on responses from expert opinion. Both studies measure opinions, but present scant data regarding actual voter fraud or voter suppression. Expert opinions, though, are not unbiased. Given the overwhelming left-wing affiliation of academics and researchers, the default hypothesis should be that the expert opinion surveyed will tilt to the left.

To the credit of the Harvard Kennedy School report, it found no statistical difference in the responses from self-identified Democrats, Independents, or Republicans (it’s worth mentioning that it’s likely self-described “independents” or “moderates” still lean left). The V-Dem study doesn’t provide any data on political affiliation. Even if this were accounted for, given the paucity of academic Republicans — especially at highly influential institutions — there is still reason to suspect that the total numbers are still skewed by the sheer number of liberal thinkers in intellectual circles. 

It is rather ironic to poll academic experts about the trends in American democracy because some of the loudest voices crying out about the decline of the American democratic order have been academics. Intellectuals from Yale and Columbia have published books and written op-eds declaring that our political order is in crisis. Surveying these same intellectuals about their opinions about democracy doesn’t tell us anything new. 

This is not to say that academic experts don’t have a strong grasp on these issues. To be clear, academics have a good vantage point to critique societal trends. However, all too often, studies such as those from Harvard or V-Dem rely on aggregating expert opinion without seeking a diverse set of viewpoints. If we accept that academic circles are quite insular, a premise that is borne out by numerous statistical studies, these reports won’t end up telling us much.  A better way of aggregating informed opinions would be to include those working at layman publications, think-tank researchers, government officials, and on-the-ground poll workers. 

The concern for American democracy is warranted. I myself have written about the undemocratic steps politicians have taken to stop partisan bills from being passed. However, our democracy is not one step away from Jordan. Hyperbolic statements comparing Wisconsin to the Congo just sow division and distract from the fixable problems that need to be addressed.

Film & TV

Lord of the Rings TV Show Leaves New Zealand for U.K.

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The Lord of the Rings (Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Having established myself as NR’s primary “reporter” on the Amazon Studios Lord of the Rings TV series (which is not a readaptation of Peter Jackson’s films but of events far into Middle-Earth’s past), I am obligated to report that the series, which just finished filming its first season in New Zealand, where Jackson filmed, is taking production to the United Kingdom. In reporting on the news, Deadline attributes some of the motivation for this decision to the way New Zealand has dealt with COVID-19:

The pandemic, which no one anticipated when the series was first greenlit, impacted the show’s production which was shut down — like virtually all American series — at the onset of the global outbreak in March 2020. Because of how New Zealand has tackled Covid, closing its borders to keep the virus away, the cast of the show, more than half of whom are British, stayed in the country for about two years without being able to spend holidays with their families. The lockdown also prevented Amazon executives from visiting the sets to monitor the high-profile — and hugely expensive — shoot. In light of the wide spread of the highly contagious new Delta variant, the New Zealand government has said that the current border restrictions will remain in place at least until 2022.

Deadline also reports that the production crew wanted to be able to take advantage of filming locations throughout Europe, as the Game of Thrones TV series, filmed primarily in Ireland, was able to do. Deadline also notes that J. R. R. Tolkien himself resided in the U.K. (though he was born in South Africa). I have already speculated breathlessly and baselessly about this series, and I don’t think this news really provides fodder for me to do much more . . .

. . . unless the decision to leave New Zealand means that this new series will not only move geographically away from what made the series great, but also aesthetically. In this regard, the invocation of Game of Thrones, while understandable, could be seen as ominous. But even that is a stretch.

For now.

National Security & Defense

‘Biden’s Foreign-Policy Failure’

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Today on The Editors, Charlie (hosting for Rich), Alexandra, Jim, and Phil discuss the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, new COVID craziness, and much more. Listen below, or follow this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

How Much Worse Can It Get?

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U.S. Border Patrol agents search for tracks left by illegal immigrants in Altar Valley, Ariz. January 10, 2008. (Tim Gaynor/Reuters )

I thought for sure the arrest numbers at the border would go down a little in July, if only because of the brutal summer heat.

I was wrong.

Border “encounters” continued their climb under the Biden administration, reaching about 213,000, up 13 percent from June. Of those, about 200,000 were Border Patrol arrests (the rest were illegals at ports of entry).

Perhaps most alarming is that the illegal surge continues to globalize. The share of Border Patrol arrests of illegals not from Mexico or the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) has doubled over the past six months,

Law & the Courts

Judge Friedrich Leaves the CDC Eviction Moratorium to the DC Circuit

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The Biden Administration is pushing a CDC eviction moratorium into the teeth of five current Justices of the Supreme Court concluding that the prior (and for all practical purposes identical) moratorium was beyond the power of the CDC to order. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s decision not to join the other four in entering an order against the moratorium, however, left technically in place the DC Circuit’s prior ruling favoring the moratorium. I noted after listening to Monday’s argument that Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee who ruled against the moratorium the first time around, was concerned that this tied her hands. She ruled today that it did. The case will move on to the DC Circuit, which may again be not only sympathetic to the administration’s flimsy legal arguments but also uninterested in hurrying the case along, unless the challengers can get the Supreme Court to act peremptorily (something it is rarely inclined to do).

This is why Kavanaugh should just have done his job the first time instead of trusting the integrity of the Biden Administration.

UPDATE: Here is the judge’s opinion. Judge Friedrich concluded that the new moratorium was the same as the old one:

The current moratorium applies only “in U.S. counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels of SARS-CoV-2 as defined by
CDC”…a category that presently includes roughly ninety-one percent of U.S. counties…In contrast, the previous moratorium applied in all U.S. counties….Apart from these differences, the moratoria are virtually identical—the remainder of their definitions are the same, their exceptions are the same, their applicability provisions are the same, and the criminal penalties for violating those provisions are the same The minor differences between the current and previous moratoria do not exempt the former from this Court’s order. For obvious reasons, extending the effective dates of a vacated order does not evade the effects of the vacatur. Indeed, consistent with that principle, both the government and the Supreme Court already considered one extension of the moratorium in pari materia with the version that this Court addressed in May. …Further, although the CDC has excluded some counties from the latest moratorium’s reach, the policy remains effective nationwide, shares the same structure and design as its predecessors, provides continuous coverage with them, and purports to rest on the same statutory authority. In the analogous context of the voluntary cessation doctrine, courts frown upon attempts to moot out legal challenges by repealing one rule and replacing it with a policy that is fundamentally similar. [Citations omitted]

As a result, Judge Friedrich held, the new moratorium was properly back before the same judge in the same case – but also that “the Court’s hands are tied:”

It is true that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in this case strongly suggests that the CDC is unlikely to succeed on the merits. Four Supreme Court Justices voted to vacate the stay, “an action which would have been improbable if not impossible had the government, as the stay applicant, . . . made a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits.” CASA de Maryland, Inc. v. Trump, 971 F.3d 220, 229 (4th Cir. 2020) (Wilkinson, J.). And while Justice Kavanaugh voted to uphold the stay, he squarely concluded “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its existing statutory authority by issuing a nationwide eviction moratorium.” Ala. Ass’n of Realtors, 141 S. Ct. at 2320 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring). Other decisions from the federal courts of appeals further suggest that the government is unlikely to prevail…But the Court’s hands are tied. The Supreme Court did not issue a controlling opinion in this case, and circuit precedent provides that the votes of dissenting Justices may not be combined with that of a concurring Justice to create binding law.

Politics & Policy

Biden, July 8: ‘The Taliban Overrunning Everything and Owning the Whole Country Is Highly Unlikely.’ 

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People standing on a vehicle hold Taliban flags as crowds gather near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Pakistan, July 14, 2021. (Abdul Khaliq Achakzai/Reuters)

It cannot be emphasized enough that the withdrawal from Afghanistan being executed by the Biden administration was based upon explicit assurances from the president that it would not be a rerun of the American humiliation and defeat in Vietnam.

President Biden, speaking July 8: 

Q: Mr. President, some Vietnamese veterans see echoes of their experience in this withdrawal in Afghanistan.  Do you see any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam, with some people feeling —

THE PRESIDENT:  None whatsoever.  Zero.  What you had is — you had entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy — six, if I’m not mistaken.

The Taliban is not the south — the North Vietnamese army. They’re not — they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability.  There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan.  It is not at all comparable.

Biden also said that day, “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

Today, the headline over on the Politico Playbook newsletter is “Joe Biden’s ‘fall of Saigon’.” The Financial Times declares, “Joe Biden’s credibility has been shredded in Afghanistan.” NBC News reports, “Potential Al Qaeda resurgence in Afghanistan worries U.S. officials.”  Everything that Biden insisted wasn’t going to happen… is happening.

Biden could have said, “we’re going to leave Afghanistan, the Taliban is likely to take over, the world will have an epic humanitarian disaster on its hands, and Islamist fundamentalism will have its greatest propaganda victory since the formulation of the Islamic State.” But if Biden had discussed the likely consequences of his decision with clear-eyed realism and blunt honesty, maybe the American public wouldn’t have been such big fans of what the president wanted to do regarding Afghanistan.

Politics & Policy

Ron Johnson, Pro Publica, and Simple Math

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Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) asks questions during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs/Rules and Administration hearing to examine the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

Another morning, another Ron Johnson smear piece on the front of the Appleton Post-Crescent, a newspaper operated by the USA Today Network. The headline reads “Benefitting the Rich.” Written by Justin Elliott and Robert Faturechi of Pro Publica, the piece details how in 2017 Johnson ensured that “pass-throughs” — a spooky catch-all term for LLCs, S-corps, partnerships, and sole proprietorships — had their tax burden reduced like C-corporations. 

Johnson explained the move, saying, 

Earnings at C-corporations saw a tax reduction via the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21% while earnings at pass-through corporations would have been taxed at a top personal income rate of 38.5%, a great competitive disadvantage.

The original pass-through deductions would have effectively reduced this rate to 35.6% for pass-through entities, still a large disadvantage. My effort reduced the rate on pass-through income to 29.6%, still higher than the rate on C-corporation earnings but less of an unfair differential.

Seeing as a majority of businesses in the U.S. are pass-throughs, not monolithic C-corps such as Coca-Cola, I raise my morning cup of coffee to the senator. 

The Pro Publica writers are hilarious covering this. They scribe, in the hushed, over-wrought tones that journalists are prone to when they feel they have a juicy bit of info, that

The Trump administration championed the pass-through provision as tax relief for “small businesses.

Confidential tax records, however, reveal that Johnson’s last-minute maneuver benefited two families more than almost any other in the country — both worth billions and both among the senator’s biggest donors.

I land towards the former between innumeracy and trigonometric competence, but the math is pretty easy here. People who make more money save more from reduced taxes than those who make less. 

Simple example: 

You make $1 million

Taxed at 38.5 percent Tax due $385,000 Take home $615,000

Taxed at 29.6 percent Tax due $296,000 Take home $704,000

Savings from tax reduction $89,000

Let’s say you’re a small-business owner now: 

You make $300,000

Taxed at 38.5 percent Tax due $115,500 Take home $184,500

Taxed at 29.6 percent Tax due $88,800   Take home 211,200

Savings from tax reduction $26,700

The small-business owner got ripped off! The bigger business owner received $62,300 more in tax relief! Tosh, the higher earner made more money and paid more total tax. 

You never see in these breathless articles anyone note just how much the likes of Johnson’s donors pay in taxes — only what they “saved” from the relief. Probably because these billionaires pay a metric tonne to our benevolent government and showing it is so undercuts the story-crafting that a bunch of fatcats are wandering the countryside, paying not a red cent in tax. 

Also, this idea that rich people donate more should be self-evident. It’s hard to drop $20,000 on a PAC function when working at Applebees. 

Maybe this is just my Wisconsinite solidarity, but the USA Today Network has been after Johnson much of this year. I’m inclined to think their reasons for this piece and others are political instead of holding public officials equally to account. 

Education

Fixing Academic Peer Review

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(charliepix/Getty Images)

Like so much of the academic world, the peer-review process has become corrupt, ineffective, and dysfunctional. Fortunately, there is a solution. In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Adam Ellwanger interviews two statistics professors, Ryan Martin of NC State and Harry Crane of Rutgers, about Researchers.One, which, Ellwanger writes, “invites scholars of all disciplines to use its platform to publish their scholarship without the middleman.”

Martin says, “Today, the bestowal of this mark of quality has become the primary role of the peer review process. But this creates a disincentive, especially for junior folks, to try to branch out and develop genuinely new ideas. So, it’s kind of like these mob movies like Goodfellas and Casino: the strategy to be successful in a world like that is to keep your head down and stay in line. That also happens in the academic world.”

Crane adds, “Peer-reviewed research is referenced all the time as evidence that a published claim is true. If something was peer reviewed, then that means it’s been vetted, so people assume it must be true. But that’s not actually what peer review does. In reality, peer-review is a purely administrative process that allows people to rise up the academic ladder. Whatever scholarly purpose it serves is secondary. That’s why we started Researchers.One.”

Researchers.One allows any scholar to upload his or her research, where it is available for anyone to read and comment on — except that anonymous comments are not allowed. Authors can respond to criticism. Real debate over the merits of the work ensues.

Why is that better? Martin explains: “The typical style of peer-review relies on the subjective assessment of two or three anonymous reviewers. From our perspective, that judgment is better left to a broader community of scholars that help one another refine and test the work that’s been done. That’s not something any individual viewer or an editorial board can do. ”

Let’s hope that Researchers.One catches on. The way the peer-review process currently functions, it’s too easy for hostile reviewers to suppress good research, and too easy for bad but politically correct research to gain unearned praise and acceptance.

Politics & Policy

On Harris, Spending, and Inflation

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My latest New York Post columns: Kamala Harris is failing:

The latest news is that a group of high-powered Democratic women, led by a prominent public relations specialist, gathered over dinner to strategize how to rehabilitate the vice president’s public image. That is generally not a sign that things are going well. Democrats in 2024 may have a Joe Biden problem. Biden has visibly slowed already, and he will be 82 by then. But they might prefer that to having a Kamala Harris problem on top of the ticket. We should all hope for Biden’s good health in the meantime.

Democrats are playing with fire with spending and inflation:

There are two things the government shouldn’t do in that situation. One is spend a ton more money, expanding the amount in circulation. The other is to drive up wages and demand. Joe Biden and the Democrats are doing both. Businesses have to offer higher wages to compete with extended unemployment benefits. Senate Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution Wednesday morning, a package stuffed with more benefits. This is on top of $1.9 trillion the Democrats spent in January. There’s also a bipartisan bill with $550 billion in new infrastructure spending. This is the wildest peacetime spending spree in U.S. history. The $6 trillion price tag is over $46,000 for every household in the country. By comparison, the federal government spent $4.1 trillion, in current dollars, fighting World War II.

National Security & Defense

McConnell: Biden Should Provide Afghans Support to Stop Taliban from Conquering Kabul

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Following news that the Taliban captured the Afghan cities of Kandahar and Herat on Thursday and that the United States is deploying thousands of troops to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement urging President Biden to “immediately commit to providing more support to Afghan forces, starting with close air support beyond August 31st. Without it, al Qaeda and the Taliban may celebrate the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning down our Embassy in Kabul.”

Here’s the full McConnell statement:

“Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster. And the Administration’s surreal efforts to defend President Biden’s reckless policy are frankly humiliating.

“The Biden Administration has reduced U.S. officials to pleading with Islamic extremists to spare our Embassy as they prepare to overrun Kabul. Absurdly, naively, our government is arguing that bloodshed might hurt the Taliban’s international reputation, as if radical terrorists are anxious about their P.R.

“The Taliban doesn’t believe in a political settlement. They want military victory and bloody retribution. President Biden and his team have a proud superpower trying to fight atrocities and war crimes with plaintive tweets.

“Unless President Biden adjusts course quickly, the Taliban is on track to secure a significant military victory. The latest news of a further drawdown at our Embassy and a hasty deployment of military forces seem like preparations for the fall of Kabul. President Biden’s decisions have us hurtling toward an even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975.

“Here’s what should happen now. President Biden should immediately commit to providing more support to Afghan forces, starting with close air support beyond August 31st. Without it, al Qaeda and the Taliban may celebrate the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning down our Embassy in Kabul.

“If we let the Taliban dominate Afghanistan and al Qaeda return, it will resonate throughout the global jihadist movement. It will replay what happened when the last Democratic president let ISIS claim much of Iraq and Syria for a caliphate and a wave of global terrorism was unleashed.

“President Biden’s strategy has turned an imperfect but stable situation into a major embarrassment and a global emergency in a matter of weeks. President Biden is finding that the quickest way to end a war is to lose it. The costs and ramifications will echo across the world.”

The Media Refuse to Cover the Allegations against David Chipman

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David Chipman testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, September 25, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The Washington Post recently published an editorial imploring the Senate to get past the “gun obsessives’ delusional oversensitivity” and move forward with the confirmation of David Chipman, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The Post cherry-picks some innocuous selections from Chipman’s repertoire, ignoring his most sneering and contemptuous barbs. The Post’s editors then try to outdo Chipman, claiming his critics have a “toxic obsession with firearms,” believe in “cockamamie conspiracy theories,” and harbor a “bizarre infatuation with the weapons of war.”

The Post then contends that Chipman, a “lifelong civil servant,” is a “nominee

Health Care

The NFL Is Incentivizing Vaccines Better Than the Ivy League

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A student receives a dose of a coronavirus vaccine on the campus of the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tenn., July 22, 2021. (Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

Stanford and a number of Ivy League schools have mandated that students on campus must wear masks and be tested for COVID weekly. This mandate is for both those who are vaccinated and those who are not. This policy is well-intentioned, but for young adults frustrated with pandemic life, this begs the question: Why should they get vaccinated if the restrictions are going to remain no matter what? 

Young people are disproportionately likely to be unvaccinated, and in response, the White House has taken unusual steps to make the vaccine seem more attractive. For instance, the White House hired TikTok influencers and popstars to help boost uptake. None of these efforts address the reason younger people don’t want to get a shot, though. 

Children and young adults have a much lower risk of hospitalization and death from COVID than other age groups. This is a well-known fact, and it affects how young people view the attractiveness of the vaccine. The New York Times reported that

But the straightforward sales pitch for older people — a vaccine could very possibly save your life — does not always work on healthy 20-somethings who know they are less likely to face the severest outcomes of Covid. . . . public health officials now face an overlapping mix of inertia, fear, busy schedules and misinformation as they try — sometimes one person at a time — to cajole Gen Z into getting a shot.

There just isn’t a powerful health incentive for young people to get a vaccine, especially for those that are politically apathetic or have previously contracted COVID. However, “returning to normal” is both biologically and psychologically good for young adults. Therefore, the best way to incentivize young people to get the vaccine is to allow them greater personal freedoms if they get inoculated.

Unfortunately, the recent actions of public schools and private universities are undercutting that incentive structure. If both vaccinated and unvaccinated students must abide by the same COVID restrictions, vaccine-skeptical people won’t see much reason to get the shot. If schools truly want to incentivize vaccines, they should follow the NFL’s vaccine protocols. 

NFL players that are fully vaccinated can practice and train without limitations. However, those that are unvaccinated must wear masks, stay socially distant, take COVID tests, and abide by other restrictions. Furthermore, if a team has an outbreak, that team could forfeit the game, and the players will have their pay docked. These incentives work; nearly 90 percent of NFL players have received the vaccine.

Colleges shouldn’t implement identical protocols, obviously, but the point is to line up the right incentives. Unvaccinated students could be instructed to wear masks and socially distance themselves. Schools could also mandate COVID testing, and if students are positive, they would be forced to quarantine. Students would have the freedom to make their own vaccination decision, but they would do so in an environment that makes the pros and cons of their decision quite clear.

Young people are spreading the Delta variant faster than ever before. Rather than relying on TikTok influencers, our leading institutions should consider why young adults aren’t getting vaccinated. You wouldn’t think that the National Football League would have a more sensible vaccine policy than universities such as Stanford, but stranger things have happened in the last two years. 

Warning Signs for Eric Greitens Making a Comeback in Missouri

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Eric Greitens speaks to the corps of cadets at the 22nd Annual Ethics Forum at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., in 2011. (Petty Officer Second Class Timothy Tamargo/US Coast Guard)

The race to replace the retiring Roy Blunt in the Senate should not be one that causes Republicans to lose a lot of sleep. Missouri, a competitive state at the presidential level in 2000 and 2008, has been a blowout in recent years; Mitt Romney carried it by a nine-point margin in 2012, and Donald Trump’s margins were 18.5 points in 2016, 15.4 points in 2020. After two terms of Democrat Jay Nixon, the state turned to Republican Eric Greitens by a 51-46 margin in the 2016 gubernatorial race, and his GOP successor Mike Parsons won 57-41 in 2020. Democrat

Books

Time Magazine Plays the Prophet

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Books stacked on an open desk. (utah778/GettyImages)

Time magazine just put out its “Top 100 YA Books of All Time” list, and in the inimitable phraseology of the Car Talk brothers, it is “BoooooooooooGUS.”

Setting aside the fact that much of the YA literature of today is a cesspool of sap, the premise of the list is wrong. Time proudly writes that over 50 percent of the chosen titles were published in the last decade. How can such books be considered the “all-time best” when they’ve not actually stood the test of time?

Instead of looking across the decades at the goldmine of children’s literature available, the Time panel tasked with this project (filled with contemporary YA authors — one of the last groups of people who should be creating such a list) preferred to remain short-sighted. Yes, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables make the list, but it feels as if they were thrown in just to cover the “pre-1900” base. Both are excellent books, but what about Little House on the Prairie? Wind in the Willows? Narnia? Hatchet, The Hobbit, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? All of these and many others were on the 2015 “All-Time Best” list. For heaven’s sake, Harry Potter didn’t even make the new and improved run-down! And that series is pretty hard to beat for literary and cultural influence.

Time claims its criteria was “artistry, originality, accessibility when it comes to mature themes, emotional impact, critical and popular reception, and influence on the young adult category and literature more broadly.” Perhaps the selection committee should do some more reading, not just of the books they were so quick to cut from the previous list, but of actual experts in the field, educators and writers who’ve studied this literary genre and can speak on it with reasonable authority. Cheri Blomquist is a perfect example, beginning with her recent book Before Austen Comes Aesop: The Children’s Great Books and How to Experience Them. Blomquist’s main point is that we need to rethink the way we teach literature to our children, and this is also applicable as regards Time’s list.

Blomquist’s premise focuses on the Great Books. According to her, “the Great Books of Western literature have at least four main qualities:

  1. Their ideas and themes are both representative of their times and universal. Thus they remain relevant and important to modern readers.
  2. They have contributed to the ‘Great Conversation of Great Ideas’ of Western thinkers down through the centuries.
  3. They have layers of riches such that readers can return to them again and again and make valuable discoveries every time.
  4. Their craftsmanship is beautiful and often exemplary.

She then takes this list and adapts it for her Children’s Great Books selection:

  1. The book has played a significant role in the history of children’s literature.
  2. It has influenced the development of Western literature—children’s, adult, or both.
  3. It has been valued by young people for much of its existence.
  4. It has long been considered excellent literature.

Books on Blomquist’s Children’s Great Books list are not all old, but she does have a caveat, stating that “the contemporary works on the list are those currently considered excellent by literary critics and have already proven to be influential, but time will tell if they will be considered great in the long run.”

Time’s criteria had the right idea, but its error comes down to poorly defined terms. To boast that the majority of books on this list are contemporary undermines its “All-Time Best” claim. If these books merit being on, say, a “YA Bestsellers of the 2010s” list, or a “Best Contemporary Coming-of-Age” books list, that is well and good. But to claim “All-Time Best” status requires just that: time.

World

Leverage Lost: U.S. Dangles Aid to Prevent Taliban Attack on Embassy in Kabul

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Ambassador Ross Wilson speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 30, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

The Biden administration is dangling the possibility of U.S. aid to a potential future Taliban-controlled government of Afghanistan, in a last-ditch bid to prevent an assault on its embassy in Kabul.

The situation in the country is in free fall. Since the start of a blitz last week, Taliban fighters have now taken eleven provincial capitals, as U.S. efforts to negotiate a political solution and a desperate plea to the group to negotiate a power-sharing agreement founder. The deadline for the completion of the U.S. withdrawal is August 31, and the White House and Pentagon have demonstrated little interest in significantly higher levels of air strikes to stop the Taliban’s advance.

Washington is now placing its hopes in a diplomatic push, one feature of which is to convince the Taliban not to attack the U.S. embassy in Kabul, if the Afghan capital falls, the New York Times reported today.

As the Times reports, part of this push includes preventing a Taliban assault on the U.S. embassy by saying that keeping it open is the only way a government the group runs can possibly receive future financial assistance from Washington.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s Afghanistan envoy and a veteran of the Bush and Trump administrations, has spearheaded the U.S. diplomatic effort.

Earlier this week, as Khalilzad traveled to Doha to meet Taliban negotiators, he and other administration officials faced criticism for saying that the Taliban would fail to gain international legitimacy if it came to power by force.

The most recent iteration of that argument came from within the walls of the Kabul embassy. “The Taliban’s statements in Doha do not resemble their actions in Badakhstan, Ghazni, Helmand & Kandahar,” wrote Ross Wilson, a top U.S. official there, on Twitter today.

For now, though, U.S. diplomats will remain in the country, as Khalilzad and the administration attempt to sway the Taliban.

“We are withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, but we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan,” the State Department told the Times in a statement, saying there are no plans to evacuate the embassy.

Given how far things have fallen, the administration’s line about international legitimacy is almost certain to fall on deaf ears. Unfortunately, the outcomes of this withdrawal demonstrate the logical end of a foreign policy based largely on appeals to international legitimacy backed by little else.

Chicago Department of Health: No Evidence Lollapalooza Was a ‘Super-Spreader’

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A fan crowd surfs during a performance at the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park in Chicago, August 5, 2011. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said today that there is no evidence that the city’s four-day Lollapalooza music festival was a super-spreader, that a grand total of 203 cases could be traced back to the festival, that four out of every 10,000 vaccinated attendees have reported testing positive, and that as of yesterday, no hospitalizations or deaths had occurred among any attendees.

“There’s no evidence of substantial impact to the city of Chicago’s epidemiology,” Arwardy said.

That is not the consequence that many public health experts and media voices predicted.

It has now been two weeks

World

Afghanistan for the Layman

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Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint in the Guzara district of Herat Province, Afghanistan, July 9, 2021. (Jalil Ahmad/Reuters)

The Taliban continue their advance through Afghanistan, with regional capitals falling one after another. Today’s WSJ headline reads, “Speed of the Taliban Advance Surprises U.S., Alarms Allies,” and the NYT asks, “Could the Taliban Take over Afghanistan?” Worrisome, but abstract. It’s difficult for the average Western reader to conceptualize how this conflict is taking shape, as Afghanistan’s geography and socio-political structure are . . . well, foreign. 

These news reports tell of almost a dozen regional capitals falling to the Taliban in a brief span, which can leave a reader to wonder, “How many regional capitals are there, anyway; is nine a lot?” There are 34 total regional capitals, apparently. Numbers mean little outside of context. 

Helpfully, there are maps, providing us with an illustrated reference and a soaring perspective. But maps suffer their own flaws, representing vast swaths of land as “owned” by one side or another but effectively uninhabited by either force.

The best combination of word, illustration, and scope I found comes courtesy of Vox’s Jen Kirby. Published August 11, she sat down with Andrew Watkins, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, to unpack what is happening in Afghanistan, why it matters, and the possible outcomes. 

A fascinating excerpt describing the Afghan government’s minuscule presence in the vastness of the country reads:

Jen Kirby

So when we see the Afghanistan map with all the color-coded territory, it’s not so much that the Taliban has full control over those large swaths. It’s just that those little village outposts have fallen one by one, so there’s nobody around to stop the Taliban from closing in on the cities.

Andrew Watkins

That’s exactly it. That’s not only what’s happening, but that’s also the significance of what’s happening. The fewer obstacles that stand in the Taliban’s way in the countryside, the fewer speed bumps they have on their way to the doorsteps of the cities — which is where they are now — around most of the country.

The New York Times ran a piece and got someone to go on the record with something I’ve been told over the last couple of weeks. One Afghan government official told them some of these districts fell when 10 Taliban fighters showed up. A lot of this was just the collapse of government authority, and if it could collapse in the face of 10 Taliban fighters, we have to be honest: It was barely there to begin with.

You can read the full and valuable interview here.

 

Health Care

Why Is the NHS — and the High Court — Determined for Alta Fixsler to Die?

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An NHS logo is seen on an ambulance in London, England, January 2, 2021. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Bill McGurn writes about the ongoing fight to get two-year-old Alta Fixsler out of her U.K.-NHS prison, explaining that this isn’t even a cost-saving measure (as bad as that would be), but something  “more monstrous”:

That even if it wouldn’t cost the NHS a penny, Alta Fixsler must be denied the possibility of treatment elsewhere because the experts and her assigned guardian have concluded, as the Hon. Mr. Justice Alistair MacDonald ably summed up in his decision, that she “has no quality of life” and “the burdens of Alta’s life outweigh any benefits.”

This is, of course, a moral judgment, not a medical one. On its own terms, it isn’t clear why it is owed any more deference than the contending moral calculus raised by Alta’s parents. Their faith, they say, is rooted in “the sanctity of life,” the “fundamental Jewish belief that human life, no matter how compromised, is invaluable.”

The Fixslers further note that Judaism isn’t simply a set of beliefs but a way of life, with guidance on everything from what they eat to how they pray to their obligations to others. The rabbis Alta’s parents consulted acknowledge Jewish law doesn’t always require patients be put on life support. But to remove it after it has been applied, they say, would hasten death and constitute a grave sin.

The justification for forbidding the Fixslers to take Alta to another hospital overseas rests largely on the grounds she might experience pain in transit. Think about that. Millions of people live with significant daily pain and suffering. Does this pain mean their lives have any less worth?

Ah, our new barbarians say, such people are conscious, able to make that calculation for themselves. Alta cannot, and she has no hope of getting better.

But even the doctors admit they can’t say for sure whether or how Alta experiences pain. Even so, they insist their judgment must be final and absolute, illuminating the death wish lurking behind so much of modern notions of “compassion,” which here elevates avoiding even the possibility of pain above all else, including living.

And if it comes to life-or-death decisions, are these best left to the courts and the clinicians? Or might there be something to be said in cases like Alta’s for deferring to the two people who love her most, her mom and dad — Abraham and Chaya Fixsler ?

Read more from his Wall Street Journal column.

I wrote about Alta here and here.

These extreme cases cast a light on the dangerous ways the medical profession is thinking these days.

Politics & Policy

Rental Assistance Program Used Just 10 Percent of $46 Billion Congress Provided

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The Capitol Building viewed from the Washington Mall in Washington D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

Congress can spend money quickly, which is a different goal than actually getting the money to the people they said they were going to help.

More than seven months after it was launched, the biggest rental assistance program in U.S. history has delivered just a fraction of the promised aid to tenants and landlords struggling with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

Since last December, Congress has appropriated a total of $46.6 billion to help tenants who were behind on their rent. As of June 30, just $3 billion had been distributed, though a senior official said the Biden administration hoped at least another $2 billion had been distributed in July.

If the Biden administration official’s estimate is correct, that would add up to a whopping 10.7 percent. At this pace, the rental assistance program will allocate the entire amount by June 2026.

Congress loves to throw money at a problem and ignore questions of whether the Byzantine federal bureaucracy and patchwork of programs and systems can actually allocate the appropriated money fast enough to address the problem.

I am reminded of former president Barack Obama admitting in 2011, after spending two years promising that his stimulus would fund “shovel-ready jobs,” that  “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.”

Media

‘Benign Spin’

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I’m afraid our old friend Max Boot is guilty of not reading past the headline.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about the Right’s abandonment of an Apollonian politics of reason and order for a Dionysian politics of intoxicating anarchy. Max Boot, apparently reading only the headline (which described this as the GOP’s “hippie phase”) refers to this in the Washington Post as “benign spin.”

I don’t think “benign spin” is an honest or accurate characterization of an argument whose main points of comparison were the ritual murders of the Manson family and the terrorism of the Weather Underground.

Read the damned column, Max, if you are going to write about it.

Putting the word “opinion” atop something cheap, sloppy, and stupid doesn’t make it anything other than cheap, sloppy, and stupid. Max Boot knows this. So does the Washington Post.

Monetary Policy

Inflation: A Better Time in the Transit(ory) Lounge?

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(Maximusnd/iStock/Getty Images)

Headline inflation came out at 5.4 percent year-on-year in July, about where it had been expected, and at the same rate as the previous month, which had been the highest number since . . . August 2008. The monthly rate of increase was 0.5 percent. Core inflation (which excludes energy and food) was 4.3 percent, down slightly from June’s 4.5 percent. Looking at core inflation on a month-by-month basis, the rate was 0.3 percent, below expectations of 0.4 percent and well below June’s numbers (0.9 percent). The results represented the first deceleration since February. More favorable base effects helped, but one major reason for the decline was that the surge in used-car and used-truck prices, a phenomenon that owed a great deal, one way or another, to pandemic-related dislocation, eased off dramatically: They increased by 0.2 percent (month-on-month) in July, after rocketing by 10 percent in June. A plateau is not the same as a cliff, of course, but there are now signs (via Manheim) that prices are falling.

It also seems that other prices — airline tickets, for example — that had risen on the back of pent-up demand are beginning to cool off, a trend, it seems, that may now be reinforced by the Delta variant putting a crimp in people’s plans. On the other hand, the surge in home prices, which typically would take a number of quarters to show up in the CPI (as OER, essentially the rent people would have had to pay on owner-occupied housing) has not yet really made its presence felt. The interplay between house prices, a structural housing shortage, ultra-low mortgage rates, and inflation may well mean that this presence turns out to be very far from (to use the Fed’s favorite adjective) “transitory.” Shelter makes up about one-third of the CPI.

So, what now? Inflation is something that can feed on itself, and even if, well, food is excluded from core inflation, it won’t be excluded from the way that consumers look at the price environment.

The Washington Post:

The cost of many grocery items — including meats, poultry, eggs and dairy — also ticked higher again in July, according to the report. Groceries have been trending higher for well over a year, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing a 2.6 percent rise in the “food at home” category compared with last year.

Well over a year.

And it won’t help if real wages are under pressure.

The Wall Street Journal:

Inflation is eating into household spending power despite wage increases in some industries. Average hourly earnings of private-sector workers, adjusted for inflation, fell 0.1% in July from June on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said. However, wages in the leisure and hospitality industry, where labor shortages are unusually acute, rose 0.4% from June, adjusting for inflation.

On the other hand (also from the Wall Street Journal):

Last Friday’s jobs report showed average hourly earnings have risen at a 5% annual rate over the past three months.

There’s a catch though:

That will lead many businesses to at least try to offset higher labor costs by charging higher prices.

The key question — to which I don’t, of course, have the answer — is how long people will be prepared to wait before they cease to think of more rapidly rising prices as “transitory” and start adjusting their behavior accordingly.

The Washington Post:

For the Fed and White House, price challenges are compounded by the fact that inflation can be driven by what people expect it will be in the future. For example, if businesses shift their plans for investment or consumers change their spending habits because they think prices for construction materials or hotel rooms will continue to soar, that behavior could drive prices up, too.

Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said it matters to households that “we’re on month five of this, and we might be in for another year of it.”

Strain adds:

“The Fed may be absolutely right to keep its zero interest rate policy. But I think the Fed has been too blasé, too serene, too dismissive of this potential risk.”

There is a limited amount that can be drawn from one month’s numbers, but these latest data provide some grounds for optimism that the pandemic effect on inflation may slowly be passing (for a relatively upbeat view on the prospects, take a look at this analysis by Matthew Klein), but that’s still far from a given.

Strain is right to be concerned that the Fed may be too relaxed about what might lie ahead for inflation. What’s more, given the way that the nation’s debt is ballooning, the central bank enjoys relatively little room for maneuver now —  and will have far less in the years to come. It is not too hard to see how the country could reach a point when a Volcker moment (when Paul Volcker became Fed chairman in August 1979, the Fed Funds rate stood at 10.5 percent or so: It peaked at around 20 percent less than two years later) is essential but impossible. Under the circumstances, the Fed would do well to err on the side of caution. On the brighter side, the sharp spike in Americans googling “inflation” appears to have reversed, so there’s that.

And then there’s the small matter of all that money that’s been created out of thin air . . .

World

U.S. Officials Eye a Political Solution to New Taliban Blitz

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Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint in the Guzara district of Herat Province, Afghanistan, July 9, 2021. (Jalil Ahmad/Reuters)

The White House says it isn’t ready to give up hope amid the Taliban’s wildly successful blitz campaign, but officials are making the specious point that the Islamist group should reconsider its actions if it wants to be taken as a legitimate player on the international stage.

The Washington Post reported earlier today that an internal military assessment found that the Taliban are likely to take Kabul within 90 days, and the paper cited some anonymous officials who think that it could fall even within a month.

This prompted an interesting exchange at today’s White House press briefing, where press secretary Jen Psaki brushed off the “anonymous assessments.”

“We are closely watching the deteriorating security conditions in parts of the country, but no particular outcome, in our view, is inevitable. We will continue to coordinate air strikes, with and in support of Afghan forces,” she also said.

“The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community,” Psaki added, reprising the line offered by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative to the Afghan peace process in Doha, during his conversations with the Taliban this week.

Nothing is inevitable, but the administration’s points here sound detached from the dismal reality on the ground where the Taliban have retaken nine of the country’s 34 capitals since Friday, leaving them in control of over two-thirds of Afghanistan. Kabul remains beyond the Taliban’s grasp, for now, but this stepped-up assault has included attacks on high-value targets within the Afghan capital.

The Post’s reporting shows that the administration, at least in private, sees the writing on the wall. But Psaki and others aren’t willing to concede the failure of Biden’s withdrawal yet, so they’re offering a questionable rhetorical backstop that makes it seem as though negotiating a political settlement remains remotely possible.

To Psaki’s credit, Afghan foreign minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar claimed that one does, at least if the international community “speaks with one voice” and pressures the Taliban, he said during an event hosted today by an Australian think tank.

But he also said, “We are probably experiencing the most massive, brutal, and opportunistic military campaign of violence and terror, by the Taliban, in the history of our country.”

That’s the military problem to which the administration is seeking a political solution.

Appealing to the Taliban’s desire to be recognized internationally seems like a losing strategy, with the Afghan government and its defense forces in disarray, President Biden’s reluctance to send much more help, and the current U.S. indifference to the plight of the country. The U.S. has signaled no increase in air strikes (which are conducted from abroad, since Bagram air base was shuttered in June), and the administration reportedly is cool to the idea of even continuing them past the August 31 withdrawal deadline.

The Afghan government wants help, but if Biden and his team are to be taken at their word, all they can muster is an attempt to make Taliban negotiators uncomfortable in their palatial Doha hotel suites.

U.S.

Ron Kind’s Retirement a Blow to Democrats’ Hopes of Holding the House

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Democratic Wisconsin congressman Ron Kind announced his retirement on Tuesday, dealing a blow to Democrats’ hopes of keeping control of the House in 2022.

Kind has represented western Wisconsin’s third congressional district since 1997, but voters in the district backed Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. In 2016, Kind ran unopposed, and in 2018 he cruised to reelection by 19 points.

But in 2020, Kind narrowly defeated former Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden, a first-time candidate, 51.3 percent to 48.6 percent. Van Orden is seeking the seat again in 2022, and Kind was high on the GOP’s target list.

Although the incumbent ran ahead of other Democrats on the ticket for many years, that trend may not have continued if Kind had sought another term in 2022. The retiring Democratic congressman has recently come under fire for renting out a massage parlor to a woman who “lost her occupational license in another state after local police linked her to human trafficking and prostitution,” the Washington Free Beacon reported last month.

Politics & Policy

Andrew Cuomo Resigned Because It Cost Democrats Nothing

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Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo speaks at the opening of Pier 76 park in New York, N.Y., June 9, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

A popular new liberal talking point claims that Andrew Cuomo resigned because principled Democrats tend to hold their own accountable far more often than Republicans. “Normal political parties,” says one writer, “can police their own.”

Indeed, if your entire political philosophy is to obsess about Donald Trump it might be easy to overlook the fact, as National Review’s editors pointed out the other day, that Republicans had recently pushed out both Eric Greitens in Missouri and Robert Bentley in Alabama. Or that not long ago, someone like Ted Kennedy was being adulated as the “Lion of Senate,” even though everyone knew he was a drunken degenerate; or that during his presidency, credible, corroborating evidence existed that Bill Clinton may have raped a woman. Joe Biden himself was given a dispensation by the media after being accused of sexual assault by Tara Reade. We don’t know if these accusations are true, but if Republicans had adopted the standards set only a year earlier by the Left — which is to say abandoning belief in due process when politically expedient — Biden could have been subjected to intense pressure. Reade, after all, had more credibility than any of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers.

It should also be pointed out that Democrats only displace their own when it holds no genuine political repercussions. Everyone understood that Al Franken’s resignation meant another Democrat would take his place. And everyone knows well that Cuomo’s ouster means another Democrat will take his place — and, in the long run, one that is likely more progressive. Virginia’s Ralph Northam, who either smeared his face with black makeup to look like Michael Jackson or draped himself in a white sheet to cosplay a racist cross-burner, survived only because a cascading array of potential scandals — Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax was accused of sexual assault and then Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to also dressing in blackface — threatened Democratic control.

Let’s not forget either that Cuomo was pushed from office for groping women — bad enough — and not for his deadly incompetence during the COVID pandemic or subsequent corruption. To remove him for his actions last year would have necessitated, to some extent, conceding that the pandemic response had been botched by a man anointed a hero by Democrats and allies. Biden is still praising Cuomo. Now, they can get rid of him for his personal transgressions. Quite a different story.

Not that any of this is surprising. Parties police their own only when the political pressure becomes untenable and the cost to do so is low. It has nothing to do with principles.

Music

‘We Don’t Care How Well You Play, Your Opinions Are Not Acceptable!’

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It’s frightening how rapidly America is becoming a nation where having the wrong views about politics and national controversies can cost you your job or your business.

As we read in this NY Post story, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has fired its principal flutist, Emily Skala, simply because the management disagrees with her thoughts about COVID. The orchestra has a “progressive discipline policy” that allows it to terminate musicians for behavior it disapproves of.

Lesson for orchestral musicians — if you have any thoughts that might conflict with those of “woke” management types, keep them to yourself.

Skala has been with the Baltimore Symphony for 33 years. Now that she has identified herself as a person with unacceptable views, she must be terminated.

It’s the BSO management that ought to be terminated.

Science & Tech

Cryptocurrency Regulations, Space Taxes, and Innovation

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(ktsimage/Getty Images)

The infrastructure bill recently passed by the Senate contained a provision that would impose on the trading of cryptocurrency the same reporting requirements applied to the transaction of other traditional financial securities, such as stocks. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Gary Gensler has also been advocating for more regulations on cryptocurrency trading and soliciting congressional support for his position. This has fueled concern in the financial industry that the growing interest in the cryptocurrency market may be dampened by the anticipated regulations.

This isn’t the only new venture now suddenly threatened by congressional regulation. One may recall that, a few weeks ago, Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon had, in response to Jeff Bezos’s successful venture into space, indignantly suggested that space travel be subjected to an excise tax, lest space exploration become “a tax-free holiday for the wealthy.” Blumenauer stressed that he was “not opposed to . . . space innovation” and only wanted to tax space-travel ventures that “don’t have a scientific purpose.” However, space innovation is driven by not only scientific development, but also financial interest.

One may even contend that the scientific development associated with space innovation is itself driven by financial interest. After all, the prospect of becoming a pioneer in the potentially enormously lucrative industry of private space travel is a tremendous incentive for investors to divert resources to scientific research and development aimed at enhancing space-travel technology. There is simply no way to tax and hence in effect disincentivize the expansion of the private space-traveling industry without impeding potential scientific development.

As of August 10, Blumenauer has yet to formally introduce this space-travel-tax bill, and one can only speculate how serious he had been in his suggestions. However, his suggestions, together with congressional action to strengthen regulation on cryptocurrency, indicate a broader trend of taxing innovation. While the government may have a wide array of reasons for imposing new taxes and regulations onto budding industries, its increasing interest in doing so may, nonetheless, potentially have a chilling effect on innovation.

As the elementary principles of supply-side economics go, tax cuts and deregulation bolster the development of an industry, whereas new taxes and regulations impede it. Even by expressing interest in taxing certain industries, the government may be inducing considerable hesitation on the part of potential investors, who become wary that the profitability of the industry may be diminished by tightening regulations, to assume the risks associated with installing their capital in a relatively young and unestablished industry.

The expansion of the cryptocurrency market may be hindered if they are subjected to the same stringent regulations as traditional securities. While traditional stock trading formally began in America when the Philadelphia Stock Exchange was founded in 1790, formal regulations and “third-party reporting” requirements for did not emerge until 1934, when the SEC was formed in response to the Wall Street crash of 1929. Although the lack of regulations ultimately proved to be a recipe for financial disaster, it also arguably contributed to the initial flourishing of stock trading in America. Cryptocurrency’s roots, on the other hand, can only be traced back as far as the late 20th century. Despite its exponential growth in market value and investors, cryptocurrency exchange is still an emergent market and has yet to command the broad investor confidence that traditional securities trading arguably enjoys. To impose the same stringent regulations applied to traditional securities onto cryptocurrency exchange in its infancy may well prevent it from attaining the establishment conventionality of the stock market.

The government often has different reasons to tighten regulations or impose taxes on budding industries, be it to enforce tax-compliance, increase tax revenue, or simply to punish wealthy citizens for pursuing extravagant exploits. However, regardless of the intentions of the lawmakers, regulations and taxes would foreseeably disincentivize investment in these budding industries and impede their development. The space-travel industry and cryptocurrency exchange are but two of the many markets that may be affected by this broader sentiment. Though the aforementioned short-term aims may be achievable through government action, free enterprise, investors’ interest in emergent industries, and society’s zeal for innovation do not benefit in the long run.

Culture

Donald Kagan, R.I.P.

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Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Donald Kagan, the great historian of the ancient world, has died.

I took his famous intro course on Herodotus and Thucydides when I was a Yale freshman. Kagan’s stunt was to pull some random young men out of the audience — the course was always given in one of the largest lecture halls, so many wanted to take it — and arrange them onstage as if in a line of a hoplite phalanx.

I remember two serious points after almost 50 years. Unless they have been contradicted by better evidence, or they recount something that is physically impossible, always accept traditional accounts as a working hypothesis. And, despite Thucydides’s greatness — Kagan revered him — Herodotus was superior in this respect: He would offer evidence that contradicted his own conclusions (the Spartans say this, the Corinthians say this, but I believe the Athenians who say this . . .). His counter-explanations sometimes turn out to be the correct ones. Thucydides, the master artist and philosopher, has to know everything, and for that reason sometimes doesn’t.

I stayed in touch with him in numerous other ways. My friend Greg Hyatt, from Methuen, Mass., told me once that he was praying for a Yankees victory (unheard of in his part of the world). The reason: Kagan, atheist and Yankees fan, had said he would believe in God if the Yankees won. So Greg resolved to help him.

Kagan wrote a wonderful essay on Joe DiMaggio, correcting a famous John Updike essay on Ted Williams. Williams, Kagan argued sternly, was all about his batting average, whereas DiMaggio’s arete inspired his teammates.

Kagan was the master of Timothy Dwight, one of Yale’s residential colleges, which in my senior year put on a production of Kiss Me, Kate. I was Frederick Graham, the self-regarding ham (why they cast me in that role I have no idea). For the cast party, Master Kagan gave us a case of champagne.

For many years, Kagan was an unpaid teaching assistant for Elizabeth Altham, one of his former students (and one of WFB’s last amanuenses), who became herself a teacher at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a conservative Catholic school in Rockford, Illinois. Kagan’s assignment was to pinch hit on questions regarding the ancient world. So a teacher’s influence spreads through his students to new generations.

Kagan gave a farewell lecture at Yale at the end of his tenure, in the hall where he had demonstrated hoplite phalanxes, surveying the shifting role of the university throughout history. The modern university, he concluded, most resembles Oxford and Cambridge in the 18th century. Students in both learn nothing much, but network with rising fellow members of the elite. It was an impish envoi — disproved by his own splendid career. R.I.P.

Law & the Courts

No, Florida’s Masking Policy Is Not ‘Unconservative’

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Florida governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign rally at Pensacola International Airport in Pensacola, Fla., October 23, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Over the last few days, I’ve seen a number of people suggest that there’s something intrinsically “unconservative” about Governor DeSantis’s decision to bar mask mandates in every school district in Florida. The case made in defense of this proposition seems to be two-fold. First, that DeSantis is “interfering” with local schools by setting a statewide rule. Second, that by barring a mandate, DeSantis in effect setting a mandate.

Neither of these arguments is correct.

The core unit of political organization in America (which is also known as the “United States“) is the state. It is not the federal government, which was the creation of the people, which has limited powers in a few enumerated areas, and which left the states intact; and it is not the local counties within the states, which are creations of the state and can be preempted at any point and for any reason. By design, the states are in primary control of areas as meaningful as criminal law, education, zoning, transportation, agriculture, energy, taxation, and industry. As such, it is a mistake to assume that the same relationship applies between the states and the localities as applies between the federal government and the states. As a prudential matter, it is often a good idea for state governments to defer to the wishes of local communities, just as, when they are drafting laws and regulations, it can be appropriate for statewide officials to leave space for any meaningful differences that might exist. But, unlike the federal government, state governments are not obliged to do this by either law or tradition, which means that determining what qualifies and what does not qualify is a political rather than a constitutional question. (This is why, for example, the federal government’s Obamacare mandate was a big legal problem, whereas Massachusetts’s individual mandate, while a terrible policy, was not.)

This brings us to the second critique, which is that, as a political choice, there was something wrong with DeSantis’s decision to set a statewide policy for masking in schools. Frankly, I consider the claim that to bar mandates is in effect to impose a mandate to be sophistic nonsense — not least because by complaining that the Florida regulation “takes away” the power of schools to set their own policies one is obliged to concede that it hands that power directly to parents. Certainly, one can reasonably argue that Florida has got the balance wrong, and that school boards, not individual parents, are better placed to make this call. But one cannot credibly argue that Florida has “restricted” choice. It hasn’t. It has allocated choice. Florida had three options. The first was to set the substantive policy for every school and every student (no masks or mandatory masks). The second was to allow each school to make that determination. The third was to let parents decide. By going with the third option, Florida handed the decision to the smallest possible unit: the individual.

Was this the right call? Substantively, I happen to think so, yes. There’s no good evidence that masking children does anything useful, let alone that mandating masking does, which makes this issue a good candidate for personal choice. Clearly, the current problem in Florida and beyond isn’t that children are contracting COVID, but that the combination of a new variant and the millions of people who have declined to get the vaccine has caused a temporary spike in infections. Still, people of good faith can disagree about that — and do — and the fact that they can underscores that, for once, this is not a process question but a policy question that deserves to be treated as such.

Culture

Wild Rice Sues to Stop Repair of Oil Pipeline

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A demonstrator lifts his fist during a protest of the Line 3 pipeline in Solway, Minn., June 7, 2021. (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

This is the peril posed by the “nature rights” movement. Whenever any human activity interferes with what environmentalists believe should be done, such laws permit them to sue and stop the enterprise.

Case in point. Two years ago the Ojibwe tribe granted wild rice the “right to exist,” which could be said to be a synonym for a right to life. As I noted back then:

The law begins: “Manoomin, or wild rice, within all the Chippewa ceded territories, possesses inherent rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve, as well as inherent rights to restoration, recovery and preservation.”

The Rights of Manoomin include:
– The right to clean water and freshwater habitat
– The right to a natural environment free from industrial pollution
– The right to a healthy, stable climate free from human-caused climate change impacts
– The right to be free from patenting
– The right to be free from contamination by genetically engineered organisms

Imagine the litigation such a law would generate if it were enforceable outside of tribal lands.

Well, we don’t have to imagine anymore. The “wild rice” has now brought a lawsuit in tribal court seeking to prevent the repair of an oil pipeline — a microcosm of things to come if the “nature rights” movement continues to advance. From the CBC story:

Wild rice is the lead plaintiff in a new lawsuit aimed at halting construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline replacement.

“Wild rice is the most important spiritual, central part of our culture. Wild rice is what’s making us come out and protect water,” Frank Bibeau, a treaty rights attorney for the White Earth First Nation in Minnesota, told As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal.

“Wild rice protects us. Wild rice feeds us. Wild rice tells us when there’s something wrong in the water or in the air or in the ground. Wild rice is an indicator species. And wild rice is disappearing.

Bibeau filed the suit Wednesday in the White Earth Nation Tribal Court. It lists the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a defendant, and several White Earth tribal members and Line 3 protesters as plaintiffs alongside wild rice, or manoomin in Ojibway.

Ironically, the point of the repair is to prevent leaks and ruptures. But the wild rice apparently “wants” no oil piped.

The lawsuit asks the tribal court to grant an injunction to void the water permit the DNR issued to Enbridge for Line 3.

If the tribal court rules against the oil pipeline, that would not end the story:

But even if the lawsuit is successful, Bibeau says he doesn’t expect the state to abide by the tribal court’s decision. Still, he says Line 3 opponents could use a tribal court victory to fast-track their case to a U.S. federal court.

That’s where things could get dicey, depending on the judge.

As I said, this is a microcosm story. But it also a cogent warning of our future that may await if states and the federal government don’t pass laws exclusively reserving “rights” to the human realm (individuals and juridical associations) and prohibiting nature and animals from having legal standing in any court of law.

Health Care

Gee, Thanks for the Speedy Work, CDC

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A man receives his second dose of a coronavirus vaccine at the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, March 30, 2021. (Nathan Howard/Reuters)

Most of us knew, or strongly suspected, that those vaccinated against COVID-19 would need booster shots eventually, and that those at high risk would need them sooner, and those at lower risk would need them later. It was just question of when. The 2.8 million Americans vaccinated in December 2020 were vaccinated eight months ago.

Israel announced plans to give boosters to senior citizens back on July 29. France and Germany announced boosters would be available in September.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control will meet Friday to discuss booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Analysts are already predicting that this meeting will lead to a CDC endorsement of boosters for the elderly. Meanwhile, Israel has already given a third shot to 500,000 seniors. By Friday, when the CDC meets, Israel will have been rolling out the third doses for sixteen days.

I would complain about the CDC moving at its usual pace of bureaucracy, but maybe it’s moot, as the agency estimates that 1.1 million Americans have already gone to get an unauthorized third shot. Maybe those who need boosters the most — or those who think they need them the most — have metaphorically cried,  “to hell waiting for CDC approval, better to get the third shot too early than too late.”

Once again, our policy is to try to get those who don’t want to be vaccinated to take the shots, and, at least for now, to officially deny third shots to those who want them.

Media

Who Guards the Guardians?

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A host of organizations portray themselves as reliable “fact-checkers” that help readers discern content that is “reliable” from that which is not. The problem is, how do we know if those “fact-checkers” are themselves reliable? What if they exist mostly to color people’s impressions of controversies rather than to objectively report on false claims?

That certainly seems to be the case, and in this AIER essay, Phil Magness and Ethan Yang dive into the credibility of a group called NewsGuard. The authors focus on the way NewsGuard has handled COVID and related health-policy disputes. Far from acting as an honest umpire, it has clearly taken sides.

Here’s a key paragraph:

To briefly summarize, NewsGuard’s coverage of Covid-19 policy and the GBD in particular suffers from a recurring pattern of frequent errors that warrant correction, reliance on fact checkers and other figures who lack qualifications to make scientific assessments, biased depictions designed to disparage or undermine the scientific credibility of the petition, and the promotion of false information from dubious secondary sources, rather than the “scientific experts” it claims to use. In sharp contrast, NewsGuard writers such as John Gregory take a friendly and non-scrutinizing stance toward pro-lockdown opponents of the GBD such as CovidFAQ website – even when they spread factual misinformation about the GBD’s contents and engage in duplicitous editing under the guise of issuing a “correction.” The self-appointed fact checker, it would appear, suffers from a biased and deficient internal fact-checking process for its own work on Covid-19.

I think it’s a safe assumption that “fact checkers” are leftist agents in disguise until proven otherwise.

Read the whole thing.

Law & the Courts

Judge Blocks Pro-Life Laws in Indiana, Relying on Testimony from Abortion Activists

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Demonstrators hold placards during a Planned Parenthood rally outside the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, April 5, 2017. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/Reuters)

Federal judge Sarah Evans Barker has issued a permanent injunction against several pro-life laws in Indiana, including a provision that required women to consult with a physician in person prior to obtaining chemical-abortion drugs.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, abortion providers and abortion-rights activists began pushing to relax FDA safety regulations that had previously required doctors to prescribe the two drugs for a chemical abortion at an in-person appointment. After a long series of court fights — including a stop at the Supreme Court where the justices affirmed the permissibility of the FDA safety standards — the FDA under the Biden administration relaxed the policy and permitted women to begin obtaining chemical-abortion drugs via telemedicine appointments.

In response, a number of states have enacted their own safety requirements, prohibiting doctors from prescribing chemical-abortion drugs without first examining a patient in person. Unsurprisingly, abortion-rights groups have sued to block such policies, and in Indiana, they’ve scored a victory.

Citing prominent abortionist and abortion advocate Dr. Daniel Grossman, as well as abortion-advocacy group the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Judge Barker asserted that prescribing abortion pills via telemedicine is safe and would increase access to abortion for women who do not live near an abortion clinic. Barker again cited these sources, in addition to Planned Parenthood and other abortion-clinic officials, to establish that in-person examination is not necessary before determining whether to prescribe abortion pills and that such regulations impose a unique burden on low-income women.

The judge also blocked Indiana’s requirement that doctors inform women that human life begins at fertilization, once again citing Grossman, who called this statement not “truthful.”

“Plaintiffs again contend that this statement is at best misleading, conflating a religious or ideological view of when ‘life’ begins with one sounding in science,” the judge wrote. She went on to rule that the requirement was unconstitutional, declaring that “this mandatory disclosure does not communicate truthful and non-misleading information.”

While Barker also struck down a state provision requiring abortions later in pregnancy to be performed at a hospital, she did uphold the state’s ultrasound requirement, as well at its policy requiring that counseling be offered only by physicians or advanced clinicians.