Politics & Policy

‘The Infrastructure Parlor Game’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Alexandra, and Michael discuss the dying infrastructure bill, Biden’s shifting crime stance, and Pence’s recent comments about the 2020 election. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Politics & Policy

Biden Lawsuit against Georgia Election Law Illustrates Radicalism of DOJ and Its Civil Rights Chief

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The U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., December 15, 2020 (Al Drago/Reuters)

As our Caroline Downey reports, the Justice Department will today announce that it is suing Georgia over the latter’s election-integrity law. This is ridiculous. The law provides for voting far more extensive than the Constitution’s minimal standards, and well beyond what, about five minutes ago, were state-law norms. The lawsuit is yet another sign, as if we needed one, that the Biden Justice Department is the Obama DOJ 2.0, an activist tool that puts the awesome law-enforcement power of the federal government in the service of woke progressivism.

This is not a surprise, of course. The lawsuit will be brought by DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, which Biden put in the radical hands of Kristen Clarke, for whose confirmation we can thank Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the lone Republican to assent. I wrote about Clarke when she was nominated:

At the all-important Civil Rights Division, Biden has appointed Kristen Clarke, a radical with a history of racist and anti-Semitic commentary. At Harvard, where she led the Black Students Association as an undergrad, Clarke publicly contended that blacks were superior to whites physically and mentally because their brains contain higher amounts of neuro-melanin. Blacks are also spiritually superior, she said, though she elaborated that this is not an attribute that can be “measured based on Eurocentric standards.”

Though she does not exactly come off like a career in stand-up was an option, Clarke would like us to believe that she was just joking — resorting to parody in her umbrage over the publication of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve. People seemed to think she was pretty serious at the time, as she took pains to cite Richard King, a psychiatrist and melanin/pineal-gland scholar, as authority for the proposition that melanin is “the chemical basis for the cultural differences between blacks and whites,” and the reason why “Black infants sit, crawl and walk sooner than whites.” (C’mon, you know you were wondering!) On a related subject, Clarke certainly seemed serious when she invited a notoriously anti-Semitic Trinidadian academic, Tony Martin, to expound on his theories about the racism of the Torah and the “Jewish monopoly over Blacks” — and when she later asserted, in his defense, “Professor Martin is an intelligent, well-versed Black intellectual who bases his information on indisputable fact.”

Clarke is dedicated to the proposition that identity — racial, ethnic, sex (including, of course, sexual identification), sexual preference, etc. — trumps merit. She made that clear in a recent interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson (embedded in this Paul Mirengoff post at Powerline). She swaddles this noxious ideology in the euphonious argot of “diversity,” much as [Attorney General Merrick] Garland, in his [confirmation] hearing, toed the Biden line of describing as “equity” the Left’s championing of discrimination against whites for the purpose of fighting “systemic racism.” Equity, in this construction, is the antithesis of equal protection under the law, that passé constitutional value it used to be the Justice Department’s mission to defend. Equal opportunity is out, disparate impact is in. Naturally, Clarke thus frets that if COVID-19 has hit black communities harder than others, it must be due to “racial bias.”

In a saner time, someone with Clarke’s record would not have been nominated because the incumbent administration would not want to run the risk of being associated with her views, and even if willing to run that risk, the president wouldn’t find enough votes in his own party to get her through the Senate. (See, e.g., President Clinton’s withdrawal of his 1993 nomination of Professor C. Lani Guinier to head the Civil Rights Division.) Three decades later, to satisfy his left flank, President Biden nominated Clarke because of her radical views, Democrats closed ranks around her, and Senator Collins went along for the ride.

These are still early Biden days. He may not be able to get much legislation through Congress, but there are no brakes on the Civil Rights Division — except the courts.

Law & the Courts

Trump or No Trump, We Should Investigate Crimes, Not People

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(Brennan Linsley/Pool/via Reuters)

One of the golden rules of the American justice system is that the powers-that-be are supposed to investigate crimes rather than to investigate people. “That guy may have stolen a car” is a good reason to open a case. So is “that guy works a minimum wage job at a 7/11 but owns six Ferraris.” “That guy seems like the sort of guy we dislike,” is not.

Far too much of the legal activity against President Trump has fallen into the lattermost category.

Why does this matter? Well, because almost everyone in America has done something illegal at some point — yes, including you — and if the government were to spend enough time and money looking into them, it would almost always find something. All told, I am a pretty law-abiding guy, but I bet if agents of the state rifled through my affairs for long enough they’d find a way to get me, too. That I am unlikely to be targeted because I am less unpopular than Donald Trump should not give me much comfort.

Today, the New York Times confirms that the “investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into Donald J. Trump and his business dealings” may at last have yielded some “criminal charges.”

Into what? Into, er, this:

The Manhattan district attorney’s office has informed Donald J. Trump’s lawyers that it is considering criminal charges against his family business, the Trump Organization, in connection with fringe benefits the company awarded a top executive, according to several people with knowledge of the matter.

If the case moves ahead, the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., could announce charges against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, as soon as next week, the people said.

That’s a big problem is it? The sort of thing that the Manhattan district attorney’s office would usually focus on? The sort of thing they were looking for here?

It’s not, no:

It would be highly unusual to indict a company just for failing to pay taxes on fringe benefits, said several lawyers who specialize in tax rules. None of them could cite any recent example, noting that many companies provide their employees with perks like company cars.

So why do it?

Still, an indictment of Mr. Trump’s company could deal a significant blow to the former president just as he has flirted with a return to politics.

Ah.

This should alarm everyone — yes, even people like myself, who wish that Donald Trump would just go away. This is a totally unhealthy way to run a justice system. Once upon a time, the people who call themselves “liberals” would have understood that instinctively.

Politics & Policy

Remember That Time Sheldon Whitehouse Badgered a Judicial Nominee about His Club Membership?

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When he isn’t spinning conspiracy theories, destroying faith in judicial system, or baselessly accusing his political foes of corruption, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is probably relaxing in one of three posh all-white clubs. If one has any sympathy for him, or believes bringing up his associations is unfair, let’s remember Whitehouse is only being asked to live by his own standards.

When a reporter asked the senator about his cloistered racial lifestyle, Whitehouse claimed that such clubs have “a long tradition in Rhode Island and there are many of them and I think we just need to work our way through the issues.” Hey, free association, and all that. Last year, however, Whitehouse, along with a number of senators — including Kamala Harris — treated members of the Knights of Columbus, a 140-year-old fraternal Catholic charitable organization steeped in tradition, as if it they were in a secret cabal of seditious papists. “Since 2011, you have been a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization limited only to men,” Whitehouse asked district court nominee, Peter Phipps, six questions about his membership — including, whether he had sworn an oath to uphold the organization’s mission. All of it was meant to intimate some unholy allegiance. Now, of course, this is not the first time a New England WASP has treated American Catholics like foreign interlopers or chosen to join clubs with other high-born members of his tribe, but really, all of it is a bit on the nose.

Energy & Environment

A Drought of Biblical Proportions Is Here

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A boat launch ramp closed because of low water levels at Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in California and according to daily reports of the state’s Department of Water Resources is near 35% capacity, near Oroville, Calif., June 16, 2021. (Aude Guerrucci/Reuters)

The U.S. is experiencing one of the worst droughts in years. Not “years” as in decades, “years” as in centuries. Scientists project that this summer might be the driest season in 1,200 years. Just for context, that means the last time things were this dry was a few hundred years after Rome collapsed. Extreme droughts like these have important consequences, ones we can’t ignore. Conservationist policies and a reduction in water usage may be needed urgently. 

Heat records are being broken across the country. Drought maps show that 40 percent of America is currently experiencing a drought, particularly in the southwest. Extreme droughts like these are both dangerous and costly. Low rainfall numbers create the conditions for wildfires, which have plagued Western states recently. Wildfires raged last year, leaving at least 40 dead and perhaps 1,000 harmed from the smoke. California in particular has been singed by the outbreak of wildfires. Red-hot forest fires burned over a million acres of land, destroying $10 billion of property in 2020 alone.

Wildfires are not evenly distributed, so the problem is not as salient to those outside the hazardous areas. However, the impact of this mega-drought will affect nearly everyone. The agricultural industry uses 90 percent of industrial water, so food prices may rise. Ancillary industries such as technological services, which use millions of gallons of water per day, may also become more expensive.

The drought has both scientists and politicians concerned. Simon Wang, a meteorologist at Utah State University, described the problem succinctly: 

Since we’re in a drought, we don’t really have much moisture in the soil. And without that moisture, the sun really heats up the ground and the air much faster. So, really what we’re seeing in the south-west is, the ground is burning like a hotplate. And we’re standing on it.

The governor of Utah, Spencer J. Cox, has asked residents to conserve water but remarked that “we need some divine intervention.”

Pending intervention from God Himself, there are measures we can take to improve our resource management. Bringing back controlled burns so that dead timber can’t fuel fires would be a step in the right direction. We also need better messaging about why conservation matters. Expecting citizens to rearrange their life to keep global temperatures below an arbitrary threshold without holding other countries accountable is quixotic. Prioritizing water conservation, fire prevention, and other pragmatic conservation needs is a better way forward.

Politically engaged citizens should want practical solutions that prioritize conservation and innovation. Conservatives, in particular, should champion such proposals as a way to respond to the needs of citizens in affected areas.  

VIEW GALLERY: Western States Drought

World

IAEA: China Says that Nuke Plant Is Working Fine, and That’s Good Enough for Us!

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The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong, China, October 17, 2013 (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

About a week and a half has passed since CNN reported the U.S. government spent a week assessing a report of a leak at a Chinese nuclear power plant, after a French company that part owns and helps operate it warned of an “imminent radiological threat.” The good news is that so far, nothing has blown up and radiation detectors in Hong Kong and other places nearby have not shown any unusual readings.

The bad news is, no one outside of the plant operators and the China Atomic Energy Authority really seems to know precisely what happened or how bad the problem was or is. Right now, the public assessment from Chinese authorities is that about five of the uranium fuel rods were damaged, which by itself is not particularly rare, and safety measures and precautions are in place to deal with that problem. But it is unusual for a French company to go to the U.S. government to warn about their concerns at a Chinese plant, and Japanese authorities said the concentration of the gases indicated something significant and concerning was happening within the plant. As nuclear energy experts noted, no entity in China publicly communicated anything about any problems at the plant until CNN reported about the French company’s worries and warnings to the U.S. government. And even after word of the relatively small problem emerged, the Chinese line was that everything was fine.

At a press conference June 15, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s spin was that nothing was really wrong or out of the ordinary: “According to the competent authorities, the Taishan nuclear power plant performs to the requirements of the technical specifications with normal level of environmental radiation in the surrounding areas of the nuclear power plant, the safety of which is guaranteed.”

But the seemingly final word from the International Atomic Energy Agency on this incident is not all that different from the assessments of the World Health Organization in the opening weeks of the coronavirus pandemic: The Chinese government tells us everything is fine, but we haven’t been able to independently verify their assessments. The one-paragraph IAEA statement just repeats a series of statements from the China Atomic Energy Authority and concludes, “The IAEA remains in contact with CAEA.” Is everything really “in normal condition and that operational safety is guaranteed,” as the Chinese government claims? The IAEA and the world will just have to take the Chinese government’s word for it. But hey, those guys would never lie about a massive, life-threatening problem, right?

 

Who’s Afraid of the Babylon Bee?

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Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon on a recent episode of the company’s YouTube channel. (Babylon Bee/via YouTube)

To understand how the New York Times and other leading media and tech institutions view the Babylon Bee, imagine that when Stephen Colbert was still doing The Colbert Report, conservatives thought that they were actually listening to a right-wing populist Bill O’Reilly type, instead of a satirist who was mocking everything O’Reilly stood for.

Everything the Bee publishes is a joke. You don’t have to find it funny, and you probably won’t if you don’t agree with the underlying premises of its joke. And that’s fine. Those premises are right-of-center. Apart from Greg Gutfeld, the Bee might be the most visible

Law & the Courts

Boys vs. Girls at the Supreme Court!

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It won’t go down in history as a case of epic importance, but in one of its final days of the term, the Supreme Court of the United States gave us the first 6–3 ruling in which the six male justices formed the majority (opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch), with the three female justices joining a dissent penned by Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who must have been assigned the writing duties by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the senior justice on the short side. The case is Hollyfrontier Cheyenne Refining v. Renewable Fuels. Ed Whelan will check me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is the first dissent Justice Barrett has written since joining the High Court.

Economy & Business

Good Timing, Krugman!

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Paul Krugman at a conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 14, 2012 (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman, writing Monday, June 21, 2021: “for those paying closer attention to the flow of new information, inflation panic is, you know, so last week. Seriously, both recent data and recent statements from the Federal Reserve have, well, deflated the case for a sustained outbreak of inflation.”

The news this morning: “A key inflation indicator that the Federal Reserve uses to set policy rose 3.4 percent in May, the fastest increase since the early 1990s, the Commerce Department reported Friday.”

Yes, yes, the article continues, “though the reading could add to inflation concerns, Fed officials continue to insist that they see the current situation as temporary and likely to abate as conditions return to normal.” And a common argument is that this recent batch of price comparisons are skewed because the numbers from a year ago – when the pandemic’s economic effects were at their most intense – are so unusual.

All inflation surges are destined to end sometime. But the consumer price index started jumping in March. How many consecutive months of price increases do we need to agree that it is a “sustained outbreak of inflation”?

 

Woke Culture

Kendi: Election of Obama Harmful to Racial Equity

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Ibram X. Kendi on CBS This Morning in 2019. (CBS This Morning/via YouTube)

Ibram X. Kendi is the intellectual leader of the new “anti-racist” movement. Don’t let the name fool you. Anti-racist does not really want to end the great evil, but redirect racial distinctions and wield them invidiously against people not of color. As Kendi has written, “The only remedy to racial discrimination is antiracist discrimination.” Swell.

The goal of anti-racist advocacy isn’t guaranteeing equal opportunity for every individual. Rather, it is “equity,” that is, equality of outcomes for racial, ethnic, and sexual/gender groups. The beautiful part for the activist is that equity — as they define it — is so utterly Utopian that it can both only be strived for by authoritarian means and can never be achieved. Indeed, based on how enthusiastically the political Left — particularly, those in control of the institutions — jumped on the anti-racist/equity bandwagon, it is a campaign that will never end. For the Left, “There is only the fight.”

If you needed further proof that we are in a hellish loop on race issues, Kendi just penned a piece in The Atlantic in which he actually decries the election of Barack Obama as president. Why? Because it furthers the “myth” of a “postracial America,”and hence, is not anti-racist. From “Our New Postracial Myth“:

The postracial idea is the hardest racist idea to put down. Everyone is inclined to consume it. White people and people of color alike long for racism to end. When we yearn for something to end—and don’t know what the end looks like—it is easy to make ourselves believe the end is near. Believing the myth of a postracial America is a cheap way to feel good, like buying the fast food down the block from my favorite restaurant in Philadelphia. We don’t realize that to believe the postracial myth is to normalize racial inequity and deny that racism is dividing and devastating our society.

The reason for the supposed “myth’s” great resurgent power? The election of our first African-American president gave people hope that racism could finally be put behind us:

I watched Obama’s Iowa victory speech on a tiny mounted television with a stranger as my food cooled. I hardly realized that at that very moment, racial reality was cooling too.

I’ll never forget it.

“This was the moment,” Obama proclaimed that night.

This was the moment when the eagerness of many Americans to close the book on America’s racist past ended up closing the book on America’s racist present, which closed the book on America’s racist future, which wrote the book on how America ends.

“This was the moment,” Obama said again. “Years from now, you’ll look back and you’ll say that this was the moment.”

Indeed, this was the moment when the American people created the original postracial project that is bearing down on Americans yet again, like a knife over a nation’s heart.

This is profoundly subversive and incendiary stuff, and we need to look at what it means with clear eyes: The left has no intention of ever letting the country achieve racial reconciliation — even if reparations becomes policy — because it considers a postracial society to be in conflict with anti-racist goals. In other words, postracial is racist. Lord help us.

World

An Israel Explainer, and More

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Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party at party headquarters in Jerusalem on March 23, 2021 (Ammar Awad / Reuters)

In Impromptus today, I lead with Kamala Harris, who is “making a run for the border,” to borrow from an old Taco Bell slogan. She is visiting our southwestern border, where there is a lot of work to do. I also ask the question: Is Harris a good politician? This may seem an odd question to ask of someone who has risen to senator from California and vice president, but it’s a good one.

I also deal with the question of paying college athletes. Most people — most people of my acquaintance, certainly — think it’s a good idea, long overdue. I am a dinosaur objector.

Apple Daily has shut down — been forced to close in Hong Kong, its home. But the Taiwanese edition will continue to publish. In a nutshell, you have the difference between a free China and an unfree China. In 2012, I visited Apple Daily offices in Taipei. There was a bust of Hayek in the lobby. Jimmy Lai — the entrepreneur who founded the paper, and has now been imprisoned by Chinese authorities — is an extraordinary person.

So, that Impromptus, again, is here.

My latest Q&A podcast is here. You know the expression “back by popular demand”? Last month, Haviv Rettig Gur, the Israeli journalist, appeared on this program to explain the Hamas war (the latest one). He is back by popular demand, to explain Israeli politics: Bibi out, a crazy-quilt coalition (as it seems to many of us) in. HRG assesses Benjamin Netanyahu. He sketches the rise of Naftali Bennett. And he guides us through the tumultuous, amazing world of Israel’s parliamentary democracy.

HRG is a born analyst and teacher. An hour with him is an education and a delight.

I will end this post on a letter, heartwarming:

Mr. Nordlinger,

A note of appreciation for your work and that of your NR teammates. A while back, in a fit of pique, I took a decade off from reading NR. Then a couple of years ago we re-subscribed. I’m glad we did. Sanity always, and a little levity — a happy recipe for a political journal, especially over the past year-and-change.

What a pleasure to find that you are still doing Impromptus, with its trademark cadence.

Speaking of music: My wife and I have five kids. My eleven-year-old daughter frequently requests Music for a While listening sessions with Dad. Go figure.

Sometimes I twist a few arms and make them all listen. I suspect they secretly enjoy it too, but won’t admit it.

So, bravo and thanks for what you do.

Heh (and bless the eleven-year-old, in particular). (My latest Music for a While, incidentally, is here.)

Woke Culture

Finally — A Strong Critique of Microaggression ‘Research’

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It takes guts for an academic to say anything derogatory about many of the “progressive” beliefs that swirl around America these days. One of those is that so-called microaggressions are a dire problem that calls for much expenditure of resources to combat — and that they exemplify our racist culture and inflict serious harm on the minority individuals who constantly hear them.

The belief that we have to do something about microaggressions has swept our institutions with scarcely any critical analysis. But now we have a strong, skeptical response. Professors Edward Cantu and Lee Jussim have written a law-review article that pulls back the curtain to reveal that there is nothing scientific behind the claims about microaggressions. In today’s Martin Center article, I discuss their findings.

They write that the reaction to the papers purporting to show what a problem we have was a matter of “confirmation bias canceling vigilance.” Because most academics liked the message, few raised any questions. By the normal standards of academic research, the work on microaggressions was little more than a vague hypothesis.

On the rare occasions when a scholar did ask probing questions (as in the case of the late Scott Lilienfield of Emory), he was hit with a barrage of personal attacks rather than a scholarly response.

The authors point out the damage that the obsession over microaggressions is doing to free speech on our campuses and how it is creeping into the law.

As I said, it took guts to write this. I tip my hat to the authors and hope that their work might help to arrest the runaway microaggression train.

Media

NYC Renames Brooklyn Street for Legendary Newsman Pete Hamill

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The city of New York renamed a block-long stretch of Seventh Avenue in Park Slope for the legendary newsman Pete Hamill on Wednesday, which would have been his 86th birthday.

Hamill passed away in August after completing the kind of storied career in journalism that young people entering the business today can only dream about. He was a columnist and reporter for just about every newspaper in town — and he capped it all off with a stint as the editor in chief of the New York Post. 

A high school drop out who worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before breaking into the newspaper business, Hamill was one of the last of a dying breed of hard-nosed, blue-collar journalists.

Since his death in August, I’ve been making my way through his 13 books and have lapped up as many of his old columns as I can find. He was nearly unmatched in terms of the range of subjects he was willing to cover, but he was perhaps at his best when singing the praises of what he called “the city of nostalgia.”

When I learned today that Hamill’s name was being memorialized on Seventh Avenue, I happened to be reading his 2004 work, Downtown: My New York, which begins:

This is a book about my home city. I was born in the immense and beautiful segment of it called Brooklyn, but I’ve lived and worked for much of my life in its center, the long skinny Island called Manhattan. I live here still. With any luck at all, I will die here. I have the native son’s irrational love of the place and often think of William Faulkner’s remark about his native Mississippi, and how he loved it “in spite of, not because.” New York is a city of daily irritations, occasional horrors, hourly tests of will and even courage, and huge dollops of pure beauty. For any native the home place is infused with a mixture of memory, myth, lore, and history, bound together in an erratic, subjective way.

Hamill saw New York as the “city of nostalgia” because it’s impossible to get a grip on the place: As soon as you get a feel for the character of a certain neighborhood, it changes. Buildings go up and down, businesses move in and out — and sometimes, streets are renamed.

Politics & Policy

Republican Lawmakers Rally in Support of the Hyde Amendment

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 21, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

With the support of more than 100 fellow congressmen, Representative Chris Smith (R., N.J.) has introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2021.

The bill, co-sponsored by 166 Republicans in the House, is the latest effort to protect the Hyde amendment, a pro-life rider that has been added on a bipartisan basis to relevant spending bills since the mid 1970s. According to research, the amendment is thought to have saved the lives of somewhere around 2.4 million unborn children since it was first enacted in 1976.

After the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, a bipartisan majority of legislators began adding Hyde to federal spending bills to ensure that taxpayer money never directly funded elective abortion procedures. But in recent years, that consensus has eroded.

Today, nearly all Democratic lawmakers at the national level oppose Hyde, including President Joe Biden, who until his latest presidential campaign had been an outspoken supporter of the amendment. Just last month, the Biden administration released its proposed budget, which failed to include the amendment — the first time Hyde had been omitted from a presidential budget proposal since 1993.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress appear to have no qualms about allowing taxpayer money to directly fund abortion. The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill enacted earlier this year did not contain Hyde or any other pro-life protections to ensure that the money didn’t go toward elective abortion.

In light of the growing left-wing animosity toward pro-life conscience measures such as Hyde, GOP lawmakers are rallying around Smith’s bill, which in addition to requiring that Hyde protections be added to relevant spending bills would also affirmatively prohibit the federal government from funding direct abortions, including through programs run by government agencies.

The legislation would also apply Hyde to the still-active portions of the Affordable Care Act and codify the Smith amendment, which forbids the health-care plans of federal employees from covering elective abortion.

Though likely to be ignored by House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), GOP leaders in the House including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and House Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) are asking Democrats to allow unanimous consent to vote on Smith’s legislation.

Meanwhile, a coalition of attorneys general from nearly two dozen states, led by Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall, have called on Congress to continue including the Hyde amendment in relevant spending bills.

Earlier this year, nearly every Republican congressman in both the House and the Senate signed on to statements pledging to vote against any legislation that authorizes funding without including pro-life protections such as Hyde.

Culture

Britney Spears Should Not Have an IUD Forced on Her

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Britney Spears poses at the premiere of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood in Los Angeles, Calif., July 22, 2019. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

There is plenty of fodder for celebrity gossip in Wednesday’s court hearing over the conservatorship imposed on Britney Spears by the California courts since 2008, which places her father in charge of the veteran pop star’s finances and broader aspects of her life. It’s an incongruous sight: a 39-year old mother of two who has continued to churn out new music and rake in tens of millions of dollars from concert performances but is not treated by the law as an adult capable of looking after herself. There were legitimate concerns for Spears’s mental well-being that led to the conservatorship at the time, as well as awarding custody of her children to their father. I confess that I do not have a fully informed view on whether there are still good reasons for it today. But this part of her statement to the court should shock us if it is true:

I want to be able to get married and have a baby. I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby, I have a (IUD) inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the (IUD) out so I could start trying to have another baby. But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have children – any more children.

This should never happen. Step back and ask yourself: Should we be able, even temporarily, to sterilize a woman against her will on grounds of being mentally unwell? There are grave problems of both morality and individual liberty with that. We rightly today condemn the Supreme Court for Buck v. Bell, which in 1927 upheld a Virginia forced sterilization law with the cold eugenic logic that “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” If Spears was so unstable that she required being committed to a mental institution, we could at least see why there are two sides to that argument, even if the arguments are ones I would not find persuasive enough to take such an extreme step. But I cannot see what argument there could be for a court in the United States of America to sanction a regime under which an adult woman who is well enough to ply her trade in society can be forced to carry a contraceptive implant she does not want. This is one area on which pro-lifers and conservative Christians should be in complete agreement with Planned Parenthood, which issued a statement supporting Spears: “No one should be pressured into a decision around whether or not they should use birth control, or which method to use and when.”

We should also be asking: If our legal system can do this to Britney Spears, how many other women is it happening to? The California supreme court, in the 1985 decision Conservatorship of Valerie N, concluded that there was a constitutional right to choose sterilization, and reasoned that a woman who was mentally disabled and incapable of making her own decisions should have a right to have her conservators decide that she be sterilized. Rose Bird, the famously liberal chief justice of that court, issued a fiery dissent:

Today’s holding will permit the state, through the legal fiction of substituted consent, to deprive many women permanently of the right to conceive and bear children. The majority run roughshod over this fundamental constitutional right in a misguided attempt to guarantee a right of procreative choice for one they assume has never been capable of choice and never will be…

The majority opinion opens the door to abusive sterilization practices which will serve the convenience of conservators, parents, and service providers rather than incompetent conservatees. The ugly history of sterilization abuse against developmentally disabled persons in the name of seemingly enlightened social policies counsels a different choice. …The history of involuntary sterilization of incompetent, developmentally disabled individuals over the past 80 years is a history of wholesale violations of constitutional rights carried out with the approval of the highest judicial tribunals.

Bird’s warning went unheeded; the California legislature instead reacted by enacting a statutory scheme to authorize such sterilizations, albeit only when a court finds proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the person under conservatorship “is incapable of giving consent to sterilization . . . and the incapacity is in all likelihood permanent.” Several states have similar laws. In 1999, an intermediate appellate court in California struck down a portion of that statute on the theory that it made it too difficult for conservators to prove that a woman should be sterilized on the theory that she was legally incapable of consenting to sex.

That clearly is not what is going on with Britney Spears. A separate California statute with a clear-and-convincing-evidence standard of proof applies to medical consent by conservators in general, and in 2013, another California appeals court concluded that a conservator could consent to a hysterectomy and oophorectomy if sterilization was an incidental rather than primary purpose for otherwise-legitimate medical procedures. Perhaps that is the legal thread upon which Spears’s conservatorship is overruling her expressed wishes. Either way, the high-profile nature of her case should be an occasion for us to rethink the scope of what the law allows to be done to women’s capacity to bear children.

Mumford & Sons Banjo Player Forced Out over Andy Ngo Support

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Mumford & Sons banjoist Winston Marshall performs during the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nev., September 21, 2019. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

They really f***ed it up this time, didn’t they, my dear? A few months after Mumford & Sons guitarist and banjo player Winston Marshall tweeted approvingly about the valuable work of journalist Andy Ngo, and thereafter took a “leave of absence” from the band, Marshall has announced he is officially leaving it.

Marshall’s offense was simply to call Ngo a “brave man” who had written an “important book” (in reference to Ngo’s recently released Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy). Ngo has worked quite hard (and even endured physical harm) to do what other media outlets won’t: provide thorough

Media

Well, CNBC, Here’s Why Americans Think the Pandemic Is Over . . .

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A college athlete is thrown in the air by a group of men on the beach to celebrate spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., March 5, 2021. (Maria Alejandra Cardona/Reuters)

CNBC declares and asks, “Covid is already deadlier this year than all of 2020. So why do many in U.S. think the problem’s over?”

My guess would be they think the problem is over because 177 million Americans have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 150 million Americans are fully vaccinated. That amounts to 62.7 percent of Americans over twelve, 65.6 percent of Americans over 18, and 87.4 percent of Americans over age 65. For those Americans, personally, the problem is over — at least in the sense of they no longer fear becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalization, or dying from COVID-19.

And so far, the vaccines approved for use in the U.S. are effective against all of the variants, if by effective you mean keeping people out of hospitals and preventing death. Yes, a small percentage of fully vaccinated Americans catch the virus and feel sick, but the effects are pretty mild and pass quickly.

And when CNBC declares “Covid is already deadlier this year than all of 2020,” they mean worldwide, not in the United States.

The U.S. had 363,942 deaths from the beginning of the pandemic to December 31, 2020. Since then, the U.S. has suffered 254,352 deaths. There’s no getting around the fact that January and February were brutal, but the death rate has declined dramatically as the vaccination effort accelerated and spring arrived.

Unfortunately, most other countries don’t have the ability to manufacture their own vaccines, and their vaccination efforts are much slower and sluggish than ours. And a lot of counties that managed to not get hit that badly by COVID-19 in 2020 are getting hammered by the pandemic in 2021. Most notably, India suffered about 150,000 COVID-19 deaths last year; they’ve suffered about 242,000 so far this year.

Considering Americans just came through a year and a half where they had to worry about this virus and take preventative steps every day, I think those who don’t work in public health and virology are entitled to return to normal life and stop worrying about it. If, God forbid, some new variant emerges that is not effectively mitigated by the current vaccines, then the general public will have something genuinely worth worrying about. But for now, let people breathe easily, enjoy their summers, and think the pandemic is indeed in their rear-view mirrors.

Economy & Business

A Reasoned Response to a Vicious Screed Against Milton Friedman

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Milton Friedman in 2004. (Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice/Public Domain/via Wikimedia)

The Left wants to smear anyone who ever opposed the idea of putting the state in control of nearly everything. One of the most famous of those opponents was Milton Friedman, who argued strongly for a classical-liberal philosophy of minimal government, the rule of law, individual rights and responsibilities.

It should come as no surprise that Friedman is under attack. A writer named Zachary Carter has penned a truly vicious screed accusing Friedman of the whole panoply of leftist offenses against humanity. He is obviously one of those who would rather be angry than bother to find out if he actually has anything to be angry about.

Writing for AIER, Professor Richard Ebeling throws down the gauntlet to Carter. After a lengthy rebuttal of Carter’s assertions (they don’t rise to the level of arguments), Ebeling concludes:

How very disappointed Mr. Carter will no doubt be, when the policies he espouses end up, once again, having the disastrous effects they have always produced in the past. Then out from the dustbin of history to which he wants to relegate the free market ideas of those like Milton Friedman, they will rise once more from the ashes to explain why the follies and foibles of the collectivist vision has led to nothing but stagnation, corruption, and fewer freedoms. Much to Mr. Carter’s chagrin, it will be Milton Friedman’s ideas on liberty that will be shown to be the far more enduring ones.

I recommend reading the whole essay.

Law & the Courts

SC TV

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Politico reports:

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a pair of bills Thursday that would dramatically expand video coverage of federal court trials and other proceedings while putting Supreme Court arguments on camera for the first time.

Both bills have bipartisan support, including the endorsement of the panel’s chair, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and the longstanding backing of the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

I know this is America and there is still a weird superstition that if it isn’t on television it’s not important, or if it’s important it ought to be on television.

But, I’d like to point out that there’s no good reason to do this, and lots of good reasons not to do it. Lawyers who argue in front of the Supreme Court and those who sit upon it already have enough ambition to spare — adding the necessity that they come across well on TV seems like overdoing it to me.

Politics & Policy

Tough Luck, Buffalo: Milwaukee Had a Socialist Mayor First

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A cityscape of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (AlenaMozhjer/Getty Images)

In response to A Socialist Comes to Power Elsewhere in New York

Jim’s Morning Jolt was a pleasure to read, as it always is. With plenty of fun references to the city’s football team, he wrote about Buffalo electing a socialist mayor. India Walton is her name, and she is a self-described socialist who ran in the Democratic primary. Jim notes that the last socialist mayor of a major American city was Milwaukee’s Frank Zeidler, who left office in 1960.

As someone who grew up in the Milwaukee area, I’ve got to say to Buffalo: This is weak sauce. Milwaukee didn’t just have Zeidler. It had three Socialist mayors — yes, that’s Socialist with a capital “S,” they were all members of the Socialist Party of America — who served a combined total of 38 years in office in the early to mid 20th century.

What did those years of socialist government get the city? Not what today’s socialists would want. Milwaukee’s socialist mayors practiced what was called “sewer socialism.” Basically, it’s socialism without any of that yucky class revolution stuff, which Americans have never been too fond of. The idea of sewer socialism was to be an alternative to the party-machine politics that dominated America’s big cities at the time. The sewer socialists emphasized quality public services (like sewers, thus the name), welfare programs, anti-corruption, trade unions, and public parks. The most lasting part of the sewer socialists’ legacy is Milwaukee’s plethora of public parks.

The sewer socialists also had a member of the U.S. House. Victor Berger represented the Milwaukee-area House district for one term from 1911–1913, then was elected again in 1918, during World War I. Berger vocally opposed U.S. involvement in World War I, which upset that era’s progressives, led by President Woodrow Wilson. Berger was convicted under the Espionage Act that Wilson had signed into law for speaking out against the war. The House refused to seat him, citing the 14th Amendment’s prohibition on House members having “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. (disagreeing with Wilson’s war policy was considered insurrectionary). So, there was a special election for Berger’s seat — which Berger ran in and won again. The House again refused to seat him, and the seat was vacant until the 1920 general election. That cycle, 1920, was a Republican wave year — a reaction against Wilson’s draconian wartime overreaches — and a Republican defeated Berger and occupied the seat. Berger’s conviction was thrown out by the Supreme Court in 1921 — not because his conviction was a plain violation of the First Amendment, which it undoubtedly was, but rather on the grounds that the trial judge was prejudiced against Berger because of Berger’s Austrian heritage. Berger won his seat back in 1922 and served in the House until 1929 as a Socialist.

The sewer socialists didn’t want to fundamentally transform America. They didn’t control any prominent institutions in American public life. They were persecuted and harassed by the progressives of their era. They just wanted a clean city, a strong safety net, and a functioning city government. They had varying degrees of success in that regard, and there’s something to be said for avoiding the big-city machine style of politics that still makes nearby Chicago ungovernable to this day.

That’s not to say they were conservatives or that sewer socialism was good. They were socialists, and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re against that sort of thing around here. But it is worth noting that the most successful run socialists had in American political history wasn’t by ideological purists who wanted to dismantle systems of oppression and soak the rich or what have you. It was by a group of nice, mild-mannered Midwesterners who built a bunch of parks.

Education

The Shocking Discovery of Other Views: School Board Edition

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Growing up in public school, I heard plenty of lefty teachers extol the virtues of participating in government and making your voice heard. Writing a letter to your congressman as a class activity. Touring the state capitol as a field trip. Learning about the various protest movements in American history.

What about speaking at a school-board meeting?

The founder of this august publication said, “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” The Left is discovering right now, with respect to school curriculum, that there are other views, and they do seem shocked and offended. Part of me wants one of these public commenters to say, “I’m here making my voice heard because my second grade teacher Mrs. So-and-So told me it’s part of being a good citizen.”

Or better yet, end the comment by politely but pointedly saying, “This is what democracy looks like.”

Politics & Policy

No to Manchin’s Compromise H.R. 1

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The Wall Street Journal has a good editorial on why this is still a really bad idea.

Sports

Soccer Hooligans Open Europe

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Soccer fans cheer while watching a World Cup match in a coffee bar in Vancouver, B.C., July 11, 2010. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

The greatest force for social change in modern times may well be the pasty, drunk, bellicose, and overwhelmingly male fans of soccer, referred to dismissively by some and affectionately by others as “football hooligans.” 

The last few weeks have seen the beginning of the delayed EUFA Euro 2020 tournament. For the uninitiated, Euro 2020 is a continent-spanning contest that pits European and Europe-adjacent nations against one another in slow-paced, pass-heavy soccer matches. Similar to the World Cup, countries must qualify for entry, making even a short-lived appearance in the tournament remarkable. 

Unfortunately for these hooligans and their collaborative merry-making, much of Europe has maintained COVID-19 protocols, resulting in drastically reduced capacities at many of the stadiums. Fans are scattered throughout the seats, and the air of excitement and expectation is lacking. However, just as they do with physical stadium barriers, the hooligans have been dismantling obstacles to supporting their side in person.

Before the tournament even began, assurances were made that all host cities would permit at minimum 10 percent capacity. While this might not seem like much to us in the U.S., many European countries have maintained highly restrictive rules for public assemblies. 

On June 10, Denmark announced a relaxation of masking regulations and an increase in the number of fans permitted to attend matches. What’s more, after pressure was exerted and a loophole established, Danes are allowed into the Netherlands to attend their match against Wales, all while technically not being on the permitted countries list. So long as the cheeky Danes are in and out of the country within twelve hours, they’ll be free to support their side in person.

The coup de grace for hooligans everywhere, however, was the announcement that the U.K. has agreed to allow tens of thousands of foreign fans to enter the country to watch the Euro 2020 finals in Wembley Stadium, with a minimum of 75 percent capacity. For a country that just two months ago was in almost complete lockdown, what else but the passion of the hooligans could force such a quick about-face? Sometimes all that is necessary for change are your lads, a pint, and a barrel full of pluck.

Politics & Policy

Special-Interest Politics Is a Lot of What Infrastructure Is About

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Cars drive in Union City, N.J., March 31, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Opinion polls show that increases in infrastructure spending are usually popular. I assume that’s because people have no clue about what are in the bills or the distortions that federal intervention creates. I am thinking that most people also hear the word infrastructure and think it’s about roads and bridges. Who doesn’t want well-maintained roads, especially when we are constantly and incorrectly told that our infrastructure is crumbling?

Because of the way politicians talk about federal involvement in infrastructure, people tend to assume that without it there would be no infrastructure or poor infrastructure. It is, of course, nonsense, since the biggest owner of and investor in infrastructure is the private sector, and the federal government with all its rules and regulations is more like the tail that wags the dog — often in very counterproductive ways.

Then there are all the people who believe that infrastructure spending will boost the economy, which is rarely the case, especially in the short term. That’s in part because infrastructure packages have become a perfect vehicle for politicians to reward their political allies through blatant cronyism and favoritism.

Just look at how the U.S. House of Representatives treats private freight-rail carriers in its transportation bill, due on the floor next week for a vote. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) and his friends view their transportation legislation as the perfect place to advance organized labor’s lobbying agenda in totality. Never mind that large and profitable railroad companies such as CSX and Union Pacific don’t need a transportation bill because they pay for their own systems, and railroads are the most environmentally efficient way to move goods on land. I guess they fail to see the irony of disadvantaging a transportation mode they supposedly value in favor of union featherbedding and more-polluting competitors. They also fail to see the irony in showering large profitable companies with subsidies while constantly complaining about big companies getting their way at our expense.

Their commitment to labor unions is also obvious in the long-running debate on how many people need to sit physically in the cab of a freight locomotive, which currently stands at two. Some background:

In 2016, the FRA proposed a rule requiring that freight train crews have at least two operators. It initially claimed, without evidence, that one-person crews are inherently more dangerous than two-person crews. Regulators assumed that increasing the number of operators was the most effective way to improve freight railway safety.

Three years later, the FRA rescinded the rule on the grounds that data couldn’t establish that two operators were safer than one. Unfortunately, in 2021, the Ninth Circuit vacated the FRA’s order. Now, the Democrats, encouraged by their union friends, are hoping to impose the mandate by statute. This comes as the railroads have invested billions in technology that would enable them to move rail workers outside the cab to more productive work — something rank-and-file employees probably value, but the battle on this issue has resurfaced union fear about reducing the number of fee-paying members.

This is problematic in several fronts. First, as my Mercatus colleague Patrick McLaughlin’s work demonstrates, if safety is the goal, private-sector innovation is the way to go. Also, crew-size mandates can have counterproductive effects of their own. Back in 2016, he noted:

A careful analysis of the historical causes of safety improvements in rail transportation indicates that track and equipment expenditures are much more important to safety than crew size. . . . Beyond maintenance and equipment, using automation to reduce accidents caused by human error also has a proven track record. The danger in mandating something that’s not obviously effective, such as minimum crew sizes, is that states will end up shifting the industry’s scarce resources away from what obviously is effective. This can also hinder further development of innovative technologies that can deliver even greater safety.

This is why you don’t have to be a raging libertarian to believe that this is not a great idea. In fact, in his Slow Boring newsletter on trains in America titled, “We should try to make good trains,” Matt Yglesias writes:

This is an extremely tedious battle that’s been passing back and forth for years, originating in the ongoing rollout of Positive Train Control technology on American railroads. Freight operators want to take advantage of this technology to, in some cases, cut back train staffing to just a single person. Labor interests don’t want to lose the jobs … If Democrats got their way on this, freight shipping would be a bit more expensive than it should be and more cargo would go in trucks and it would be worse for the environment.

I could go on and on about how much of infrastructure spending today and in the past has to do with pleasing unions and other special interests. I would also like to think that if people knew what is actually going on, they would withdraw their blind support for more money always going to infrastructure. I am probably dreaming.

Education

No, Florida Isn’t ‘Cracking Down’ on Free Thought on College Campuses

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at CPAC in Orlando, Fla., February 26, 2021. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan Adler notes that Florida is simply not doing what it is being accused of doing: Namely, cracking down on independent thought on Floridian college campuses. Adler knows this because — shock! — he bothered to read the bill that is being criticized:

As the above text makes clear, the required survey is not a survey of the political beliefs of students and faculty. Rather, the survey is to measure “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented,” and the extent to which “members of the college community, including students, faculty, and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.” It does not ask student, faculty and staff what their viewpoints are, but whether they feel free to express their viewpoints, whatever they may be. It is a survey about the academic environment, not the political beliefs of members of the academic community.

What would such a survey look like? It would probably look a lot like the Heterodox Academy Campus Expression Survey that many college campuses have administered to diagnose the openness of their campuses to a broad range of viewpoints. This is a good survey that measures things that campus administrators should already care about. My university administered it. The results were informative, revealing, and helpful.

Read the whole thing.

Education

Make Public Higher-Ed Officials Pay for Wrongdoing

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(sengchoy/Getty Images)

In case after case, administrators at public colleges and universities have maliciously gone after students or faculty members for having expressed opinions deemed wrong (“racist,” “unacceptable,” etc.). It’s pure leftist virtue signaling — “Watch how I slam down these backward thinking deplorables!” But if the person who felt the lash happens to sue, he often wins. The Constitution doesn’t allow government to decide what speech is appropriate and what merits punishment.

Then what? Then the plaintiff collects damages and the money comes from the state — not the responsible officials.

That’s the problem Teresa Manning of the National Association of Scholars (and former law professor) discusses in this Law & Liberty essay.

She begins with two such cases that have recently arisen in Virginia (one at Virginia Tech, the other at James Madison University): “While the facts of these cases are themselves concerning, it’s more concerning that Virginia taxpayers are footing the litigation bill — not only for the schools’ lawyers to defend employees (typically provided by both University counsel and often also the state Attorney General), but also to pay any judgment if a complainant prevails. Why should Virginians pay to defend these wrongheaded policies or for the ideological misconduct of school officials? Shouldn’t they be responsible for their own acts and their own defense?”

Why indeed? The First Amendment law is clear. The conduct of officials who enjoy hurting those on campus who dare express “unwoke” opinions ought to cost them, not the taxpayers. The problem, Manning notes, is the way “qualified immunity” law has been applied, shielding most public employees, from police officers to university bureaucrats, from liability for misconduct. She argues that there is no reason why the law should protect the latter, at least.

The good news is that the Eighth Circuit recently decided a case against higher-education officials, denying them the safe harbor of qualified immunity. Let us hope that good use will be made of that precedent.

Manning concludes, “School officials neither ask nor answer for their grand plans of social change, creating microaggressions here, banning religious evangelization there. If a court finds these actions illegal, so what? They’ll just try again next year. Obviously, this win-win proposition for university officials must stop. Financial incentives need to promote responsibility, and the public interest, not the opposite.”

World

Apple Daily’s Warning to the Business World

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A staff member of Apple Daily poses with his final edition of Apple Daily at its headquarters in Hong Kong, China, June 24, 2021. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Two members of the Next Digital board have a warning, after the Hong Kong government forced the company to shutter the outspoken, pro-democracy Apple Daily, one of its main holdings. They write in the Wall Street Journal today:

The way the authorities undermined the functioning of equity markets, property rights and contracts is a warning for other companies that are publicly traded in Hong Kong or simply doing business there. . . .

Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the miniconstitution that governs the territory, promises that “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication” and that no Hong Kong resident “shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment.” This story of what happened to Apple Daily is only partly about undermining the free press. It’s more broadly a warning of what can happen to any company operating in Hong Kong that the authorities claim committed some offense under the vague terms of the National Security Law….

There is sad irony in what happened to Apple Daily. Hong Kong was transformed from a barren rock to a world business and financial center by immigrants from mainland China, such as Mr. Lai, who flourished under the rule of law developed when Hong Kong was a British colony. The free flow of information enabled prosperity and broad freedom. Now, Hong Kong shares and bank accounts can be frozen on the order of a single official, destroying private enterprise as well as freedom.

The page opposite this op-ed in the Journal today, John Lee, the Hong Kong official who carried out the asset freezes that made it impossible for Apple Daily to pay its employees and keep the lights on, attempts to defend the decision on national-security grounds.

Lee concludes his letter with an incredible claim to calm worried executives’ nerves: “Hong Kong remains a secure, open and dynamic environment that welcomes investors and entrepreneurs around the world.”

That’s only true if you believe that your company and its employees have nothing at all to fear from a capricious Leninist party-state that watches any competing power center with jealousy, then acts with the disregard for rule of law that you’d expect from such a regime.

Next Digital is not the first supposed threat to China’s national security to be besieged in the aftermath of last year’s National Security Law, and it’s certainly not the last.

World

Biden Enacts a Half-Measure Against Chinese Forced Labor

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Then-vice president Joe Biden shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, December 4, 2013. (Lintao Zhang/Reuters Pool)

The somewhat good news is that the Biden administration instructed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to bar the importation of “silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., Ltd., a company located in Xinjiang, and its subsidiaries. This WRO is based on information reasonably indicating that Hoshine used forced labor to manufacture silica-based products.” Xinjiang Hoshine Silicon is the world’s largest manufacturer of metallurgical-grade silicon, the raw material for polysilicon, the material inside most solar panels.

In addition to the ban on Hoshine’s silica products, the U.S. is restricting products from “Xinjiang Daqo New Energy; Xinjiang East Hope Nonferrous Metals; Xinjiang GCL New Energy Material Technology, and XPCC— for participating in the practice of, accepting, or utilizing forced labor in Xinjiang and contributing to human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang.”

The bad news is that a few days ago, Biden and his team were considering “an effective region-wide ban on polysilicon from Xinjiang, according to the four sources in the industry and on Capitol Hill with knowledge of administration plans.” As noted Tuesday, Chinese state-run media responded furiously, and the Biden team appears to have backed down from the threat of the blanket ban and chosen the lesser measure. But those who are importing solar panel components from China are probably just going to shift to other companies with similar circumstances of using forced labor.

Hoshine is the biggest producer in the region, but there are others and there is little reason to think that any of the companies involved in the production process in that region do not use forced labor in one form or another. An extensive investigation and report by the Helena Kennedy Center for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K. concluded that scrutinizing the supply chain reveals  “only a few Chinese alternatives with no confirmed exposure to forced  labour in the Uyghur Region.” All four of the Uighur region’s polysilicon manufacturers “Daqo, TBEA (and subsidiary  Xinte),  Xinjiang GCL,  and  East  Hope  – have reported their  participation in labor transfer or labor placement programs and/or are supplied by raw  materials companies that have.” (The term “labor transfer” is the Chinese government’s euphemism for coerced forced labor).

If you’re importing anything solar power-related from Xinjiang, you’re probably indirectly profiting from the oppression and exploitation of the Uighurs. The Biden team chose to restrict imports from the biggest offender – and left the rest of the offenders to deal with another day, if ever.

Politics & Policy

A Statement from President Biden on the 230th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights

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The Bill of Rights (Wikimedia Commons )

A follow-up to yesterday’s address on gun violence.

Look, fat. Those who say the blood of patriots, y’know — and all the stuff about how we’re going to have to move against the government. Well, the tree of liberty is not watered with the blood of patriots. What’s happened is, that there never been, if you wanted, you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons.

Folks, it’s not just the guns. The First Amendment. They say a newspaper or TV station can swing opinion or your church might do the thing. But they’re no match for 50 pounds of C-4. What’s the editor going to do? Fight fire with words? I’m a Catholic, but you can’t, you just can’t. It’s too hot.

They say they can assemble outside to petition the government for a dress, of grievances. “It’s worked before!” Yeah, back in the time with the thing. But, look, it moves on. Homemade signs and rhyming chants aren’t much good against Napalm. You shout, “What do we want?!” and all that. You get burned all over. Doesn’t work.

Well, they have to deal with the . . . look, the Third Amendment. “No Soldier shall, in time of quartered, be peaceful in any house” — I’m married to a teacher. Sounds good, right? Yeah, until that soldier shoots you in the face while you’re reading it to him. Same goes for the next one — the Fourth of July. “Unreasonable searches and seizure?” Define that. You try that stuff, the Biden administration will put a live grenade in your mouth.

I was a lawyer. I have a high IQ, unlike you clowns. The Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments! You’re all acting like we just discovered this yesterday. They’re useful checks. Right? Yeah, ‘til we burn down the courtroom with you inside. You think you have a right not to testify against yourself? You won’t when we attach you to a car battery.

Look, you three-faced goat-minder. There’s the, what it is, the Ninth and Tenth Amendment. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of the things, shall not be denied to construe others retained by the people who are disparaged” is the Ninth Circuit. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution” — great line, by the way — “nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” That’s the Tenth. Good luck with those. I have 3,800 active nuclear warheads. Wyoming has a police department. If we were in high school, I’d take them behind the gym. See that big cloud rising over Cheyenne? That’s your federalism, buddy.

Politics & Policy

Is DeSantis behind the Curve on Protest Civics?

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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)

Florida governor Ron DeSantis is rightly seen as a conservative politician with a flair for leadership and a bright future. DeSantis has been out in front on a wide variety of issues; education very much included. DeSantis recently moved against critical race theory (CRT) in Florida’s schools, for example, and this week he signed bills into law that would, among other things, protect campus free speech and create a K–12 curriculum that contrasts the blessings of liberty with the record of totalitarian regimes. DeSantis deserves praise for all this, but there may be a fly in the ointment.

DeSantis and education officials in Florida have so far been silent on the dangers of protest civics — after-school political protests and demonstrations (invariably for leftist causes), rewarded with course credit. This is important because conspicuously missing from the education bills DeSantis signed earlier this week was S.B. 146, a “civic literacy education” bill that would provide Florida high-school students with college credit for leftist political protests. S.B. 146 would even allow CRT to creep back into Florida’s education system, despite the official ban. A number of the education-focused parent groups now active across Florida have called on DeSantis to veto S.B. 146. I’ve made the case for a veto of S.B. 146 as well. What the governor will do is far from clear, however. If DeSantis does nothing, S.B. 146 will become law without his signature after June 29. Sadly, that is a real possibility.

On substance, a veto is a no-brainer. S.B. 146 will politicize K–12 in Florida, advance leftist indoctrination, and even provide an opening for CRT. These are ideas and practices that DeSantis has pledged to oppose. The challenge for DeSantis, however, is that S.B. 146 passed the legislature unanimously. That happened because, like many bills that authorize action civics, its real implications were anything but obvious. It took some digging into the grubby details of S.B. 146 after it had already been approved by the legislature to discover that this was a leftist protest-civics bill in disguise. So, if DeSantis vetoes S.B. 146, he’ll need to offer a good explanation.

The way to do that is to focus on the big picture. DeSantis needs to squarely take on the issue of “action civics,” explaining why it is wrong for schools to push students into after-school political protests and lobbying. He needs to highlight the need for public education to respect all viewpoints by avoiding indoctrination and political pressure. (I’ve made that case on the protest-civics issue here.) Then he needs to explain that S.B. 146 leaves an opening for politicized education and that no such legislation should be approved until Florida has enacted comprehensive protections against protest civics. DeSantis can then promise to support such legislation in 2022. Short of boldly tackling the issue in this manner, it will be tough for DeSantis to justify a veto.

If DeSantis allows S.B. 146 to become law, however, it will put him behind the curve on protest civics, rather than his usual place out in front. Just last week, Governor Abbott of Texas signed the first comprehensive state ban on protest civics into law. The Georgia State Board of Education recently announced a similar ban on protest civics, a prelude to likely legislation on the subject in 2022. South Dakota legislators have signaled an intention to bar protest civics in 2022. Ohio is also considering a bill that would block protest civics (as well as CRT), and the prospects of passage are good. Several other states are seriously considering moves against protest civics next session.

If DeSantis allows S.B. 146 to become law, we may see stories next year on the abuses of protest civics in Florida at a moment when many other states will be moving to block the practice. And the stories about state-sponsored political protests that may soon be coming to Florida will be playing out as the result of a law whose consequences were foretold. This would not be a good look for someone used to being at the forefront of conservative education policy nationally.

Is DeSantis behind the curve on protest civics? We’ll know by June 29.

Health Care

Obamacare Evolves

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Obamacare has become entrenched in American life mostly because of the power of inertia. But it has also shed some of its most troublesome features as the Supreme Court and Congress have changed it. At Bloomberg Opinion, I go into some of those changes and speculate about how the last ten years might have gone differently if the law had started where it has ended up.

Woke Culture

Hubris for the CRT-Adjacent

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The Washington Post Company headquarters in Washington, March 30, 2012 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Reading through the maligned In the Heights review written by Julissa Contreras and Dash Harris Machado and published by the Washington Post, it is apparent that two crimes against good writing have transpired. First, the writers assume a place of moral superiority relative to the reader and the subject of their essay, and second, they could have been well-served by a skeptical editor. The number of non-words and grad-school jargon throughout the piece makes for a miserable reading experience. It feels intended for the sort of people who already agree with the thesis — that Lin-Manuel Miranda is a race-ignorant schmuck who intentionally erases the existence of certain minority groups. An example: 

We live parallel realities, as most racialized people in White societies do. But we should continue challenging the systematic decisions that make predominantly afrodescendant communities more white-washed fodder for white-centering Latinxs.

While it would be enjoyable to scoff at the piece line-by-line, much of that hay has already been made by more capable writers, so I’ll skip the dunking. Instead, I’d like to focus on the second sin, the lack of skepticism from editors for these sorts of “racially-conscious” articles. 

I’m an education-studies minor, which means I must often tread the halls of the “studies” wing of the university. Gender, ethnic, and racial studies get grouped in with education studies, and it is a weekly event where I am reading pieces such Contreras and Machado’s. These articles traffic in vocabulary such as “spaces, whiteness, and white-centering Latinxs.” Words are made up in Suess-ian fashion, and no one ever seems to question whether this is necessary or achieves the ends the writers purport to desire. Racism is assumed in everything, and the only way forward is a revolutionary change, so the prevailing “wisdom” goes.

For most Americans, the second they read, “the larger project of White hegemony and domination, maintained through racism, colorism, and classism,” their eyes glaze over, and they go read something else. Good for them. These writers deserve to be mocked for their departures from common parlance and inability to see the world outside a racialized lens.  

The best thing that could happen to the various “studies” disciplines would be conservatives or skeptical liberals joining their departments. They don’t even need many, just a few who aren’t afraid to look at these nonsensical thought-pieces and give honest, brutal feedback. It would save the rest of us having to read undergraduate poppycock in the pages of the Washington Post and provide these academics with useful criticism. It is shameful how academically bankrupt these disciplines have allowed themselves to become through complacency and the competition to out-progressive one another. The upside, if we can call it that, is the public will have the opportunity to mock them for years to come until they self-correct. 

Music

Something to Ponder

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A teacher arranges members of the St. Molaga’s School Choir before they compete in the annual Feis Ceoil music competition in Dublin, Ireland, April 2, 2019. (Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters)

For many years, I have quoted a statement by Charles Rosen, the late pianist-scholar: “The death of classical music is perhaps the oldest tradition of classical music.” Generation after generation, century after century, people say, “This is it. Music is on its deathbed. Philistinism is high in the saddle. Curtains, lights out.” And it’s never true.

But might it be, someday?

At any rate, there is cause for concern, in these United States. (Other countries are another story, often a better one.) I write on this subject in a piece today: “For the Love of Music.” Let me do a little quoting, please:

Research shows that the leading factor in whether a person attends classical concerts or operas is: Did the person study an instrument as a child? Did he actually touch an instrument with his hands? The composer Thea Musgrave pointed out to me that people are able to consume reams of music these days — via YouTube, for example (that gift from heaven). But such consumption is basically a passive activity. There is no substitute for making music yourself.

Music education in America is way, way down, I’m given to understand.

Yup. I quote Daniel Asia, a composer and professor at the University of Arizona: “Students come to university never having heard of Bach or Beethoven. I kid you not.” I know he isn’t. And what a disservice to them!

There are always people who are hot on “the death of classical music.” (I put this phrase in quotation marks because it is a cliché.) Once, Gary Graffman, the famous pianist and longtime head of the Curtis Institute of Music, gave a speech titled “Dead, Again” — in other words, the death of classical music was being proclaimed once more.

I always say, “There’s a reason they call it ‘pop music,’ you know: It’s popular. Classical music is not supposed to be popular. It never has been and never will be. But it will always be loved by a minority — played, sung, conducted, composed, appreciated, and funded by a robust, healthy minority.”

Hmmm. I guess it’s true. But the alarm-sounders have their points, and I am listening, increasingly.

Anyway, I get into it in that piece.

My view is, people should be exposed to everything — music, sports, science — just to know of its existence, and then they can focus on what they most like or value. If everyone liked high culture, it wouldn’t be “high,” would it? It would just be — well, common culture, or popular culture. But I always quote Marian the Librarian, who sings, “If occasionally he’d ponder what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great, him I could love till I die.”

Not everyone can or should be a Shakespeare scholar, for heaven’s sake. Not everyone will be a Beethoven man, or woman. But “if occasionally he’d ponder” — what a wonderful phrase (by Meredith Willson, Mason City’s own).

Economy & Business

Republicans Are on the Verge of Giving Up All Their Negotiating Power

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(Nerthuz/Getty Images)

Never discount the possibility that the Republican party will screw everything up.

If Chuck Schumer is telling the truth — which, I grant, is a big if — the GOP is about to solve the Democrats’ political quandary for them, at the cost of trillions of dollars of your money:

The Democrats have a problem. The party wants an infrastructure bill, but much of what it is calling “infrastructure” goes well beyond the usual definition. Some of what it wants — mostly, the bits that most people would recognize as infrastructure — can only be achieved with sixty votes. Other parts of what it wants — mostly, the bits that most people would not recognize as infrastructure, such as “child care, education, long-term care for seniors and other issues” — can be passed with 50 votes, via an exception to the filibuster called “reconciliation.”

Because the Democrats have only 50 votes in the Senate, this distinction is causing serious issues. Senators such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia are in favor of spending a lot of money, but only if the package includes a lot of traditional infrastructure — which a bill passed with 50 Senate votes via reconciliation cannot. Senators such as Ed Markey, by contrast, are much more interested in the non-infrastructure bits that a bill passed with 50 votes can relatively easily contain. Until now, Democrats have thus been caught a trap. If they try to ram through a reconciliation bill with no Republican votes, that bill won’t contain enough of the core elements that senators such as Manchin have made the price of their vote. But if they try to recruit Republicans to their side in order to get to 60 votes — and thus to get the sort of deal Manchin would prefer — the final bill is not going to include all the extraneous spending that is important to figures such as Markey. The result, thus far, has been stalemate.

The deal that Chad Pergram is reporting fixes this issue for the Democrats, in that it allows them to recruit the 60 bipartisan votes for the Manchin-friendly infrastructure package and to turn around once that’s done and get everything else they want at a simple 50-vote threshold. If Schumer is telling the truth when he says that the Senate will do both bills — and again, one can never be sure — Republicans have decided to give up all their negotiating power and, in effect, to permit the spending of trillions of dollars (the Democrats want six trillion!) that they oppose.

Remind me what the point of this party is again?

Elections

Crime on the Streets, Racism in the Schools: 2021 Brings the 2022 Playing Field into View

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Eric Adams speaks at a primary mayoral election night party in New York City, June 22, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The 2022 midterm elections are still, in political terms, a long way away. The president’s approval ratings still reflect some of the honeymoon effect, declining gradually in the RealClearPolitics national poll average: +20 on January 30, +15 on April 7, +13 on June 10, +9 at this writing. He will be weeks from his 80th birthday by the time Election Day 2022 rolls around. Senate and governor’s races are still a long way from holding primaries or even announcing new candidates and incumbent retirements. House-district maps have not been drawn yet. Congress has yet to pass a budget or determine the final fate of much of Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The Supreme Court has not even received briefs in a case that could strike down Roe v. Wade by next July 4. A year and a half is a long time in which to have another international crisis, another domestic disaster or mass-protest movement, or any number of other things that could scramble the political playing board in unpredictable directions.

All that being said, there are elections in 2021, too, and they may have a thing or two to tell us about what is coming ahead. One of those is New York City’s mayoral election, which held its primaries yesterday. Thanks to the city’s decision to gum up the works of its already-glacial vote-counting system by adding ranked-choice voting, we may not know the final outcome for weeks, but as Kyle Smith has detailed, the clear leader in first-choice votes is Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams. Adams was the overwhelming first choice of most of the working-class and poor black and Hispanic areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens as well as much of Staten Island. Andrew Yang, meanwhile, swept the Asian neighborhoods, former MSNBC commentator Maya Wiley won the more gentrified parts of Brooklyn and upper Manhattan, and Kathryn Garcia (endorsed by the New York Times) won the established upscale parts of the city, largely in Manhattan. The Republican nomination was claimed by Curtis Sliwa, the talk-radio host who rose to fame in the 1980s as head of the amateur crime-fighting group the Guardian Angels.

While the Democratic candidates did not all fit in neat ideological boxes, there was a clear divide in how they were perceived. Adams, a black ex-cop who blasted “Defund the Police,” and Yang, a glib businessman, both rejected many of the pieties of online progressives, while Wiley and Garcia courted them. There is a constituency for the latter, but it is not black and Hispanic working people, notwithstanding the ethnic and racial heritage of Wiley and Garcia. It surprises nobody that the city’s Republicans flocked to the banner of Sliwa, a man who has walked the streets to personally fight crime. We should take notice, however, that the voters in a Democratic primary dominated by outer-borough nonwhite voters also turned to a man who has walked the beat. There could hardly be a clearer warning that even core Democratic constituencies are worried about rising crime rates and alienated by knee-jerk anti-cop rhetoric.

The other high-profile election of 2021, also in what is now seen as safe blue territory, is the race for Virginia governor. Republican Glenn Youngkin has thus far mainly stressed his outsider credentials, but there is another issue bursting into view that could prove a real test case for 2022: critical race theory in schools. Ground zero of that debate has been the ultra-woke school board of Loudoun County, Va. — last seen leading the charge to cancel Dr. Seuss books — where a raucous meeting on the subject was shut down by the police last night. The critical race theory battle is about school curricula, but it is also a convenient outlet for the suppressed frustrations of many parents with how their local schools have handled the pandemic.

Loudoun County is demographically more like Garcia country than Adams country, although it is far from urban. It has the highest median income of any county in the country and occupies the geographic midpoint between Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. As of 2019, the census estimated that the county is 67 percent white, 20 percent Asian, 14 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent black. It forms the core of Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, which was won by the Democrats in 2018 after being held by Republicans Barbara Comstock and, before her, Frank Wolf since 1980. The district as a whole was competitive for Republicans not long ago — Mitt Romney in 2012, Ken Cuccinelli in 2013, and Ed Gillespie in 2014 all carried it — but Loudoun has been pulling the district to the left. Joe Biden won Loudoun 61.5 percent to 36.5 percent in 2020; Hillary Clinton won it 55.1 percent to 38.2 percent in 2016; Obama beat Romney 51.5 percent to 47 percent in 2012; it last went Republican when George W. Bush won it 55.7 percent to 43.6 percent in 2004. The hard tilt away from the Trump-era GOP is even more pronounced in governor’s races: Bob McDonnell won Loudoun 61 percent to 38.8 percent in 2009. Terry McAuliffe, who is running as the Democratic nominee again this year, beat Cuccinelli 49.6 percent to 45.2 percent in 2013. Ralph Northam in 2017, however, blew out Gillespie in Loudoun, 59.4 percent to 39.5 percent.

Loudoun has, in short, been a key bellwether of Virginia’s blue turn over the past decade and a half. It is too soon to tell whether the critical race theory uproar is actually going to move the needle in Loudoun, or just represents the county’s diminished population of Republicans. But if there is a path for Youngkin to pull off an upset win that would resonate in 2022, that path starts with giving the voters of places such as Loudoun County a choice, and critical race theory could be the spark that lights the blaze. Democrats should heed the warning: Woke in the schools and woke on the streets could mean broke at the polls.

Elections

Democrats Get an Anti-Leftist Wake-Up Call from New York

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Eric Adams speaks an election night party in New York City, June 22, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

President Biden gave a speech this afternoon on the rising crime rate. Even the White House admits that in recent months “homicides rose 30 percent and gun assaults rose 8 percent in large cities.”

The timing is politically significant given the results of Tuesday’s New York City mayor’s primary. Crime and the Loony Left’s agenda were dominant issues.

Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams, who spent 22 years as a cop, currently has a ten-point lead in the Democratic primary. Outstanding absentee ballots and NYC’s bizarre ranked-choice voting system will delay a final count until mid July. But Adams is the prohibitive favorite to win. Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight says that Adams can start “measuring the drapes” at City Hall.

If he wins, it will be because he ran full tilt against defunding the police.

When Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez endorsed radical Maya Wiley, Adams sent out the following tweet:

Starting in 1994, smarter policing under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg made New York the safest big city in America. Those gains eroded under Mayor Bill de Blasio and accelerated last year with his weak response to riots, the elimination of bail, and the demonizing of the NYPD.

Adams ran full tilt against the leftist agenda of Wiley, a de Blasio appointee who is now in second place in the vote count.  He attacked her for wanting to slash NYPD’s budget and being open to the idea of taking their guns away.

He also called for lifting the cap on charter schools so the half of New York City students who fail basic proficiency tests would have a chance at a better education. He vowed to make better use of a law to get the mentally ill homeless to take the medications they need. He clashed with Governor Andrew Cuomo over how fast to end the city’s lockdown and get people back to work.

The White House is paying attention to the voters’ embrace of Adams. As Axios warns: “Democrats, in private and public, are warning that rising crime — and the old and new progressive calls to defund the police — represent the single biggest threat to their electoral chances in 2022.”

Despite the political wake-up call, I don’t think Biden will be able to contain the radical anti-police agenda of his progressive supporters.

World

Why Would Anybody Give Beijing the Benefit of the Doubt?

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping, with a little friend in front of his desk.

I try not to reflexively suspect the motives of everyone who disagrees with me – emphasis on try, not succeed – but as I encounter arguments that take all of the Chinese government’s denials at face value, and dismiss the considerable circumstantial evidence for a lab leak as just a series of coincidences… I find the mentality and approach pretty mind-boggling.

It’s like, “hey, the world’s most powerful authoritarian regime, known for its secrecy, power grabs, disregard of international norms and laws, systematic human rights abuses and genocide, and shameless disregard for life and limb in other countries — hey, watch out for those falling rockets! — might not be getting the benefit of the doubt in the face of these accusations. Time for me to put on my Perry Mason suit and not let the good name of Xi Jinping get besmirched.”

At minimum, China chose to locate a BSL-4 biolab doing gain-of-function research on the world’s biggest collection of bat viruses in the middle of a big city trade-and-transport hub, and then when a new viral infection broke out in the city, spent three to six weeks insisting to the world the virus wasn’t contagious and everything was under control. Anyone with a lick of sense would look at this situation and say, “wait, even if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t triggered by a lab leak, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been juggling nitroglycerin this whole time, and we had better shut down that lab and relocate that research to someplace in the middle of the Gobi Desert, so that if Mao forbid, we ever have a leak, it spreads a lot slower.” Instead, the Chinese government’s response is to argue that the WIV deserves the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Just what is the downside of large-scale lasting international scrutiny of the viral research going on in the WIV and Wuhan Centers for Disease Control?

World

The CCP Comes for Hong Kong’s Film Industry

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A general view of Victoria Park on the 32nd anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2021. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

In response to Beijing Takes Another Scalp, as <I>Apple Daily</I> Announces Shuttering

Following up on Jimmy Quinn’s excellent reporting on the government-forced shuttering of Hong Kong’s premiere pro-democracy newspaper, I’d like to note some more evidence of the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on the once-free polity: its film industry. According to The Hollywood Reporter, on June 11, Hong Kong authorities announced a distribution ban on any movie that is a “threat to national security” — the same elastic justification under which much of the crackdown on other dimensions of life in Hong Kong has proceeded.

The Reporter dryly notes that many films will be unaffected, thanks to already-existing dynamics on mainland China that have led to voluntary Hollywood self-censorship:

Although the censorship guidelines apply to imported films as well as local titles, the changes won’t have as great of an impact on Hollywood studio fare, thanks to the longstanding practice — much maligned by politicians in Washington and free speech advocates everywhere — of carefully vetting their theatrical output to remove any element that might generate offense to Chinese censors and the country’s online ultra-nationalists.

Where things will really come to head, however, is with the behavior of Internet companies that have operated in Hong Kong but had limited-to-no presence in China itself, and which, up until now, have operated with relative freedom in terms of their content selection and promotion. That includes the streaming service Netflix, which has hosted content favorable to democracy and democratic activists in Hong Kong on its platform. Netflix and other American companies will soon face a choice:

Ready compliance with Beijing’s anti-free-speech dictates would undoubtedly damage the democratic bona fides of the tech giants in the U.S., and it would be sure to invite scorn and scrutiny in Washington, D.C. Refusal would thrust the companies directly into the fray of Beijing’s crackdown.

The record of Hollywood vis-à-vis China so far does not inspire much confidence. But perhaps the addition of yet more hoops to jump through will cause at least some to decide that dealing with the caprices of the CCP is simply not worth it in the long run, however attractive its dollars may look in the short term.

Or maybe not.

Culture

The Ties That Bind Us

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I had the honor of reviewing Sohrab Ahmari’s new book, The Unbroken Thread, in Commentary this month. The book proposes twelve questions that our culture has discouraged us from asking and answering. Does God need politics? Or, what is freedom for? Ahmari explores these matters through the life stories and intellectual journeys of exemplary men and women. It’s a triumph, I think, even if I quibble with how Ahmari characterizes the signs of the times. My review is here.

 

White House

How Biden Will Pivot to Engaging China

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President Joe Biden holds a news conference at the end of the G7 summit at Cornwall Airport Newquay, England, June 13, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Financial Times reports that the Biden administration might be pivoting from the initial phase of its policy toward China in a series of potential meetings between top officials and their Chinese counterparts:

The US and China are discussing a possible meeting between Antony Blinken, secretary of state, and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi at a G20 meeting in Italy next week, according to three people briefed on the talks.

The Biden administration has also told Beijing it would like to send Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state, to China over the summer.

The White House is considering a call with Xi Jinping, which would be Biden’s second engagement as US president with his Chinese counterpart.

Top U.S. officials have spent the previous five months building on the strategy implemented by their predecessors under Donald Trump. They continued the previous administration’s work to support Taiwan, call out the Chinese Communist Party’s human-rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and crack down on Chinese military companies.

There have been departures from that approach, too, such as climate envoy John Kerry’s attempts to seek cooperation with Beijing on fighting climate change and Joe Biden’s insistence that his administration will engage Beijing where U.S. and Chinese interests overlap. Blinken and national-security adviser Jake Sullivan met Wang and top Party diplomat Yang Jiechi in Anchorage for talks in March.

So in one sense, this expected push for deeper engagement is not wholly uncharacteristic of the administration’s approach. But to the extent that Beijing is successful in using the meetings to stall U.S. responses to the Party’s malfeasance, it will come to the detriment of everything else that the Biden team has worked to achieve in recent months.

From these meetings with Chinese officials, to the Geneva summit, the president and his aides have declared themselves adherents to the school of thought that sees in-person diplomatic meetings, even with adversaries, as indispensable to maintaining stability. They should also consider that it could also invite worse behavior by these regimes as they fail to face a sufficiently high cost for their actions.