Immigration

Texas Law Enforcement Working to Shore Up Weak Border Spots

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Texas State Police officers watch over the Rio Grande River near the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, September 21, 2021. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin reminded me why it’s so important that Governor Abbott is beefing up border checkpoints by staffing Texas Department of Public Safety officers. On March 23 — before Abbott’s new initiative — Uvalde police department apprehended an 18-wheeler holding 46 migrants and two unaccompanied children. Their Facebook post read:

This morning, officers conducted a traffic stop on an 18 wheeler at the 3300 block of East Main St. While conducting their roadside investigation, officers discovered 46 immigrants and 2 unaccompanied children within the cab and trailer. All undocumented immigrants were released to US Border Patrol. The driver was arrested and charged with smuggling of persons under 18 years of age. The case will be turned over to the 38th Judicial District Attorneys Office for review and prosecution.

Uvalde PD

Abbott’s new efforts are receiving backlash from some truckers, who are experiencing massive delays as they wait in line for inspection. I witnessed one yesterday in Eagle Pass:

Despite delays, the inspections are one of many strategies meant to specifically apprehend criminals trying to cross the border.

Today, Texas’s DPS Sergeant Juan Maldonado shared that, often, the most dangerous migrants are those who are not seeking asylum or turning themselves in. It’s the migrants that sneak in on train cars, in trucks, and through the brush at vulnerable parts of the border. Those they smuggle with them are at risk of being trafficked or caught up in dangerous police chases:

Under Operation Lone Star, another Abbott initiative to secure the Texas border with Mexico, DPS is working in conjunction with Customs and Border Protection, local law enforcement, the Texas National Guard, and private landowners to shore up vulnerable areas.

There are, indeed, critical vulnerabilities. Yesterday, I drove along “The Wall” in Eagle Pass and found that it ended in an open forest:

Later, I drove all the way down to the Rio Grande river bank in an Eagle Pass park. Across, I saw one man enter the water while another sat on the bank. The international bridge connecting Mexico and the U.S. was just to my left:

 

Today, along the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Sgt. Maldonado took me to see private properties that directly abut the river:

DPS and the National Guard are teaming up to monitor these weak spots:

National Guard members are even building fencing along the river:

Perhaps the most vulnerable areas are the vast expanses of ranches. Sergeant Maldonado shared that landowners now work with law enforcement by calling in to report suspicious activity and signing an affidavit to press charges on trespassing migrants. Many landowners allow law enforcement to stand watch on their properties.

“The whole mission is about supporting the citizens of the state of Texas and providing security for all the criminal trespassing,” said Maldonado.

Xinjiang Prison-Camp Survivor and Family Tailed by ‘Super Suspicious’ Individuals in D.C.

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(Rawpixel/Getty Images)

A former Xinjiang detention-camp prisoner, his family, and others accompanying them appeared to have been followed and discreetly photographed by two women on the National Mall yesterday afternoon, sources familiar with the incident told National Review. This raised suspicions about the possibility that the family was being surveilled, though there is no way to confirm this.

The camp survivor, Ovalbek Turdakun, arrived in the U.S. on Friday with his wife and their eleven-year-old son. Turdakun is expected to present significant, high-value evidence to Congress and the International Criminal Court, revealing previously undisclosed aspects of China’s genocidal campaign in Xinjiang based on

Politics & Policy

A Final Look at the Popularity of J. D. Vance’s Position on Ukraine

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J. D. Vance speaks at the 2021 Southwest Regional Conference hosted by Turning Point USA in Phoenix, Ariz., April 17, 2021. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

In response to A Closer Look at Why J. D. Vance’s Stance on Ukraine Is Unpopular

Picking up on last week’s debate, I see John McCormack responded that J. D. Vance’s position on Ukraine is unpopular if one looks closely.* Well, let’s look again.

John again lays heavy emphasis on a February 19 clip in which Vance says, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.” John presents this quote five times in text and once in an embedded video in the first six paragraphs.

Effectively McCormack then takes on the role of an attack-ad consultant by opinining that, “if you play a video clip of Vance uttering that single sentence,” most Republican voters will recoil.

I wonder. Will they?

John’s post is a long exegesis of that one sentence — which he takes to hold all the true substance of Vance’s position. John says that taking this sentence alone implies that Vance is against all forms of aid to Ukraine, and all sanctions. Every other Vance statement on the issue is measured as a shift, a reversal, or a lie. When Vance praises Trump for having deterred Russia, John replies in effect, “I thought you didn’t care.”  When Vance gives qualified support to sanctions, John says the same.

But this is tendentious. Just watch a fuller clip from which the “I don’t really care” sentence is pulled. Once you look beyond those eight seconds, things open up.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another,” Vance said. “I do care about the fact that in my community right now, the leading cause of death among 18-to-45-year-olds is Mexican fentanyl that’s coming across the southern border.

Vance goes on to say: “I’m sick of Joe Biden focusing on the border of a country I don’t care about while he lets the border of his own country become a total war zone.”

This is what could be called Vance’s position on Ukraine. Compared to other problems at home — chaos at the border, drugs in our community, inflation — Ukraine hardly rates at all. Vance has repeatedly noted that Congress authorized $14 billion in aid for Ukraine in the space of a week, whereas for four years they would not approve just $4 billion to build a border wall at home. Sometimes Vance takes a question about Ukraine and pivots to saying that the media talk about Ukraine more than inflation.

And it hasn’t changed at all since the offending clip. Every single time the subject comes up on television interviews or in debates, this is the position Vance reiterates, that other issues far outrank Ukraine.

You can see similar responses here, here, herehere, here, and here.

It was reiterated in a guest column in Ohio:

In addition to the reckless risks that Gibbons and Mandel push upon America, the issue of priorities becomes central. Right now, as corporate media delivers  nonstop, breathless coverage  of Ukraine, and Washington establishment officeholders pontificate endlessly about defending a border 5,000 miles away, we have an  all-out border crisis  of our own.

I will be damned if I am going to  prioritize Ukraine’s  eastern border right now when our own southern border is engulfed by a human tsunami of illegal migrants.

This is not the portrait of someone backing off, but doubling down consistently. In polling from before the war, inflation far outranked every other issue, foreign policy was at the bottom, below health care and inflation. There’s good reason to believe this hasn’t been truly disrupted by events.

Vance hit his two opponents for supporting a “European-led” no-fly zone. What did they do? They backed down in the next debate and inched toward Vance’s position. Would they do so if they thought it was so unpopular?

John also hits me for laughing at the idea that Republican voters care deeply about Ukraine. I said that it was a debate for insiders. I stand by it. The vast majority of Americans do not want a major role for the United States in this conflict. In one poll, only 26 percent of respondents wanted the U.S. to have a major role. The rest opposed this. The same poll also found that major involvement was more unpopular with Republicans: “Democrats are more likely than Republicans to think the U.S. should have a major role in the conflict, 32% to 22%.”

What is a major role? It is maddeningly difficult to get precise polling on foreign-policy options when it comes to Ukraine. But some polling has been done. Target Point surveyed Pennsylvania Voters in late February, asking them what the U.S. response should be:

From TargetPoint Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary poll, February 25-28, 2022

The options present an unambiguously dovish option — do nothing, not our problem,  which got 14 percent. And another one: impose strongest possible sanctions and seek a diplomatic resolution, which commanded 45 percent. Together, that takes you to 59 percent. Only 23 percent support arming Ukraine to “kill as many Russians as possible,” the option that most excites pundits in Washington. Less than one-fifth of respondents are for sending U.S. troops.

This debate obviously matters much more to insiders than to Americans, which is why news networks are continually broadcasting less and less content on it. And I think insiders sense it. That is why Eliot Cohen is in the Atlantic, pre-shaming the American voters for their “self-deterring beliefs” about the war. It’s why George Packer complains about Americans not having the sufficient attention span for the war and not being “worthy” of defending Ukraine.

One of the reasons our Founders put the power of war into the hands of the legislature was that they knew executives tended to aggrandize their power in war. The court intellectuals of our executive branch wish for precisely this, because it aggrandizes them, too.

Though there is no perfect way of measuring this, I would bet that every chance that Vance gets to explain his position on Ukraine, that he prioritizes other pressing American concerns above this conflict, he is helping himself. That’s why people who disagree with him are anxious to cut him off after eight seconds, and extrapolate for him.

*On a personal note, in the final paragraphs of my first response, I wrote that “hawks were making an underhanded and dishonest argument about Vance.” As I wrote the post I had in mind a number of figures, but without naming them the only person readers could conclude that I meant was my colleague, John, whom I lumped in and damned with them. That was wrong of me for two reasons. One, I assigned to him an ulterior motive not in evidence — attacking Vance on behalf of his rivals — that would make NR’s mission impossible. John is quite right that not every criticism contains an implicit endorsement. And two, John has always been a good colleague and deserved his presumption of good faith. For this (and all my sins this Lent), I’m sorry.

White House

Biden Approval Rating Sinks below Trump’s at Similar Stage

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President Joe Biden speaks while visiting a bioprocessing plant in Menlo, Iowa, April 12, 2022. (Al Drago/Reuters)

President Biden just this week got socked with a Quinnipiac poll putting him at an astonishing 35 percent approval rating among registered voters, indicating that Biden is neither enjoying a rally-round-the-flag effect due to war in Europe nor convincing voters that the devastating 40-year-high wave of inflation that amounts to a drastic and sudden pay cut for working Americans is all Vladimir Putin’s fault.

Biden’s approval rating is 40.6, disapproval 52.3, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.

At the same point in the previous presidency, President Trump spent the month of April 2018 around 42 percent approval, up a tick to around 42.8 percent on April 13. His disapproval numbers were right around 54 percent all month, dipping a bit below that on April 13.

So Biden has slightly lower favorables than Trump, but Trump had slightly higher unfavorables (with fewer voters undecided about Trump). Recall that Trump’s party lost 41 seats in the House during the 2018 midterms. The Republicans can probably thank the Senate Democrats for their disgraceful behavior toward Brett Kavanaugh that autumn for their pickup of two Senate seats.

White House

Biden’s Gaffes Are Becoming a Crisis

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President Biden holds up a ghost gun part as he speaks at the White House in Washington D.C., April 11, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Do a president’s words count, or not? If a president keeps making declarations that bear no relationship whatsoever to actual administration policy, he is at best irrelevant. But President Biden’s many verbal slip-ups and ad-libs can be expected to enrage Vladimir Putin and make him redouble his efforts when the United States should be exerting effort in the other direction, to encourage Putin to de-escalate.

We’ve just learned that when President Biden called Vladimir Putin’s acts “genocide” the remark didn’t really count, any more than it counted when Biden called Putin “a war criminal,” (never mind, said his staff). Nor was the president making policy when he called for Russian regime change by saying, “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power” (no, he can remain in power, said flunkies).

We should also forget all about how Biden said use of chemical weapons by Putin would “trigger a response in kind” (not that kind of in kind, said his team), how he told the 82nd Airborne that they would soon learn about Ukraine because they’d see it firsthand when they “were there” (they were staying put, said underlings), or that when he suggested a Russian invasion wouldn’t be so bad “if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, etc.” No, any incursion would be bad, Biden later said.

As Phil pointed out, Biden is so old and so used to thinking of himself as a member of the Senate, where he spent 36 years, that he still blathers like a senator.  Senators can say pretty much whatever they think because no individual senator makes policy, and senators aren’t commanders in chief.

We’ve got war going on in Europe that involves a nuclear power, and we can’t trust the president of the United States not to veer off script and into the danger zone. It seems that for the good of the country, Biden’s handlers should make him stop talking before he blunders us into very scary waters. We have a crisis president who cannot actually be trusted not to endanger us with his wayward tongue every time he opens his mouth. Biden is himself therefore a crisis.

Media

What the CNN+ Debacle Can Teach Other Streaming Services

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Debate moderator and then-Fox News anchor Chris Wallace directs the first 2020 presidential campaign debate on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via Reuters)

Charlie and Kyle have had oodles of fun kicking around the pathetic start of the likely short-lived subscription streaming service, CNN+. And CNN deserves all the grief they’re getting, for all the reasons Charlie and Kyle lay out, in great detail.

But I think this slow-motion-car-wreck media debacle also offers some useful lessons for any other media company thinking of starting a streaming service. It seems like every content-generating media company in Hollywood saw the success of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney Plus and said, “hey, that looks profitable, we should do something like that!”

(Recall the short-lived streaming service Quibi. Meg Whitman, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, is an extremely successful businesswoman, but it seemed a little odd that she served as CEO of Quibi, an entertainment company, because she said, when asked what her favorite shows were, “I’m not sure I’d classify myself as an entertainment enthusiast.” Ideally, the leadership of the company would have some interest in the sort of product the company creates!)

CNN has a news network, that gets fewer viewers than the network would like. It also has CNN international, reaching overseas audiences. It has the former Headline News channel, now HLN. And on top of all of that, it wanted to create a separate channel that people would pay extra to watch.

The thriving streaming services are all focused on entertainment, and all of them have some popular shows that cannot be seen anywhere else. Netflix has Stranger Things and Bridgerton. Amazon Prime has Bosch and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Disney Plus has The Mandalorian and adorable Baby Yoda and the Marvel superhero shows. No doubt I’ve neglected to mention one of your favorites, but the point is that each thriving streaming service features at least a couple of shows that turned into hits, shows good enough to get people telling their friends, “yeah, you’ve got to subscribe, that show is really great.” And here’s the important part: those shows can only be seen on that particular subscription streaming service. At least for now, there is no network television or basic cable version of Stranger Things or The Mandalorian that is almost as good and available without a subscription.

The problem is CNN’s product is news. And almost all news is covered by multiple outlets, meaning you can get more or less the same thing from other video news services, for free. The annual State of the Union Address is the same, no matter which channel you watch. The footage from Ukraine is horrific whether you’re watching CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC. Maybe one network or another does a better, more thorough, or more viewer-enticing job of covering a particular story. But is the difference big enough that people are willing to pay for it?

To get people to shell out money for a streaming service that was primarily offering news, that streaming service would have to offer something really appealing that was dramatically different from everything else, and that couldn’t be watched any other way. Maybe a host like Tucker Carlson, with his 3 million viewers or so, could get a portion of his audience to shell out for a subscription. But you wouldn’t want to rely on just Carlson; a streaming news service would need a much bigger audience to be financially feasible, so it would have to assemble a bunch of the most popular figures in the news world, and then make it impossible to see them anywhere else. And even that would be a gamble. Ideally, a news-focused streaming network would build a subscriber base of the Tucker Carlson superfans and The Five superfans and the Rachel Maddow superfans and the superfans of some CNN’s most popular hosts and anchors – and figure out some way to develop its own stars.

I like Chris Wallace more than a lot of other conservatives these days, but I think it is clear that people won’t pay $59.99 per year just to watch Chris Wallace. They don’t miss him on Fox News Sunday that much. CNN+ offers live news and … an awful lot of stuff that looks like the programming on regular old CNN, available without a separate subscription – Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, Fareed Zakaria. I really enjoy, for example, Stanley Tucci’s culinary documentary series, Searching for Italy. But who’s going to pay sixty bucks a year to have it on demand? It airs on regular CNN!

The other angle worth noting is that while people are unlikely to shell out to watch a news-only streaming service, they might be interested in an entertainment streaming service that also had a news option. People who would never subscribe to CNN+ might be a little more tempted to subscribe to Amazon Prime over Hulu, or Netflix over Paramount Plus, if there was a high-quality news network programming attached.

And keep in mind who really owns CNN:

Discovery’s merger with WarnerMedia took effect on Friday afternoon, creating a streaming media giant led by CEO David Zaslav.

The deal combines two treasure troves of content and foreshadows further changes in the streaming era.

The newly formed company, Warner Bros. Discovery, will begin publicly trading on Monday. Zaslav said he will hold a town hall event for employees of the combined company later in the week.

…Setting the stage to compete with the likes of Disney and Netflix, Zaslav said in Friday’s memo that “we are well positioned to become a top-tier streaming competitor.”

He confirmed that the main streaming services from each side of the company, HBO Max and discovery+, will be brought “into a single product in the future.”

CNN+ isn’t likely to be around for long, at least as a separate entity. But at least some of their programs and shows are likely to be added to the merged HBO Max/Discovery+ streaming service.

Sports

Baseball Is a Troubled Sport, Continued

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Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) throws to the Minnesota Twins in the sixth inning at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn., April 13, 2022. (Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports)

Clayton Kershaw just got pulled while pitching a perfect game, when, of course, completing a perfect game is one of the most extraordinary achievements in the sport.

Who knows, maybe he immediately gives up a bloop and a blast if he comes back out, but this is ridiculous:

Politics & Policy

Wait Until Patrisse Cullors Finds Out About Form 1040

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Outside the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement has some thoughts about IRS Form 990, which her . . . er, nonprofit is required to file, and then make publicly available upon request, every year:

Cullors’s problem here is that she doesn’t go far enough. I don’t know if she knows this, but every year, with no regard whatsoever for my safety, the IRS weaponizes a form against me, and the people I work with, too. It’s called Form 1040, and I, too, am like, ugh, it’s triggering. Per the terms of Form 1040, I am obliged to tell the federal government about all the money I earned during the last year, and then — and this is the truly weaponized, unsafe part — I am obliged to write a check for a percentage of it. I don’t do this, men with guns will come and punish me.

Obviously, Form 990 is also weaponized and triggering and unsafe and all that, and yet I can’t help but suspect that, because Form 990 is literally the means by which organizations such as Cullors’s avoid paying taxes — an approach that has helped Cullors accrue a rather nice property portfolio, among other things — it is perhaps a touch less weaponized and triggering and unsafe than the process that everyone who actually works for a living is forced to use.

The Economy

Wait, a Freight Recession?

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A truck hauls shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles Calif., January 30, 2019. (Mike Blake /Reuters)

All we’ve heard about supply chains over the past year was about an ongoing boom. Record volumes and skyrocketing profits dominated the headlines.

Now, FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller is arguing that all signs are pointing to a freight recession.

Fuller is the founder of FreightWaves, a top source of supply-chain news and data. His professional background before starting the website was in the trucking industry, and he knows supply chains inside and out.

On March 24, he began to sound the alarm about a coming freight recession. He wrote, “We think another sharp, painful downturn in the U.S. truckload market is imminent, and it could be as bad as 2019.”

What happened in 2019? Trucking capacity was oversupplied after strong growth in 2017 and the first half of 2018, which resulted in the price of trucking declining steeply. Nearly 800 trucking companies went out of business in the first three quarters of 2019, including Celadon, one of the biggest firms in the industry.

Fuller sees the market gearing up for a similar downturn soon. Trucking demand in March has been unusually weak, he wrote, and retail sales have been below expectations as well. Companies also responded to supply-chain concerns by holding more inventory than normal, so they won’t need to buy as much when demand cools off, he wrote.

Oversupply concerns are back as well. Fuller wrote:

Trucking has enjoyed the largest number of new entrants in its history over the past two years. New fleet registrations were up to 20,166 last month alone. This is unprecedented. The last peak was in August 2019; there were 9,511 new trucking fleets and that was in the middle of one of the weakest freight markets in history. New trucking registrations tend to lag market conditions, so we can expect new fleets to continue to enter the market, even after things soften. This will make the downturn that much worse.

Just because the sky is falling for trucking doesn’t necessarily mean the sky is falling for the economy overall. During the 2019 trucking recession, Barron’s pointed out that there had been twelve trucking recessions since 1972, and only six economy-wide recessions in that span. But the conventional wisdom among investors is that a trucking recession could be a leading indicator for an economy-wide recession. We don’t know whether the 2019 trucking recession would have led to an economy-wide recession because the pandemic caused a recession in early 2020 anyway.

Fuller expanded on his prediction in a March 31 article. He walked through the data on tender rejection, which is when a carrier turns down a shipment. If lots of carriers are rejecting shipments, it would indicate that demand is high relative to capacity. If they’re accepting every shipment that comes their way, that would indicate they could be struggling to find customers. The tender rejection rate has fallen significantly in the past few weeks, and prices have fallen as well. Fuller included notes he received from trucking executives of companies of all sizes confirming his suspicions about a weak market.

It’s tempting to say that demand is just returning to its normal pre-pandemic level, so everything will be fine. But writing on April 6, Fuller explained why that view is incorrect. Trucking is a very contestable market, which means it is relatively easy to enter and compete in. Given soaring demand for trucking, lots of new trucks entered the market in the past two years.

“The trucking market has experienced the highest number of new fleet startups in its history. The chart of new startup fleets could easily be confused with a meme stock,” Fuller wrote. They mostly had to buy used trucks because new trucks were in short supply. The price of a three-year-old truck increased from $69,000 in 2019 to $136,000 last month.

Plenty of these new entrants may be finding out soon that they bought at the top of the market. Not only that, they are also operating in an overall higher-cost environment than before. Diesel is much more expensive than pre-pandemic, and insurance and maintenance costs are up as well. Fuller did the math:

With an employee driver, plus a truck purchased in 2022, a new fleet entering the market would have operating cash requirements that are $0.72 per mile more than the same fleet in 2019. Therefore, if a fleet is paying out an additional $0.72 per mile in operating cash compared to pre-pandemic, it will have an incredibly difficult time surviving in a dropping spot rate environment.

Seventy-two cents might not sound like a lot, but trucking is a very low-profit industry. Fuller writes that during the best trucking market ever in 2021, “The operating ratio for dry van truckload carriers . . . ranged from 92 to 97. That means for every $100 of revenue the fleet generated, it generated an operating profit of just $3 to $8.” In an environment like that, an extra 72 cents per mile in costs amid falling revenue spells doom.

Trucking is an extremely volatile industry normally. The boom-bust cycle in the freight market usually takes about three years to play out, so since the last one was in 2019, we’re due. Markets have already priced in a freight recession, according to an analysis from Deutsche Bank. The Dow Jones Transportation Average, an industry index of transportation stocks, is down about 11 percent since it peaked on March 29, and the stock of J.B. Hunt, one of the largest trucking and intermodal companies in the U.S., is down 18 percent over the same span.

In a competitive market economy, events in an industry can turn from good to bad at the drop of a hat. We might be seeing that right now with trucking.

White House

White House on Biden’s ‘Genocide’ Declaration: Never Mind, He’s Speaking From the Heart

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President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, March 26, 2022. (Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters)

The Morning Jolt, today, about Biden declaring, repeatedly and on the record that Russia was committing genocide in Ukraine: “This is one of those presidential statements that is so significant, I waited for the White House staff to offer the now-traditional ‘what the president meant to say was’ correction.”

I didn’t wait long enough. Today, Biden administration officials did it again:

This is also what they said when Biden declared, “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!” White House staffers insisted the president was not calling for regime change, he was just speaking from his heart — blowing off steam — and U.S. policy remained the same.

Besides being confusing — sometimes what President Biden says reflects the position of the U.S government, and sometimes he’s just a commentator whose views have no bearing on what the official U.S. government policy is — Biden’s increasingly frequent heart-speaking is further infuriating and even ironic because Biden repeatedly said 0n the campaign trail in 2020, “the words of a president matter.” Now Biden’s staff is insisting that the president’s words may not really matter, depending upon the circumstances. Sometimes the president is announcing what his policies are, and sometimes Grandpa starts rambling again, pay it no mind.

As today’s Jolt noted, if what is happening in Ukraine constitutes genocide, then the administration doesn’t have any excuses for any half-measures in response.

 

U.S.

The Subway Shooter 

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They’ve apprehended the suspect, thanks to the eagle eye of a very New York hero:

Also, it’s not surprising that Frank James has had a slew of prior arrests.

His social-media posts suggest poisonous racial obsessions that we will almost certainly not hear much about, as authorities tell us his motives — in the usual practice in such circumstances — are a complete mystery.

Media

Washington Post Seeks Seasoned Anthropologist to Observe the Indigenous Tribes of Waco

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

The job description is funny, but it’s also telling:

It’s the kind of description you might have seen from a paper looking for someone to cover Kosovo or Cambodia. Do these outlets need reporters to decode the mysteries of a “region shaped by liberal ideology,” as well? The ad speaks to the hermitic insularity you find at these papers. Yes, Texas is a “part of the country that is governed largely by one political party” — in the same way California, New York, and Washington, D.C., are mono-political. The “forces driving political polarization” in Texas are the same partisan forces driving polarization in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But D.C. media culture, those poor souls coming out of journalism schools, see progressivism as an apolitical norm and conservatism as a disruptive — reactionary — belief system, even though 90 percent of the country is probably more temperamentally and ideologically “conservative” than the average Post reporter. This, and it’s just one example, is why media outlets will report that bills legalizing late-term abortions up until crowning are “codifying the right” but bills limiting abortions are “controversial.”

You don’t have to be friends with someone who owns a pickup truck or an AR-15 to be a good straight-news reporter, but if you view the other half of the country, the half that might well win back the government over the next few years, as a collection of exotic troglodytes, you can’t be. And I don’t think outlets like the Post really care anymore.

Elections

Unanswered Questions on Whether Mark Meadows Voted Illegally

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Then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to reporters following a television interview outside the White House in Washington, D.C., October 21, 2020. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Did Mark Meadows, the former Trump White House chief of staff, commit voter fraud? Did he do anything illegal at all? There’s a lot of hyperventilating on this story, but so far, we need more facts before jumping to conclusions. And the policy conclusions they suggest about ballot integrity are not what progressives or liberals may like.

Here’s the deal: Originally born in a U.S. Army hospital in Verdun, France, Meadows grew up in Florida but moved to North Carolina in 1986. He represented a North Carolina congressional district from 2013 until March 31, 2020, when he left to join the Trump White House. Undoubtedly, as with most members of Congress, he spent more time living in and around D.C. than in the place he actually represented, but nearly everybody in Congress keeps a legal residence back home, votes there, and pays taxes there. Meadows voted in the 2020 election in North Carolina, the same state he had represented in Congress until that spring. In 2021, out of office, he voted in Virginia, and reportedly did not file the paperwork to be taken off the voter rolls in North Carolina. This is a common oversight, which is precisely why states have, and need, the power to purge from their rolls voters who may have moved to another state and registered there — a step that is widely and misleadingly described as “disenfranchising” voters when Republican-run states do it. Virginia is one of 31 states (red and blue alike) that belong to the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit that helps inform states about voters who have moved; North Carolina is not. Following news reports about Meadows voting in Virginia, North Carolina has now purged Meadows from the rolls. The North Carolina official heading the inquiry defended purging Meadows for having a duplicate registration as “a normal practice.”

Press reports have been loud but vague: “Mark Meadows removed from N.C. voter roll amid fraud investigation,” says Amy Wang of the Washington Post. Meadows, of course, had obvious incentives to stay registered in North Carolina in 2020, when that state was a presidential battleground and holding hotly contested Senate and gubernatorial races, and to reregister in Virginia in 2021, when the state was holding a high-profile race for governor. (Press reports have not indicated when he registered in Virginia.) There is nothing wrong with voting in one state, moving your legal residence to another state, then voting there. There is no fraud, only the risk of fraud, in failing to remove yourself from your old state’s voter rolls. So far as I have seen publicly reported, he did not vote anywhere else in 2020. The only question, but a legitimate one, is whether he was properly classified as a resident in the place where he voted.

Should Meadows have remained eligible to vote in North Carolina in November, 2020? Charles Bethea of the New Yorker notes that Meadows sold his house in Sapphire, North Carolina in March, 2020 and did not buy a new, permanent residence; he instead re-registered in September, 2020, listing his residence as a mobile home in Scaly Mountain, N.C., that he does not own and seems never have lived in, but where his wife and children had stayed on periodic vacations. Scaly Mountain is 26 miles from Sapphire, but both are located in Meadows’s old district, the eleventh, now represented by Madison Cawthorn. North Carolina is now investigating whether this was a legitimate domicile as a matter of North Carolina election law. If it wasn’t, Meadows’s vote should not have counted — even at the cost of “disenfranchising” him entirely. That’s the law, and it applies even to the high and mighty. The same goes for state-law penalties under North Carolina election law.

At the same time, unlike a recent case of two Florida men who voted twice, this is a pretty far cry from what we typically think of as “voter fraud.” Meadows was unquestionably an American citizen eligible to vote. He wasn’t trying to squeeze himself into some totally new jurisdiction; he was a North Carolina homeowner and congressman when the presidential primaries were held. He had lived in the state for 34 years. He appears not to have settled on a new permanent residence anywhere by September — understandably, given that he was waiting on the election results to know whether he was still going to be White House chief of staff. He was, in short, a transient. His case is unlike the widely publicized controversy over New York mayor Eric Adams, who seems to have conducted an elaborate years-long charade in order to remain Brooklyn borough president while not actually living in Brooklyn.

As far as policy questions about voter fraud, if it is concluded that Meadows was ineligible to vote in Scaly Mountain, that underlines the near-impossibility of policing certain kinds of illegal voting. This took over a year to come out, and was only discovered because Meadows is a prominent political figure. There was no way for elections officials to check this sort of thing — they couldn’t challenge Meadows’s eligibility to vote, because he was unquestionably eligible to vote somewhere, and they couldn’t check the rolls in a different place, because (so far as we can tell) he was apparently registered only in one place in 2020. I assume he probably still had an unexpired North Carolina driver’s license. Plus, elections officials would naturally assume that a man who represented North Carolina in Congress until seven months before Election Day was still a resident of North Carolina. The one tool that would prevent real abuses in this area is to allow states to do more of what they do already: Purge the voter rolls of people who have moved away and settled somewhere else.

Immigration

Re: You Know Things Are Bad . . .

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In response to You Know Things Are Bad When a New Hampshire Democrat Is Doing a Border-Security Video

Phil, even Beto sounds discouraging about Biden lifting Title 42.

 

 

 

Politics & Policy

Biden’s New ATF Nominee Is a Spreader of Misinformation

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President Joe Biden listens after announcing his nomination of Steve Dettelbach to serve as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, during an event at the White House in Washington D.C., April 11, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Reload reports that Steve Dettelbach, President Joe Biden’s new nominee to run the ATF, has claimed — 19 times — that the 2018 election attorney-general race, in which he lost to David Yost by nearly 190,000 votes, was “rigged.” There is no evidence of any illegal manipulation or stolen votes. And, as we all know, the contention, even the insinuation, that an election was stolen is a broadside against our sacred democratic institutions and disqualifies a person from decent company — with exceptions made for Stacey Abrams, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Jimmy Carter, a raft of CNN and MSNBC staff and guests, Washington Post columnists, the New York Timesthe New Yorker, New York magazine, and so on and so forth.

(Though I feel compelled to say that perhaps even more disqualifying is Dettelbach’s 2016 salute to the great Muhammad Ali, in which he claimed that “we need to acknowledge that Donald Trump wouldn’t even allow him to come into America.” Kentucky, the birthplace of Cassius Clay, is not only in the United States, it also borders Ohio. But that’s another story.)

In general, Biden seems far more interested in ginning up Republican “obstructionism” narratives and appeasing activist groups than in forwarding competent and appropriate nominees to the Senate. When it comes to the ATF, Biden pulled David Chipman’s nomination, not because of Mitch McConnell, but because Democrats like Joe Manchin and Jon Tester, and reliable liberal vote Angus King, publicly opposed him. The ATF has a legitimate role in enforcing existing laws and regulations. It’s not a place to install partisan operatives to rant about “universal” background checks, banning semi-automatic rifles, and “ghost guns,” the newest obsession of the anti-gun crowd. That’s for elected officials to do. Nominees like Chipman, and to a lesser extent, Dettelbach, have shown contempt for law-abiding gun owners and the Second Amendment, which only makes the agency’s job harder, no matter how beneficial such nominations might be in placating David Hogg.

Film & TV

Warner Bros. Hides the Secrets of Dumbledore’s Sexuality for China

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Cast members (from left) Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, and Eddie Redmayne pose during a promotion for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald in Beijing, China, October 28, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The Left has raised quite a stink over Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which forbids “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” through the third grade. Although the bill is popular across demographics, the Walt Disney Company, which has a large presence in the state, has been bullied by a small but loud group of obsessive progressives inside and outside of the company to take a foolish stand against the bill, one that will likely prove counterproductive (if it hasn’t already).

Entertainment behemoths such as Disney are happy to throw their political weight around in the United States. But in China, it’s a different story. (For more on this story, read Eric Schwartzel’s excellent Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy.) Disney itself has altered films with the Chinese market in mind — to say nothing of its Mulan remake, a production filmed in Xinjiang that thanked Chinese-government agencies complicit in Uyghur genocide its credits. And now fellow film studio Warner Bros. has removed lines of dialogue from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Secrets of Dumbledore establishing that dark wizard Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and his foe Gellert Grindlewald (Mads Mikkelsen) once had a romantic relationship. Per Variety:

Warner Bros. accepted China’s request to remove six seconds from the movie. The dialogue lines “because I was in love with you” and “the summer Gellert and I fell in love” were cut from “The Secrets of Dumbledore” release (via News.com.au). The rest of the film remained intact, including an understanding that Dumbledore and Grindelwald share an intimate bond.

In a statement, the studio said that “we want audiences everywhere in the world to see and enjoy this film, and it’s important to us that Chinese audiences have the opportunity to experience it as well, even with these minor edits.”

This double standard — Republican governors can’t make reasonable and popular policy changes in this country, but the Chinese government’s whims must be respected, even they violate progressive pieties — is untenable. Florida governor Ron DeSantis is among the many who have realized this. As Brittany Bernstein reported in March:

“You have companies, like at Disney, that are going to say and criticize parents’ rights, they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten, in first-grade classrooms,” he added. “If that’s the hill they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China? Because that’s what they do, and they make a fortune, and they don’t say a word about the really brutal practices that you see over there at the hands of the CCP.”

The more people who realize this, and act on it, the better.

Politics & Policy

Gavin Newsom Talks about Red States More Than California

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Gov. Gavin Newsom (D., Calif.) delivers remarks as he tours the Forest Service’s Del Rosa Fire Station with Vice President Harris, in San Bernardino, Calif., January 21, 2022. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Is Gavin Newsom the governor of California or a left-wing talk-show pundit? If you’re going off of his Twitter presence, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the latter. The scandal-plagued Golden State Democrat often seems like he’s using his platform to audition for a spot as a weekend MSNBC anchor. (Jen Psaki, take note.) Newsom has posted 22 tweets in the last month. Seven of those were about California. Five were about national events — a commemoration of the Persian New Year, a condemnation of “horrifying acts of anti-Asian sentiment,” a tribute to Madeleine Albright, and so on. But ten out of the 22 were about Republicans in other states, with no discernible relationship to California. Here are a few highlights from the last three weeks alone:

It’s understandable that Newsom doesn’t want to focus on the situation in his own state. His approval rating is down 16 points from September 2020 according to a February poll from UC Berkeley. Although he eventually beat a September 2021 recall effort by a decisive margin — at least partially owing to the California GOP’s disorganization — the fact that the recall petition garnered upwards of 1.7 million signatures signaled serious dissatisfaction with the first-term governor, sparked by high-profile controversies during the pandemic. As CalMatters reported in January 2021, the recall petition 

gained a surge of signatures after news broke in November that a maskless Newsom joined lobbyists for a dinner party at the posh French Laundry restaurant, even though he was telling Californians to mask up and avoid socializing. The count grew as the state’s unemployment system paid out billions to fraudsters, and its chaotic COVID vaccine distribution left people scrambling for shots. As many schools, churches and businesses closed during Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, the recall that began as a conservative rebuke of his progressive policies morphed into a referendum on his pandemic response.

With the recall in the rearview mirror, Newsom has nonetheless continued to lurch from loss to loss. Berkeley’s February poll registered “a decline in voters’ overall appraisals of the direction of the state,” with just 36 percent saying they “believe California is moving in the right direction,” in contrast to 54 percent saying that the state “is on the wrong track.” Those numbers represent “a 10-point decline in the proportion of voters who feel the state is moving in the right direction from May 2021,” the last time the poll was taken.

On the specific issues, 65 percent of California voters “believe that crime in their own local area has increased over the past year,” and 78 percent “think the amount of crime across California overall has been on the rise over the past year, with 50% believing it has increased ‘a lot.’” Voters disapproved of Newsom’s handling of the state’s burgeoning crime problem by a margin of 51 to 20 percent. On homelessness, 66 disapproved of Newsom, with just 11 percent approving. If you measure the polling by the percentage of “disapprove” versus “approve” — without “no opinion” and the middle-ground rating of “fair” — the governor is also underwater on education, the state budget, coronavirus, droughts, wildfires, health care, and jobs/economy, as illustrated from this graphic from the Los Angeles Times:

Now, California is effectively a one-party state. So even preening, self-satisfied mediocrities like Gavin Newsom can fail upwards, provided they have a “D” next to their name — and provided they enjoy the backing of California’s gilded elite interests, who have dumped $23 million into the governor’s reelection war chest as of December 2021. (And spent a whopping $71 million — including $3.9 million from Hollywood, $3.8 million from tech, $5.3 million from real estate, and $25.7 million from Big Labor — to help him defeat the recall,) Maybe Newsom’s Twitter punditry plays well with the progressive elites who run things in the state. It wouldn’t be the first time the governor took to talk-show commentary: From 2012 to 2013, then-lieutenant governor Newsom hosted The Gavin Newsom Show on a San Francisco-based channel. But in the face of California’s colossal problems, working- and middle-class residents might be wondering if punditry is the best use of their governor’s time.

Immigration

You Know Things Are Bad When a New Hampshire Democrat Is Doing a Border-Security Video

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Senator Maggie Hassan along the U.S. Mexico-Border. (Senator Maggie Hassan/Screengrab via Twitter)

How bad are Democrats fearing how the immigration issue is going to play out for them once Covid-era Title 42 measures are lifted at the border?

This bad:

It is not uncommon to see politicians talk tough on border security during an election year. But it is revealing that Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat facing reelection this year in New Hampshire, felt the need to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas and Arizona, and then shoot a video in which she says she is trying to push the Biden administration into putting stronger measures in place ahead of the expiration of Title 42, or delay the move to lift it. She calls for more personnel, technology, and repairing gaps in “physical infrastructure” (just don’t call it a “wall”).

While the race is generally seen as leaning in Hassan’s direction after Republicans missed out on their top recruit, she is clearly feeling the heat. It’s telling that she felt the need to do this. Remember, John McCain was running as a Republican in a border state when he recorded his famous “Complete the Danged Fence” ad — incidentally from the same spot (Nogales, Ariz.) in which the Hassan video was shot.

World

The Czar and the Cat Lady

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The world isn’t getting any better, Jay, but it may be getting sillier: Back when Vladimir Zhirinovsky was a big swingin’ deal on the Russian neo-imperialist scene, he had a birthday party at which he was presented with two symbolic gifts: a sword and a globe. The message was lost on no one.

Marine Le Pen, in contrast, took advantage of her Covid downtime to become a professional cat lady. No sword, no globe, but a genuine diploma in cat-breeding. That is a thing that exists.

I wouldn’t bet on Le Pen, because France is not the daffy cat lady of European countries — with all due respect, Spain is.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Mississippi Tax Reform

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Russ Latino of Empower Mississippi writes about how his state’s new tax reform provides a model for others to follow:

At the core of the tax debate was a philosophical question about whether that dependency would ever result in meaningful prosperity. Past performance and present condition — the worst labor-force-participation rate, lowest income levels, highest poverty, and second-shortest life expectancy in the nation — suggested it would not. If not, the quandary then became one about what conditions might create an atmosphere for growth and opportunity. The conclusion was to believe in people as the primary drivers of wellbeing — to better empower them to invest in their families, their businesses and their communities.

The move of our legislature, while it may on its face look typical of a red state, represents a paradigm shift for Mississippi. It also may prove to be a model for other states, not only with the simplicity, efficiency, and fairness of its reform, but on the value of honest, hard discourse that leads to the development of better ideas.

Read the whole thing here.

Politics & Policy

Marjorie Taylor Greene: Joining the U.S. Military Is ‘Like Throwing Your Life Away’

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For a good illustration of how the fringe of the far Right is out of step with how ordinary workaday conservative voters think and talk, listen to what Marjorie Taylor Greene told Lou Dobbs on his podcast about joining the military. Dobbs and Greene recounted various grievances with U.S. foreign policy in general and Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal in particular, as well as “woke” training within the military. These are entirely fair arguments, and it is fair as well to note that they are not going to help the military recruit people. But then Dobbs asked, “Who in his or her right mind would say ‘sign me up for that, Sarge?'” and Greene responded:

Not my son and I know a lot of young people don’t want to have anything to do with that. It’s like throwing your life away. Not to mention how they’ve been forced to take the vaccine and the ones that didn’t want to take it have been discharged. Who wants to be treated that way? . . . It’s a disaster from the top down and the bottom up. We can add in the training, the woke training, where they have to undergo this ridiculous ideology of the sick and satanic left.

Throwing your life away by joining the United States military? Really? Politicians, like the rest of us, sometimes make overheated arguments in the moment, but Greene has not backed off. In a prior controversy calling Republican senators “pro pedophile” over their Supreme Court votes, her spokesman told Newsweek that she was just “calling it like she sees it.” Indeed.

CORRECTION: This report has been updated to reflect that the “calling it like she sees it” comment to Newsweek was not in reference Greene’s comment about the military. 

Economy & Business

Biden Apologists Are Abandoning Ship

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How bad is the environment for Democrats this fall? So bad, that Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics and the most prominent Biden apologist on Wall Street, is throwing in the towel on the White House’s inflation problem. Today’s Washington Post quotes the “go-to” economist for Democrats as saying: “I think the economic backdrop is as dark as it has been since the start of the administration. It’s just a very, very dark and deep problem. . . . There’s nothing more pernicious on the collective psyche than having to pay more. And it’s only set to get worse.”

In February, Zandi was already worried enough about inflation that he warned against passing chunks of Biden’s $5 trillion Godzilla bill by saying: “None of these ideas so far will help to a meaningful degree, and could do some harm because they could juice up demand at a time supply is constrained by the pandemic and worsen inflation.”

Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill is now officially dead, but Zandi still says that Democrats face one of the most challenging environments any party in power has confronted. “Most Americans have never experienced high inflation like this, particularly on gas prices, and it has gotten everyone very upset,” he told Politico. “Behavioral economics reveals that people hate inflation more than they love a low unemployment rate.”

But in November, we predict that swing voters will hate the Biden administration even more than inflation, and Democrats will suffer the consequences.

World

The Unspeakable

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Smoke rises after shelling near Kyiv, Ukraine, March 10, 2022. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

For the past 25 years or so, I’ve written a lot about wars, atrocities, genocides. All in a day’s work. Mass murder is pretty grim. But maybe you will understand me when I say . . . Well, let me quote from a piece I wrote about Sudan, in 2005:

Bestialities in the south included bombings, razings, concentration camps (called “peace villages”), and rape after rape after rape. That may be what is hardest about inquiring into Sudan: the constant rape, that great and ancient weapon of terror.

This is from a piece on Burma, in 2018:

Mass murder aside, the reports of rape are especially horrifying, perhaps. They are copious, seeming to be without end. One could go into revolting detail, but one line from one report may suffice: “The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar’s security forces has been sweeping and methodical.” . . . The U.N.’s leading official on sexual violence, Pramila Patten, described rape as “a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group.”

A piece on Ethiopia, last year:

Rape in Tigray is on a mass, horrific scale.

In 2016, I interviewed Denis Mukwege — as great a man as you will ever find.

Mukwege is a doctor in the country that calls itself “the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” (Informally, people say “Congo.”) He treats victims of rape, often of gang rape. A gynecologist, he tries to heal them physically and mentally. The second task is harder, but the first is hard enough. His patients range from infants to the elderly.

Congo is one of those countries described as “war-torn.” For years, it has been known as “the rape capital of the world.” Rape is a weapon of war, maybe the foremost weapon. It is systemic, even normal. Boys are trained to rape as child soldiers. The normality of rape has been transferred into the civilian world. In Congo, boys and men rape, and girls and women are raped. That’s the way it is.

In 2018, Mukwege was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human-rights activist. They were honored for “their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”

Needless to say, Russian forces are raping their way through Ukraine. There are as many reports as you can bear (and a lot more where those came from). This is from an article headed “Bucha’s Month of Terror”:

The abuse of the woman was one case of many, said Ukraine’s official ombudswoman for human rights, Lyudmyla Denisova. She said she had recorded horrific cases of sexual violence by Russian troops in Bucha and other places, including one in which a group of women and girls were kept in a basement of a house for 25 days. Nine of them are now pregnant, she said.

She speculated that the violence came out of revenge for the Ukrainian resistance, but also that the Russian soldiers used sexual violence as a weapon of war against Ukrainian women.

Another report, typical: “Ukraine conflict: ‘Russian soldiers raped me and killed my husband.’” That article is here. And these reports go on and on. Usually, they are accompanied by warnings: “Distressing Material Ahead,” that sort of thing.

Soldiers have raped children in front of their parents, tied up and forced to watch — as they have done in country after country, down the generations. It never changes, it never ends. Here is another report, about Ukraine.

I’ll stop now. If you’re like me, you won’t read these articles. We don’t need to. But it is important, I think, to be aware of this reality.

Culture

Yelp to Fund Travel Expenses for Employees Seeking Abortions

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Pro-choice supporters hold up signs outside of the U.S. Supreme Court as justices hear a major abortion case in Washington, D.C., March 4, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Review company Yelp has joined banking giant Citigroup in promising to cover travel expenses for employees seeking out-of-state abortions. The new policy is in response to states enacting pro-life laws, which soon will be able to take effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in this term’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Yelp has only about 4,000 employees, 200 of whom live in Texas, where the state’s Heartbeat Act protects unborn children from abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The company announced that as of now, its new policy will apply to employees in Texas, as well as Oklahoma, where a ban on most abortions was recently signed, though it is expected to be challenged and blocked in court before it can take effect, a fact left out of most media coverage of Yelp’s policy.

As of now, this policy will be mostly useless in practice, because  with Roe and Casey in place, abortion providers immediately challenge every state pro-life law and succeed in having those laws blocked in court. In a post-Roe America, however, expect to see more companies following in Yelp’s footsteps as a means of undermining pro-life policy.

Economy & Business

Suddenly Those Fears of Recession Aren’t So Few and Far Between

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Chair of the White House Counsel for Economic Advisors, Kevin Hassett, sits down for a conversation with National Review Institute fellow Ramesh Ponnuru at the 2019 National Review Institute Ideas Summit.

Back in October, the attendees of the National Review Institute gathering in Dallas heard from a handful of our editors and contributors at the library of Harlan Crow, which could just as easily be a museum of American historyOur Kevin Hassett, who was the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Trump and a senior adviser to him, offered a fascinating contrast between his usually cheerful and amiable personality and an economic assessment that I described as “darker than Rembrandt’s Night Watch viewed through sunglasses at midnight during a power outage.” Hassett warned that between a lingering worker shortage and supply chain issues, and inflationary pressures, the U.S. appeared to be headed towards a recession.

A recession is traditionally defined as when the gross domestic product declines for two quarters in a row. The numbers for the third quarter were a mere 2 percent — pretty lousy for an economy that was supposed to be enjoying a recovery from the pandemic — but in the fourth quarter, the GDP number boomed, all the way up to 7 percent. Recession averted, right?

Eh, perhaps not. Unfortunately, Kevin just looks a little early in his assessment, not wrong.

NPR: “A growing number of forecasters now believe a recession is on the horizon as the Federal Reserve gears up to raise interest rates sharply to combat the highest inflation in more than 40 years.”

CNN: “‘Inflation shock’ worsening, ‘rate shock’ just beginning, ‘recession shock’ coming,” Bank of America chief investment strategist Michael Hartnett wrote in a note to clients on Friday.”

Deutsche Bank Chief U.S. economist Matthew Luzzetti: “While timing the exact quarters of negative growth is never easy, we see the Fed’s tightening beginning to materially slow growth in the second half of 2023. Our baseline forecast has negative quarters for growth in Q4 2023 and Q1 2024, consistent with a recession during that time.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Robert Fry, of Robert Fry Economics LLC, puts the chance of a contraction in the next 12 months at a mere 15 percent, but raises that to well over 50 percent within the coming 24 months, and currently expects a recession lasting three quarters to begin in the final quarter of 2023.”

White House staff declaring that critics like Florida senator Rick Scott are “fully in lockstep with Putin” is not going to do anything to alleviate the country’s economic problems. Incumbent presidents whose party controls Congress very rarely win the economic blame game.

Elections

Telling It Like It Is (and Isn’t)

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Alabama governor Kay Ivey speaks in Woodstock, Ala., on March 15, 2022. (Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters)

That picture up there is of Kay Ivey, the governor of Alabama. I’ll get to her — and a broader issue — in a moment. Today’s Impromptus has a variety of subjects, as usual. I begin with politics in France.

Once more, Marine Le Pen has qualified for the final round of the French presidential election. In the first round, she got 23 percent of the vote. Let’s call it a quarter. France is the country of De Gaulle, yes. It is also the country of Vichy. This should not be forgotten. Both strains run through France. Both sides have their constituencies. This is a pill that must be swallowed.

I also discuss the pandemic: Who does a better job of confronting it? Democracies or dictatorships? And flags: the American flag and the Confederate flag, and the commingling of them. And Kmart: the demise of, after all these (glorious) years. And so on.

I’ve admired Governor Kay Ivey, for her straight talk during the pandemic. (See this column, for example.) But now she has cut a campaign ad, saying, “The fake news, Big Tech, and blue-state liberals stole the election from President Trump.” In this, she has proved herself a pretty standard Republican — a pretty standard Republican of today.

Does she believe what she’s saying? I doubt it.

In my observation, many people look the other way, when it comes to the kind of thing Governor Ivey is doing. They sweep it under the rug. I’m talking about people who know full well how the 2020 election went down.

Their attitude, as I have sensed it, is this: Look, you have to say the election was stolen. It’s what the folks want to hear. It’s the cost of doing business in the Republican Party. The people can’t handle the truth. So you just give ’em the line, in order to serve the greater good. We have to defeat the Left.

From Plato onward, people have spoken of the “noble lie.” I say, to heck with it.

It’s not nice to lie. It can be, among other things, very insulting. Condescending. It’s not snobbish to tell the truth. It’s not elitist. You may recall a song lyric: “Who else but a bosom buddy will sit down and level, and give you the devil, will sit down and tell you the truth?”

“He tells it like it is!” Have you ever heard that about a politician? Well, that’s what I’m looking for: a politician who will tell it like it is. Including about the 2020 presidential election. Anyone can tell it like it is when it’s comfortable. How about when it’s uncomfortable, both for the teller and for the audience?

There’s a lot more to say about this — I may do a biggish piece — but that’s the gist.

Education

Note to State Legislators — It’s Not Enough Just to Ban Affirmative Action

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Some states have taken the commendable step of making racial preferences (“affirmative action”) illegal in their public universities, but the forces that want to use higher education for political ends won’t stop just because of such a law.

In today’s Martin Center article, Anna Miller of the Idaho Freedom Foundation argues that citizens and legislators who want to keep their institutions from being overrun by “progressive” zealots must be ever vigilant.

For example, Miller points out that state universities have adopted many programs that exclude men. Such programs won’t be covered by a ban on racial preferences, but still are objectionable. Governments should not treat any group of people better than any other.

And then there are numerous “diversity” policies that aren’t necessarily illegal under a ban on affirmative action. Miller writes, “Universities have imposed political litmus tests in hiring practices, which fosters tokenism and compromises academic excellence under the guise of DEI. Moreover, leftist political activism has been infused into residence life through living-learning communities and service-learning.”

The activism of the Left to turn our education system into training grounds for social-justice warriors is relentless and must be fought tooth and nail.

Miller concludes, “Other states should learn from Idaho’s experience that they must do more than address race and sex based discrimination in hiring and admissions. Political litmus tests should be banned. Budgets funding campus DEI bureaucracies should be cut. Administrators should be held accountable for not only abiding by the law but respecting the wishes of the people that state universities exist to teach students knowledge and skills, not to twist their thinking with political indoctrination of any kind.”

Immigration

Human-Smuggler ‘Bailouts’ Are Endangering Border Communities

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Migrants run northbound through the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico in La Joya, Texas, February 22, 2022. All eight men were detained by border patrol agents and taken into custody. Picture taken with a drone. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Mayor Don McLaughlin of Uvalde is dealing with unprecedented migrant traffic in his small Texas city. 

“We’re seeing the traffic up more; the ‘gottaways’ and the ‘walk-arounds’ are up probably 200 percent,” McLaughlin told me today. Many of these migrants are single adult men. 

He believes this is because the Border Patrol is tied up processing the surge of migrants seeking asylum at the border, leaving communities such as Uvalde “wide open.” Those who are circumventing checkpoints where migrants can seek asylum often have criminal records, according to McLaughlin. “They wouldn’t be allowed in the United States.”

Uvalde, about 75 miles east of the border, is precariously located at the intersection of various major roads and highways that connect directly with major border-crossing areas such as Del Rio and Eagle Pass. 

“We were averaging probably three to five chases a week. . . . Now we’re starting to see two to three a day.”

McLaughlin also calls these chases “bailouts.” A “bailout” is when a coyote, or smuggler, is “hauling these illegals into the country” and gets detected by a police officer. “Instead of stopping, they try to outrun [the police].”  

Bailouts impose a major cost on the Uvalde community. “Our law-enforcement budget is probably up 30 percent, 40 percent above what it normally is because of all the pursuits and the bailouts that we had to deal with in 2021.”

Aside from being costly, bailouts are dangerous. “[The coyotes] will crash into a yard, they’ll crash to a rancher’s fence . . . they’ll do whatever they can to get out. They’ll all jump out of the car and try to scatter.” 

Bailouts often occur in residential areas or around schools in order to hinder law enforcement’s ability to pursue the bailout vehicle: 

McLaughlin drove me around Uvalde Estates, a residential area with narrow roads and sharp turns. In other parts of town, he pointed out some spots where bailouts had ended in crashes. 

This creates a major risk for residents of Uvalde, especially school-age children. 

In 2020 and 2021, McLaughlin reported that Uvalde schools had to be locked down 48 times. Already in 2022, schools have been locked down three times. 

“In more and more of these cars, we were finding firearms. . . . That was alarming to us.” McLaughlin ended up contacting Governor Abbott, who sent Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to Uvalde. But that was temporary: They’re back at the border now to deal with the migrant surge. 

Other citizens complained about the bailouts. Angie, owner of Evett’s BBQ in Uvalde, told me that “there used to be maybe one chase a week. . . . Now it’s like four or five . . . chases a day.” When I asked if she feels less safe, she said, “Oh yeah.”

It’s not just heightened migrant traffic or dangerous bailouts; Department of Public Safety officials also are releasing migrants into Uvalde when they run out of detention space. McLaughlin reported receiving up to 150 migrants at a time. 

“You start releasing 150 people in a small town like this, there’s gotta be problems,” he said. “We’re not equipped to handle it.” 

For McLaughlin, who owns and operates his own 90-employee business, being mayor is a labor of love. “I get paid 50 bucks to be mayor of Uvalde, Texas. And I did it because I wanted to see my community grow.” And apparently he’s loved for it; as we sat in a local coffee shop, McLaughlin’s constituents called over with smiles and jokes.

Despite a pandemic and the immigration crisis, McLaughlin is undeterred. He is, however, perplexed: “It’s just crazy that our government is allowing . . . what’s taking place in our country.” 

Culture

Nature Rights: A Lake in Florida Sues

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(globalmoments/iStock/Getty Images)

The nature-rights agenda keeps growing in visibility. It has now reached the New Yorker, where Elizabeth Kolbert writes about Mary Jane Lake, which is “suing” to stop developments on its shores. From “A Lake in Florida Suing to Protect Itself“:

Like most of the rest of central Florida, Mary Jane is under pressure from development. Orange County, which encompasses the lake, the city of Orlando, and much of Disney World, is one of the fastest-growing counties in Florida, and Florida is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. A development planned for a site just north of Mary Jane would convert nineteen hundred acres of wetlands, pine flatlands, and cypress forest into homes, lawns, and office buildings.

In an effort to protect herself, Mary Jane is suing. The lake has filed a case in Florida state court, together with Lake Hart, the Crosby Island Marsh, and two boggy streams. According to legal papers submitted in February, the development would “adversely impact the lakes and marsh who are parties to this action,” causing injuries that are “concrete, distinct, and palpable.”

Of course, the lake does not really have personal pronouns. And it is not suing. People are — radical environmentalists who want to elevate the natural world to the equivalent of human beings, which is to say, they want us to self-perceive as just another animal in the forest.

Typical of advocacy journalism, Kolbert does not give much of a voice to opponents of this subversive idea. Instead, she talks to the radicals. And she swallows the nature-rights hokum whole:

From a certain point of view, granting nature a say isn’t radical or new at all. For most of history, people saw themselves as dependent on their surroundings, and “rivers, trees, and land” enjoyed the last word. Only in the past few hundred years has it become possible—and come to seem normal—for people to mow down forests, fill in wetlands, and blast away mountains because it suits them. This way of operating has resulted in unprecedented, if unequally distributed, human prosperity. It has also brought melting ice sheets, marine dead zones, soaring extinction rates, and the prospect of global ecological collapse. As António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, put it last week, when the latest international climate report was released, we are “firmly on track towards an unlivable world.”

And, of course, she closes with some typical old-fashioned anthropomorphism:

A wood stork arrived and started poking its beak into the muck at the lake’s edge. More storks swooped down and similarly began poking. One of them bent its legs, dipped its white-and-black wings into the water, and then held them out, as if airing a blanket. Another stork did the same, and soon they were all rolling around in the water and stretching their wings. I wasn’t sure what, exactly, they were doing, but it looked like fun. I took off my shoes and waded in. As I approached, most of the storks flew away. The water, around my ankles, was the golden brown I had seen in Dierdorff’s exhibit. I spent a while listening. I didn’t hear any blips from Mary Jane; still, it seemed to me, the lake’s wishes were pretty clear, as were the wood storks’. What they really wanted was to be left alone.

No. The lake is inanimate and insentient. It has no opinions.

Bah. What about the lost jobs if these development projects get scrapped, the consequences of preventing natural resources from being harnessed for human benefit, and the greater deleterious impact on humankind if environmentalist radicals are empowered with the legal standing to impose their ideology on the rest of us by court order?

For a certain class of liberal journalist, such practical concerns are of little consequence — or perhaps, just not as much fun to write about — and they rate only a bare mention from Kolbert. But as the nature-rights movement grows in influence, the rest of us had better ponder what its success would mean. Our future well-being depends on ensuring that the “rights” remain exclusively within the human realm.

Media

Death Watch for CNN+ Has Already Begun

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CNN
(Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters)

How long will CNN+, an utterly doomed proposition that has already spent $300 million and attracted virtually no viewers in its first month, last? Two years? One? Will it even make it to the midterms?

Insiders are already leaking damaging information to rival news outlets, with both Axios and CNBC getting in on the fun this week. The former reports that the new streaming service is looking at losses of hundreds of millions, and is already planning layoffs and scaling back its original planned investment of $1 billion. The latter reports that “fewer than 10,000” are watching the app on any given day. What does that mean? Five thousand? Three? One? Is anybody watching? Zero is fewer than 10,000. Why would anybody watch? They’re dying to pay 6 bucks a month for a little more Wolf Blitzer?

Launching a big, bold new gamble when the company was on the verge of being sold and changing corporate leadership was a demented move on the part of outgoing WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who seemingly wanted to leave a monument to his greatness as he was being kicked out into the alley with the food scraps. Kilar is the guy who famously gave a Master-of-the-Universe interview bragging about his visionary vision to the Wall Street Journal at the exact moment his bosses at AT&T were selling the company without telling him to folks who had new management in mind. Kilar is a kind of Daffy Duck character who is always telling everybody that his schemes make perfect sense, even when he presided over such catastrophes as driving the company’s signature filmmaker out of the company and into the arms of a rival. True to form, Kilar went out the door bragging about CNN+, which he farcically claimed was exceeding his expectations just a week ago.

The incoming boss of what is now called Warner Bros. Discovery, CEO David Zaslav, has been, shall we say, tempered in his enthusiasm for this white-elephant project. He has no skin in the game, no sentimental attachment. CNN+ is somebody else’s baby. How long will he keep losing money because of his numbskull predecessor’s mistake? My guess is: not long at all.

Media

Lachlan Murdoch Steps into the Right

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Lachlan Murdoch speaks at the Centre For The Australian Way Of Life in Sydney, Australia, March 29, 2022. ( Institute of Public Affairs/YouTube)

In the era of conservative cancellations, I’m often asked a plaintive question: “What happens when Rupert Murdoch is gone?”

Fox News regulars know that they have no real alternative in the television-news universe and worry that the successor to the 91-year-old mogul will move the channel leftward.

As a former Fox News VP and host of a podcast, I’ve followed the Murdoch family dynamics for decades, and I always hedged my answer. I hoped, but wasn’t certain, that Rupert’s successor would value the channel’s billion-dollar profits enough to maintain it as a conservative antidote to mainstream television news.

I don’t need to hedge anymore.

Lachlan, now executive chairman and CEO of Fox Corporation, recently emerged from behind the scenes and gave a coming-out speech that could have been aired on Fox News itself. His words were radically different from those of both mainstream-media bosses and his siblings.

I’ve been in enough meetings with the Murdochs to know that the siblings bear virtually no relationship to their moronic doppelgangers in HBO’s Succession. Yet Rupert’s children never really gave us a reason to think their support for the company went beyond bare tolerance.

But in his speech at the Centre for the Australian Way Of Life, Lachlan pulled no punches, and his “bro” persona may never recover.

He spoke about the importance of a country’s values, and warned of the dangers when great societies failed to uphold and celebrate the values that made them so.

He bemoaned a recent poll showing that just 55 percent of Americans would stay and fight if invaded like Ukraine, with 38 percent saying they’d flee the country, asking, “How can we expect people to defend the values, interests, and sovereignty of this nation if we teach our children only our faults and none of our virtues?”

He talked about “the damage done to the American psyche” when media and politicians attack a country’s core values, slammed the “destructive rewriting of its history,” and told Australians to “learn from this cautionary tale.”

He went beyond those generic, and somewhat safe, statements as he homed in on current issues.

He took on Covid alarmism, hitting the press especially hard for not asking tough questions but bowing to a government narrative and a flawed WHO. He criticized the “1619 Project” because it “recast American exceptionalism as racist from inception.” He hit Twitter and Facebook censorship, invoked George Orwell, and mentioned the cover-up of the Hunter Biden laptop story. He defended free speech.

Ironically, his speech got little attention, especially in the conservative press, and few people saw it online. You can watch the full 30-minute version here and a shorter version here.

World

Putin Says Peace Talks at ‘Dead End’

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Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, April 7, 2022. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has been a shambolic — yet brutal — commander in chief during his war in Ukraine. The Russian armed forces have incurred nearly 19,000 casualties and lost over 400 tanks while failing to capture Kyiv and other major cities. Their burnt armored columns now dot the Ukrainian countryside as naked monuments to this failure. Yet, “to err is human; to blame it on someone else is politics,” said Hubert Humphrey. Ever the shrewd politician, Putin aims to blame supposed Ukrainian transgressions for the war’s protraction.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Putin proclaimed that the Istanbul process — i.e., ongoing peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, hosted by Turkey — has reached “a dead end.” He accused Ukraine of “deviating from the Istanbul agreements . . . in respect of Crimea, Sevastopol, and the Donbas,” without providing details. It doesn’t take a genius to infer what he meant: Ukraine (correctly) refused to cede its full sovereignty over these Russian-occupied territories as a condition for peace. Such a demand was a non-starter from the very outset; these territories were Ukrainian, to which Russia has no claim. Putin’s insistence here is high chutzpah. Hence, his abrupt dismissal of the talks is a bald move to save face — vaguely blaming Ukraine for the impasse, which he hopes can stave off embarrassment.

Meanwhile, Putin says that Russia’s military operation will “continue to [its] complete end.” Under the new leadership of General Alexsandr Dvornikov, known best for destroying Aleppo in Syria, Russian forces are beginning a second offensive in the Donbas. As the U.S. Department of Defense reports, an “eight-mile convoy” of Russian troops and armor is heading to the region. After the failed invasion of Kyiv, Putin’s pivot has been to enlarge territories of the Russian-backed Donetsk and Luhansk separatist republics, giving him proxy control of Ukraine’s East.

His “dead end” comment, in this context, becomes a pretext — to justify a new offensive when diplomacy has supposedly failed. A flimsy casus belli. But that doesn’t mean the next phase will be any less bloody.

Politics & Policy

Alas, Paul Gosar Won’t Be Celebrating Hitler’s Birthday

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Congressman Paul Gosar, defender of real-life white supremacists, reportedly was set to speak at an American Populist Union event on April 20 in Tempe, Ariz. — which happens to fall on Hitler’s birthday. Gosar, who recently gave a speech at a junior varsity Ku Klux Klan jamboree in Orlando, Fla., promoted the event on his Instagram page. The congressman’s spokesperson now claims that it was a just big mix-up and that he’s not attending. And, really, who among us hasn’t accidently plugged an upcoming appearance at a racist confab on the Fuhrer’s birthday?

Now, most people avoid this kind of unfortunate snafu by not associating with neo-Nazis in the first place. Of course, even if Gosar went to Tempe and delivered his speech in German, what repercussions would there be? It seems the only way Gosar is going to get into any real trouble with Kevin McCarthy is if Nancy Pelosi puts him on the January 6 committee.

Politics & Policy

Heresy Resurgent

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In this excellent essay, Paul Graham writes about the resurgence of heresy. Back in the ’90s, he observes, heresy sounded “amusingly medieval.” Today, however, it’s back in force.

The author writes, “There are an ever-increasing number of opinions you can be fired for. Those doing the firing don’t use the word “heresy” to describe them, but structurally they’re equivalent. Structurally there are two distinctive things about heresy: (1) that it takes priority over the question of truth or falsity, and (2) that it outweighs everything else the speaker has done.”

Exactly.

Why is this happening? I think Graham misses the elephant in the room — namely, the rise of hyperpartisan, ideologically loaded education. For the last few decades, students, from their earliest years in school, are taught that certain ideas are right (climate catastrophism and the imperative of striving for social justice) and that anyone who disagrees is bad. Thus, students come to see the world the way church officials used to: black and white. Bad people are not to be reasoned with; they are to be punished. If you speak up for, say, constitutionally limited government, you’ll find out what it was like to have questioned the Bible a few centuries ago.

Politics & Policy

Maryland Overrides Hogan’s Veto to Enact Expansive Pro-Abortion Law

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Maryland governor Larry Hogan speaks at the National Governors Association summer meeting in Providence, R.I., in 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The Maryland General Assembly has overridden Governor Larry Hogan’s veto to enact an expansive pro-abortion law, becoming only the 15th state in the country to allow non-physicians to perform abortions.

It’s a sign of the bill’s extremism that Hogan attempted to veto it. Though he’s a Republican, Hogan bills himself as pro-choice. Yet even he refused to support this new law, which not only allows nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and physician’s assistants to perform abortions but also requires Maryland insurance providers to cover the entire cost of an abortion procedure. It also requires Maryland to spend $3.5 million annually on training for performing abortions.

In a letter to the speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, Hogan reiterated his “commitment to take no action that would affect Maryland law where it concerns reproductive rights” but asserted that his veto is “reaffirming that commitment” because of the problems with the law.

Hogan wrote that the bill “endangers the health and lives of women by allowing non-physicians to perform abortions” and “risks lowering the high standard of reproductive health care services received by women in Maryland.”

The governor is wrong to group abortion under that umbrella — a procedure that intentionally kills a human being can’t be considered health care under any reasonable or humane definition — but he’s correct to note that the law is contrary to women’s health. Hogan notes that abortions “can, and often do, result in significant medical complications that require the attention of a licensed physician [who] have a level of education and training not received by other types of healthcare professionals.”

“The only impact that this bill would have on women’s reproductive rights would be to set back standards for women’s health care and safety,” Hogan’s letter concluded.

Nevertheless, Maryland lawmakers have decided to enact it anyway, a move that thrilled local abortion providers: “This is the standard of care in 14 other states,” said Karen J. Nelson, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. “So Maryland, who typically is on the front end of reproductive health care, actually had a little catching up to do here.”

U.S.

Kids in School Near Brooklyn Shooting Hold Up Signs: ‘Make NYC Safe Again’

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Sunset Park High School students hold up signs after the 36th street subway station shooting in Brooklyn, N.Y., April 12, 2022. (Jack Crowe)

Sunset Park, Brooklyn — As dozens of cops, firefighter, and reporters hurried back and forth outside of Sunset Park High School on Tuesday, a group of students pressed their faces to the glass and waved at the commotion while holding signs reading “Make NYC safe again.”

Area schools were locked down Tuesday morning after an unidentified man in a green construction vest entered the 36th street subway station, donned a gas mask, tossed what is believed to be a smoke grenade, and opened fire on morning commuters, striking at least ten people, five of whom are in critical condition.  Six other riders were injured in the ensuing panic.

The unidentified gunman remains at large.

Firefighters get organized outside the 36th street subway station hours after the shooting.

The students weren’t alone in drawing broader conclusions about the safety of their city from the day’s events. New York governor Kathy Hochul showed up for a press conference held hours after the shooting, addressing the mob of reporters who had fought their way through blocks of cops and fire vehicles.

“I’m committing the full resources of our state to fight this surge of crime, this insanity that is seizing our city because we want to get back to normal. It has been a long, hard two years,” Hochul said.

“Insanity” might sound a bit extreme, but the governor has the stats on her side: Crime in the city was up 59 percent in February 2022 compared with the same month last year, according to the NYPD. And the surge wasn’t confined to certain categories: every major index crime saw an increase, with car theft increasing 104 percent, robbery 56 percent, theft 79 percent, and subway crime 74 percent.

Police officials gather for a press conference at the scene of the 36th street subway shooting.

The scale of police response was staggering: I spoke to veteran reporters at the scene who said they hadn’t seen anything like it since 9/11. Even the response to the Bronx fire that killed 17 people in January was smaller, they said. As I drove away from the scene, I was seeing cops doing foot patrols with bomb-sniffing dogs ten to fifteen blocks away from the station itself.

A mass-shooting on the subway during the morning rush hour should serve as a flashing red warning sign for a city on the brink of a return to the bad old days. School kids have apparently grasped that much, let’s hope Mayor Adams and the City Council do as well.

Media

Another Source of CNN’s Delusions of Grandeur

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McKinsey & Company logo at Viva Tech in Paris, France, in 2019. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

In response to CNN Is Utterly Delusional

Charlie has already noted the absurd pretensions of CNN’s belief that CNN+, its new streaming service, would get 2 million subscribers in the U.S. in its first year and have 15–18 million after four. He draws from an Axios report that asserts CNN was prepared to spend around $1 billion on the service in its first four years but is now dramatically scaling back its plans after initial sign-ups have proved underwhelming.

CNN’s unjustified belief in its own importance and popularity are undoubtedly a part of this failed launch; the network had unreasonable expectations for the success of this product. But I want to zero in on a line from the Axios report, one I think might help explain how CNN got things so wrong:

CNN executives, with help from consulting firm McKinsey, originally expected to bring in around 2 million subscribers in the U.S. in the service’s first year and 15-18 million after four years.

“With help from consulting firm McKinsey.”

Ah. That explains it.

Science & Tech

Is Big Tech Censorship Unconstitutional?

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( metamorworks/Getty Images)

Last week, the Heritage Foundation released a petition promising “to hold Big Tech accountable”: “It is time for aggressive reforms to ensure Big Tech is held accountable,” the petition read. “As Big Tech’s influence over every day American life continues to grow, often hand-in-glove with the government, we cannot let these companies reshape our society.” But the Cato Institute’s Matthew Feeney wasn’t having it. Yesterday, Feeney criticized the new initiative on Twitter, writing:

Is Big Tech censorship a violation of constitutional rights? The answer to that question largely hinges on one’s view of powerful tech companies — i.e., whether platforms like Twitter and Facebook are akin to common carriers, serving as a kind of new digital “public square.” That’s worth debating, but — contrary to Feeney’s assertion that it’s “a radical departure from a traditional American conservative theory of rights and gov[ernmen]t” — there’s a viable conservative argument for the affirmative, as I have argued before. Clarence Thomas, whose conservative credentials are second to none, suggested as much last April. In a concurring opinion to Joseph Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University (2021), Thomas wrote: 

In many ways, digital platforms that hold themselves out to the public resemble traditional common carriers. Though digital instead of physical, they are at bottom communications networks, and they “carry” information from one user to another. A traditional telephone company laid physical wires to create a network connecting people. Digital platforms lay information infrastructure that can be controlled in much the same way. And unlike newspapers, digital platforms hold themselves out as organizations that focus on distributing the speech of the broader public. Federal law dictates that companies cannot “be treated as the publisher or speaker” of information that they merely distribute. 110 Stat. 137, 47 U. S. C. §230(c).

The analogy to common carriers is even clearer for digital platforms that have dominant market share. Similar to utilities, today’s dominant digital platforms derive much of their value from network size. The Internet, of course, is a network. But these digital platforms are networks within that network. The Facebook suite of apps is valuable largely because 3 billion people use it. Google search—at 90% of the market share—is valuable relative to other search engines because more people use it, creating data that Google’s algorithm uses to refine and improve search results. These network effects entrench these companies. Ordinarily, the astronomical profit margins of these platforms—last year, Google brought in $182.5 billion total, $40.3 billion in net income—would induce new entrants into the market. That these companies have no comparable competitors highlights that the industries may have substantial barriers to entry.

Now, if tech platforms are common carriers, as Thomas suggests, there is ample precedent in the American legal tradition for treating their censorship as a violation of constitutional rights. As Columbia Law School professor Philip Hamburger wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

Some of the material that can be restricted under Section 230 is clearly protected speech. Consider its enumeration of “objectionable” material. The vagueness of this term would be enough to make the restriction unconstitutional if Congress directly imposed it. That doesn’t mean the companies are violating the First Amendment, but it does suggest that the government, in working through private companies, is abridging the freedom of speech.

This constitutional concern doesn’t extend to ordinary websites that moderate commentary and comments; such controls are their right not only under Section 230 but also probably under the First Amendment. Instead, the danger lies in the statutory protection for massive companies that are akin to common carriers and that function as public forums. The First Amendment protects Americans even in privately owned public forums, such as company towns, and the law ordinarily obliges common carriers to serve all customers on terms that are fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory. Here, however, it is the reverse. Being unable to impose the full breadth of Section 230’s censorship, Congress protects the companies so they can do it.

Some Southern sheriffs, long ago, used to assure Klansmen that they would face no repercussions for suppressing the speech of civil-rights marchers. Under the Constitution, government cannot immunize powerful private parties in the hope that they will voluntarily carry out unconstitutional policy.

So again: The question of whether Big Tech censorship is a violation of constitutional rights, like many political issues, is complicated. But that’s precisely the point — it’s complicated. Feeney offers an easy answer to a difficult question. The Heritage Foundation is the conservative movement’s preeminent think tank; regardless of whether one agrees with every policy Heritage supports, its arguments should not be so readily dismissed. But Feeney waves away its assertion that “tech companies, in conjunction with the government, are actively and deliberately eroding” our constitutional rights as an obvious betrayal of traditional conservative principles. At the very least, that’s a simplistic reading.

Health Care

New Report Demonstrates Effectiveness of Pro-Life Laws

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Pro-life demonstrators hold issues of National Review‘s End Roe edition ahead of arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Anthony Bolognese, Capitol Hill Photo)

Last month, researchers from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization (WHO) released a study on the incidence of abortion and unintended pregnancy worldwide. The study was published in in BMJ Global Health and presents data from 150 countries dating back to the early 1990s. Because the U.S. and many other countries are working on reduce abortion rates and the rates of unintended pregnancies, these new data could be a highly useful tool for policymakers and future researchers.

But, unsurprisingly, in its presentation of the data, the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute has attempted to make it appear as though pro-life laws are totally ineffective. Specifically, the group cited statistics purporting to show that countries with pro-life laws have abortion rates similar to countries where abortion is legal. Guttmacher also shared a statistic on Twitter showing that legal protections for the preborn do not always result in women with unintended pregnancies choosing life. However, a comprehensive look at both the domestic and foreign data demonstrates that pro-life laws and initiatives are effective strategies for reducing the incidence of abortion.

For instance, the U.S. data is consistent with past Guttmacher and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data showing a longterm, durable decline in the abortion rate. According to this new report, the abortion rate in the U.S. has fallen by 48 percent since the early 1990s, partly because of a reduction in the unintended pregnancy rate. However, another key reason is because a higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term. The new report finds that approximately 50 percent of unintended pregnancies were aborted in the early 1990s, but between 2015 and 2019, that fell to 34 percent.

In other words, the report adds to existing research showing that since the 1990s, there has been a durable increase in the percentage of unintended pregnancies carried to term, a meaningful pro-life change. When speak for pro-life audiences, I cite these statistics, because if more women are choosing life for their preborn children, it is the result of pro-lifers changing hearts and minds and providing assistance to women in need through pregnancy help centers, as well as passing protective pro-life laws. The longterm, durable increase in the percentage of unintended pregnancies carried to term demonstrates that pro-life educational, service, and legislative activities are quite successful.

Internationally, the report presents data showing that in countries with pro-life protections, a higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are carried to term. In particular, data from Poland demonstrate the effectiveness of pro-life laws. Poland passed protections for unborn children in both 1990 and 1993. The 1993 law allowed abortion only in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal deformity, or serious threat to the health or life of the pregnant mother. Since the early 1990s, Poland’s abortion rate has fallen by about 76 percent. Similarly, the percentage of unintended pregnancies that are aborted fell from approximately 64 percent to 37 percent. Poland’s experience enacting pro-life laws after the fall of the Soviet Union illustrates that pro-life laws can lower abortion rates in developed countries.

This term, the Supreme Court will decide Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, considering the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. If the Court overturns Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers at the state level will have the chance to enact legal protections for preborn children. It isn’t surprising given this context that Guttmacher and other groups that support legal abortion are resorting to their tired strategy of claiming that pro-life laws are ineffective. In reality, data from numerous countries show that abortion rates increase when abortion is legalized and a range of legal protections for preborn children reduce the incidence of abortion. As always, pro-lifers would do well to stay the course.

Media

CNN Is Utterly Delusional

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(Screenshot via CNN+/YouTube)

Ever suspected that CNN might take itself a touch too seriously? You were right:

Investment and projections for CNN+ are expected to be cut dramatically in response to a low adoption rate, two sources tell Axios.

By the numbers: The news giant was initially planning to invest around $1 billion in the service over the next four years.

And what, exactly, did CNN expect?

Details: CNN executives, with help from consulting firm McKinsey, originally expected to bring in around 2 million subscribers in the U.S. in the service’s first year and 15-18 million after four years.

Why? Why did they expect that? Is CNN really that clueless about the role it now plays in the United States?

Once upon a time, CNN was a trailblazing news network. Now, it sits somewhere between being an MSNBC wannabe that can’t fully commit to the part, and being a Dadaesque form of digital airport wallpaper. The idea that CNN+ — not even real CNN, but the second-string CNN+ — was going to garner 15 million subscribers at any point in history was just delusional. NFL Sunday Ticket only has 2 million subscribers. MLB.tv has 3 million. In primetime, CNN gets fewer than a million viewers. Surely, surely, the network couldn’t truly have believed that there are that many people in America who want to pay to watch Don Lemon pretend to cry?