Politics & Policy

‘Agree with Me or I’ll Kill Myself’

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Trans pride flag at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minn., June 23, 2021 (David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)

Today, in the Senate, Senator Josh Hawley had the following conversation with Khiara M. Bridges, of the University of California, Berkeley:

Hawley: You’ve referred to people with a capacity for pregnancy. Would that be women?
Bridges: Many cis women have the capacity for pregnancy. Many cis women do not have the capacity for pregnancy. There are also trans men who are capable of pregnancy, as well as nonbinary people who are capable of pregnancy.
Hawley: So this isn’t really a women’s rights issue?
Bridges: We can recognize that this impacts women while also recognizing that it impacts other groups. Those things are not mutually exclusive, Senator Hawley.
Hawley: Your view, the core of this right is about what?
Bridges: I want to recognize that your line of questioning is transphobic, and it opens up trans people to violence by not recognizing them.
Hawley: Wow. Are you saying that I’m opening up people to violence by asking whether or not women can have pregnancies?”
Bridges: So, I want to note that one out of five transgender persons have attempted suicide. so I think it’s important that—
Hawley: Because of my line of questioning? So we can’t talk about it?
Bridges: Because denying that trans people exist, and pretending not to know that they exist—
Hawley: I’m denying that trans people exist by asking you whether you’re talking about women—?
Bridges: Are you? Are you?  Do you believe that men can get pregnant?
Hawley: No, I don’t think that men can get pregnant.
Bridges: So you’re denying that trans people exist. Thank you.

This is grotesque bullying from Bridges, and it ought to be condemned as such. First, Bridges says that Hawley’s “line of questioning is transphobic.” Next, she says that “one out of five transgender persons have attempted suicide.” When asked whether Hawley’s line of questioning is responsible for those attempted suicides, Bridges says that “denying that trans people exist, and pretending not to know that they exist” causes those suicide attempts, and then asks Hawley whether he thinks that “men can get pregnant.” When Hawley says “no,” Bridges tells him that he is “denying that trans people exist” — the very act that she just said causes one out of five transgender persons to attempt suicide.

Translation: Agree with me, or my friends will kill themselves.

No.

There is no nice way to put this, so I’ll say it bluntly: If the choice before me is between engaging in free dialogue and indulging threats of suicide, then I am on the side of the free dialogue every time. I will happily chat to anyone about anything, but I will not cower before threats of self-harm, and I do not recommend that anyone else does, either.

NR Webathon

With Apologies to Lincoln Riley

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Southern California Trojans coach Lincoln Riley during the spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, April 23, 2022. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Mark, as we pass $90,000, I don’t think there could be any better way to mark the occasion and how I feel about it than to paraphrase (with appropriate changes) the eloquent words of a great leader at an inspirational press conference last year, none other than Lincoln Riley:

This is a surreal moment to be honest. So honored to be running a webathon that is approaching its goal. It means a great deal to me.

When my colleagues first came to me with interest in this drive, the first thing that I noticed is what they felt this NR webathon could be, what they felt like we needed to do to make up the gap, and they were totally united on doing anything and everything possible to help get us to that point. As an editor — to have that support behind you from some of the most influential people in this institution — it said everything that I needed to hear. Thank you all for this opportunity to get to our goal. It means the world to me.

We’re going to put out an editorial team that hopefully you’re proud of online, but you’re proud of what they do in print, you’re proud of what they do on podcasts and that we represent you well and then we work incredibly well together.

We’re going to be committed to bringing the best staff in the country here to NR to help guide this team.

And if that doesn’t prompt you to give, I don’t know what will — especially if you are a USC fan.

Seriously, thanks for all the support, and please help put us over the top if you can.

Fiscal Policy

Biden Keeps Tax Treaty with Russia, Terminates It with Hungary

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán addresses a business conference in Budapest, Hungary, June 9, 2021. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuterss)

Brian Deese, head of the White House’s National Economic Council, explains the administration’s opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by saying: “This is about the future of the Liberal World Order, and we have to stand firm.”

But not so firm as to terminate America’s 30-year-old tax treaty with Russia, which ensures proper tax treatment of citizens of both countries.

Without the treaty, Russian investors with U.S.-sourced dividends would face a 30 percent withholding tax rate and lose preferential treatment.

The U.S. is honoring the Russian treaty at the same time it is abrogating its 43-year-old tax treaty with Hungary, punishing that country for resisting a global minimum tax of 15 percent for multinational corporations that’s being pushed by the Biden administration. As a member of the European Union, Hungary must give its approval before the EU can impose the new minimum tax.

Hungary levies a corporate tax rate of just 9 percent and insists that its low rate has attracted jobs and capital that would be lost under a new minimum tax.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s populist government has been a thorn in Biden’s side for years. During the 2020 campaign, Biden singled out Orbán as a “thug.” But Orbán, unlike Vladimir Putin, is a freely elected leader, having just defeated a united opposition by 17 points in April.

Adrian Smith and Mike Kelly, two GOP House members on the Ways and Means Committee, say Biden’s move will only add to the U.S.’s reputation as an undependable ally. They also say that, while Biden can negotiate a global minimum tax, Congress will have to enact legislation for the U.S. to be involved.

Biden is on shaky legal ground in trying to force through an anti-growth tax cartel. He is also on shaky moral ground by letting Russia keep its tax treaty while shutting down one with Hungary, a formerly Communist nation whose opening up of its borders in May 1989 accelerated the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

World

Is the West Fighting a Two-Front War?

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The coal-fired Boxberg Power Station operated by Lausitz Energie Bergbau AG (LEAG) company in Boxberg, Germany, March 22, 2022. (Matthias Rietschel/Reuters)

Germany is reconnecting coal-fired power plants to its grid, and a number of European countries are looking at doing something similar. They may soon be importing coal from as far away as South Africa and Australia. Why?

Well, because at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe tore up its cheap gas contracts with Russia. Pipelines were halted. But that didn’t change Europe’s need for Russian energy overnight. Europe is paying a much higher daily price set by Russia (often in Russia’s own currency), which is sending revenues soaring in Moscow and driving inflation in Europe, along with talk of energy rationing. Energy rationing means a slowdown of economic growth, or possibly economic contraction. So, on the energy front, that’s how the war is going in Europe for now.

The West finds itself in this position because Western states have committed to green-energy policies that had the effect of stalling or outright halting investment in carbon based energy — the source of over 80 percent of the world’s energy. It’s not just Europe. Upon taking office, Joe Biden immediately canceled the Keystone pipeline from Canada, sending Canada searching for infrastructure that would allow them to sell their energy to Japan and China.

Here’s the question: How long can the West afford to fight a two-front war, against Putin on one side and climate change on the other?

Culture

More about ‘Orange’

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Members of rival teams fling oranges during an annual carnival known as the “Battle of the Oranges” in the northern Italian town of Ivrea, February 11, 2018. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Of the many controversial subjects in this week’s edition of the Tuesday, one stood out for a reader: the question of how the older English word narenge became the modern English word orange.

The standard explanation is that this is an example of a “false separation,” i.e., for most English speakers “a norange” sounds identical to “an orange.” (I’m writing for pronunciation here, not spelling.) That’s how nadder became adder and how napron became apron.

But how come the French word lost its n, too? A reader wants to know.

Did the English somehow influence the French? Unlikely, my correspondent argues, inasmuch as French was the high-status language and English the low-status one until the day before yesterday, with those Norman and Angevin kings of England speaking little or no English and French being the language of court, diplomacy, and, to a considerable extent, trade. But did William the Conqueror somehow vector an English infection back through French after that unpleasantness at Hastings?

It is possible that the English influenced the French, that the French influenced the English, that the two languages underwent mutually reinforcing change at a time of extensive intercourse between the two, or that the English and French words gave up the n independent of one another but for the same reason: In French, “une norange” would sound very much like “une orange.” The pronunciation probably would be something like “U-norange” in either case, but what the hearer would perceive might as easily be “une orange” as “une norange.”

Elsewhere in the Romance realm, the n survives in the Spanish una naranja.

Something like naranja probably made its way into English through the familiar career of Sanskrit to Persian to Arabic to Spanish to French to English, with a word of approximately that pronunciation meaning “orange tree” in Sanskrit. The n survives in the Persian word pronounced naranji and among the northern Indian languages in the Odia word pronounced narangi. (I’m relying on online dictionaries and reference books here and linguistically out over my skis, so please correct any errors.) The Latin aurantius doesn’t appear before the 15th century, so it may be a Medieval invention, reflecting the then-current n-less pronunciations in French and English. (Sometimes, you have to make up new Latin. The Holy See, naturally, has a Latin guy on staff.) Words get around.

Besides losing the n, what orange has in common with apron is that, however each evolved into its current form, neither has a rhyme in English, as far as I can tell.

If the equestrian term curple continues to survive, it will be only so that something rhymes with purple.

You don’t know that word? You should.

A curple is a horse’s ass.

Which reminds me that I’m supposed to write occasionally about politics. So, back to work.

Culture

Charlie, You Insensitive Clod!

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It’s mex culpx.

Economy & Business

Get Ready for Another Month of Bad Inflation Numbers

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre listens during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 15, 2022. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

Tomorrow, at 8:30 a.m., the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the inflation numbers for the month of June. No one knows exactly what those numbers will be, but most economy-watchers expect they will be bad. Last month inflation was 8.6 percent; the Fed consensus projection is 8.8 percent, and economists polled by Reuters are forecasting annual inflation of 8.7 percent.

Yesterday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre hinted that the White House expects bad numbers as well:

So, on Wednesday, we will have new CPI inflation data, and we expect the headline number, which includes gas and food, to be highly elevated, mainly because gas prices were so elevated in June.

Gas and food prices continue to be heavily impacted by the war in Ukraine. And there are a few important points to keep in mind when we get this backwards-looking data.

First, June CPI data is already out of date because energy prices have come down substantially this month and are expected to fall further.

The average retail price of gas was 11 percent higher in June than it was in May.  And the cost of gas in July is already down 7 percent from the June peak.

I have a chart here for you guys to — to see. The crude oil is the yellow. I’m sorry, the crude oil is the blue at the bottom, and the retail gasoline price is at the top. And you can see the difference there.

First, all data is “backwards-looking data.” There’s no such thing as “forwards-looking data.” That sort of thing is called a “projection,” which is a (hopefully) educated guess at what’s going to happen next.

Yes, gas and food prices globally are higher because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but even Joe Biden was talking about high gas prices in November, well before Russia invaded Ukraine.

And while it is nice to see gas prices down that 7 percent or so, the national average price for a gallon of regular is now $4.65 — better than the $5.01 in mid-June, but still quite high by historical standards.

The inflation numbers for June are probably going to be terrible. (No wonder the president wanted to get out of town when they’re announced; Biden will be overseas, in Israel, Wednesday.) The numbers for July probably won’t be that good either, and don’t get your hopes too high for August. Once it starts, high inflation is difficult to get under control.

Health Care

Another Violent Cannabis User

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Miranda Devine, writing in the New York Post, asks, “Did reefer drive the Highland Park parade ‘killer’ Robert Crimo to madness?” She’s asking because she’s identified something of a pattern. Namely, “alienated young male stoners.” She writes:

The New York Times last month warned of the high potency of cannabis products in the newly deregulated legal market and the potentially harmful effects to young brains: “Psychosis, Addiction, Chronic Vomiting: As Weed Becomes More Potent, Teens Are Getting Sick.”

THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, 20 years ago was at about 4% potency, but today’s Big Weed products are close to 100%.

We have known for at least 15 years that cannabis use can increase the risk of psychosis in susceptible people by about 40%, according to the medical journal Lancet.

In a National Review piece published earlier this year, I reported the warning from Robin Murray, a leading psychiatrist and a professor of psychiatric research at King’s College London:

If 100 people smoke cannabis with 15 percent THC content every day, five of them will develop frank [i.e., blatant] clinical psychosis; if they smoke cannabis containing 30 percent THC every day, then 10 of them will develop psychosis. This compares with 1 percent risk in the general population. For comparison — in 100 tobacco smokers, about 10 will get lung cancer.

Law & the Courts

The Empathy Gap in Transgender Prison Policy

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“The Biden administration spent nearly $1.5 million to produce ‘transgender programming curriculum’ for inmates held in the nation’s 122 federal prisons,” Robert Schmad at the Free Beacon reports. This programming includes helping inmates “manage identity concerns during incarceration” as well as helping them access hormone treatment after their release. Schmad rightly notes: “The Biden administration’s push for transgender accommodations in federal prisons comes amid a spike in sexual assaults committed by biologically male inmates in women’s prisons. Female prisoners have sued state governments, citing sexual assault concerns, in an attempt to keep male-to-female transgender inmates in men’s prisons.”

I can understand why people find transgender-identifying people sympathetic and think they should be given special treatment. But characters like Cristina Iglesias — a convicted terrorist who became the first inmate to receive federally funded sex reassignment — don’t exactly tug at the heartstrings. In fact, far more sympathetic are the female inmates increasingly at risk from violent male criminals now identifying as women. Perhaps the Biden administration should spend more of its time and money helping them.

Politics & Policy

Decline in Pro-Life Sentiment among Minorities Raises Doubts about Gallup Poll

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Pro-life demonstrators celebrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court rules in the Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization abortion case overturning Roe v. Wade in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

A recent Gallup poll found an increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as “pro-choice,” results that received a considerable amount of media coverage. The short-term gain in support for legal abortion seemed plausible, since much of the poll was conducted after the leak of the draft Dobbs majority opinion in May.

But a closer look at the demographic breakdown of the survey results raises serious concerns about the reliability of this particular poll. In particular, nearly all of the gain in support for legal abortion appears to have taken place among racial and ethnic minorities. What’s more, the poll results suggest that there was an implausibly large decline in pro-life sentiment among Hispanics.

Even though the poll found an overall increase in support for legal abortion, it also found that abortion attitudes among white Americans remained relatively stable. Specifically, the poll found that 14 percent of whites thought abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances. Gallup polls between 2018 and 2021 found that 16 percent of whites thought that abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances. This question, then, and several other questions included in the Gallup abortion survey, found little change in abortion attitudes among white respondents.

But at the same time, this latest Gallup survey found sizable increases in support for legal abortion among racial and ethnic minorities. For instance, the poll found that only 10 percent of “people of color” thought that abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances. Previous Gallup polls, however, had indicated that 23 percent of “total Hispanic or non-white Americans” said abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances. A 13-point drop over such a short timespan seems highly unlikely, especially given that the overall abortion attitudes of non-minorities exhibited little change. It also seems unlikely that the leaked Dobbs opinion would have a far greater effect on the views of racial and ethnic minorities than on the views of whites.

Gallup has not released specific data on the views of either African Americans or Hispanics from the 2022 abortion survey. But an analysis of the views of African Americans and Hispanics from other recent Gallup polls raises additional concerns. In past abortion surveys, Gallup has surveyed a similar number of African Americans and Hispanics. In Gallup polls conducted between 2017 and 2019, 16 percent of African Americans said abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances. In the aftermath of the leak of the draft Dobbs decision, a decline from 16 percent to about 10 percent appears plausible.

Even so, I find it implausible that approximately 10 percent of Hispanics think that abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances, in part because Gallup polls conducted between 2017 and 2019 found that 34 percent of Hispanics thought that abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances. A decline of approximately 24 points in less than five years strains credulity. It should be noted that Gallup also categorizes some other racial groups, including Asian Americans and Native Americans, as “people of color.” However, since these racial groups constitute a small percentage of the survey, shifts in opinions among these racial groups would have relatively little effect on changes in overall abortion attitudes among racial minorities.

This new Gallup poll also has unusual findings regarding the abortion attitudes of low-income earners. In Gallup polls between 2018 and 2021,  24 percent of those making less than $40,000 a year said abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances. But the latest poll finds that only 15 percent of those making less than $40,000 a year said the same. A nine-point drop over a short time period is surprising. It should also be noted that nearly every reputable abortion survey finds that pro-life sentiment among low income earners is significantly above average. However, the fact this Gallup survey finds that the abortion attitudes of low-income earners are close to the survey average raises additional doubts about this poll’s accuracy.

Trends in the abortion attitudes of Hispanics and low income earners play an important role in debates over sanctity of life issues.  One argument often made by supporters of legal abortion is that pro-life laws place an unfair burden on low income earners and racial minorities.  However, pro-lifers have effectively responded by citing polling data going back to the 1970s showing strong opposition to abortion among individuals with below average incomes.  Similarly, many polls are showing greater opposition to abortion among Hispanics.  In fact, a 2019 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) poll found that Hispanics were the ethnic group least supportive of the legality of abortion.

Pundits with an interest in life issues look forward to the release of the annual Gallup abortion poll. Since Gallup has consistently conducted polls on abortion for an extended period of time, its data are helpful in identifying trends in abortion attitudes. Unfortunately, the results of the May 2022 Gallup poll raise serious concerns about the accuracy of this particular survey. It makes little sense that nearly all of the gains in support for legal abortion took place among racial minorities. Furthermore, the results imply an implausibly large decline in support for the pro-life position among Hispanics.

As such, I am asking Gallup to provide a detailed racial breakdown of the results from their 2022 abortion poll and to consider commissioning another poll on abortion attitudes in the very near future. Surveys inform public-policy debates, and abortion has become a salient political issue in the aftermath of the reversal of Roe. Accurate and detailed information about the abortion attitudes of key political demographics would certainly benefit activists, legislators, and the general public.

Elections

Democrats’ Hope: Trump 2024 — Make Biden President Again!

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For the second time in four months, I am seconding Charlie (and this time, Dan, too) on its being painfully obvious that Republicans are suicidal if they don’t run away — don’t just walk — from the lunatic notion of making Donald Trump their 2024 presidential nominee. I won’t repeat what I wrote a year ago, other than to summarize that a GOP nomination of Trump is President Biden’s best chance, and probably his only chance, of being reelected.

As the House January 6 committee starts up its proceedings again today, it is worth remembering why the Democrats have orchestrated them to take place now, even though the Capitol riot — followed closely by Trump’s impeachment — was 18 months ago. They want to draw attention to him in hopes of drawing it away from Biden. They want to run against the specter of Trump in the midterms, in hopes of provoking him into running — and Republicans into nominating him — in 2024.

He’s their savior, not ours.

U.S.

More Details Emerge about Police Response and the Timeline of the Uvalde Shooting

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Police tape marks the crime scene at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 30, 2022. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Since I published a timeline of the Robb Elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a few items have come up that are worth examination.

First, it’s alleged by a new report from Texas State University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) group that a Uvalde officer had sighted in on the gunman as the latter approached the school, but the officer first called for permission to fire. Upon hearing nothing from his superior, the officer re-sighted, but the gunman had already entered the school through a closed but unlocked exterior door. The report states:

A Uvalde PD officer reported that he was at the crash site and observed the suspect carrying a rifle prior to the suspect entering the west hall exterior door. The UPD officer was armed with a rifle and sighted in to shoot the attacker; however, he asked his supervisor for permission to shoot. The UPD officer did not hear a response and turned to get confirmation from his supervisor. When he turned back to address the suspect, the suspect had already entered the west hall exterior door at 11:33:00. The officer was justified in using deadly force to stop the attacker. Texas Penal Code § 9.32, DEADLY FORCE IN DEFENSE OF PERSON states, an individual is justified in using deadly force when the individual reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to prevent the commission of murder (amongst other crimes).

Second, ALERRT’s well-documented and concise report contributes additional information about how officers failed to engage the gunman and how the steady increase in police manpower and equipment thereafter was not matched by an added urgency to neutralize the gunman.

The report states:

In addition to information that should have increased the exigency of the situation, a variety of factors increased the capabilities of the officers while dealing with these threats. These included breaching tools, shields, tactical operators, and CS gas. Please refer to Figure 8 on page 20 for a detailed timeline of the factors that increased both exigency and officer capability. Breaching Tools. A UPD officer stated that they had a Halligan at 11:41:30 when asked by dispatch if the doors were locked. This tool was not seen on camera, and if he was referring to the tool being on scene or at the UPD is unclear. A Halligan tool was captured on camera at 12:35:39. A USO deputy arrives on scene with a sledgehammer at 12:47:57. This completed the toolset needed to breach an outward opening door.

Ballistic Shields. The first ballistic shield arrives on scene at 11:52:08. A second ballistic shield arrived at 12:03:51, a third ballistic shield arrived at 12:04:16, and a fourth ballistic shield arrived at 12:20:46. Each ballistic shield afforded first responders additional protection from potential gunfire. We do not have information about the ballistic rating of each shield at this point.

Tactical Operators. While many officers flowed through the scene, the first known tactical operators (i.e., BORTAC) arrived at 12:15:27. BORTAC operators receive extensive training and equipment to respond to barricaded suspects. Additionally, it is common for tactical operations to be turned over to tactical operators upon their arrival; however, it appears that control of tactical operations was not given to the tactical operators on scene.

CS Gas. Between 12:10:17 and 12:14:10, gas masks were passed out and CS gas cannisters and launchers were on scene. The assault team entered the room at 12:50:03, 1 hour, 11 minutes, and 26 seconds after the first responding officers took static positions. The assault team had keys that could unlock the door. It does not appear that any officer ever tested the doors to see if they were locked. As we described earlier, we do not believe the door to room 111 was locked. As this section illustrates, there were multiple points in time where the driving force increased through additional gunfire; however, officers did not act on these increases in driving force. Additionally, officers on scene continually received additional equipment and tactical components that increased their capabilities to address the suspect. Ultimately it is unclear why the officers decided to assault the room at 12:50:03. There was no apparent change in driving force or response capability at this point. While we do not have definitive information at this point, it is possible that some of the people who died during this event could have been saved if they had received more rapid medical care. In the next part of this AAR, we intend to address that Stop the Dying portion of the response that occurred following the killing of the suspect. Additionally, we have noted in this report that it does not appear that effective incident command was established during this event. The lack of effective command likely impaired both the Stop the Killing and Stop the Dying parts of the response. The final part of this AAR will address incident command issues.

Third, in an interview with National Review, retired NYPD police sergeant and host of the Police Off the Cuff podcast Bill Cannon shared about types of policing and what immediate changes schools can implement to improve police-response time, locational accuracy, and communication with staff.

To better understand the composition of police forces, Cannon suggests separating them into two camps — that of the “Warrior” caste, and the other “Guardians.” When responding to an active shooter, the best men to have there are the warriors, those who look to immediately confront the shooter no matter the harm inflicted on themselves. The Guardians, on the other hand, are at their best when community policing, doing the soft but necessary work of meeting the general needs of public. In the context of Uvalde, the BORTAC officers would be squarely in the former group, whereas the school district and local police might be better considered as the latter. 

As the ALERRT report puts it, “it is not surprising that officers who had never been shot at before would be overwhelmed by the directed gunfire. This is especially the case if they had not been consistently training to deal with this type of threat.”

This does not absolve the first officers at the scene, but may help illuminate their inability or hesitancy in pushing forward after initially taking fire. Cannon and ALERRT repeatedly emphasized the necessity of confronting the shooter, with Cannon further offering that officers must obey orders of those above them but are permitted to disobey an unlawful order. This naturally would be extremely difficult in the moment for any one officer to consider were UCISD Chief Arredondo telling him not to enter the classroom, but holds nonetheless. 

The police’s assumption of a hostage situation stance was bluntly described as “bullsh**” by Cannon, who reiterated the officers’ knowledge of wounded victims within the room and the need for everyone — police and victims alike — to take aggressive actions toward the shooter until he was neutralized. 

When asked about what schools are to do going forward as gun control and other unrealistic and specious solutions are considered in legislatures, Cannon commended Nassau County’s adoption of the RAVE application as a practical, inexpensive, and immediately available tool for teachers and first responders. The app, downloaded on the phones of school staff, would be able to contact the officers’ devices directly, alerting them of the location and nature of a school emergency like an active shooter. The app removes the intermediary of a dispatcher and relays, allowing an on-scene officer to speak directly to a barricaded educator. Her exact location, a crucial piece of information that was unknown to Uvalde officers, is pinged to the officer, who can move confidently to the threat. When seconds matter, this simple app can use wi-fi and cellular data — meaning the signal is more reliable than radios and cell service alone in school structures, often made of cement and steel.

While no one system will prevent school shootings, Cannon stressed the benefits of “concentric defenses” — a combination of physical fortification, communication, and training that slows the ability of an attacker to achieve his goals while allowing officers an expeditious response time and greater odds of immediately identifying and neutralizing the target. 

An item to look for in the coming days is the release of the full 77 minutes of hallway video. Calls for the release of the school-camera footage are coming loudly and frequently from Texas state lawmakers but have thus far been rebuffed by Uvalde’s district attorney, who is reviewing the footage for possible charges. It falls to her as to when the video will be released.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Interest Rates

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Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute argues that Washington is unprepared for higher interest rates:

Washington, perched for now on top of a mountain of debt, can ill afford higher interest rates. For the past few years, short-sighted lawmakers, economists, and columnists have demanded that Congress take advantage of low interest rates by engaging in a massive borrowing spree. Indeed, President Biden’s enormous spending agenda was often justified by the low interest rates on government borrowing.

This case never made sense for two reasons. First, Washington was already projected to add $100 trillion in baseline deficits over the next three decades due primarily to Social Security and Medicare shortfalls. Even with low rates, interest costs were projected by the CBO to become the most expensive item in the federal budget and consume half of all tax revenues within a few decades. Additional borrowing would deepen the hole.

Second, Washington never locked in the recent low interest rates. In fact, the average maturity on the federal debt has fallen to 62 months. If interest rates rise at any point in the future, nearly the entire escalating national debt would roll over into those rates within a decade. Consequently, continued federal borrowing means gambling America’s economic future on the hope that interest rates never rise again. And there is no backup plan if rates do rise.

Read the whole thing here.

Elections

Biden Is Politically Dead, and Yet He Still Beats Donald Trump in the Polls

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President Biden and Former President Trump (Lukas Barth & Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On the homepage today, Rich writes that “for the good of the country, Biden shouldn’t run again.”

The same is true of Donald Trump.

In my view, there are many, many reasons for this — not least that Trump permanently disqualified himself from consideration with his behavior after the 2020 election. But, whether or not you agree with me about that, you can surely grasp that, as a political matter, Donald Trump is a spent force?

Yesterday’s New York Times poll sent shockwaves through the political world. It found that President Biden’s approval rating is at 33 percent; that “more than two-thirds of independents also now disapprove of the president’s performance”; that “more than three-quarters of registered voters see the United States moving in the wrong direction”; that “only 13 percent of American voters said the nation was on the right track”; and that “94 percent of Democrats under the age of 30 said they would prefer a different presidential nominee.” This is disastrous.

And yet:

One glimmer of good news for Mr. Biden is that the survey showed him with a narrow edge in a hypothetical rematch in 2024 with former President Donald J. Trump: 44 percent to 41 percent.

That’s right. Joe Biden is on political death row. And yet, in the same poll that has delivered his death warrant, he still beats Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup. If Republican primary voters look at this information and decide to nominate Trump again anyway, they will have nobody to blame for the consequences but themselves.

Books

The New Puritans

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Black Lives Matter protesters outside the Detroit Golf Club in Detroit, Mich., July 5, 2020. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Critics of the rigid and imperious ideological extremism of the modern Left now often reach for the vocabulary of religious fanaticism to explain what has happened to progressives. Sometimes that vocabulary is deployed metaphorically — I’ve done that myself on occasion, as have many smarter and abler people. And sometimes it’s intended more literally, as in John McWhorter’s fascinating recent book. I think there is something to learn from such arguments, but I’ve always found myself feeling like none of them quite puts its finger on the kind of religious impulse we are witnessing, so that too many such efforts end up being needlessly simplistic and insulting either about genuinely religious people or about the progressives being described in these terms.

Or at least, I’ve always felt that way until now. In his new book The Rise of the New Puritans, Noah Rothman (associate editor of the great Commentary magazine) has finally made sense of this facet of the character of the woke Left. It is, he notes, a form of Puritanism, for good and bad.

It is in this respect thoroughly American. In fact, Alexis de Tocqueville argued that Puritanism was the source of some of what is most American about us Americans — the “point of departure” of the entire grand experiment. And Tocqueville added that “Puritanism was almost as much a political theory as a religious doctrine.” Rothman suggests much the same, and sees elements of the Puritan framework of intense piety, the hunting of heretics, a peculiar austerity and temperance, and ambition for social transformation underlying the Left’s contemporary moral and political ambitions.

This means he doesn’t see it as all bad — or at least he goes out of his way to grant that its intentions are in many instances benevolent, and that even its excesses are generally rooted in what he aptly calls “a burst of moral enthusiasm.” But those excesses have quickly come to dominate the project as a whole, and they ultimately render the contemporary progressive project anathema to the American spirit and a menace to the larger society. “The climate fostered by the New Puritans is both humorless and totalitarian,” Rothman writes. He shows that its humorlessness in particular is more important than it might first appear, and that it opens up a tremendous vulnerability for the Left.

Those excesses of today’s woke progressivism, in their different forms, are Rothman’s subject. He classifies them persuasively, and shows how they are connected by linking each to a distinct facet of the Puritan framework. The result is a book brimming with clarifying insights and illuminating formulations.

If there is one theme I might have liked to see explored a bit more it is the simple but peculiar fact that today’s Puritanism makes its home on the cultural left. This tells us something about the New Puritanism as a doctrine. It means for one thing that it is not rooted in a Christian ethic, at least not explicitly, and therefore that its worldly severity is not moderated by humility before the divine — it is, in a word, prideful, and its pridefulness (unlike that of the original Puritans) is not hypocritical and is therefore utterly shameless.

But it also tells us something about the sociology of our politics. In America, though not in England, Puritans have been integralists. They have seen themselves as the rightful owners of society’s institutions, and that has meant that the party in our politics that has exhibited Puritan tendencies has generally been the “inside” party — the one that implicitly assumes that this is its own society and that the threats it faces are threats from outside forces eager to break in and take over. The “outside” party in our politics has always been more wild and disorderly, more fun, but also more inclined to imagine that progress requires blowing up the establishment.

Judged along this axis, you’d have to say that the Left and Right have switched sides a few times in the course of our history. But at least in the latter half of the 20th century, the Right tended to see itself as the “inside” party — the party of propriety and standards, that sought to defend the institutions from invasions by barbarians, vulgarians, and miscreants. This has been the case even when those awful people were for all intents and purposes running those institutions — and so the modern Right has sought to save the courts from the judges and (with much less success) the universities from the professors. The Left, meanwhile, tended to see itself as the “outside” party, shocking the sensibilities of the elites and fighting the establishment — even though the elites and the establishment have voted for the Democrats for decades. In this century, however, the parties have basically switched sides in this respect, or maybe have come to recognize a change in the underlying society. Today’s Right implicitly understands itself as the outside party, oppressed by the powerful and banging on the windows of the institutions. Today’s Left implicitly understands itself as the insider, enforcing norms and demanding conformity.

Think of it this way: When the inside party refuses to face the fact that it lost a close election, it might tell itself the Russians interfered to distort the result. That’s the sort of thing you might have heard on the right in the latter half of the 20th century, but it’s the kind of thing the Left says now. When the outside party refuses to face the fact that it lost a close election, it tells itself that the elites who run the government and the elites who run the corporations conspired to silence the public. That’s the kind of thing the Left might have said in the latter half of the 20th century, but is very much what the Right says now. The outside party argues for free speech on campus — as the student radicals of the 1960s did and the College Republicans of the 2020s do. The inside party tells them they’re betraying the purpose of the university.

A left-wing Puritanism is easier to understand in light of this peculiar reversal. In fact, a huge amount of what’s going on in our political culture is easier to understand in light of it. But for the most part, the effect of the reversal is not clarifying but deeply confusing for everyone involved. So just as the Left risks losing sight of what it’s actually trying to improve or change in American life at this point and becoming mindlessly censorious of all dissenters, so the Right risks losing sight of what is worth conserving in American society and falling into a mindless and inexpiable war with all establishments.

Avoiding this requires greater clarity about the state of our society. And arriving at such clarity first could be a real advantage to whichever side of our politics can manage it. As Rothman ably shows, the New Puritanism is not strong but brittle. It is ridiculous, and is increasingly vulnerable to ridicule. Its folly looks likely to cost the Democratic Party dearly in the coming years. But to make the most of the opportunity its weakness presents, conservatives would be wise to see that what is called for is not an equal and opposite folly but a recovery of sanity and balance — a way of pointing out the absurdity of the New Puritans, yes, but also of offering the country relief from absurdity.

Noah Rothman’s smart, engaging, and wonderfully well-written book is a great place to start on both fronts.

International

Europe’s Gas Crunch: House of Cards Looking a Little Shaky

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Pipes at the landfall facilities of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline in Lubmin, Germany, March 8, 2022. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)

In the most recent Capital Letter, I wrote about the (natural) gas crunch that will lie ahead for Germany if Moscow either fails to reopen the Nord Stream 1 pipelines (currently just beginning their annual shutdown for maintenance) or, when they reopen (due July 22), maintains the flow through those pipelines at their current reduced levels.

Under the circumstances there is a somewhat painful irony about this story from Bloomberg’s Rachel Morison (my emphasis added):

Short-term German power prices more than doubled as calm weather and the expected halt of gas flows on the Nord Stream pipeline crimped supplies.

Power for Monday surged to the highest since early March with wind generation forecast to remain at very low levels for the next few days. There will also be less gas available for power plants with Nord Stream scheduled to halt on Monday. . . .

Wind power output in Europe’s biggest power market peaked at 8,242 megawatts at midnight and is poised to fall to about 2,000 megawatts on Tuesday, according to a Bloomberg model.

Never mind. Even if the Russians have been letting Germany down (an event that has been predictable since Germany built up a dependency on “cheap” Russian gas without any plan B during the Merkel years), and even if the wind hasn’t been blowing as much as might have been hoped (something that has been predictably unpredictable over the ages), at least the sun will come to the rescue:

♪♪The sun has got his hat on, hip-hip-hip-hooray

The sun has got his hat on and he’s coming out today

Now we’ll all be happy, hip-hip-hip-hooray

The sun has got his hat on and he’s coming out today..♪♪

Well, yes and no.

Bloomberg:

[Germany’s] solar panels will generate a peak of 24,254 megawatts on Monday, far below the record of 36,833 megawatts set on June 15.

Mind you:

Prices are likely to come under more pressure this week as a heatwave spreads to Germany from July 16. Temperatures in Frankfurt are forecast to reach 37.5 degrees Celsius on July 18, according to Maxar Technologies LLC.

One of the great achievements of modernity has been the degree to which it has enabled an increasingly large segment of humanity to carry on its business regardless of the weather. That achievement is now going into reverse and, worse still, been treated as if it were some sort of sin.

But Germany’s failure is also a monumental failure of planning (words that, when government is involved, tend to go together) somewhat at odds with the public image of Merkel as an epitome of prudence.

Germany’s mistake was Germany’s mistake, but, as reckless and ill-conceived as it was, it’s an error that will be dwarfed in both stupidity and arrogance if the U.S. chooses to go the same way.

But that couldn’t happen here, could it?

The White House (June 6):

Today’s clean energy technologies are a critical part of the arsenal we must harness to lower energy costs for families, reduce risks to our power grid, and tackle the urgent crisis of a changing climate. From day one, President Biden has mobilized investment in these critical technologies. Thanks to his clean energy and climate agenda, last year marked the largest deployment of solar, wind, and batteries in United States history. . . .

Oh.

To be clear, I am not saying that there is no role for renewables. There clearly is, but in the right place, and in the right time, and with reliable backup. That, however, is not where Germany is, and it’s not where the U.S. will be either, not for now. Under the circumstances, to neglect (or underinvest in) our existing energy systems is an act of quite astonishing recklessness, but that seems to be the direction in which we are heading.

Meanwhile, looking back at Europe, Bloomberg’s (indispensable) Javier Blas warns that (natural gas) markets are pricing in higher prices for rather longer than the immediate crunch (my emphasis added):

European natural gas prices are still well below the all-time high set in March. Dig a bit deeper, however, and they are signaling a more protracted disruption than markets anticipated in the immediate aftermath of  Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

While the gas market then priced in a short-lived crisis, lasting perhaps a couple of months, it’s now flashing extreme danger for next winter, through 2023 and, increasingly, into 2024. Over the last few days, the whole European gas price curve has repriced at a much higher level.

The shift in the forward curve has been the most notable development of the gas market in the past month — one that’s not gathering enough attention in European capitals. But industry is keenly aware, as it’s bearing the cost. Back in March, a German manufacturer could lock in gas prices for all of 2023 at about 80 euros per megawatt hour; now, it has to pay a record high 145 euros to hedge the same price risk. . . .

The market is right to reprice the gas curve; the only question is why it took so long. There’s further risk ahead: At some point, Moscow will completely turn off the tap, probably just before the winter, to try to bring the German economy to its knees. That’s an outcome the market hasn’t priced yet.

And it should be stressed that this is not just a German problem, although both the failings of its existing policy and its vital strategic role give it a starring role in this miserable, and largely avoidable, drama.

So, for instance, scarred by memories of the 1970s, France has taken a more sensible approach to its energy supplies and has emphasized nuclear energy for decades. That was (and is) wise, although the aging of its network is — something that Paris is planning to reverse — now causing difficulties.

Even without that additional problem, a shortage of gas is still going to cause trouble, and the country’s economy and finance minister is sounding the alarm.

Politico:

French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire today warned there is a strong chance that Moscow will totally halt gas supplies to Europe.

“Let’s prepare for a total cut-off of Russian gas; Today that is the most likely option,” Le Maire told the Rencontres Economiques, an economy-focused event in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence.

The minister said the French government was working to identify companies that should get priority protection in case of supply disruption. . . .

Culture

Who Is Tom Bombadil?

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

One of the best and most daring parts of Khraniteli, the adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring produced for Soviet television just before the USSR collapsed, is its inclusion of Tom Bombadil. At times hilariously hamstrung by a shoestring budget and laughably bad special effects, Khraniteli remains admirable in other ways for a dogged fidelity to its J. R. R. Tolkien source material. That it included the enigmatic Tolkien creation when Peter Jackson famously eschewed him in his own film trilogy speaks to this admirable quality.

But just who is Tom Bombadil? Jackson didn’t feel like figuring it out and deemed him nonessential to the story. Some Tolkien fans agree. Others argue for his importance. But just about all of us have little to no idea who he actually is. Reviewing In the House of Tom Bombadil by C. R. Wiley for Front Porch Republic, Jeremy Johnston argues that the mystery is the point.

Understanding the mystery, however, does require at least comprehending what we can. As Johnston summarizes:

What we know about Bombadil is that he is a powerful and ancient being, older than Gandalf and older than the elves, and he has no interest in “trinkets” that are used to dominate others. Although he is aware of evil, he has no fear of it. Instead, he travels about his business bedecked with yellow boots, a blue coat, and a feathered cap. He wanders the woods singing silly songs of seemingly nonsense verse and he possesses an indomitable cheerfulness. In a story filled with perilous journeys, evil rings, and the terrors of trolls, orcs, and wraiths, it would seem that Bombadil’s jolly demeanor is out of place. But, when the hobbits first encounter him in the Old Forest, his arrival is as welcome to the reader as it is to the hobbits. This is because Tom rescues Frodo and his companions from certain death — not once, but twice in the two chapters in which he appears. His appearance is unexpected yet timely; what could have been a tragic ending — the death of the hobbits and the failure of the quest — is not only avoided but happily and joyfully thwarted by Tom Bombadil.

After these adventures, Bombadil is only referenced in the rest of the text: discussed but then dismissed as a potential Ringbearer at the Council of Elrond (it is decided that, though the Ring has no effect on him, his very incorruptibility would make him an “unsafe guardian” of it); sought out by the wizard Gandalf the White when he and the hobbits return to Bombadil’s domain (Gandalf expects Tom to be “not much interested in anything that we have done or seen, unless perhaps in our visit to the Ents”); and then finally, just at the work’s very end, as Frodo’s departure to the Grey Havens fulfills a dream he had in Tom’s house near the very beginning of his journey.

So that’s what we’ve got about Tom Bombadil. That doesn’t fully answer the question of who he is. But as Johnston tells it, we’re not really supposed to know. Johnston cites Gandalf’s warning to the overly mechanistic, analytic (and evil) wizard Saruman that he who “breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.” And he cites Tolkien’s own words (from a letter) on Bombadil, in which Tolkien admits that Bombadil is “not an important person — to the narrative,” but:

He represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function.

In that same letter (No. 144, for the real nerds out there), Tolkien also notes that “even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).” This does not mean it is impossible to attempt to interpret the character’s meaning; Wiley seems to have done so in his work. But Johnston warns against obsessing overly about one’s fan theories about the character. Even if his enigmatic nature generates those theories in the first place, some things are meant to remain unresolved at a more basic level, testaments to transcendent reality or meaning.

That’s how Tolkien wanted it, anyway. And that’s good enough for me.

Politics & Policy

Don’t Forget about the Culture Wars

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Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin speaks during a campaign event in Alexandria, Va., October 30, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

As a guest on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin encouraged Republicans to run on “kitchen table issues.” While most anyone will agree with his statement on the surface, we may disagree on what a kitchen-table issue is. For Youngkin, they include inflation, schools, and safe communities. The fact that he included both economic and cultural issues in his characterization demonstrates his political aptitude and provides a bit of a warning for Republicans in coming election cycles. While they should certainly knock Democrats for the Biden administration’s failures in economics, they should not forget that there are cultural battles that continue to need fighting.

One of the reasons that last year’s Virginia gubernatorial election was so contentious was that many saw it as a referendum on the issues of Covid-19 governance and critical race theory. Americans have little tolerance left for the vestiges of the draconian pandemic policies that kept children out of school and, if they were lucky enough to be back, masked up for far too long. Democrats will likely (and hopefully) not push new regulations, with the new variants becoming much milder, but CRT and other cynical ideologies like it will not disappear any time soon.

On that front, the prime driver of Youngkin’s success was his ability to not only take advantage of the ill will toward CRT, but also prove that Republicans could campaign against it responsibly. The arguments of CRT defenders and proponents on the left, which we especially saw in Virginia’s Loudoun County, changed often. At first, CRT was a graduate-level concept and was absolutely not being taught in schools. Later, it was just synonymous with teaching about slavery and Jim Crow.

Youngkin’s great strength was his articulation of the case against it: Far from simply teaching about past instances of racism, CRT is the belief that the American system is set up to advantage white people at the expense of black people, an untrue idea that makes white kids feel unnecessarily guilty and tells black kids that they will never be able to succeed, both because of the color of their skin.

When he became governor, he followed through on his critiques of the belief system, issuing a directive that prohibited the dogmatic teaching of “inherently divisive” topics, such as those that were in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He had the same attitude in his Sunday interview, in which he said that we have to “teach all of our history, the good and the bad, but we shouldn’t play privilege bingo with children.”

Both the political and economic realms of our politics exist in a delicate balance, to which we must adapt each year. Sometimes, one may need greater focus than the other. In 2021, the economy was in relatively healthy shape, so people may have been more enthralled with cultural issues. This year, our economy is undergoing serious difficulties, so CRT may need to take a back seat.

This is the most effective way to look at the relationships among different issues. If we determine that one issue is particularly salient, however, we should be sure not to focus on it at the expense of the others. Being in politics requires playing a long game, and every righteous battle will be important at one time or another.

World

Against Numbness

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A warehouse staff member inspects her damaged workplace after a strike on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, June 3, 2022. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters)

Every other day, it seems, Russian forces bomb another apartment building or shopping mall. Here’s a report from yesterday:

Dozens of Ukrainian emergency workers labored Sunday to pull people out of the rubble after a Russian rocket attack smashed into apartment buildings in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 15 people. More than 20 people were believed still trapped.

(Full article here.)

It’s easy to get numb to this — not if you’re Ukrainian, but if you’re a foreigner, sure. Especially if you live in a free and comfortable country. Ho-hum. Yet more Ukrainians massacred in cold blood. What’s for dinner? Numbness should be fought, however. Numbness aids the aggressor, aids the killer.

There are “new normals” that should not be adjusted to.

• Here is something from Business Ukraine magazine:

The world’s breadbasket in flames: Russia is deliberately setting fire to Ukraine’s grain fields. This follows similar targeted airstrikes on Ukrainian grain storage facilities. Putin is openly weaponizing global hunger in his war of annihilation against Ukraine.

That is a tweet, with a photo — a photo telling the story. Here is an article from the Associated Press: “Anxiety grows for Ukraine’s grain farmers as harvest begins.”

Russia is committing comic-book evil against Ukraine and Ukrainians. But it’s not funny. Why Ukraine is not more of a cause, worldwide, I don’t know. Actually, I do know: but the answers are painful to elaborate, and, in any case, I and others have done it many times before.

The Russian onslaught is an ongoing emergency for Ukraine, yes, but it is also a grave threat to the broader world, whether the broader world knows it or not. And Putin apologists in free countries are so contemptible, they can barely be spoken of, at least by me.

We have more Mosleyites than I ever would have guessed.

• Here is a name to know — that of Natalia Kolesnik. Just one of the dead. “Just,” I say. An AP report out of Kharkiv is headed “‘Dad, that’s it. She’s dead’: Another day of loss in Ukraine.” It begins,

She had gone out to feed the cats when the shelling began.

It was afternoon, a residential neighborhood, a time to get errands done. But there is nothing routine about life near the front line in Ukraine. . . .

Natalia Kolesnik, like other residents, learned to live with the risks. Then, in a grassy courtyard on a hot and sweaty Thursday, the shelling caught her.

She was one of three bodies on the littered ground.

One more line from this particular report: “Kneeling, Viktor embraced what was left of his wife . . .”

• Ukrainians from various walks of life are fighting for their country — fighting for their freedom and their very lives. Here is a profile from The Economist: “A Ukrainian ballerina goes to war.” The subheading reads, “Olesia Vorotnyk danced with the national ballet. Then Russia invaded.”

• Every day, Russia is becoming more Soviet. Every day, the lines between Soviet Russia and post-Soviet Russia are blurred. Consider this report in the New York Times: “In Putin’s Russia, the Arrests Are Spreading Quickly and Widely: One by one, Russians deemed insufficiently patriotic are being snatched up by security forces as the Kremlin tightens the noose.”

All but the deliberately obtuse can see the reality now.

• Individual Russians exhibit phenomenal bravery, as they always have. One report is headed “Some Russians won’t halt war protests, despite arrest fears.” Amazing that anyone protests at all, considering what awaits him.

Incidentally, Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Russian politician, journalist, and democracy leader — and a friend of mine — has been in prison since April 11.

• In an essay titled “The War Has Happened,” Leon Wieseltier writes,

We have just been through years of contempt for liberal democracy, and the great disparagement is hardly over. We have been told that everything bad in our age is the fault of liberalism, or worse, neo-liberalism, whatever that is. It has been blamed for just about all the unhappiness in the world; and so the peddlers of a new happiness gloatingly call themselves post-liberal, on all sides of the rotted ideological spectrum. Sometimes one has to rub one’s eyes in disbelief at the intensity of the hatred for liberal democracy . . .

Yes.

• One more name to know — that of Dmitry Kolker, a leading Russian scientist. He was dying of cancer, and then the FSB snatched him from his bed, to take him to Lefortovo Prison, where he died two days later. They accused him of being a spy. Of course.

To read about Kolker, go here. In addition to being a leading scientist, he was a pianist and organist. Here he is playing Buxtehude on the organ.

Politics & Policy

Polling January 6, the Supreme Court, Abortion, and 2024

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

The latest Harvard/Harris poll has a lot to digest outside of the top-line numbers, much of it news that Democrats won’t want to hear, but by no means all of it good for their Republican opponents. Standard cautions about over-interpreting a single poll apply. On the voters’ views of our leaders:

  • Sixty percent have doubts about Joe Biden’s mental fitness for the job, 64 percent think he is too old for the job, 71 percent think he shouldn’t run again, and only 30 percent of Democratic voters would renominate him given a list of other choices.
  • The poll tested the favorability of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Mike Pence, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Ron DeSantis, Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Pompeo, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, Joe Manchin, Tim Scott, Antony Blinken, Kyrsten Sinema, and Vladimir Putin. Unsurprisingly, Putin’s net favorability of -66 was the lowest, and Pelosi (-27) and McConnell (-22) were the two lowest among Americans. Trump had the highest favorability (42 percent) but, aside from Putin, only Pelosi (56 percent), Biden (54 percent), and Hillary (53 percent) had higher unfavorable ratings than Trump’s 50 percent. Sixty-one percent say Trump should not run again.
  • Only two of the people on that list had a net favorable rating: Ron DeSantis (+6, at 34 percent favorable and 28 percent unfavorable), and Tim Scott (+3). Bear that in mind for 2024. Yet, GOP voters still favor Trump to DeSantis by a 56–16 margin, and unlike the latest NY Times poll, Trump leads Biden 43–40 in this one. What both polls have in common is a lot of voters who are highly familiar with both Trump and Biden, yet unwilling to declare support for either. This is unsurprising, given that supermajorities are against either man running again when Trump is 78 and Biden is 82.

On January 6, 55 percent claim to be following the January 6 hearings, but how well are the hearings really going for Democrats? Much depends on how you ask the questions, but the trend seems plain enough:

  •  Fifty-three percent say the hearings are biased, 54 percent say it is mainly a partisan exercise, 63 percent say that Congress should be focusing on other things instead of concentrating on January 6, 67 percent say that the hearings are further dividing the country, and 58 percent say that they are being used as an excuse to silence voices on the political right.
  • Fifty-three percent say that Trump deliberately encouraged the Capitol riots, 55 percent say he created a polarized environment that led to the riots, and 52 percent say he bears ultimate responsibility, but 49 percent blame him for directly inciting the crowd rather than it being spontaneous. Fifty-six percent of voters say January 6 was a protest that turned violent, not an armed insurrection, but 61 percent say the riots were pre-planned. Taken together, this is a reasonably nuanced view: This wasn’t a plotted, armed coup, but it was something more than just a protest that got out of hand, and Trump fed it without necessarily directly inciting it.

On the overturning of Roe v. Wade, 72 percent say they are following the story, and 55 percent say they oppose the decision. But digging deeper, the voters oppose what Roe actually did:

  • Only 25 percent want the Supreme Court deciding abortion law, as opposed to 44 percent who say the state legislatures and 31 percent who say Congress. Forty-nine percent want abortion banned after six weeks or allowed only in cases of rape and incest; the Mississippi 15-week ban is approved by 72 percent. In short, three-quarters of the voters approve of both who the Court said should decide, and what the Court let happen.
  • Sixty-three percent of voters see the Court as legitimate, and 59 percent say it is wrong for Democrats to call it illegitimate. Sixty-two percent don’t want people to be allowed to protest outside the justices’ houses, and 49 percent want the protesters arrested. The Court’s net favorability of +8 beats not only that of the president (-19), the leaders of Congress, or any other individual, but also the favorability of the institutions of Congress (-35), the Republican Party (-10), or the Democratic party (-20). But the Court still doesn’t compete with the military (+67), the cops (+43), or Amazon.com (+56).
  • Voters are perfectly divided on the electoral impact of the Court’s ruling: Thirty-six percent say it makes them more likely to vote Republican, 36 percent more likely to vote Democrat, and 29 percent say it won’t affect their vote. Of course, most of the first two groups were probably voting that way anyway.
Film & TV

Better Call Saul

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Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul. (Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

The second half of the final season of Better Call Saul debuts tonight, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t anxious to see it. The only two prestige television series that have sustained my interest throughout their run have been Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

I did not expect that heading into the final run of episodes, the character of Kim Wexler would strike me as more morally compromised — almost more the protagonist and creator of “Saul” than Jimmy McGill himself. This leaves me totally in the dark about how her story ends, or if it does. Was she still behind her man during Breaking Bad?

The flash-forward sequences and the promotional material drop some hints that perhaps the post–Breaking Bad timeline of the show, featuring Gene Takovic, may end with Jimmy somehow resuming his Saul persona.

The only thing that leaves me worried as a viewer is that, while Breaking Bad gave its protagonist a full arc and sustained my interest the whole way, the way it closed the loop on Walter White’s jealousy of his former business partners was not entirely satisfying. Yes, he had achieved so much financially in such a short time, but he was little more than an especially clever thug trying to bully them with violence at the end. He seemed to have forgotten about them as he became absorbed in his enterprise, in a way that made their reentry a surprise.

There are a lot of open loops to close in the final episodes of Better Call Saul. The end of Lalo’s story, Kim’s. In this short a time, I have no idea how Jimmy McGill goes from the guy who is shaking in fear in the last episode, to the one who full embraces his persona as a criminal lawyer.

Film & TV

Thor: Love and Thunder Is a Mixed Bag

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Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth star in Thor: Love and Thunder (© Marvel Studios)

After spending $20 for a Thor: Love and Thunder theater ticket (inflation has ruined entertainment too!), I can only say that the MCU film was a mixed bag. The movie explores Thor’s journey after Marvel’s cinematic blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, in which Thor travels with the Guardians of the Galaxy to protect different planets from external threats. Reflecting the style of director Taika Waititi, this Thor relies heavily on comedy throughout. Consequently, some of the more serious scenes involving Christian Bale’s Gorr and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster fall flat because viewers are unable to fully appreciate their struggles against the backdrop of the film’s continuously humorous tone. 

While some of the comedy is overdone, there is plenty in the film that makes one laugh instead of cringe. Specifically, Chris Hemsworth absolutely stands out as Thor, arguably delivering his best performance of the character. His ability to incorporate thigh-slapping humor to develop the plot saves the film from bombing like some other more recent Phase 4 Marvel films. With Hemsworth, the comedy works fluidly. In addition, Portman redeems Jane, who was wholly unlikeable in the first two Thor movies, by fulfilling a more compelling character and story arc. 

Overall, while the movie had strong elements such as better acting, character development, and excellent visuals, the film failed to build a strong, resonant theme throughout. The direction of the movie was chaotic and oversaturated with new plot devices and characters. It just couldn’t replicate the formula for success used in Thor: Ragnarok. Moreover, the scenes after the credits introduce more confusion for the audience and show a marked lack of coherence as compared to the pre–Phase 4 Marvel movies. The future of Marvel is too chaotic and overwhelming, which is unappealing to the Marvel fanbase.

Media

Jonathan Chait Writes the Same Ron DeSantis Column Again, Is Still Wrong

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at CPAC in Orlando, Fla., February 24, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

I regret to inform you that Jonathan Chait is at it again. His latest column warns darkly that “Ron DeSantis Would Kill Democracy Slowly and Methodically.” Both the motive and the rhetorical trick at work here are fairly transparent. The motive is the same one that led Chait, back in 2016, to argue that liberals should prefer Donald Trump to Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. It is the same one that leads panicked progressives such as Charles Pierce of Esquire to rise up in alarm against a DeSantis presidential campaign: “Dear America, Do Not Walk Away From Ron DeSantis—Run.” Chait, Pierce, and others on this beat recognize that Trump would be more likely to lose in 2024 than DeSantis, and that DeSantis (if elected) would be more effective in advancing conservative policy. So, they prefer another Trump nomination, and if pressed, they prefer Trump in power again to DeSantis in power. That’s what this is all about.

The rhetorical trick is to convince readers that the loudest alarms about Trump — that he’s a threat to democracy who won’t abide by the results of elections, as evidenced by his “stop the steal” campaign and January 6 — can be seamlessly transferred to DeSantis. There is, however, a problem in making that leap, and we can illustrate it with what never appears in any of Chait’s many columns on this same topic: the Democrats. Is it bad and dangerous to peddle stolen-election conspiracy theories, attack the legitimacy of election results, try to get them thrown out in court, object to certifying electors in Congress, and generally treat the winners of elections as if they have no right to exercise the powers of office? If that is your standard, there are a lot of Democrats who are threats to democracy, including Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Stacey Abrams, John Lewis, former DNC chairs Terry McAuliffe, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Howard Dean, January 6 committee chair Bennie Thompson, and — of course — Jonathan Chait himself. I have documented this in depth here, here, here, here, here, and here, as well as several other places linked in those items. Heck, the current president, Joe Biden, has preemptively attempted to delegitimize the upcoming midterm elections, while the current Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, described American elections as a “rigged game.” Chait appears to have no problem with any of this, having participated in some of it himself. Chait complains of a “belief that Democratic election victories are inherently illegitimate” but freely participates in a movement to treat Republican election victories as inherently illegitimate.

Ah, but Chait and others of his ilk would argue: What Trump did after the 2020 election is different and uniquely dangerous. Nobody else has gone where he went as the sitting president in pressing challenges to an election result beyond all legitimate legal bounds, pressuring various points in the system to throw the election his way, and summoning an angry mob in an effort to intimidate Congress and the vice president. As it happens, I agree. And I do not point to the prior and ongoing misconduct of Democrats and their intellectual and pundit class as a justification for the behavior of Trump or the behavior of anyone in the GOP or on the right. But here’s the thing: You can’t have it both ways. You can’t summon up the “danger to democracy” rhetoric on the basis of Trump’s unique behavior, defend and distinguish the behavior of your own side by pointing to that uniqueness, and then just routinely transfer the Trump rhetoric to people who have done nothing like what Trump did. Chait does not even bother to lay out a case on that basis; he just hand-waves at some fairly routine political grievances (some of them dishonestly framed, such as claiming that it is a “poll tax” to require felons to pay back fines to complete their sentences) and declares them “Orbanist.”

The other oddity of Chait’s complaint is something he has repeated so often it’s like a tic: “The conservative movement never accepted the democratic legitimacy of the welfare state. Conservatives considered the ability of majorities to vote for economic redistribution a threat to liberty and placed the preservation of liberty (as they defined it) above democracy.” This is a weird grievance to group with Trump, who broke with conservative orthodoxy in his defenses of the entitlement state. There are also three things going on here.

First, he confuses democracy and liberty. Of course, a liberal democrat (small l, small d) will be alarmed when democracy tramples liberty, and there are very long-standing and worthy debates over how to resolve those conflicts. The conservative view is that the people should, by supermajority, enshrine constitutional protections for those liberties that are above the daily business of democracy; the progressive view is that the judiciary should do so (see, e.g., Roe v. Wade or Obergefell v. Hodges). I submit that ours is the more democratic stance. So far as I can tell, Chait believes that liberty should override democracy, so long as it is sexual liberty or some forms of political liberty, and not a disfavored liberty such as free exercise of religion, the right to bear arms, or economic liberty. But once you begin drawing such distinctions, you have strayed far from debates about respecting the outcomes of elections.

Second, there is also a long-standing conservative fear, which the Founders shared, that profligate welfare spending by the voters on the voters will cause the self-destruction of democracy. Worrying about such things does not make one anti-democratic, just prudent — and, in the long run, protective of our system. It is not pro-democracy, for example, to have Weimar Germany’s economy.

Third, the specific conservative complaint about the legitimacy of the welfare state and how it is democratically illegitimate is not that the government spends money on welfare programs, but that it does so without requiring the affirmative and ongoing consent of the people’s representatives. The Constitution was designed so that the most representative body — the House — would not spend a penny unless a majority approved and it had the assent of the president and the Senate. Of course, logrolling deals could be cut, but a bare majority of the House could always just say “no,” and unless they were given something of value in return to make a deal, that was the end of things until the next election. A program such as Obamacare would have been dead years ago if we were still governed that way. Instead, the modern welfare/entitlement state spends money on autopilot without asking the people for their continuing consent; you need a majority of the House plus 60 Senators plus the president in order to not continue an ongoing act of the federal government. That absolutely is a problem of democratic legitimacy, but it thwarts the results of elections in ways that Jonathan Chait approves of.

Politics & Policy

Maybe Americans Should Stop Giving the Democrats What They Want

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President Joe Biden speaks next to Vice President Kamala Harris before signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 20, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

One wrinkle to the “Should the Democrats dump Biden in 2024?” talk that doesn’t get enough attention: In early 2020, out of Democratic primary field which consisted of a small army of candidates, more than half of all Democratic primary voters picked Biden; the former vice president received more than 19 million votes, way ahead of Bernie Sanders with 9.6 million. Democrats had a long buffet table of options; they deliberately picked Biden and strongly preferred him to all of the other alternatives. Most Democrats got what they wanted.

Biden could have picked any Democrat as his running mate; he chose Kamala Harris, and at the time, 84 percent of Democrats approved of the selection. Democrats got what they wanted.

As 2020 ended and 2021 began, Democrats didn’t quite have control of the Senate as Georgia voters contemplated their options in the runoff races. Democrats got what they wanted –control of the Senate to go along with President Biden, and Democratic control of the House. Shortly, after taking office, Biden gave Democrats what they wanted – a shutdown of the Keystone XL Pipeline and a new focus on the environment and climate change in national energy policy. In March 2021, Democrats legislatively got what they wanted, $1.9 trillion in new spending to throw into an already recovering economy, with no concerns about the runway inflation that so worried Larry Summers.

Time after time, step after step, Democrats got what they wanted… and it all ended up terribly for the country. It is going so badly that not even most Democrats want another six years of this.

Dumping Biden would be an admission: “We screwed up. We thought we wanted Biden, and we thought he wasn’t too old, and that he would be an old reliable statesman and restore normalcy after Trump and the pandemic. But he didn’t. We thought we wanted Kamala Harris, but we don’t have any faith left in her, either. And we thought we could spend as much as we wanted without setting off inflation, but it turns out that wasn’t true, either…

…But trust us, now we know what we really want, and it’s Gavin Newsom! Trust us, he’s going to be awesome! Just look at his wreckage in California – er, his record in California!”

Hopefully, enough voters look at the past few years and conclude, “when I give the Democrats what they want, it never seems to work out for me.”

World

Ukraine’s New Advanced Artillery Beginning to Have an Effect?

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This report from the Telegraph suggests that it is.

Law & the Courts

A One-Weird-Trick Progressive Tries the 13th Amendment on Abortion

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Protest banner at the Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

I have written before about the constant search by progressive pundits for that one weird trick in the law that will, as if by magic, change the rules of the system to deliver them the results they want without the need to persuade voters or defend their arguments under anything recognizable as existing law.

Enter Howard University School of Law professor Lisa Crooms-Robinson, who writes in an NBC news op-ed that advocates of a constitutional right to abortion, having lost the argument under the 14th Amendment, should argue that bans on abortion would violate the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery or involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime: “We need a new plan, and the 13th Amendment might be the answer.” To start with, of course, this is preposterous: For all the same reasons cited by Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Dobbs, nobody in the 1860s thought there was a natural liberty to commit abortion, or that any of the proposed amendments would invalidate the many state bans on abortion in existence at the time. Unsurprisingly, Crooms-Robinson does not even bother to argue otherwise, which should give you some idea of how intellectually serious an effort this is.

Crooms-Robinson admits that the right she asserts is not one defined under the 13th Amendment’s text: “This is not a claim that forced pregnancy, which occurs when abortion is not an option, and the absence of the full spectrum of other reproductive justice rights is analogous to slavery. Nor is it a plea for equality regardless of sex or gender.” Instead, “protecting Black people’s reproductive health is essential to Black freedom because enslavement denied Black people rights, including those recognized in Roe.” But the “right” recognized in Roe was never a real constitutional right, regardless of race; that was the whole point of Dobbs.

Her argument is that a black woman carrying a pregnancy to term is a “badge and incident” of slavery:

The 13th Amendment not only establishes declaratory freedom but also grants Congress all the power it needs to enact legislation that undoes slavery, as well as its “badges and incidents,” as the court has put it. Although neither the court nor Congress has set forth an exhaustive list of those badges and incidents, in 1968, the court found Congress has the authority to enact legislation aimed at alleviating the institution’s “burdens and disabilities.” Denying the rights of reproductive health and choice, bodily integrity and personal autonomy was essential to U.S. slavery, which recognized enslavers’ complete dominion over the people they enslaved. U.S. slavery also forced enslaved women to reproduce, which fueled the domestic slave trade after the official prohibition on the importation of enslaved people into the U.S. in 1808.

The two logical flaws in this argument should be obvious. One, if an abortion ban was a badge and incident of slavery, why did most of the states impose such bans in 1865, regardless of race and regardless of whether the state was a free state or a slave state? The point of the badges-and-incidents doctrine was to remove the things that marked slaves as slaves and prevented them from exercising the same rights as free white Americans. But the liberty of free white American women did not include the unrestricted power to kill their children in the womb, either. Two, to the extent that enslaved women were forced to carry children — as they often were, although Crooms-Robinson neglects the many enslaved women who had families voluntarily — that was a badge and incident of slavery because the child would be treated as an item of property. Carrying a black child who would be endowed by the law with the rights of a free American was not part of the common experience of slave women.

There is also a fundamental bait-and-switch here. After all, the badges-and-incidents doctrine is specific to the descendants of slaves, as Crooms-Robinson acknowledges: “This plan would have to put Black people at the center. . . . Blackness rather than any other aspect of identity would trigger rights protected by any law enacted by Congress using its enforcement power under the amendment today.” But then — watch the one weird trick! — “the 14th Amendment’s equal protection guarantee, meanwhile, would allow non-Black people to assert their right to enjoy the same rights the 13th Amendment grants to Black people as a matter of racial equality.” But under that theory, any power granted to Congress under the badges-and-incidents doctrine, which is supposed to justify remedies for historic injustice to specific people, would be constitutionally prohibited from being so tailored. The sorts of things progressives try to squeeze even today into the badges-and-incidents doctrine — racial preferences, reparations — would have to be provided equally to all, rendering them meaningless.

Once upon a time, we had a Supreme Court that would buy this sort of scheme. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Court said that married couples had a right to use contraception because marriage was a unique institution older than the state itself, then turned around seven years later and said that it was unconstitutional to give this right to married couples and not provide it equally to unmarried couples. But we do not have that kind of dishonest shell-game Court anymore. It will take more than one weird trick to create a federal right to abortion.

Film & TV

Season Four of Stranger Things: A Mixed-but-Positive Take

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Stranger Things (Netflix)

Over the weekend, Bradley J. Birzer gave a largely positive review to season four of Stranger Things, the sci-fi horror thriller/’80s-nostalgia romp created by the Duffer Brothers. I also enjoyed it, and I want to explain why, as well as to detail some of my criticisms.

First, the good. The latest season of the show is, on the whole, an improvement from season two, which I thought was basically a retread of the first season, and season three, which seemed to suggest a show without any serious idea of where it was going or wanted to go. One of the reasons those two seasons seemed so aimless was the lack of a central and compelling antagonist. Well, in what the Dungeons & Dragons nerds of the show labeled “Vecna,” season four definitely gave us that. A kind of Freddy Kreuger figure lording over the evil alternate dimension known as the Upside-Down and menacingly intruding on our reality, Vecna is suitably threatening and a serious challenge to every character in the show, including Eleven/Jane, the psychic child so often resorted to as a deus ex machina in prior seasons. (The character also has a layered backstory that ties with El’s own.) Vecna dominates season four, and seems likely to return as a foe for whatever Stranger Things has in store next.

There are a couple of other things I really liked about season four. It has some great individual moments, two of which are backed by two perfectly chosen songs: “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush and “Master of Puppets” by Metallica. While I, as a proud ’90s kid, lack genuine ‘80s nostalgia, I do enjoy its pop culture, so such musical moments, as well as allusions to that era’s movies and TV (one notable instance: a body mysteriously missing after falling off a high place). And though not all art I enjoy has to validate my political views (my entertainment diet would be meager indeed were that the case), it’s hard not to notice, as Birzer did also, how this season emphasizes “the progressive inanities of governments (here and abroad).” The Soviet Union hasn’t looked worse in American pop culture since The Americans concluded. The separation of the story into multiple parts, only one of which is centered in the series’ original setting of Hawkins, Ind., ends up deepening one’s appreciation of what ties all the characters to that place (where the season ends): that is, the people they find there.

Now, for the bad. That same attempt to split up the plot helped contribute to one of the flaws of the season: an overall sense of overindulgence. There was just too much going on. You don’t even have to watch the show to see this: Each episode this season has a much longer runtime than what the show started out as, with many episodes creeping up to and then past the 90-minute mark, and the finale ending up nearly two-and-a-half hours long. That’s a movie, essentially. (No wonder this season took three years to finish.) As a result of the sprawling nature of season four, it’s possible to go almost entire episodes without checking in on one character or storyline or another. Some narratives are held in abeyance, and other characters (such as Jonathan Beyers) become essentially useless this season. The season’s sprawl also means every story leaves unresolved situations in its wake. Multiple characters commit crimes for which they go unpunished, for example. And the details of a bitter internecine turf war in our own government are left incredibly unclear (though I suppose one could say that is the nature of such things). There was a lot of juggling in this season; occasionally, some of the pins were dropped.

My other complaints turn on two of my long-standing issues with Stranger Things, and are not specific to season four: the “appeal” of the kids, and the attempt at “cultural retcon.” I’ve just never actually found the youngest members of the show’s cast to be that interesting. Eleven aside, they’ve always seemed a bit cloying and useless. Of course, the show, in its attempt to recapture the Amblin/Spielberg vibe, so often stacks the deck in their favor, portraying many of the adults around them as useless and clueless. Even so, it is still often those adults (or at least older children/young adults) who end up saving the day, while the kids remain convinced that saving the world is their responsibility. It doesn’t help that, now that the “kids” are actually in their late teens, they can no longer coast on cuteness alone, and we’ve found out that most of them actually aren’t very good actors.

As for “cultural retcon”: It seems like the Duffer Brothers are trying to reimagine the ’80s as they wish they’d have been, to have a kind of revenge upon the type of people they didn’t like from that era. So Dungeons & Dragons is cool now, jocks are evil, Christianity is a source of paranoia and scapegoating, etc. That Eddie Munson, one of season four’s best characters, serves as an illustration of all this doesn’t make the overall messaging any more persuasive.

Despite these flaws, I continue to enjoy the show. It’s an alluring sci-fi drama with plenty of mysteries, thrills, and compelling themes and performances to outweigh its weaknesses. (Goodness knows I’m a sucker for that kind of television.) Whatever my complaints about Stranger Things, I look forward to seeing how the Duffer Brothers bring the fascinating world they’ve created to a conclusion.

Culture

Stop Lying. Divorce Is Hell on Kids

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(Walker and Walker/Getty Images)

Few things enrage me more than outright dishonesty, and one of those is outright dishonesty in the service of doing harm to children. There is an entire cottage industry of media devoted to reassuring parents that divorce is not bad for children. The reason why there is an evergreen market for this is obvious: guilt. Divorced parents need desperately to believe that they are not being selfish and making their children miserable, so they are fed a steady stream of reassurance from center-left media sources.

So we get things such as today’s Slate column by Gail Cornwall and Scott Coltrane entitled, “How Americans Became Convinced Divorce Is Bad for Kids.” As with many apologetics from this corner these days, blame is instead directed at the socially accepted targets: “Most of the problems associated with being a child of divorce are instead related to sexism, racism, homophobia, shoddy recordkeeping, and insufficient government support.” We are darkly warned that ” there were incentives for some people to cast children as victims” to hold back “increasing female employment and independence.”

And yet, even the authors acknowledge that their argument runs contrary to the common wisdom of human experience: “Many Americans think it’s a shame that only 70 percent of children in the U.S. live in one home with two parents and under 50 percent live with two biological, married parents. They see divorce and single parenthood as normal yet still unfortunate, since accepted wisdom says children suffer long-term, irreparable harm when their parents live separately.” Perhaps they believe these things because they are true and easily observed by anyone with elementary empathy for children, or for adults who used to be children.

But the biggest problem with the whole argument is that it relies entirely on what can be quantified by data, and ignores both the actual human experience of children who have been through divorce, and the fact that having a big chunk of your childhood ruined is a pretty terrible thing by itself. Never fear, Cornwall and Coltrane tell us: those kids will get over it!

“I would never want to minimize how difficult it is for children to go through that transition,” Ahrons said in an interview with us before her 2021 death, “but it doesn’t mean that they are damaged.” Grief and anxiety fade. Behavior tends to return to normal within two years. A study of 23-year-olds found that 11 percent of those whose parents had divorced suffered from mental health problems, compared with 8 percent of those with married parents. Yet humans underestimate resilience thanks to a bias dubbed “immune neglect.” In reality, researchers have concluded that most children touched by divorce are ultimately well-adjusted, indistinguishable from peers raised in nuclear families.

Yes, people can go on to perfectly well-adjusted lives after a parental divorce, and become law-abiding, economic-value-producing units of adulthood. Many people also went on to perfectly well-adjusted lives after enduring wars, depressions, famines, plagues, slavery, genocide . . . human beings are remarkably resilient creatures, and that fact does not in the least justify robbing children of a mom-and-dad home and putting them through years of family turmoil. Nor is it a reasonable excuse, for that matter, to complain that the government hasn’t stepped up to replace the role that the two parents were supposed to provide.

Even the slightest exposure to actual human beings who have been through a parental divorce could tell you this. Even Hollywood, literature, and music almost invariably paint the experience of divorce as a terrible one (go watch Mad Men or listen to a Kelly Clarkson song). Cornwall and Coltrane cite Kramer v. Kramer, which was a critically praised film because it felt true to people who lived through the divorce boom of the 1970s. Sometimes, no amount of fiddling with the numbers can make us unlearn something that we know from the common experience of humanity.

White House

When Kamala Harris Goes off Script

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Vice President Kamala Harris narrowly averted spontaneously combusting during an interview conducted by Robert Costa for Face the Nation:

As one Slate writer noted: “I don’t think I have ever seen a clearer juxtaposition of Kamala on script with what happens the second she is forced to go off script.”

I took a closer look at the question that tripped up the vice president here.

NR Webathon

Sigh — Some People Just Don’t Understand Winning

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The Oklahoma Sooners softball team celebrates after making the final out during the fifth inning against the Texas Longhorns in game two of the 2022 Women’s College World Series finals in Oklahoma City, Okla., June 9, 2022. (Brett Rojo/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Rich — you’re right. It’s possible that I lost track of where things stood with NR’s fundraising goal while “recovering” from my celebration of the Oklahoma Sooners winning the Softball College World Series — for the second year in a row.

You see, the thing about Oklahoma and winning is: We’re used to it.

Oklahoma’s championships are a bit like 100 degree heat during a Tulsa summer: You can mark it on the calendar.

That might be hard for an alumnus and supporter of the the University of Virginia’s “sports” teams to understand, Rich.

As Barry Switzer once put it:

Okay, okay. I guess it’s true that Virginia wins championships too — in lacrosse. Wikipedia tells me that “the Virginia men’s and women’s lacrosse programs are two of the most dominant in the history of the sport.” Wow, Rich. I’m impressed.

All I know is this: I have confidence that the readers and supporters of National Review will take us from where we stand now (70 percent of our goal, having just crossed the $70,000 mark!) to 100 percent pretty quickly. Like Switzer, they can recognize a winner and an advantageous situation.

And right now we have a friend offering to match every donation to our webathon up to $100,000. If you’ve already contributed, thank you very much. If not, we’d really appreciate it if you could chip in any amount from $5 to $5,000.

 


 

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: New York Climate Policy

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Jonathan Lesser of the Manhattan Institute writes about the negative consequences of New York’s climate policies:

The state government has been hostile to hydrocarbon development and production and has long advocated green energy to address climate change. The state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act includes “zero-emissions” electricity mandates and requires “electrifying” end-use energy — vehicles, furnaces, water heaters, and even cookstoves. In 2020, the state enacted the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act that overrules local community objections to siting large-scale wind and solar projects.

These efforts will fail. The 2019 Climate Act’s zero-emissions mandates are physically infeasible, and the resulting reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions would have no measurable impact on world climate. But the attempt to implement them will impose damaging hardships for consumers. Low-income New Yorkers, in particular, are already being hit hard by higher energy prices.

Read the whole thing here.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden Hits a New Polling Low: 20 Below

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President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

With a New York Times/Siena poll showing Joe Biden’s approval rating at a jaw-dropping 33 percent approval and 60 percent disapproval, Biden has crossed another new frontier in the RealClearPolitics poll average: For the first time, his approval rating is more than 20 points below his disapproval:

This is a fiasco that can in no way be spun. Donald Trump only hit approval ratings this bad for a few days in December 2017, on the way to losing the House in 2018, the presidency in 2020, and the Senate in 2021. Biden’s approval rating of 37.4 percent is lower than Trump’s immediately after January 6. Meanwhile, the “country is on the wrong track” poll numbers are the worst they have been in the past 13 years, worse than at any point during the global pandemic. Even a plague was a more optimistic time than life under Joe Biden.

The Times poll has the usual parade of horribles: Biden’s approval-disapproval is 25–68 with independents, 32–63 with Hispanics, 35–58 with women, 19–69 with 18–29 year olds, and 20–75 with non-college whites. The only whisper of hope is that the poll shows Biden up 44–41 if Republicans were insane enough to renominate Donald Trump.

This has to finally force into the open the debate over whether Democrats are really going to renominate this man. More immediately: Will Democratic candidates openly distance themselves from him and his policies on the campaign trail? Biden cannot be reelected without significant improvement, which, among other things, will require him to stop getting older. The lowest popular-vote percentages for an incumbent in the popular vote era (since 1828), with the electoral college outcomes:

1912: William Howard Taft, 23.2 percent (lost 435–8, with 88 electoral votes for Teddy Roosevelt, who got 27 percent of the vote)
1992: George H. W. Bush, 37.5 percent (lost 370–168; Ross Perot got 19 percent of the vote)
1932: Herbert Hoover, 39.7 percent (lost 472–59)
1980: Jimmy Carter, 41.0 percent (lost 489–49; John Anderson got 6.6 percent of the vote)
1892: Benjamin Harrison, 43.0 percent (lost 277–145, with 22 electoral votes for James Weaver, who got 8.5 percent of the vote)
1828: John Quincy Adams, 43.7 percent (lost 178-83)

Bill Clinton (49.2 percent in 1996) and Woodrow Wilson (49.3 percent in 1916) are the only incumbents in American history to be reelected without a majority of the popular vote. Even Trump can’t get Biden past that bar a second time. And if Biden can’t find a way to get Trump nominated again, Democrats face the abyss.

Politics & Policy

New York Times: It Is Now Okay to Talk about Biden’s Age and Mental State

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

The once-taboo topic of Biden’s age, mental state, and capacities is now front and center — less than year after bringing up the obvious was denounced as the “gross, lowest-common-denominator politics that drive people away from public life.”

Peter Baker in the New York Times, this weekend:

The reality is that managing the schedule of the oldest president in American history presents distinct challenges. And as Mr. Biden insists he plans to run for a second term, his age has increasingly become an uncomfortable issue for him, his team and his party.

More than a dozen current and former senior officials and advisers uniformly reported that Mr. Biden remained intellectually engaged, asking smart questions at meetings, grilling aides on points of dispute, calling them late at night, picking out that weak point on Page 14 of a memo and rewriting speeches like his abortion remarks on Friday right up until the last minute.

But they acknowledged Mr. Biden looks older than just a few years ago, a political liability that cannot be solved by traditional White House stratagems like staff shake-ups or new communications plans. His energy level, while impressive for a man of his age, is not what it was, and some aides quietly watch out for him. He often shuffles when he walks, and aides worry he will trip on a wire. He stumbles over words during public events, and they hold their breath to see if he makes it to the end without a gaffe.

Although White House officials insist they make no special accommodations the way Reagan’s team did, privately they try to guard Mr. Biden’s weekends in Delaware as much as possible. He is generally a five- or five-and-a-half-day-a-week president, although he is called at any hour regardless of the day as needed. He stays out of public view at night and has taken part in fewer than half as many news conferences or interviews as recent predecessors.

Yes, many of us noticed this. If Joe Biden was as quick witted, sharp-minded, energetic, and hale and hearty as his aides insist, he would be doing interviews and press conferences all the time. (Not long ago,  47-year-old White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed she had a hard time keeping up with Biden’s boundless energy level and stamina.) He would be doing more than one public event a day regularly, those events wouldn’t just be in the middle of the day, and he would appear at events on weekends. Biden looks like a president who is being largely hidden from the public eye, because he’s a president who is being largely hidden from the public eye.

Biden’s light schedule isn’t new, and his older appearance and more frequent verbal stumbles were clear when his campaign started in 2019. But for most of the past three years, pointing out the signs of Biden’s aging and difficulties was considered rude or inappropriate. Julian Castro (admittedly obnoxiously) raised the issue during a debate and he seemed to become persona non grata in Democratic circles.

There’s a reason Julian Castro went after Biden’s memory and mental capacities in one of the primary debates, and insisted afterwards that he didn’t regret it. (It didn’t help that Biden called Castro “Cisernos” a month later.)

Rasmussen polling found 59 percent of voters don’t think Biden would complete his first term as president. The Atlantic reported at the end of June that “other focus groups have revealed similar data. The word young voters most associate with Biden is old, followed by good, and then creepyDemocrat, and smart, according to a focus group conducted over the past few weeks for NextGen America, a political organization that focuses on increasing youth turnout. Mixed in are leadergreatniceexperiencedokay, and cool, but also senile and dementia.”

Problems are always worse when some taboo discourages people from talking about the problem. One of the reasons the Democrats are in the mess they’re in is that they would not allow an honest and likely difficult debate about Biden’s age back in 2019 and 2020.

Culture

Elvis’s Dad, Etc.

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Elvis Costello performs at the Glastonbury music festival in Somerset, England, in 2013. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

The CIA is now 75 years old. I have a note on this at the top of my Impromptus today. I also discuss Boris Johnson, mass shootings, energy policy, Steph Curry — a bunch of things, in keeping with the nature of the column. At the end, I have some photos from small-town Michigan.

Not long ago, I was a guest on Jonah Goldberg’s podcast, The Remnant: here. A reader wrote that he had been reading me for many years but had never heard my voice. He said, in effect, “You sounded much younger than I expected!”

I did not know how to reply, except to say this: “Typically, I sound like I’m about 30. I write like I’m either 75 or 16, depending. And I look like Leonardo DiCaprio in the immediate post-Titanic years — or so everyone says.”

In the course of that podcast, I brought up “If I Had a Hammer,” the old protest song. Jonah then talked about Trini Lopez, who made a big cover of that song. A reader writes, “Did you know that Ross McManus — father of Elvis Costello — covered ‘If I Had a Hammer’?”

Heck no. Mirabile dictu.

(I will always associate the phrase “mirabile dictu” with Bill Buckley. I used it last week when noting that the Detroit Tigers had won six in a row.) (We are now back to our losing ways.)

Earlier this month, I had an Impromptus that touched on graduations — what happy occasions they are. A reader, associated with a community college, writes,

Mr. Nordlinger,

. . . There is no celebration more joyous than the commencement ceremonies at a community college, particularly one that primarily serves students of color. Candidly, I will confess that, long ago, I would be annoyed at the raucous cheering for black graduates, tsk-tsking about the lack of decorum at such a dignified event. Once I got over myself, I noticed what I was missing: the pure joy of the moment, not only for the graduate — maybe not even primarily for the graduate. Many of our black students bring an entire entourage to mark the moment, a visible acknowledgement that behind every success story there are so many who made it possible. And I’m talking the whole family: parents, grandparents, spouses, children, aunts and uncles, cousins, even the occasional neighbor or family friend. It is not uncommon to see post-event pictures with 10-15 people surrounding the new graduate. The joy is infectious, filled with hope — for all of us.

In a different Impromptus, I wrote about diversity training. A reader tells me that he underwent diversity training in a big company. The trainer was presenting a slide and said, “As those of you who are lucky enough to be sighted can see . . .” Other people might have said, “As you can see . . .” But this fellow said — what he said.

A cheeky trainee (our reader) pointed out that there was no blind person in the room. He also had a question — a cheeky one: “What about people who aren’t lucky enough to be hearinged? How were they supposed to know that you wanted them to look at the slide?”

The trainer suggested moving on . . .

Finally, a reader writes, “Your words are sincerely appreciated as they provide me hope.” I’m not sure he got the right writer, but I mainly want to record what he writes next. Hope, he says, “is the most important element of life that could be put on the periodic table.”

Nicely expressed. And my thanks to all readers and correspondents.

Education

UNC’s Free-Expression Survey Identifies the Main Problem: Students

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Increasingly, students enter college with unshakable beliefs coupled with an animosity towards anyone who disagrees with them. High school and social media turn many of them into rabid Social Justice Warriors by the time they get into college.

Recently, the UNC system commissioned a survey on student views on the state of freedom of expression and it found, not surprisingly, that a large percentage hesitate to speak freely. In today’s Martin Center article, Eric Johnson looks at the survey and its import.

Johnson quotes the survey: “These concerns arise disproportionately from students who describe themselves as conservative, but they affect students of nearly all backgrounds. And contra a common narrative that liberal-leaning faculty members attempt to impose their views on the students they teach, we find that students worry about the reactions of their peers more than those of faculty.”

The UNC institutions have “green light” ratings from FIRE, although they didn’t always. Official university and state policy favors free expression and institutional neutrality on controversial topics. The problem is that the schools have a significant percentage of censorious students who cause others to keep quiet lest they arouse mobs eager to “cancel” them.

A big part of the educational mission of our colleges and universities must be to restore a climate of intellectual civility.

Johnson concludes that we face a cultural battle in which higher education can and should play a key role.

Education

PolitiFact’s Failed Attack on DeSantis, over Civics Education

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

Late last Friday, PolitiFact issued a “fact check” claiming that Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s recent swipe against the Civics Secures Democracy Act (CSDA) was “false.” Actually, DeSantis’s criticism of CSDA is on the mark. It’s PolitiFact’s reporting that’s fallacious. PolitiFact’s failed attack on DeSantis can fairly be called an opinion piece in disguise. But it’s also something more — and worse — than that. Yacob Reyes of PolitiFact thoroughly misrepresents DeSantis, merely refuting a straw man of his own making. Let’s have a look, then, at the media’s latest bogus hit job on DeSantis.

At a June 30 event on civics education, DeSantis contrasted Florida’s approach to that subject with CSDA, which he said, “would allow the Biden administration to buy off states with $6 billion if they sacrifice American history for critical race theory and Biden’s other political whims of the day.” PolitiFact rates this statement “false,” because “DeSantis’s claim ignores a provision in the Civics Secures Democracy Act that prevents the education secretary from imposing curricula, such as critical race theory, on states.”

The first problem with PolitiFact’s argument is that it misstates the meaning of the relevant language of the bill. That language doesn’t “prevent” the education secretary from imposing curricula; rather, it merely states that the bill shall not be interpreted to authorize such action (a much weaker proviso). Although it’s an issue for another day, plenty of folks argue that education secretaries have been disregarding similarly weak constraints for decades.

But even if PolitiFact had correctly described the bill, the argument would be a non sequitur. DeSantis never claimed that Biden’s education secretary would formally “impose” curricula on the states. On the contrary, DeSantis said that CSDA would allow Biden to “buy off” states with grant money “if” they teach CRT.

The distinction is crucial. DeSantis isn’t talking about formal curricular coercion via federal law or executive order. He’s talking about what amounts to a massive federal bribe via grants that incentivize CRT. The federal government typically uses its discretion in the awarding of grants to evade legal barriers against formally coercing states and localities. Usually, the feds can get states to do what they want just by dangling fat grants with conditions attached. Formally speaking, states apply for those grants “voluntarily.” In practice, however, with states perpetually short of cash, an offer of federal grants with conditions attached turns out to be an offer few states can refuse.

I made this point last month in a piece about CSDA that PolitiFact references yet effectively ignores. Here’s what I said: “It doesn’t matter that federal law and the bill itself disclaim the authority to formally impose a curriculum on the states. The strings that Biden’s bureaucrats will attach to these massive federal grants will suffice to lure states into adopting CRT.”

DeSantis is making the latter point. And he is under no obligation to mention the provision of the bill that disclaims any authorization of formal curricular coercion, precisely because that provision in no way forbids or prevents what DeSantis rightly calls a federal “buy off.” Incentives attached to competitive grants give the feds de facto control over states, even without formal coercion.

PolitiFact gets around the flaw in its argument by blatantly misrepresenting what DeSantis actually said. At the head of its article, PolitiFact correctly cites DeSantis’s claim that CSDA would allow the Biden administration to “buy off” states “if” they adopt CRT. Later on, however, PolitiFact pretends that DeSantis said the federal government was out to “mandate” or “compel” states into adopting CRT. No, DeSantis said the feds were going to use grants to effectively bribe states into adopting CRT.

To create a supposedly false DeSantis claim, at the end of its piece PolitiFact stops quoting DeSantis partway through his actual statement. PolitiFact then adds the word “compel,” which DeSantis never used. DeSantis actually said that CSDA “would allow the Biden administration to buy off states with $6 billion if they sacrifice American history for critical race theory . . .” (my emphasis). Dropping the quotation marks and substituting its own inaccurate paraphrase partway through, PolitiFact converts DeSantis’s actual statement to the following: “DeSantis said the Civics Secures Democracy Act ‘would allow the Biden administration to buy off states with $6 billion’ and compel them to adopt critical race theory” (my emphasis). PolitiFact’s “false” rating makes no sense if DeSantis is merely claiming that the feds want to “buy off” states with grants that they are technically free to forgo. Again, language saying essentially, “we don’t authorize federally compelled curricula” has nothing to do with DeSantis’s actual claim. PolitiFact has to outright misrepresent what DeSantis said in order to rule his statement false. They portray him as talking about formal federal compulsion when in fact he does no such thing.

PolitiFact also reports that it approached the governor’s spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, asking for proof that Biden will use CSDA to impose CRT on the states. In reply, Pushaw cited an article of mine itemizing the administration’s record of support for CRT. PolitiFact dismisses that article for failing to “provide credible evidence” that Biden will use CSDA to support CRT. Yet PolitiFact’s own failure to address the most powerful piece of evidence I offer is revealing.

In April of last year Biden’s Department of Education issued the text of a proposed rule on priority criteria for federal grants in American history and civics. That text cites prominent CRT theorist Ibram X. Kendi, as well as the 1619 Project, as examples of the sort of approach to be favored by Biden in the awarding of federal history and civics grants. That rule is nothing if not “credible evidence” that the Biden administration will direct history and civics grants to CRT-style plans and projects. PolitiFact makes much of the fact that CSDA never explicitly mentions critical race theory. Yet the point is that the bill leaves the administration enough discretion to attach its own priority criteria. And we’ve now seen powerful evidence that, when it comes to history and civics grants, the administration means to prioritize CRT.

That rule prioritizing pro-CRT history and civics grants sparked a huge outcry. The administration was flooded with negative public comments, pundits attacked, and 38 Republican senators signed a letter of protest against the rule. In response, Biden issued a slightly revised rule text. This one omitted direct reference to Kendi and the 1619 Project, while nonetheless preserving the upshot of the original rule. The walk-back changed nothing of importance. After all, the message had already gone out to potential grant applicants across the country. You’d have to be a fool not to realize at this point that Biden’s Education Department will look favorably on pro-CRT grants, not only because the initial text of the rule spilled the beans, but because of a host of other pro-CRT moves from this administration.

Yet it’s telling that PolitiFact didn’t even mention the infamous dustup over Biden’s pro-CRT rule for history and civics grants. Why didn’t PolitiFact at least cite the walk-back of the more openly pro-CRT text as evidence that the administration had soured on CRT? Maybe it’s because that walk-back was such an obviously insincere bit of damage control. Besides, just bringing up Biden’s initial pro-CRT rule would show that credible evidence for the administration’s pro-CRT civics plans does in fact exist.

PolitiFact’s failure to tell the story of Biden’s pro-CRT rule for history and civics grants is an irresponsible and discrediting omission. PolitiFact falsely claims that DeSantis’s case against CSDA is disproven by his failure to mention what is in fact an irrelevant proviso in CSDA disclaiming an authorization of formal curricular coercion. In reality, its PolitiFact’s own case against DeSantis that is falsified by a damning omission. Any fair representation or assessment of DeSantis’s claim — that Biden means to “buy off” states by attaching strings to civics grants — requires discussion of the huge public dustup over Biden’s pro-CRT civics rule. PolitiFact’s failure to even address that issue discredits its case, and suggests bad faith to boot.

Meanwhile, Biden’s pro-CRT actions continue. On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order pressing pro-CRT actions into every corner of his administration. Then came support for CRT from his Education Department, not to mention outrageous attacks on parents fighting CRT at local school-board meetings. Just in the past few days we’ve learned of a grant from HHS to NYU to study “why children favor whiteness and maleness.” On top of that, some anti-CRT groups have announced a lawsuit against the Biden’s Department of Education. The complaining groups claim that the Department of Education has stacked its newly created “parents council” with pro-BLM and pro-CRT groups, in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). FACA requires that such committees have a membership that is “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented.” The suit alleges that the opposite is the case. It would appear that Biden’s pro-CRT bias continues to play out in real time. Why should we expect his administration of the Civics Secures Democracy Act to break from that pattern?

In short, DeSantis is right. The Civics Secures Democracy Act gives Biden a gigantic pot of money with which he can “buy off” states in exchange for their support of CRT. It isn’t about formal federal “coercion.” It’s about federal bribery — although in practice they amount to about the same thing.

The deeper falsehood is embodied in federal “rules of construction” like the one in CSDA, which says, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the Secretary of Education to prescribe a civics or history curriculum.” (In a similar manner, HUD has no power to formally dictate local zoning, yet it manipulates federal grants to get around that legality in practice.) Washington politicians regularly tout such provisions to prove that they aren’t overreaching their constitutional writ, when in fact that’s exactly what they are doing. There is no constitutional basis for a federal role in education. Yet that function endlessly expands via deceptive workarounds like CSDA. If PolitiFact really wanted to perform a public service, it would expose this deeply deceptive game instead of taking at face value the misleading rules of an ever-expanding federal power grab.

The thing about DeSantis is, he gets it. He’s done more to pull back Common Core, for example, than any other governor I know. DeSantis understands the tricks other governors use to pretend they’ve replaced Common Core when in fact they have not. Best of all, instead of using his knowledge of that deceptive game to further fool the public, DeSantis breaks the mold and does the right thing. His opposition to the Civics Secures Democracy Act is of a piece with his approach to Common Core. From everything I’ve seen in the education world — and I’ve seen a fair amount — DeSantis is the real deal. PolitiFact, in contrast, is locus classicus of the fake fact check. (See here and here for more examples of PolitiFact’s false and biased work.) The arrow of PolitiFact’s famous “Truth-O-Meter” is looking mighty wide of the mark right now. DeSantis, in contrast, is dead-on.

World

Euromandias

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Sometimes the symbolism of a story is, well, perfect . . .

The Daily Telegraph:

A frequently vandalised Euro sculpture in front of the former European Central Bank headquarters is set to be sold to the highest bidder because it costs too much to maintain.

The 14-metre statue was erected to celebrate the introduction of the euro in 2001 and has since become a symbol of Eurozone decision-making.

But when the ECB decided to move its headquarters to another location in Frankfurt, Germany, the central bank’s bosses opted not to take the 50-ton sculpture with them.

The artwork — a giant euro sign surrounded by 12 yellow stars, by German artist Ottmar Horl — has been maintained by the Frankfurt Culture Committee, a non-profit organisation, for the past 21 years. That currently costs the committee some €250,000 every year.

“At this very moment, the symbol is as well damaged and bedaubed,” a spokesman said.

Manfred Pohl, who is in charge of the sculpture’s upkeep, blamed increasing vandalism over the past two years and a lack of corporate sponsorship for the committee’s decision to auction it off.

“We have contacted 110 banks over the past 12 months, and 90 didn’t even bother answering,” he said of his efforts to secure new funding to keep the artwork in Frankfurt….

Science & Tech

‘Human Evolution’ Is a Misnomer

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(deberarr/iStock/Getty Images)

A new study claims that “natural selection” is making society more unequal because it is favoring those with poorer education and lower earnings. From the University of East Anglia press release:

A new study published today shows how natural selection effects are stronger in groups with lower income and less education, among younger parents, people not living with a partner, and people with more lifetime sexual partners.

Meanwhile, natural selection is pushing against genes associated with high educational attainment, high earnings, a low risk of ADHD or major depressive disorder, and a low risk of coronary artery disease.

Lead researcher Prof David Hugh-Jones, from UEA’s School of Economics, said: “Darwin’s theory of evolution stated that all species develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.

“We wanted to find out more about which characteristics are selected for and against in contemporary humans, living in the UK.”

What an odd approach. If poorer people with lesser educations are having more children than educated people, that is not evolution acting on the human population. It is because people are making choices that impact demographics. Moreover, whether one has a lesser or greater education is not usually genetically, but socially, determined. And if some of those decisions do exert an influence on our future genomes, it will not be because of natural selection but human agency.

And that illustrates a fundamental flaw with the very concept of ongoing “human evolution.” Natural selection is an undirected process. But human society is directed. Unlike flora and fauna, we have surmounted the straitjacket of natural selection and, hence, cannot be said to evolve over time in the same way that, say, moths or lizards do.

This is not to say that our physiology is not shifting over time due to clear genetic factors. For example, wisdom teeth appear to be disappearing.

But because humans now exert more powerful and immediate forces upon ourselves and our environment than would ever occur via the slow process of natural selection, the concept of “human evolution” is generally a misnomer. Indeed, our unique circumvention of raw evolutionary forces — both as it impacts ourselves and the manner in which we alter the natural world — is one reason why humans are exceptional.

International

The Green-Jobs Miracle Continues

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Here are a couple of additional details from the excellent article in Unherd on Germany by Ralph Schoellhammer which I mentioned in the course of an earlier post:

One of the largest German producers of rotator blades for wind turbines has announced it will close down production in Germany and move to India.

Villeroy & Boch, a company that has produced tiles in the German city of Merzig since 1879 will retire its factory and move manufacturing to Turkey, quoting high energy and labour costs as the main reason.

Villeroy & Boch had recently warned about the impact of high gas and electricity prices. The latter have been very high in Germany for some time thanks to Merkel’s Energiewende, a program that involved massive investment in renewables, scrapping nuclear power and reliance on cheap Russian gas.

As brilliant, widely praised plans go, not the best.

NR Webathon

No, Not 40 Percent, Mark, 60 Percent!

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William F. Buckley Jr. on Firing Line, April 22, 1980 (via YouTube)

I don’t know about you, but I got awfully sick of seeing Mark Wright’s pinned post in here for days about us being 40 percent toward our fundraising goal, when we had surpassed 40 percent, and indeed we are now over 60 percent. I don’t know why Mark had trouble keeping up. It could be that he was still recovering from his celebration of the Sooners championship — in college softball. Indeed, despite playing 61 games, Sooners softball only lost one more game than Sooners football, and didn’t have its coach unceremoniously decamp for USC. Or it could be that he was stupefied in fear at the prospect of U.Va. also coming into the SEC.

All that aside, 40 percent is in the rearview mirror. If you helped put it there, thanks so much. If not, we’d really appreciate it if you could chip in any amount from $5 to $5,000. We have a very generous match up to $100,000, and it’s important to us to take full advantage of it. Thanks so much.