Impromptus

Words and Ideas

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Students participate in the “Our Generation, Our Choice” protest in Washington, D.C., in 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

There is a phrase that Donald Rumsfeld used a lot, in various contexts: “when you get up in the morning.” For example, he’d say, “Who’s going to determine how you live when you get up in the morning? You or a gang that wants to control you?” There are a lot of people, a lot of gangs, that want to tell other people how to live when they get up in the morning. The Iranian regime is one of them. I begin with Iran in my Impromptus today. Then move on to China and Saudi Arabia. Some relief comes with sports and music.

Let’s have some mail. I had a column headed “God and country, &c.” A reader writes,

I appreciated your comments in the September 26th article, especially the Scriptures that you cited.

I believe you used the King James Version which I grew up on, but it does have some old-fashioned terms.

Jesus said some rather unsettling things.

Keep quoting Scripture; we need it.

I especially liked “Jesus said some rather unsettling things.” Did he ever! (“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”)

In a post, I spoke of the Cornerstone Speech, saying I appreciated its “spectacular candor.” (This was the speech given by Alexander H. Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate States of America, in Savannah on March 21, 1861.) A brainy scholar I know writes,

The Cornerstone Speech is great in its utter clarity, and its complete commitment to depravity. No one — least of all Southerners — believed there was a War of Northern Aggression or that it had to do with industry and tariffs or the like until the Lost Cause folks began to drip that poison into the South’s lifeblood, letting them rationalize in perpetuity their forefathers’ treason.

In an Impromptus last week, I said that John Bolton had taught me a new word, in a piece of his: “resile” — to recoil or retract, and especially to return to a prior position. (Never too late to learn things, thank heaven.) A reader writes,

I enjoyed your Impromptus column today, and see that you recently learned a new word. I think I had the same little thrill when recently reading Christopher Hitchens’s book Why Orwell Matters, in which he uses the word “frowsty.” Fittingly, given the author and his subject, the dictionary says its usage is mainly British, and means “having a stale, warm and stuffy atmosphere.” I’m a butcher by trade, not a writer, but if I were trying to avoid cliché when describing a stuffy room, I think I could do worse than “frowsty.”

In that same Impromptus, I noted that students were still chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, [someone or something] has got to go.” I said that students and others had been chanting that chant for generations. “I appeal to the creativity of today’s youth: Can you please come up with another chant, sparing us another 50, 100 years of this stale one?”

A reader writes,

A new chant? No way! When I hear, “Hey, hey, ho, ho,” I immediately know what side I’m on. I don’t even have to look.

Politics & Policy

The Left Should Not Treat Mike Pence as Beyond the Pale

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Students protest Mike Pence’s appearance at Georgetown University on October 19, 2022. (Bobby Miller)

Last night, former vice president Mike Pence spoke at Georgetown University at an event hosted by the school’s Institute of Politics and Public Service and Young America’s Foundation. He urged a revival of civility in our politics. But instead of being afforded reciprocal goodwill, he was met with staged walk-outs, as well as a vitriolic protest outside the building where he was speaking.

When asked why demonstrators objected to Pence’s presence on campus, an unnamed student claimed to be voicing opposition to Pence’s “right-wing extremism.” What “right-wing extremism”? Pence’s steadfast devotion to defending the lives of the unborn? His belief in American exceptionalism in the face of a culturally ascendant Left that denigrates the republic at every turn? Or his courageous defense of our constitutional order and commitment to the peaceful transfer of power displayed on January 6, 2021? The activist wouldn’t say.

Disagreeing with Pence is one thing. But treating him as beyond the pale, especially when he is standing up for a principled conservatism that distinguishes itself from that of his former boss, amounts to a kind of tacit support for the latter. Earlier in the day, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Pence warned conservatives not to let the movement become corrupted and “led astray by the siren song of unprincipled populism that’s unmoored from our oldest traditions and most cherished values.” He also declined to endorse Trump, “saying there might be somebody else I’d prefer more,” stoking speculation of a White House run of his own as an alternative to The Donald. This man is clearly a champion of democracy, not a threat to it.

When progressives refuse to even listen to sensible conservatives like Pence, not only do they malign one of the most prominent non-Trump forces in the GOP, increasing the appeal of Trump as a “middle finger.” They also elevate the same illiberal tendencies that the “democracy dies in darkness” crowd professes to lament. If liberals are serious about their concern for the current state of American democracy, maybe they should spend less time giving Pence the Mitt Romney treatment and stop elevating their own election truthers.

Elections

MSNBC Host Admits Biden Is Draining Oil Reserve to Help Democrats Win

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MSNBC host Chris Hayes and Pennsylvania GOP senator Pat Toomey agree: President Biden is draining the strategic petroleum reserve to help Democrats win the midterm elections: 

If a Republican president were endangering national security to help GOP candidates win elections, Hayes would likely be calling for impeachment. But in this case, Hayes explains, Biden is just trying to save democracy.

International

Europe’s Energy Crisis: The Wood Squeeze and Other Stories

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A worker holds pellets at the production line at the Total Energie plant specializing in wood pellets in Grand-Couronne, France, September 22, 2022. (Jean-François Monier/AFP via Getty Images)

From IER (the Institute for Energy Research):

As much as 70 percent of European heating comes from natural gas and electricity, and with Russian deliveries drastically reduced, wood — already used by some 40 million people for heating — has become a sought-after commodity. Prices for wood pellets nearly doubled to 600 euros a ton in France, and there are signs of panic buying. Hungary has banned exports of pellets, and Romania capped firewood prices for six months. Wood stoves that are high in demand can take months to deliver. In France, there are signs of hoarding as some buyers have bought two tons of wood pellets, when less than one ton is normally enough to heat a home for a year . . .

Since the crisis began, Germany has increased its coal-generated electricity by almost 5 percent. Coal currently accounts for nearly a third of all electricity generated in Germany.

In an interesting foreshadowing of how the politics of climate may evolve:

A poll taken this summer found that 56 percent of Germans were in favor of turning coal plants back on, with just 36 percent against, which compares to 73 percent of the population that supported ending coal use “as soon as possible” in a 2019 poll.

As a reminder, many of Germany’s woes stem from the decision, taken under the wise guidance of Angela Merkel (the “indispensable European,” etc.), to move its energy policy in an allegedly climate-friendly direction — its Energiewende — with massive investment in renewables and ever-deepening dependence on natural gas — a less greenhouse-gas-intensive fuel — supplied by that dependable Mr. Putin. For unrelated but supposedly green reasons, the country also reaccelerated the phase-out of its nuclear-power stations, a program that had reached its final stages this year (although two of its last three power stations are now to be kept on standby).

Meanwhile, Qatar’s energy minister warns (and this should not be news) that getting through the winter of 2022/23 will not be the end of Europe’s problems.

The Financial Times:

Qatar’s energy minister has warned that while Europe should have sufficient gas for power and heating this winter, the tougher challenge will come in 2023 as reserves are depleted.

Saad al-Kaabi said it would be “much worse next year” if there was a harsh winter, adding that the energy crisis could extend to the middle of the decade if President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine continued and gas “does not start flowing back again” from Russia.

“This coming winter, because of the storage capacity being full, it’s fine,” said Kaabi, who is head of state gas company QatarEnergy. “It’s really replenishing the reserves, or the storage, for next year that’s going to be the issue.

“So . . . next year and the following year, even up to 2025, are going to be the issue.”

The Economist clearly believes that even that might be too optimistic a view:

On the surface Europe’s predicament seems less perilous than it did. Despite Russia this year reducing flows of gas into Europe to half their normal levels, the EU’s gas-storage facilities are over 90% full, having been topped up with abundant imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). October looks likely to be unseasonably warm, reducing energy demand. The price of European gas for delivery in December is down about 33% from mid-September and 50% from its highs during a panic this summer.

Yet this balmy picture is fuelling complacency. Long-range weather forecasts suggest November and December could be cold. And gas storage is not enough to replace lost Russian inflows. If these fall to zero, normal energy consumption would leave storage perilously low by March, which can be chilly. Cold weather in Asia or a rebound in China’s economy may make LNG dearer.

And the magazine’s writers bemoan the complacency still being shown in some EU countries:

Germany is reluctantly extending the life of two of its nuclear plants, but only until April 2023. France objects to a new gas pipeline from Spain to Germany, which would enable more of Spain’s lng imports to flow to the rest of the continent. The French government says the pipeline clashes with Europe’s climate goals, but cynics suggest its real aim is to protect its nuclear-power industry.

Most short-sighted is Europe’s failure to take advantage of its own gas reserves. The Netherlands boasts a gasfield in Groningen which could, without any new infrastructure, provide about half as much gas as Russia used to supply to Germany. Yet production is minimal and the field is scheduled to close by 2024. The Dutch government fears the wrath of local homeowners who have suffered in the past when pumping gas has triggered earthquakes.

Only about 22,000 houses that are yet to be reinforced are assessed as being at risk of damage should Groningen produce at full capacity. The costs of compensating those homeowners, or indeed all residents of Groningen, for their losses are only a fraction of the revenues that could be earned from the field’s gas. And those revenues do not account for the knock-on economic and strategic benefits of replacing Russian gas. Given the stakes of the conflict in Ukraine, closing the Groningen field as scheduled would be astonishingly blinkered.

From another Economist piece (from late September):

Europe’s crisis will not end come spring. Goldman Sachs, a bank, recently projected gas prices in summer next year to be around €235 per MWh, higher than they are today (the pre-pandemic price was around €20). German electricity futures for the fourth quarter of 2023 are more expensive than for the fourth quarter of this year.

National Review

‘The Third Phase of the Swamp’

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pauses as he speaks at the Republican Party of Florida Night Watch Party during the primary election in Hialeah, Fla., August 23, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

This week’s episode of The Charles C. W. Cooke Podcast arrives on a Thursday, just as the Founders intended. On this one, I ask NBC’s Marc Caputo why Florida is moving away from its famous “swing state” status, why it now seems to import to many ready-made Floridians, and whether Ron DeSantis can make the jump to the national stage. Then, in the second Q&A, I answer two more of your questions: “Do your children have English accents?” and “As a non-believer, do you find the Bible dull?” If one were to have combined these, one might have arrived at, “Does God have an English accent.” But, of course, we already know that the answer to that is “Yes.”

Regulatory Policy

Electric Vehicles: Job Losses, Mobility Loss — and ‘Social Unrest’

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An electric car plugged in at a charging point for electric vehicles in Rome, Italy, April 28, 2021. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

In a post the other day, I noted a report in the Financial Times that the CEO of Siemens Gamesa, one of Europe’s largest wind-turbine manufacturers, had called for a minimum quota on the amount of EU-produced turbines installed in the region. The reason? Chinese competition was taking too much market share. That “green jobs” would go to China was not part of the plan.

Now this, via Top Gear:

There was a stark warning about the future of the car industry in Europe and Britain this week from Carlos Tavares, boss of the Stellantis Group that includes PeugeotCitroenAlfaFiat, and Jeep.

His concern is the speed of legislation that mandates electric-car sales before the prices have fallen or the infrastructure is available. “Freedom of mobility is going backwards because people can’t afford EVs [electric vehicles]. There is the potential for social unrest,” he tells Top Gear.

His theory is that Chinese-owned companies are subsidising sales here at the moment, which is why they are making the most affordable electric cars. “The Chinese industry might be making cars at a loss. And then they will raise prices after the European carmakers go out of business.”

He says he wants subsidies, or protection from Chinese competition via tariffs, “The same as the barriers that there are on the sale of European cars in China.” That’s not unique. Many bosses in many industries put their hands out for subsidy and protection. He pleads this is the only way to stop widespread job losses in European car factories.

Tariffs would let the European industry build up a base of raw materials supply, cell and battery manufacture as well as car manufacture. But once that “brutal transition period” to EV sales is over in 2025, he says the protectionist measures could taper off because the European industry will have established electric manufacturing.

“2025” may well be a typo (the EU’s ban on sale of new internal-combustion-engine vehicles takes effect in 2035). If not, well, the goal of building up a “base of raw materials supply, cell and battery manufacture as well as car manufacture” by 2025 looks . . . ambitious. As, I suspect, would 2035, but that’s another story.

Back to Top Gear:

If trade barriers don’t go up, [Tavares] has another solution. CO2 can be cut by allowing cheaper small combustion or hybrid cars to be sold new for a few more years. “The politicians decided dogmatically. They decided voters want EVs. We don’t have regulations that are technology-neutral.” In other words, they wanted to cut CO2 and decided EVs are the way to do it, rather than just asking for the CO2 cut and letting the car makers figure out the best way.

The “politicians decided dogmatically.” They decided voters want electric vehicles (EVs), which, presumably is why they felt it necessary to ban alternatives, in case, presumably, voters did not want EVs, you know, quite enough.

Central planning is what it is.

Tavares has expressed his doubts before about the way that EVs are being introduced (I wrote about that here and here).

It’s worth repeating again some comments he made in January (via Carscoops):

“What is clear is that electrification is a technology chosen by politicians, not by industry,” Tavares told a handful of European newspapers in a joint interview. “Given the current European energy mix, an electric car needs to drive 70,000 kilometres to compensate for the carbon footprint of manufacturing the battery and to start catching up with a light hybrid vehicle, which costs half as much as an EV (electric vehicle).”

Central planning is what it is.

And greenflation will be what it will be.

This report from Automotive News Europe gives more detail on Tavares’s views on the possibility of social unrest:

“The dogmatic decision that was taken to ban the sale of thermal vehicles in 2035 has social consequences that are not manageable.”

Tavares said forcing a transition to electric vehicles (EVs), which are more expensive than fossil-fuel or hybrid equivalents, will make car ownership unaffordable for many.

“If you deny the middle classes access to freedom of movement, you are going to have serious social problems,” Tavares said.

Those fears may be overdone, at least so far as the initial aftermath of the ban is concerned. Even after 2035, people in the EU will still be able to buy old internal-combustion vehicles, offering the prospect that Europe’s cities will, in automotive terms, be turned into kinds of Havana, at least until climate policy-makers, quite a few of whom are not keen on too much mobility anyway, decide to change the rules again.

A more likely source of trouble before then may come from the (often highly skilled) workers who will be thrown out of work as EVs, whether from China or elsewhere, obliterate conventional auto manufacturing and, indeed, the businesses that support it (components manufacturers and so on). EVs, it should be remembered, are relatively easy to manufacture.

I’ll also re-up this extract from a Financial Times story from December:

Half a million jobs would be at risk under EU plans to effectively ban combustion-engine cars by 2035, according to European auto suppliers, the latest in a series of stark warnings about the costs of a rapid transition to emissions-free technology.

More than two-thirds of those 501,000 roles would disappear in the five years before that date, according to a poll of almost 100 companies for the European Association of Automotive Suppliers, Clepa, making it difficult to mitigate the “social and economic impacts” caused by mass unemployment.

But the survey by PwC also found that 226,000 new jobs would be created in the manufacturing of electric parts, reducing the net number of job losses to approximately 275,000 over the next couple of decades.

Much will depend on where the cars are manufactured. I also wonder how well those (generally lower-skilled) jobs will pay.

Back to December’s FT:

Carlos Tavares, chief executive of Stellantis, told a Reuters conference on Wednesday that the speed of the transition to electric cars was “putting the industry on the limits”, adding that the costs of developing the new technology could lead to heavy job losses.

His warning followed a similar claim from Germany’s largest listed car parts supplier, Continental, which cautioned that “social harmony would be jeopardised” if climate policies were not accompanied by programmes to create new employment opportunities for those working in fossil fuel-reliant industries.

Programs to create new employment opportunities. Bound to work well.

Woke Culture

Vermont High-School Girls Fight for Female-Only Spaces

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This report by Mary Margaret Olohan at the Daily Signal is well worth watching:

Today, Olohan posted an update:

World

Tories in Open Revolt

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It’s not looking good for Liz Truss. Britain’s third female prime minister has described herself as “a fighter, not a quitter.” But her economic plans are in ruins, she’s facing a record-low approval rating, she sacked her chancellor, her home secretary has resigned, and now even Tory backbenchers are in open revolt. Charles Walker, a long-standing backbench MP, gave a stunning indictment of his own party:

You know, I really shouldn’t say this but I hope all those people that put Liz Truss in No. 10 — I hope it was worth it. I hope it was worth it for the ministerial red box. I hope it was worth it to sit around the cabinet table, because the damage they have done to our party is extraordinary.

World

Tory Implosion Is the Breaking of a Winning Coalition

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New British Prime Minister Liz Truss delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain September 6, 2022. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

As I write this, the British cabinet is falling apart as if it was an Ikea flat-pack assembled by a drunk. The Home secretary resigned over using private email for government business (ahem . . .) while the chief whip resigned in the chaos surrounding a vote on fracking. Backbencher MP Charles Walker spoke for many in the House, expressing his fury at what Brits call an Omnishambles.

I wrote this morning that Liz Truss was in office but not in power. That has been confirmed by today’s events. It is increasingly clear that she can no longer command the confidence of a majority of her MPs, despite their reluctance to agree to Labour’s calls for a general election. This was predictable, given the manner of her election, via a process that saw her the second-best choice of Tory MPs (she actually had the support of only a third of them), but the first choice of a small number of party activists.

This disastrous process of choosing a new leader set Truss up for failure, but her choices then compounded the problem. Boris Johnson won a large majority at the last election by assembling a winning coalition of three factions.

First, the Brexiters. These are largely British voters concerned at the erosion of their national identity. While conservative in terms of national tradition, they were largely collectivist in their economic outlook. Many of them had previously voted Labour all their lives. They were crucial to the Conservatives’ breaking through the Red Wall and winning in places Tories had not won for generations. Boris himself was the clear leader of this faction.

Secondly, what we might term “whigs” or right-wing liberals. This is essentially the business interests of the City of London and the Southeast. Traditionally Conservative voters, they may nevertheless hold very liberal social attitudes. Boris’s finance chief Rishi Sunak and the new holder of that office, Jeremy Hunt, represent the leaders here — both successful businessmen, it should be noted. Above all, they don’t want the economic boat rocked. In the last election, the choice was between two disruptions — Brexit or hard-left Corbynism. They chose Brexit as the lesser of two evils.

Finally, the Thatcherite libertarian tendency, a faction over-represented among MPs compared with the electorate, if not party membership. Truss has been the leader here, although younger MPs like Kemi Badenoch would probably have emerged as champions of this group given time, and they probably have more appeal to the Brexit wing.

These three factions don’t always get along well. Boris was able to hold them together, and his cabinet included prominent representatives of all three groups (Boris as PM, Sunak as chancellor, and Truss as foreign secretary was pretty much a triumvirate government). After he went, Truss appeared to give much more weight to her own faction — the source of Walker’s complaint.

The electoral calculus has changed. Collectivist Brexit voters are disgusted with the “giveaways to the rich” in the disastrous mini-budget. Whigs are scared of deregulation and spending cuts. Libertarians have been exposed as having virtually no support in the country.

So the Brexiters are likely to return to Labour. Whigs might be tempted to give Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer a chance on the grounds that he reminds them of Tony Blair (the last Labour leader to do well with this group). That is probably a mistake for both groups.

The writing is on the wall for Truss. Chances are that she will be replaced by Sunak or Hunt with the approval of a majority of party MPs (which really is the way the leader should have been chosen in the first place). There are, however, some calls from the Brexit wing for Boris to return.

Stranger things have happened, as the last two weeks illustrate.

Media

Sincerest of Apologies

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Nikole Hannah Jones speaks about her 1619 Project Book on ABC‘s Good Morning America. (Good Morning America/via YouTube)

Nikole Hannah-Jones protests the assertion, made by yours truly, that she led the outrage mob that ousted former New York Times editorial-page editor James Bennet.

Hannah-Jones’s name did not appear in the headline of the article to which she refers, but that’s beside the point: She’s right.

How could anyone ever think to attribute Bennet’s departure — announced as a “resignation” — at least in part, to her? Why would anyone expect the Times to take action after its most prominent voice on racial issues publicly denounced the paper, declaring “I’ll probably get in trouble for this, but to not say something would be immoral. As a black woman, as a journalist, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this.”

Who could have foreseen that there would be ripple effects to that denunciation, especially amidst heightened racial tensions, and surrounded by progressive co-workers?

And after all, Hannah-Jones has never shown a taste for blood. When the wolves came for science reporter Donald McNeil after he repeated back a racial epithet while responding to a question from a student (ironically, about the circumstances in which it would be acceptable to suspend a student for using it), Hannah-Jones leapt to his defense.

She did not, as she told Slate, go digging for more dirt on McNeil and tell a meeting of black employees and the Times’ executive editor that McNeil “had said disparaging things about Black teenagers, and has made what some consider misogynistic and culturally insensitive remarks in general.” She did not respond to critics of the staff revolt that cooked McNeil’s goose by arguing that “what they’re calling ‘mob rule,’ some would call democracy.”

She did not comment on the response to McNeil’s firing by tweeting “for the record, it’s almost never appropriate for people other than those from whom the racist slur was created to ever used [sic] the slur. It simply is almost never necessary and the harms, intended or not, are too high.” And she never dismissed the importance of intent in determining a punishment for the user.

No, it was absurd to suggest that Nikole Hannah-Jones played a key part in creating an atmosphere where Bennet was treated “like an incompetent fascist” by his colleagues, and I regret having made that suggestion.

Regulatory Policy

San Francisco Is Building a Toilet

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San Francisco is building one public toilet, to be completed in 2025 at a cost of $1.7 million, and politicians there today held a press conference about it. The process that led to this pricey potty is a pretty good summary of everything wrong with San Francisco’s regulatory environment, the function of which is to make it nearly impossible to build anything.

A statement about the project from the city said that “while this isn’t the cheapest way to build, it reflects San Francisco’s values.”

In a way, this makes sense. San Francisco does not value toilets, as is evidenced by its public-pooping problem, unique in its scale among American cities. (There’s a website dedicated to tracking the city’s excremental incidents on a continuously updated map.) And it does not value the construction of anything if environmentalists don’t hold veto power over it, if bureaucrats don’t micromanage the design of it, and if politicians don’t get to hold a press conference about it — even if it’s just a glorified port-a-john in a public park.

U.S.

Unsafe, Illegal, and Common

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Pills of Misoprostol, used to terminate early pregnancies, are displayed in a pharmacy in Provo, Utah, May 12, 2022. (George Frey/Reuters)

The Washington Post reports on “the rise of a covert, international network delivering tens of thousands of abortion pills” to states where abortion is banned. In any other context, funneling illegal drugs into the United States from Mexico would be an issue for the FBI, not for sympathetic journalists from a mainstream outlet.

The system could upend Republican plans for a post-Roe America. Despite the strict abortion bans that have taken effect in over a dozen states, some antiabortion leaders fear that the flow of abortion pills could help make abortion more accessible than it was before Roe fell. Las Libres, one of several Mexican groups at the center of the network, says its organization alone is on track to help terminate approximately 20,000 pregnancies this year in the United States. That amounts to about 20 percent of all legal abortions that took place in 2019 in the 13 states where abortion is now almost entirely banned.

To these activists, maximizing the number of abortions is more important than women’s safety or basic accountability. According to the Post, the groups “offer abortion pills without a prescription and, typically, without access to a medical professional — occasionally providing medication to those who say they’re at or beyond the FDA’s 10-week limit. To avoid detection in antiabortion states, the group also mails pills unmarked and unsealed, often in old bottles used previously for other medicines.”

As I’ve written before, the green-lighting of backstreet abortions is made even more explicit in Michigan’s Proposal 3, which would amend the state constitution and allow abortion on demand and up until birth. Prop 3 explicitly prevents the state of Michigan from taking “adverse action against someone for aiding or assisting a pregnant individual in exercising their right to reproductive freedom with their voluntary consent.”

The normal medical standard for patients is giving “informed consent.” The normal medical standard for clinicians is to have a license. The new abortion frenzy does away with both.

Health Care

CDC Lends Anti-Vaxxers a Hand

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I have one more thought on the CDC’s contemplating adding Covid-19 vaccines to the recommended childhood-vaccine schedule: I cannot think of any move the CDC could make that would more likely increase general skepticism about vaccines.

Less than a third of American children aged 5–11 have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 under the emergency rules. Given the disparity between childhood- and adult-vaccination rates, it’s fair to conclude that many of those parents who are themselves vaccinated against Covid-19 have declined it for their kids. They may have looked at the data on childhood mortality and Covid and decided that it wasn’t an “emergency” at all, and not worth the risk to their children — spooked, perhaps, by reports of complications that seemed more preponderant in younger people. They may have observed that Europe hasn’t pushed the vaccine on children. Or their children may have already recovered from Covid before the vaccine became available.

I can’t help but think that millions of parents will think, “My child didn’t need a Covid vaccine and yet it’s being added to the schedule: Maybe the schedule itself is suspect.” This would lead them directly to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and to questions about why the vaccine schedule is expanding so quickly for young children.

Health Care

CDC: Who, We?

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CDC’s own Twitter account, along with those of several immunologists, is implying that Tucker Carlson is spreading disinformation when he says that the CDC is voting on whether to add the Covid-19 vaccine to the childhood-vaccine schedule. The claim is that the CDC is just offering guidance, not making policy on behalf of the states, which is true. But state policy often depends on CDC guidance.

This same shuffle happened throughout the pandemic. When popular complaints against restrictive CDC guidance would intensify, CDC officials would disclaim responsibility: Take it up with your state government, they’d say, and governors would deflect complaints by claiming to be merely following CDC recommendations. This is a neat accountability-obscuring device.

Either the CDC believes in its own guidance, or it doesn’t.

The Economy

Biden Continues to Push Gasoline-Price Conspiracy Theory

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President Joe Biden calls for a federal gas tax holiday as he speaks about gas prices at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 22, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In his remarks today about the cost of gasoline, President Biden said, “The price at the pump should reflect what the price of a barrel of oil costs, and it’s not going down consistently.”

This is part of a continued effort by the White House to blame corporate greed — rather than government policies — for inflation. That’s little more than a conspiracy theory. If the White House has some evidence that corporations are working together to keep gasoline prices high, it should reveal it. It’d be a global scandal, and deservedly so.

Really, there are widely accepted reasons why prices in markets such as gasoline don’t go down as quickly as they go up. It’s called asymmetric price transmission, or “rockets and feathers.” I wrote about it in July when Biden was blaming gas-station owners for high prices. Economists debate the causes of asymmetric price transmission, but empirical research finds that it occurs in competitive markets where firms do not have much pricing power. That means it’s not a consequence of a few powerful corporations holding prices up. The gasoline industry is extremely competitive. Most stations are independently owned and operated, and prices are based on a wide variety of factors that vary by region, even town-to-town.

Biden’s statement that gasoline prices should reflect the price of a barrel of oil is not complete. The price of a barrel of oil is one factor in the price of gasoline, but there are others. Transportation costs, refining costs, and taxation all matter, too.

That’s why different regions routinely experience different gasoline prices at the same time. Gasoline near the Gulf Coast is usually the cheapest because it’s closer to major refineries and sold in low-tax states, for example. One way to address the transportation-cost portion of gasoline prices would be to repeal the Jones Act, but, of course, Biden refuses to call for that for fear of crossing organized labor.

In truth, there’s no such thing as a national price of gasoline. Various sources compile data from around the country and compute a national average, but the price is ultimately set at the gas-station level, usually by small-business owners. (Read this piece by Ryan Mills from earlier this year on how those businesses work.) For many of them, gasoline is a loss leader to get people spending in the convenience store. They don’t want high gasoline prices any more than drivers do.

Biden might not know all this, but people who work for him certainly do. Yet the White House has decided to stick with this nonsense talking point about greedy oil companies and hope that the American people are too dumb to figure it out. If you claim credit when gasoline prices go down, you should expect blame when they go back up. In reality, the president doesn’t have much to do with either, but the White House has chosen to tie its political fortune to the price of gasoline — let them enjoy the ride.

Politics & Policy

Re: Can DeSantis Beat Trump among Non-College and Rural Voters?

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks after the primary election for the midterms during the “Keep Florida Free Tour” at Pepin’s Hospitality Centre in Tampa, Fla., August 24, 2022. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

Phil writes:

Megyn Kelly, in a recent conversation with Dave Rubin, made the case that nobody, not even DeSantis, stands a chance against Trump. Her argument essentially boiled down to the fact that Trump has too large a base of loyal followers to be beaten in a Republican primary. If she’s proven correct, I imagine that part of the answer will be in the numbers discussed above.

Megyn may well be right. And, as a Floridian, I may well be unable to see clearly where Republican voters sit on the DeSantis vs. Trump question. Nevertheless, the people we assume are going to win the next primary are rarely the people who actually do win the next primary, and, since 2016, Trump has lost an election. DeSantis is going to win reelection in November, and, if he does so by a considerable margin, that will be a feather in his cap. Sure, at the moment, Trump is romping with rural voters. But are we supposed to believe that this tells us something key about DeSantis? Certainly, he’s never struggled with “rural voters” in Florida.

There’s also the question of the level of Trump’s support. In 2016, Trump won by consistently receiving around 30 percent of the vote, and splitting up everybody else. Would that happen in 2024? Perhaps. And perhaps not. I’m aware of my priors — I don’t want Trump to run — and I’m aware that they can play games with my reasoning. But, that notwithstanding, I’m not sure how impressive it is that, in 2022, Donald Trump is winning 47 percent of the vote in polls, while the governor of Florida is winning 28. Who, one must ask, has more room to grow here? The guy we know literally everything about, or the guy most people have never seen speak? Primary elections are the stories of surges and falls. We haven’t seen any of those yet — and, when we do, they may not follow the same pattern as they did last time.

World

Iranian Rock Climber Returns to Tehran, Potentially Facing Government Coercion

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Iran’s Elnaz Rekabi competes in the Women’s Lead qualification at the indoor World Climbing and Paraclimbing Championships 2016 at the Accor Hotels Arena in Paris on September 14, 2016. (Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

Elnaz Rekabi, the Iranian rock climber who competed in an international competition in Seoul without the headcovering mandatory for her country’s athletes, returned to Tehran today, apologizing for her behavior and meeting with government officials. An Iranian expert said that Rekabi’s conciliatory stance might be the product of Iranian government intimidation, as Tehran works to clamp down on the mass-protest movement sparked by the killing of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police after being accused of not wearing a hijab properly.

Rekabi received a hero’s welcome upon her return to the Iranian capital — but focused on reiterating her previous apology for competing without a hijab. A message posted to her Instagram account claimed that she had done so after being called on to compete unexpectedly, which she confirmed in an interview with Iranian state media after landing, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“I was struggling to put on shoes and with my technical equipment, which made me neglect the hijab that I had to wear, and then I went to climb,” she said, also denying reports that her passport and phone had been confiscated.

American University in Beirut professor Ali Fathollah-Nejad told the Journal that Rekabi’s reiterated apology today was the result of government intimidation.

Rekabi subsequently met, and posed for a picture with, Iran’s minister of sports. She did not wear a hijab and traditional clothing in the meeting, though her hair is covered by a cap and the hood of her jacket.

Hamid Sajjadi, the sports minister, accepted Rekabi’s apology for competing without the hijab, saying that “if occasionally a mistake happens, we should seek to make up for it.”

The International Olympic Committee claimed on Wednesday that the Iranian government provided “clear assurances that Ms. Rekabi will not suffer any consequences and will continue to train and compete.”

Elections

Can DeSantis Beat Trump among Non-College and Rural Voters?

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Left: Then-President Donald Trump at the White House in 2020. Right: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signs the state’s 15-week abortion ban into law in Kissimmee, Fla., April 14, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters; Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In a few weeks, Florida governor Ron DeSantis will almost certainly be celebrating a comfortable reelection victory. But there won’t be much time to bask in it before speculation about his 2024 plans, and a possible matchup against Donald Trump, goes into overdrive.

Having covered many presidential primary races, I’ve learned to largely discount national polling taken way in advance of voting in early primary states, and so I don’t want to read much into the headline number in the latest NYT/Siena poll showing Trump beating DeSantis 47–28 in a hypothetical race. But such polling can sometimes raise interesting questions, and Josh Kraushaar of Axios flags one such finding of the poll, which is that DeSantis narrowly leads Trump among Republican college graduates 36 percent to 33 percent, but gets clobbered among those who do not have a college degree, with 55 percent supporting Trump and just 23 percent supporting DeSantis. I dug a bit more into the crosstabs myself, and they show a similar regional divide, with DeSantis close to Trump among suburban voters (trailing 40–36), but way behind among rural voters (53–24).

Obviously, we have no clue how those numbers might change if the two candidates start duking it out a year from now. Megyn Kelly, in a recent conversation with Dave Rubin, made the case that nobody, not even DeSantis, stands a chance against Trump. Her argument essentially boiled down to the fact that Trump has too large a base of loyal followers to be beaten in a Republican primary. If she’s proven correct, I imagine that part of the answer will be in the numbers discussed above.

DeSantis is clearly a very popular Republican and clever politician who has made a name for himself on a number of issues that are a high priority for conservatives. But going up against Trump, and doing so in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, is a much different proposition. DeSantis carries the risk in a primary of having a similar problem to the one faced by Elizabeth Warren, who appealed to a lot of well-educated progressives as well as liberal journalists but didn’t really connect beyond that. DeSantis is more skilled than Warren, of course, but Trump is also more formidable among Republicans than anybody Warren faced. There is certainly the possibility that DeSantis becomes a favorite of white-collar Republicans and professional conservatives looking to move on from Trump, but that rural voters say, “not so fast!”

World

Israel to Study ‘Early-Warning System’ for Ukraine, Declines Latest Iron Dome Request

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Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, looks on after voting at a polling station in Israel’s national election in Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel, March 2, 2020. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

The Israeli government today declined Ukraine’s latest requests to transfer air-defense systems such as Iron Dome but said that it might help Kyiv build out an early-warning system to detect incoming Russian missile strikes and drone attacks.

While at times offering other forms of humanitarian and defensive support for Ukraine, Jerusalem has previously held off on arming the Ukrainian military. The decision to consider assisting with an early-warning system is new.

Speaking to a group of European ambassadors, Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz explained his country’s position, highlighting the forms of aid that his country does provide, while ruling out weapons assistance “due to a variety of operational considerations,” the Times of Israel first reported. Those operational considerations may refer to Israel’s coordination with ongoing operations to counter Iran in neighboring Syria, which Russia has permitted.

Gantz then revealed that Israel could move to help build up an early-warning system in Ukraine, saying that he has requested further information from Kyiv about the country’s air-defense needs: “Once we gain this information, we will be able to assist in the development of a life-saving civilian early-warning system.”

In a recent plea to the Israeli government, Axios reported exclusively today, Kviv had requested Iron Dome batteries, specifically citing the threat of new Iranian drones that Russia has started to use on the battlefield and the likelihood that Tehran would soon transfer ballistic missiles to Russian forces as well. “Such attacks have already led to numerous victims among the Ukrainian civilians, and also a significant destruction of civil infrastructure facilities,” Ukraine’s embassy in Israel wrote in a letter to the Israeli foreign ministry.

In recent weeks, Iran has transferred Shahed-136 “suicide drones” and Mohajer-6 drones to the Russian military, which has used them to devastating effect. The Wall Street Journal reported that since their introduction on the battlefield they have destroyed several Ukrainian artillery batteries and infantry vehicles, though Ukrainian forces have also shot many of them down. The Israeli military has said that it is closely watching how the Iranian drones being used in Ukraine could be weaponized against Israeli cities in the future.

The degree of Iranian assistance is expected to grow more intense, the Ukrainian government said.

“There is a high probability of prompt deliveries to the Russian Federation of Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar ballistic missiles from Iran,” the Ukrainian embassy’s letter continued.

In addition to Iron Dome, the letter states, Ukraine’s government is also requesting Iron Beam, Barak-8, David’s Sling, and the Arrow Interceptor — all of which are Israeli systems and critical parts of the country’s highly successful air-defense arsenal. Kyiv also requested U.S.-produced Patriot missile batteries.

Following Ukrainian advances over the past several weeks, and an explosion that targeted a bridge in Crimea, Russia unleashed a missile barrage this month targeting civilian centers and critical infrastructure in several of the country’s cities, killing at least 19 people.

Exclusive: On Abortion, Voters View Democrats as More Extreme Than Republicans by Two to One

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A voter exits a voting booth to cast a vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary at the Stark volunteer fire dept. in Stark, N.H., February 11, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

U.S. voters believe that the mainstream Democratic Party’s position on abortion is “more extreme” than the mainstream Republican position by a nearly two-to-one margin, according to a new survey from Republican polling firm WPA Intelligence.

The poll of 1,000 voters, which was conducted on October 6–10 and provided exclusively to National Review, presented respondents with two options: “allowing abortions up until 9 months of pregnancy for any reason,” or “restricting abortions to only in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger.” When asked which of the two was “more extreme,” 57 percent of respondents

Elections

If Zeldin Is This Close . . .

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Dave Wasserman notes what Zeldin’s standing probably means for New York’s competitive House districts:

Elections

Maybe Stacey Abrams Isn’t That Good at This?

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I wrote a column a couple of weeks ago on the mismatch between Stacey Abrams’s glowing press and her actual performance.

This would be another exhibit:

 

 

Elections

Why Kari Lake Will Be Trump’s Running Mate

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She’s obviously not my kind of Republican, but I thought her nomination was political suicide, and I was wrong. As a longtime TV anchor, she knows how to communicate, and she’s been running very effectively against the press. This, for instance, is pretty much a master class in how to handle hostile questioning:

 

If she wins, and if Trump wins the nomination (couple of big assumptions there), she checks a lot of boxes as a VP pick: a “stop the steal” true-believer who, unlike Doug Mastriano and his ilk, would have demonstrated political viability; a governor from a swing state that Trump lost in 2020; a woman; a politician who has thoroughly absorbed the spirit of Trumpian politics as combat and theater; and a name that can generate big crowds.

She’d be Trump’s Sarah Palin, except the match would be much more natural.

Elections

Please, Please, Can We Make It August Again?

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The Democrats are desperate to try to keep abortion in the conversation. Here was Biden yesterday:

President Biden on Tuesday said that he would make an abortion rights bill the first piece of legislation he will send to Congress next year if Democrats elect more senators and his party keeps control of the House.

Why it matters: With exactly three weeks until Election Day and the renewed pressure of high inflation, Biden is doubling down on making abortion the centerpiece of the midterm elections.

State of play: Biden delivered remarks at a Democratic National Committee event at the Howard Theatre in Washington, where he drew a contrast between Republicans “who want a national ban” and Democrats “who want to codify Roe into law,” according to a Democratic official.

Politico’s Playbook this morning noted how Republicans have adjusted to blunt the Democratic advantage on abortion:

On abortion, ever since the Kansas referendum defeating an abortion ban, Republicans in tough races have abandoned or downplayed hardline stances and refocused attention on attacking their Democratic opponents as extreme. Neutralizing abortion has allowed many Republicans to raise the salience of crime and immigration. We saw this dynamic repeatedly in the big Senate and gubernatorial debates this week in Georgia, Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere. The White House has noticed how the Dobbs effect has faded. On Tuesday, JOE BIDEN announced that his first bill to Congress next year would be one codifying Roe.

Energy & Environment

Science Journal Claim: ‘Ocean’ Is a ‘Living Entity’ with Inherent Rights

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A surfer walks out surf during sunrise at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, Calif., January 25, 2022. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

I have been warning that the “nature rights” issue is moving very quickly now from the fringe to mainstream environmentalism. Now, a major essay in a prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journal argues that oceans are a “living entity” entitled to rights.

Before we start, note how science itself has been corrupted by woke assumptions. The language deployed is the same woke gobbledygook you would expect to see in a vapid university Destructing English Literature class. From, “Living in Relationship with the Ocean to Transform Governance in the UN Ocean Decade,” published by Plos Biology:

Rights of Nature is one legal framework within the body of Earth law. As evidenced by global comparative studies, Rights of Nature recognizes Nature as a living being with inherent rights and that society has a right to defend and protect Nature. Therefore, the emerging Rights of Nature movement seeks to illustrate Nature as valued for itself (intrinsic value), no longer viewed as an object or property, but as a subject with rights. As such, references to the Ocean, Ocean-centered governance, and Nature are capitalized in this Essay to be consistent with the Rights of Nature framing and recognition as a legal entity and noun. [My emphasis.]

The essay claims that the oceans — I refuse to use “Ocean,” as if seas are a single living entity — have agency:

By positioning the Ocean as a living entity with inherent rights, governance advances understandings that the Ocean has agency, is an actor worthy of representation, and that democratization of global Ocean governance must be inclusive of Ocean values and diverse “waves of knowing” or deep ancestral knowledge and connections to place that center Ocean relationality. [My emphasis.]

This is irrational and a-scientific. The oceans are not a sentient being. They are geological features. Water is not alive, it supports life — all of which would also have rights as part of either nature rights or ocean rights.

The essay calls for “Ocean-centered governance,” which would allow “anyone” to enforce the rights of nature and assign guardians to represent “Ocean,” meaning, of course, ideologues like the authors (two of whom work at Earth Law Center):

Ocean-centered governance ensures the agency or representation of nonhuman stakeholders in decision-making processes, such as through human guardians (other terms used include protectors, stewards, trustees, and custodians) and recognizes the global population as including all species, with humans as just one entity within the system, thereby constraining economic activity within ecological limits. [My emphasis.]

Again, this is not science, but radical ideology, promoted by non-scientists in a supposedly scientific journal. The ideas presented are akin to the Gaia Theory which sees the entire earth as a living entity. The goal of “constraining economic activity” is clearly stated, which of course means restraining capitalism and installing an international socialized technocracy to govern the use of ocean resources.

The “Ocean rights” approach would make the creatures of the sea co-equal with humans and restrain human uses of the ocean to ensure that animals and plants therein are able to live natural life spans:

 Linda Sheehan postulates a definition of health as “normal form and function” over a long period of time and “demonstrat[ing] sufficient organization, vigor, and resilience to allow ecosystems and species to exist, thrive, and evolve as natural systems within the context of their expected natural life spans”. Ocean-centered governance recognizes Oceanic ecosystems as all intrinsically valuable and determines metrics for what constitutes a “healthy” Ocean as defined by the Ocean’s intrinsic needs, including chemical, physical, and biological needs, rather than the Ocean’s utility as a human resource or economic benefit. [My emphasis.]

It is a very long essay, but you get the gist. The goal is to move away from a proper regulatory approach to conserving and husbanding ocean resources to the establishment of an international technocracy — rule by experts and ideologues — that would treat humankind as merely one species among the rest, an earth-religion approach that would substantially harm our thriving and freedom.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Student Loans and CBDCs

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Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute writes about how Biden’s student-loan plan doesn’t even make sense on its own terms:

Progressives were calling for mass student-debt cancellation before the pandemic, arguing the debt is simply too great a burden. President Biden, in contrast, is citing the pandemic to justify the debt-cancellation order he issued in August. But a new analysis by the Department of Education refutes his justification, and a new lawsuit by the Cato Institute seeks to reverse Biden’s unwise and unconstitutional cancellation plan.

Josh Hendrickson writes about central-bank digital currencies and who will use them:

One might therefore wonder whether the safety and faster payments offered by the CBDC would cause people to abandon their accounts at commercial banks in favor of the CBDC. After all, if the CBDC is safer and faster than a commercial bank account, why would anyone continue to use a commercial bank account? Furthermore, even if people continue to hold balances at the commercial bank, wouldn’t the safety of a CBDC create a new risk? For example, the safety of the CBDC account might cause people to run on commercial banks during bad times in an attempt to move their money to safety. This sort of disintermediation could have significant costs.

No worries. Advocates of a CBDC have a solution to this problem. By setting the interest rate on CBDC balances sufficiently low, the central bank can discourage people from abandoning their commercial bank accounts for the CBDC. But therein lies the contradiction. The CBDC supposedly offers users superior features, but the central bank will make sure the CBDC is not widely used.

Woke Culture

What Do We Do about Colleges That Embrace ‘Diversity’ Rather Than Truth?

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Colleges (and once-scholarly organizations) that have thrown their lot in with the woke crusade are a rapidly growing problem. Professors are now expected to advance “antiracism” instead of speaking and seeking truth as they find it.

In the Washington Examiner, Rick Hess of AEI has a great article about this.

He observes that colleges are now demanding the equivalent of loyalty oaths that leftists used to indignantly denounce. Today, what is required is a loyalty oath to a set of “progressive” notions. Moreover, there are plenty of academics who think this is just fine. They’ve been raised with the belief that education is supposed to be “transformative,” turning students into true believers in leftist socio-economic goals.

What is to be done? Hess has a number of sharp ideas:

If the powers that be in higher education are increasingly disinclined to hold up their end of that bargain, taxpayers and policymakers should respond appropriately. Colleges that choose to abandon their unique mission in service of ideological agendas should be treated accordingly. They should be stripped of public largesse and rendered ineligible for taxpayer-provided student loans. Their privileged tax status and regulatory privileges should be reexamined. Public institutions should be subjected to rigorous oversight. Officials should bar academics from using public funds to pay dues, fees, or travel expenses to “scholarly” associations that have abandoned their scholarly purpose. And policymakers and thought leaders should seek ways to create new institutions and associations that are committed to free inquiry, truth-seeking, and the robust exchange of ideas.

I like it. The Left has taken over education in the U.S. and unabashedly uses it to indoctrinate students. We are in a terrible fix because so many people have been taught to believe in the mega-state that is necessary for the leftist agenda. We must push back.

Politics & Policy

How Can a College Get Along without Tenure?

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Faculty tenure is widely assumed to be essential for a college or university — a protection for academic freedom so professors can write and speak as they wish without having to worry that they’ll be terminated if someone in power gets upset.

Many schools adopted tenure, but not all. One such institution is Cairn University in Pennsylvania and in today’s Martin Center article, Cairn’s president, Todd Williams, explains why his school is better off without it.

Williams observes, “Once tenure is in place, though, it is usually accompanied by such a high degree of faculty control that terminating a tenured faculty member is a daunting and arduous task, often abandoned outright or resulting in a significant financial settlement.” Tenure, in short, makes it far more difficult for a school to react to changing circumstances, and that is becoming increasingly important as higher ed enters a period of rapid change.

Instead of tenure, Cairn has one year contracts for all its faculty members.

Williams explains, “Faculty appointments and contract extensions are determined by performance, institutional fit, and need. These are the same dynamics that apply to employment in most other environments. At first, it may appear that faculty positions at Cairn are tenuous rather than tenured. But the faculty ranks include a significant number of individuals who have taught at Cairn for more than 20 years, as well as younger and newer faculty who joined the ranks fully aware of their employment arrangement.”

The costs of tenure may exceed its benefits.

Williams concludes, “At Cairn, and at many other schools without tenure, alternatives to the tenure trap can be found, and encouragement can be given to those who think the established consensus cannot be countered. It is possible to create a harmonious, fair, performance-oriented, student-centered, mission-driven academic environment. But the way to do so is not by employing a practice that exists almost nowhere else in the American economy.”

Politics & Policy

Biden Has Somewhat Stanched the Bleeding with Young Voters

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President Joe Biden speaks about his administrations’ plans to forgive federal student loan debt during remarks in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 24, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

One of the recurring patterns in polling of Joe Biden’s approval ratings from his initial collapse in August 2021 through his nadir in July 2022 was his ghastly numbers among the youngest voters — usually a reliable Democratic redoubt, if one prone to low voter turnout. Biden is still polling poorly, but his approval rating in the RealClearPolitics average is merely an ugly -10 (43.3 approval, 53.5 disapproval), down from the catastrophic -20 highs of midsummer. In the interim, his administration has directed nearly all of its political energy away from the sorts of issues that concern middle-aged family heads and senior citizens (such as inflation and crime) and towards the things that excite left-leaning young people (such as student-loan debt, abortion, and climate change). Has anything come of this?

I looked at the seven polls in the current RCP average that have public age crosstabs. That’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, for a couple of reasons: These are polls of varying size; they range from all-adults polls to likely-voter polls; and, worst of all for these purposes, they group the youngest voters in brackets of varying size. Still, let’s see how Biden is doing with young voters compared with voters as a whole in these polls, which happen to be a sample of the more favorable polls for Biden:

Across these seven nationwide polls, Biden is at -9.6 with all voters, but -3 with voters in the youngest age brackets, which range from 18 to 29 year olds, to 18 to 44 year olds. Oddly, he’s doing best with young voters in the Fox News poll, which breaks at age 45, and worst in the New York Times/Siena poll, which isolates voters under 30. In two polls, the Federalist/Susquehanna poll and the Insider Advantage poll, he’s in worse shape with younger voters than the electorate as a whole. Taken together, this is a somewhat more normal age distribution for a Democrat, but still not terribly encouraging if you are staking your bets on young voters to bail Biden out. It’s not the Obama army of energized young people — and remember, even that army didn’t show up in 2010 or 2014.

Regulatory Policy

It’s Not ‘Treason’ to Want to Repeal the Jones Act

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Stacked containers as ships unload their cargo at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, Calif., November 22, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Sometimes, life is weirder than fiction. Such is the case with this Dispatch story that explains how a set of FOIA’d documents from the Maritime Administration contained a sentence on how Mercatus colleagues of mine past and present, the entire staff of the Cato Institute, and I should be charged with treason for criticizing the Jones Act:

Nestled among bullet points recommending policy changes to fix those problems is one labeled, “Unequivocal support of the Jones Act.”

Beneath it: “Charge all past and present members of the Cato and Mercatus Institutes with treason. The President inform the Heritage Institute that he will personally disavow them if they continue to advocate against the Jones Act.”

A Maritime Administration spokesperson confirmed receiving the document from a member of the subcommittee but did not comment on the substance of the recommendation.

It is actually funny that someone not only said this, but actually wrote in a memo that was then sent around.

Under the circumstances, I thought it would be a good idea to double down on my act of ‘treason’ and write once again that it is time the end the Jones Act. The piece starts with a special thanks to all the scholars, many of them at the Cato Institute, who over the years have devoted so much energy making to the case for the repeal of this detestable Act. Here is my conclusion:

In the name of catering to a handful of cronies, U.S. politicians repeatedly have agreed to keep the Jones Act in place. They have agreed to foist expensive and outdated ships onto American merchants and shippers. They have agreed to pollute, and they have chosen to make it harder to carry out relief efforts in Puerto Rico and other places when hurricanes strike.

No tongue-in-cheek accusation of treason will change the economic facts. It is time to put an end to this monument to cronyism and special interest politics.

Repeal the Jones Act.

National Security & Defense

NATO, Germany, and Cyber-Insecurity

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(Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Germany is, among the largest NATO members, one of the weakest links in the Atlantic Alliance. Under the circumstances, this doesn’t make pleasant reading.

The Financial Times:

The head of Germany’s national cyber security agency [the BSI] Arne Schönbohm has been sacked over reports of his alleged ties to Russian intelligence.

A government statement said interior minister Nancy Faeser had released Schönbohm from his duties with immediate effect after the German media aired accusations against him.

The allegations centre on his links to an organisation known as the “German Cyber Security Council”, which he co-founded roughly a decade ago. According to reports in the German media, one of its members is a company founded by a former Russian intelligence agent.

To stress two points, these are only allegations, and any country can be vulnerable to espionage. Nevertheless, this was not entirely reassuring (my emphasis added):

Schönbohm has been in the public spotlight since a report on the German TV programme ZDF Magazin Royale this month highlighted his relationship with the German Cyber Security Council. The BSI chief had given a speech at the council’s 10-year anniversary celebration earlier this year, although he had told subordinates not to appear at its events.

The programme also focused on a Berlin-based cyber security company called Protelion that had until recently been a member of the council. The company, which was previously called Infotecs, was a subsidiary of a Russian company called OAO Infotecs. According to the research network Policy Network Analytics, OAO Infotecs was founded by a former employee of the KGB, whom Russian president Vladimir Putin had rewarded with an honorary medal.

Protelion declined to comment. OAO Infotecs could not be reached for comment.

The German Cyber Security Council last week said it had excluded Protelion as a member, saying its actions had been a “violation of the goals” of the association.

This, as the FT explains, comes at a time when NATO members are increasingly worried about Moscow’s capacity for sabotage.

The Schönbohm scandal comes at a time of heightened fears that Russia might target Germany’s critical infrastructure over its support for Ukraine. This month the country’s rail network fell victim to an act of sabotage that briefly paralysed all train services in northern Germany.

More to come, I fear.

World

Blinken Says Beijing’s Taiwan-Annexation Timeline Has Grown ‘Much Faster’ in Recent Years

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, July 9, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool via Reuters)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned yesterday that the timeline on which Beijing wants to absorb Taiwan has grown “much faster” in recent years, as the Chinese Communist Party has opted to ignore the long-standing status quo that’s maintained peace across the Taiwan strait.

His comments reflected what he said he views to be a fundamental shift in the Party’s thinking over the years. “Instead of sticking with the status quo that was established in a positive way, a fundamental decision that the status quo was no longer acceptable and that Beijing was determined to pursue reunification on a much faster timeline” was made, he said, responding to a question during an appearance with former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice at the Hoover Institution.

Blinken went on to warn that the Chinese leadership has also become more comfortable with considering “forceful means to achieve its objectives” and that that is to blame for the “tremendous tensions” there today.

Earlier this week, general secretary Xi Jinping reiterated his previous vows that China would annex Taiwan and that it would not rule out using force to do so.

Although Blinken’s remarks did not seem to be based on any specific, new intelligence, they did provide a window of insight into how America’s top diplomat assesses the Chinese military threat to Taiwan. Blinken’s Taiwanese counterpart, Joseph Wu, has issued his own stark warnings, telling reporters recently that the Chinese military drills that followed House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the democratic country in August were a pretext to practice Beijing’s “invasion playbook” and that Taipei must be prepared to defend itself from any future attack.

World

Biden Admin Winds Down Probes into Universities’ Foreign Gifts

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A soldier facing the Tiananmen Gate stands guard outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, in 2016. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

The Biden administration is reportedly planning to roll back Trump-era investigations into U.S. universities’ foreign donations, a move that is likely to trigger a congressional response as Republicans prepare a China-focused legislative onslaught.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported yesterday on the Department of Education’s plans to wind down investigations into all remaining inquiries into the sources of foreign funding in higher education. Department officials, according to the report, have informed trade groups representing universities of the plan. In one letter to the department in August, Terry Hartle, an executive with the American Council of Education, referenced that the department had conveyed that it “plans to close the outstanding section 117 investigations that remain open,” referring to the legislative provision on foreign funds that requires universities to disclose foreign gifts of $250,000 or more.

The American Council on Education had asked the incoming Biden administration, in a letter addressed to Biden in November 2020, to review and potentially terminate the Section 117 investigations, which it characterized as “politically motivated.”

Unsurprisingly, Beijing’s influence is front of mind for the administration’s critics. Universities’ self-reporting of foreign gifts has declined significantly during the Biden administration. After Department of Education records showed that universities reported only a bit over $4 million in foreign gifts throughout part of 2021, compared with over $1.5 billion between July 2020 and January 2021, Representative Mike Gallagher expressed concern that the administration “may have relaxed its enforcement standards” and “thrown the Chinese Communist Party an important lifeline.”

Responding to the Chronicle’s request for comment, the Department of Education said that it would not comment on open investigations.

News of this policy is very likely to invite a Republican legislative response. With the GOP poised to make major gains in the upcoming midterm elections, the party’s congressional leaders are preparing legislation for the next Congress, when there’s a possibility that their party will set the agenda and possibly plan investigations.

Representative Jim Banks, a leading congressional China hawk who also chairs the Republican Study Committee, told National Review in a statement that the “toothless” current law that only requires colleges to disclose foreign gifts is insufficient enough. “Yet merely tracking foreign influence efforts is too much for the Biden administration,” he continued.

Banks’s RSC will likely be one major contributor to GOP legislative efforts on countering Beijing, and the Indiana Republican is the author of a bill that would reduce the reporting requirement to $50,000 from the current $250,000, expand the definition of “foreign source,” and involve the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. in foreign-donor oversight, granting the power to block certain transactions.

While the administration is reportedly phasing out all foreign gifts investigations, the Chronicle noted that it is likely to propose new regulations on securing sensitive research. That’s a much narrower approach, though.

Hartle, the higher-education lobbyist, wrote in the August letter that university leaders were “pleased to learn” about the decision to roll back the investigations. It’s definitely an outcome with which the industry can be happy.

Monetary Policy

Groupthink Has Inflationary Consequences

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Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Thomas Hogan’s piece today for Capital Matters is about how the Fed contributed to the higher inflation we are currently experiencing by playing with DEI in monetary policy. He writes:

Under pressure to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, however, the Fed revised its monetary-policy objectives to make its employment target more “inclusive.” Pursuit of this goal was one reason that the Fed maintained an overly expansionary policy, with consequences of which we have only just been reminded.

There’s one really key point that Hogan makes later on. He writes that nearly all economists agree, regardless of ideology, that monetary policy is not a great way to pursue any kind of DEI goal (emphasis added):

Monetary policy is a blunt tool that affects the entire economy. It cannot focus on specific subsets of the labor force. Fed chairman Jerome Powell and his predecessors Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke have all said that monetary policy is not capable of resolving disparate labor-market outcomes. The best it can do is promote economic growth that will benefit all workers and consumers.

Despite widespread agreement that monetary policy cannot fix inequality, Fed officials decided to try it anyway.

Macroeconomists are often depicted as being constantly at odds with one another. There’s some truth to that, and many key questions about business cycles lack agreed-upon answers. But there are many cases where macroeconomists do actually agree on a position that’s based on evidence and research. Monetary policy’s not being a good tool to fix inequality is one such case.

Fed officials’ deciding to try it anyway was more a reflection of political factors than economic ones. It’s not as though there was a big debate among Fed economists, with some saying that monetary policy is good at fighting inequality and others saying it’s not, and the DEI proponents won the argument. No such argument happened. They pretty much all agree that monetary policy is no good at addressing inequality.

Instead, the internal debate probably went something along the lines of: What do we have to do to stay in the good graces of Congress and adjust to the political reality of our time? Fed officials probably looked around at the banks they regulate and the financial press and saw DEI just about everywhere. They heard comments from Democrats in Congress about it, who explicitly tied concerns about diversity to their thinking on Fed-nominee confirmations. And they reasoned that they’d need to include some DEI to retain political credibility.

It’s likely that a similar thought process goes into discussions of climate risk in central banking. They know, from an economic point of view, that climate change poses a relatively small risk to the financial system. The argument isn’t primarily over economics. It’s over political considerations.

Right now, for example, just about every economist from anywhere on the political spectrum would tell you that it’s not good for fiscal policy to work against monetary policy. Yet even after the Fed began its rate increases, Democrats have continued to add hundreds of billions of dollars in spending, whether through the so-called Inflation Reduction Act or the illegal student-loan handouts.

The Fed knows that isn’t helping. But it isn’t saying anything about the consequences of fiscal policy in any of its official statements, even though that’s one of the major sources of inflationary pressure right now. That’s probably because it doesn’t want to pick a fight with Democrats, some of whom already have announced their hostility to Fed chairman Jerome Powell.

There’s political sense in avoiding these kinds of confrontations and keeping up with trends on issues such as DEI. The Fed has a very difficult game to play as an unelected yet extremely powerful institution in a democracy. But like any bureaucratic organization, it is susceptible to groupthink, and in financial circles for the past few years, DEI has been all the rage. That groupthink can have consequences, and as Hogan argues today, it probably contributed to the decision to delay monetary tightening longer than was prudent, which has contributed to inflation.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Political Malpractice

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on abortion rights in a speech hosted by the Democratic National Committee at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., October 18, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I know polling earlier this summer showed that Democrats were getting an advantage from the overturning of Roe v. Wade. But it seems like political malpractice to me for Biden to say what he said today:

President Biden announced in a Tuesday speech that his top legislative priority after the midterms will be codifying a national right to abortion, should the Democratic Party retain control of the House and expand its Senate footprint.

“Here is the promise I make to you and the American people, the first bill I’ll send to Congress is to codify Roe v. Wade,” Biden said during remarks at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C.

The move is intended to galvanize support among Democratic and independent women as his polling numbers slump ahead of November’s midterm elections. Earlier in his speech, Biden said the Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization “practically dared” women to turn out because it handed back to states the right to determine their own abortion policies.

The New York Times/Siena College poll, which has Democrats fearing the worst this week, is basically screaming at Democrats that voters rate the economy and inflation as their top issue.

Abortion is just not the top issue, even if it motivates activists and donors. It is as if Democrats are looking at these numbers and deciding that they should just concede an advantage on the economy to Republicans and instead try to change the subject to cultural issues. That’s a terrible strategy. If Democrats want to win, they at least have to address themselves to the issues top-most in voters’ minds. So what if voters don’t believe that the Inflation Reduction Act has bequeathed them a great economy? You can’t change the past, but you are always campaigning on what you will do in office in the future. Republicans only stopped their slide down the polls this summer by talking about abortion themselves, by bringing up the sort of policies they would support in office — bans after 15 weeks, etc.

I suspect the real problem is that the Biden administration and Democrats generally cannot agree on an approach to inflation, as too many of them believe addressing it at all will cause a giant spike in unemployment and kick off a deep recession.

Elections

Arizona Democrats Begin to Recognize the Consequences of Their Actions

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Republican candidate for Arizona Governor Kari Lake speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, August 6, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

If Arizona Democrats aren’t livid with the leadership of the state party, they ought to be. Kari Lake was not one of the pro-Trump further-right candidates that Democrats spent big money to support in primaries — $53 million in 13 races as of mid-September, according to a review by the Washington Post — but the Arizona Democratic Party did choose to take a whack at Lake’s more moderate primary rival, Karrin Taylor Robson, at a key moment during the GOP primary:

NBC News told the story back in July:

Kari Lake watched her lead narrow in the polls and big players in Arizona’s Republican establishment coalesce around her top rival weeks before the state’s Aug. 2 primary for governor.

So Democrats stepped in.

The state party, in an email blast this week, thanked her opponent, Karrin Taylor Robson, for past donations she made to Democratic candidates. The move was quickly interpreted as another example of Democrats’ meddling in midterm election primaries to help draw the general election opponent believed to offer the easier matchup in November — in this case Lake, an election denier endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

“As the Republican primary for governor continues to stir toxic infighting, the Arizona Democratic Party will always be grateful for Robson’s longtime support in helping elect Democrats up and down the ballot, including this November,” Josselyn Berry, a spokesperson for the state party, said in a quotation tacked on to the bottom of the email.

The Arizona Democratic Party knew darn well what they were doing with that release. Kari Lake was a registered Democrat from 2008 to 2012 — they could just as easily have spotlighted that fact. By calling attention to Robson’s donations to Democrats, the Arizona Democratic Party was telling Arizona Republicans, “Robson is not one of you. You should vote for Lake.”

And they did. Lake won the primary by about five percentage points.

Now, keep in mind who the likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee was, as described by the Post’s Ruby Cramer:

It is easy to view Katie Hobbs as Lake’s opposite. The Democrat oversaw the contentious 2020 election in Arizona as secretary of state and served as minority leader in the state Senate, but struggles as a messenger on the trail. At the Arizona Capitol, reporters would often ask her to repeat her answers because sentences would trail off, making her meaning difficult to decipher, one reporter said. During the primary, Hobbs declined to debate her Democratic opponent, despite the fact that he posed little threat to her campaign. (She won with 72 percent of the vote.) She has since refused to share a stage with Lake, producing a weeks-long saga over debate rules and an uncomfortable running contrast. When Hobbs didn’t show at a voter forum earlier this month, Lake stood for more than an hour next to an empty podium labeled “KATIE HOBBS,” in case there was confusion about her absence. “I have no desire to be a part of the spectacle that she’s looking to create,” Hobbs said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” a few days later.

Arizona Democrats knew their nominee was going to be soft-spoken and a poor communicator, and they chose to go up against the well-known former television-news anchor, who had been working in front of the cameras for more than two decades.

And now Kari Lake, enjoying a small lead in recent polling, is terrifying Democrats. Axios writes, “Democratic Party strategists are watching Arizona’s Kari Lake with growing alarm.” Democrats told the New York Times that Lake’s “charisma and on-camera skills make her uniquely dangerous.”

Well, gee, Arizona Democrats, maybe you should have thought of that before you meddled in the GOP primary, then.

Economy & Business

We’ll All Be Deficit Hawks Soon

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President Joe Biden discusses his ‘Build Back Better’ agenda and administration efforts to “lower prescription drug prices,” in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 12, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters )

Over at Slow Boring, Matt Yglesias has a good piece asking where the deficit hawks have gone.

Ten years ago, the United States was in the grips of a broad obsession with the federal budget deficit. . . .  Weirdly, though, here we are in 2022 with unemployment low, inflation high, and interest rates rising fast, and nobody is talking about this anymore.

He points to a new paper by the CRFB, called “Fiscal Policy in a Time of High Inflation,” as the sole representative of those who care about our current predicament, which makes me think that he’s exclusively addressing his friends on the left. Many non-left (for lack of a better word) scholars have been very active on this issue.

The first who comes to mind, of course, is the Hoover Institution’s John Cochrane. He has long been beating the drum regarding the fact that inflation lives in the shadow of the debt. This is just one of his more recent columns but you can find many more on his blog: the Grumpy Economist. Brian Riedl wrote a superb study, before the pandemic, on the fiscal impact of higher interest rates. Similarly, Jack Salmon and I have published a few papers on this issue starting last year, including one called “Inflation in Times of High Debt.”

I understand why Yglesias may not think it’s a big deal when fiscal conservatives are alerting the world of the risks associated with high debt during inflation. It’s the equivalent of my finding it a big deal when he writes this:

A decade ago when deficit reduction didn’t make a lot of sense, everyone and his mother was producing deficit reduction plans, and mainstream economic policy coverage would’ve been all over something like a fresh CRFB report. So I’m going to be the change: this would be a good time for deficit reduction.

But he’s right. No matter where one stood on the issue of deficit reduction prior to 2021, it is an issue that nobody should ignore in 2022.

It boils down to this. When inflation is as high as it is today and the main way to control it is by the Fed’s raising interest rates, a few fiscal facts become salient: The federal debt is 100 percent of GDP and rising (as a reminder, the debt-to-GDP was 25 percent in the 80s), and the Fed and the Treasury fund the debt by rolling over short-term bonds. 30 percent of our debt has a maturity of one year while most of our debt has a maturity of three years of less.

Combine a debt of 100 percent of debt of GDP with lots of short-term debt — and with the need to raise interest rates to tame inflation — and the result is explosive on interest payments, the federal budget, and deficits. The rise in interest payments has already started and it will only intensify in 2023. So will deficits. How much? A lot:

Using the Congressional Budget Office interactive budget tool, we can get some idea of the scale of the additional debt-servicing costs caused by higher than anticipated interest rates. If the interest rate on the 10-year Treasury note is 0.5 percentage points higher than expected in the coming decade, the cumulative budget deficit during the same period will be $1.43 trillion larger than the baseline projects. If the interest rate is 1 percentage point higher than expected, the cumulative deficit will be $2.85 trillion larger over the decade.

So, when Yglesias asks “where have all the deficit hawks gone?” I reply: “They’re coming.”

Without intending to get too in-the-weeds of this debate: If Congress and the administration don’t cut spending to accommodate the increase in interest payments, they’ll be throwing more oil on the inflation fire. (You can imagine how the administration’s additional spending on student-loan forgiveness isn’t helping, either.)

The good news is that we know what to do. Yglesias does hint at another solution in addition to Fed actions: He calls it fiscal policy. I call it fiscal consolidation. But we are mostly talking about the same thing. The better news is that enough of us at this point realize that we are in a different situation than the ones we have been in before, that we could put our differences aside and work together, and find a bipartisan fiscal solution to help deal with inflation.

If that is paired with some growth-oriented microeconomic reforms, like NEPA, or land-use and zoning reforms, you can boost growth the right way (the supply-side way). I don’t want to oversell supply-side reforms in the fight against inflation, as they can potentially affect expected inflation, but they mostly affect relative prices, not overall inflation. But it is true that better and growing supply means more output and more revenue for the government. That’s really the best mechanism for sustained growth and deficit reduction in the decade to come, which will in turn help us slowly pay back some of the debt.

Elections

The Democrats’ Abortion Bet

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President Biden’s remarks today — vowing that the first bill he will send a Democratic Congress, should there be one next year, will “codify Roe” — suggest that not all Democrats share James Carville’s concern that the party is overemphasizing abortion in the midterm campaigns.

More and more evidence suggests that the issue is fading as a voter concern: The percentage of respondents who tell Gallup it’s the most important issue has halved over two months.

But the problem for Democrats isn’t just that the issue may not be as potent as they had hoped. It’s that, if their abortion campaign fizzles, both parties will know it. Republicans will be less fearful about proposing and defending protections for unborn life, and Democrats will know that fighting it has a limited reward. If it doesn’t work for them in the immediate aftermath of Roe’s overturning, they’ll wonder, when will it?

New Polls Show Lee Zeldin Closing in on Kathy Hochul

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Left: Rep. Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.) speaks at at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 22, 2018. Right: New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference in New York, N.Y., December 14, 2021. (Leah Millis, Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

In early September, Trafalgar showed a single-digit race for governor of New York. The pollster was out on a limb, alone. I asked, at the time, whether that and other Trafalgar polls were for real — and I talked to Trafalgar’s Robert Cahaly, who made the case that Trafalgar was yet again seeing trends on its own (as it did in New Jersey in 2021) or ahead of other pollsters (as it did in Virginia in 2021).

Well, Trafalgar’s most recent poll, released at the beginning of October, shows a two-point race between Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin, but Trafalgar isn’t

Politics & Policy

Why It’s Preposterous to Say the Issue of Crime Is Racist

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In this episode of “Reality Check,” NR’s editor in chief Rich Lowry tackles the issue of why Democrats are wrong to say crime is a “racially divisive” issue.