Politics & Policy

The Senate’s China Bill Lacks Pro-Life Safeguards

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Republican Senator Mike Braun, author of the “Reforming Qualified Immunity Act” speaks during a committee hearing in Washington, D.C., May 20, 2020. (Al Drago/Reuters)

As NR’s Editors note elsewhere on the homepage this morning, the Senate has passed a disappointing and ineffectual bill that is meant to serve as a statement of U.S. strength against the threat of the Chinese Communist Party but in reality does nothing of the sort.

In addition to the complaints we’ve set forth in our editorial, let me add another: The bill fails to offer any pro-life protections to its funding streams, rendering it a potential vehicle for funding unethical research projects that undermine the sanctity of human life.

Not only does the bill not contain any pro-life protections, but such protections were affirmatively voted down by Senate Democrats when offered in the form of amendments by two Republican senators.

The first amendment, from Utah senator Mike Lee, would have prohibited any research authorized by the bill from a) using fetal tissue obtained from induced abortion, b) creating or destroying human embryos, or doing so in a genetically modified way, c) creating an “embryo-like entity,” or d) using stem cells derived in a way that would contradict these provisions.

The second, from Indiana senator Mike Braun, dealt with “human-animal chimeras,” defined essentially as any mixture of human and nonhuman cells, especially genetic material. Braun’s amendment would have forbidden the creation of a human-animal chimera, the transfer of a human embryo into a nonhuman womb, the transfer of a nonhuman embryo into a human womb, or transporting or receiving a human-animal chimera.

Speaking on behalf of his amendment, Braun noted that earlier this year, researchers in China created and studied a monkey-human hybrid embryo, which he described as unethical. His amendment would have taken the National Institutes of Health existing ban on such research and applied it more broadly.

Both this amendment and Lee’s failed, as every Senate Democrat except for West Virginia senator Joe Manchin — who did not vote — opposed adding them to the bill. Though the bill is unlikely to improve after debate in the House, perhaps Republicans there will be more successful in convincing their Democratic colleagues to support the bioethical standards that China eschews.

World

Okay, President Biden, European Union… Then What?

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European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans talks during a joint press conference on the EU’s climate ambition for 2030 at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, September 17, 2020. (John Thys/Pool via Reuters)

It is good that the European Union is joining the Biden administration in declaring the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic unknown, not ruling out the lab-leak theory, and calling for “a transparent, evidence-based” probe “that is free from interference.” 

The problem is that anybody with eyes can see that there’s probably less than a 5 percent chance of China genuinely cooperating. So, the real question is, what is the Biden administration, E.U,, and others willing to do in response to China’s refusal to cooperate?

The Chinese government has lied from the beginning, refuse to turn over raw data, and continues to make nonsensical claims of U.S. bioweapons and infected frozen seafood.

For Xi Jinping, the consequences of cooperation are probably much worse than any consequences for blocking an independent investigation. Even if China did cooperate, the best case scenario for them would be a zoonotic origin, probably tracing back to a wet market, which would lead the world to the conclusion that more than 3.7 million people have died because China can’t run clean, hygienic, and appropriately-inspected meat markets. Any truly independent investigation will conclude that even a with zoonotic origin, the pandemic became a worldwide calamity in part because China kept lying to the World Health Investigation and withholding genetic data, in violation of international law. Any independent investigation is going to conclude that a serious problem became a global catastrophe because of the deliberate actions of Beijing.

This is going to be a conflict, and center-left politicians, officials and diplomats hate conflicts – at least with foreign opponents. They like summits and conferences and multilateral committees and joint statements and communicates full of reassuring, bland language. None of those traditional happy-talk approaches will generate any real answers.

Media

The Media’s Double Standard on Hunter Biden’s Racial Slurs

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Hunter Biden in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel (Jimmy Kimmel Live/Screengrab via YouTube)

Everything from Dr. Seuss to Jesus Christ has at one point been labeled racist. This is more than absurd — it also keeps well-meaning people across the aisle from uniting against things that everyone can agree are racist.

Just this past April, Colorado district judge Natalie Chase resigned after several employees stated that she had used the n-word on numerous occasions and had frequently brought her political beliefs into the courtroom, even when in her robes. In response to her behavior, which included improper use of her judicial authority for a personal matter, the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline censured her. Few attempted to support her, and, because she was also known to say, “All Lives Matter,” much of the media was eager to cover the controversy.

Ever consistent in its inconsistency, the Left is of course treating the Daily Mail story uncovering Hunter Biden’s frequent use, in text messages, of racial slurs with kid gloves. As of the writing of this piece, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and NPR have all avoided coverage of the story. At the risk of stating the obvious, one can only imagine the fallout if a conservative had done this.

But even partisan bias can be tempered by the fear of the public outcry that would inevitably follow any attempt to defend Biden’s text messages. While Big Tech and NPR were more than willing to rush to Hunter Biden’s aid after the New York Post exposed his alleged corruption, they would not dare defend him against equally credible evidence of alleged racism. The best they can do for him is to ignore the story.

The rules for who can and who cannot use slur go something like this. If you are of “x” group, you can use any term you would like to describe said group. The only people who have the power to criticize you for your use of the word are those who are also of that group. Hunter Biden violated this sacrosanct commandment, which the mainstream media cannot defend. Thus, they ignore the scandal. Why Hunter Biden even thought to use these slurs in the manner in which he did is a question I hope to explore in a subsequent post.

Economics

Inflation — and a Timely NR Capital Matters Webinar Today at 2 P.M. EDT

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Kevin Hassett answers a question from reporters during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 17, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

“Our Fed has done things which no Fed has ever done before . . .”

“Yeah, yeah, but your Fed was so preoccupied with whether or not it could, that it didn’t stop to think if it should.”

Bloomberg:

Prices paid by U.S. consumers rose in May by more than forecast, extending a months-long buildup in inflation that risks becoming more established as the economy strengthens.

The consumer price index climbed 0.6% from the prior month after a 0.8% jump in April that was the largest since 2009. Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the so-called core CPI rose by a larger-than-forecast 0.7%, according to Labor Department data Thursday.

The gains were fairly broad and driven by steady growth in the costs of used vehicles, household furnishings, airfares and apparel. The increase in previously owned cars and trucks accounted for about one-third of the total monthly advance in the CPI, the Labor Department said.

Price pressures continue to build across the economy as businesses scramble to balance a rush of demand against shortages of materials and, in some cases, labor. Shipping bottlenecks, higher input costs and rising wages are challenges to companies looking to protect profit margins…

Compared with the same month a year ago, the CPI jumped 5%, the largest annual gain since August 2008, though the figure remains distorted by the base effect. The comparison to the pandemic-depressed index in May 2020 makes year-over-year inflation appear stronger.

The core measure rose 3.8% from 12 months ago, the most since 1992.

Capital Matters Webinar, Thursday, June 10, 2 p.m. (EDT)

Inflation — Should We Be Concerned?

National Review Institute and National Review Capital Matters presents a conversation with Kevin Hassett, former senior adviser and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Trump administration, and Rich Lowry on inflation.

Inflation has been so low for so long that most Americans understandably see persistent inflation as ancient history, and that any blip up today will quickly be reversed. But, is persistent inflation around the corner? Inflation and commodity prices are up sharply. The latest Michigan survey shows people expect 3.7 percent inflation next year. Shortages of everything from lumber to semiconductors have raised input prices for businesses, while the percentage of small businesses reporting that they cannot find qualified workers is at a record high. The ingredients are in the pot, and the fire is on. But will the pot boil?

RSVP here.

Meanwhile, over at Capital Matters, Philip Klein thinks we should be concerned:

For the last decade or so, as the nation’s debt grew and the Federal Reserve kept pumping money into the financial system, there were periodic warnings about the risk of inflation. Yet these fears were never actually realized. As a result, in the face of growing signs of inflation, many people — including the ones who happen to run our nation’s fiscal and monetary policy — aren’t taking the current threat all that seriously. This is worrisome, because in reality, a growing body of evidence — major economic indicators and announcements from small and large businesses — suggests that inflation is quite real . . .

Indeed.

Law & the Courts

The Justices’ Blocked Path

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The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Will Dunham/Reuters)

It has been widely speculated that the Supreme Court might rule in the Mississippi abortion case by upholding the challenged law while stopping short of overruling the Roe/Casey line of cases. Pro-lifers would then win the case without getting the larger victory we want: a declaration by the Supreme Court that the Constitution does not forbid legislatures from extending the basic protections of the law to unborn children. But we could console ourselves that the Court was leaving open the possibility of delivering that victory later, and was even setting up that possibility. It is further thought that this type of ruling (I’m going to refrain from any allusion to King Solomon) would be the politically safest choice for the justices.

I’ve argued that the political landscape is about as favorable as it could realistically be for the Court finally to undo the enormity it committed in 1973. Sherif Girgis, soon to be a professor at Notre Dame Law School, makes a complementary point. He argues — very convincingly, I think — that the opinion that sounds politically savvy when described at a high level of abstraction may prove impossible to write in practice.

Girgis runs through a lot of possibilities that fail at take-off, but consider the example of a justice who wants to allow Mississippi’s 15-week ban without saying that states can ban abortion in the first trimester. That justice wouldn’t be able to ground that decision in the text or history of the Constitution, needless to say; but he also wouldn’t be able to reconcile it with Roe/Casey. So it would be necessary to scrap the precedents and come up with a justification for the first trimester as a cut-off point: ideally a justification that doesn’t sound arbitrary and made-up. And then — assuming the justice wants to chip away at Roe as a prelude to abolishing it — the justice would have to be willing, in a few years, to turn around and destroy the new legal edifice he had just created.

The Constitution has never authorized the justices to protect abortion from legislators. The Supreme Court’s rulings to the contrary have both licensed grave injustice and done a lot to debase the court itself (not to mention our politics generally). A “middle way” in this case would require the Court to overturn Casey (which already overturned much of Roe) and to replace it with yet another judge-made framework with no basis in the text, original understanding, or structure of the Constitution. Enough. The current justices should heed Justice Scalia’s words: “We should get out of this area, where we have no right to be, and where we do neither ourselves nor the country any good by remaining.”

Education

Consensus by Surrender

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(diane39/Getty Images)

James R. Stoner Jr. and Paul Carrese ask why so many conservatives — such as Mark Bauerlein, John Fonte, Scott Yenor, and me (they forgot to add Joy Pullmann) — are “deriding and denouncing” the supposedly bipartisan Educating for American Democracy (EAD) initiative for K–12 civics. Well, maybe it’s because we’ve read it.

Stoner and Carrese were among the handful of conservatives who contributed to EAD. Unfortunately, the broader EAD coalition is overwhelmingly dominated by the Left. The pudding proves it. The EAD “roadmap” and its associated reports are thoroughly progressive in both their underlying assumptions and their details. Sure, there’s a bit of conventional civics in this mix, and the tiniest smidgen of conservatism, for the sake of claiming bipartisanship. In the end, however, the conservative contribution to EAD adds all the weight of a few flakes of parmesan sprinkled on a heaping plate of chops.

That’s not the worst of it. The EAD report and roadmap are but one move in a sophisticated political game by which the Left means to force protest civics (leftist political protest and lobbying as a “civics” requirement) onto every school in the country — with a generous helping of critical race theory to boot. Although Stoner and Carrese have little to say about this larger political strategy, they’ve been drafted into it whether they like it or not. In this reply to their defense of EAD, I’m going to concentrate on the issue of action civics. There will be opportunities to address the broader EAD roadmap and report — and the misguided and dangerous education strategy they embody — down the road.

Stoner and Carrese make quite a concession up front. They allow that “all people of conservative temperament — and probably many non-‘woke’ liberals” as well — see action civics as “misguided.” Okay, then why did you sign onto a report that endorses action civics? Stoner and Carrese continually emphasize the need to work toward a “national consensus” on civic education. But if, as they rightly note, neither conservatives nor even many moderate liberals are inclined to support protest civics, why confer legitimacy on the practice by participating in a process designed to validate and promote it? Why buy into a consensus that, by your own account, does not exist?

Stoner and Carrese point to the shaky cultural position of conservatives as a justification for collaborating with the Left. If we don’t join hands with the Left, we’ll only end up talking to ourselves, they say. (I couldn’t disagree more.) Yet, by their own admission, on the matter of protest civics, conservatives are not an embattled minority. On the contrary, here the Left is isolated and eager for cover from conservatives. Why help them sell their politicized version of civics to the country as a whole? Why give them cover at a time when opposition has every chance of success? This is not honest agreement on a minimum set of values shared across the political spectrum. On the contrary, it is a phony consensus — a consensus by surrender.

But, say Stoner and Carrese, “action civics” isn’t actually mentioned in the crucial EAD “roadmap” of civics “themes” and associated questions. The term only appears in an appendix to the EAD report, an explanatory document released in tandem with the featured EAD roadmap. Stoner and Carrese imply that since the term “action civics” is relegated to an appendix in a companion document to the all-important EAD roadmap, they’ve barely, scarcely, hardly endorsed action civics at all. Yet Stoner and Carrese brag about the fact that Wilfred McClay’s superb Land of Hope is “favorably cited” in the EAD report — not the roadmap — although it’s but one of several books in a tiny footnote that few are likely to notice. Somehow an extended appendix in the same report isn’t supposed matter. In fact, the EAD report is notable for burying the most politically charged and significant issues in its various appendices. They are by far the most interesting and revealing parts of the report. So, let us look at what “Appendix C” of the EAD report has to say about action civics.

The EAD report endorses action civics, along with companion practices such as “service learning” (required internships with political advocacy groups), and teacher-led discussions of current political and social controversies, calling them all “proven practices.” According to the report, these concepts are “woven into” and “reflected in the EAD Roadmap and its Pedagogy Companion.” So, rather than being some parenthetical point of little relevance to the roadmap (or other EAD documents), the appendix is telling us that action civics and its companion practices pervade the vaunted roadmap, and other EAD products as well.

This is hardly surprising, since every leader of the EAD initiative other than Carrese is a premiere national advocate of action civics. In fact, the EAD report lauds one of the charter documents of the action-civics movement, written in 2017 by two of the five sponsoring leaders of EAD, Peter Levine and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg. The message of the EAD report appendix on action civics is in fact that the EAD initiative now supersedes that earlier document and itself functions as the most up-to-date charter for the action civics movement. So, in fact, the roadmap itself is designed to promote and facilitate action civics and its supposedly “proven” companion practices.

Stoner and Carrese reluctantly concede this, acknowledging that “the emphasis on fostering participation in the roadmap could be bent in a progressive direction.” Could be? Their partners in the EAD initiative are virtually the founding fathers (and mothers) of action civics, and remain its greatest proponents. It would be sheer (self) delusion not to see the influence of protest civics woven throughout this project.

Consider the final two questions in Theme 5 of the roadmap: (1) What is the relationship between protest and social change? (2) How is “power analysis” relevant to the project of bringing change? Here we have protest civics in the roadmap. If you’re wondering about “power analysis,” it’s a technique imported into protest civics from Alinsky-style community organizing (figuring out who to target with pressure and how to bring them to heel). The practice of “power analysis” as an essential component of protest civics is favored by the Mikva Challenge, a leading action-civics advocacy group whose leaders helped develop the EAD initiative. Power analysis is also discussed at some length by Meira Levinson, whose writings on action civics are cited favorably in the EAD report. The average reader won’t recognize that the EAD roadmap is promoting action civics when it touts “power analysis.” Yet by carefully dropping a core component of protest civics into the roadmap, the authors of EAD — the leading national advocates of the practice — allow themselves to tell unsuspecting teachers, administrators, education bureaucrats, and, above all, legislators, that action civics is just another part of “consensus” civics. “Look here in our report and roadmap,” they can say. “Action civics is right in there, and it’s all endorsed by our bipartisan coalition. Stoner and Carrese are on board with this, so why aren’t you?”

This is no game or academic debate. I have personally been lobbied by iCivics, perhaps the leading national advocate of protest civics — and the lead sponsor of the EAD initiative — to lay off my criticisms of the group, of the (then) forthcoming EAD report, and of legislation that would mandate action civics. Here was their argument: Stoner and Carrese are with us! Your conservative friends say there’s nothing to fear, so stand down, Stanley. All is well. You can bet that when iCivics and its allies go to Republican legislators in Congress and across the states, they make exactly this pitch. “No worries, Representative Smith. Conservatives on board.”

Stoner and Carrese now claim to oppose “the outrage of teachers giving students credit for progressive activism.” They should understand, however, that their participation in the EAD initiative is being used to push for legislation that would compel our schools to practice what they decry as outrageous. How could it be otherwise? EAD’s leaders are the chief backers of state and federal legislation to mandate protest civics. There are literally billions of dollars at stake, the lion’s share of which will go to the leftist groups that control EAD, and their allies. Worse, the money will be laced with strings that force action civics even on red states and school districts. Such is the fruit of consensus by surrender.

Stoner and Carrese appeal to their conservative critics to join their coalition. I make the contrary appeal to them both. Step down from the EAD initiative now. Step down before more state bills force protest civics on our schools. Step down before federal legislation presses protest civics on the states, as easily as Obama imposed Common Core. Your participation in this ill-conceived initiative is being used even now to support projects and policies you say you abhor. Step down, or bear responsibility for policies and practices that you do in fact endorse through your participation in this misguided initiative.

Science & Tech

Fauci: Criticizing Me Is Criticizing Science

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Well, folks, he finally said it.

In an interview on MSNBC, Dr. Anthony Fauci responded to criticism of himself by explaining, “A lot of what you’re seeing as attacks on me quite frankly are attacks on science because all of the things I have spoken about from the very beginning have been fundamentally based on science.”

You heard it right here. Fauci is in charge in the same way that the laws of thermodynamics are. It’s just science.

I don’t know whether to take Fauci up on the offer of a two-fer. Capital-S “Science” as an all-purpose cudgel for shutting up reasonable political questions about the pandemic response has been a menace from the start.

In any case, I think this is over. If this is his defense, it’s clear that he’s on tilt and going to play this hand until he goes completely bust.

White House

Biden’s Dwindling Options

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Over at the New York Post, I look at Joe Biden’s diminishing options if he can’t abolish the filibuster.

Immigration

Customs and Border Protection: More Than 180,000 Caught at the Border in May

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Migrants are detained by a U.S. Border Patrol agent after crossing the Rio Bravo river to request asylum in El Paso, Texas, March 27, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection just released the agency’s operational statistics for May, and somehow, they caught even more migrants attempting to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexican border than in April and in March.

“CBP encountered 180,034 persons attempting entry along the Southwest Border. This total represented a 1 percent increase over April. Single adults continue to make up the majority of these encounters. In May, CBP expelled 112,302 individuals under Title 42. CBP continues to expel single adults and family units that are encountered pursuant to CDC guidance under Title 42 authority. 62 percent of all May encounters resulted in a Title 42 expulsion.”

This is the third straight month to hit a new high in the past two decades.

Yes, it is a crisis. No, it is not part of the seasonal pattern, as President Biden asserted a few months ago. Yes, Vice President Kamala Harris should probably take her lumps and visit the border.

U.S.

The Clinton Foundation Gets Overdue Scrutiny

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Leftists like to rake in money for themselves, using a rhetorical smokescreen of their professed concern for the poor, the environment, racial harmony, the welfare of children, and so forth. Grandmasters in this game include the Clintons.

The Capital Research Center, which does great work in exposing a wide array of “progressive” skulduggery has just released a book entitled By Hook or By Crook: The Shady Past and Disturbing Future of the Clinton Foundation. The author, Martin Morse Wooster has written a lot on the problems of philanthropy, including The Great Philanthropists and the Problem of Donor Intent.

Now he turns his focus on the Clinton Foundation. He concludes that it is a “favor factory” that has “systematically undermined the trust that is the moral and ethical basis of philanthropic freedom.”

At this time, the book is available only from the Capital Research Center — www.capitalresearch.org.

Woke Culture

The Trouble with ‘Systemic Racism’

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“It’s past time for America to discard the left-wing myth of systemic racism,” former Vice President Mike Pence said on a recent visit to New Hampshire. We should go a little further than that. Let’s discard the phrase “systemic racism” altogether.

The chief function of that phrase is to make our political disagreements, already large, seem even larger than they are. The people who insist systemic racism is real and the people who deny it exists generally have different things in mind. . . .

My latest Bloomberg Opinion column.

International

The G-7’s Tax Cartel Is Bad News

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to President Donald Trump during the second day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 9, 2018. (Bundesregierung/Jesco Denzel/Handout via Reuters)

Back during the tax-reform debate of 2017, I warned that while moving to a territorial tax system and lowering the corporate-income-tax rate was great, adopting a global minimum tax was dangerous.

On one hand, I noted, the move to a territorial system from a worldwide tax system for corporate taxes would mean a better and more competitive tax system. Under a territorial system, the U.S. government doesn’t tax foreign-earned income (only the foreign government in which the income is earned does). However, when you add a global minimum tax of 15 percent, as the legislators were talking about doing back then, it overrides the soundness of the territorial regime and tax competition since any profit earned in a country with a lower rate would be taxed at a rate up to the 15-percent level. That’s a form of tax harmonization in which U.S. companies with foreign subsidiaries and income would have to pay at least 15 percent no matter where they do business.

The other risk I warned about was that once you put such a system in place, it is only a matter of time before revenue-hungry legislators (we have a lot of them in this country) will demand a higher rate than 15 percent. There is also a risk that they demand that the system be extended to individual taxes. (The U.S. is actually awful on that already since we have a worldwide tax system for individuals.)

Republicans didn’t listen, and the reforms went through with a version of a global minimum tax (a special minimum tax was imposed on foreign income) called the “Global Intangible Low Tax Income,” or GILTI. This has effectively established the principle for what the G-7 has now proposed.

It started with the Biden administration arguing that other countries should join the U.S. in adopting a global minimum tax. This is how the White House pitched the proposal:

A minimum tax on U.S. corporations alone is insufficient. . . . President Biden is also proposing to encourage other countries to adopt strong minimum taxes on corporations, just like the United States, so that foreign corporations aren’t advantaged and foreign countries can’t try to get a competitive edge by serving as tax havens.

This is a perfect definition of a tax cartel with the explicit intent of suppressing tax competition from countries with lower (and I would argue better) tax systems. And the G-7 nations have now reached an agreement on a 15 percent global minimum tax. But to these government officials, the real value of this agreement is that it will make it easier to bully, or at the very least, to exert strong political influence over some 135 countries to get them to join their seven-country tax cartel.

Now, while this final step is far from a done deal, this quote by Dan Mitchell to the BBC expresses exactly my feelings about what the G-7 countries are doing. He says:

It’s reprehensible that governments are trying to create a tax cartel to benefit politicians at the expense of workers and consumers. . . . Once the principle is established that governments can create cartels to fleece taxpayers , it is simply a matter of time before the tax rates increase and, moreover, it’s only a matter of time before they set up similar tax cartels.

Reprehensible, indeed. I know the G-7 members like to claim that we needed this because of the pandemic. But OECD countries have been trying to negotiate a global minimum tax for over four years. Also, European nations have been trying for years to harmonize taxes for individuals, among other things, through automatic exchange of information. The pandemic is simply the latest excuse they have at their disposal to harmonize taxes.

Also, make no mistake. This is a flagrant violation of the lower tax countries’ sovereignty. These countries should be free to decide how income within their borders will be taxed. Besides, if high-tax nations think there is a problem with the current system of taxation for multinationals, they should first look at the rules they have on their own books that allow for that situation. Companies acting the way they are happen to be acting legally. For instance, the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France, and the rest of them can change their transfer-pricing rules. What they shouldn’t do is tell other countries how income should be taxed within their own borders, and they shouldn’t set up a global tax cartel.

The agreement has been praised as good for consumers and workers. That is incredibly naïve. As Mitchell notes in his BBC interview, even the IMF and the OECD admit in their research that the imposition of higher corporate taxes is one of the most destructive ways to collect revenue because it lowers investments and workers’ wages, and increases consumer prices. Here is the research he cited: IMF and OECD on the destructive impact of higher corporate-tax burdens.

Hopefully, this will go nowhere. We will see.

Politics & Policy

‘The Veep Is in Deep’

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This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Jim discuss the new January 6 report, Kamala Harris’s speech in Guatemala, and the ProPublica IRS document leak. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Banking & Finance

There’s So Much Cash in Our Economy That Banks Don’t Want More Deposits

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The Wall Street Journal reports that bank are telling their corporate customers to stop making deposits. Yes, you’re reading that correctly: Banks don’t want more deposits.

The basic idea of banking is to take in money from deposits and lend it out at interest to borrowers. But with interest rates near zero, banks hardly make any money doing that, so taking in more money from deposits doesn’t do much for them.

Corporations are banks’ biggest customers, so they are the ones driving what the Journal calls a “surge” in deposits:

Bank deposits have continued to surge this year. Between late March and May 26, they rose by $411 billion to $17.09 trillion, according to the latest available data from the Federal Reserve. That is slower than the pace last spring, but still nearly four times the average of the past 20 years, according to the Fed data.

So we’ve got households with trillions in savings who are paying off debt (which is great news, by the way). We’ve got corporations with trillions in deposits who are sticking with the conservative investment strategy they adopted during the pandemic. And now we’ve got banks (banks!) saying they don’t want more money. The Biden administration’s response is to flood the economy with more cash? There may very well be a political justification for that policy aim, but it’s hard to see an economic one.

Culture

An Abbreviated Rainbow

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A story from our times: “We don’t want you sexual deviants and weirdos messing up our gay-pride parade!”

The gay-rights movement has gone neo-Victorian, but out-of-the-closet social conservatives still can’t win an election north of Oklahoma.

Strange times.

There is nothing as indicative of the Left’s achievement of social power — and its embrace of social power — as its new enthusiasm for respectability. About 80 percent of left-wing activism in our time consists of working to push individuals and institutions outside the increasingly narrow circle of respectability. Many of the people and subcultures that helped to build the gay-rights movement are no longer welcome in it, at least publicly. It would almost be worth resurrecting Gore Vidal to read what he would write about it. Out with The City and the Pillar, in with the McKinsey employee handbook.

The thing to understand about that respectability strategy is that in its weaponized form it is more focused on audiences and witnesses than it is on prominent figures and institutions, who are only incidental pretexts: The hysteria directed at, say, Tucker Carlson, isn’t really intended to deny him a voice or the opportunity to make a living — it is to make his audience feel disreputable for watching him, and to provide an ironclad instrument of dismissal should he make a point or report a fact that his critics find inconvenient. You see the same thing with, to take one recent example, Charles Cooke’s reporting on that nut-cutlet from Florida. If you are intellectually lazy, then you don’t have to deal with the facts in Charlie’s reporting, because . . . Bill Buckley had some embarrassing views about race in the 1950s.

Policing respectability is a funny business. Andrew Sullivan is going to do just fine on SubStack, but the point of the campaign against him has always been less to disturb his life or his work and more to make of him an example for others who might be tempted to express heterodox views. The same is true of efforts to police individual sentences in works of fiction — the demonstration of power itself, and not the trivial fruit of any particular exercise of that power, is the point: Tremble, and obey.

Eventually, the circle of respectability will narrow so tightly that the only person left inside it will be Pete Buttigieg, assuming he becomes a vegan and denounces his former work at McKinsey. But not the McKinsey aesthetic: Pete Buttigieg is always welcome in a gay-pride parade.

Health Care

Get Those Soon-to-Expire Vaccine Doses Shipped Overseas, Pronto!

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A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in New York, May 12, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Last month I wrote that the U.S. had not yet hit a vaccine wall — yes, the rate of vaccinations had dropped from the peak, but 2 million shots administered per day, with almost all of the low-hanging fruit picked, was still pretty good. But lately… the “hitting the wall” assessment is looking fairer. The seven-day-average has dropped to just over one million COVID-19 vaccination shots administered per day. The U.S. is unlikely to meet President Biden’s target to have 70 percent of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4. We’re currently at 63.8 percent of American adults with at least one shot.

Even worse, this morning the Wall Street Journal brings word that millions of doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine are approaching their expiration date.

Some of the locations that say they have more than enough Johnson and Johnson vaccine doses than they need include Philadelphia and Flint, Michigan, so one might think they could easily be sent north or east to Canada. But our northern neighbors might not need the doses that badly. Canada’s vaccination effort began with a slow start, but they’ve picked up speed considerably; 68 percent of their population 18 and older has received at least one dose.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t places in North America that could use every last one those vaccines. In Mexico, just 19 percent of the population has one dose, and the situation is the same in El Salvador. The Dominican Republic is at 38 percent, Beliza is at 17 percent, the Bahamas is at 12 percent, Jamaica is at 5.3 percent, and Guatemala is at 3 percent. They’re all a relatively short plane ride away, and most major U.S. airports have nonstop flights at least to these countries – even Philadelphia and Detroit. Get a crate of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines and stick it on the next outgoing flight!

 

Health Care

Alzheimer’s Breakthrough and the False Compassion of Assisted Suicide

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(cyril martin/Getty Images)

Great news. The FDA has just approved a new drug that appears to slow the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease by 28 percent as compared to a cadre of subjects receiving placebo. The help with everyday tasks was most significant.

The approval is controversial because — well, Big Pharma! It is also based on one study, and the drug does not provide dramatic improvement. But I think a Wall Street Journal editorial has the right POV:

As for complaints about insufficient evidence, Congress amended federal law in 1997 to let the FDA approve novel drugs based on a single study in order to accelerate breakthroughs for hard-to-treat diseases. The FDA has appropriately exercised its discretion, and Biogen plans to conduct additional studies following drug approval.

I want to focus on a different point. Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients are now in the cross hairs of the euthanasia movement. In the Netherlands, Belgium, and soon in Canada, people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can order themselves killed once they become incompetent. Or they can receive euthanasia before that time.

Meanwhile, our domestic assisted-suicide zealots teach elderly people how to commit suicide by self-starvation, with the agony of such a course palliated by a doctor — known in euthanasia parlance as VSED (voluntary stop eating and drinking). There are even legal moves afoot to allow advance directives to be written legally ordering caregivers to starve dementia patients death — even if they willingly eat! Nevada has passed such a law.

If new treatments do materialize, how many dementia patients will have died by their own or others’ hands who might have lived if they had continued on until new treatments came on line? I shudder to think.

Don’t scoff. It has happened before with AIDS.

I lived in San Francisco at the worst of the crisis. It was the most tragic circumstance I have ever witnessed: Young men who looked as if they were 80 were so weak they had to be held up by friends just to walk down the street. An underground assisted-suicide cabal of MDs serving the gay community and AIDS patients surreptitiously provided overdoses to dying patients. The supposedly empowering motto was: “You can’t tell us who to love and you can’t tell us how to die.”

Then, the new drugs suddenly came on line. Patients literally on the brink of death were brought back to vigorous life, and AIDS was suddenly redefined from a terminal to a chronic condition.

There is no doubt in my mind that the number of AIDS patients died by assisted suicide — but would have lived without being encouraged into hastened death — is considerable. Yet I never heard any of the assisted-suicide-for-AIDS pushers acknowledge their complicity in these unnecessary deaths.

I think the same may one day — soon or far — become true with Alzheimer’s patients if we follow the current course and allow their hastened deaths. Pushing killing instead of caring for our most serious diseases masks itself as compassion but is actually cruel abandonment.

Politics & Policy

What’s So Elite about Our ‘Elite’ Colleges?

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Do students who go to our so-called elite colleges and universities receive a better education than those who go to schools that aren’t so prestigious? That is seldom the case, and often the reverse is true. Students who go to “lesser” institutions may get more time from their professors and the curriculum may be stronger. The “elite” schools are called that because they admit such a tiny percentage of applicants, most of whom are excellent students, and not because the education they offer is superior.

And yet, people go to extreme lengths to get their children into these colleges. A recent book, Guilty Admissions by Nicole LaPorte explores that phenomenon and Megan Zogby discusses it in today’s Martin Center article. 

The quest usually starts well before college, with elite high schools where parents shell out huge money and expect to get their money’s worth in high grades. Then they pull strings to get extra time for the kids to take the SAT to accommodate their claimed disabilities through what are called 504 Plans.

Such accommodations go mostly to students from well-to-do families. Zogby writes, “As learning disabilities have become a bonus rather than a burden, ritzy schools have a manufactured crisis. LaPorte compares Palisades Charter High School, a well-off and majority-white school, with El Monte High School, which is almost entirely Latino or Hispanic with 95 percent of students on free or reduced-price lunch. Yet Palisades has 8.5 percent of its students on a 504 plan, compared to only 0.1 percent of students at El Monte.”

Besides those tricks, the wealthy have other ways of getting their kids into fancy colleges. One of them is “tagging.” What’s that? LaPorte explains: “Tagged students include development [fundraising] cases, political cases (where a politician or highly influential community member is advocating for a student), VIP cases (the child of a celebrity), and trustee cases, (a member of the board of trustees is advocating for a child), as well as legacies and children of staff, to a lesser extent.”

For all of their rhetoric about commitment to social justice, the top people in these supposedly top colleges have not done much to combat the gaming of their admissions. That’s because it’s good for their bottom line. They are non-profit, but they are still revenue maximizers.

World

Attacked by Tyrants

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Felix Maradiaga in Mexico City, February 2019 (Jay Nordlinger)

Should Marx and Marxism be debated, given all we have experienced since 1917 or so? I mean, shouldn’t it be like debating smallpox? Marxism is bad and murderous, right? Well, the Cambridge Union, at the University of Cambridge, hosted a debate last week: “This house believes that Marx was right.” Arguing against the proposition, brilliantly, was Daniel Hannan.

I write about this at the beginning of my column, Impromptus, today. I then take up some states where Marxists hold sway — where they indeed rule: Belarus, China, and Cuba. Toward the end of my column, I address some Republican issues. These are very painful, for someone like me. Also unduckable. At the end of the column, there are a couple of balms: music and poetry.

Try it out, here.

Last night, after I had written my column, I got two pieces of news, which I would like to discuss here in the Corner. In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, the longtime dictator, has been sweeping up political rivals. Four of them have been arrested, as you can read in this report. One of them is Felix Maradiaga, who is being represented by Jared Genser, the international human-rights lawyer. According to Jared, Felix has been severely beaten and “disappeared.”

Two years ago, I podcasted with Felix, here. I then wrote a piece: “Nicaragua in Hell: Ortega’s crackdown and people who resist it.” Here is a brief excerpt:

Felix Maradiaga borrows an old line: “Nicaragua produces more history than we can consume.” He is a Nicaraguan political scientist, entrepreneur, and human-rights activist who has been forced into exile. The regime made him a bogeyman. Then a gang of the regime’s supporters beat him to a pulp, knocking his teeth out in the process.

Felix was safe in exile, when I spoke with him. But he returned to Nicaragua, to try to help those struggling for democracy there. He is incredibly brave — and warm and bright and altogether winning. I hope he will get through his present, latest ordeal.

The other piece of news: Orhan Inandi is apparently being held captive in the Turkish embassy in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Inandi is a Turkish exile. There is a large Turkish exile community in Kyrgyzstan. They are opponents of the Erdogan regime back home. Inandi is an educator, the president of a school system.

To read more about his case, go here.

In 2019, I wrote a piece called “Whisked Away: The Turkish government and its program of kidnappings.” That government has an agency with an extraordinarily blunt name: the “Office for Human Abductions and Executions.” They are busy. Supporters of Orhan Inandi — and of human rights in general — fear that the Turkish government is creating a Khashoggi situation in Bishkek: the torture and murder of a political opponent, in an embassy.

Tyranny is a curse of mankind, and must be opposed by all decent people.

NR Webathon

A Wuhan Webathon Thank You

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

There are no words appropriate enough to express our gratitude to the community of National Review readers and supporters. We set out with a goal to raise $50,000 over a period of only six days, and within the first two we were already 80 percent of the way to our goal. With hearts warmed by all of your generous support, and with our need being great and lasting far beyond this fundraiser, we pushed the limit — first to $75,000 and then to $100,000 — as the donations to our merry band continued to pour in.

By campaign end, our original ask of you all yielded an exceptional result, with over 1,000 happy warriors donating to the cause of truth in journalism. With your help, we not only met our original goal, but exceeded it by $60,000! Even as I write, some donations are still rolling in.

Incredible. Awe-inspiring. It is in these moments that I, and everyone here at NR, truly understand how blessed we are to have such an amazing community of support. This here proves that we really do have the best readers in the world (as if it weren’t already obvious).

From all of us here at NR, thank you!

Politics & Policy

20 Things that Caught My Eye: Bypassing Parents to Abuse Children Medically, the Future of Roe, an Auschwitz Liberator Dies & More

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The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Molly Riley/Reuters)

1. Abigail Shrier in City Journal

At first, Ahmed (I have changed names in this essay to protect the identities of minor children) assumed there had been a mistake. He had dropped off a son, Syed, to the hospital, in a terrible state of distress. Now, the email he received from the mental health experts used a new name for that son and claimed he was Ahmed’s daughter. “They were trying to create a customer for their gender clinic . . . and they seemed to absolutely want to push us in that direction,” he said when I spoke to him again this May, recalling the horror of last October. “We had calls with counselors and therapists in the establishment, telling us how important it is for him to change his gender, because that’s the only way he’s going to be better out of this suicidal depressive state.”

Syed had been a “straight-A student” and—according to his parents and the family’s therapist—quite brilliant. He is also on the autism spectrum, a young man who neglects to make eye contact and must be given rules for how long to shake hands, shower, or brush his teeth. High school was a slog for him, as it often is for kids on the spectrum who find that the social demands of adolescence have risen beyond their capacity to meet them. “He tried to ask a few girls out. It didn’t work out and he got frustrated and angry, and that kind of thing. And so, those girl-boy things get kind of tough for autistic kids, those developmental issues. And that’s where puberty can be very, very hard with the hormones rushing and all this stuff.”

When lockdowns hit, the boy who was already struggling socially and befuddled by questions neurotypical teens take for granted (How do I show a girl I like her? How do I make the other kids include me?) began to spend all day and night on the Internet. “He’s an autistic kid, and so he kind of lost track of time. And he was staying up a lot. So he was staying up, just being on the Internet, Twitter, Tumblr, whatever. . . . And he was in his room, just, you know, sleeping one or two hours a day. And that can really be devastating. He was very confused. He was seeing things, visual hallucinations. And we didn’t know why.”

It is not definitively known why many neurodiverse adolescents identify as transgender, but more than one scientist has pointed out the high rates of coincidence. As several autism experts have explained to me, those on the spectrum tend to fixate, and when a contagious idea is introduced to them—such as the notion that they might be a “girl in a boy’s body”—they are particularly susceptible to it.

2. Sherif Girgis on the Supreme Court’s Options in the Next Abortion Case:

To rule for Mississippi (or remand), without abolishing Roe, the Court would have to devise a test that allows prohibitions starting sometime after conception but before 15 weeks (or tell the lower courts to do so, based on a new doctrine that Dobbs would provide).  But not only will Dobbs be unable to cite text or history to support any test.  Unlike Casey, it can’t cite precedent (or even repurpose precedent, as shown below).  That’s because the Court’s precedents uniformly reject laws as sweeping as Mississippi’s.  The latter bans abortions well before viability, which Casey forbids.  Indeed, the question presented in Dobbs is “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” and Casey answers that yes-or-no question with “yes”:  “[A] State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.”  Thus, to do anything but block Mississippi’s law, Dobbs must reverse Casey (as the cert petition asks it to do if needed).  And if the Court does that while still keeping some right to abort, it will have to create a test for abortion laws from scratch, for the first time since Roe.

3. Muslim family killed in ‘premeditated’ hit and run in London, Ont., driver charged with murder, police say

4. Jennifer Lahl: Surrogacy Can be an Orphan Maker 

We now can no longer deny that a gestational surrogate pregnancy is a much riskier pregnancy than a spontaneous pregnancy where the woman carries her own baby.

One important study pointed out that when comparing a woman’s pregnancy with her own children with her surrogate pregnancies these women have higher rates of hypertension, gestational diabetes, and placenta previa. These put both the mother and baby into a high-risk category.

I am often asked, “how many surrogates have died?” and my response, always the same, is a so very sad, “we just don’t know, and we have no way of knowing, because there is no tracking or monitoring.”

When this woman died, the cause of death recorded on her death certificate will likely be something tied to the pregnancy complication that took her life. It will not record anywhere that she was a surrogate.

Continue reading “20 Things that Caught My Eye: Bypassing Parents to Abuse Children Medically, the Future of Roe, an Auschwitz Liberator Dies & More”

Media

How the Public-Relations Apparatus Works

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(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

One of the open secrets of the media ecosystem is how much coverage is shaped and orchestrated by public-relations professionals. This is especially the case when some previously unheard-of person suddenly becomes the center of a media blitz, and we are given to believe that this is an organic outpouring of attention. A recent New York Times profile of Lioness, a P.R. firm representing workplace victims — of discrimination, sexual harassment, and all manner of other bad behavior — pulls back the curtain a bit on how the game is played. Lioness may represent a virtuous cause, and it may even be that all its clients are virtuous; but the game is the same. It requires little imagination, or knowledge of recent controversies, to grasp how the same tactics have been used to craft political narratives that seem to appear out of nowhere.

The profile introduces us to a woman pursuing a discrimination lawsuit against Tony Robbins’s company, and tells us that the Lioness firm “helped arrange a story about [her] situation in The Verge; it was picked up by Insider, NBC, the New York Times and a variety of other outlets.” This is standard service:

When an individual contacts Lioness, the [women who run the firm] typically vets and corroborates the story, identifying which parts would be of interest to the media. They work with a law firm that reviews nondisclosure agreements free. The pair then makes connections to reporters, explains how talking to the press works, checks facts and follows up. It’s the kind of behind-the-scenes media guidance that high-powered executives rely on but that others rarely see. Ms. Steinhorn and Ms. Scorah are, essentially, midwifing stories of discrimination, harassment, fraud and mistreatment into the world…The firm’s services are free for people speaking out, which Lioness supports by doing paid public relations work for nonprofits and companies.

The first story they worked on was a Forbes investigation that outlined claims of fraud, founder infighting and toxic executive behavior at Better.com, a $4 billion mortgage start-up that LinkedIn named its top start-up of 2020. Lioness connected the Forbes reporters with many of the 19 current and former employees interviewed in the story, who anonymously shared background information and documents. It’s how the sausage is made for articles like this; now everyone gets to make it.

There is, naturally, a synergy with the plaintiffs’ bar:

To help people navigate the legal risks, Ms. Steinhorn created a partnership with Vincent White, a lawyer focused on workplace harassment. Mr. White said Lioness has brought him enough agreements “to keep eight lawyers busy.” He does an initial review free; roughly 10 percent of those who interview end up pursuing a case with Mr. White’s firm.

The Times story is silent on whether that “partnership” profits the proprietors of Lioness. But this much is clear: The publicity is good for them.

Education

Mask Off, Mask On

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New York is going through a bizarre game with school children and masks. Despite overwhelming evidence that schools are not hothouses of coronavirus transmission, and that COVID-19 is not a serious health risk to children, and that the vaccination of vulnerable adult populations is causing an inexorable decline in case rates, school children are still wearing masks.

On last Friday evening, it seemed as if relief was within reach. The New York State Department of Health made an announcement, stating that the in-school mask mandate would end on Monday. Then on Sunday, the Department of Education announced that, until New York State’s new mask guidelines received some kind of email response from Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, there would be no change. Then, yesterday and today, Governor Cuomo “clarified” things by saying that schools would no longer be bound by outdoor mask mandates. He said that the state spoke to CDC and that CDC’s guidance wouldn’t change for several weeks.

It’s a blow to New York State parents, many of whom are demanding that masks mandates be abolished in view of the good news that the pandemic is ending, and temperatures are rising to the point of making wearing them slightly risky, not to mention uncomfortable and gross. Many parents I speak to are resigned to the idea that at least in the winter of 2022, when there may be another small community surge of COVID-19, mask mandates could temporarily return. But that’s also why they want to establish now that it’s safe to operate schools without them in other seasons. Otherwise, the door remains open for teachers to demand all students remain masked for the school year beginning in September.

Law & the Courts

Those Insidious Republicans!

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Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks next to then-President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans as they celebrate passage of tax-overhaul legislation on the South Lawn of the White House, December 20, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Jackie Calmes, an editor at the Los Angeles Times, has authored a new book called, “Dissent: The Radicalization of the Republican Party and Its Capture of the Courts.” Here is how Esquire describes an excerpt from the book:

As you know, the GOP has “quietly” waged an insidious war on the judicial branch by openly embracing originalism — even compiling and publicly sharing lists of their favored judicial candidates — raising money, winning elections, and then fulfilling their promises by following the prescribed constitutional process for nominating and confirming judges. Calmes calls this the “long con.” And while her 2,500-word excerpt takes on a highly scandalized tone, she fails to uncover any sinister plots. Rather, she is dismayed by the philosophy and experience of the judges the GOP nominated. She is still mad that Mitch McConnell denied, as was his constitutional right, Merrick Garland “his rightful seat on the high court.” She pretends, as so many left-wingers do these days, that a traditional political battle is an existential threat to “democracy,” rife with intrigue and shadowy figures. The real outrage, it seems, is that Republicans exist at all.

The Economy

Job Openings Are Through the Roof

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We just got the numbers from April, and they drive home the point that businesses are having trouble finding workers. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The number of job openings reached a series high of 9.3 million on the last business day of April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Hires were little changed at 6.1 million. Total separations increased to 5.8 million. Within separations, the quits rate reached a series high of 2.7 percent while the layoffs and discharges rate decreased to a series low of 1.0 percent.

Or in chart form, via the St. Louis Fed:

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re facing a labor shortage, and enhanced unemployment benefits — which are in effect until September — are a good candidate for a cause.

Politics & Policy

Poll: Most Americans Oppose Politicians Who Favor Abortion on Demand

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Pro-life activists outside the Supreme Court in Washington June 26, 2014. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

In a new poll commissioned by the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, a majority of American voters said they’d be more likely to support a pro-life political candidate than a candidate who backs abortion on demand.

The survey, which had a margin of error of 2.82 percent, was conducted by  conservative research firm OnMessage Inc. on behalf of SBA List. The group polled 1200 likely general-election voters selected to “reflect historical voter trends,” and it situated the survey questions in the context of political candidates’ views on abortion.

The first question asked respondents whether in the 2022 congressional elections they’d be more likely to vote for a Republican who supports prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation with limited exceptions or a Democrat who supports unlimited abortion throughout pregnancy.

A slight majority (53 percent) said they would back the Republican, while just over a quarter (28 percent) said they’d support the Democrat, and 19 percent were undecided. Interestingly, Republican respondents were by far the most decisive group of respondents: Ninety percent said they’d back the GOP candidate, just 3 percent said they’d support the Democrat, and 7 percent were unsure.

The Democratic respondents were far less likely than Republicans to back their party’s own candidate. Just 58 percent of Democratic voters said they’d support a Democrat who backed abortion on demand, while 17 percent said they’d support the GOP candidate and a quarter said they were undecided.

Interestingly, Independent voters lined up fairly well with the overall totals. A slight majority (54 percent) said they’d be most likely to vote for the Republican, while 18 percent favored the Democrat and 28 percent reported being unsure.

The poll also surveyed voters about how important abortion was in their voting decisions, and it confirmed what research firms have long found: The pro-life position tends to have a fairly significant edge when it comes to voter enthusiasm. Rating their views on a 1–10 scale, 43 percent of pro-life respondents said abortion was “very important” in determining how to vote, while only 29 percent of pro-choice respondents said the same.

Finally, the survey found that voters tend to become more supportive of 15-week abortion bans after being given information about fetal development and abortion risks.

A majority of voters (55 percent) said they’d be more likely to favor a 15-week limit if unborn children have the capacity to feel pain at that point in gestation, as some research papers suggest. Similarly, a majority (53 percent) was more likely to support the limit after being told that unborn children at that stage of development have a heartbeat, can move in the womb, can close his fingers, and can sense external stimuli. And again, a majority (52 percent) became more likely to back the 15-week ban after being told that the physical and psychological risks of abortion for mothers increase later in pregnancy.

The findings of this survey suggest that, if Americans were aware that nearly every Democratic politician at the national level supports legal abortion with no restrictions, at least some portion of voters — Democratic ones included — would be less likely to vote for Democratic candidates as a result.

Politics & Policy

The Smear Campaign against Joe Manchin

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The hits keep coming against Joe Manchin. Here’s a keeper from Jemele Hill:

I wrote about the campaign against Manchin on the home page today:

Joe Manchin is being pilloried for the offense of being consistent on the filibuster.

Back in 2017, when Senate Democrats were desperate to stop Donald Trump’s agenda, 33 of them, including Manchin, signed a bipartisan letter backing the filibuster in ringing terms.

“We are mindful of the unique role the Senate plays in the legislative process,” they wrote. “And we are steadfastly committed to ensuring that this great American institution continues to serve as the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Well, the commitment of almost all the Democrats was not quite as steadfast as advertised.

Now that the filibuster is an obstacle to passing Joe Biden’s agenda, the long-standing Senate procedure has been deemed a threat to our system of government and to racial justice that only a naïf or cynic can support.

Why Cruise Ship Vaccination Requirements Are Different from Those of Other Institutions

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MS Rotterdam off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., April 2, 2020. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

A huge part of life is drawing distinctions.

This requires observation, foresight for likely consequences, and judgment — and even then, you can still get it wrong. This is hard. People who are really smart in one aspect of life can be really dumb in another part of life. Brilliant scientists can struggle with relationships, enormously empathetic people can struggle to manage their finances, and financial geniuses can find themselves experiencing constant friction with others. Experience can often help inform our judgment, but we can also jump to the wrong conclusion based upon experience.

One-size-fits-all approaches often backfire – sometimes quickly, sometimes

Culture

The ‘Disturbing’ Message Sent by American Flags on Pickup Trucks 

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This is one of those clips you have to watch to believe, but she did indeed say it:

 

Politics & Policy

What a Debacle

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We have a Senate report on the law-enforcement preparation for and response to the January 6 riot, and it’s not pretty.

There was a stark failure in information-sharing in the run-up to January 6:

The U.S. Capitol Police had specific intelligence that supporters of President Donald Trump planned to mount an armed invasion of the Capitol at least two weeks before the Jan. 6 riot, according to new findings in a bipartisan Senate investigation, but a series of omissions and miscommunications kept that information from reaching front-line officers targeted by the violence.

The report also sheds light on why the National Guard was so slow to arrive:

Senate investigators also found that leaders failed to follow arguably murky procedures for calling in reinforcements. The Capitol Police chief never filed a formal request to call in the National Guard, they determined, despite repeatedly asking his superiors to procure such backup — and the members of the Capitol Police Board still disagree about whether approving such a request needed to be a unanimous decision.

Giving the Capitol Police chief the power to call up the National Guard in emergencies is among the report’s 20 bipartisan recommendations for improving the Capitol’s security posture in the future — and the subject of forthcoming legislation from Rules and Administration Committee leaders, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The recommendations also include pointed suggestions for federal agencies, such as exhorting the Defense Department and the D.C. National Guard to devise a standing plan for protecting the Capitol and mounting a faster response to terrorist threats.

The report faults slow mobilization and poor interdepartmental communication — not any sort of stand-down order from the White House, as some Trump critics had speculated — for the fact that it took the National Guard more than three hours to respond to pleas for help from the Capitol during the attack. According to its findings, it was Army staff — not Trump — expressing early reservations about a military intervention, while the Army secretary claimed he was never informed that the D.C. National Guard had a quick reaction force “ready to go” to the Capitol, just awaiting his approval.

And this is depressing but kind of perfect, given how the George Floyd protests have put cops on their back feet all around the country, creating space for criminals:

The Department of Defense’s response to the January 6 Capitol riot was colored by criticism it had received about its response to unrest after the murder of George Floyd, according to a new Senate report . . . .

“DOD’s response to January 6 was informed by criticism it received about its response to the civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd during the summer of 2020,” the report reads. “DOD was criticized for its heavy-handed response, particularly flying military helicopters over the protests in summer 2020.”

It adds: “DOD officials cited lessons learned from the summer 2020 as guiding its decision-making for January 6. DOD officials believed it needed ‘control measures’ and ‘rigor’ before deploying DCNG personnel, including a clear deployment plan to avoid the appearance of overmilitarization.”

It was a common misapprehension, by the way, that the only way the riot could be investigated was through the proposed January 6 commission, when this Senate investigation was already well underway.

Law & the Courts

NY High Court to Rule Whether Elephants Are ‘Persons’

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Elephants dust themselves with soil at the Taigan safari park in Belogorsk, Crimea, May 4, 2021. (Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters)

The greatest threat posed by the animal-rights movement is an advocacy thrust known as “animal standing.” The idea is to have animals declared “persons” and treated akin to human beings with developmental disabilities so that “they” can bring lawsuits in court directly, which of course would actually be brought by animal-rights zealots. That would grant “rights” to animals — first, those sometimes called “higher” mammals, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, etc. — but eventually all fauna.

When I bring this up in speeches, the usual reaction is eye-rolling, “Ha. Ha. It will never happen here.”

Never mind that it already happened in Argentina, where a judge declared an orangutan a “nonhuman person.” Never mind that a federal court ruled that animals could be granted standing under the U.S. Constitution. Never that Judge Eugene M. Fahey — of New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court — wrote that chimps should be given rights in a non-binding opinion (dicta). And never mind the money and intensity of the animal-rights movement to shatter what they call “the species barrier.” Complacency rules the day.

It shouldn’t. The New York Court of Appeals has taken a case to determine whether an elephant, and perhaps other animals, should be deemed “persons.” From the Lasts Resort story (my emphasis):

New York High Court to Determine Whether Animals May Be Entitled to Fundamental Legal Rights

In the matter of Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Breheny, Case No. APL-2021-00087

Issue: Whether New York common law should be modified to extend fundamental legal rights, including entitlement to habeas relief, to a non-human animal such as an elephant.

A nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to change the common law status of certain non-human animals brought an action against the owner of an elephant, seeking to change the elephant’s legal status to that of a “person.” Specifically, the organization sought recognition of certain fundamental legal rights, including entitlement to habeas relief.

The elephant’s owner sought to dismiss the action based on precedent limiting a writ of habeas corpus to humans. The trial court agreed with the owner and dismissed the claim, and the mid-level appellate court affirmed. The appellate court stated that judicial recognition of fundamental legal rights in a non-human animal would lead to a labyrinth of questions that common law processes are ill-equipped to answer, and that the issue is “better suited to the legislative process.”

Does this mean the court will necessarily grant personhood to an elephant? No. But it does indicate that a number of high court judges believe the case is of sufficient substance to rule upon rather than–as the court should–laugh the case out of court. Moreover, Judge Fahey is still on the court.

Of course elephants should be treated properly according to their capacities and needs. But animal-welfare regulations and laws are very capable of accomplishing that. Animals should not be granted rights.

Animal welfare and animal rights are not the same. Rights ideology claims that “a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy,” meaning there is no moral distinction between humans and animals. In contrast, animal welfare properly holds that humans have a higher moral value, and, that as we benefit from their use, we have concomitant duty to treat animals humanely.

That distinction is crucial. Animal welfare is an expression of human exceptionalism. Animal rights, in contrast, subverts human exceptionalism — the backbone of universal human rights — and threatens our thriving.

Because if animals are persons, by definition, they cannot be owned, nor used for human benefit. That means no medical research, no food animals, no leather, and eventually, pet ownership made a formal legal guardianship complete with enforceable fiduciary duties — that is, if we can have pets at all.

Let’s hope the Court of Appeals rejects the animal personhood notion out of hand. Until they do, I will be holding my breath. Because we live in culture-destroying times and this is as subversive to western civilization as it gets.

Religion

Russell Moore and the Southern Baptist Convention: The Saga Continues

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(DanHenson1/Getty Images)

On June 2, a member of the board of trustees for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaked a letter that departing ERLC president Russell Moore had written in February 2020. The letter detailed what Moore believed to be the source of controversy between him and some members of SBC leadership: incidents of sexual abuse and racism. Contrary to media narratives, the controversy in the SBC is not about support for Donald Trump.

Moore’s letter was written in response to the SBC Executive Committee, a group of 86 representatives elected by the Convention to oversee the SBC’s operations between annual meetings, creating a task force to investigate whether the ERLC’s actions under Moore were costing the SBC donations. The chair of the task force was Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga. A member of the steering committee for the Conservative Baptist Network, which thinks the SBC is becoming too liberal, Stone is running for president of the SBC at this year’s June 15–16 annual meeting.

On June 3, Stone released a statement on his personal website responding to Moore’s letter. He writes that the letter “was filled with mischaracterizations of who Southern Baptists are.” Stone believes that the timing of Moore’s letter being leaked is “clearly an attempt to influence the upcoming presidential election in the SBC.” Stone objects to Moore’s characterization of the SBC leadership’s behavior, saying, “His letter contains numerous misrepresentations of me and of the leadership of our beloved Convention.”

Stone writes that, contrary to Moore’s letter, the creation of the task force was not “a unilateral action” by Stone. Moore did not name anyone in his letter, but he does say that someone who is described in such a way that it could only be Stone “drove the motion” in the SBC Executive Committee to create the task force. Stone is correct to say that creating the task force was not a unilateral action, and Moore elsewhere in his letter ascribes the actions against the ERLC to “a tiny minority in our denomination,” showing that he was aware of that fact.

The difference between SBC leadership and SBC congregants in general is important to note. The SBC uses congregational polity, which means that there is no formal hierarchy beyond the local church. The SBC is best understood as a membership organization, not a clerical body, and SBC leadership does not have any ecclesiastical authority over member churches. As a result, many Southern Baptists are unaware of this controversy within SBC leadership because it doesn’t affect their daily church life whatsoever.

Moore was very careful to note that difference in his 4,000-word letter. He stresses that it’s only a “small group in the shadows” that sought to disrupt the ERLC’s work and effusively praises Southern Baptists generally. Stone, on the other hand, conflates the two. Stone:

[Moore’s] view is apparently of an SBC leadership filled with “white nationalists and white supremacists.” His view is of an SBC leadership that contains “neoconfederate activities” and “raw racist sentiment.” That is not the SBC that I know.

He sees an SBC where national leaders employ “psychological terror” against him to prevent him from speaking the truth about sexual abuse and racism. In my entire service at the Executive Committee and as a pastor, I have never heard a single Southern Baptist leader be angry over opposition to sexual abuse or racism. That is not the SBC that I know.

Today, at our 47,000 churches, devoted Southern Baptists are preparing for Vacation Bible School, children’s camps, student mission trips, and more. That’s the SBC that I know.

In the first two paragraphs, Stone is talking about leadership. In the third paragraph, he is talking about congregants in general. Moore’s criticism was never about congregants in general and always focused on leadership. In fact, Moore expresses frustration at the actions of leadership sullying the reputation of the denomination in general:

[In response to leadership controversies] I want to scream: “But that’s not who Southern Baptists are! The people in the churches, everywhere that I have seen, are kind and loving and mission-focused. They are not part of all of that that you see!” And, indeed I think I am right. The people who are left [in the SBC] are those of us who have learned to simply filter out this nonsense and focus on what we know to be the best of us. The rest of the world cannot see that.

In the final paragraph of Stone’s statement, he says, “I regret that Russell’s service as president of one of our agencies has led him to such a disillusioned opinion of who we are.” At this point, it’s unclear what the antecedent of “we” is. Moore’s disillusionment is with some members of SBC leadership. Stone is no doubt among them. So if the antecedent of “we” is “SBC leadership,” then Stone would be correct. But if the antecedent of “we” is “SBC congregants in general,” Moore does not hold the disillusioned opinion that Stone claims.

As to whether it’s true that Moore is seeking to influence the SBC presidential election at the annual meeting, Moore has left the SBC personally as well as professionally. He has joined a non-denominational church in Nashville. Moore was not in the running for SBC president prior to his departure, and not being part of the denomination anymore, he has no personal stake in denominational decisions any longer. For what it’s worth, Moore also accused Stone and his associates on the SBC Executive Committee of timing events to their advantage. They launched their task force and released their report in February, far away from the annual meetings, which are always held in summer. Moore believes they did that because Moore and the ERLC have lots of support in convention-wide votes.

At the very least, Stone and Moore seem to be in agreement that this controversy isn’t about national politics or support for Trump. Stone never mentions the former president or anything about partisan politics anywhere in his statement. The election he is most concerned with has to be the upcoming election for SBC president, which promises to be competitive. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler has been running since last year. Northwest Baptist Convention executive director Randy Adams and Alabama pastor Ed Litton announced their candidacies this year.

Economy & Business

Your Tax Return Is Confidential… Until It Isn’t

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The Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, D.C., May 27, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“Taxpayers have the right to expect that any information they provide to the IRS will not be disclosed unless authorized by the taxpayer or by law,” declares the Internal Revenue Service.

Unless, of course, someone within the agency chooses to leak your return to ProPublica.

The news organization publishes a vast trove of information about the country’s wealthiest taxpayers and declares this morning, “we obtained the information from an anonymous source who provided us with large amounts of information on the ultrawealthy, everything from the taxes they paid to the income they reported to the profits from their stock trades… We also believe that disclosure of specific figures about the tax returns of people like Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett and Elon Musk will deepen readers’ interest and understanding of this complex and arcane subject.”

The relevant question is not whether you like Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett and Elon Musk. The question is whether the IRS declaration that tax returns are confidential applies to everyone or not. This morning it’s pretty clear that the your tax return is confidential, as long as no one at the IRS thinks it is newsworthy. But if they do, you’re screwed. (It is highly unlikely that anyone outside of the IRS would have access to the tax returns of all of these figures.)

ProPublica explains today that they’ve been down this road before:

In 2012, someone at the IRS (we don’t know who or why; they used a plain brown IRS envelope) sent ProPublica copies of tax filings seeking exemption for a number of political committees, including Republican political guru Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. The filings were not yet supposed to be public, and the IRS indicated that it would consider our publication of them to be criminal. We explained our view of the constitutionality of that statute as applied in such circumstances and published our story, which raised concerns about whether Rove’s group had been forthcoming with the agency. We never heard about the matter from the IRS again.

The attempted prosecution of journalists for publishing disclosed information is rarely a good idea, and rarely works out; judges often correctly conclude that prosecuting someone for publishing sensitive or classified information is too much of an infringement of the First Amendment. The true problem isn’t the reporters, it is the people with access to classified, privileged, confidential or sensitive information who decide to violate their oaths and the law to leak that information, and that is the proper target for prosecutions. That said, a publication can look at leaked information and conclude they’re not going to play a supporting role in the violation of a person’s right to privacy.

ProPublica writes today, “the IRS records show that the wealthiest can — perfectly legally — pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year.” In other words, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett and Elon Musk obeyed the law. ProPublica isn’t exposing a crime here. ProPublica explicitly states this report exposes something they deem unfair. But your gripe about the fairness of the tax code doesn’t outrank somebody else’s right to keep their tax return confidential.

The IRS also states, “taxpayers have the right to expect appropriate action will be taken against employees, return preparers, and others who wrongfully use or disclose taxpayer return information.” We will see if the IRS holds anyone accountable for this breach.

It’s probably those darned low-level employees in Cincinnati again.

Immigration

Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Guatemala Edition

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 7, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters )

In Guatemala yesterday, Vice President Harris begged the people of Central America to stop causing her administration such political problems at the border. She managed to get through her speech without breaking out into one of her cringe-inducing laughs, but I don’t expect Guatemalans were likewise able to keep straight faces. Here’s what she said on the issue:

“I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United State-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come. . . .

She said it twice, so she must be serious!

The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. . . .

Cue guffaws.

There are legal methods by which migration can and should occur. But we, as one of our priorities, will discourage illegal migration. . . .

Where, among their priorities, is that? And how, exactly, are they discouraging illegal migration? (And isn’t that supposed to be “undocumented”?)

And I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back. . . .

Here the guffaws turn into belly-laughs. She “believes”? Maybe if she’d visited the border, she’d know that this is poppycock, as wave after wave of rafts cross the river unimpeded.

So let’s discourage our friends, our neighbors, or family members from embarking on what is otherwise an extremely dangerous journey.”

She said “dangerous” twice, as well, so it must really be true.

Kidding aside, people respond to actions, not words. When all children and teens traveling “alone,” and virtually all adults traveling with children are released into the U.S. with a de facto guarantee that they will never be made to leave, more will come. Only by changing that fact can the flow stanched.

That would require returning the successful policies of the Trump administration, especially the Remain in Mexico program. But Trump’s approach must, by definition, be wrong, so embracing it is inconceivable.

Guatemalan president Giammattei, like his countrymen, knows perfectly well what caused the Biden Border Crisis: Regarding the change in administrations, he told CBS News, “The message changed too: ‘We’re going to reunite families, we’re going to reunite children’. The very next day, the coyotes were here organizing groups of children to take them to the United States.”

Giammattei added, “We asked the United States government to send more of clear message to prevent more people from leaving.” But such a clear message can only be sent by plugging the loopholes that incentivize mass illegal immigration, not with photo ops.

But photo ops were the main point of Harris’s trip. Even the folks in the White House can’t seriously believe that a speech by the vice president, or even some more aid money, is going to make any difference at the border. The real purpose of the trip was twofold: First, to create the impression that the administration was doing something about the border emergency. Despite the disdain of those of us on the right, President Biden’s approval ratings have been holding up reasonably well, with one exception: immigration. The border is Biden’s main political vulnerability right now, and it’s imperative that the administration be seen addressing the problem (without actually doing anything to stop it, which would lead to a revolt among Democrats in Congress).

The second purpose of the trip is to give Vice President Harris the appearance of foreign-policy experience. When she runs on 2024, she’ll need diplomatic activity to point to as evidence that she’s ready for the big job, and that will require more than a vice president’s customary role of attending the funerals of foreign leaders. And when the numbers at the border dip in the summer, as is likely because of the brutal heat down there, expect the White House to declare Harris’s efforts a success.

At least until the numbers start rising again in the fall.

Politics & Policy

Journalists Got Thousands of Americans’ Confidential IRS Data

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

A new ProPublica story begins (emphasis mine):

In 2007, Jeff Bezos, then a multibillionaire and now the world’s richest man, did not pay a penny in federal income taxes. He achieved the feat again in 2011. In 2018, Tesla founder Elon Musk, the second-richest person in the world, also paid no federal income taxes.

Michael Bloomberg managed to do the same in recent years. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn did it twice. George Soros paid no federal income tax three years in a row.

ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. The data provides an unprecedented look inside the financial lives of America’s titans, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. It shows not just their income and taxes, but also their investments, stock trades, gambling winnings and even the results of audits.

What?!?!? That’s bad. Tax data are supposed to be private — and zealously guarded — and yet “thousands” of people’s information got out.

The journalists are, of course, mum on how it happened:

The tax data was provided to ProPublica after we published a series of articles scrutinizing the IRS. . . . ProPublica is not disclosing how it obtained the data, which was given to us in raw form, with no conditions or conclusions.

The agency needs to get to the bottom of this and punish those responsible.

Meanwhile, on the main thrust of the story, while I do think the IRS could do a better job of auditing rich people, the big reason the ultra-wealthy don’t pay more taxes on a year-to-year basis is that — as the story itself notes — they’re not taxed every time their assets increase in value. Instead, they’re taxed on the overall gain when they sell the assets. It would be hard to own a company if you had to pay zillions of dollars every time the stock went up, regardless of whether you had enough cash to pay the tax, though there have been various proposals over the years for such “mark-to-market” taxes.

Culture

20 Things That Caught My Eye Today: Empowering Unexpectedly Pregnant Women, the Turks in Iraq, the Dangers of Individualism & More

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A woman who is five months pregnant attends a sonogram at a local hospital in Shanghai, China, September 12, 2014. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

1.

2. USCIRF Condemns Turkish Bombing of Christian Village in Iraq

3. New Arizona laws pave way for photo IDs for foster, homeless youth

4. Matt Lewis: Abortion Is Why Never-Trump Republicans Can’t Work With Dems

5. Video shows smugglers abandoning 5-year-old boy at the Texas border

6. Mother graduates from college 10 years after becoming mom at age 14

7.

8. Freddie Figgers: The millionaire tech inventor who was ‘thrown away’ as a baby

Continue reading “20 Things That Caught My Eye Today: Empowering Unexpectedly Pregnant Women, the Turks in Iraq, the Dangers of Individualism & More”

National Security & Defense

Justice Department Recovers Most of Colonial Pipeline Ransom

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(Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

It’s a very welcome development that the FBI has managed to seize most of the ransom Colonial Pipeline paid to the hackers, believed to be Russia-based, in order to get its operations and fuel deliveries back on line. As the Wall Street Journal reports, based on a Justice Department announcement, investigators recovered approximately 64 bitcoin, valued at roughly $2.3 million.

Last month, the company told the Journal that it had paid about $4.4 million to satisfy the ransom demand by what the Bureau believes is a cyber-sabotage outfit known as “DarkSide.” The group develops malware which is used to breach company systems. Ransoms are demanded to unlock those systems.

Naturally, the default position of the FBI and our government generally is that companies should not pay ransom. But, as illustrated in the case of Colonial, which runs the main pipeline system for gasoline- and diesel-fuel deliveries to the East Coast, a paralyzing shutdown can wreak havoc on essential industrial activities. In individual instances, that can make the ransom seem a small price to pay.

Of course, cumulatively, that will not be the case.

As security officials have acknowledged in recent days, the web of grids that make up the U.S. power system could be vulnerable to cyberattacks. This is not just a challenge for industrial sectors; it is a profound national-security issue — so much so that, as Rich and I discuss in the latest episode of The McCarthy Report podcast, FBI director Chris Wray has compared it to international terrorism.

In invoking the example of the 9/11 attacks, Wray was not implying that any single ransomware attack has been a 9/11-level catastrophe. He was pointing out that cyber sabotage is a daunting challenge for law-enforcement and intelligence officials in the same way international terrorism is.

The hostiles conduct their operations outside the United States, and often under the implied if not explicit protection of rogue regimes — analogous to state sponsors of terrorism. The FBI and our other agencies have no investigative authority in the regions from which the attacks emanate. The writ of our courts does not run in such places. We cannot effectively repel the threat without the cooperation of foreign countries, many of which are less vexed by the attacks than we are and fear that helping us makes them more vulnerable. And like terrorism, cyber operations level the battlefield, neutralizing the might and economic advantages that make a superpower a superpower — indeed, that’s why the most pernicious terrorist organizations have long been cyber-adept.

While today’s development is to be cheered, it also highlights some of the challenges. Notice: U.S. authorities are announcing only the seizure of funds (in fact, of funds they did not want Colonial to pay in the first place); there is no announcement of arrests. In that sense, it is reminiscent of the Mueller investigation’s ballyhooed indictments of Russian hackers: The stark reality is that, even if our intel officials can identify members of DarkSide, the chance that any of them will ever see the inside of an American courtroom is remote, to say the least.

It is great that the Bureau had the capability, on this occasion, to track down proceeds of a crypto-currency arrangement of the kind that hackers orchestrate precisely because it is so hard to trace. But investigators have not been able to capture all of the funds involved in this ransom transaction, and the limited (but significant) success here will not necessarily translate into success in similar investigations.

There are more and more similar investigations. And the truly disturbing trends are that these attacks are increasing in frequency, and the ransom demands are getting much bigger.

Initially, ransomware tended to seek payoffs in the thousands of dollars — amounts big corporations regard as a nuisance, less costly to pay than to take expensive precautions against. Now, the amounts are well into the millions. That’s not a nuisance anymore. These are provocations by malefactors who have become increasingly confident. In part, that is because we do not yet have a good strategy to address this challenge. And in part, it is because the hackers feel they are insulated from prosecution or other comeuppance by such regimes as Putin’s Russia.

Ultimately, the solution here is going to involve making other governments see it as in their interests to join us in cracking down. Too often, that realization activates Washington’s naïve streak: The bipartisan delusion that Russia (like Iran . . . like China . . . ) has many mutual interests with us and could become a strategic partner — even an ally! — if we just do the hard work of establishing trust. The remorseless fact is that the regime in Moscow is incorrigibly execrable and anti-American. That doesn’t mean you can’t get Putin’s cooperation, but you have to get it by sticks, not carrots.

Russia is going to continue to be a state sponsor of cyber operations against the United States unless and until it is made convincingly clear that the penalties for doing so are more than the Kremlin is willing to bear.

World

The White House Leaves Ukraine in the Dark

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Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference in Tallinn, Estonia, November 26, 2019. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

“Our view going into this trip is that actions speak louder than words,” Jake Sullivan said this morning, speaking about Joe Biden’s upcoming swing through Europe. The national-security adviser explained that the administration’s work to guide the country out of the pandemic would show U.S. allies, and the rest of the world, that Washington is ready to lead. He was answering an obsequiously posed question about how Biden would turn the page on his predecessor’s infamously adversarial relationship with his European counterparts.

But if the administration were truly interested in showing America’s global partners that they matter, it would drop its half-hearted approach to dealing with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Last month, the State Department announced that congressionally mandated sanctions targeting the Russian energy project should apply to the project’s corporate shell and Matthias Warnig, the German Kremlin ally who serves as its CEO — but that it opted to waive them, citing America’s national interest.

The Ukrainian government was blindsided, President Volodymyr Zelensky told Axios yesterday, adding that he learned of the decision from media reports (the State Department claimed that it had notified Ukrainian officials in advance). He said his anger at the Biden administration’s reluctance to use all of the tools at its disposal to kill the project has turned into disappointment. “It is not very understandable . . . that the bullets to this weapon can possibly be provided by such a great country as the United States.”

That weapon — Nord Stream 2 — will give the Kremlin more leverage with which to coerce Ukraine by rerouting gas from pipelines that would normally pass through the country, and thus incur Kiev’s transit fees. The U.S. could stop it by sanctioning the European companies involved in its construction — but this would require the Biden administration to target German companies working on it. Time is running out:  With the completion last week of the first line of Nord Stream 2, Russian president Vladimir Putin said Ukraine must “show good faith” if Russian gas is to continue to pass through Ukraine to Europe.

By not taking a more aggressive stance against the pipeline — which is supported by the government of Germany, where it ends — the administration is throwing an embattled ally to the wolves. In recent months, Russian military pressure on Ukraine has grown, with Moscow positioning some tens of thousands of troops and an array of military equipment on the two countries’ border.

But top Biden officials claim there’s a method. Appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this afternoon, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the pipeline’s completion is a “fait accompli,” that the sanctions wouldn’t have made a difference, and that angering the Merkel government would not have been worth the trouble. Other opponents of U.S. sanctions to target German entities and individuals involved in the project say that coddling Berlin is worth it in the long run, if only as a way to prevent it from maintaining too dovish a stance toward China.

Ukraine’s president, understandably, disagrees: “How many Ukrainian lives does the relationship between the United States and Germany cost?

Disturbingly many, it seems. What the simplistic campaign-trail rhetoric and media narrative about supporting U.S. allies alienated by Donald Trump omitted was that policy-makers face difficult decisions about how best to back those allies. The former president certainly went out of his way to spurn close allies and embrace, at least rhetorically, dictators such as Putin. In practice, however, his administration’s sanctions temporarily halted construction of Nord Stream 2, sending the right message about Washington’s zero tolerance for Moscow’s antics — and undermining Blinken’s assertions that it can’t be stopped.

Meanwhile, when Biden meets Putin in Geneva at the end of his trip next week, he’ll have done so without first having met directly with his Ukrainian counterpart. Between supporting an ally besieged by an authoritarian threat and cozying up to a disengaged partner that’s soft-pedaled its criticism of Moscow and Beijing, the president has chosen to shore up America’s relationship with the latter, as Zelensky pointed out. Putin knows this, too.

Politics & Policy

AOC’s Gift to Joe Manchin

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, June 12, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Rich predicted a looming smear campaign against Senator Joe Manchin for reiterating that he opposes the filibuster and also Democrats’ federal elections bill H.R. 1. Manchin has been facing mounting criticism from the left all day, and now Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has joined the pile on, claiming he has joined Republicans in supporting “voter suppression.”

Whenever AOC attacks, it is a gift to Manchin, a Democrat in a state that Donald Trump carried by an average of 40 points in the past two presidential elections. The only way Manchin can survive in the state is by showing people back home that he is defying the left wing of his party. Triggering AOC likely made his whole op-ed “Why I’m voting against the For the People Act” worth it.

Energy & Environment

Climate Scientists: The Pandemic Shutdowns Didn’t Reduce Carbon Emissions Much

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A cloud of waste gas billows out of chimney stacks at a wood processing factory belonging to Switzerland’s Krono group in the eastern German village of Heiligengrabe near Berlin June 2, 2004. (Christian Charisius/Reuters)

If you can tear your eyes away from the messy home office below, climate scientists are now warning that the COVID-19 pandemic, with its sweeping lockdowns, closed businesses, limited travel and far-reaching restriction on human freedom, had only a brief, fleeting effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

Economies worldwide nearly ground to a halt over the 15 months of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a startling drop in global greenhouse gas emissions.

But that did little to slow the steady accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which reached the highest levels since accurate measurements began 63 years ago.

The researchers concluded that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell by 5.8 percent, but that merely amounts to a short-lived “blip” as more and more countries get their populations vaccinated and approach something closer to normal pre-pandemic life.

If the most far-reaching and deepest halt to human activity in modern history didn’t make a dent, then we’re not going to slow the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Environmentalists will have to stop fooling themselves into believing that with enough persuasion, nagging, or law changes, most people will give up their home heating systems, cooking gas, petroleum-fueled internal-combustion-engines, meat, air travel, and all of the other hallmarks of modern life that they have declared to be sins against the planet. Because the pandemic and government restrictions forced everyone to try giving up commuting and jobs and leaving their homes and going into restaurants, and most people hated it.

The global impact of COVID-19 is difficult to overstate. The earth literally grew quieter for several months, causing human-caused vibrations around the globe to be cut in half. At least 3 million excess deaths in 2020, a global working-hours impact four times worse than the 2008-2009 financial crisis, about $4 trillion in lost productivity, a huge drop in global gross domestic product, school closures for roughly 1.5 billion children around the world…  this is about as big and bad as anyone could imagine, short of World War Three or the apocalypse. And if this kind of a halt to all kind of human activity wasn’t enough to have a significant impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, then no change in human behavior is going to make a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, and we’re going to have to innovate our way out of this problem.