Politics & Policy

Maybe Americans Should Stop Giving the Democrats What They Want

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World

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

Loading...

This report from the Telegraph suggests that it is.

Law & the Courts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film & TV

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

Loading...
Stranger Things (Netflix)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culture

Stop Lying. Divorce Is Hell on Kids

Loading...
(Walker and Walker/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White House

When Kamala Harris Goes off Script

Loading...

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

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

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

NR Webathon

Sigh — Some People Just Don’t Understand Winning

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

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

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

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

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

As Barry Switzer once put it:

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

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

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

 


 

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: New York Climate Policy

Loading...

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

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

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

Read the whole thing here.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden Hits a New Polling Low: 20 Below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics & Policy

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

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

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

Peter Baker in the New York Times, this weekend:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culture

Elvis’s Dad, Etc.

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

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

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

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

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

Heck no. Mirabile dictu.

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

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

Mr. Nordlinger,

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

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

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

The trainer suggested moving on . . .

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

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

Education

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

Loading...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

PolitiFact’s Failed Attack on DeSantis, over Civics Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World

Euromandias

Loading...

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

The Daily Telegraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science & Tech

‘Human Evolution’ Is a Misnomer

Loading...
(deberarr/iStock/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International

The Green-Jobs Miracle Continues

Loading...

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

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

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

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

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

NR Webathon

No, Not 40 Percent, Mark, 60 Percent!

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

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

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

The Economy

Jobs? Whatever Happened to the Recession?

Loading...
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference following a two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee in Washington, D.C., June 15, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

I have to say that I had not expected this.

New York Times:

The economy added 372,000 jobs in June, a hotter-than-expected boost to the labor market that may ease worries of an impending recession, but that also complicates the job of the Federal Reserve as it seeks to quell inflation.

The unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, the same as a month earlier, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The number is in line with the average gain over the last few months, including 368,000 in April and 384,000 in May. Employers have continued to compete for workers in recent months, with initial unemployment claims rising only slightly from their low point in March.

The private sector has now regained its prepandemic number of jobs, while the public sector remains 664,000 jobs below February 2020. Other than the public sector, no industry lost jobs in June, on a seasonally adjusted basis.

“We’ve essentially ground our way back to where we were pre-Covid,” said Christian Lundblad, a professor of finance at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina. “So this doesn’t necessarily look like a dire situation, despite the fact that we’re struggling with inflation and economic declines in some other dimensions.”

Strong demand for workers is also evident in the 11.3 million jobs that employers had open in May, a number that remains close to record highs and leaves nearly two jobs available for every person looking for work. In that equation, any workers laid off as certain sectors come under strain are likely to find new jobs quickly — for a time, at least.

A good number, obviously, and one, I suspect, that will encourage the Fed to continue with (by their recent standards) aggressive rate hikes. Although there are clearly some signs that inflation might be peaking (take a look at commodity prices) my suspicion is that the central bank may well see those either as a return to somewhat more normal conditions or that the message sent out by their more aggressive stance is being received. The latter would give them no reason to change course for now, while the former (with so much still up in the air, Ukraine and all that) would provide no particular grounds for reassurance.

Earnings?

The Financial Times:

Average hourly earnings ticked up another 0.3 per cent in May, after a 0.4 per cent increase the previous period, and are now 5.1 per cent higher on a year-over-year basis.

So, not so great in real terms.

Labor participation rate (also via the FT):

[T]he labour force participation rate, which tracks the share of Americans either employed or actively looking for work, dipped to 62.2 per cent as the labour force contracted by 353,000 people. That is more than one percentage point below levels seen before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jason Furman, puzzled by the disconnect between the weird combination of signs of recession and healthy jobs growth, weighs in on Twitter. Take a look for yourself, but this seemed plausible:

Demand is slowing rapidly but employers still want to hire/hold onto workers. Either because they view demand reductions as temporary (e.g., inventories), are worried about ability to hire so labor hoarding, or moving towards more normal staffing.

Interestingly, the total number of employed (152 million) remains below the pre-pandemic figure of 152.5 million in the last pre-Covid month, February 2020. Over the same period, the U.S. working age population increased by some 2 million. Tick tock.

Look out for (if I had to guess) negative revisions ahead, but my gut reaction is, Atlanta Fed or no Atlanta Fed, the chances that we are already in recession may have diminished. Meanwhile, the likelihood that the next Fed rate hike will be 75bp (already high, in my view) has increased.

International

Sri Lanka Unravels

Loading...
Demonstrators protest inside the President’s House premises in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 2022. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Countries never fall in a day. There’s always a long chain of events that precedes something so catastrophic, a string of decisions and circumstances that lead to ultimate collapse. But there is often a day that is remembered as the day everything truly fell apart. For Sri Lanka, July 9 is that day.

The Times of India has been tracking the events in Sri Lanka today. Between about 1 p.m. and 10 p.m. local time:

  • Protesters surrounded the home of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had already fled.
  • Police used tear gas on protesters.
  • Protesters stormed Rajapaksa’s house.
  • Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called an emergency meeting of party leaders.
  • Sanath Jayasuriya, a cricketer who is one of the most famous people in Sri Lanka, joined the protest.
  • MPs from Rajapaksa’s party and military personnel called for his resignation.
  • An MP was attacked by protesters.
  • Wickremesinghe resigned.
  • Protesters broke into Wickremesinghe’s house and set it on fire.

Rajapaksa’s whereabouts are currently unknown. There were reports of a VIP motorcade heading to the airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, and reports of unknown people leaving on Sri Lankan naval vessels.

All of this in a country that was, until recently, on the rise and doing well for its neighborhood. Sri Lanka’s GDP per capita is about double that of India, and ordinary Sri Lankans have seen a significant increase in their quality of life since the country’s lengthy civil war ended in 2009. And in nine hours today, the president is missing, the government has collapsed, and the former prime minister’s house is on fire.

For a fuller discussion of the poor decisions and bad luck that led to Sri Lanka’s fall, see my piece from June 3. Sri Lanka had exceptionally poor leadership that hastened its collapse, but as central banks in wealthy countries raise interest rates to quell inflation, the cheap credit that many developing countries have relied upon in recent years will disappear. There has been a massive sell-off of emerging-market bonds as traders seek safer investments.

The U.S. must prepare for the fallout across the developing world. Sri Lanka is the first developing country to see widespread chaos and government collapse in an environment of higher inflation and retreating globalization. It won’t be the last.

Film & TV

Enemies of Friends, Unite

Loading...
From left: Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, and David Schwimmer on Friends: The Reunion. (HBO Max/via YouTube)

Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the television show Friends, says she regrets the way that a trans character was portrayed on the show, according to E! News. “Pronouns were not yet something that I understood, so we didn’t refer to that character as ‘she.’ That was a mistake.”

Kauffman has also expressed regret recently for the lack of racial diversity in the show’s cast. She donated $4 million to her alma mater, Brandeis University, to fund a professorship in the African and African American studies department. Kauffman said, “It took me a long time to begin to understand how I internalized systemic racism. I’ve been working really hard to become an ally, an anti-racist. And this seemed to me to be a way that I could participate in the conversation from a white woman’s perspective.”

For $4 million, I’m sure Brandeis is more than happy to have Kauffman participate in the conversation as often as she wants. These buzzword-laced apologies are ridiculous, as always. Friends wasn’t racist or transphobic.

If Kauffman is going to apologize for anything, it should be for creating the show at all. Friends is a terrible show, as I’ve written before. In this case, the cancel-culture blind squirrel has found a nut.

U.S.

Did Minnesota Republicans Accidentally Legalize More-Potent THC Edibles?

Loading...
(jferrer/iStock/Getty Images)

Back in May, the Minnesota legislature’s conference committee held a session to pass amendments to its Omnibus Health and Human Services Bill. A committee staff member read one amendment’s description. The proposed amendment “inserts language exempting cannabinoids derived from hemp from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Schedule,” she read.

After the committee passed the amendment unanimously, its chairman, Republican senate majority leader Jim Abeler asked, “That doesn’t legalize marijuana — we just didn’t do that?” As it turned out, they kind of did.

At the end of June, the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy clarified what the amendment would actually do. Though it did not broadly legalize marijuana, it amended Minnesota’s statute regulating hemp products, allowing stronger edible cannabinoids to be manufactured and sold.

To be legal, products must not “contain more than five milligrams of any tetrahydrocannabinol in a single serving, or more than a total of 50 milligrams of any tetrahydrocannabinol per package.” Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the ingredient in cannabis that makes the user high.

The news apparently came as a bit of a surprise to Abeler, who, in the aftermath of the board’s announcement, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he thought the amendment only applied to the delta-8 THC, which gives off weaker effects than the standard delta-9 THC, which the bill’s broad language made legal. He called for the law to be rolled back, but Democrats would not entertain his request.

Many legislators were concerned about the impacts of delta-8 on their communities, according to the Minnesota Reformer. Although it is less potent than delta-9, it was not well-regulated, and its producers often targeted children who could not legally possess it. Democratic state representative Heather Edelson worked with Republicans to phase out delta-8 while using broad language to make the amendment, of which she was the chief architect, work in such a way that it legalized delta-9.

If this is true, it indicates a bit of malice on Edelson’s part. Working with other legislators while having ulterior motives is not the way most constituents would want lawmaking to work. At the same time, while we pretty much know that our elected representatives do not often bother to read the bills they vote on, maybe Abeler’s failure will tell them that they should. Neither Edelson’s nor Abeler’s office responded to requests for comment.

Abeler may be embarrassed; at least, many Minnesotans are trying to make him feel that way. Consumers posted pictures of their first legal edibles on social media and thanked Abeler for their availability. Some manufacturers went so far as to put Abeler’s name and likeness on the packaging of their products.

I guess this is a lesson to legislators: Don’t forget to read the legislation you’re passing. Otherwise you may become associated with the legalization of the thing you want to keep banned.

Politics & Policy

Border Patrol Agents Did Not Whip Anyone, Likely to Be Punished Anyway

Loading...
U.S. Border Patrol officers cut off the way of migrants asylum seekers as they are trying to return to the United States along the Rio Grande River, after having crossed from the U.S. into Mexico to buy food, seen from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico September 19, 2021. (Daniel Becerril/Reuters)

The news cycle moves at a rapid clip these days. One of the strangest and most pernicious ways this phenomenon manifests is in the “current things” about which those on the left are momentarily obligated to pretend to care. My favorite example is from summer 2020, when for about two weeks it was conventional wisdom on the left that Donald Trump was set to steal that year’s presidential election through the mail. I’d bet that, if you asked most of the people who fretted about it then if they have any memory of doing so, they would stare back at you blankly.

A similar controversy came last year, when a misleading still image of a Border Patrol agent wielding the reins of his horse became evidence that he and others were, in fact, trying to whip Haitian illegal immigrants to keep them out of the United States. President Biden joined in the resulting pile-on, driven by a media already inclined toward skepticism of the idea of border enforcement in the first place. “It was horrible to see what you saw, to see people treated like they did — horses barely running them over people being strapped,” Biden said. “It’s outrageous. I promise you those people will pay . . . . There will be consequences. It’s an embarrassment. But beyond an embarrassment is dangerous, it’s wrong.” Vice President Kamala Harris was reminded of “times of slavery.” Both were fooled: As Isaac Schorr and Brittany Bernstein reported at the time:

. . . the videos that have surfaced of the incident appear to show the agents wielding their reins — not whips — as they try to contain the flow of migrants across the river. And, while the agents can be seen swinging their reins menacingly, none of the available video evidence shows border patrol agents striking migrants with their reins.

This did not stop Biden from taking the task of punishing people actually trying to enforce the U.S. border more seriously than the task of . . . enforcing the U.S. border. The agents involved were placed on administrative leave, then investigated internally by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That investigation has concluded that the agents did not, in fact, whip anyone — but that they should still be punished. The New York Post reports:

The Biden administration admitted Friday that Texas Border Patrol agents were falsely accused of “whipping” Haitian migrants last year — but still referred four agents for discipline in connection with the viral incident from September 2021.

In a 511-page report, US Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Personal Responsibility said it had found no evidence that [Border Patrol agents] involved in this incident struck, intentionally or otherwise, any migrant with their reins,” though it did say the agents had used “unnecessary” force.

So they are being punished anyway? Why is that? The Daily Caller reports:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has proposed two charges against the Border Patrol agents involved in the alleged “whipping” of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The first charge is for “poor judgment” for instructing noncitizens “to go back to Mexico, or words to that effect,” while the second is for “unsafe conduct” for maneuvering the agent’s horse “in a way that caused a noncitizen to fall backward into the Rio Grande River … thereby compromising the safety of the noncitizen, yourself, and your horse.”

These proposals are not yet final, and CBP is expected to announce the results of its investigation into the agents as soon as Friday, according to people familiar with the matter not authorized to speak publicly. It’s unclear how many agents will be charged.

“You knew or should have known that using your horse to block a noncitizen from exiting the water at the boat ramp created an unsafe situation, particularly for the noncitizen, but also for you and your horse,” the charges read.

According to the Daily Caller, the internal CBP document on the charges notes that the agents’ actions “received significant media attention and had a negative impact on the reputation of the Agency.” Which seems like a kind of tautology: This was controversial because it was controversial. And also a concession to outside narratives, however misleading: Why not push back? Border Patrol Union president Brandon Judd blames Biden, and rightly so:

“Unfortunately, the President made this the spectacle it’s become,” Judd told The Post in a text message. “If he would have just kept his mouth shut and let the process play out like it should have instead of passing judgment before the facts were in, we wouldn’t be discussing this right now.”

Here are the perils of governance by the “current thing.” Caught up in the moment, Biden essentially demanded punishment. Now, well after the initial moment of media madness, that demand persists in spite of new information and fuller understanding. Such is the pathetic half-life of hysteria. One must almost pity those few tasked with keeping this fake controversy alive long after it has served its original purpose.

Politics & Policy

If We Must Keep Score

Loading...
President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 8, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In response to Cheap Point-Scoring

Of my article arguing against the president’s attempted political point-scoring in response to the assassination of Shinzo Abe, Kevin asks, “If we must keep score, isn’t this a point for the side that argues that draconian gun-control laws such as Japan’s don’t actually stop crimes of this kind?”

Kevin shares my distaste for this sort of point-scoring, but the president started it in his statement and doubled down on it in spoken remarks earlier today.

It is worth asking what the president is trying to say here. If Japan, a country with virtually no privately owned firearms, still struggles with “gun violence,” then there’s simply no hope for gun control. With some notable exceptions, Democrats generally insist that they don’t want to ban guns; they only want to enact “common sense” measures to moderately restrict gun ownership.

Biden: “This is not about taking away anyone’s guns. . . . I respect the culture and the tradition and the concerns of lawful gun owners.”

Biden: “And again, for any of the press in here, the press listening: This doesn’t violate anybody’s Second Amendment right. There’s no violation of a Second Amendment right.”

Biden: “I’m a gun owner. I own two shotguns. . . . We used to like to skeet shoot. . . . There are more gunowners in Delaware because there are duck hunters . . .”

There aren’t a lot of duck hunters in Japan (they invented a different kind of duck hunting). Japan does not have an equivalent to the Second Amendment. Japan does not have a culture or tradition of private gun ownership. If Democrats are looking to propose Japan-style gun regulations in the United States, they will be met with immediate rejection, including by many of their own voters who, as Biden acknowledges, are themselves hunters and gun owners.

Even putting aside the matter of propriety in responding to the assassination of the former leader of a close ally, Biden’s comments don’t score the points he wants them to — which is another reason he should not have made the comments in the first place.

Media

The Catastrophe Grift

Loading...
(Dado Ruvic/Illustration via Reuters)

Eric Feigl-Ding, one of the most hilariously over-the-top, and ubiquitously online, Covid alarmists — the personification of “I’m still wearing my mask” progressive Twitter — was given a guest column in the Washington Post to argue that monkeypox is now a Covid-esque pandemic. What’s more, he argues, “unless we declare an emergency and act quickly to combat it, we risk repeating the same mistakes we made with our covid-19 battle.” It’s more or less a copy/paste of Feigl-Ding’s line on Covid: “By not preemptively raising the alarm, the WHO is putting countless lives at stake — just as the delay in classifying covid-19 played a critical role in the failure to control that virus’s global explosion effectively,” he writes. “We must enlist the full spectrum of prevention and diagnostics to curb the spread, preclude the development of local disease reservoirs in rodents, and prevent suffering and possible death.” The column concludes morosely:

We should all refuse to walk blindly, allowing the present to become prologue to greater catastrophe. Global health officials must advocate for and enact a unified, coherent approach to fighting the monkeypox pandemic before it reaches the proportions of covid-19. If we act, guided by the lessons of the past two years, we can avoid the mistakes that cost the world millions of lives.

Setting aside the obvious grift of Feigl-Ding’s shtick — as one science reporter put it, he has “an egregious history of fear mongering and inaccurate statements” — let’s take his argument seriously for a second: Given that monkeypox, while not technically a sexually transmitted disease, is primarily transmitted via sexual activity, what exactly would a Covid-style emergency-mitigation response look like? In a tweet thread about his article, Feigl-Ding suggests — you guessed it! — masks. But of course, if monkeypox really is the brewing global public-health catastrophe that he insists it is, masks are far from enough. His logic doesn’t make sense, unless this is something like what he has in mind.

The other difficulty here, particularly for professional tweeters like Feigl-Ding — whose audience is uniformly left-wing — is that it’s not just any kind of sex that we’re talking about needing to crack down on here. As the Washington Post column notes, “the available European data show that most infections have occurred in men who have sex with men (MSM).” 

I’m looking forward to hearing Feigl-Ding take his argument to its logical conclusion.

White House

Of Course, the White House Is Completely Fine with the Harassment of Supreme Court Justices

Loading...

This is shameful, but all too typical:

White House

‘The Last Bag of Bones’

Loading...
President Biden participates in a change of command ceremony at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., June 1, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

MBD holds nothing back on today’s edition of The Editors when it comes to the current administration: “Biden was the last bag of bones labeled the ‘FDR Coalition’ they had in stock. They threw him out there, and then attached a non-white, mid-wit daughter of two college professors to make themselves feel better about this scam, put them forward, and now they are reaping the results.” He lists all the ways that this presidency is failing, and how this reality is scaring Democrats who are looking ahead to 2024.

After taking on this administration, MBD jumps across the pond to give some perspective on the actions of Boris Johnson, the almost-ex-prime minister of the U.K. While he does call out Johnson’s inability to accomplish much while in office, he also explains how this is a “massive own goal for the Tory Party.” All the editors agree that Johnson was a once-in-a-lifetime personality, and finding someone with the same charisma to replace him will be near impossible. They all are clear, though, that, as brilliant as Johnson may be in some areas, his lies and lack of moral compass brought him to this point.

Finally, the group takes a look west at the Golden State governor. Michael confesses that Newsom worries him quite a lot, but the other editors won’t go quite that far. Listen to their conversation below to see who thinks Newsom will be the next best hope for the Democratic Party, and who thinks his abysmal leadership record will weigh him down.

Politics & Policy

Cheap Point-Scoring

Loading...

Dominic, I agree that it is unseemly for people to try to use the Abe assassination to score partisan points in the domestic gun-control debate.

But . . . if we must keep score, isn’t this a point for the side that argues that draconian gun-control laws such as Japan’s don’t actually stop crimes of this kind?

Because those things that never happen anywhere except the United States keep happening in places that are not the United States.

Media

Reading with Other Eyes

Loading...

A Salon headline:

Right unveils anti-woke social studies: “American Birthright” elevates Western civilization, pushes Christianity and rejects all talk of “social justice”

I know that’s supposed to be scary-sounding, and I don’t know anything about the program in question — but it sounds terrific.

Education

School-Choice Opponents Can’t Accept Defeat in Arizona

Loading...
(DONGSEON_KIM/Getty Images)

Well, they’re not going down without a fight.

In response to the Arizona legislature’s passing a massive school-voucher expansion, anti-school-choice groups announced a campaign to kill it. Though Governor Doug Ducey has signed HB 2853 into law, if Save Our Schools Arizona reaches its goal of 118,823 valid signatures by September 25, the measure will go on hold until 2024, when voters will determine its fate as a ballot measure.

In its video announcing the effort, it is clear the group is overconfident, assuming that their past victories indicate sure success in the future.

By voting to expand school choice, the legislature “dismissed and degraded the will of 1.5 million Arizona voters who overwhelmingly rejected this incredibly unpopular expansion a few short years ago,” says one member of Save Our Schools Arizona.

This is a reference to 2018’s Proposition 305, which would have instituted a program similar to the one the government just approved. Although voters rejected the proposal by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent, it is a mistake to view that earlier defeat as an outright rejection of school choice.

While HB 2853 makes all of Arizona’s 1.1 million students immediately eligible for the state’s voucher program, Prop. 305 would have limited the program to a growth of 5,000 per year. This is far from the beau ideal of educational-freedom proponents. As a result, the American Federation for Children, one of the largest school-choice interest groups in the country, as well as the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, both abandoned it before election day.

Even if the numbers hadn’t been skewed by Prop. 305 not going far enough, we should remember that people’s views in 2022 aren’t necessarily the same as what they were in 2018 or will be in 2024. In the past few years, parents have seen a global pandemic in which teachers’ unions strong-armed public schools into endorsing virtual learning. Their actions resulted in massive learning loss and social isolation, something few Arizonans, or Americans in general, will forget.

For that reason, more policy-makers are growing warmer toward school choice. Last year’s version of HB 2853 failed because three Republicans in the state house sided with Democrats to defeat it. This year, those same three Republicans voted in favor of the measure.

More importantly, recent polling has borne out this trend. According to Morning Consult, support among all Arizona adults for education savings accounts, vouchers, and charter schools are all upwards of 60 percent. In polls of only parents of school-aged children, support rose above 70 percent for all three items.

It is not unlikely that Save Our Schools Arizona will find the nearly 120,000 people they need to sign their petition, but getting voters to strike down the expansion two years from now will prove much more difficult, especially with the energy from proponents of school choice.

Moreover, Save Our Schools members are not making the effort easy for themselves. Each week they put out a report on business in the Arizona legislature. The most recent one includes a meme that implies vouchers are akin to throwing money down the toilet. Considering these types of programs predominantly benefit children from families with lower incomes, that type of rhetoric may not be the most beneficial to them.

The case for school choice is stronger than ever. People are realizing that parents — not teachers’ unions and their supporters — know best how to spend money on their children’s education, and they will vote accordingly in 2024.

Politics & Policy

Can Electoral Count Act Reform Happen in This Congress?

Loading...
Then-Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) stand after reading the final certification of Electoral College votes cast in November’s presidential election during a joint session of Congress, January 7, 2021. (J. Scott Applewhite/Pool via Reuters)

In an election year, Congress basically shuts down by the beginning of the fall. Given summer recess schedules in both houses, that means the next few weeks offer pretty much the final stretch of real legislative days. Looking at the plausible to-do list for that period, there are three significant items that stand some chance of passage: a much-trimmed reconciliation bill advancing some Democratic priorities, a bicameral compromise version of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (different forms of which have passed both houses), and reforms of the Electoral Count Act.

The first two are on a collision course with one another at this point. Chuck Schumer and Joe Machin have been working toward a reconciliation bill to salvage something of the Build Back Better package that went nowhere this year. It would let Medicare “negotiate” drug prices, and then would include some modest energy and climate provisions and some kind of tax increase. There is broad support among Democrats for the Medicare provisions, but the rest is still up in the air. Many Republicans seem dismissive of the prospects for this measure, and it certainly makes sense to be skeptical about Schumer’s ability to pull it off. He has done an awful job managing intra-Democratic legislative negotiations in this Congress. But my sense, alas, is that this one has real legs, and the Democrats may well come together on a measure they can pass.

Meanwhile, the two parties continue to try to work out differences over the USICA — a bill that began as a series of major investments in federal support for strategically significant scientific R&D but is gradually devolving into a set of subsidies for the American semiconductor industry. The House and Senate have passed different versions of the bill (with the Senate version getting a fair bit of bipartisan support), and have been negotiating toward a stripped-down version that might pass in both houses.

Ever sensitive to pressure points in the Democrats’ efforts, Republican leader Mitch McConnell declared on Twitter on June 30 that “there will be no bipartisan USICA as long as Democrats are pursuing a partisan reconciliation bill.” He seems to have his conference behind him on that threat, and so it’s now up to Schumer to decide how to prioritize and juggle these bills, neither of which is quite cooked yet anyway. The coming week may tell the tale of whether the Democrats can get their act together on one or both of these measures.

But the third item on the remaining to do list, reforming the Electoral Count Act, has the potential to move independently of the battle over a reconciliation bill. It’s not a spending package, and while it has only modest Republican support, it has something like the profile of the infrastructure and gun bills that have passed in this Congress — with a Senate “gang” working to patch together a coalition. Yet for all its promise, and all the need for it, this process has stalled out in recent months, and will need to be actively spurred back to life very soon if it is to achieve anything.

It’s worth remembering that the ECA-reform process began as a fallback, especially for Democrats. The Democrats started the year eager for very aggressive and partisan election reforms — a kind of partial nationalization of election rules and some facets of election administration. You could hardly conjure a better argument for the filibuster than the prospect of the narrowest congressional majority in living memory pushing through changes in election procedures in every state on a party-line vote in Washington, and it was indeed the filibuster that ended up averting the civic disaster that would have resulted.

The Democrats’ effort was also focused on the wrong goals: It would have dealt largely with access to the voting booth, rather than with the integrity of post-election administration and certification. Access and turnout are crucial, of course, but are in decent shape — despite some misguided and needless partisan measures in a number of Republican-led state legislatures. The real danger in the Trump and post-Trump era has to do with making sure that votes are counted and results are honored.

Having failed to advance their more radical measures, then, Democrats were open to changes in the Electoral Count Act, the federal law that governs the procedures for electing the president and vice president. And a number of Republicans — enough to get a bill to 60 votes in the Senate — were open to that conversation too, in part to neutralize the Democrats’ threats to blow up the filibuster to push their more radical changes, and in part out of a desire to apply some of the lessons of 2020.

The effort has proceeded on two tracks from the outset. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Rules Committee, has worked with Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin and Senator Angus King to draft legislation, releasing a preliminary draft back in February. At the same time, a bipartisan group of senators led by Susan Collins and Joe Manchin have been working on their own proposed changes. The fact that the latter group involves both Republicans and Democrats — including many of the senators who have worked together successfully on infrastructure and on gun legislation this year — has always meant that the Collins-Manchin group’s work is more likely to bear fruit. But that work seemed to stall after an early burst of energy this winter.

That early energy was never well focused. The Democrats involved in the group hadn’t altogether given up their broader ambitions to reform election procedures across the country, and from the beginning the bipartisan group tried handle that by dividing its work into several sub-groups, most of which (because they were assigned matters outside the scope of the Electoral Count Act) never had a chance of producing proposals that could actually garner bipartisan backing. As a result, unlike the earlier efforts on infrastructure and guns, the group’s work did not begin with a clear agreed-upon framework but has been hazy and free-wheeling. This has meant that it has not managed to put the core contested questions in front of the senators involved in a clear way.

Some Republicans have also wanted to avoid taking positions on any election-reform proposal before the conclusion of this year’s primary season, and so have had an incentive to drag their feet. The prospect of the January 6 Commission proposing specific reforms to the ECA has also been a concern for Republicans — ideas that become associated with the commission in their voters’ minds will be less likely to win Republican support, not more.

The result of all this has been a palpable loss of momentum. Senator Collins has made efforts recently to get her colleagues focused on the substance of potential reforms again, and the constraints of the legislative schedule will create some pressure too. But the nature of the process so far has meant that senators could claim agreement in the abstract about the need to reform the ECA while actually avoiding the key concrete questions that need to be resolved before legislation can take shape.

The foremost of these questions, which is likely to divide Republicans and Democrats more than they have so far acknowledged, is whether reforms should focus on the potential for misbehavior by Congress and the vice president or the potential for misbehavior by state officials charged with certifying election results. There is ample reason to worry about both, but in terms of changes to the ECA those two sets of worries point roughly in opposite directions.

Averting shenanigans in Congress would mean constraining the role of Congress and the vice president and leaving the substantive work of finalizing election results more clearly and fully up to the states. But averting shenanigans in the states would mean giving Congress more of an oversight or corrective role over the outcomes of state certifications. You can’t really do both at the same time.

In 2020, the problem was in Congress. The states all did their jobs, despite immense pressure by Donald Trump on some state officials to behave corruptly. Every state submitted a certified slate of electors in line with its election results. It was only when it came time for Congress to count those votes that some members of Congress made the cynical decision to challenge several state results, and that the president tried to pressure the vice president to do so. That revealed some risks inherent in the looseness and ambiguity of the Electoral Count Act. It suggested, for instance, that the threshold for congressional objections is too low and undefined, and that the limits on the vice president’s role could be spelled out more clearly.

But looking to 2024, there is reason to worry about the potential for misbehavior by state officials. In several states, there are candidates for positions with authority over election administration who falsely insist the last election was stolen and who might be open to using their power to corrupt the counting and certification of election results next time. That kind of worry would argue for Congress setting more prescriptive requirements for certification and exercising more substantive judgment about state results.

Broadly speaking, Republicans involved in the ECA-reform effort want to see changes that would constrain the role of Congress, while Democrats want to see greater oversight over state officials. The Klobuchar-Durbin-King proposal earlier this year sought to square that circle by simultaneously contracting the role of Congress and the vice president in the process of finalizing presidential election results and expanding the role of the federal courts in that process. In essence, Congress’s role would be narrowed in light of some lessons of 2020, but federal judges would be given significant new direct oversight over state election administration in light of concerns about 2024.

This is a clever way to resolve the contradiction, but it faces some enormous problems. Giving federal courts original jurisdiction over disputes that basically involve how state officials enforce state laws is constitutionally dubious at best and could easily create more problems and uncertainty than it would resolve. Republicans open to reforms of the ECA have been getting conflicting advice on this front from the election-law experts they trust, but on the whole they don’t seem very open to this approach.

That would suggest that the prospects for ECA reform depend upon the willingness of Democrats to restrict those reforms to addressing potential congressional misbehavior and clarifying the limits on the vice president’s role in the process or on the willingness of Republicans to give the federal courts a new and questionable role in election oversight. Neither party seems particularly close to coming to terms with this, and there isn’t much time for them to get there.

Perhaps the worst sign of all is that more and more of the people involved now suggest that ECA reform will need to be a lame-duck agenda item — that is, one only taken up after the November elections. There’s a certain logic to this view, of course, since that would make it possible to avoid making these reforms an election issue, especially for Republicans. But lame-duck sessions of Congress never go as planned. The feeling, the atmosphere, that follows an election, particularly an election where power changes hands in one or both houses, is never what people expect in advance, and the idea of just getting back to work on what seemed like a plausible agenda before the transformative election never quite makes sense in its wake. If ECA reform is left to the lame-duck session, it will almost certainly not happen at all. And the chances that a Republican House, let alone a Republican House and Senate, would take up the issue in the next Congress has got to be approaching zero.

That means now is the time to revive the effort if it is going to bear any fruit. There will surely be an attempt to do so. Even if it ultimately fails, ECA reform won’t just fade away. There will be some effort to take it up in the next few weeks — a moment of action or decision. It is very important that the members involved are prepared for that moment, that they understand what questions are likely to be in front of them when it comes, and that they know how they want to proceed and what bargains they’re willing to contemplate.

There’s still a real chance that Electoral Count Act reform will happen in this Congress. But its prospects have diminished a lot in the course of this year.

Elections

Whom Does the Mainstream Media Want the GOP to Nominate in 2024?

Loading...
Then-president Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus response during a meeting with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

At this moment, any Republican official or strategist who spends a lot of time thinking about Donald Trump taking on Ron DeSantis in the 2024 presidential election is putting the cart before the horse — there’s still a midterm-election cycle to win. Yes, right now the outlook suggests a tsunami-size GOP wave, but nothing is guaranteed in life. In fact, the best way for Republicans to blow opportunities in a near-ideal political environment like this one is to start taking things for granted.

With that in mind, a reader wondered if Trump’s influence in the GOP would wane if the Republicans he picked out of contested primaries, such as Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker, lose contests that Republicans thought they had a good shot of winning. That could happen, but the average person who wants Trump to run again and win in 2024 isn’t backing him because they think he’s the best candidate recruiter.

A more interesting question is in a Trump-DeSantis race, which Republican candidate would get more hostile coverage from the mainstream media? In the 2016 cycle, as soon as Donald Trump announced, the mainstream media was obsessed with him. It wasn’t often positive coverage, but instantly Trump became the protagonist of the story. Other GOP candidates with longer resumes and more detailed policy proposals like Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, and Rick Perry could barely get any attention, compared to Trump having his speeches broadcast live in their entirety on CNN. As Erik Wemple observed back then, “the live shot of an empty and soon-to-be-occupied Trump podium has become one of the iconic images of campaign 2016.”

One of the reasons Trump won the 2016 Republican presidential primary was that he received way, way, way more coverage than any of his GOP rivals:

Mr. Trump earned $400 million worth of free media last month, about what John McCain spent on his entire 2008 presidential campaign. Paul Senatori, mediaQuant’s chief analytics officer, says that Mr. Trump “has no weakness in any of the media segments” — in other words, he is strong in every type of earned media, from television to Twitter.Over the course of the campaign, he has earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history. It is also twice the estimated $746 million that Hillary Clinton, the next best at earning media, took in. Senator Bernie Sanders has earned more media than any of the Republicans except Mr. Trump.

There are several reasons media institutions who aren’t fans of Republicans covered Trump so extensively. He was a celebrity, and he brought in ratings. As CBS executive chairman Leslie Moonves put it, Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” He was unpredictable, exciting, and didn’t bother with boring, dry policy proposals. And indisputably, a lot of folks in media thought Trump would be the easiest candidate for Hillary Clinton to defeat. (Joke’s on them!)

As much as Trump bashed the major mainstream-media institutions and they ripped into him, both sides developed this symbiotic, codependent relationship with the other. It was as if each side had decided that their mission in life was to fight the other, and lacked a sense of purpose without that all-consuming foe.

In 2024, which Republican will be perceived by the media as the easiest rival for Joe Biden, or Kamala Harris, or some other Democrat to defeat? I suspect it will be Trump, who just lost a presidential election, will be getting into his late 70s, who won’t stop obsessively ranting about how he was the real winner in the 2020 election, and whose actions and words led to the January 6 Capitol Hill riot. And who knows, maybe instances such as the Oz endorsement and demonization of Brian Kemp demonstrate that Trump has lost his instinct for what grassroots Republicans want.

Compared to Trump, DeSantis looks solidly conservative, wonky and interested in policy, nimble and articulate, and unafraid of challenging conventional wisdom on issues such as the pandemic. DeSantis doesn’t appear to watch a lot of cable news, doesn’t rage-tweet, and doesn’t seem to be making a lot of enemies within his own party. DeSantis has his own combative streak, but it seems a lot more focused on getting tangible results.

We’ve already seen the predictable “DeSantis is more dangerous than Trump” takes from liberals at MSNBC. Michael A. Cohen warns, “DeSantis brings something to the table that Trump lacks — his ability to translate political vindictiveness, cruelty and demagoguery into policy results.” That sounds like a bitter progressive’s way of saying that DeSantis gets stuff done and doesn’t just sit around throwing tantrums on social media.

Then again, many members of the media have grown to loathe DeSantis as much as they hate Trump. Maybe, after nearly eight years of nonstop Trump news, some members of the media are tired of whatever is on Trump’s mind dominating the news cycle, day after day. Maybe some members of the media remember 2016 and how foolish they were to assume that Trump was unelectable.

The typical Republican may hate the mainstream media, but that doesn’t mean the mainstream media don’t have considerable influence over who Republicans nominate for president.

Culture

Margaret Sanger Would Be Pleased with the Biden White House

Loading...

In recent years, Planned Parenthood has had to distance itself from its founder, Margaret Sanger, because it has become difficult for the organization to deny that she was a eugenicist. But the abortion industry and the politicians it owns continue with her philosophy.

Consider the White House statement about today’s abortion executive order:

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court issued a decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated a woman’s Constitutional right to choose. This decision expressly took away a right from the American people that it had recognized for nearly 50 years — a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health care decisions, free from government interference. Fundamental rights — to privacy, autonomy, freedom, and equality — have been denied to millions of women across the country, with grave implications for their health, lives, and wellbeing. This ruling will disproportionately affect women of color, low-income women, and rural women.

The statement seems to say: It is better for women of color, low-income women, and rural women to kill their unborn children.

How about helping pregnant women be the mothers they already are?

Culture

‘Fridays for Life’: Join a Lunchtime Discussion with Two Doctors Today

Loading...

Drs. Steven and Grazie Christie will join me at noon today for the second installment in the National Review Institute’s virtual series, “Fridays for Life.” Last week, we were joined by Grazie’s colleagues at the Catholic Association, Maureen Ferguson, Ashley McGuire, and Leigh Snead. You can watch that conversation here.

Today, we will be focusing on science with Steven and Grazie. Steven is author of Speaking for the Unborn: 30-Second Pro-Life Rebuttals to Pro-Choice Arguments.

RSVP to join us live — and ask questions — here.

Today’s conversation will be available after 1 p.m. on the National Review Institute’s YouTube channel.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Inflation and Recession

Loading...

Tracy Miller and Andrew Mercado of the Mercatus Center write about why inflation can’t be controlled by antitrust enforcement:

A common mistake when discussing inflation and antitrust is assuming a simple relationship between the two. The main goal of antitrust policy is to promote consumer welfare. Lower prices are one important component of the consumer-welfare framework, but so are innovation, choice, quality, and efficiency. The latter increase consumer welfare considerably but are notably absent from recent remarks by the current Federal Trade Commission Chair, Lina Khan, who asserted that the “consumer-welfare framework . . . should be abandoned” in favor of a focus on concentration. She is now pushing to block nearly all mergers, target successful platform companies, and make it harder for companies to prove their innocence.

While concentration within industries can lead to reductions in consumer welfare, that’s only true when those industries experience reduced competition. That this relationship is automatic is far from proven. A recent NERA study finds that competition actually increases when concentration increases in markets for specialized consumer goods such as hardware and furniture, stemming primarily from more efficient business practices and innovation from online marketplaces. The authors note that increasing concentration is associated with output growth, job creation, and higher compensation.

Jon Hartley of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity writes about the likelihood of a Fed-induced recession:

For the most part, post-war U.S. recessions have fallen into one of three types: Fed-induced recessions (the Fed raising rates to quell inflation, such as during the recessions of the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s, and early 1990s), bursting asset bubbles (like the tech bubble in 2001 or the housing bubble of 2008), or an exogenous shock, whether the twin oil shocks of the 1970s or the recent pandemic. This new 2022 recession looks as if it will mainly represent a return to the first type of recession, a Fed-induced recession.

Politics & Policy

Of Course the States May Prohibit Abortion Drugs

Loading...
A package of PlanB One-Step, an emergency contraceptive pill, is available for purchase at a CVS Pharmacy in Washington, D.C., July 7, 2022. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

President Biden and his fellow Democrats are taking steps to mandate that FDA-approved abortion drugs (properly understood as poisons rather than medicine, but, never mind that for now) remain available in states that prohibit abortion.

I don’t see why that should be the case.

The Dobbs decision makes clear that the states have the power to prohibit abortion per se — then states are not merely empowered to regulate the means by which unborn children are put to death.

But don’t federal rules trump state laws?

Not always, no.

For example, Americans enjoy a constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms, enshrined explicitly in the Bill of Rights, but there are firearms that are approved for sale by federal regulators that are prohibited in certain states — some firearms that can be sold in Texas and Utah cannot be sold in California or New York. If the combination of the Second Amendment with the blessing of the ATF does not impose a uniform firearms standard on the states where there is a legitimate constitutional right concerned, why should FDA approval impose a uniform abortion standard on the states where there is no such constitutional right involved?

Democrats should remember that Republicans are going to be in power again, probably soon, meaning that their federal mandate for access to abortion drugs sets the precedent for a federal prohibition on such drugs the day after tomorrow.

That there should be some variation among the states seems right and legitimate to me. The rights protected by the First Amendment are fundamental, but we have some variation among the states in the regulation of activities related to those rights: For example, the rules for getting a parade permit in New York City are not the same as the rules for getting a parade permit in Moab, Utah. Newspaper operators in Philadelphia face different regulatory requirements than do newspaper operators in rural Colorado. On one side of the Florida-Georgia line, there is a criminal defamation law, and on the other side, there isn’t. (As someone once told that mediocre tuna: Sorry, Charlie.) I think even the most committed Second Amendment advocates recognize that there are some regulations that do not improperly burden the right (such as the prohibition of sales to felons and age requirements) and, as a matter of federalism, there isn’t any reason that these should not vary some from state to state.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, New York is now prohibited from using arbitrary and subjective standards in its gun-carry permitting regime, but that does not mean that New York must adopt precisely the same rule as Vermont. (You know: Wild and crazy, blood-drenched Vermont, where there never has been much regulation at all of firearms carry.) We should make room for the genuine diversity among American communities.

And our progressive friends accept this when it suits them — consider California’s fight to continue enforcing emissions standards stricter than those set by the federal government.

I am not in the business of offering free political advice to the butchers’ guild, but our pro-abortion friends should think twice about the kind of legal fights that they are looking to pick, given that they are on a losing streak that looks likely to continue.

It is not exactly unprecedented for the United States to have drugs that are legal in one state but prohibited in another. The same holds true for guns, automobiles, and some other products. There is no reason to treat federal approval of a product as a mandate preempting state laws. But, if that is going to be our standard, then California’s gun laws and emissions rules are going to have to go.

Energy & Environment

Germany’s Underwater Threat

Loading...
A diver touches a rare Enigma cipher machine used by the Nazi military during World War II, in Gelting Bay near Flensburg, Germany, November 11, 2020. (Christian Howe/Reuters)

Germany has a problem beneath the waves, an explosive host resulting from the sins of the nation’s fathers. Readers may be aware Bismarck’s principalities are afflicted with energy-production woes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With the Nord Stream pipeline from Russia a politically odious and unstable option, Germany looks now to its coastal holdings to produce the natural gas its citizenry requires. But all building in Europe treads upon history, and the history this time takes the form of submerged WWII-era munitions strewn about the sea floor, uncomfortably close to where ships travel and anchor. 

William Boston reports for the Wall Street Journal:

Much of Europe still bears traces of World War II in the form of unexploded ordnance, but the problem is especially acute in Germany, where an estimated 1.6 million tons of weapons and explosives were dumped in the North Sea and Baltic Sea. Most were put there after the war, when Allied commanders ordered the destruction of Germany’s stockpiles of weapons. Now the UXOs, from large cannon-fired grenades to torpedoes and sea mines, are setting back new developments, including offshore wind farms.

One project, TenneT TSO GmbH’s Riffgat wind park, went online a year late in 2014, after 30 tons of World War II munitions had to be cleared to lay the cable connecting the turbines to the grid onshore.

The munitions came to rest in their diffuse present locations due to an Allied effort to dispose of the many tons as quickly as possible. Like most government programs, the incentive structure made for short-sighted decisions:

Allied commanders often paid German fishermen to haul weapons out to dump sites. Paid by the load, many off loaded their bombs randomly so they could hurry back to take another shipment, according to transcripts of government interviews with fishermen in 1970.

A fisherman who transported three shipments of weapons from Flensburg to the mouth of the Kleine Belt fiord near the German-Danish border said these were just tossed overboard on the way to the Belt and back, according to a government interview transcript dated Sept. 14, 1970.

Using these sources, German authorities have managed to locate materiel that were dumped under the supervision of the western Allies, but there are gaps. There is no reliable information about weapons or munitions that the former Soviet Union might have dumped into the Baltic Sea.

The mental image of a German fisherman heaving a howitzer shell over the side of his dinghy is a hilarious one, undoubtedly worthy of a Monty Python sketch. However, Germany must now contend with the legacy of this ammunition dissemination at a time when it has little energy to spare. The country’s Greens stand athwart the idea of re-certifying nuclear-power plants, and the government cannot bring itself to admit it may have to depend on coal plants longer than the desired phase out in 2030.

One can squint Germanically and understand the nation’s intent when originally doing away with nuclear power. Renewables were popular, and glowing green sticks not as much. Ever the pragmatists, however, the German people have come around to keeping Homer’s Saxon equivalent employed a bit longer, because air-conditioning sure does the body a world of good. According to Politico:

Recent polling suggests Germans might be more flexible than politicians give them credit for. A March survey found that 70 percent said the [nuclear] phaseout should be postponed in light of the country’s dependence on Russia. Other recent surveys put that number lower — between 61 percent and 53 percent — but still found a majority in favor.

As one of the world’s most aggressive campaigners to do away with non-renewables, Germany will have a tough time managing these growing pains. Early tech adopters are routinely burdened with such educational setbacks preceding success, so I expect Germany will think itself out of the situation. But in the meantime, perhaps skip that romantic Baltic Sea diving vacation.

Politics & Policy

Tearing Us Apart’s Valuable Contribution

Loading...

Alexandra DeSanctis and Ryan T. Anderson have written an insightful book in Tearing Us Apart. It’s a benefit to pro-life advocates and laymen both — and you need not read the entirety to grasp the book’s brilliance or value. While one may consume their work chronologically — I promise I won’t stop you — it works just as well as a reference. 

They list the harmed parties as follows:

  1. The Unborn Child
  2. Women and the Family
  3. Equality and Choice
  4. Medicine
  5. Rule of Law
  6. Politics and the Democratic Process
  7. Media and Popular Culture

What I was most struck by in the initial perusal of the book is how the authors’ thoughtful structure communicates the profoundly public nature of abortion, a so-called private operation according to pro-choice advocates. But we corporately suffer from the destructive inhumanity of abortion, and it is to Alexandra and Ryan’s credit that this is so capably relayed. 

Tearing Us Apart is the sort of book that will long sit near at hand, alongside Rodale’s Synonym Finder and Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature. It’s a necessary text, and I cannot recommend it enough. Here’s the link.

Note: No, I was not put upon to suggest the book. I gain nothing from your purchase, and the copy I own was purchased with my hard-won pennies. It’s simply a laudable piece of work and worth your consideration.

Politics & Policy

Why Is ‘New Adult’ Fiction So Bad?

Loading...

A genre that’s known as New Adult is aimed at adult readers, and it’s somewhere between true literature and the simple storytelling of Young Adult books. It sells lots of books.

But, as the Martin Center’s Graham Hillard says in this article, it has become “unreadable garbage.” Why? He pins the blame on the malign influence of college.

Instead of having students read real literature, colleges overwhelmingly settle for dreck. Forget Shakespeare and Melville: Students are expected to ingest Ibram X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates. New Adult books are poorly written and obsessed with the petty problems of 20-somethings, but that’s a perfect match for today’s “college educated” readers.

As Hillard sums things up, “Having been taught nothing better, today’s readers have no sense of what they’re missing and are instead satisfied with pap. Meanwhile, whole libraries of near-miraculous literature sit untouched, gathering dust. If we wish, we can reach out and grasp them once again.”

Economy & Business

Greenflation Watch: ESG

Loading...
(metamorworks/Getty Images)

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, David R. Henderson and Marc Joffe highlight the way in which ESG (a form of socially responsible investing in which actual or prospective portfolio companies are measured against various environmental, social, and governance benchmarks) may contribute to inflation.

To take a step back (and to oversimplify), there are two halves to the inflationary equation. Too much money. Not enough goods. As Henderson and Joffe argue, pressure from investors who have adopted  an ESG approach (a type of investor, I would add, that stretches far beyond those offering a specifically designated ESG product) can lead companies to operate in a way that, economically, is suboptimal. Put another way, that is likely to mean that they produce less than they otherwise would, or (and this too would put upward pressure on prices) their production is not as efficient as it could be.

Henderson and Joffe:

When companies focus solely on maximizing profits, their principal aim is to produce more at lower cost. Admittedly, some profitability strategies—such as constraining supply—are at odds with maximizing output. But that’s impossible without an organized and powerful monopoly. Even companies with great monopoly power lose that power over time as competitors arise. In a competitive market, corporations serve themselves and consumers by making more for less.

ESG investing and the management practices it promotes, however, usually increase production costs and constrain capacity. If a company diverts resources into a formal diversity, equity and inclusion program, with all its attending human-resource hires and bureaucracy, it will have less resources available to conduct product research and development. Similarly, if a company whose core competence is oil and gas production chooses to move into wind and solar despite having limited expertise in these modes, its output will suffer. In general, an investment framework that de-emphasizes production in favor of social objectives will divert money away from efficient producers—in the same way taxes will…

To get the U.S. economy back on a path to sustainable growth and low inflation, the Fed must rein in excess liquidity, as it is now doing. But that alone won’t be enough. Businesses, investors and those advising them must push back on ideas such as ESG that undermine corporate productivity.

Law & the Courts

Re: If Obergefell Is Actually Under Threat, Why Aren’t Democrats Voting to Codify It?

Loading...
(CastaldoStudio/iStock/Getty Images)

Nate asks: “if Obergefell is truly on the precipice, as so many Democrats are arguing — why not vote to codify it?”

One reason is that there is no constitutional mechanism for doing so. Marriage law is set by the states, not the federal government, and, under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government enjoys no power to preempt those laws. Obergefell, you will note, did not claim such a power for the federal government; it claimed that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment “requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.” This is not the same thing as handing legislative power to Congress.

The assumption that Washington, D.C., is omnipotent is one of the biggest problems of our era. It would be an extremely bad idea for conservatives to begin taunting the Democratic Party for declining to pass federal laws that the federal government has no constitutional power to enact.