Energy & Environment

‘Climate Risk,’ the Fed, and AOC

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Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C. (crbellette/Getty Images)

The Fed should not have a climate policy, but it’s 2021, and so the central bank has been edging towards having one.

CNBC (from March):

The Federal Reserve has taken another step forward in efforts to ensure that the financial system is protected against climate risks.

As the central bank turns its attention increasingly toward the matter, the Fed has created a Financial Stability Climate Committee and a Supervision Climate Committee.

The panels will focus on “the potential for complex interactions across the financial system,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said in remarks Tuesday.

“Climate change and the transition to a sustainable economy also pose risks to the stability of the broader financial system. So a second core pillar of our framework seeks to address the macrofinancial risks of climate change,” Brainard added.

The Supervision Climate Committee will focus on identifying risks and putting together a program to address them. The Financial Stability Climate Committee will address “macroprudential risks” for how climate could pose systemic risks to the institutions the Fed supervises.

The argument that the Fed has to get involved because of “risk” is almost entirely bogus, for the reasons neatly summarized for Project Syndicate by John Cochrane:

In the United States, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of the Treasury are gearing up to incorporate climate policy into US financial regulation, following even more audacious steps in Europe. The justification is that “climate risk” poses a danger to the financial system. But that statement is absurd. Financial regulation is being used to smuggle in climate policies that otherwise would be rejected as unpopular or ineffective…

Such an event lies outside any climate science. Hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and fires have never come close to causing systemic financial crises, and there is no scientifically validated possibility that their frequency and severity will change so drastically to alter this fact in the next ten years…

To be sure, it is not impossible that some terrible climate-related event in the next ten years can provoke a systemic run, though nothing in current science or economics describes such an event. But if that is the fear, the only logical way to protect the financial system is by dramatically raising the amount of equity capital, which protects the financial system against any kind of risk. Risk measurement and technocratic regulation of climate investments, by definition, cannot protect against unknown unknowns or un-modeled “tipping points.”…

I described the notion of risk (in this context) as almost entirely bogus, because I can see how some companies, primarily in the fossil-fuel sector, could perhaps come under pressure from new climate regulations, and if they come under pressure that might, in turn, affect some banks with exposure to them.

Cochrane, I suspect, would not be convinced:

What about “transition risks” and “stranded assets?” Won’t oil and coal companies lose value in the shift to low-carbon energy? Indeed they will. But everyone already knows that. Oil and gas companies will lose more value only if the transition comes faster than expected. And legacy fossil-fuel assets are not funded by short-term debt, as mortgages were in 2008, so losses by their stockholders and bondholders do not imperil the financial system. “Financial stability” does not mean that no investor ever loses money.

He adds:

If one is worried about the financial risks associated with the energy transition, new astronomically-valued darlings such as Tesla are the danger. The biggest financial danger is a green bubble, fueled as previous booms by government subsidies and central-bank encouragement. Today’s high-fliers are vulnerable to changing political whims and new and better technologies. If regulatory credits dry up or if hydrogen fuel cells displace batteries, Tesla is in trouble. Yet our regulators wish only to encourage investors to pile on.

Ouch.

To be fair, for a long time, Powell appeared to have reservations about taking the Fed into the climate wars, and probably still does.

CNBC:

For his part, Powell has indicated that climate change is not central to the Fed’s mission but is nonetheless important.

“It’s really very early days of trying to understand what this all means. It clearly can have longer-term implications for our economy, our financial system and the people who we all serve,” Powell said. “It’s early days, but we feel like we have the responsibility to start the process of understanding” the risk.

This reticence may have landed him in trouble with AOC and other progressives in congress.

CNN:

Progressive Democrats, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are calling on President Joe Biden to give the Federal Reserve a sweeping makeover by replacing Jerome Powell as chairman.

“We urge President Biden to reimagine a Federal Reserve focused on eliminating climate risk and advancing racial and economic justice,” the lawmakers said in a statement Tuesday morning.

In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, the statement was issued Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Mondaire Jones of New York and Chuy Garcia of Illinois, all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

In their statement, Powell’s critics noted that:

The Federal Reserve received a D- rating for its approach to climate risk policies from Positive Money’s Global Central Bank Scorecard, placing it at the bottom of the G20 Central Banks.

There is no better endorsement for Powell than the fact that he has disappointed Positive Money. That AOC and her cohort regard that coterie of scolds as an authoritative source is, in its own way, revealing.

Check out its website and the Positive Money report entitled The Tragedy of Growth (my emphasis added) :

To protect wellbeing and avoid ecological disaster we must abandon GDP growth and transform our economic system…

Widespread acknowledgment of the limitations of GDP as an indicator of progress is a positive step, but insufficient to achieve human wellbeing and environmental sustainability. Calls for more ‘green’ or ‘inclusive’ growth fail to address the negative consequences of growth. This report has shown that continuous GDP growth consistently fails to deliver enhanced life satisfaction, alleviation of poverty, or environmental protection.

Just remember that the next time you hear AOC touting the prosperity that will be built by the Green New Deal.

World

Can Biden Reassure Ukraine?

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy takes part in the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, Ukraine, August 24, 2021. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

President Joe Biden is poised to attempt a high-wire balancing act in his meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky tomorrow.

The meeting will be Biden’s first with one of his foreign counterparts since the end of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and its marks Zelensky’s first visit to the White House, though the Ukrainian leader has been requesting a sit down with the president since taking office in 2019 during the Trump administration.

No doubt, the Biden administration is hoping for a smooth visit that demonstrates U.S. resolve to stand with a partner against Russian aggression. Following the debacle in Afghanistan, which featured strident criticism from the very allies that Biden courted, he needs such a success. And he needs to show the world that U.S. commitments mean something, after he spent weeks shifting blame for the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan to the Afghan defense forces (most recently this afternoon).

On the one hand, demonstrating a broad U.S. commitment shouldn’t be too difficult, as the Biden administration has generally continued U.S. support for the Ukrainian government amid Russia’s ongoing hybrid war in the country’s Eastern region of Donbas. In fact, administration officials are touting a new $60 million military-assistance package to the country, which comes amid a Russian military buildup on the border.

But Biden’s decision to waive mandatory U.S. sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has cast a pall over U.S.–Ukraine relations, putting his commitment to Ukraine’s security and anti-kleptocracy work in doubt. On top of that, Zelensky, like other U.S. partners, might see the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of a general tendency toward retrenchment.

“So the White House is going to want to reassure Ukraine and Ukraine is going to want to be reassured,” John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to the country and director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, told me this afternoon. Although Zelensky vociferously opposes Nord Stream 2, and the Biden administration’s decision to waive sanctions on the pipeline project, and is likely to express that in his first White House meeting, Biden’s “inclination to push back or punch back on Nord Stream 2 “I think will be restrained” out of a desire not to escalate the dispute with Zelensky in the aftermath of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

So the dispute isn’t likely to play out in the open, as it did this past spring, when Biden waived the pipeline sanctions without notifying the Ukrainian government in advance, generating some bruising headlines and congressional outrage. There are even some bright spots, as the U.S. announced new COVID-vaccine shipments to Ukraine last week, ahead of tomorrow’s meeting.

But their meeting won’t resolve the pipeline issue, especially as members of Congress promise to fight the administration on Nord Stream 2.

In addition to that, the particular details of the new military-assistance package raise questions about Biden’s commitment, making his work more difficult.

In June, Politico reported that the White House had frozen a $100 million military-aid package to Ukraine that had been arranged as Russian forces amassed at the country’s border this spring; it had been put on hold ahead of Biden’s June 16 summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The administration’s announcement of the new $60 million package doesn’t hurt, but it raises the question of where the proposal for a larger assistance package went.

Washington’s inability to successfully complete its evacuation Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul sent a signal to U.S. adversaries. So, too, do vague assurances to support Ukraine, when the administration simultaneously freezes military-aid packages, greenlights Russian pipelines, and courts Moscow for its participation in “strategic stability” talks.

World

Biden’s Bizarre ‘Yemen’ Counterfactual

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan during a speech in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, D,C., August 31, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

President Biden repeated a strange talking point on Afghanistan during his address today marking the completion of the U.S. military withdrawal. He urged Americans to entertain a hypothetical:

If we’d been attacked on September 11, 2001, from Yemen instead of Afghanistan, would we have ever gone to war in Afghanistan, even though the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the year 2001?

Well, no. In all likelihood, we’d be in our 20th year of military engagement in Yemen instead. That is, to entertain an added counterfactual, had Yemen also been run at the time by a fanatic group of medieval LARPers unwilling to hand over a very-fledgling AQAP, instead of by President Saleh.

Biden continued, elaborating:

I believe the honest answer is no. That’s because we had no vital interest in Afghanistan other than to prevent an attack on America’s homeland and our friends, and that’s true today.

That’s like arguing against the OBL kill-shot (which, by the way, Biden did) by asking those in the room to ask themselves: “If 9/11 had been engineered by a collective of insurance salesmen from Minsk, would we even be in Abbottabad?”

No. We’d be hunting down anyone with a briefcase in Belarus. The origin of the threat probably wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, change our resolve to eliminate it. Biden is trying to underscore how the U.S. has no inherent interest in Afghanistan or the Taliban, absent the intrusion of history. But intrude it did. There were convincing cases to be made for dramatically reducing, even eliminating, our footprint in Afghanistan. This is not one of them.

Sports

When Pigs Fly

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Flying Pig Marathon Starting Line (Courtesy of the Flying Pig Marathon)

In his otherwise-excellent Tuesday newsletter this morning, Kevin Williamson excerpts a bit of “news” about Ohio that I assume is meant to be unflattering. He quotes the kicker from a Cincinnati Enquirer story about how the “flying pig” became a symbol of the city (my hometown). That kicker includes a revealing detail: that two women sported flying pigs as lower-back tattoos.

I fear that readers will come away from Kevin’s presentation with an incomplete understanding of Ohio generally, and Cincinnati specifically. As I mentioned, the excerpted article is about how the flying pig became so ubiquitous as a city symbol. It seemed to have started with a 1988 sculpture by British artist Andrew Leicester, who topped a 1988, city-bicentennial installation of four smokestacks (a callback to Cincinnati’s river history) with four winged pigs. But, according to the Enquirer, this sculpture drew from the city’s past, symbolizing “Cincinnati’s pork processing history – and the pigs’ ascent into heaven.” Cincinnati was indeed once a major pork-processing center — along with the more-regal nickname “the Queen City,” it has also been known as “Porkopolis” — though, as the Enquirer notes, this was a somewhat sordid occupation at the time, even if Cincinnatians have embraced this legacy now.

At any rate, though there are also other pig statues scattered through the Cincinnati area, arguably the major contributor to the flying pig’s Cincinnati ubiquity is the Flying Pig Marathon, the city’s flagship race, which also includes other races on the same weekend, such as a half-marathon run the same day. The name was suggested as a joke but then actually used when the race began in 1999. Flying Pig executive director Iris Simpson Bush (to whom those two ladies proudly showed off their tattoos) credits the out-there yet uniquely Cincinnatian symbol with the enduring popularity of the race and of its associated gear. I can attest to this personally. In addition to being from Cincinnati, I won the 2018 Flying Pig Half-Marathon:

The Flying Pig is not only an enjoyable race thoroughly committed to its pig theme but also a credit to Cincinnati and to Ohio at large. It is not something to be embarrassed about. Usually, it’s the first Sunday in May. But for COVID-related reasons, it is being held on Halloween this year. There’s still time to sign up, and discover whether you, too, can fly.

World

Rat-Paddling

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan during a speech at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 31, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

President Biden is on the radio boasting that we have far exceeded — doubled, even — the number of people that the experts, unnamed, predicted we could get out of Afghanistan.

Hurrah.

That is a strange boast, but a very Biden boast: When we turn tail and run, nobody in the world does it quite like us!

Surrendering to the Taliban (and let’s call it what it is) is a political decision, and it may very well be the right one: The Obama administration wanted out, the Trump administration wanted out, and the Biden administration wanted out. The Taliban didn’t want out, and so all they had to do was to endure and to wait for us to give them their victory.

But the headlong and chaotic retreat from Afghanistan was unnecessary, and it is the result of elevating the political above other considerations. Presumably, American forces could have held any position we chose in Afghanistan for whatever time was necessary. We certainly could have held practically any position necessary long enough to complete the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies in an orderly and less panicky fashion.

So, even Biden’s boast about how competently we run away from a fight is a little rotten.

I have been watching politics for a long time, and I have observed a many rats rat-paddling away from many sinking ships. That is what rats do: It is an aspect of ratness.

But I cannot think of a rat rat-paddling away who squeaked quite so self-importantly about it.

World

More Taliban Reprisal Killings

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Taliban forces patrol near the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, a day after U.S troops withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 31, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

From the president on down, U.S. officials have staked the success of their Afghanistan withdrawal strategy on the premise that they can convince the Taliban to live up to commitments they have made in public and private on letting people leave the country, human rights, and other thorny issues.

The Biden administration’s approach has long sounded credulous to just about anyone without a vested interest in spinning President Biden’s chaotic withdrawal effort as a strategic triumph, and a new BBC report suggests that the worst is yet to come, with reprisal killings against Afghan government officials and U.S. allies accelerating:

Several sources confirmed that Taliban fighters last week executed two senior police officials – Haji Mullah Achakzai, the security director of Badghis province, and Ghulam Sakhi Akbari, security director of Farah province. Video footage showed Mr Achakzai was kneeling, blindfolded, with his hands tied behind his back before he was shot . . .

The BBC was not able to independently confirm the killings, and the Taliban have repeatedly denied committing any revenge killings. But the group was widely thought to be behind a spate of assassinations after signing a peace deal with the US in 2020, and there are mounting reports they have been searching for targets since taking power two weeks ago.

Amnesty International reported earlier this month that Taliban fighters massacred nine ethnic Hazara men after taking control of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province in July. And Human Rights Watch reported that Taliban fighters were conducting searches in Kandahar province as they swept the country and detaining anyone suspected of working with the government, reportedly killing some detainees.

Politics & Policy

‘Shattered Promises’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Alexandra, and Jim discuss Biden’s disgraceful Afghanistan exit, how COVID has turned into a completely partisan issue, and U.S. intel’s useless COVID-origins report. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Media

The Revealing Left-Wing Freak-Out over WaPo’s Fair Coverage of Dana Loesch

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National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor, Md. 2018 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Progressive bias in elite media is nothing new — one of the cheeky unofficial slogans for George H. W. Bush’s reelection bid, displayed on GOP pins and bumper stickers throughout the 1992 campaign, was “Annoy The Press: Re-elect Bush.” But legacy heavyweights such as the New York Times and the Washington Post used to make at least a nominal effort to maintain some kind of nonpartisan image. Their reporting had a liberal slant, to be sure, but it was a slant — they weren’t producing propaganda.

Today, these towering institutions of American journalism have been reduced to providing glorified partisan bottle-service for overeducated progressives. The reason the last five years were so lucrative for major newspapers such as the New York Times is that they built a new business model around feeding left-wing readers exactly what they want to hear: a neurotic cocktail of perpetual outrage (“Can you believe what Ron Desantis is doing now?”) political affirmations (“Here’s why Democrats are right about everything, and Republicans are all conspiratorial nutjob rubes”) and outright partisan activism (“debunking Trump’s conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden’s laptop — or Tom Cotton’s conspiracy theories about the lab-leak origins of coronavirus — or Chris Rufo’s conspiracy theories about critical race theory — or . . .”), injected directly into the veins of the well-to-do suburbanites who happily fork over their monthly subscription money for the trouble.

The downside of this business model is that any divergence from the party line is shrilly denounced. Like clockwork, every article in the mainstream media that dares to say something positive about a conservative is treated as an outrageous scandal. The latest example of this was the eye-popping reaction to yesterday’s favorable Washington Post profile of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, which made the fatal mistake of actually treating Loesch as a normal human being rather than a murderous sociopath. This, of course, was an unforgivable sin — “just the latest instance in 2021 of the mainstream media trying to rehabilitate and normalize right wing extremists,” in the words of popular progressive blog The Palmer Report.

That’s what preceded Loesch’s name trending nationwide on Twitter for hours, as the credentialed denizens of the chattering class attempted to outdo one another in displays of pained incredulity. “What the hell?,” tweeted musician and left-wing commentator Charles Johnson, summing up the conventional wisdom. “Dana Loesch is a first class monster. This is today’s exhibit in the ongoing broken shitshow that is US media.” The profile, Media Matters researcher Cydney Hargis informed her followers, was “just lazy journalism. . . . Loesch has made a career out of exploiting fear and promoting firearms as a means of self-protection.”

Promoting firearms as a means of protection — imagine that! The Washington Post should really know better.

Any suggestion that Loesch isn’t a “racist white supremacist” who “epitomizes the gun lobby’s embrace of dangerous far-right extremists,” as she was described by anti-gun activist Shannon Watts yesterday, is simply beyond the pale for the Post’s rabidly partisan reader base. Maybe Manuel Roig-Franzia, the author of the ill-fated piece in question, forgot that small fact. Maybe he was “spending the entire research process mentally undressing both Shannon Watts and Dana Loesch, which is — to put it mildly — not a helpful way to write an article on this subject,” as RawStory reporter Matthew Chapman alleged. Maybe Loesch’s “agent/publicist also reps someone WaPo may actually want, so they had to agree to do this filthy deed in order to score the bigger ‘get,’” as was speculated by NeverTrump pundit Cheri Jacobus.

Or maybe — just maybe — Mr. Roig-Franzia was actually doing journalism. In that case, he must have missed the memo: Outlets like the Washington Post just don’t do that kind of stuff anymore. Someone should let him know.

World

U.N.’s Toothless Taliban Resolution Earns U.S. Praise

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield holds a news conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York, March 1, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

When the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution pressing the Taliban to keep its commitments to allow Afghans and foreign nationalists to leave Afghanistan, it omitted a proposal to make part of Kabul into a “safe zone” that likely would’ve been secured by peacekeepers or troops from member states.

According to France 24, the version of the resolution that ultimately won a vote had been watered down after objections to criticism of the Taliban from Russia and China — which both voted to abstain on the measure. Although the two countries didn’t vote for the resolution, they could have voted to veto the proposal.

“We took into account some of the concerns that both the Chinese and the Russians raised in the draft resolution that was eventually approved,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., following the vote. She also praised the Security Council’s “decisive action” to hold the Taliban accountable to its pledges on the evacuation, humanitarian access, human rights, and counterterrorism.

But the adopted resolution falls fall short of what some countries had wanted in a tougher version. French president Emmanuel Macron initially floated the idea of a safe zone in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, saying that the U.K. and Germany would also support the proposal.

“What we have proposed, and what we plan to bring to the U.N. Security Council along with Britain and Germany is a solution that we have used before in other operations, which would involve creating a zone allowing people to arrive at that airport,” Macron told TF1, a French TV network, according to Reuters.

But the measure adopted yesterday only said it expects the Taliban to ensure “the safe, secure, and orderly departure from Afghanistan of Afghans and all foreign nationals,” per its public commitments. Although Taliban spokesmen have claimed that the Islamist group’s forces would allow Afghans and foreign nationals to leave the country, reports from the past month indicate that they’ve blocked many from accessing Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan yesterday means that no U.S. or allied service members remain in Afghanistan — but American citizens and permanent residents, in addition to Afghans at risk, are stranded there.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that “under 200 and likely closer to 100” American citizens remain in the country. The number of U.S. legal permanent residents remaining is unclear.

Meanwhile, Thomas-Greenfield celebrated the passage of the toothless resolution on the Taliban.

“Today, the Security Council spoke clearly on the situation in Afghanistan,” she said at yesterday’s press conference.

“The Security Council expects the Taliban to live up to its commitment to facilitate safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan today, as well as going forward,” she added.

The administration says the resolution is part of its longer game here. During his speech yesterday, Blinken said the resolution “[laid] the groundwork to hold the Taliban accountable if they renege.” But with over 100 U.S. citizens and an untold number of green-card holders and Afghans at risk of Taliban reprisals trapped, it’s unclear what the Biden administration is waiting for.

The truth is that enacting Macron’s safe-zone proposal would have been a reassuring step, and it might well have allowed the evacuation to continue following the end of the U.S. presence in Kabul. But Biden could have coordinated such an effort with America’s allies. He chose not to.

Culture

On England’s Landscapes and Imagination

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I just wrote about the way my wife and I searched out Donegal for transcendence. Every Internet columnist should get their indulgent summer column, should they not?

But John Milbank has written a gorgeous essay on English landscapes and their effect on English psychology for Plough magazine.

Devon is indeed the epitome of England, with its twining dells and bosomy hills like the domes of sunken temples, dedicated to buried cults of earthiness. Edged by an exotic southern coast that intimates the Mediterranean, by a wilder coast to the north that always presages storm, smuggling, pirates, and disaster. And concealing in the middle the shorn-off mountains of the moorlands, whose lack of height only reveals their more sublime antiquity. Wraiths wander through the random stones that could be equally the work of giants, ancestors, or nature. The unidentifiable howling among them might likewise be the voice of the enraged abandoned gods, ever scouring the night skies for victims, or of canine vengeance upon Royalist squires, whose cleaving to tradition did not really excuse the swerve of their spurred jollity into unmentionable wickedness.

Yes, the dark side. Everywhere present because everywhere domesticated. On the Saxon shore, the sea beasts and the dark elves were held at bay by the warmth of the mead hall and lordly generosity. On the Celtic marches the intoxication of the high hills and the cauldrons of inspiration were viewed but warily. The fairies were miniaturized in a gesture of further pastoral concentration. At grass and dandelion level they could safely enshrine the grandeurs of Rome, while at the human level the entire Christian story was rather seen as an occasioning of further field-mirth, dotings, and gatherings, always in due season. The complications of transcendence and the anxiety of salvation were rerouted back through the processional lanes, the beaten bounds, the magical rogations, and the harvest-homings, in pagan loyalty to the religion of the Incarnation.

Elections

Virginia Polls Suggest Gubernatorial Race Might Be Tightening

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Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe speaks at the North America’s Building Trades Unions 2019 legislative conference in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Two new polls of the Virginia gubernatorial election suggest that the race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin might be tightening. McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia, thus far has held a commanding lead in most of the limited polling of the race.

The first poll out today, from Monmouth University, found that McAuliffe leads Virginia businessman Youngkin by just five points, 47 percent to 42 percent. The second poll, conducted by the right-leaning Trafalgar Group, found a much narrower lead, with McAuliffe ahead of Youngkin by just .3 percent.

The Monmouth poll is especially interesting, as it found that Youngkin has a substantial lead over McAuliffe among Independent voters, with 44 percent support to McAuliffe’s 38 percent. As is to be expected, the Democrat has a comfortable advantage among voters in Northern Virginia and the areas around Virginia’s few big cities, while Youngkin is about 30 points ahead in the western portion of the state.

Despite his general advantage, Monmouth’s summary of the poll points out that, in some regions, McAuliffe is running behind where current governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, was when he successfully ran for office in 2017.

The Trafalgar poll, meanwhile, surveyed more than 1,000 likely general-election voters and found the narrowest margin of any survey thus far in the campaign, with less than a point’s difference between McAuliffe and Youngkin. As Trafalgar’s chief pollster Robert Cahaly pointed out on Twitter, the group’s polling ahead of the Virginia Democratic primary earlier this year came closest to accurately predicting the results.

Virginia has been trending blue over the past several election cycles, giving McAuliffe a built-in advantage. But historically, the state also has tended to lean in the opposite direction of the party in the White House in gubernatorial elections, which come just one year after presidential elections, which given Biden’s plummeting approval rating might be giving Youngkin a little boost.

National Security & Defense

Pentagon Shifts Blame for Failure to Prepare for ISIS-K Bombing, say British Officials

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British Royal Marine Commandos and U.S. Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit work at an Evacuation Control Center (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/First Lieutenant Mark Andries/Handout via Reuters)

With the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, an unseemly blame game surrounding last week’s attack outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport has begun.

According to Tory MPs and U.K. government officials, the Pentagon is attempting to point a finger at the U.K., alleging that British troops kept the airport’s Abbey Gate open for U.K. citizens, slowing efforts to clear the area.

They’re disputing the details of a recent Politico report, which detailed the Pentagon’s preparations ahead of the August 26 suicide-bomb attack. According to the piece, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had warned top commanders of an imminent “mass casualty event,” and the Pentagon crafted a plan to clear Abbey Gate on Thursday afternoon.

But according to Politico’s reporting, which is based on notes from the Defense Department’s discussions on the matter, defense officials kept the area open longer to allow U.K. forces to continue their evacuation, which London accelerated ahead of Washington’s August 31 deadline. The attack perpetrated later that day by an ISIS affiliate killed 13 U.S. service members, two U.K. citizens, and over 150 Afghans.

British officials, however, dispute that framing of events, telling the Guardian that the move to keep Abbey Gate open was a “joint decision” and that both sides acknowledged the inherent risks of doing so.

A U.K. government official also told LBC, “The U.S. is having to explain the total mess that has been the evacuation. There’s clearly some hard briefing going on.”

In addition to the British government, members of Parliament are pushing back against the apparent leak to Politico.

“President Biden was responsible for those decisions which, I believe, were critical in the course of the events that we’ve seen unfolding,” Iain Duncan Smith, a Conservative MP, told LBC.

“I do think now to attempt to try and brief against the UK on the suicide bombing is reprehensible really, because, you know, if the American government or the American military were very serious about shutting the gates, they would have shut the gates,” he continued.

LBC noted that another Tory MP, Tobias Ellwood, called the dispute “an unhelpful blame game” that has resulted from the U.S.-U.K. effort reaching a “low ebb.”

As the situation in Afghanistan started to deteriorate earlier this month, reports described troubled coordination between Washington and London. Most prominent among these was that Biden had failed to return a call to British prime minister Boris Johnson for 36 hours, finally calling him on August 17, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Johnson reportedly pushed back against remarks that Biden had made about the situation in Afghanistan, warning the president against squandering the “gains made in Afghanistan.”

Then, the following day, the House of Commons voted to hold Biden in contempt and condemn the “dishonor” of his handling of the withdrawal. During that debate, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat called Biden’s attempts to disparage Afghan allies of the NATO mission in the country “shameful” in a speech that later went viral. Tugendhat spoke for many of his colleagues.

Although the fundamentals of the U.S.–U.K. relationship remain strong, there’s no pretending that the Afghan-withdrawal debacle didn’t severely strain bilateral ties.

“I think this idea that it was down to the idea that the British were begging them to keep them open, I think is a little bit mean-spirited on them and probably wrong,” Duncan Smith also told LBC about the Politico report.

Not only did the Biden administration, in its efforts to respond to a Taliban takeover it should’ve anticipated, fail to adequately coordinate with U.S. allies; officials are now using strategic leaks to place blame on their British counterparts for the botched response to a heinous terrorist attack.

Health Care

Hey, Remember Biden’s ‘I’m Going to Shut Down the Virus’ Pledge?

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House at a celebration of Independence Day in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The United States has administered more than 369 million shots to its citizens, and more than 173 million Americans are fully vaccinated — in the sense of having received two shots of Pfizer or Moderna, not necessarily boosters — and 204 million Americans have at least one dose. Almost 62 percent of all Americans have at least one dose, 72 percent of those age 12 or older, 74 percent of those age 18 and older, and almost 92 percent of senior citizens.

If someone had told you back in January, when only a tiny fraction of Americans had access to the vaccine, “by September, almost 75 percent of all American adults will be at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19,” most people probably would have seen it as a huge accomplishment and a sign that the pandemic was nearly over.

It doesn’t feel like that, does it? The fight against the pandemic is not going great on all fronts. The seven-day average for daily new cases is past 158,000. More than 100,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase of 22 percent in the past two weeks; the daily average number of COVID-19 deaths has nearly doubled in the past two weeks to 1,348.

Is this driven almost entirely by the unvaccinated? Sure. They’re the ones ending up in the hospital and filling up ICU wards, and they’re the ones who are dying. But the rest of us cannot get back to normal, either. In sixteen states, school districts have temporarily returned to “distance learning” because of outbreaks in their communities or their schools. Large conventions, festivals, and concerts are being canceled because organizers deem them too risky.

Nine months after vaccinations began, many of us thought the pandemic would be well behind us. Instead, Oregon is requiring the fully vaccinated to wear masks outdoors.

Keep those updated percentages in mind when you see references to mid-July polls indicating 67 percent of Americans are vaccinated. Anti-vaxxers are a small percentage of the population; in that mid-July poll, only 14 percent of the population said they were definitely not getting vaccinated, even if it was required by their jobs.

The Delta variant pushed the herd immunity threshold much, much higher. Vaccinating everyone who wants to get vaccinated clearly isn’t going to be enough. Keep in mind, until the FDA approves a vaccine for kids, another 50 million Americans can’t get vaccinated.

Unless the government is willing to send armed teams, door to door, across the country to forcibly vaccinate people, we’re never going to reach 100 percent vaccination of those who are eligible.

The messaging from the CDC and the Biden administration is that we can only get back to normal when the people who have sworn a million times that they refuse to get vaccinated give up and get vaccinated. But clearly, they are unlikely to change their minds. Assurances from public health officials didn’t change their minds. Watching many of their friends and relatives get vaccinated did not change them minds. Public service announcements and commercials didn’t change their minds. Hearing about those skeptical of the vaccine dying from COVID-19 didn’t change their minds. Prizes and lotteries didn’t entice them. The fact that more than 656,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 has not convinced them. (The daily rate has gone up a bit in recent days, so maybe the full FDA approval of Pfizer really did change some minds.)

“We just have to wait until they change their minds” is not a feasible strategy. Almost 75 percent of American adults did what they were supposed to do. We’re about to enter either the nineteenth or twenty-first month of this pandemic, depending upon whether you count from the national shutdown in March 2020 or the first cases in January 2020.

Ten months ago, then-candidate Joe Biden declared, “I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus.”

It’s almost the end of August, and Biden has been in office for 222 days. The country’s not quite shut down, and neither is the economy — but neither are quite 100 percent back to normal, either. And the virus isn’t shut down, either.

Biden doesn’t know how to “shut down the virus” any more than he knows how to safely and honorably withdraw from Afghanistan.

U.S.

Douthat on Afghanistan

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U.S. Marines and Norwegian coalition forces assist with security at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 20, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sergeant Victor Mancilla/Handout via Reuters)

Ross Douthat has a very smart column on our defeat and the debacle in Afghanistan. Namely, that what we saw this week shows us the depth of incompetence and corruption in the institutions that had taken on such an extremely difficult and ultimately unachievable mission.

If after 20 years of effort and $2,000,000,000,000, the theocratic alternative to liberalism actually takes over a country faster than in its initial conquest, that’s a sign that our moral achievements were outweighed by the moral costs of corruption, incompetence and drone campaigns.

Or the argument that a permanent mission in Afghanistan would could come to resemble in some way our long-term presence in Germany or South Korea — a delusional historical analogy before the collapse of the Kabul government and a completely ludicrous one now.

All these arguments are connected to a set of moods that flourished after 9/11: a mix of cable-news-encouraged overconfidence in American military capacities, naïve World War II nostalgia and crusading humanitarianism in its liberal and neoconservative forms. Like most Americans, I shared in those moods once; after so many years of failure, I cannot imagine indulging in them now. But it’s clear from the past few weeks that they retain an intense subterranean appeal in the American elite, waiting only for the right circumstances to resurface.

Thus you have generals and grand strategists who presided over quagmire, folly and defeat fanning out across the television networks and opinion pages to champion another 20 years in Afghanistan. You have the return of the media’s liberal hawks and centrist Pentagon stenographers, unchastened by their own credulous contributions to the retreat of American power over the past 20 years.

I think Douthat overstates the case in one area. The Afghan government we built up did fall to the theocratic alternative “faster” than the one the Soviets built, if you judge it by the time we left. However, the government we nurtured — and in many cases, basically paid for and manned ourselves — did field an army that fought the Taliban for more than half a decade, and sustained incredible casualties in that time.

On a recent Editors’ podcast, Rich Lowry asked me what I would do differently. I said that it was hard to answer without knowing when I’m starting. I think the fiasco we saw in our mad exit is primarily the fault of the Pentagon’s leadership which never seriously planned for a withdrawal even after the United States had agreed to do it, believing that policy reviews after the election would lead to a new settlement. It wasn’t long after Biden came into office that his team discovered this reality, saw the logistical challenge of withdrawing, and moved the date from May to September. This gap gave more time for the Afghan national government to dissolve, and time for the Taliban to advance on Kabul. Secondarily the failure belongs to the Biden administration. Biden should have come in with even more skepticism of our top brass, and acted more aggressively to fix this broken withdrawal plan.

In my view, our fatal error was in not pushing for a negotiated end to hostilities between the Taliban and an interim Afghan government when the Taliban was at its weakest: during the middle of the Bush administration, or in the middle of Barack Obama’s surge. Our strategy of trying to build up “national” institutions in a tribal society, while de facto excluding the largest ethno-linguistic group from participation, was doomed to fail. And instead, Trump was negotiating with the Taliban years after the Taliban had demonstrated that they would eventually defeat whatever Afghan government and security forces we left behind.

This defeat and disaster implicates four presidencies, and “the blob” of foreign-policy conventional wisdom. But it also implicates a culture of elite impunity and ineptitude in our military — one that has spread from so many other institutions — in which men over E-6 are rarely held accountable for their failures, and properly disgraced.

Sports

Bishop Sycamore and Confidence Tricks in Sports

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ESPN logo and building are shown in down town Los Angeles, California (Mike Blake/Reuters)

There’s a crazy story out right now about how ESPN was duped into putting a fake high-school football team on national TV. The school calls itself Bishop Sycamore, and they played IMG Academy, an actual high-school football powerhouse, on Sunday. “Played” might be too strong a word — they got routed 58–0, and IMG was letting up for most of the second half.

Bishop Sycamore claims to be an online school in Columbus, Ohio, but “there’s no address on the website, and the ‘About Us’ and ‘Staff’ pages on the site are blank,” according to the Columbus Dispatch. The school was not registered with the Ohio High School Athletic Association. It didn’t have the Division I talent it claimed to have, and some of the players were as old as 20 and had played junior-college games.

There’s a long history of confidence tricks in sports. Plenty of athletes have lied about their age or qualifications to compete at a higher level, especially in the days before national media. It seems in this particular instance, there was a nasty underside of whoever runs the Bishop Sycamore operation lying and taking advantage of young people. But many other confidence tricks are just fun bits of sports lore that make for good storytelling later on.

One such case is that of NASCAR “driver” L. W. Wright. He entered the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega and claimed sponsorship from country-music stars Merle Haggard and T. G. Sheppard. He claimed to be an experienced driver and got almost $40,000 from a Nashville businessman to fund his team. He bought a car for around $20,000 from actual driver Sterling Marlin and called his team Music City Racing. He paid for his NASCAR license and access passes and qualified 36th in the 40-car field. He completed just 13 of the 188 laps before his engine gave out, and he finished 39th.

And then, he was never seen again. Haggard and Sheppard didn’t know who he was and learned of their supposed sponsorship from the newspaper. Wright, if that was even his real name, had never been in a NASCAR race at any level before. All the checks he wrote were bad. And despite a criminal investigation and multiple private investigations launched to bring him to justice, he has never been found or seen since the end of that Talladega race in 1982.

You can read more about it here or here, and NASCAR did a documentary-style video on YouTube here.

U.S.

21 Things That Caught My Eye Today: Ida, Afghanistan, Children & More

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1.  

2. New York Times: At Birth, She Already Had a Case File. At 7 Years Old, She Was Dead

She was just a little girl, 7 years old, and alone.

. . .

It appeared that, under her pink mask, she had a bruise under one eye. Mr. Slade realized that to get to the store, she must have crossed a busy four-lane intersection of East 138th Street by herself. He thought about the police precinct nearby, and considered walking her there. No. Better not to interfere in other people’s business.

Days later, the girl, Julissia Batties, would be found dead in her apartment around the corner from the bodega, beaten to death. Her short life, in its final months, played out like that walk to the bodega — in plain sight and in danger at the same time.

3. 

4.  Buzzfeed News: UN Peacekeepers Fathered Dozens of Children In Haiti. The Women They Exploited Are Trying To Get Child Support

Dominic Antonio Cortez’s tawny skin and the 2-inch-high nest of curls on his head stood out in stark contrast to the darker complexion and buzz cuts of the other boys in the neighborhood. At school, he said, classmates whispered about him behind his back and taunted him to his face, disparagingly calling him “Little Minustah,” after the name of the UN’s mission to Haiti: MINUSTAH.

“The teachers don’t like me,” he said. “Other children don’t want me in the school.”

The 9-year-old said he prefers to be at home, where he sleeps on a thin mattress he shares with his two siblings in the living room and often goes to bed with an empty stomach.

In a fit of anger, Dominic recently accused his mother, Becheline Appoliner, of preventing him from finding his father, and threatened to harm himself. The boy says he wants to be a UN peacekeeper when he grows up.

5. The Washington Post Magazine: The Mystery of 9/11 and Dementia

6. New York Times: On Death Row in Texas, a Last Request: A Prayer and ‘Human Contact’

Rev. Moore, the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, has been visiting Mr. Ramirez in prison for more than four years, driving 300 miles northwest to the Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston, where Mr. Ramirez has been on death row for more than a decade.

. . .

Now, the men are planning one last meeting, in the death chamber where the state of Texas plans to execute Mr. Ramirez by lethal injection on Sept. 8. And Mr. Ramirez is asking for something unusual: He wants Mr. Moore to lay hands on him at the moment of his death.

. . .

On Aug. 10, Mr. Ramirez filed a federal lawsuit against prison officials for denying his request. The suit claims that the state’s refusal to allow Rev. Moore to lay hands on him burdens his free exercise of religion at the exact moment “when most Christians believe they will either ascend to heaven or descend to hell — in other words, when religious instruction and practice is most needed.”

7. Stephen Eide: Turning the Page on Mental Health

In June 2021, Eric Adams told City & State, “My administration will increase the number of inpatient psychiatric beds.” To make good on that commitment, New York’s likely next mayor must bring pressure to bear not only on state and federal partners but also on nonprofits. General hospitals run by nonprofit health systems, such as New York Presbyterian, remain important providers of inpatient care. But their commitment has been wavering, as shown by a 2017 Independent Budget Office report and protests over the planned closure of Allen Hospital in Inwood. Presuming he wins the mayor’s office in November, Adams should make clear to local health systems that the city needs their continued commitment to inpatient psychiatric care.

8.

9. Alejandro Bermudez: 5 things you need to know about Christians in Afghanistan now

“It is impossible to live openly as a Christian in Afghanistan,” concluded the Open Doors report. “Leaving Islam is considered shameful, and Christian converts face dire consequences if their new faith is discovered. Either they have to flee the country or they will be killed.”

. . .

Already last week Christian media reported Afghan Christians were being killed on the spot after identifying as Christian. Reports from Afghan civilians near airport gates said the Taliban was searching the crowds to find Christians.

10. Reuters: Wedding certificate and cell phone: How a U.S. veteran’s wife fled Afghanistan

Unknown numbers of U.S.-affiliated families fearing Taliban retribution have been split up in the chaotic scramble for flights before the U.S. evacuation operation ends by Tuesday, said people involved in ad hoc networks racing to help extricate at-risk Afghans.

With U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration prioritizing U.S. passport and green card holders, many streaming to the airport through Taliban checkpoints with Afghan families have faced an agonizing choice: leave relatives behind or risk their own lives by staying, these people said.

11. Abigail Shrier: Should Public Schools be Allowed to Deceive Parents?

A “gender support plan” isn’t merely a secret held between child and teacher, which might be bad enough. This is no private student confession, the silent whisperings of a troubled teenage heart. A Gender Support Plan, or any similar scheme, effects a schoolwide conspiracy to create a secret name and gender identity specifically withheld from parents. I’ve talked to a mom whose middle school daughter slept in the boys’ bunk on the school overnight before she learned her daughter’s school had, for more than a year, called her by a different name and openly referred to her as a boy.

Teachers and activists who support this policy typically make two arguments in its favor. The first is that the very fact that a teen would want to keep her new gender identity a secret from parents is proof that home is an “unsafe” place for her; that is, her parents, if they knew, would abuse her. The second is that this gender declaration is a deeply held and personal decision of the child’s. The school, in this scenario, is merely a polite bystander—at most, a kindly chaperone. It’s not the school’s job to ask mom and dad for their approval.

The first is absurd; the second, dishonest.

. . .

This is where the most critical cultural battle will be fought. Not with reckless doctors, for whom lawsuits are coming. Not even with the therapists—in many cases, a luxury, parents can walk away from. It will be fought with America’s activist teachers. Will we allow the activists among them unaccountable access to the next generation of America’s children

12.

13.  The Daily Signal: Judge Denies Mom Custody of Son Because She’s Unvaccinated

For seven years, Firlit shared custody of her child with her ex-husband, the mother’s attorney, Annette Fernholz, told the Chicago Sun-Times. Firlit’s ex-husband did not ask the judge to consider Firlit’s vaccination status, and the judge’s decision surprised even the father’s attorney.

“The father did not even bring this issue before the court,” Fernholz told The Washington Post. “So it’s the judge on his own and making this decision that you can’t see your child until you’re vaccinated.”

14. Fox News: Australia to end ‘covid zero’ policy: ‘Not a sustainable way to live’

The government will drop most restrictions once 80% of adults are vaccinated, which the government believes could happen by the end of the year, The Economist reported. Any further action would occur only after hospitals reached a point at which they could no longer cope with new cases, but will otherwise handle what they can. 

15. Arthur Chrenkoff: No Liberty? No Problem. Australia’s Crazy Covid response

A powerful coalition of those with the most to lose and those who have not lost anything is driving the official “zero Covid” fantasy. The media has piled on, helping the government to terrify the population. The Fauci Syndrome is strong in Australia, too: health experts and bureaucrats have tasted unprecedented fame, power, and influence, and continue to be among the main drivers of the most ridiculous restrictions. The ever-growing section of society directly or indirectly dependent on taxpayers for its livelihood has been well care for during Covid-related upheavals. Those most at risk of death or serious complications remain strongly supportive of government “protecting” them from the virus. And the so-called laptop class also hasn’t had a bad pandemic, with many enjoying being able to work from home.

This leaves a minority of Australians driven to despair by isolation, lockdowns, travel restrictions, and the disappearance of their livelihoods.

16. John McWhorter: The Neoracists

Third Wave Antiracism is losing innocent people jobs. It is coloring, detouring, and sometimes strangling academic inquiry. It forces us to render a great deal of our public discussion of urgent issues in doubletalk any 10-year-old can see through. It forces us to start teaching our actual 10-year-olds, in order to hold them off from spoiling the show in that way, to believe in sophistry in the name of enlightenment. On that, the Third Wave Antiracism guru Ibram X. Kendi has written a book on how to raise antiracist children called Antiracist Baby. You couldn’t imagine it better: Are we in a Christopher Guest movie? This and so much else is a sign that Third Wave Antiracism forces us to pretend that performance art is politics. It forces us to spend endless amounts of time listening to nonsense presented as wisdom, and pretend to like it.

17. Naomi Schaefer Riley: ‘Baby, Unplugged’ review

[Journalist Sophie Brickman] acknowledges that working parents—really, most parents—must occasionally make use of screens. But she doesn’t allow herself (the book’s subtitle is “One Mother’s Search for Balance, Reason, and Sanity in the Digital Age”) or any of her parent-readers to give up on the task of setting screen limits simply because they are stuck in an apartment or house all day with small, needy children.

18. Andrea Picciotti-Bayer: This New Book Clarifies Today’s Muddled View of What It Means to Be a Woman

This term the Supreme Court is set to take another look at its abortion jurisprudence. Scholars like Bachiochi have filed an amicus brief with the court explaining that easy access to abortion has not rendered women freer or more equal. Instead, as she explains in The Rights of Women, “it has distorted the shared responsibilities that adhere in male-female sexual relationships, promoted a view of childbearing as one consumer choice among many, and has greatly contributed to the dim view of caregiving ever since.” 

Whether the Court overrules Roe and its progeny or significantly pulls back on its off-the-rails abortion jurisprudence, one thing is clear: Young women today have the tools to reclaim a lost vision of the rights of women. Society desperately needs this to happen.

19. Catholic church in New Orleans is emergency shelter during Hurricane Ida

“They called me and asked if we could put up everybody in some place, and I said, ‘of course,’” Father Palermo said. “We talked about several buildings and we decided the church was the easiest place to get into because we had two Masses earlier today and would still be a little cool. We have water, blankets and bathrooms.”

20. 

21. Michele McAloon: A Christian Response to a Defeat

War and conflict are as old as mankind; so is defeat. But defeat does not mean defeated. The Old and New Testaments and the lives of the saints are full of examples of loss and renewal. Moses found hope in 40 years of wandering through the desert, without the reward of entering the Promised Land. St. Paul ultimately found victory in chains. He knew that the real victory only comes by rejoicing in hope, being patient during tribulations, and remaining constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12) Saints and sinners throughout the ages have willfully chosen to rise from defeat by turning a painful past into a hopeful future through faith and service to something greater than themselves.

Ironically, our renewal as a nation, church, or community of believers may come from an example of service being set even now, in the shadow of hardship and loss, by our U.S. military community. Service members and their families, a people without extraordinary financial means or material resources, who have been most affected by America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are still serving, sacrificing, and asking: What more can we do to help?

As Afghan refugees begin resettlement into U.S. government-sponsored detention centers in Germany, legions of military families and veterans are volunteering as translators and workers. I’ve seen them the past few days at the Ramstein Air Base – a response that can only be described as awe-inspiring.

The simple act of a military family member buying a diaper for an Afghan baby whose father may have contributed to the violence targeted against their own loved one is a defining moment for our nation. Serving and sacrificing even more, instead of succumbing to resentment, has become a source of healing. Service and giving to others are a simple reflex for those who have chosen to serve. Americans really need to reflect deeply upon this humble example.

For Christians defeat is always just around the corner. Christian life is a battle against sin, temptation, and despair. Our true strength comes from the simple, yet so hard to live, commands of loving God and neighbor. A less violent future may lie in the hearts of men and women willing to organize their lives as God has commanded.

On a Friday, several centuries ago, in the Middle East, on a desert hill called Calvary, defeat and death seemed absolute. Three days later when the sun crept over the horizon it shone upon an empty tomb – the most profound victory in human history. Defeat can only be tempered by love and with the knowledge that His victory is ours, now and forever.

Education

Virginia Supreme Court Reinstates Christian Public-School Teacher

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Gym teacher Tanner Cross testifies before the school board in Loudoun County, Va., May 25, 2021. (WSLS10/via YouTube)

Earlier this month, I covered a recent decision by the school board in Loudoun County, Va., which enacted a permissive gender-identity policy. The new rules permit students to use restrooms and locker rooms, as well as compete in sports, on the basis of the gender with which they identify rather than their biological sex.

In the debate leading up to the policy’s enactment, a Loudoun County physical-education teacher, Tanner Cross, was suspended from his job at Leesburg Elementary School after publicly disagreeing with aspects of the policy.

The new rules require teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns rather than the pronoun reflecting a student’s sex, without requiring students to offer “any substantiating evidence” of their gender identity. Teachers would not be punished for what are deemed “inadvertent slips” — using a student’s given name or biological pronoun occasionally, by accident — but “intentionally and persistently” doing so would be considered a violation.

At a school-board meeting before the policy was made official, Cross stated that his Christian faith precluded him from deferring to a student’s preferred pronouns, because doing so would constitute a lie about the reality of the child’s identity. After being suspended for sharing this view, Cross sued Loudoun County Public Schools, alleging that the district had violated his free-speech rights.

In a decision yesterday, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed with Cross, upholding an earlier ruling from Virginia circuit-court judge James E. Plowman, who halted the LCPS suspension against Cross. Plowman rejected the school district’s argument that Cross’s suspension was in response not to his remarks but to the disruption Cross’s comments had created and ruled that the district had violated his First Amendment rights.

Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Cross in his lawsuit, said in a statement after the Virginia Supreme Court ruling that “teachers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false, nor should they be silenced for commenting at a public meeting.”

In the wake of the ruling on behalf of Cross, ADF has expanded its lawsuit against LCPS to include challenges from multiple faculty members in the district, because, as Langhofer put it, LCPS “is now requiring all teachers and students to deny truths about what it means to be male and female and compelling them to call students by their chosen pronouns or face punishment.”

World

U.S. State Department to Green-Card Holders Still in Afghanistan: ‘Keep a Low Profile’

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A member of Taliban forces stands guard as Afghan men take pictures of a vehicle from which rockets were fired, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 30, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Unfortunately, my reader who is trying to get his company’s former employees out of Afghanistan has no good news to report.

This is the message that the U.S. State Department is sending to green-card holders who are still stranded in Afghanistan:

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul suspended operations on August 31, 2021.  While the U.S. government has withdrawn its personnel from Kabul, we will continue to assist U.S. citizens and their families in Afghanistan from Doha, Qatar.  We will also continue our efforts to help Lawful Permanent Residents, as well as the many Afghans who have stood with us over the years, who are seeking to leave Afghanistan.

Our commitment to the people of Afghanistan is enduring.  We will continue to press for an orderly transition of power to an inclusive government with broad support, especially women and minorities.  We will use every diplomatic, economic, political, and assistance tool at our disposal to uphold the basic rights of all Afghans; support continued humanitarian access to the country; and ensure the Taliban honors its commitments.

U.S. citizens and their family members still in country should:

to receive security updates and ensure you can be located in an emergency.

  • Review your personal security plans.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and local security developments at all times.
  • Keep a low profile.
  • Notify a trusted person of your travel and movement plans.
  • Make contingency plans to leave when it is safe to do so that do not rely on U.S. government assistance.
  • Monitor local media.
  • Please review, “What the Department of State Can and Can’t Do in a Crisis.”

Resources for U.S. citizens and their families in Afghanistan:

For information on Special Immigrant Visas see:  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/special-immg-visa-afghans-employed-us-gov.html

With automated replies like these, how could any U.S. green-card holder feel safe?

For background on this reader and his efforts, see hereherehereherehere, and here.

International

Lebanon’s Politicians, the Masters of Disaster — Exhibit No. 1: Artificial Fuel Shortages

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People wait in cars to get fuel at a gas station in Zalka, Lebanon, August 20, 2021. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

When President Biden and Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett met at the White House on August 26, the dangers posed by the crisis in Lebanon were at the top of their agenda. Specifically, they discussed the fuel shortages that are destabilizing Lebanon along with various U.S.- and Israeli-backed solutions that might negate Hezbollah’s most recent justifications for the importation of Iranian fuel to alleviate the shortages.

For months, Lebanon has been suffering from brutal fuel “shortages.” Lebanese wait hours to fill their tanks. Electricity is only sporadically supplied because diesel fuel for generators is as scarce as hen’s teeth. But, as the governor of Lebanon’s central bank, Riad Salameh, recently confirmed, Lebanon is currently importing three times more fuel than what is being consumed in Lebanon. What explains this paradox? Where is the missing fuel?

The political elites in Lebanon, who in some ways operate much like a criminal syndicate, have created a system of fuel subsidies and price controls that has made them rich, but has bankrupted Lebanon and left it short of fuel. Here’s how the system works.

A subsidy program allows fuel importers with the right political connections to acquire $100 worth of fuel for around $50. (Until a few days ago, they were able to import $100 worth of fuel at a subsidized cost of about $30.) The subsidy of $50 is siphoned out of the dwindling foreign-exchange reserves at Lebanon’s central bank, Banque du Liban.

The second element in the fuel scheme is price controls. The imported fuel is supposed to be sold at a controlled price slightly above the subsidized import cost of $50. With the market value of the fuel at $100, the arbitrage profit is around $50, a margin that is just too good to pass up. Indeed, with a gross margin of that size, there is plenty of surplus to pay bribes and cover the transport costs imposed by the smugglers who deliver the fuel to Syria where it is sold for market prices of something in excess of $100. Not a bad racket for those in the syndicate.

But, alas, it leaves the Lebanese short of fuel. Indeed, their subsidized fuel is in Syria. It also leaves the Banque du Liban short of scarce foreign exchange. The Banque’s foreign reserves are in the pockets of the fuel importers, smugglers, and everyone they have had to bribe along the way.

If President Biden and Prime Minister Bennett were really interested in solving Lebanon’s fuel crisis, they should stop fretting about Iranian oil and get a handle on the real sources of the problem. The solution is clear. The masters of disaster — Lebanon’s political elites — should stop subsidizing Lebanon’s fuel imports and imposing price controls on fuel.

Steve H. Hanke is a professor of applied economics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is a senior fellow and the director of the Troubled Currencies Project at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. Patrick Mardini is the founder and president of the Lebanon Institute for Market Studies in Tripoli, Lebanon.

World

Kabuki Vetting of Afghans

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Evacuees wait to board a C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 23, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sergeant Isaiah Campbell/Handout via Reuters)

We’ve heard a lot about how the Afghans evacuated from Kabul are being thoroughly vetted in third countries, often while held at American bases, before being let into the U.S. Politico, for instance, writes that:

A senior administration official said Afghans “undergo robust security” that includes “biometric and biographic security screenings conducted by our intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals who are working quite literally around the clock” to vet Afghans before they’re allowed in the United States.

This is true.

It’s also irrelevant.

The irrelevance of the vetting process is twofold. First, vetting is only as good as the information you have to vet people against. I have little doubt that the DHS employees and others who are doing the vetting are dedicated public servants, genuinely trying their best. And those Afghans (though not necessarily their family members) who were previously employed by our military or embassy were vetted before employment, and periodically during employment, too. Even this isn’t foolproof; former Army platoon leader (and current Senate candidate) Sean Parnell told Tucker Carlson of his unit’s extensively vetted Afghan interpreter who ended up betraying his American comrades. But to the degree it’s possible to vet someone in Afghanistan, these former U.S. government employees have been vetted.

But the evacuation from Kabul was so haphazard and rushed that many, perhaps most, of those extracted were not such previously screened people. Representative Tom Tiffany (R., Wis.) told the Washington Times that of the 2,000 Afghans housed at a base in his state, not one had the Special Immigrant Visa for Afghans employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government. And at least one previously deported convicted rapist appears to have landed at Dulles already.

So, how to screen those Afghans who’ve never been screened? Given Afghanistan’s low level of development, it’s not like the record-keeping there was ever comprehensive and efficient, if it existed at all. And worse, as 30-year INS/ICE veteran Dan Cadman pointed out on my “Parsing Immigration Policy” podcast last week, while we occupied Afghanistan, we at least had a chance of verifying claims that people made. Now that we have left and a hostile force is in charge, what are supposed to do, call up the Kabul DMV to verify someone’s identity? Even under the best of circumstances, vetting can never be perfect; to borrow from Queen Elizabeth I, we can’t open windows into men’s souls. But under today’s conditions, meaningful vetting of Afghans is literally impossible.

The second problem is perhaps worse. Suppose we do somehow stumble upon incriminating information in the process of vetting, information that suggests an Afghan evacuee is a security threat or inadmissible for some other reason – what then?

We can’t deport them back to Afghanistan.

We can’t release them in Qatar or Bahrain or wherever we’re holding them; those countries only agreed to temporarily host the Afghans we flew in and certainly would not agree to take a potential threat off our hands.

Conclusion: We’re just going to resettle them in the U.S. regardless of the results of vetting.

The whole notion of holding Afghans offshore until they’re vetted is a charade. Those who don’t have a Special Immigrant Visa are simply being “paroled” into the U.S. Immigration parole is a work-around whereby the executive can temporarily let in visa-less foreigners for humanitarian reasons. But like so much else in our dishonest immigration system, “temporary” in this case means permanent. Every Afghan we extracted from Kabul will be able to live here for the rest of his life.

This is true even if the Afghan refugee commits crimes after his arrival. In the 2001 case of Zadvydas v. Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that deportable aliens (such as criminals who’ve completed their state prison sentences) cannot be held more than six months by ICE if their home country refuses to take them back. Five people paid for this policy with their lives when a Vietnamese criminal named Binh Thai Luc, who had been released after serving a prison sentence in California because Vietnam wouldn’t take back anyone who came before 1995, murdered a family in San Francisco. It will be some time before a similar incident occurs with an Afghan refugee, but you can count on its happening.

There is no connection between the vetting of Afghans and their admission to the United States. The moment the doors of a C-17 closed on the tarmac in Kabul, every Afghan on board, regardless of background or possible security threat, became a de facto permanent resident of the U.S. Anyone telling you otherwise is misinformed or mendacious.

World

BlackRock, ESG, and China — an Interesting Combination

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(PhonlamaiPhoto/Getty Images)

We’ve all become rather too used to hearing sermons from BlackRock’s Larry Fink on the importance of including ESG as part of every responsible investor’s toolkit.

ESG?

The idea that portfolio companies or potential portfolio companies should be analyzed to see how well they do when measured against various environmental, social, and governance guidelines.

It has always been entertaining to speculate just how BlackRock reconciles its enthusiasm for ESG with its excitement over investment in China:

The Financial Times (August 17):

BlackRock’s research unit [BII] has said China should no longer be considered an emerging market and recommended investors boost their exposure to the country by as much as three times.

And, in an unrelated development:

[BII’s] recommendations come as BlackRock and other big asset managers are seeking to build businesses in the sprawling country. BlackRock earlier this year received the first approval for a foreign asset manager to launch a wholly owned mutual fund business in China.

China is not, perhaps, a country with the greenest of credentials, not least when it comes to “climate,” a particular preoccupation of Fink, BlackRock’s chairman and CEO. Nor, thinking of that “S” (social), is China known for the good treatment of workers there even when they are paid. And it is difficult to regard Chinese companies as models of good governance (the “G”). Even if we overlook the fraud and all the rest, they are, under China’s essentially corporatist model, ultimately subordinated to the state.

George Soros, writing in the FT (my emphasis added):

Pension fund managers allocate their assets in ways that are closely aligned with the benchmarks against which their performance is measured. Almost all of them claim that they factor environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) standards into their investment decisions.

The MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI) is the benchmark most widely followed by global equity asset allocators. An estimated $5tn is passively managed, which means that it replicates the index. A multiple of this amount is actively managed, but it also closely tracks the MSCI index.

In MSCI’s ACWI ESG Leaders Index, Alibaba and Tencent are two of the top 10 constituents. In BlackRock’s ESG Aware emerging market exchange-traded fund, Chinese companies represent a third of total investments. These indices have effectively forced hundreds of billions of dollars belonging to US investors into Chinese companies whose corporate governance does not meet the required standard — power and accountability is now exercised by one man [Xi] who is not accountable to any international authority . . .

This is all worth remembering the next time that Fink is up on his pulpit.

National Security & Defense

Sasse: ‘Dishonor Was the President’s Choice’

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Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse issued an unsparing statement Monday night on President Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan:

“This national disgrace is the direct result of President Biden’s cowardice and incompetence. The President made the decision to trust the Taliban. The President made the decision to set an arbitrary August 31st deadline. The President made the decision to abandon Bagram Air Base. The President made the decision not to expand the perimeter around Karzai International Airport. The President made the decision to undermine our NATO allies. The President made the decision to break our word to our Afghan partners. The President made the decision to tell one lie after another as the crisis unfolded. The President made the morally indefensible decision to leave Americans behind. Dishonor was the President’s choice. May history never forget this cowardice.”

National Security & Defense

Biden Breaks His Promise to Leave No American Behind in Afghanistan

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On August 19, President Biden vowed U.S. forces would stay in Afghanistan beyond his August 31 deadline to withdraw if any American citizens were still trapped in the country:

On August 30, the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, but at least hundreds of U.S. citizens were left behind in the country: 

PC Culture

CDC Goes All In on Woke Speech

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

The CDC is the supposed gold standard when it comes to science and public health. But what are we to make of the agency’s going all in on woke terminology in the name of promoting “health equity”? From its newly issued, “Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication”:

To build a healthier America for all, we must confront the systems and policies that have resulted in the generational injustice that has given rise to health inequities. We at CDC want to lead in this effort—both in the work we do on behalf of the nation’s health and the work we do internally as an organization.

Achieving health equity requires focused and ongoing societal efforts to address historical and contemporary injustices; overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and healthcare; and eliminate preventable health disparities.

CDC’s Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication emphasize the importance of addressing all people inclusively and respectfully. These principles are intended to help public health professionals, particularly health communicators, within and outside of CDC ensure their communication products and strategies adapt to the specific cultural, linguistic, environmental, and historical situation of each population or audience of focus.

The idea is to prevent stigma:

Language in communication products should reflect and speak to the needs of people in the audience of focus. The following provides some preferred terms for select population groups; the terms to try to use represent an ongoing shift toward non-stigmatizing language.

I’m all for respectful communication, but come on! The worry about stigma can actually keep people from self-destructive actions. But never mind. People must be made to feel comfortable even in their most dysfunctional (can I say that?) circumstances. Thus, when it comes to abusing drugs:

Instead of this . . .

  • Drug-users/addicts/drug abusers
  • Alcoholics/abusers
  • Persons taking/prescribed medication assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Persons who relapsed
  • Smokers

Try this . . .

  • Persons who use drugs/people who inject drugs
  • Persons with substance use disorder
  • Persons with alcohol use disorder
  • Persons in recovery from substance use/alcohol disorder
  • Persons taking/prescribed medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD)
  • Persons who returned to use
  • People who smoke

“People who smoke”?

Instead of the word, “homeless,” the CDC wants us to use the term, “Persons experiencing unstable housing/housing insecurity/persons who are not securely housed.” Instead of “poor,” say, “People with self-reported income in the lowest income bracket (if income brackets are defined).” Instead of “illegal immigrants,” instead use the term, “People with undocumented status.” What word salads!

And then there are the LGBTQ etc. issues. Instead of “gay” or “biologically male or female,” say:

  • LGBTQ (or LGBTQIA or LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA2) . . .

  • Using MSM (men who have sex with men) to mean people who report being male at birth and having had sex with a person who was male at birth, regardless of self-identified sexual orientation

  • Queer

  • Pansexual

  • Asexual

  • Transgender

  • Assigned male/female at birth

  • Designated male/female at birth

  • Gender non-conforming

  • Two-spirit

  • Non-binary

  • Genderqueer

  • Gender diverse

  • People/person with intersex traits

  • Pronouns: Singular they or their, He/she/they

I can’t keep up. Read the whole thing. It is a wonder to behold.

This exercise in verbal correctness will do more harm than good. Rather than improve communication with most Americans, the CDC will instead undermine its remaining credibility with the half of the country that is not on the port side of politics, and indeed, could well turn off many of the very people the agency claims to be trying to reach — for example, those whom they are trying to vaccinate.

And the CDC wonders why so many Americans have turned their backs on “the experts.”

Health Care

End the Travel Bans Between Europe and the U.S.

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A traveler walks with a suitcase past an information board at the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras International, as EU countries impose a travel ban from the U.K. following the coronavirus outbreak in London, Britain, December 21, 2020. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

News from Bloomberg:

European Union countries voted to subject the U.S. to fresh restrictions on nonessential travel amid a surge in new coronavirus cases, dealing a fresh blow to the tourism industry.

A qualified majority of ambassadors voted to reintroduce the curbs, which had been lifted in June, according to an EU statement on Monday. The change appears most likely to affect unvaccinated Americans.

It’s not clear how much this is a real pandemic-related measure or how much this is a smoke signal to the White House and State Department that the United States’ continuing travel ban against European passport holders is untenable and stupid. It is hammering the tourism, airline, and hospitality industries in Europe — and hurting them in the United States, too.

It’s also hurting families who live their lives with the Atlantic Ocean between their members. This is a relatively small number of people — but it includes many in the National Review extended family of employees and contributors. To show my father the last 18 months of growth in his grandchildren, I had to fly all of them over to him and back in August. He cannot come here to visit them for a holiday break right now. The level of scrutiny that health documents got on our trip over there was not very serious — not really any different from someone who would present themselves for vaccination in the United States with an attestation about their eligibility. It seems like “just enough” for this time when the pandemic is still serious, but much more in hand than it was 18 months ago.

And recall, this is at a time when many European countries are beginning to declare an end to their emergency, to say they’ve achieved a sufficient level of vaccination that ongoing risk-assessment and management is being shifted back onto individuals, families, doctors, and private institutions.

National Security & Defense

Dealing with Afghanistan after the ‘Endless War’

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A member of Taliban forces stands guard as Afghan men take pictures of a vehicle from which rockets were fired, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 30, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

I appreciate the kind words in my friend Kevin D. Williamson’s characteristically insightful column on Sunday about Afghanistan. I’m in complete agreement with Kevin regarding how we got to this awful point and how the consequences transcend Afghanistan itself.

He is also right that we are headed back to the pre-9/11 law-enforcement model of counterterrorism. Putting Afghanistan to the side for a moment, that is a significant blow to national security overall.

The post-9/11 model did not supplant law-enforcement measures against terrorist organizations and their state sponsors (sovereign states cannot be prosecuted in our courts, but their operatives usually may). Rather, it shifted law-enforcement to a subordinate position — no longer “the point of the spear” as it was in the Clinton years.

This was a good arrangement. Alien enemies, even if their hostile acts happen to be crimes under the penal code (e.g., international-terrorism conspiracies, weapons-of-mass-destruction offenses), are effectively insulated from criminal prosecution because our agencies do not police, and the writ of our courts does not run, in the foreign strongholds where they plot against America. Nevertheless, if the laws of war are in effect, they can be reached by military and intelligence operations. Consequently, the post-9/11 model enabled us both to neutralize the enemy overseas before the enemy could strike our homeland and interests around the world, and to continue prosecuting in our courts any hostile operative who could be arrested. In the main, the Justice Department targeted material supporters of terrorism, as well as terrorists and would-be terrorists in the U.S. who are “inspired by,” but not operationally affiliated with, jihadist organizations.

Yet another consequence of abruptly ending “forever wars” that does not seem to have been thought through is that if there is no war, then the law of war no longer applies. We would no longer have legal authority to use combat force against enemy combatants, to detain them without trial, to question them without counsel, and so on. We are back to courtroom due process, and its presumptions of privacy and innocence, even if our enemies continue to wage war.

This does not just convey provocative weakness (the old mismatch of responding to bombs with subpoenas); it will have a pronounced, deleterious effect on intelligence-gathering. Obviously, terrorist organizations do not function like nation-states: they attack in stealth, they don’t wear uniforms, they target and hide among civilians, you can’t conquer them by capturing territory, etc. Ergo, the degree to which they imperil us is directly related to our capacity to collect the intelligence that enables us to map their membership, conduct surveillance, thwart plots at an early stage, and dry up their funding and recruitment. Intel operations are significantly better on a war-footing, in which it is easier to capture and interrogate operatives.

Kevin is right that the Taliban resembles a crime syndicate. I’ve long thought the same thing about Putin’s regime in Russia — it ain’t your father’s Soviet Union. But the crimes of a regime, which has sovereign privileges in international law, are harder to deal with than those of a mafia family. The Taliban’s crimes will help it consolidate power, which will enable its allied jihadists to enjoy safe haven and project power.

On the other hand, maybe we can dust off the Noriega model. In the late Eighties, a grand jury in Florida indicted Panama’s strongman, General Manuel Antonio Noriega, and some of his henchmen on narcotics and racketeering charges. Our government then essentially kidnapped him and brought him to the U.S. for trial. He was found guilty, the convictions were upheld on appeal over his sovereign-immunity claims, and he served a long sentence (a 40-year term was imposed, and he served nearly half of it).

I always worry that, because our country is so active on the world stage and so despised by the world’s rogues, the United States has the most to lose in an arrangement in which governments are encouraged to start capturing and trying each other’s officials. Clearly, our officials would not receive the quality of due process that was afforded to Noriega. I cannot say, though, that the Taliban’s narcotics trafficking and other rackets won’t present prosecution opportunities. I can only say that President Biden, in exhibiting the poor judgment and impulsiveness that we’ve come to know over the last century, has — as Kevin relates — emboldened our enemies and unnerved our friends.

Media

On Liberating Your Family

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Matt Feeney:

Whether to get your little kid an iPad, or get your middle-schooler an iPhone, or let your high schooler be an Instragrammer or sleep with her phone under her pillow, might seem like it’s technology’s question to answer. It might seem like another bland dictate from the governing power you have to go along with, but it isn’t. You don’t. You can answer that question yourself.

And grasping that you have this power, you might find the reasons for exercising it more persuasive. You don’t have to wait for Science’s final dredging of the statistics on whether social media is the true cause of the unhealthy outcomes. That people have designed the popular social media apps to circumvent your children’s human intelligence and induce repetitive rodent behavior in them to make money for themselves is bad enough. You don’t need to wait for Science to tell you this causes depression in them. It should cause depression in you.

Science & Tech

Big Tech Is Doing the Right Thing on Cybersecurity

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Hacker breaking into corporate data (gorodenkoff/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden recently met with Big Tech executives to discuss how to improve cybersecurity after recent cyberattacks in which government software contractor Solarwinds and oil pipeline Colonial Pipeline were targeted. Leading tech corporations, including IBM, Google, and Amazon, will all try to improve cybersecurity by investing in the training of personnel in this field and upgrading their respective encryption and security systems. Microsoft has also committed to investing $150 million in upgrades for cybersecurity systems of government agencies. Big Tech may not always do the right thing, but these plans to enhance cybersecurity are certainly something that we can all stand behind.

In recent years, as the Internet has become increasingly influential and indispensable, cybersecurity has, correspondingly, become an increasingly prominent threat to not only citizens’ privacy but also to national security. Former national-security adviser John Bolton explained the significance of cybersecurity to national defense in a recent National Review article, in which he characterized threats from cyberspace as “a multiplicity of hidden, ever-changing threats.” A recent report by the Heritage Foundation raised concern over espionage, trading of secrets, and the disruption of military commands and communication potentially being conducted in the cyber domain.

The effective regulation of cyberspace, a relatively new front for modern warfare characterized by its elusiveness and lack of boundaries, is sometimes challenging. Laxness in cybersecurity, however, has often led to catastrophic consequences. For instance, the WannaCry Ransomware Cyber Attack in 2017, in which files in affected computer systems were locked until ransom was paid for their decryption, affected approximately 200,000 computers in 150 countries and led to enormous financial costs. Victims of the cyber-extortion scheme included entities from government agencies such as the English National Health Service to major international corporates such as Boeing.

It is well established that both the state and leading tech corporations have a legitimate interest in enhancing cybersecurity. The government is responsible for engaging in national defense in the cyber domain and tech corporations are obligated to protect the privacy of their users, whose personal information is often entrusted to them.

Big Tech’s plans to cooperate with the government to improve cybersecurity through financial investments appears to be promising. While it may be difficult to predict the effectiveness of such investments, the fact that Big Tech and the government are placing the enhancement of cybersecurity close to the top of their agenda and are committing to coordinated efforts is good news. Big Tech, with its financial prowess derived from the sheer size of the industry, and a unique relationship with the use of cyberspace, is uniquely positioned to materially contribute to state-led efforts to secure cyberspace. Furthermore, investing in education on cybersecurity of employees may also be useful in raising awareness and amplifying the industry’s collective concern over capacity to combat cyberattacks in the long run.

Health Care

‘Teleheath’ Abortions Pose Significant Health Risks

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Pro-choice activists in downtown Memphis during a “Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action” rally hosted by the Tennessee chapter of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee, U.S., May 21, 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht /Reuters)

Earlier this month, more than 70 Democrats in the House introduced a resolution asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to permanently lift in-person requirements for chemical-abortion drugs.

Over the past year and a half, supporters of legal abortion have used the COVID-19 pandemic to expand access to chemical abortion. In 2020, pro-abortion groups litigated against existing FDA rules, which had required that chemical abortions take place under medical supervision. While those abortion proponents received a favorable ruling from a U.S. district court judge in July of last year, the Supreme Court ruled this past January that the FDA’s protective rules could remain in place.

But in April, under the direction of the Biden administration, the FDA lifted existing restrictions on telemedicine abortions for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their reporting on this resolution, legacy media outlets such as The Hill and and NBC News promoted the pro-abortion spin that chemical abortions are safe. A number of outlets and pundits cited studies claiming that telehealth abortions do not pose health risks to women. Gizmodo and Ms. Magazine, for instance, covered a new study from JAMA Network Open, which purports to show that a small percentage of women who obtained a telehealth abortions from a virtual clinic in California required additional medical care. Writing for the New York Times, Emily Bazelon highlighted a February study in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology that analyzed data from British women and found that telehealth abortions had low complication rates.

However, both of these studies have methodological shortcomings. The JAMA Network Open study analyzed only 141 women who obtained telehealth abortions, a smaller sample size than is typical for this type of study. Furthermore, of the 141 patients who obtained telehealth abortions, 13 patients did not respond to a follow-up survey, and the researchers were unable to obtain information about outcomes from another 18 patients. As a result, the researchers have no information about outcomes from more than 20 percent of the women who obtained chemical abortions, raising concerns about the reliability of the study’s findings.

The February International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology study, meanwhile, compares outcomes from two groups of women in Great Britain who obtained chemical abortions. The first group obtained chemical abortions under medical supervision, while in the second group, some women obtained telehealth abortions and others obtained chemical abortions under medical supervision. As a result, the outcomes of women who obtained telehealth abortions were not considered separately from women who obtained abortions under medical supervision, so the study provides little insight into the safety of telehealth abortions.

A closer look at the United Kingdom raises some very serious concerns about the safety of telehealth abortions. In early 2020, the U.K. began allowing women to obtain chemical abortions via telemedicine. In the first six months of 2020, the overall number of abortions in the U.K. increased by about 4 percent.

Researcher Kevin Duffy found that between 2019 and 2020, emergency calls for  follow-up care after a chemical abortion increased by 54 percent when extrapolated across England and Wales, and ambulance responses rose by 19 percent. Furthermore, Britain’s Care Quality Commission identified eleven cases in which women went the hospital after taking chemical-abortion pills via telemedicine beyond the gestational-age limit.

A significant body of research suggests that chemical abortions pose health risks. For instance, two studies have found that chemical abortions have approximately four times the complication rate of surgical abortions; one analyzed a dataset of California Medicaid patients from 2009 to 2010, and the other studied more than 42,000 Finnish women who obtained abortions between 2000 and 2006. Obtaining a chemical abortion in a case with an unknown ectopic pregnancy could be fatal for the pregnant woman, and chemical abortions after 10 weeks’ gestation pose additional health risks. If successful, this latest effort by congressional Democrats to allow chemical abortions without in-person medical supervision is likely to harm countless women, not to mention their unborn children.

National Security & Defense

We’re in the Very Best of Hands, America

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a speech in the Eisenhower Executive Office Bulding’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 23, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Joe Biden, while visiting FEMA Headquarters in Washington D.C. Sunday, and discussing the ongoing operations for Hurricane Ida:

THE PRESIDENT: Don’t kid yourself; this is going to take a lot of resources, a little bit of luck, and as my grandfather would say, “The grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors.” And by the way, look out for your neighbors. If you’re in the region, look out for your neighbors. So, thank you very much, and thank you, Commissioner. I — I really think it all works. I’m not — I’m not supposed to take any questions, but go ahead.

Q Mr. President, on Afghanistan —

THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to answer Afghanistan now.

Q Can you say if there’s still an acute —

THE PRESIDENT: Okay.

Q — risk at the airport, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: (Addressing the staff of FEMA.) Thank you. (Applause.) Really and truly, thank you, thank you, thank you.

On the video, when Biden says, “I’m not going to answer Afghanistan now,” he waves his hand at the reporter in a dismissive manner, hits the lectern gently, and turns and walks away.

The president doesn’t want to talk about an ongoing national security and foreign policy disaster, and so he will not talk about it.

Education

Did UNC Treat Hannah-Jones Unfairly?

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After she had been extended a contract offer that didn’t include instant tenure, Nikole Hannah-Jones went into full attack mode, alleging that the white power structure at UNC had discriminated against her. Naturally, the press swallowed that line, but was it true?

In today’s Martin Center article, Duke University professor Michael Munger sheds some light on the way tenure is given to faculty members.

He writes, “Because of the time pressure, the UNC Provost made a sensible decision, changing the offer to a five-year fixed-term appointment with the option for reappointment. There was no vote on the tenure case, because the dossier was incomplete. This is quite a common occurrence, at every level of the tenure process. It cannot be hurried, and it is frustrating for the candidate. Unfortunately, the combination of events that — viewed dispassionately — could be explained as well within the normal boundaries of bureaucratic process resulted in inflammatory mischaracterizations. According to most sources, including the once-reliable New York Times, Ms. Hannah-Jones had been ‘denied tenure.’ That’s simply not true. If her supporters had resubmitted the file, she might have been voted up. We’ll never know.”

Munger also gives a learned discussion on the nature and location of that much ballyhooed idea, “academic freedom.”

Impromptus

The Wharton School, Etc.

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Edith Wharton, 1907 (Public domain via Wikimedia)

There is a saying I often borrow from the Bible (KJV) — a phrase that includes the word “saying,” in fact: “an hard saying.” “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” Now, I’m not comparing, trust me — but my column today is full of “hard sayings,” whether they are right or wrong (and I hope they are right). The column is titled “The Afghan Disaster: Notes on a war, a withdrawal, and a murky, anxious future.”

Let’s have some mail. In an Impromptus last week, I spoke of college mascots, and in particular the Notre Dame leprechaun. Some people think he’s pretty offensive.

A reader writes,

Jay,

I find it fascinating that the Spartan and the Trojan have been ignored in the purge of college mascots. As an American of Greek descent, and a Fighting Illini alumnus, this surprises me.

Anecdotally, all of my fellow citizens of Greek descent are very proud that both the Spartan and the Trojan mascots, and the Hellenic culture they represent, are present in college and high-school athletics. I have heard zero complaints from this community. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Michigan State and USC athletics! (That being said, I remain neutral when the Spartans play the Wolverines in any sport — always a good contest.)

It would be great to view your comments on why this is the case in a future column.

To be continued . . .

In the above-linked column, I spoke of a French intellectual who used some recondite words — words unknown to me: inadequation (now considered obsolete) and decortication. A reader writes,

I am glad for Google because even in reading Edith Wharton (born 1862) I find that a word is sometimes not in my dictionary. Do you know the word “reboant”?  It is in the dictionary, but I had never heard that word before.

Me neither. Means “marked by reverberation.”

In that same column, I quoted a paragraph from Tony Blair’s autobiography — the introduction to it. It was forwarded to me by Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe columnist, who thought it would be up my alley. It certainly was. A reader now writes to say that it actually moved him to tears. I thought I would re-paste it, here in the Corner, before bowing out.

A friend of mine whose parents were immigrants, Jews from Europe who came to America in search of safety, told me this story. His parents lived and worked in New York. They were not well off. His father died when he was young. His mother lived on, and in time my friend succeeded and became wealthy. He often used to offer his mother the chance to travel outside America. She never did. When eventually she died, they went back to recover the safety box where she kept her jewelry. They found there was another box. There was no key. So they had to drill it open. They wondered what precious jewel must be in it. They lifted the lid. There was wrapping and more wrapping and finally an envelope. Intrigued, they opened it. In the envelope were her U.S. citizenship papers. Nothing more. That was the jewel, more precious to her than any other possession. That was what she treasured most. So should America today.

Politics & Policy

Right on Cue, the President’s Mistakes Are Our Fault Again

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President Joe Biden reacts as he speaks about Hurricane Henri and the evacuation of Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, August 22, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

You can tell a Democrat is president, because we’re starting to see pieces blaming “us” for his mistakes. In The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago, Tom Nichols wrote that “Afghanistan Is Your Fault.” “American citizens,” Nichols suggested, “will separate into their usual camps and identify all of the obvious causes and culprits except for one: themselves.” Today, Max Boot makes the same argument in the Post. “Who’s to blame for the deaths of 13 service members in Kabul?” he asks. Answer: “We all are.”

This is of a piece with the tendency of journalists and historians to start muttering about how the presidency is “too big for one man” when the bad president in question is a Democrat. Under these terms, Republicans just aren’t up to the job, while Democrats are the victims of design or modernity or of the public being feckless. Last year, coronavirus was Trump’s fault. Now, it’s the fault of Republican governors and the unvaccinated (well, only some of the unvaccinated).

Still, this has happened pretty quickly with Joe Biden. Usually, it takes a couple of years before the press starts to sound like a bunch of hippies sitting around a fire saying, “you know, in a sense, you’re me and I’m you, and all of us are we — and so when the president makes a mistake, it’s really, like, the universe making a mistake, isn’t it? And, y’know, we’re in the universe, so we are the presidency. That’s democracy, man.”

National Security & Defense

The Taliban Are Searching People’s Phones for English Language Messages

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Taliban forces block roads around the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 27, 2021. (Reuters)

My reader who is trying to get his company’s former Afghan employees out of the country – including one that is a U.S. green card holder – has no good news in his latest update. (See hereherehere, here and here for background on this reader.)

“My green card guy is still hiding,” my reader laments. “[The U.S. embassy in Kabul] has not bothered to send him a single message. I have confirmed his evacuation request has all the correct contact information.”

One of the Afghans has told my reader that he can no longer speak to him on the phone or text him in English, because the Taliban are taking people’s phones and searching through them for English language messages. Afghans are now afraid to speak English, because the Taliban presumes that anyone overheard speaking or writing in English worked with the Americans or the coalition.

My reader says the State Department told him that the best option is to keep communicating with the Kabul Embassy through an e-mail. He has done so repeatedly, and he keeps getting the same automatic generic reply, “with gobs of links about where to go for help for this or that. It is a worthless email in an evacuation scenario.”

This morning, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that any U.S. passport holder can get into the airport in Kabul, and that Special Immigrant Visa applicants and vulnerable Afghans are still being processed at the airport.

That does not match what my reader is hearing from his Afghan former employees on the ground. The Afghans outside the airport are telling my reader that Abbey Gate is only open to U.S. passport holders. The Washington Post reported this morning that “Taliban forces sealed off Kabul’s airport Saturday to most Afghans hoping for evacuation” and quoted an Afghan man who said, “the Taliban said they had been told by the Americans to only let U.S. passport-holders through.” Of course, who knows whether any particular Taliban soldier at a checkpoint is telling the truth.

Afghans on the ground tell my reader that there are rumors that U.S. civilian employees are starting to leave on flights, but those rumors are not confirmed. With roughly 96 hours until the U.S. forces pledged to be out, the departure of State Department employees is plausible.

My reader fears that the evacuation is coming to an early end, with only U.S. citizens with current passports getting out now.

“All others, game over,” he laments. “I challenge anyone to say with a straight face that all Americans and green card holders who wanted out are able to get out. I call B.S. on that big time. It is not the experience my guys are reporting… I can’t describe the anger and emotion. We will be transitioning to refugee movement mode here soon.”

Maybe some of the U.S.-allied Afghans will be able to make it across a border into a neighboring country. But there are a lot of trigger-happy Taliban between them and an escape.

Religion

Here’s What Got Evangelical Pastor Dan Darling Fired

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(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Yesterday, Religion News Service (RNS) reported that Dan Darling, an Evangelical pastor and author, was fired from his job as senior vice president for communications for the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) after supporting COVID vaccines. NRB is an international association of Evangelical media companies, and one of its stated purposes is protecting free-speech rights for Christian communicators. According to the RNS report, Darling was asked to sign a document saying the comments he made on Morning Joe about how his Christian beliefs motivated him to get vaccinated were insubordinate. The NRB has a policy of remaining neutral on vaccines. Darling refused to sign such a statement and was let go by the organization. Darling said in a statement after his firing that he was “sad and disappointed,” and said, “I’m grieved that the issues that divide our country are also dividing Christians.”

Below, I’ve transcribed Darling’s segment from the August 18 episode of Morning Joe promoting his op-ed in USA Today encouraging Christians to get vaccinated. You decide if there was anything he said that should have gotten a spokesman for a Christian organization fired. Continue reading “Here’s What Got Evangelical Pastor Dan Darling Fired”

Science & Tech

Why the Hawaii Health Department Wants Looser Assisted-Suicide Rules

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A doctor holds a stethoscope in the Intensive Care Unit at the Melun-Senart hospital near Paris, France, October 30, 2020. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Please understand, dear readers, that when assisted-suicide advocates promise strict guidelines to protect against abuse, they don’t really mean it. The promise’s purpose is to get the law passed, not to be kept.

Once facilitated suicide–or in the case of euthanasia, homicide–is firmly ensconsed in public policy, the guidelines go by the wayside and are loosened repeatedly, over time. For recent examples, see Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Washington, and Oregon.

We see boosting stories for this process of liberalizing frequently in the popular media, only the vaunted guidelines are now called “obstacles” or “barriers.” It’s all such a con.

Now Hawaii’s Department of Health predictably urges a loosening of existing protections. From the Department’s Annual Report:

The DOH recommends the following changes to the OCOCA.
1. Waiver of any waiting periods if the attending provider and consulting provider agree that patient death is likely prior to the end of the waiting periods.
2. Given access to health care providers is limited, the DOH recommends authorizing advance practice registered nurses to serve as attending providers for patients seeking medical aid in dying.

Please know that if you support legalizing assisted suicide, you are also endorsing a process that ultimately leads to death on demand — as it has in Germany. You may want that. But don’t play the game that legalizing assisted suicide will only be an itsy-bitsy change in the law and medical ethics.

Calling Hawaii’s bureaucrat death-pushers the “Department of Health” is akin to the totalitarian government in 1984 calling its torture and brainwashing department the “Ministry of Love.”

World

Why Ukrainians Feel Betrayed by Biden

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Tthe Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project logo on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Today I reported on a forthcoming letter by dozens of Ukrainian anti-corruption leaders, across government and civil society, warning that President Biden’s approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a gift to the Kremlin and harmful to counter-kleptocracy efforts.

One additional aspect that I didn’t get to convey in detail in my report (which you can see here) is just the sheer extent to which they feel betrayed by Biden, who previously pledged to stand by Ukraine and then, as president, approved a project sure to increase Vladimir Putin’s leverage over Europe and ability to destabilize their country.

Gennady Kurochka, co-founder of the Ukraine Crisis Media Center and organizer of the letter I reported on, elaborated on this feeling of betrayal in a text message:

Many of the letter’s authors are representatives of the civil society in Ukraine – activists, volunteers, veterans – those who have personally met with Joe Biden when he visited Kyiv. Maintaining eye contact, he spoke about Russia, about the Nord Stream, about things which are consonant with our position. Furthermore, he later recalled these meetings with a warm attitude and the atmosphere of a mutual understanding. Now, as President of the United States, Joe Biden says and does things that are often exactly the opposite, and we would like to convey our disappointment with him and remind him of the common values and ideologies that we shared in the past.

Kurochka also offered a comment that struck me as particularly resonant in context of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan: He emphasized that Ukraine is pulling its weight and fighting its own battles. Biden’s efforts to blame the Afghan army for the country’s collapse seem to have made a significant impact on U.S. partners:

This letter is first and foremost addressed to the President of the United States, and its purpose is about shared values and interests. You can take a trillion dollars and try to instill democracy in a distant medieval country, but that would be the same as just burning the money. And at the same time refuse to support a European country, whose people, in fact, with their blood, the lives of their sons and daughters, have proven their adherence to the values  shared with the American people. A country, which for seven years now without American weapons, without American troops on its territory, which has been one-on-one defending its freedom against one of the strongest armies in the world.

Ukrainians, and many others who might depend somewhat on the U.S. for security, want to emphasize that they’re pulling their own weight, as they attempt to avoid drawing the ire of American presidents eager to end “forever wars.”

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Huawei Reprieve: Worth Hundreds of Millions of Dollars

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People are seen inside a Huawei store at a shopping mall in Beijing, China, July 14, 2020. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Huawei was hit hard by a Trump-era export ban, but a recent move by the Biden administration goes a long way toward assisting the embattled Chinese telecom company.

Reuters reported this week that the Commerce Department approved special licenses “worth hundreds of millions of dollars” allowing the telecom giant to purchase chips for components in its smart cars, such as screens and sensors.

Although those chips are less advanced than the ones that Huawei needs for its smartphone products, the decision to allow exemptions for the company, which is on Commerce’s “entity list” blacklist, shows a softening of U.S. policy since the Trump administration initiated a campaign warning about its involvement in Chinese espionage efforts.

As a result of Huawei’s entity-list designation, U.S. businesses were prohibited from selling any products to the company, forcing it to relinquish control of a portion of its smartphone business. In August, Huawei reported its largest-ever revenue drop.

But the Biden administration has overseen a softening of the export bans targeting Huawei, Reuters reported: “The U.S. has granted licenses authorizing suppliers to sell chips to Huawei for such vehicle components as video screens and sensors. The approvals come as Huawei pivots its business toward items that are less susceptible to U.S. trade bans.”

The Commerce Department told Retuers it can’t comment on specific license approvals, but that it continues to restrict “Huawei’s access to commodities, software, or technology for activities that could harm U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”

This raises an important question: Does the Biden administration consider Huawei a threat to national security and a key vector of malign Chinese influence around the world? Even if Commerce hasn’t granted license for the export of components with a direct bearing on Huawei’s likely coordination with the Chinese government on espionage, the licenses do help to shore up the company’s position.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo faced criticism at the time of her nomination for the post earlier this year for refusing to commit to keeping Huawei on the entity list, though she did promise to “protect Americans and our network from Chinese interference or any kind of backdoor influence into our network” during her confirmation hearing.

After Republican lawmakers raised concerns about her comments, she submitted a tougher statement about Huawei’s entity listing: “I currently have no reason to believe that entities on those lists should not be there. If confirmed, I look forward to a briefing on these entities and others of concern.”

To be sure, the Biden administration move to grant licenses for certain Huawei purchases of chips sold by U.S. companies is not the same as removing the company from the entity. The move in question here is narrow enough to grant Huawei some reprieve without triggering the massive backlash that a full delisting would entail. (Still, that hasn’t saved the administration from criticism by Republican senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton.)

Until the administration fully explains its decision, it will remain unclear as to what its motives are here — and whether these moves were motivated by a policy review, or merely enabled by Democratic super lobbyist Tony Podesta (who has taken Huawei as a client) and administration officials who previously lobbied or otherwise worked for Chinese tech companies.

Politics & Policy

How Politicians Are Using the COVID ‘Crisis’

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Here’s a sharp Points and Figures post about the political response to COVID.

Money quote: “Covid is just not as serious as the politicians are making it out to be. They have another goal. Increase their power. Political entities love power. The Founders recognized that and enshrined people’s rights into the Constitution. It’s worth pointing out the Constitution and Bill of Rights protect people from government, not the other way around.”

Jefferson rightly observed that it was in the natural order of things for government to gain power and liberty to retreat. One big reason is that politicians are always looking for ways to make themselves look great and strong — for instance by proclaiming that they have saved many lives with their coercive interference with people’s freedom.

That’s all this is about.

World

The State Department Said What?

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In a week full of jaw-droppers from the Biden administration, this ranks right up there.

What’s worse is that I have no idea if State Department spokesman Ned Price is gaslighting us or if the administration actually believes this insanity. Long War Journal‘s Thomas Joscelyn responded in stunned disbelief: “Wait, did he really say this?”

Let me quote from a good writeup in the Wall Street Journal from just yesterday morning titled, “In Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan, Al Qaeda-Linked Haqqani Network Rises to Power.”

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, the normally elusive Haqqani network, which is built around a family of the same name, has assumed a public role in the Afghan capital. Khalil Haqqani, brother of the group’s founder, Jalaluddin, addressed the faithful in public in Kabul’s Pol-e Khishti Mosque last week—despite a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. . . .

The network’s de facto leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin, worked closely with Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenant and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, according to files recovered in bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Today, Sirajuddin is the Taliban’s military chief, and his forces have been put in charge of security in Kabul.

“The Haqqanis expose the lie that there is a line between Taliban and other jihadist groups, especially al Qaeda,” said H.R. McMaster, a national-security adviser in the Trump administration and former deputy commander for U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

But, according to the U.S. government, the murderous, al-Qaeda-allied terrorists of the Taliban are our somehow our “partners.” But the murderous, al-Qaeda-allied terrorists of the Haqqani Network are not . . . even though the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are deeply intertwined. Everyone keeping up?