Culture

The State of Femininity

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I discussed the state of feminity with Inez Stepman of the Independent Women’s Forum for the High Noon podcast.

Law & the Courts

Pro-Abortion Attorney Fudges Facts on International Abortion

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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts during a group portrait session for the new full court at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., November 30, 2018. (Jim Young/Reuters)

During this morning’s oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Chief Justice Roberts asked Julie Rikelman, one of the attorneys arguing against Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, about U.S. abortion policy as compared to the rest of the world.

Roberts noted that the U.S. is one of only seven countries to allow abortion after 20 weeks and pointed out that most European countries limit abortion to far earlier in pregnancy.

In response, Rikelman alleged that this wasn’t true and claimed that Roberts was incorrect to say U.S. abortion policy is extreme compared to the rest of the world. She argued most of Europe allows abortion until viability.

This is simply untrue. Nearly every European country that allows abortion at all limits it to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and a handful allow it until 15 weeks. They do not, as Rikelman suggested, allow abortion after that point for “broad social reasons.”

Meanwhile, Roberts was correct that the U.S. is one of only seven countries — along with North Korea, China, Vietnam, Canada, Singapore, and the Netherlands — to allow abortion after 20 weeks. It’s telling that Rikelman refused to respond honestly. To do so would’ve exposed how beyond the pale her side’s argument really is.

Law & the Courts

We Need Less Transparency in the Supreme Court

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Hearing Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor regurgitating partisan pro-abortion arguments and euphemisms that one can read daily on NARAL’s Twitter feed only reenforces the argument for limiting transparency in the Court. The partisan speechifying — barely a question to be found in most of it — is insufferable, but worse, it has little, if anything, to do with the Constitution.

Would these justices act like activists without the presence of live audio? Maybe. But Justice Sotomayor openly wondered this morning if a Court could “survive the stench” that overturning Roe would create “in the public perception.” In another instance, an agitated Justice Breyer explicitly asked the audience to go read pages of Casey. The Supreme Court adjudicates the constitutionality of laws. It is not charged with worrying about the popularity of decisions or the vagaries of democracy (though Sotomayor makes a good case that abortion should be handed to states and voters rather courts.)

And no one is immune from human nature. The lawyers and state advocates who participate in the arguments, many of whom may one day run for public office or seek political positions, would be more motivated to play to the cameras. Audio is bad enough, but imagine cameras in the Court — something both Republicans and Democrats have proposed instituting. It would make everyone more self-conscious about their public persona and politics. Justices do not live in hermetically sealed existences free of external influences. Making these cases spectacles of political entertainment would only further corrode our political institutions. You can read the transcript and decision later.

Check Out Our Dobbs Oral Arguments Liveblog

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Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

It’s about time for oral arguments to get under way in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the most pivotal abortion law case in nearly 30 years.

For insight on what is happening in real time, follow our Liveblog, with expert commentary and analysis from Ramesh Ponnuru, Rich Lowry, Dan McLaughlin, Ed Whelan, Carrie Severino, Charlie Cooke, Alexandra DeSanctis, Madeleine Kearns, and others.

Media

The Fake Punishment of Chris Cuomo

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CNN’s Chris Cuomo arrives for a talk show appearance in New York, May 2, 2019. (Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images via Getty Images)

Wow, indefinite suspension? Kinda sounds like CNN finally fired Chris Cuomo. But not really. All that happened is Cuomo gets to take the holiday season off. Sweet deal! We know this because CNN’s own media reporters are already musing about when he’s coming back. From Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy’s media newsletter, released hours after the grave announcement of the fake punishment:

The CNN spokesman who shared the suspension decision did not get into any further details, but it’s possible that Cuomo — who frequently ranks as the highest-rated host on the network — will remain on the bench for weeks.

So Chris Cuomo gets to take a little break for the holiday season. Nice. How is this punishment? Answer: It isn’t! It’s merely a CNN PR ploy to get people to stop talking about Cuomo for “weeks” (wow, a whole 14 days!) until the coast is clear. As a colleague puts it: If they didn’t fire Jeffrey Toobin, they aren’t going to fire Chris Cuomo. Quick reminder on how corrupt the Cuomo brothers were when every media outlet in the country was singing the praises of both:

Pretty much the definition of corruption right there. We’ve known about this for a long time, and the reaction of the lefty media was <shrug>.

CNN doesn’t care what we say about him on the right but it cares a great deal about pieces such as this one:

CNN devoted less than one minute of airtime to this yesterday, according to the Media Research Center. Make people stop talking about this is the idea, with CNN leading the way in not talking about it.

The sole purpose of the fake punishment CNN grandly announced yesterday is so that D.C. reporters will stop firing darts because they have been given the mistaken impression that Cuomo has been fired:

Education

Intolerant People Now Control Our Campuses

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The success of the “progressive” project of taking over America’s educational institutions is evident from the fact that these institutions are now dominated by authoritarians who like to punish anyone who happens to displease them. Even the slightest, most innocent deviation from wokeness is apt to lead to severe consequences.

One such event recently occurred at the University of Michigan, when a professor showed the film of Othello, where Sir Laurence Olivier appeared with his face darkened. Some nasty students saw a chance to make the professor suffer.

In today’s Martin Center article, Garion Frankel explains why “Woke Universities are Rousseau’s Children.”

American colleges and universities are gripped by a new civil religion of “woke” beliefs. Frankel writes that, “The primary philosophical source for this civil religion is Jean-Jaques Rousseau. While the founding fathers largely rejected Rousseau, educators and curriculum designers love him. Rousseau was far from an anti-racist, but his predilection for censorship and authoritarian behavior make him a patron saint for modern social movements.”

Rousseau favored censorship of views that went against his fuzzy idea of The General Will. Similarly, today’s campus radicals think themselves entitled to silence anyone who dissents from their belief system.

The American philosopher whom we should look to instead, argues Frankel, is Thomas Paine: “Fortunately, Americans have their own philosopher to battle Rousseau and the academics who emulate his censors. Nobody could think to accuse Thomas Paine of authoritarianism or dictatorship. The man was as committed to democracy as they come. More importantly, Paine was an ardent defender of free thought and expression—in education and elsewhere.”

Let’s counteract Rousseau’s authoritarianism with Paine’s liberalism.

Politics & Policy

You Don’t Have to Look Far for the Biden NLRB’s Union Label

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Amazon boxes stacked for delivery in New York City, N.Y., January 29, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The Biden-appointed National Labor Relations Board has decided to throw out the results of a highly publicized defeat for union organizers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama. Workers rejected unionization by more than 2-1 in April, but the NLRB ordered a re-vote after allegedly finding that company officials improperly interfered the first time.

Unions have been working for years to crack Amazon, the second-largest private employer in the country. Some 85 percent of Amazon’s workers in Alabama are African American, and a majority of that percentage are women. Union allies in the media portrayed the warehouse as a Dickensian sweat shop.

But that’s not what Amazon workers in Alabama said when reporters finally asked them their opinion — after the vote. Workers said they felt that their pay was adequate, that they were treated fairly, and that they didn’t see a reason to have hefty union dues deducted from their paychecks.

Ironically, the NLRB threw out the results of the election in large part because Amazon installed a U.S. Postal Service collection box in front of the warehouse after voting started.

The regional NLRB official who threw out the election claimed that the collection box installation “interfered with the laboratory conditions necessary to conduct a fair election.” She stated that employees might have thought the box meant that Amazon played a role in collecting and counting ballots. But Amazon didn’t access any ballots dropped into the mailbox, which resembled nothing so much as one of the “drop boxes” that liberal voter groups demanded be set up without security all over the country during the 2020 election.

Indeed, Democrats in Congress love drop boxes so much that in H.R.1, their attempt to nationalize election laws, they required states to provide voters with around-the-clock access to drop boxes for several weeks.

Given that 71 percent of Amazon’s workers in Alabama voted against forming a union earlier this year, the chances of their vote being reversed look small. But the NLRB’s twisting of federal law to overturn a democratic vote shows just how much the Biden administration is beholden to the unions.

Law & the Courts

Why Democrats Wouldn’t Pack the Court If Roe Is Overturned

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From left: Rep. Hank Johnson (D., Ga.), Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) introduce the Judiciary Act of 2021 aimed at expanding the Supreme Court from nine to thirteen justices outside the court in Washington, D.C., April 15, 2021. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

When Democrats introduced their Court-packing bill earlier this year, some of the sponsors made it pretty clear that the legislation was meant to intimidate Supreme Court justices in upcoming cases.

“The Court needs to know that the people are watching,” Democratic congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia, a co-sponsor of the Court-packing bill, said at a press conference announcing the bill’s introduction in April.

But as I explain on the homepage, the threat is empty:

  1. There are no circumstances in which the two key moderate Senate Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is pro-life, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — will vote to abolish the filibuster, which would be necessary to pack the Court.

  2. It’s hard to predict the future, but since September 1, Texas, the second-most-populous state in the country, has effectively banned abortion later than six weeks of pregnancy, through a law whose unusual enforcement mechanism (civil lawsuits) was designed to help it evade pre-enforcement challenges. The Texas abortion law hasn’t been the most divisive political issue in the country — pandemic policy and the Afghanistan withdrawal have both been more polarizing — nor even in Texas, where the migrant surge along the border has drawn headlines.

  3. In November, two months after Texas’s law took effect, the Democrats faced a nationwide political backlash. Virginia, a state President Biden carried by ten points against Donald Trump, elected a Republican governor by two points over Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who had made Roe and abortion a centerpiece of his campaign. In Texas, a house district that Biden carried by 14 points elected a Republican by two points.

  4. A political backlash against Republicans in 2022 is possible, of course, but on the off chance that Democrats manage to hold the House and make gains in the Senate next year, there are Senate Democrats in addition to Manchin and Sinema who have said that they will not pack the Court even if Roe is overturned. Indeed, if the goal is putting an abortion right beyond the reach of legislatures, packing the Court would be a foolish and counterproductive response from abortion supporters. It would guarantee that Republicans would respond in kind the next time they control Congress and the White House. If Democrats control the House and have the votes to kill the filibuster in the Senate, a rational response would simply be to pass a federal law enshrining an expansive right to abortion.

  5. Most elected Democrats know that Court-packing is not only irrational, but politically poisonous. That’s why President Biden’s commission threw cold water on the idea, and why there are only two Democrats in the Senate co-sponsoring a Court-packing bill.

 

Law & the Courts

Joe Biden’s Mandates Aren’t Doing So Well in Court

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the coronavirus response and vaccinations during a speech at the White House, August 23, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Joe Biden’s effort to use the federal government to mandate the COVID vaccine is not faring very well in the courts. In early November, the Fifth Circuit halted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine mandate almost as soon as it was announced. After hearing briefing and argument, it extended the stay. Now, we have a battery of additional decisions from the federal district courts.

Today, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky, Gregory van Tatenhove (a George W. Bush appointee), issued an injunction blocking the vaccine mandate for employees of federal-government contractors and subcontractors. The injunction applies throughout three states (Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee), the state governments of which were plaintiffs in the case. The court, citing the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in the OSHA case, was unconvinced that the Biden administration had the authority to do this:

While the statute grants to the president great discretion, it strains credulity that Congress intended…a procurement statute to be the basis for promulgating a public health measure such as mandatory vaccination. If a vaccination mandate has a close enough nexus to economy and efficiency in federal procurement, then the statute could be used to enact virtually any measure at the president’s whim under the guise of economy and efficiency…Although Congress used its power to delegate procurement authority to the president to promote economy and efficiency federal contracting, this power has its limits…If OSHA promulgating a vaccine mandate runs afoul of the nondelegation doctrine, the Court has serious concerns about the FPASA, which is a procurement statute, being used to promulgate a vaccine mandate for all federal contractors and subcontractors. [Bold added.]

Yesterday and today, federal judges in Louisiana and Missouri entered injunctions against vaccine mandates for the staff of 21 types of Medicare and Medicaid health-care providers, enacted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and planned to go into effect next Monday. Monday’s ruling was by Judge Matthew Schlep of the Eastern District of Missouri (a Trump appointee), and applies to ten states (Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming), all of which were plaintiffs in the case. Judge Schlep, too, cited the lack of statutory authorization:

While the Court agrees Congress has authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services…general authority to enact regulations for the “administration” of Medicare and Medicaid and the “health and safety” of recipients, the nature and breadth of the CMS mandate requires clear authorization from Congress—and Congress has provided none…Courts have long required Congress to speak clearly when providing agency authorization if it (1) intends for an agency to exercise powers of vast economic and political significance; (2) if the authority would significantly alter the balance between federal and state power; or (3) if an administrative interpretation of a statute invokes the outer limits of Congress’ power. Any one of those fundamental principles would require clear congressional authorization for this mandate, but here, all three are present… [E]ven if Congress has the power to mandate the vaccine and the authority to delegate such a mandate to CMS—topics on which the Court does not opine today—the lack of congressional intent for this monumental policy decision speaks volumes. [Bold added.]

He also noted the long delay in issuing a mandate, which — as in the case of OSHA’s mandate — undercuts the Biden administration’s claim of urgency and its basis for acting in high-handed fashion without full consideration of comments from affected parties:

[T]wo vaccines were authorized under Emergency Use Authorization (“EUA”) more than ten months before the CMS mandate took effect, and one vaccine was fully licensed by the FDA well over two months before…[S]ince the onset of COVID, CMS has issued five…mandates, such as the one here; the most recent on May 13, 2021…One could query how an “emergency” could prompt such a slow response; such delay hardly suggests a situation so dire that CMS may dispense with notice and comment requirements…and the important purposes they serve.

The COVID pandemic is an event beyond CMS’s control, yet it was completely within its control to act earlier than it did…CMS looked only at evidence from interested parties in favor of the mandate, while completely ignoring evidence from interested parties in opposition…In fact, CMS foreclosed these parties’ ability to provide information regarding the mandate’s effects on the healthcare industry, while simultaneously dismissing those concerns based on “insufficient evidence.”…But facts do not cease to exist simply because they are ignored, and stating that a factor was considered is not a substitute for considering it. [Bold added; quotations and citations omitted.]

He further observed that “the failure to take and respond to comments feeds into the very vaccine hesitancy CMS acknowledges is so daunting” and found it irrational that “CMS rejected mandate alternatives in those with natural immunity by a previous coronavirus infection.” Should judges be flyspecking the reasoning of administrative agencies? Maybe if they stuck to ordering things they clearly had the power to order, that would be a fairer question.

Finally, today, Judge Terry Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana (a Trump appointee) enjoined the CMS mandate in the other 40 states. The nationwide scope of his injunction is more debatable, although fourteen states (Louisiana, Montana, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio) were before the court as plaintiffs, and the ruling is clearly properly tailored to the parties to the case. Judge Doughty is in the Fifth Circuit, so he felt himself bound by the similarity of the CMS mandate to the OSHA mandate. He was similarly critical of the process:

It took CMS longer to prepare the interim final rule without notice than it would have taken to comply with the notice and comment requirement. Notice and comment would have allowed others to comment upon the need for such drastic action before its implementation.

He was also unpersuaded that CMS had the authority to issue such far-reaching rules without anything resembling a specific authorization from Congress:

None of these statutes give the Government Defendants the “superpowers” they claim. Not only do the statutes not specify such superpowers, but principles of separation of powers weigh heavily against such powerful authority being transferred to a government agency by general authority…if the Government Defendants have the power and authority they claim (to mandate vaccines for 10.3 million workers), these government agencies would have almost “unfiltered power” over any healthcare provider, supplier, and employees that are covered by the CMS Mandate. If CMS has the authority by a general authorization statute to mandate vaccines, they have authority to do almost anything they believe necessary, holding the hammer of termination of the Medicare/Medicaid Provider Agreement over healthcare facilities and suppliers. [Bold added.]

We have a government of enumerated powers. Congress is supposed to make laws that are to be executed in enumerated ways. Assuming that it has such an extraordinary power as mandating that Americans take a vaccine, it should either pass a law to exercise that power, or at least pass a law that unambiguously delegates to the executive branch the decision when to exercise it. What we have seen instead is the Biden administration scouring the books for any law – no matter how general or how unrelated to the topic – that seems vague enough to cover the situation. We will see in the end how the Supreme Court resolves these issues, as it inevitably will. But we still have only one legislative branch, and it is not run by the president.

The Economy

Labor Negotiations Looming at West Coast Ports

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Shipping containers sit on the dock at a container terminal at the Port of Long Beach-Port in Los Angeles, Calif., April 7, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

As if things couldn’t get any worse at our West Coast ports, it’s also a contract year for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The ILWU represents dockworkers at West Coast ports in the U.S. and Canada, including Los Angeles and Long Beach. The current contract expires in July 2022, and the ILWU rejected an offer to delay negotiations to 2023, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In sports, it’s conventional wisdom that athletes will try to perform better in contract years to justify a higher salary in free agency. In a perverse sense, the ILWU has done the same this year. Even as Los Angeles and Long Beach have ground to a halt with record numbers of ships waiting offshore, the ILWU has not given an inch on its opposition to automation, which is a key cause of the backups that are slowing down the nation’s entire economy. Congress went so far as to write into the bipartisan infrastructure law that the money appropriated for port improvement must be used for “human-operated equipment or human-maintained technology.”

Past contract negotiations in less fraught times have been knock-down, drag-out affairs. The Journal says:

During the talks that began in 2014 and dragged into 2015, dozens of ships backed up off Southern California causing delays that cost individual retailers millions of dollars in increased costs and lost sales. In 2002, employers locked out workers for 10 days at one point before President George W. Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act covering oversight of union activities to open up ports.

Before you shed a tear for the downtrodden, blue-collar dockworkers, consider this:

The average dockworker with more than five years’ full-time experience in 2019 earned almost $190,000. Several supervisors that year earned $500,000 or more. Benefit costs for most full-time dockworkers during the decade through 2019 increased to about $110,000 per worker from $82,500, according to PMA data.

One of the reasons those numbers are so high is that in past negotiations, terminal operators have exchanged modest moves toward automation for increased salaries. The ILWU has shed members in recent years, just as unions have nationwide. ILWU membership in 2001 was 37,000; today it’s 29,000. As long as ships are still backed up, longshoremen are crucial, so they have more leverage than normal.

But wait a minute: Longshoremen control how fast ships get unloaded, so they can make backups worse if they want to. And they have in the past. The tactic is called “hard-timing,” which a 2002 article in the Los Angeles Times describes as follows:

Cranes move at half speed. Paperwork gets lost. And break times are assiduously observed. All of it can create a backup of ships waiting to unload, triggering losses for cargo companies that can quickly climb into the millions of dollars.

Terminal operators characterize a union slowdown as a “strike with pay” and claim the tactic is routinely used by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union when contract talks stall.

The ILWU’s president, Willie Adams, has already told his members to put on their battle faces. The Journal reports:

The ILWU’s Mr. Adams, during an interview on a union-focused podcast called “The Docker” in August 2020, told dockworkers to save up money ahead of the forthcoming talks. “There may be a battle in 2022,” he said. “Be prepared.”

Rarely are concentrated benefits and dispersed costs so clearly on display. One union in one region of the country has the power to disrupt national supply chains to further enrich its already extraordinarily well-paid members. It has held back technological progress on our ports for decades and made them vulnerable to exactly the kind of problems we are currently experiencing.

Oh, and take a wild guess which party the ILWU Political Action Fund donates to.

Media

‘Alleged’

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(Prathaan/Getty Images)

“Alleged” is a funny word in journalism. Writers and editors believe, superstitiously, that it will confer legal protection on them. It doesn’t. If you write that X is an alleged child molester, it is going to matter a great deal who is doing the alleging. Is X charged with the crime? Is there public accusation of some sort? Police report? This matters, because any halfway indecent reporter can go out into the street and find a raving lunatic to allege anything about anyone. But if I write that somebody I don’t like is an alleged embezzler or an alleged neo-Nazi, and the only people doing the alleging are me and some random person with no special knowledge, then “alleged” won’t save me in court.

So I laughed a little when reporters writing about a shooting in my hometown—a shooting caught on video — described William Kyle Carruth as the “alleged shooter” of Chad Read. My friends at the New York Post ran a sequence of video captures of the incident, with the first caption describing Carruth’s “alleged shooting” of Read. Alleged shooting? The second one read: “Footage shows Kyle Carruth pulling the trigger and shooting Chad Read.” The third: “Kyle Carruth proceeds to lay down his rifle after shooting Chad Read.” The fourth: “Footage shows a wounded Chad Read laying on the ground after being shot by Kyle Carruth.”

That first “alleged” is looking a little lonely, and a little silly.

There are variations, too: The local newspaper, the magnificently named Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, described Carruth as “the man suspected of shooting” read. But no one has suggested that there is any question about whether Carruth shot the other guy. The question is whether it was a criminal act. We know who shot whom — no alleging necessary.

Weirdly, Lubbock seems to specialize in murders caught on video. In another case, 26-year-old Anthony Brad Resendez, who has been charged with murder, was described in the local paper as an “alleged shooter” after another incident that was recorded on video. In this case, too, there wasn’t any question about who shot whom, only a question about whether it was murder.

But our friends at NPR have outdone the usual print journalese, with Lakshmi Singh reporting today that police had seized an “alleged firearm” after an awful shooting. I think we can probably say with some confidence that the gun-looking thing that police identified as a gun at the scene of a shooting is, in fact, a firearm, rather than hedge our bets with “alleged firearm.” If it turns out that the gun-looking thing taken from the scene of the horrific shooting wasn’t a gun at all but a tactical tuna-fish sandwich, I will be very interested to read about it.

Health Care

The Counterproductive Authoritarian Fantasy of Just Forcing Americans to Get Boosters

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CNBC analyst Jim Cramer talks with a reporter at the NASDAQ Marketsite shortly after the opening bell in New York City in 2008. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The hyperactive CNBC host and financial analyst Jim Cramer offered an eye-opening and rather unconstitutional proposal on his program, urging the federal government to require all citizens to get vaccinated or demonstrate their proof of exemption in court, and to have the vaccination program run by the U.S. military.

JIM CRAMER, CNBC: With the new Omicron Variant sweeping the globe, how do we finally put an end to this pandemic? How do we save lives and get business back to normal so everybody can put dinner on the table?

Simple, the federal government needs to require vaccines, including booster shots, for everyone in America by, say, January 1st.

There are still some things that need to be done at a national level and this is one of them. But as we brace for another wave of new deaths, it’s time to admit that our government has lost the ability, or the will, to make our people do the right thing. Nobody wants to be the bad guy, so we’ve allowed a pastiche of uncoordinated health organizations to dictate an on-again, off-again series of measures that mostly just leave us baffled and confused.

We haven’t centralized the issue to the point the White House seems to take responsibility.

…It’s time to admit we have to go to war against Covid. Require vaccinations universally. And have the military run it. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, you better be ready to prove your conscientious objector status in court, and even then you need to help in the war effort by staying home until we finally beat this thing.

SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is going to be around in one form or another for a long while. Roughly 44 percent of the earth’s population is still waiting for their first shot of any vaccine.

Vaccination protects you from hospitalization and death, but the vaccines’ effectiveness will wane after a while. We don’t know exactly when; besides factors such as age and comorbidities, the immune system’s ability to fight off versions of the virus varies significantly from one individual to the next.

There’s a chance that at some point, a variant of the virus may emerge that our vaccines aren’t as effective in fighting. It’s theoretically possible, but not likely, that some variant may emerge that the current vaccines aren’t effective against at all.

At this point, it’s far too early to tell if the Omicron variant is significantly different enough from other versions of the virus to require new, different versions of the existing COVID-19 vaccines.

Drugmakers such as Moderna are already working on new vaccines specifically designed to work against the Omicron variant. Pfizer and BioNTech said they could develop an Omicron-specific vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days if needed.

When a booster or a new version of the vaccine becomes available, some Americans will eagerly be first in line. Some Americans will procrastinate a bit but eventually get around to it. Some Americans will want to see how others react to it before getting it themselves. And some Americans will refuse to get it entirely.

Public-health officials and elected officials should read those four sentences again and commit them to memory. There is no scenario in which every American quietly and obediently lines up and gets their newest round of shots just because the government tells them they must do it. You have to encourage and persuade everyone who is persuadable, and hope the rest encounter some experience or trusted figure who changes their mind. We cannot punish our way to greater vaccination rates, and declaring that “the military is taking over this whole thing” is a counterproductive authoritarian fantasy.

If COVID-19 is going to be around in one form or another for the next few years, and we require regular boosters to ensure that our bodies can effectively fight off the virus, then we will be running vaccination programs continuously, indefinitely. This will require us to be understanding of people’s vaccination fatigue and to patiently explain why another booster is needed. After all, the official guidance and assessments of the experts can change pretty quickly:

Those two former FDA officials are still not convinced, writing in the Washington Post yesterday, “the data does not show that every healthy adult should get a booster. Indeed, the push for boosters for all could actually prolong the pandemic. First, such a campaign diverts focus away from the goal of persuading the unvaccinated to get their shots (and persuading parents to get their eligible children shots). Second, and relatedly, exaggerated descriptions of the waning efficacy of the vaccines undermine public confidence in them, and some people may be less likely to accept vaccines that they regard as less effective than originally advertised.”

This doesn’t mean that Krause and Gruber are right, or that boosters are not a good idea. It does mean that the bumper-sticker slogan “follow the science!” is meaningless because bright, well-informed scientists disagree on the best course of action.

Finally, if the definition of “fully vaccinated” is changing before our eyes — as Ron DeSantis accurately predicted — this illustrates the absurdity of a government mandate attempting to get the unvaccinated or insufficiently vaccinated fired from their jobs for not meeting a particular deadline. And it appears even the Biden administration can see that now, declaring that despite the previously stated deadline of November 22, unvaccinated federal workers will not face unpaid suspensions or firing, until at least early next year.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Lockdown Answer

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In response to President Biden: Lockdowns Are Off the Table, ‘For Now’

As Jim Geraghty noted, yesterday President Biden responded, “Yes, for now,” when asked whether lockdowns are “off the table.” Critical attention has focused on that ominous “for now.” Here’s how Biden should have answered: “Obviously, I do not have any legal authority to impose a lockdown on the country. Remember when the previous president said he had ‘total authority’ over lockdowns and everyone said he was being either ridiculous or scary? The president’s powers haven’t changed since then. It’s not my table to set.”

White House

On COVID, President Biden Needs Normal Friends

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President Joe Biden takes off his mask in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 13, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I wrote yesterday that President Biden is “hamstrung” on COVID-19 in part because he has “allowed himself to be captured by monomaniacal, neurotic, agoraphobic pantywaists.” And, right on cue, the Washington Post demonstrates what I was talking about:

President Biden and his aides have long asserted that ending the pandemic would revive his political fortunes, as Americans give him credit for lifting covid’s threat and begin to appreciate his other accomplishments, from climate to infrastructure.

And yet:

“We’re never going to go back to normal. Personally, I don’t think I will ever get on a plane without wearing a mask,” said Patti Solis Doyle, a Democratic strategist who worked closely with Biden during the 2008 presidential campaign.

This is a ridiculous and irrational thing to say. And, unfortunately for Biden, it’s typical of the sort of people with whom he spends his time. There is scant reason to wear masks on planes even now, let alone once the pandemic is over. And who, pray, is the “we” in “we’re never going to go back to normal”? If Patti Solis Doyle wants to live her life like that, good luck to her. But does she really think everyone else is itching to join her? If, tomorrow, you told a plane full of Americans that they no longer needed to wear their masks, how many do you think would still have them on by the time you’d hung the intercom back on its hook? Twenty? Ten? Three?

With friends like these, Biden’s recovery will be a slog. If, that is, he can ever get “back to normal” at all.

Law & the Courts

Kavanaugh’s ‘Roadmap’ on Overturning Precedent Points to Overturning Roe

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Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. February 5, 2019. (Doug Mills/Pool via Reuters)

An excerpt from my piece on the homepage:

In 2020, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is widely expected to be one of the decisive votes in Dobbs, offered in a concurrence in an unrelated case, Ramos v. Louisiana, a “roadmap for determining whether to overrule an erroneous constitutional precedent” — and that roadmap points strongly in the direction of overturning Roe and Casey.

Kavanaugh outlined “three broad considerations” that justices should take into account when they’re asked to overturn precedent instead of following the doctrine of stare decisis: (1) whether the decision was “grievously or egregiously wrong;” (2) whether the decision has “caused significant negative jurisprudential or real-world consequences;” and (3) whether overruling the prior decision would “unduly upset reliance interests.”

It is obvious that the Roe decision was “grievously or egregiously wrong” as a constitutional matter: There’s nothing in the text of the Constitution or history to suggest a right to abortion is protected by the 14th Amendment. A simple look at the death toll from abortion since 1973 proves that Roe has also “caused significant negative . . . real-world consequences.” But the third question — whether overruling Roe would “unduly upset reliance interests” — is more complicated and worth dwelling on at greater length.

The Souter-O’Connor-Kennedy concept of “reliance” had more to do with sociology and psychology than it did with legal jurisprudence. “Casey acknowledged that traditional considerations of reliance had little force in this context because ‘reproductive planning could take virtually immediate account of any sudden restoration of state authority to ban abortions,’” Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett and former assistant attorney general Charles J. Cooper write in their amicus brief in Dobbs.

Here’s what the Souter-Kennedy-O’Connor opinion said about reliance:

For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.

In 2021, of course, there are several methods of birth control that are more than 99 percent effective, and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 mandates that all FDA-approved female contraceptives must be covered by insurers with no copay.

One remarkable aspect of the above excerpt from the Souter-Kennedy-O’Connor opinion is that it presents only two options for a woman experiencing an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy: Abort the child or raise the child. A third option — placing the child up for adoption — never really enters the picture even though it is available to 100 percent of pregnant women.

Adoption also never enters the discussion of reliance interests in the respondents’ brief in Dobbs: “Consider just one person’s reflection in a brief to the Court: ‘Becoming a first-generation professional would have been impossible without access to safe and legal abortion services.’” As Erika Bachiochi writes in National ReviewRoe and Casey themselves create expectations that make life more difficult for working mothers: “Rather than challenge workplace norms head-on, the decades-long quest for unfettered abortion feeds into the model of the ideal male worker who is beholden to no one but his boss. If abortion is what enables women to participate in the workplace, then perhaps costly accommodations, flexible work schedules, and part-time-pay equity are not so necessary.” Many millions of women have had successful careers while raising children, including children born following unexpected pregnancies. But the point remains that adoption is always an option for any particular woman facing an unexpected pregnancy who does not want to raise the child for any reason.

And of course it is a simple fact that ending Roe would not end access to abortion in the United States. Some states would generally prohibit abortion, some states would maintain or establish an expansive right to abortion, and others would place greater limits on it while keeping it generally legal. If Roe were overturned, research indicates that additional legal hurdles to abortion would lead to a decrease in the abortion rate of about 13 percent — roughly 100,000 fewer abortions per year.

“Even if contested, constitutional rights that have ‘become embedded’ in ‘our national culture’ are entitled to heightened stare decisis effect,” the respondents’ brief in Dobbs argues. But it can’t possibly be the case that simply because swathes of society “rely” in some broad sense on a grievously wrong and harmful precedent, that precedent should be preserved. The Supreme Court gave its blessing to segregation in 1896. By 1954, many states had been living under de jure segregation for many decades, and millions of white parents had strong expectations that they could send their children to segregated schools. As Garnett and Cooper write in their amicus brief:

No doubt “economic and social developments” premised on the continued lawfulness of race-based segregation took place in the 58 years between Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954); and no doubt many white southerners “made choices that define[d] their views of themselves and their places in society” based on the institution. But that did not give the Brown Court any pause before restoring the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal protection.

Brown v. Board did not end racism, nor did it immediately usher in an era of racial harmony. It was in fact followed by a period of social and political unrest. But segregation was a grave constitutional and moral injustice, and Brown was necessary for the United States to become a more just, decent, and humane society. In Kavanaugh’s 2020 Ramos concurrence, he wrote that when the justices look at reliance interests, they should focus on the “legitimate expectations of those who have reasonably relied on the precedent,” but in that same opinion he called Brown v. Board “the single most important and greatest decision in this Court’s history.” If Kavanaugh follows the logic of his own roadmap, it’s hard to see how he can help but arrive at the conclusion that Roe and Casey should be overturned.

There’s been much speculation that Kavanaugh and Chief Justice Roberts may try to find a way to uphold the Mississippi law without fully overturning Roe and Casey and restoring the right of states to limit or prohibit abortion. But it is very difficult to see how the Court could discard the arbitrary and judicially invented right to abortion until viability in favor of some other arbitrary and judicially invented right to abortion.

The Economy

Omicron and Inflation

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(AndreyPopov/Getty Images)

There’s not that much that we know about the medical effects of the Omicron variant, although if there is such a thing as an emerging consensus, it seems to be that (1) it is highly infectious and that (2) the vaccinated can catch it, but, if they do, the consequences should in most cases be relatively mild. There are even suggestions from the South African data that Omicron may not be that dangerous (these things are all relative, of course).

On that latter topic, the Daily Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard comments:

Scientists will know in a couple of weeks whether omicron has a lower case fatality rate than delta.

They flag two obvious grounds for caution: viral infections tend to start with mild disease; and past waves show that young people tend to catch Covid first before it spreads up the age ladder.

The original cohort of patients breezing through surgeries in Johannesburg with little more than a headache may be a trick of the time sequence.

It’s still early days.

So far as the economy is concerned, even before today, Fed chairman Jerome Powell had flagged the fact that Omicron might trigger further supply-chain disruptions (or presumably prolong existing ones). The implication of that is that the current inflationary surge will last even longer than was already anticipated by the Fed (until some time in the second and third quarters of 2022), bad news even if there is more to rising prices than supply-chain problems and energy prices (spoiler: There is).

Whatever is behind this inflationary moment, the fact that Powell is now (Tuesday) proposing to speed up his rather leisurely taper timetable is the right way to go.

The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Powell said elevated inflation pressures and rapid improvements in the labor market would justify “wrapping up the taper, perhaps a few months sooner.” He joined a handful of Fed officials who said recently they would support deliberating at the Fed’s Dec. 14-15 meeting whether to accelerate the process of reducing those purchases.

If officials were to quicken the pace at which they reduce the purchases by $30 billion a month after the December meeting, they could conclude the program by March, giving them more flexibility to raise rates in the first half of next year.

“You’ve seen our policy adapt and you’ll see it continue to adapt” in response to concerns about more persistent inflation, Mr. Powell said.

Also, of note — “Transitory” R.I.P:

Mr. Powell backed away from the central bank’s initial characterization that elevated prices would be short-lived, or transitory. “It’s probably a good time to retire that word and explain more clearly what we mean,” he said.

And Powell made clear that, in his view, supply-chain disruptions are not, so to speak, acting alone:

Mr. Powell said he still expects that because many price increases can be traced to supply-and-demand imbalances that resulted directly from the pandemic, inflation would decline next year. “But it’s also the case that pricing increases have spread much more broadly” in recent months, he said.

Mr. Powell pointed to rising energy prices, increasing rents and brisk wage gains as other factors that could keep inflation elevated. But the persistence of supply constraints remains hard to predict, and “it now appears that factors pushing inflation upward will linger well into next year,” he said.

But even if supply-chain problems are not the sole cause of the current inflationary spike, they still matter. In the context of Omicron, it is worth remembering that current supply-chain disruptions are partly (only partly) the consequences of overly draconian governmental responses to the coronavirus over the past 18 months. The question now is whether those errors are going to be repeated on enough of a scale to set back the recovery in supply chains — of which there is some evidence — and, for that matter, lead to other disasters that, at many levels, we cannot afford.

NRI

Burke, Buckley, and You!

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William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

Calling all mid-career professionals! National Review Institute’s Spring 2022 Burke to Buckley program is headed to New York City, Philadelphia, and for the first time, Miami.

The Burke to Buckley Program is an eight-week graduate-level series designed for mid-career professionals to gain a deeper understanding of conservative thought, while building a network of talented, like-minded individuals. Each class is made up of 20 to 25 participants. Candidates should have between ten and 25 years of professional work experience and ideally be between 35 and 55 years old. This program is not intended for recent graduates or people working in the fields of public policy or politics.

This spring’s program will run from approximately March to May. Accepted participants will gather over dinner to discuss foundational conservative texts. Each week, an expert (often an NR writer or fellow) will guide the discussion providing a unique opportunity for participants to engage with, and to learn from, one another. Program topics include:

  • William F. Buckley Jr. and American Conservatism
  • The Founders’ Constitution
  • Economic Freedom and Political Freedom
  • Burke, Prudence, and the Spirit of Conservatism
  • Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Fusionism
  • Mediating Structures between the State and the Individual
  • Conservatism, Democracy, and Foreign Policy
  • The Conservative Spirit and Civic Gratitude

Check out the Burke to Buckley webpage for more information and applications, and be sure to apply by December 15, 2021.

U.S.

Remember When Chris Cuomo Was Accused of Sexual Harassment with No Consequences?

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Chris Cuomo (Mike Segar/Reuters)

As mentioned on forthcoming episodes of The Editors and Three Martini Lunch podcasts, it is very easy to forget that a bit more than two months ago, Shelley Ross, a veteran television journalist and former executive producer at ABC and CBS, offered an account of Chris Cuomo grabbing her tush at a party, and shared Cuomo’s apologetic e-mail. The email, in which Cuomo said he felt ashamed, appeared to offer corroboration that, at minimum, Cuomo did something grossly inappropriate. (Cuomo did this in front of Ross’s husband. Never mind being lucky to keep his job; Cuomo is lucky he kept all his teeth.)

Ross wrote that she didn’t want to see Cuomo fired from his current position, but instead:

I would, however, like to see him journalistically repent: agree on air to study the impact of sexism, harassment and gender bias in the workplace, including his own, and then report on it. He could host a series of live town hall meetings, with documentary footage, produced by women with expert consultants. Call it “The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo” and make this a watershed moment instead of another stain on the career of one more powerful male news anchor.

Cuomo told the Times in a statement: “As Shelley acknowledges, our interaction was not sexual in nature. It happened 16 years ago in a public setting when she was a top executive at ABC. I apologized to her then, and I meant it.”

But in the aftermath of that op-ed . . . absolutely nothing happened. Chris Cuomo kept hosting his prime-time show. CNN offered no statement. Everyone more or less just pretended they didn’t see it.

A few days later, Ross said in an interview with Megyn Kelly, “I was hoping that in 15, 16 years that he had changed, but he’s no more enlightened today than he was then, as demonstrated by his response . . . I don’t acknowledge that there’s anything that was ‘our interaction.’ I was not a participant. I was groped.”

And now we learn that Cuomo was intensely involved with his brother Andrew Cuomo’s defense against multiple accusations of sexual harassment —much more involved than his previous statements indicated. Why was Chris Cuomo so helpful to Andrew Cuomo? Yes, part of it is because they’re family. But it is also probably partially because they’re both sexual harassers. They’re cut from the same cloth, and a pervasive public judgment that Andrew Cuomo is a creep and a lech and a bully would strongly suggest that Chris Cuomo is a creep and a lech and a bully, too.

CNN promised a “thorough review” of Cuomo.

Culture

‘The King of Hypocrisy’

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I wrote today about the hypocrisy of the NBA–Nike industrial complex:

Nike’s latest TV ad is another slick paean to individual empowerment and the ability to prevail despite the naysayers.

Centered around Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant, the commercial features various people doubting that Morant can keep up his stellar play, to which someone always cheekily replies, “Says who?”

Yes, Nike believes anything is possible — so long as it doesn’t involve doing anything to cross one of the world’s most hideously repressive regimes.

World

Welcome Barbados to Club Republic

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The Caribbean nation of Barbados swore in their new president, Sandra Mason, and officially became a republic at the stroke of midnight, last night.

Maybe it’s because I’m not from a Commonwealth country, but I cannot understand why Prince Charles was at the ceremony marking this moment, listening to poets insult the Union Jack. Of course the flag is associated with appalling crimes in Barbados. So would a native flag, flown long enough. But for a great long time, the Union Jack has been associated with peace and the progress of Barbados toward becoming a fully independent nation, and it is being lowered peacefully.

Law & the Courts

The Phony History behind Roe v. Wade

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False and even fraudulent historical claims pervade the abortion debate. Newspaper stories, academic and popular books, and legal briefs — not to mention Roe v. Wade itself — traffic in myths about the history of the law and practice of abortion. In our latest issue, I clear away a tangle of misrepresentations to uncover the truth.

An influential legal brief signed by 400 historians, for example, asserted that in the early 19th century, abortion was legal and often used to limit family size. To give credence to this idea,

the authors of the brief quoted a physician who wrote that “abortion is not always associated with crime and disgrace; it may arise from causes perfectly natural and altogether beyond the control of the female.” But those words suggest and their context makes obvious that the physician, Theodric Beck, was writing about miscarriages, which are to this day sometimes described as “spontaneous abortions.” Earlier in the same work, Beck wrote that “the procuring of abortion . . . can be considered no less than murder.” . . .

Health Care

Ron DeSantis Wasn’t Lying, He Was Just Ahead of the Curve

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Then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally in Orlando, Fla., November 5, 2018. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, discussing COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, November 4:

Ultimately, people should be able to make these decisions. I don’t think people want this decision yanked away from them. I don’t think they want to allow a precedent where the federal government could come in and just force you to do what it wants you to do. And make no mistake about it, those individuals who have been gone through a normal vaccination series for COVID, you will be determined to be unvaccinated very soon. They will do that. They are going to tell you, “You’re unvaccinated and you have to get a booster. Otherwise, you could potentially face loss of employment or other types of penalties.”

The subsequent headline in The Independent: “Fact Check: DeSantis falsely claims vaccinated citizens without boosters could be declared unvaccinated and lose their jobs.”

The news in Axios, this morning: “The emergence of the Omicron COVID variant is turbocharging the push for vaccine boosters, and experts say a booster may soon become a requirement to be considered ‘fully vaccinated.’… Bob Wachter, chairman of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine, told Axios he expects vaccine mandates will soon include requiring boosters.”

But we had been reassured that needing a booster to be considered fully vaccinated was a false claim! Apparently DeSantis was just correct too early.

It is clear that quite a few self-appointed “fact-checkers” begin with the assumption that Ron DeSantis must be wrong about everything.

Politics & Policy

Some Questions for Blake Masters

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Blake Masters at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action in Phoenix, Ariz., July 24, 2021. (Gage Skidmore/The Star News Network/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Yesterday, Nate Hochman published an interesting profile of Blake Masters, who is running for the Republican nomination in the 2022 Arizona Senate primary. I learned a lot from it. However, I still have a few questions about — and for — Masters.

Nate notes that Peter Thiel, a billionaire Silicon Valley tech investor and entrepreneur as well as a conservative megadonor, is “one of Masters’s longtime mentors and business associates.” (I wrote about Thiel over the summer.) They met when Masters took a class at Stanford taught by Thiel; Masters’s notes for that class became the best-selling book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, which lists Thiel and Masters as co-authors. Masters currently works for Thiel as president of Thiel Capital and chief operating officer of the Thiel Foundation. In addition to having donated $10 million to a super PAC supporting Masters’s candidacy, Thiel is paying Masters as an employee and continues to fundraise for him.

Masters assured a previous interviewer that his campaign is his campaign, “not Peter’s campaign.” He added that Thiel “sees some promise in me, but he knows I’ll be an independent-minded senator.” In a different interview, Masters was asked whether Peter Thiel should pay more taxes. His response:

I’m open to it. Look, I know a lot of wealthy people. Obviously, I know Peter really well. Everybody tries to pay the legal minimum, right? Nobody’s trying to overpay their tax bill. What I hear from a lot of rich people is they would be happy to pay more in taxes if the money was used well. These people are used to running businesses. They’re used to being efficient. They don’t like throwing money away. And so when they see a federal government that is so horribly run, there’s tons of waste, fraud and abuse. You know, maybe it doesn’t make sense to pay a boatload of taxes to just have your government go and start dropping bombs randomly in Syria. We’re paying for illegal immigrants to be put up in hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, you go to a public park, and you see military veterans who are homeless in need of mental healthcare, not getting it. So the sense among a lot of rich people that I know is they would actually be happy to pay more in taxes if they were getting something from it. If there was a sense that the government was spending money wisely to help people in America rebuild a middle class and have a functioning society. I think people would be open to paying a little bit more taxes in the top, top, top elite of our economy.

My first question for Blake Masters: Would he be open to investigating Peter Thiel’s use of tax-free Roth IRAs to house $5 billion in assets, as he has done for 20 years? After all, Thiel definitely belongs in the “top, top, top elite of our economy.” And if our tax system is to be more equitable, and if Masters believes that “just doing tax cuts” is no longer adequate tax policy, it would be a shame if all of Thiel’s money were to elude the government’s reach.

Thiel’s relationship with Masters is not just financial. Masters said that “the thinking behind [Zero to One] and just the countless conversations I’ve had with Peter over the years have really been instrumental in forming my political outlook and beliefs.” Well, in 2016, when Peter Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention, he called the culture wars “fake.” Nate has sensibly urged Republicans to engage more in culture-war issues. Profiling Masters, Nate calls him a member of a new breed of candidates with a “renewed interest in cultural issues.” Does Masters agree with Thiel that the culture wars are fake?

The same speech contains a reference to a then-raging controversy about transgender bathrooms. Thiel said:

When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?

In light of the controversy about an alleged sexual assault in a bathroom at a Loudoun County, Va., public school, about which Nate has written eloquently, this statement by Thiel seems callous. Does Blake Masters agree with it?

Nate writes that Thiel is “a unique figure in the Republican donor class, which typically prefers Chamber of Commerce–style candidates over their more populist counterparts.” In the past, Thiel has donated to notably Chamber of Commerce—style initiatives supporting the legalization of marijuana and of same-sex marriage, helping those causes succeed at a time when their success was not guaranteed. In early 2017, Peter Thiel was asked in an interview whether he thought the Trump administration would do much to advance social conservatism. Thiel said he didn’t think so, and would be “concerned if he thought otherwise.” He added: “There are just all these ways I think stuff has just shifted.” Does Masters agree with Thiel’s view of social conservatism? Does Masters, who once tweeted that “not everything has to be gay,” believe that Obergefell v. Hodges, a 2015 Supreme Court case that imposed a new definition of marriage by 5—4 judicial fiat, is just another one of these things that has “shifted,” and is now settled law?

Masters has elsewhere argued that conservatives should not be satisfied with 9–0 cases that are narrowly decided, such as the Court’s recent ruling in Fulton v. Philadelphia that the government of the city of Philadelphia could not condition its working relationship with Catholic adoption agencies on their certifying same-sex couples as parents. This is all well and good. But many social conservatives believe that, as with the advance of transgenderism, such policies have flowed ineluctably from the floodgate opened by Obergefell. What positive action, as opposed to mere rhetoric or simply a more aggressive defensive crouch, is Masters prepared to take on this front to restore America’s moral capital?

Nate identifies another quality of the new breed of candidate of which Masters is an example as “a newfound skepticism of increasingly activist Fortune 500 corporations and the concentrated power of Big Tech.” In addition to being the first outside investor in Facebook, a company Masters has criticized, Peter Thiel (who also sits on Facebook’s board) founded and has profited handsomely from his investment in a company called Palantir. It is a pioneer of techniques that involve processing and analyzing vast quantities of digital information for the patterns they contain. It currently has many government contracts, including one to facilitate distribution of coronavirus vaccines. Would Blake Masters, who has called coronavirus-vaccine mandates “evil,” support the further integration of Palantir, a private company in which Peter Thiel is invested, with the U.S. government? Or, if it grew to a sufficient size, would he support its breakup or regulation by the government? After all, if we are concerned by the rise of Big Tech, then one company shouldn’t get a pass.

I eagerly await Blake Masters’s answers to my questions.

Fiscal Policy

Why Spending More Money Isn’t the Answer on Infrastructure

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A Skanska contractor stands during construction on the Sixth Street Viaduct replacement project in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., August 11, 2021. (Bing Guan/Reuters)

Here’s the gist:

American cities and states were long renowned for some of the greatest bridges, water systems and freeways in the world, but challenges have grown more potent. Agencies have less internal technical talent. Legal challenges have grown stronger under state and federal environmental laws. And spending on infrastructure as a fraction of the economy has shrunk, giving local agencies less experience in modern practices.

On Honolulu’s rapid-transit project, there were “problems with welding and cracks in the tracks” and then “earlier this year, engineers realized that in some sections, the wheels were a half-inch narrower than the rails.”

California voters approved a high-speed rail project in 2008 that was estimated to be completed in 2020 at a cost of $33 billion. “The job is now projected to finish in 2033 for $100 billion, though those estimates are dated and there is an $80 billion funding gap.”

On the East Side Access extension of the Long Island Rail Road:

Conceived more than a half century ago, with a construction contract awarded in 2006, that project was supposed to be completed by 2011. Early estimates put the cost at $2.2 billion, then $4.3 billion in 2006 and $6.4 billion in 2008. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority now envisions completion in December 2022 at a cost of $11.1 billion. Design changes, underground tunneling problems and coordination with other agencies were some of the factors in the delays and cost increases.

On a nuclear clean-up project in Hanford, Wash., where land was polluted as part of the Manhattan Project, “an independent review in 2015 found 362 significant design problems.” The Department of Energy “announced a 17-year delay and estimated the system would become fully operational in 2036.”

These aren’t honest mistakes, either. Costs of major projects are difficult to estimate, but if this were simply a matter of statistical error, you’d expect as many overestimates as underestimates. Instead, the figures that consultants put out are almost always underestimates of the true cost. “Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor at the University of Oxford who has studied scores of projects around the world, found that 92 percent of them overran their original cost and schedule estimates, often by large margins — in part, he said, because cost estimates are ‘systematically and significantly deceptive.'”

That confirms research reported in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that focused only on the United States. The logic for decision-makers makes perfect sense when you consider the incentives. For a “candid admission of how the political world operates,” the Times quotes Willie Brown:

“In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment,” he wrote in a guest newspaper column in 2013. “If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

We’ve known about these problem for years (Flyvbjerg wrote a whole book on it in 2003), and marathon construction projects make people’s everyday lives more difficult. Yet few Americans seem to care. Infrastructure spending is still a popular idea with most of the electorate, as the bipartisanship of the most recent bill demonstrates, and politicians are basically never held accountable for the overruns that inevitably come to pass.

Aside from some tinkering around the edges, the bipartisan infrastructure law just shovels money into a broken system. We aren’t getting what we pay for now. The solution to that problem is not to spend more money.

World

Afghanistan Is Starving

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A displaced Afghan woman walks with her child after receiving money and aid supply from UNHCR agency outside a distribution center on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, October 28, 2021. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

Reports of a growing humanitarian crisis are emerging from Afghanistan, as tens of millions face death by starvation.

Some parents are selling their children in order to feed the rest of their family. CNN reports on a nine-year-old sold to a stranger as a child bride.

The BBC interviewed a mother of two twin boys, both of whom are dangerously malnourished. “Only God knows what I go through when I look at them,” she said.

“Two of my children are facing death because we don’t have any money. I want the world to help the Afghan people. I don’t want any other mother to see their children suffering like this.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the World Bank is working to deliver up to $500 million from a frozen Afghanistan aid fund to humanitarian agencies but that it “remains complicated by U.S. sanctions.” The Washington Post explains:

Before the militants took over in August, foreign donors — largely wealthy Western countries led by the United States — paid for up to 80 percent of all Afghan government expenses. Since then, donors have frozen all funding, as leverage to press the Taliban to meet demands including rights for women, girls and minorities, an inclusive government, and freedom from reprisals and of movement.

It’s a high-cost strategy. Interruptions to foreign aid don’t just hurt the Taliban — but also millions of innocent men, women, and children.

Economy & Business

Biden’s NLRB Assaults Democracy at Behest of Unions

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(Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

CNBC reports that democracy dies in . . . well:

The National Labor Relations Board authorized a new union election at one of Amazon’s Alabama warehouses, the labor union behind the effort said Monday.

In a statement, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said an NLRB director formally granted a new union election at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse. As a result, workers at the facility, known as BHM1, will get another chance to vote on whether to join the RWDSU.

Oh, really? What was wrong with the last one?

BHM1 was the site of a high-stakes union drive that attracted global attention, including from President Joe BidenIn April, employees overwhelmingly rejected forming a union, with fewer than 30% of the votes tallied in favor of joining the RWDSU.

That’s right. What was wrong with the last one was that employees overwhelmingly rejected it.

And what is the RWDSU pretending was wrong with the last one?

The RWDSU sought to challenge the results, arguing Amazon illegally interfered in the election. It kicked off a protracted legal battle with months of hearings examining the lead up to the vote. Much of the debate centered around Amazon’s decision to install a mailbox on site at the facility, which the RWDSU argued created the false appearance that Amazon was conducting the election and intimidated workers into voting against the union.

Nobody believes this. Nobody. It’s a scam. A ruse. A ploy. As the New York Times reported at the time, the employees in Alabama simply weren’t that into the idea of unionizing:

William and Lavonette Stokes, who started work at the Bessemer warehouse in July, said the union had failed to convince them how it could improve their working conditions. Amazon already provides good benefits, relatively high pay that starts at $15 an hour and opportunities to advance, said the couple, who have five children.

“Amazon is the only job I know where they pay your health insurance from Day 1,” Ms. Stokes, 52, said. She added that she had been turned off by how organizers tried to cast the union drive as an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement because most of the workers are Black.

“This was not an African-American issue,’’ said Ms. Stokes, who is Black. “I feel you can work there comfortably without being harassed.”

The vote could lead to a rethinking of strategy inside the labor movement.

It didn’t, of course. Instead, the RWDSU got the the NLRB — which is also a scam, a ruse, and a ploy, and which has no legitimate role to play in a free country such as this one — to order a do-over.

They think you’re stupid — and if you put up with this, you are.

Elections

‘Dangerous and Misguided’ — City Council Democrat Attacks NYC’s Non-Citizen Voting Bill

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Comes today an email from Reverend Rubén Díaz, New York City councilman from the Bronx (District 18), a lifelong Democrat and former state senator who takes to task the plan to permit non-citizens to vote in local elections. Its text follows in full:

You should know that on December 9, 2021, a vote is scheduled to take place in the New York City Council that could allow 800,000 noncitizens to vote in local elections in our city, including the race for Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, and City Council.

This is a dangerous and misguided effort being made by some elected officials to overlook the law which offers citizens—not noncitizens—in New York City, the right to vote.

You may already know that Mayor-Elect Eric Adams won the June 2021 Democratic Primary by only 7,197 votes. In the November 2021 General election, Adams received a total of 271,834 votes—a fraction of 800,000.

You should know that if this City Council Intro 1867 passes, regardless of its actual legality, New York City, which is home to both the United Nations and Wall Street could easily be taken over by any group of noncitizens who live here for 30 days and vote for the leader of their choice.

Why would we ever make ourselves vulnerable to this kind of possible threat?

Although lawlessness may seem to be in fashion these days, I urge you, my dear reader, to oppose efforts to ignore the actual law and instead permit noncitizens, the right to vote and to raise your voices and be heard against this radical agenda.

It is important for you to know that much of my life’s work as an elected official has been working closely with many noncitizens and celebrating many ethnicities.

For example, in 2006, I organized and led “The Great Walk in Solidarity with Immigrants,” one of the largest rallies where thousands of documented and undocumented immigrants marched in New York City;

I was the most outspoken Member of the New York State Senate on the DREAM Act, and my support for DACA is fervent;

I played a significant role with the IDNYC Program, offering documented and undocumented New Yorkers a way to receive discounts at museums and cultural institutions, libraries, banks and credit unions, movies, plays, BigAppleRx prescription drugs, fitness and health centers, Food Bazaar supermarket, veterans designation benefits, and animal care centers;

I worked very hard to ensure that our immigrant community would be counted in the annual census, without fear of ICE.

It is important for you to know that when a permanent resident applies to become a naturalized citizen, there is a rigorous process of study and testing to guarantee that new citizens understand the basics of the history of the United States of America and how our government functions. Under the New York City Council proposal, 800,000 noncitizen voters with no comparable understanding of the history of this country and government could, with nothing more than 30 days of residency here, be allowed to pick a name at the ballot box with no understanding of what that office is.

Ladies and gentlemen I fully support our immigrant community, but I also respect our laws and cherish my privilege as an American citizen to vote. I encourage all New Yorkers to pay close attention to what is going on here. I don’t believe that this proposal will hold up in court if it is passed by the City Council, so stay tuned.

Politics & Policy

Trust the Science?

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Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci waits to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2020. (Kevin Dietsch/Reuters Pool)

Anthony Fauci is literally The Science, personified and made flesh. That’s why Republicans hate him, you see. When asked about his critics on Face the Nation yesterday, Fauci responded:

So it’s easy to criticize, but they’re really criticizing science because I represent science. That’s dangerous. To me, that’s more dangerous than the slings and the arrows that get thrown at me. I’m not going to be around here forever, but science is going to be here forever. And if you damage science, you are doing something very detrimental to society long after I leave. And that’s what I worry about.

“I’m going to be saving lives, and they’re going to be lying,” Fauci continued. 

This is not the first time Fauci has presented himself this way — far from it. In June, he told Chuck Todd of NBC News: “A lot of what you’re seeing as attacks on me, quite frankly, are attacks on science, because all of the things that I have spoken about, consistently from the very beginning, have been fundamentally based on science.” Just to drive the point home, he reiterated: “People want to fire me or put me in jail for what I’ve done — namely, follow the science.” He doubled down later that week on Chelsea Clinton’s podcast, expressing shock at the “phenomenal amount of hostility” he’s received “merely because I’m promoting what are really fundamental, simple public-health principles.” And then again toward the end of the same month, when asked about his “evolution” — a charitable descriptor, to say the least — on the efficacy of masks: “It is essential as a scientist that you evolve your opinion and your recommendations based on the data as it evolves,” he told interviewer Kara Swisher. “And that’s the reason why I say people who then criticize me about that are actually criticizing science.”

Of course, the scientific objectivity that Fauci is invoking is a ridiculous myth. As Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote this morning in response to the Face the Nation clip:

Public health was already deeply politicized. Public-health bodies kowtowed to China early in the pandemic and dragged their feet on declaring a public-health emergency because they wished to spare from embarrassment the oversensitive Communists who run China. Public-health officials were against border controls early on, not because the science backed up their view, but because their politics required it. Fauci amplified Peter Daszak’s campaign to label the lab-leak theory a ‘conspiracy theory’ because of politics; they believed that it would hinder funding of research they believed in.

In spite of Fauci’s claims to the contrary, he and his compatriots in the public-health bureaucracy are the ones who are primarily responsible for politicizing “facts” and “data.” If we take the good doctor at his word, and accept that he is The Science, then . . . why should we trust science? As the official mouthpiece of objective expertise, Fauci’s — excuse me, The Science’s — record is remarkably bad, from masks and the lab-leak theory to NIH funding for gain-of-function research in Wuhan and an open admission of lying about vaccination rates because apparently the country wasn’t ready to hear the real numbers: “When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent,” the augural prophet of The Science told the New York Times last December. “Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”

All this happens as public-health bureaucrats bemoan declining public trust in science and expertise. Here’s Fauci himself speaking on a panel literally titled “Public Trust in Science” back in November 2020: “Things as simple as public-health measures like wearing a mask, avoiding close contact, not congregating indoors . . . the pushback against it has a political and ideological connotation to it. You cannot properly and successfully implement a public-health program when you have that much of a disagreement in society, because infectious diseases don’t distinguish between one’s ideology.”

Right. Anthony Fauci, the patron saint of “In This House, We Believe: Science Is Real” yard signs, is a totally apolitical actor — a faceless font of facts and data. Anyone who disagrees with him, however, is an ideologue. What’s so hard to understand about that?

U.S.

New CDC Data Shows Slight Abortion Rate Increase in 2019

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A demonstrator holds an abortion flag outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., as justices hear a major abortion case on the legality of a Louisiana law that imposes restrictions on abortion doctors, March 4, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released abortion data for 2019. The new statistics are concerning and disappointing for pro-lifers: Among the forty-seven states that reported abortion data for 2018 and 2019, the number of abortions increased by 1.7 percent. This is the second consecutive year that the CDC has reported an increase in the incidence of abortion. Overall, the number of abortions increased in 24 of 47 states that reported data in both 2018 and 2019.

The main story with the new statistics is the increase in chemical abortions. The number of chemical abortions increased by a whopping 12.5 percent between 2018 and 2019, the second consecutive year in which CDC data indicates that the number of chemical abortions increased by more than 10 percent.

In 2016, the FDA enacted a rule change allowing women to obtain chemical abortions later in pregnancy, with fewer visits to the physician’s office, which has likely played a role in this increase. Pro-abortion groups’ efforts to expand access to chemical abortion is partly responsible as well. As of 2019, 43.7 percent of all abortions in the U.S. are chemical abortions.

Another important lesson from the new data is that policy continues to affect the incidence of abortion.  In 2018, West Virginia stopped funding abortions through the state’s Medicaid program, and abortions in the state dropped 21 percent in 2019. Conversely, Illinois began funding abortions through the state Medicaid program in 2017. For the second year in a row, the CDC data indicate that the number of abortions increased by more than 9 percent in Illinois.

The CDC report also reveals ongoing weaknesses in abortion-reporting requirements. The report does not include abortion data from either California or New Hampshire. Neither state has reported abortion data to the CDC since 1997. The report also fails to include data from Maryland, as the state has not reported data to the CDC since 2006. Furthermore, not every state provided abortion data separated by gestational age of the unborn child, and many states failed to provide summary data about the method of abortion used.

This short-term increase in the U.S. abortion rate is certainly a cause for concern. However, pro-lifers should keep in mind that we have made impressive, long-term progress reducing the incidence of abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the U.S. abortion rate has declined by more than 50 percent since 1980. CDC statistics indicate that the U.S. abortion rate has declined by 20 percent since 2010. Legislation is not the only reason why abortion numbers are falling, but it certainly has played a role.

As a result, pro-lifers should take heart. Oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will take place this Wednesday. This case involves the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that would protect preborn children after 15 weeks’ gestation. A favorable ruling would allow pro-lifers to pass more protective laws and build on long-term gains.

World

‘All Xi Virus and only Xi Virus’

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Badiucao, the artist known for his piercing criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, slammed the World Health Organization’s decision to skip the Greek letter “Xi” (pronounced “ksi”) to name the latest coronavirus variant “Omicron,” as a concession to Beijing.

In a tweet promoting his latest work, Badiucao said that all variants should be considered the “Xi Virus,” after the Chinese Communist Party leader, presumably because the party’s initial attempts to cover up the spread of the virus in late 2019 made it impossible to prevent the emergence of a global pandemic. “Shame on @WHO,” he wrote.

The international health body, which names COVID variants according to the Greek alphabet, also skipped the letter Nu. WHO officials have said that Nu sounded too much like “new” and claimed that naming it Xi, the next letter, would have violated its internal guidelines because that’s also the English spelling of a common Chinese last name. WHO guidelines issued in 2015 say that officials should avoid “causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”

But WHO’s move appeared to be an attempt to avoid a falling out with the Chinese Communist Party general secretary, given the way in which it caved to Beijing’s demands at the start of the pandemic. And, as Jim Geraghty noted earlier, WHO officials weren’t as careful about a previous variant that also shared the spelling of a common last name.

Meanwhile, WHO spokespeople have taken a righteous tone in their unconvincing rejoinders to criticism of the group’s handling of the situation:

Health Care

President Biden: Lockdowns Are Off the Table, ‘For Now’

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President Joe Biden removes his mask to deliver remarks on the importance of COVID-19 vaccine requirements in Elk Grove Village, Ill., October 7, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Then-candidate Joe Biden, October 30, 2020:

President Biden, earlier today:

Not only is the virus not “shut down,” more than a year after Biden’s election, the shut down of the country and the economy are only off the table “for now.”

New York City announced a “mask advisory” today, mask requirements are returning to Colorado counties. The state of Oregon just lifted its outdoor mask requirement. Schools are closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks in Arizona, Colorado, KansasMichigan, Minnesota, and other states. Less than half the workers in the financial industry have returned to the office; as of October, fewer than 25 percent of office workers have returned to downtown Washington D.C. — even though vaccines have been available for almost a year.

Either Joe Biden had no idea how difficult it would be to “shut down the virus,” or he knew, and simply lied to the public because he wanted to get elected.

Editor’s note: This article originally stated that New York City re-imposed a mask mandate; it has announced a “mask advistory.” 

Health Care

Getting COVID-19 Is Not a Sign of Personal Failure

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Sign mandating face masks at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Ariz., September 24, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Already, people are objecting to the statement in today’s Morning Jolt that, “there is not a lot any of us can do about the mutation rate of SARS-CoV-2.” Apparently, this kind of factual observation is “defeatist rhetoric.”

You can get vaccinated if you’re not yet vaccinated. You can get a booster if you haven’t yet gotten a booster. You can choose to wear a mask – unlike, say, President Biden in a store that requires them. You can choose to avoid crowds. You can do what you can to maintain good health, and keep your immune system strong – eating healthy, getting exercise, taking vitamins.

Beyond that, there’s not much you can do to alter the course of this pandemic. You can’t control how this virus spreads, you can’t control the actions of other people, and chances are, you have little or no ability to get vaccines to those who still need them in other countries.

And until we know for certain that a new variant is significantly more virulent than the original SARS-CoV-2, you probably don’t need to worry much. If you’re vaccinated, there’s an extremely good chance you’re protected against the virus, or at least if you catch it, the virus will not put you in the hospital or kill you. Yes, some people who are fully vaccinated die of COVID-19, but they are usually very old, immunocompromised, or have some other serious health issue. As one late October study of COVID-19 deaths in Scotland published in The Lancet concluded:

In summary, COVID-19-related deaths were extremely uncommon in those fully vaccinated with either BNT162b2 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. Most individuals who died after two doses of COVID-19 vaccine were older than 75 years and had multiple comorbidities. These results are similar to the risk profile for mortality in unvaccinated individuals with COVID-19 infection and in vaccinated individuals who have received one dose of vaccine. Risk of COVID-19-related death is therefore not completely eliminated when fully vaccinated; the results of this study suggest the importance of continued caution and non-pharmaceutical interventions, in particular for older adults with multiple comorbidities.

If you’re elderly, immunocompromised, or have multiple comorbidities, COVID-19 is more likely to kill you. Of course, if you’re elderly, immunocompromised, or have multiple comorbidities, lots of things are more likely to kill you.

Alas, in the third year of this pandemic, certain circles of American life continue to moralize the virus, and treat infection as if it represents some sort of divine punishment for sinning against the teachings of Saint Fauci. These beliefs persist, no matter how much we argue against them. A group of parents discussed this in The Atlantic:

Julie Bogen: Also I feel so paralyzed by judgment of other people and parents if we were to get sick. You know, like, Oh, you guys got COVID? Do you know how you got it? Did you do something irresponsible to get it? I really can’t think of anything short of my daughter getting vaccinated that would change our behavior right now. I feel like I don’t know how to not blame myself if something went wrong.

Natalie Dean: I also wanted to make a comment about this stigma. Because of the nature of the pandemic, there’s a lot of stigma about transmission, and I think we’re going to need to move past some of that as well. There’s not the same stigma about RSV or flu or these other respiratory pathogens, and they cause a pretty similar risk to kids. That would be another thing that, as we move forward, we need to grapple with.

Becca Rosen: I’ve been trying to make the case among my friends and to colleagues that getting COVID is not a sign of personal failure. We live in a society with illness, and we don’t blame people when they get flu. We have to learn to not see getting COVID as a moral failure. Because this is something we have to live with, and the truth is that we will all be exposed.

What’s kind of fascinating is that many of today’s modern, well-educated, sophisticated, “SCIENCE” bumper-sticker-owning cultural elites probably look at ancient religious beliefs that diseases were the consequences of sin and scoff at how backwards, cruel, illogical, irrational, and superstitious people could be.

But they also think that if you caught COVID, it’s probably because you were reckless and foolish in some way.

 

 

Banking & Finance

One Cryptocurrency to Rule Them All? Not So Fast, Says Tolkien Estate

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Elijah Wood as Frodo in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. New Line Productions, Inc./IMDb (New Line Productions, Inc./IMDb)

Sometimes, the news has a real Mad Libs quality, in which it just seems like incredibly disparate words are smashed together and fashioned into a breaking development. That’s how I felt, anyway, after reading a Guardian story headlined “Tolkien estate blocks ‘JRR Token’ cryptocurrency.”

It may be a Mad Libs, but it’s also real. Someone really did try to create a Lord of the Rings/J R. R. Tolkien–themed cryptocurrency called “JRR Token,” with the “JRR” supposedly standing for “Journey from Risk to Reward.” Billy Boyd, who played the hobbit Pippin in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, even signed up to promote it, claiming in a promotional video that “Saruman was trying to unify Middle Earth under centralised rule whereas the fellowship wanted decentralisation. Cryptocurrency is literally a decentralised network.”

But the Tolkien Estate was having none of it, swiftly taking legal action to block JRR Token:

It took action almost immediately via the World Intellectual Property Organization’s arbitration procedure, where it argued that the product infringed its trademark rights to JRR Tolkien’s name, and that the domain name was “specifically designed to mislead internet users into believing that it and the website to which it resolves have some legitimate commercial connection” with Tolkien. It pointed out that only the letters “L” and “I” were omitted from the domain name.

The developer said in response that JRR Token was intended to reference “a unique form of digital currency”, rather than the late fantasy author, and that the fact that the domain name “brings to mind” the name JRR Tolkien is parody rather than bad faith. “The introductory header on the website homepage ‘One Token That Rules Them All’, referencing the famous phrase ‘One ring to rule them all’ . . . produces a humorous difference in order to invoke the desired effect of a parody,” it said, in the WIPO’s summary of its argument.

The WIPO’s arbitrator, however, said that “the respondent does not specify why the disputed domain name is humorous, funny or nail-biting, and not just a domain name chosen due to its similarities with the [Tolkien estate’s] trademarks to take commercial advantage of its evocation”.

The Tolkien estate prevailed, also getting the domain name JRRToken.com in the process. This is probably for the best; the cryptocurrency was clearly leaning on the Lord of the Rings connection as a kind of promotional gimmick. Moreover, Tolkien himself, who had strong Luddite tendencies, would certainly have hated seeing his work abused in this way.

It is an interesting question, however, what some of his characters might have thought of crypto. Despite Boyd’s statement above, Saruman would have probably been a fan. Smaug the Dragon undoubtedly would have purloined a vast hoard of crypto, which Thorin Oakenshield would have desperately wanted back. Sauron would have probably helped others make their own cryptocurrencies, but while secretly laboring to make his own to which they were all somehow tied. And Gollum would have purchased a single Bitcoin early on, become rich, then forgot his password. It’s not hard to imagine his cries of “My precious!” being replaced with “My password!”

PC Culture

Disney’s Tiananmen Censorship Viewed from Hong Kong

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Characters from The Simpsons pose for photographers at the premiere of The Simpsons Movie in Springfield, Vt., in 2007. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Disney has once again chosen to accommodate the Chinese Communist Party, censoring an episode of The Simpsons that discusses the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. The episode no longer appears on its Disney+ streaming platform in Hong Kong, though it can still be accessed by use of a VPN service.

The company’s apparent capitulation to the city’s pro-Beijing authorities follows the broader political crackdown that began last year and has featured a campaign to wipe out city residents’ memories of the brutal suppression of student protests. The Hong Kong Free Press, one of the final remaining independent news sources in the city has more in its report:

Meanwhile, following the onset of the Beijing-imposed national security law last June, Hong Kong has arrested leaders of the Alliance, which organised annual commemorations of the 1989 crackdown. The authorities have banned the annual vigil in Victoria Park citing Covid-19, textbooks have been censored, museum exhibits seized, and the University of Hong Kong has demanded the removal of a monument to the dead.

Last month, Hong Kong’s legislature passed a bill which enables the government to ban films deemed contrary to national security from being screened and published in the city. Any person who exhibits an unauthorised film could face up to three years in jail and a HK$1 million fine. However, the the new does not apply to streaming platforms.

When asked if YouTube or other online platforms would be affected, a spokesperson for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau told HKFP in August that “other” laws apply to the internet: “[TV] broadcast and the Internet are subject to other applicable law and regulations. Whether an act constitutes a crime or otherwise would depend on its specific circumstances and evidence, and cannot be taken in isolation or generalised,” they said.

The Hong Kong crackdown and historical-erasure campaign have dovetailed with Disney’s long-running willingness to partner with Chinese government entities carrying out egregious human-rights abuses, as it did in its filming of the live-action remake of the movie Mulan. The film’s credits thank government entities in Xinjiang, including one that was added to a U.S. sanctions blacklist after scenes for the movie were filmed in the region.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized the Hong Kong Free Press as a “pro-democracy” outlet, and it has been amended to reflect that HKFP takes an impartial stance on issues that it covers. 

Education

Resistance Rising against College ‘Wokeness’

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The “progressives” managed to conquer most of our colleges and universities without any serious resistance. Finally, some people who abhor what has been done to their schools are mounting a counter-attack.

Among those schools is Davidson College, and in today’s Martin Center article, Jay Schalin writes about developments there.

“One of higher education’s most enduring enigmas,” he begins, “is the continued support given by relatively traditional donors to their rapidly radicalizing institutions. This deep division between the beliefs of important donors and the actual conduct of school officials has been brought to light in a new report about Davidson College by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). The beliefs of the top donors are so at odds with the actions of the administration in recent years that one must wonder why they have remained silent and continued to contribute for so long.”

The college’s outgoing president, Carol Quillen, pushed Davidson far along the “woke” path, instituting a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office (which simply stokes racial divisions and promotes leftist beliefs). It’s possible that her successor will be a true academic who will listen to the disgruntled alums and turn the ship around.

Schalin concludes, “While survey results chronicle opinions rather than actual facts, they can still be very helpful when it comes to decision-making. And the results of this survey show that, in overwhelming fashion, the most important supporters of Davidson want a change of direction. And when it comes to choosing the new president, alumni and donors should settle for no less than a serious reformer who will begin the hard fight to end Davidson’s ongoing slide into intellectual degradation.”

Religion

Happy Hanukkah! (The Most Zionist of Holidays)

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In an effort to find a happy holiday around Christmas, American Jews have turned Hanukkah, a remembrance of a violent and complex moment in Jewish history, into an insufferably vacuous, tedious, anesthetized, consumerist celebration of “lights,” stripped of any genuine theological or cultural purpose. I wrote about the true meaning of the holiday last year. Happy holidays!

Health Care

Study: Natural Immunity Effective at Preventing Severe Reinfection

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The vaccine mandates are an exploding cigar. Not only are they causing severe societal dislocation, but they have been implemented in a one-size-fits-all approach that is not justified by current scientific understandings.

A recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine illustrates the point. Based on the study of reinfection in Qatar, people with natural immunity rarely became severely ill upon reinfection — with none dying. From, “Severity of SARS-CoV-2 Reinfection Compared with Primary Infections”:

There were no cases of critical disease at reinfection and 28 cases at primary infection (Table S3), for an odds ratio of 0.00 (95% CI, 0.00 to 0.64). There were no cases of death from Covid-19 at reinfection and 7 cases at primary infection, resulting in an odds ratio of 0.00 (95% CI, 0.00 to 2.57). The odds of the composite outcome of severe, critical, or fatal disease at reinfection were 0.10 times (95% CI, 0.03 to 0.25) that at primary infection. Sensitivity analyses were consistent with these results (Table S2).

Reinfections had 90% lower odds of resulting in hospitalization or death than primary infections. Four reinfections were severe enough to lead to acute care hospitalization. None led to hospitalization in an ICU, and none ended in death. Reinfections were rare and were generally mild, perhaps because of the primed immune system after primary infection.

In earlier studies, we assessed the efficacy of previous natural infection as protection against reinfection with SARS-CoV-22,3 as being 85% or greater. Accordingly, for a person who has already had a primary infection, the risk of having a severe reinfection is only approximately 1% of the risk of a previously uninfected person having a severe primary infection.

This data are highly relevant to the “mandates” debate. Yes, people with natural immunity can become reinfected. But people who are fully vaccinated can be infected too. The vaccines do reduce severity of disease and reduce likelihood of death. But apparently, so does natural resistance caused by surviving a primary infection.

This being so, what justifies forcing persons with natural immunity to accept the vaccine when they already are protected against severe disease? What justifies firing such persons from employment?

Most of us are already protected either by natural or vaccine-generated immunity voluntarily received. Policy should recognize that truth and be tailored accordingly. The best public and private policies toward vaccines would be to encourage people to receive protection — but eschew coercion.

Impromptus

Dances, Dunces, and Others

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The Nutcracker at the Royal Ballet, London, December 9, 2020 (Toby Melville / Reuters)

Impromptus today begins with The Nutcracker — the cancellation of. In Berlin. Why? Because the Chinese and Arab dances give offense — allegedly. In reality, “they give delight and enchantment,” as I say in my column.

Until now, I’ve thought that “wokeness” was an American affair. We see that it has hopped over to Europe — which is tragic.

Other topics in Impromptus today include Russia and Ukraine; the nuttiness of the Women’s March; and the sheer, wonderful spine of J. K. Rowling, the best-selling author in history. (Even the best-selling author in history needs spine, if she wants to speak out, despite the death threats and all.)

Stephen Sondheim passed away last Friday. I’ve written an appreciation of him, here. But back to Impromptus.

One of my items concerns an opera company in Britain — which has fired half of its musicians, for the sake of “increased diversity in the orchestra,” according to the company itself. I have a memory, which I’d like to relate, here in the Corner.

In fact, I will quote a piece I wrote in 1996, when I was at The Weekly Standard. Here goes:

The issue of race intruded on the music world in a big way in 1989. The venue, appropriately, was Detroit, than which no city is more race-obsessed and race-driven. Two state legislators threatened to block $2.5 million in funds for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra unless it breached its policy of blind auditions and hired a black musician. They also threatened a boycott.

The orchestra’s management convened an emergency meeting and quickly capitulated. Within days, it hired a black bassist without benefit of competition, blind or otherwise.

The executive director told the press, “The Detroit Symphony was in a weakened financial situation. If we had not hired a black musician, it would have meant immediate bankruptcy.” The musician himself said, “I would rather have auditioned like everybody else.”

It was a big story at the time, at least in the little world of music (classical music).

Also in today’s Impromptus, I quote a tweet from Josh Mandel, the Ohio Republican:

We’re not fighting the Nazis anymore, so why do we have these enormous military bases all over Europe?

The mission of our military is to protect the AMERICAN people — not to subsidize European socialism or to prop up the military industrial complex.

My impression, as I say in the column, is that this view is very popular in America, on both right and left. In any event, I would like to offer a link, here in the Corner — to a piece I wrote in 2014: “Ike as Weapon: The use and abuse of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, with its warning about the ‘military-industrial complex.’” Kind of interesting.

In an Impromptus earlier this month, I took note of a Lebanese-American author and artist: Etel Adnan, who had passed away at 96. I quoted part of her New York Times obit:

In addition to her taut yet cheerful paintings, Ms. Adnan also drew praise for her leporellos, books folded like an accordion on which she combined drawings, splashes of color and Arabic words and numbers. After discovering leporellos, which were popular with Japanese artists, she decided to appropriate the format for her own work.

“Yes,” I commented. “Nothing wrong with ‘appropriating.’ Nothing wrong with human connections.”

My friend and colleague Jason Steorts informs me that a “leporello” comes from Leporello, the manservant in Don Giovanni. When he sings the Catalogue Aria, he unfolds a long list of his master’s conquests.

I’ll be damned. An opera, based on a Spanish tale, by an Austrian composer and an Italian-Jewish librettist. A Japanese art enthusiasm, caught by an American of Lebanese background.

The arts leap boundaries, and nobody, of any political color, can stop them (I hope).

Hang on — I should have said that, on top of everything else, Don Giovanni premiered in . . . Prague.

Okay, enough of my Cornering. Today’s Impromptus, again, is here.

U.S.

‘Guard for news crew dies after being shot in attempted robbery’

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In another sign of the Bay Area’s descent, news crews have to hire security guards to keep thugs from robbing their equipment. The guard for one crew that was covering a smash-and-grab robbery, a former cop named Kevin Nishita, was shot and killed while providing security. Heartbreaking and appalling.

Culture

In Germany, You Must Be Fully Vaxxed before Your Death by Assisted Suicide

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A dose of the BioNTech and Pfizer coronavirus vaccination is given in Mainz, Germany. (BioNTech SE 2020/Handout via Reuters)

The ironies of assisted suicide never end. Germany allows suicide on demand — including assistance — as a fundamental constitutional right. But now, you must be vaccinated against COVID before a euthanasia group will help you kill yourself. From the Spectator story:

As European countries battle to limit the spread of the virus, Verein Sterbehilfe – the German Euthanasia Association – has issued a new directive, declaring it will now only help those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the disease. In a statement, the association said:

Euthanasia and the preparatory examination of the voluntary responsibility of our members willing to die require human closeness. Human closeness, however, is a prerequisite and breeding ground for coronavirus transmission. As of today, the 2G rule applies in our association, supplemented by situation-related measures, such as quick tests before encounters in closed rooms.”

‘Close encounters in closed rooms’ – what a fabulous German euphemism for assisted suicide.

Sometimes words even escape me!