U.S. Official: If China Doesn’t Give Us Access to Data, We’ll Never Know COVID-19’s Origin

Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus arrive at Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

In a Wall Street Journal article about the intelligence community’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19, one particular comment from an unnamed U.S. official is so bizarre, the speaker should probably be entered into some sort of concussion protocol.

It underscores the importance of inducing China to share lab records, genomic samples, and other data that could provide further illumination on the origins of the virus, which has killed more than four million people world-wide, current and former officials said.

“It was a deep dive, but you can only go so deep as the situation allows,” one U.S. official said. “If China’s not going to give access to certain data sets, you’re never really going to know.”

If our ability to determine whether COVID-19 pandemic started because of a lab leak requires the Chinese government to give us access to evidence that could confirm a lab leak, then . . . what is the point of having an intelligence community? This is like saying, “If China’s not going to tell us, then we’re never going to know.” The Chinese government is never going to willingly admit to setting off a pandemic that killed at least 4.4 million people worldwide.

Does this official think that if there was a lab leak, the Chinese government would give access to data sets that would confirm there was a leak? This official is familiar with the concept of a “cover-up,” right? The whole reason that President Biden assigned this task to the intelligence community was because China was not providing access to that data and offering minimal cooperation with international efforts to determine the origins of the pandemic. If China was giving the world all the information it needed, there wouldn’t be any need for the intelligence community! The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could handle it.

Speaking of the WHO . . .

Eleven members of an international group led by the World Health Organization said it would soon be “biologically impossible” to get reliable information about animals and people who might have been exposed to the virus in 2019, when reports of the novel coronavirus began to emerge, according to the scientists’ commentary in the journal Nature. They called on researchers and governments to expedite those studies.

The delays are the point! The Chinese government wants the origin to remain a mystery — it’s the best way to protect the reputations of both Chinese-run research labs like the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the country’s wet markets. The best way to ensure that no one ever finds clear answers is to run out the clock.

Meanwhile, months after a WHO team visited Wuhan, we learn from Peter Ben Embarek that Chinese researchers on the team steered the team away from exploring the lab leak theory:

The World Health Organization expert who led a controversial joint probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic says in a documentary airing Thursday night on Danish television that Chinese colleagues influenced the presentation of their findings.

Speaking to Danish documentarians, Peter Ben Embarek said Chinese researchers on the team had pushed back against linking the origins of the pandemic to a research laboratory in Wuhan in a report about the investigation.

“In the beginning, they didn’t want anything about the lab [in the report], because it was impossible, so there was no need to waste time on that,” Ben Embarek said during the interview. “We insisted on including it, because it was part of the whole issue about where the virus originated.”

. . . In further comments during the interview that were not included in the documentary but were incorporated in an account by the Danish channel TV2 on its website, Ben Embarek suggested that there could have been “human error” but that the Chinese political system does not allow authorities to acknowledge that.

“It probably means there’s a human error behind such an event, and they’re not very happy to admit that,” Ben Embarek was quoted as saying. “The whole system focuses a lot on being infallible, and everything must be perfect,” he added. “Somebody could also wish to hide something. Who knows?”

“Somebody could also wish to hide something.” Unthinkable!

Law & the Courts

Taking the ‘Choice’ out of ‘Pro-Choice’

Abortion supporters and pro-life advocates demonstrate on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Washington, D.C., January 24, 2011. (Jim Young/Reuters)

In South Dakota, a federal judge has struck down a statute requiring women to obtain counseling about abortion alternatives prior to having an abortion.

U.S. district judge Karen Schreier, who issued a temporary injunction against the policy, first blocked this same statute ten years ago, after a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood. This time around — as the state sought relief from Schreier’s initial injunction — the judge reiterated her previous decision, asserting that not enough has changed over the intervening decade to alter her prior ruling.

Shreier insisted that the policy “continues to likely infringe on women’s right to free speech secured in the First Amendment, and it presents an undue burden on a woman’s right to access abortion.”

“A pregnancy help center counselor enters an interview with a pregnant woman under the paternalistic assumption that the woman has not yet decided to seek an abortion of her own volition,” Shreier added, “but rather because she is unable to make a decision on her own and is subject to societal pressures.”

South Dakota will appeal the decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Given that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide on the constitutionality of prohibiting abortion before ‘viability,’ we are asking the Eighth Circuit to recognize that the people’s legislators should have the ability to pass pro-life laws,” the office of Republican governor Kristi Noem said in a statement responding to Schreier’s ruling.

Since becoming governor, Noem has backed the South Dakota legislature in its pro-life policy-making goals, the most recent of which was a law prohibiting doctors from knowingly performing an abortion chosen on the basis of an unborn child’s Down-syndrome diagnosis.

Pro-life lawmakers have defended the counseling policy since its initial enactment, arguing that it’s important to ensure that women aren’t obtaining an abortion under duress, especially in the form of coercion from a partner or others — a situation that does occur, though hard statistics on the subject are difficult to find due to the general lack of abortion-reporting requirements.

Planned Parenthood, which filed the initial challenge to South Dakota’s law in 2011, sounded much like Shreier in their legal argument, asserting that counseling requirements are an unconstitutional limitation on a woman’s right to abortion.

Opposition to informed consent is a common refrain from abortion providers and supposedly “pro-choice” advocacy groups, which routinely challenge policies requiring women to obtain counseling or additional information prior to choosing abortion.

Earlier this month, for instance, Planned Parenthood sued the state of Montana over several new pro-life laws, including an informed-consent statute that requires abortion providers to divulge the steps involved in a chemical abortion, possible medical risks and complications, and information about a safe procedure that can reverse the effects of chemical-abortion drugs.

In its lawsuit against Montana, Planned Parenthood described this as “false and medically unsupported information” and said the law amounts to “biased counseling [that] attempts to scare women out of having” an abortion. This argument is not especially surprising coming from an abortion provider that regularly challenges state laws requiring doctors to give women the option of viewing an ultrasound of their unborn child prior to having an abortion.

Abortion advocates would have us believe, on the one hand, that they’re “pro-choice” rather than pro-abortion, insisting that deciding whether or not to have an abortion is one of the most difficult and momentous life choices a woman will ever make. But at the same time, they march into court time and again, arguing that it violates women’s rights to tell them about the details and risks of abortion or to give them a chance to consider alternatives. Without accurate information and with the possibility of coercion, it isn’t much of a choice at all.

Health Care

The Most Vaccine-Hesitant Group? It Might Be Ph.D.s

Amanda Tetlak, a registered nurse, prepares coronavirus vaccine doses at a Florida Department of Health Pinellas County vaccination event in St. Petersburg, Fla., August 6, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

This may be old news to you, but it wasn’t to me. According to a new paper by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, those Americans still unvaccinated may not all be “less educated, ‘brainwashed’ Trump supporters who don’t want to take the vaccine.” Like everything else, it is likely much more complicated than the traditional soundbite would have you believe. H/T Arnold Kling and UnHerd, which posted the chart below:


If this is correct, Kling comments that, “The Ph.D’s who hesitate to take vaccines may be harder to talk out of their stance than the stereotypical Trump supporters.”

Kling also points to this piece about vaccine hesitancy. Worth reading.


Into the Whirlwind, Part Two: Lessons Unlearned

Members of Taliban forces sit at a checkpost in Kabul, Afghanistan August 17, 2021. (Stringers/Reuters)

Editors Note: For Part One, click here.

The impact of the Afghan crisis on Afghanistan is obviously important, but it’s less important than its impact on the U.S. and the structure of American alliances throughout the world. How do those prospects look?

Both have been badly shaken at a time when U.S. power and influence seem to be shrinking in the face of a rising and aggressive China and the entrenched hostility of other serious powers such as Russia. America’s internal crisis of cultural masochism complicates both any U.S. recovery and the crafting of a realistic foreign policy. How can a divided nation in which half of the people regard their country as “the focus of evil in the modern world” (as Reagan described the Soviet Union) pursue a policy to protect its interests and advance its values? It will falter in a dozen ways when it tries to do so.

For now, a crippling defeat at the hands of jihadist terrorists will shortly be celebrated throughout Afghanistan with beheadings, stonings, and the disappearance of women into purdah.

Most Americans will interpret these consequences not as a justification of U.S. imperialism exactly, but as evidence that Western democracy may perhaps be superior to whatever we call the system prevailing under the Taliban. Some Americans, however, will interpret this defeat as inevitable or deserved, and blame the excesses of the Taliban on the U.S. intervention (though they preceded the intervention as well as following it) because . . . well, because America cannot possibly be the right side of any progressive history. Those Americans include the cultural, media, corporate, and political elites and thus the U.S. foreign-policy establishment whose more left-wing members are currently determining post-Afghanistan policy.

With such attitudes, they can’t really feel that America’s defeat in Afghanistan is a bad thing or be overly concerned with its impact on America’s reputation and relationships with allies. They minimize its consequences and even justify them as the costs of adopting a more progressive route to a better world. As James Burnham points out in The Suicide of the West (and the “liberalism” in the quote below is what we now tend to call “progressivism”):

Liberalism permits Western civilization to be reconciled to dissolution . . . not as a final defeat, but as the transition to a new and higher order in which Mankind as a whole joins in a universal civilization that has risen above the parochial distinctions, divisions and discriminations of the past . . .

*    *    *

It’s hard to see that mindset drawing the right lessons from the Afghan expedition. And that’s what we’re seeing in the arguments used by the Biden administration, and especially by Biden himself, to justify the retreat.

To borrow Walter Russell Mead’s terminology for America’s different cultural traditions on foreign policy, it’s a Jeffersonian policy lightly disguised by Jacksonian rhetoric. Biden is defining a disorderly retreat under fire, leaving hostages behind, as tough and necessary realism that will be justified by history. If the Afghans can’t live up to our expectations of them, he suggests, then the hell with them.

The truth is that Biden never much liked them anyway — or their predecessors. He was happy not only to leave the South Vietnamese in the lurch but also to remove the U.S. air support from their armies when they were still fighting bravely and to abandon those who had worked for us to the enemy’s re-education Gulag (the only escape route being the open sea with the real threat of pirates).

After all, how could they be good people if they were on our side? It was a mantra of the Left’s 1960s and 1970s protest movement that those nations and leaders allied to us in the Third World were usually corrupt and oppressive cliques undeserving of U.S. friendship. Maybe that was sometimes true, but we supported them from self-interest and because we thought their totalitarian alternatives were much worse, as in post–1975 Vietnam they proved to be. The Left’s moral strictures didn’t apply to their people anyway — though “the people” were always on the Left’s lips. A Biden apparatchik was recently explaining the Taliban’s victory the other day on the grounds that the Taliban lived among “the people.” But so did the Afghan army and Afghan translators working with the U.S. army. That’s why they’re vulnerable now.

Biden’s indifference to their fate, either ignored or candidly expressed, reflects his early career as a young Democratic pol in a party being pushed leftwards by its post–1968 protest wing. He may have more personal motives too. The Afghans he’s left behind are plainly an embarrassment to him and an obstacle to the success of his Afghan policy. Knowing this, he might well resent the injuries he’s done them. Why won’t they go quietly into the Gulag of history?

*    *    *

Earlier I mentioned the example of de Gaulle’s betrayal of the Harkis who supported the French government in Algeria. (Some were merely murdered; others buried alive.) De Gaulle justified this betrayal (to my mind very inadequately) on the grounds that it would cement the complete separation of France from Algeria that he then sought. Biden’s betrayal has done the opposite. If America’s retreat had occurred in relatively good order without the scenes from Kabul airport, most Americans except the families of the dead and wounded would have forgotten the U.S. intervention in a short time. But Biden has created a link between the U.S. and Afghanistan that won’t disappear, symbolized as it is by the president’s turned back as he walks away to avoid questions about what will happen to all those he has left behind. It’s Biden’s albatross.

And he’s wearing the albatross around his neck internationally as well as domestically. It was not only British members of Parliament, especially Tories, who were strongly repelled by the combination of narrow U.S. self-interest and callousness towards his Afghan allies that shaped Biden’s rhetoric. It rightly seemed dishonorable and unseemly to them. Other allies in and outside NATO, political leaders, and media commentators all expressed “puzzlement” that the famously empathetic Joe Biden seemed oddly indifferent to the fate of Afghans in general and those who fought alongside G.I.s in particular. He attacked them as people who didn’t fight for their country when in fact they died doing so in large numbers. He claimed that they enjoyed the benefits of U.S. military aid which was true for many years but which ceased abruptly when the U.S. started to withdraw. The Taliban inherited some of that military aid and sophisticated equipment when the U.S. abandoned its military bases, and the Afghan army found itself with planes that couldn’t fly and logistical support that wasn’t there. Not to mention that the mere announcement of America’s imminent departure told everyone that the war was lost. And no one in any war wants to be the last man killed.

Nor the next ally betrayed. In talking so contemptuously of his Afghan allies, Biden was warning the NATO countries, in effect, that they might find themselves at the sharp end of very similar jibes. They responded quickly by asking the U.S. to delay the final evacuation of Americans and Afghans until beyond the deadline of August 31 agreed to with the Taliban, since it’s evident that large numbers of both will still be in Kabul at that date. At the G-7 meeting to discuss the delay, however, the Biden administration was adamant. It had washed its hands of the Afghanistan imbroglio and that was that.

*    *    *

In the last week, there’s been a good deal of talk in NATO about the lessons learned from the Afghan retreat. Unfortunately, they look like the wrong lessons — three in particular:

  1. Trump and Biden between them show that Europe can’t trust America to help defend it. That view reflects more than anything else the slightly snobbish illusion which most Europeans had swallowed that Biden and the Democrats were more solid allies than Trump’s isolationist Republicans. The U.K. government still seems to be in the grip of this fantasy. In fact, despite all his off-the-cuff insults and impulsive absurdities, Trump had strengthened NATO, browbeating them into spending more on defense, supplying arms to Ukraine, deploying troops in Poland and the Baltic states, fostering Poland’s Three Seas Initiative, and formulating a NATO doctrine in his Warsaw address that rested on cooperation between nation-states strengthened by national interests and loyalties. Trump stood for “America First.” Biden, in his justification for his Afghan retreat, stands for “America First — and the Rest Nowhere.” His isolationism is that of social philosopher who thinks his country is a bad influence on others. But how reliable an ally is an America that hates itself as a deeply racist country and inevitably sees countries such as Britain and France as other cases of “white supremacy?”
  2. Europe must now develop its own “strategic autonomy” in order to defend itself in a world without an American ally. In reality, Europe’s strategic autonomy is a threat to Europe’s security because it undermines NATO — which is the sole real provider of European security — by diverting resources from the transatlantic alliance without any prospect of replacing it. It’s an argument that the EU should sacrifice a real alliance today, albeit one with major problems, in the hope of constructing a fantasy one in the distant future. Even if this were a practical possibility, what NATO needs is not a European competitor to Uncle Sam but the end of Europe as a free rider on him. That dependency is a justified source of American resentment which Biden-style masochistic isolationists exploit.
  3. In the U.K., “Hard Remainers” were quick to argue that Britain must now replace its illusory special relationship with the U.S. by renegotiating it post-Brexit relationship with the EU to deepen mutual defense ties. There is certainly a case for great Anglo-French military cooperation, ideally within NATO. But anyone peddling this argument must come to terms with the changing character of Germany. Whatever criticisms we may have of the U.S. under Biden, Germany under Merkel has outdone them in policies of national selfishness. Germany’s national character is now a blend of anti-Americanism, pro-business commercialism, and pacifism. Its foreign policy is to sell its industrial goods to China and Iran, to follow an “economic Rapallo” policy with Russia built on buying its energy, to shape the EU as its own Zollverein through the Euro, and to sacrifice the interests of its EU partners when they conflict with Germany’s interests in, for instance, the Nord Stream 2. This drift of German policy is likely to aggravate tensions within the EU which — since Europe can only be unified under U.S. protection — may lead to the further disintegration of the EU and perhaps NATO.

All in all, in the light of these trends and of the Afghan defeat, we are very likely looking at the re-distribution of economic, political, and military power (and therefore of alliances) on a large scale. This is too large a topic to cover in appropriate depth here, but my instinct is that Germany, Russia, and China will form the core of an alliance of the “Central Powers” of the world-island while the U.S., India, Japan, and the Anglosphere develop a coalition of democratic countries on the periphery. A new game of diplomacy, modeled on this idea, might give us hours of endless fun. And anxiety.

*    *    *

If Burnham’s insight is one key to playing this game of geopolitics well — see his Struggle for the World as a primer — who should be our guide on how the U.S. and the West should deal with those nations which now and then invite our well-intentioned intervention — sometimes by attacking us? When Blair and Bush were launching the Iraq war, they talked up the idea of “nation-building” as a moral justification for running another people’s country by proxy. This was an essentially progressive idea; conservatives have tended to respond to it by pointing out that nation-building is a misnomer for the deconstruction and reconstruction of a nation. It’s a recipe for a long cultural civil war in which one side is often quite ignorant about the habits, customs, beliefs, and tastes of the country it imagines itself to be governing until its progressive house of cards collapses.

There’s quite a distinguished roster of conservatives — economists, political theorists, diplomats, and novelists — who have explored the tragedies and absurdities growing out of this conflict. The most fertile imagination to be inspired by this theme is England’s brilliant satirical novelist, Evelyn Waugh, who in Scoop and Black Mischief describes the comic and horrible misunderstandings that flourish when progress is imposed on more rooted societies. Others who have developed important critiques of the same phenomenon include V. S. and Shiva Naipaul, the Anglo-Hungarian economist Lord Peter Bauer, the American cultural anthropologist Grace Goodell, William Easterly, and many more.

They have now been joined by the Portuguese ex-diplomat-turned-writer, Bruno Macaes, who, writing in the London Spectator, noticed sharp contrasts between Afghanistan collapsing under the weight of aid and America’s good intentions and the small statelet of Somaliland that flourishes freely and economically like the green bay tree in diplomatic isolation with little or no Western aid. Macaes speculates that it’s Somaliland’s lack of outside assistance that explains its success: The region has built that success on a political model rooted in its old traditions such as an Upper House of Parliament composed of tribal elders. He continues like a blend of Bauer and Waugh:

It is easy to imagine what would happen if Western experts were put in charge. The parliament would be reformed and the upper house abolished. The fabric of small businesses covering every corner of Hargeisa would be replaced by local cronies fed by vast transfers of Western funds. Local elites would be replaced by the local version of Ashraf Ghani, the celebrated author of “Fixing Failed States”, an academic brought from an obscure American university to educate his fellow citizens in the Western ways. And the experiment would end as badly as you can imagine.

Well, as badly as Afghanistan has done.

Macaes is not arguing that the West should refuse all help to either country, merely that it should be used to strengthen their traditional institutions rather than seeking to replace them wholesale. How we project our influence and power in such countries obviously needs a unique intellectual blend of qualities: sharp and realistic social observation, intellectual humility in the face of local knowledge, and yet moral self-confidence in our own system, especially in its conservative elements. Afghanistan was a case of getting it wrong — it’s handed over to China almost half the known world’s reserves of lithium. Given what we know of how China treats the peoples and governments of its economic colonies, however, Beijing will get it wrong soon, too. Its system is a more exaggerated form of progressive interventionism than anything concocted in the Ivy League. We’ve outgrown that.

Fiscal Policy

Seeking a Middle Ground on the Child Tax Credit

A woman reads a book to her children in Budapest, Hungary, January 28, 2020. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Under the Democrats’ COVID bill, most American parents will be receiving $3,000 per child this year, or $3,600 for kids under six. The money started going out last month; it’s paid in a combination of regular installments and a lump sum at tax time. And there’s a push to extend these payments through the massive bill the party is working on through the reconciliation process, with an eye toward making them a permanent feature of the tax code.

It’s a big change from the Republicans’ 2017 tax law, under which the child tax credit maxed out at $2,000, was paid only once a year, and was not fully “refundable.” Non-working parents didn’t get it at all, and it slowly “phased in” once parents made more than $2,500. The new amount is much higher, and the phase-in — designed to make sure the credit encourages work — is gone.

As I’ve noted many times in the past, these kinds of policies deeply divide the Right. Some see them as a pro-family way to help parents and reduce poverty; some think they’re a worthy counterbalance to some ways that the tax system discriminates against parents; and some worry that these payments, especially when they don’t come with work requirements, can discourage employment, bringing back “welfare as we knew it.” I myself have suggested a cautious approach to expanding the credit.

This week, the Bipartisan Policy Project has a new report that tries to thread the needle a bit.

Under the group’s proposal, the credit would rise to $2,200 (or at least rise relative to the pre-COVID status quo), but only $1,200 of that would be fully refundable; to get the full amount, parents would have to work. For kids under six, both numbers would increase $600. And to control costs, the credit would start “phasing out” earlier for wealthier parents: The phaseout would begin at $150,000 for single parents and $200,000 for couples, rather than $200,000 and $400,000 under the 2017 law. Meanwhile, the proposal would also beef up the earned-income tax credit to encourage work, and take more enforcement measures to stop credits from being given out improperly.

The earlier phaseout would hit the politically powerful upper-middle class, and the fact that the phaseout threshold doesn’t double for couples would impose a marriage penalty. (Two single parents earning $150,000 apiece would get the full credit, but they’d be subject to the phase-out if they married.) More broadly, there’s a tension between trying to target money at poverty reduction, versus trying to make things easier for parents across the board, and this proposal favors the former more than the status quo does.

Overall, though, this is a middle ground worth considering. Also worth checking out: Scott Winship on alternatives to no-strings-attached child allowances.


Under Terry McAuliffe, You Are the Nail and He Is the Hammer


Many liberals — such as Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s regulatory czar — used to say it was much better for the state to reward people for good behavior than to punish them for what you didn’t like. Giving someone a gift card if they get vaccinated is one example.

But today’s progressives are increasingly ripping off their masks and revealing their authoritarian bent.

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for Virginia governor, has just announced he wants “every Virginia employer to require all eligible employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.” The former fundraiser bagman for Bill and Hillary Clinton added that, “Until we make it hard for people to get on planes or go to movie theaters, people just aren’t going to do it.”

Shaun Kenney, a former chair of the Board of Supervisors in Virginia’s Fluvanna County, is appalled. Ever since the beginning of COVID, he told National Review, people have been hit with prolonged and painful economic shutdowns that “treat Virginians as subjects rather than citizens; as children rather than adults.” McAuliffe’s statements demonstrate things will only get worse if he returns to the governor’s mansion after elections this November.

“Government after all is force — and if you give this boy McAuliffe a hammer? You will be treated as a nail,” Kenney concludes.


Charlie Watts, R.I.P.

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts during a concert on the band’s “Latin America Ole Tour” in Santiago, Chile, Chile, in 2016. (Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters)

When I was in the sixth grade of Iroquois Middle School in Irondequoit, N.Y., The Beatles broke up. There ensued a discussion of which rock group would replace them as kings of the hill. Everyone, especially the girls, insisted it would be the Monkees, then at the peak of their fame. I said it would be the Rolling Stones.

The Rolling Stones marketed themselves in their early years as the group of the dark side, which seems odd now considering how derivative their trappings were. For years they imitated the Beatles’s inessentials. The Beatles would record a song with strings; so would they. The Beatles went to India; they cut a single with sitars. The Beatles had a trippy album cover, so did they. It was embarrassing. Lead singer Mick Jagger fancied himself to be pansexual. But there is a photo of him sitting in some club booth next to David Bowie, an authentic no there there weirdo. Jagger looks baffled.

The one time they touched the third rail was at Altamont when the Hell’s Angels, who were providing security, killed a boisterous fan. WFB wrote about this at the end of Cruising Speed, after seeing Gimme Shelter, the movie about the event. Their music was a closed book to him, but he was interesting in the crime as a portent.

Yet the Rolling Stones marched on and on and on, not as Beatles wanna-bes or sympathizers with the devil, but as a roots-rock band avant la lettre: Chicago blues sped up, with an occasional dash of country. The Beatles, musically more inventive, were all over the place. The Rolling Stones stuck to the strike zone.

In their last decades they became their own tribute band; even strike zones can be confining. But in the last few years, they released one good album, Blue and Lonesome, a collection of lesser-known Chicago blues songs, some, their PR material claimed, recorded in one take. At the beginning of COVID they had their first number-one hit in ages with the fortuitously timed track, “Living In a Ghost Town.”

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards still survive, but drummer Charlie Watts was the Maytag washing machine of the group, always working, never broken. The obits said he studied the drumming of jazz bands, especially Duke Ellington’s. I am not percussion-savvy enough to tell that, but I am musically savvy enough — which is to say, sentient — to tell that he kept his bandmates always moving along. The first British invasion ended with the Battle of New Orleans. With Watts’s passing the second comes to a close. Dead at 80, R.I.P.

Politics & Policy

The Strangely Furious, Inaccurate Denunciation of Moulton and Meijer

Congressman Seth Moulton, D., Mass., speaks in Bow, N.H., July 28, 2018. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Democratic Representative Seth Moulton and Republican Representative Peter Meijer found a way to get to Kabul International Airport in the past few days. According to the two congressmen, they visited in secret – and against U.S. government restrictions – to reduce risks and impact on the mission.

And they came back with a somewhat surprising conclusion – that as much as they wanted the U.S. to leave the country on its own terms, and disregard any Taliban-imposed deadlines, the best and safest option appears to be maximizing cooperation with the Taliban, at least for now.

Washington should be ashamed of the position we put our service members in, but they represent the best in America. These men and women have been run ragged and are still running strong. Their empathy and dedication to duty are truly inspiring.

We came into this visit wanting, like most veterans, to push the president to extend the August 31st deadline. After talking with commanders on the ground and seeing the situation here, it is obvious that because we started the evacuation so late, that no matter what we do, we won’t get everyone out on time, even by September 11. Sadly and frustratingly, getting our people out depends on maintaining the current, bizarre relationship with the Taliban.

The congressmen said they departed Kabul “in a plane that was not full, in a seat designated for crew so that we didn’t take a seat from someone else.”

I can’t bring myself to completely cheer the two congressmen; they did disregard restrictions imposed for safety, and their presence had to have disrupted the regular operations of U.S. personnel, at least a little bit. It’s good that the two men tried to minimize how their visit would impact the ongoing evacuation work, but there’s just no way that two members of Congress can go to the middle of the tensest and arguably most treacherous spot in the world and not tie up some U.S. resources.

But it appears the congressmen went with the right motives and best intentions. They wanted to see the situation at the airport for themselves, to make sure the administration wasn’t spinning them with happy talk. Congressional oversight of the executive branch doesn’t occur only when the president, Pentagon, or State Department find it convenient. Americans have a lot of people who have earned their ire in recent days, but I don’t think these two men belong anywhere near the top of the list.

I find Phil Mudd’s furious full-throated denunciation of the two congressmen on CNN this morning off-base and bizarrely over-the-top. Mudd, the former deputy director of the CIA’s National Counterterrorism Center, called the congressmen “reprehensible… they want to bypass Disneyland and take an Instagram trip to Afghanistan because they want some eye candy for a bunch of constituents?” Mudd asserts, without evidence and despite the account of the congressmen, that two Afghans will be left behind because of Moulton and Meijer. “What happens to the two refugees who didn’t get those seats?”

It’s a similar complaint from some unnamed senior administration official in the Washington Post:

“It’s as moronic as it is selfish,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide a frank assessment of their trip. “They’re taking seats away from Americans and at-risk Afghans — while putting our diplomats and service members at greater risk — so they can have a moment in front of the cameras.”

But the congressmen didn’t take seats away from Americans and at-risk Afghans, it’s hard to see how their presence put our diplomats and service members at greater risk – everybody’s at really high risk already!  – and the two congressmen weren’t in front of the cameras in Kabul.

And no Speaker of the House who met with Bashir Assad during the Iraq War, over objections from the administration, should be giving these guys any grief about checking out the U.S. evacuation effort. (Also note that Mike Thompson is still in Congress; he’s one of the “Baghdad Three” who traveled to Iraq right before the start of the war on a trip financed by the Iraqi intelligence agency.)

The situation in Afghanistan is a colossal disaster, and it feels an awful lot like a lot of people who don’t want the administration to be blamed are doing everything they can to refocus the country’s ire on two members of Congress who went over there to see how bad it was with their own eyes.


Economy & Business

The Democrats Know Extending Unemployment Benefits Is a Bad Idea

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy as Vice President Kamala Harris stands by in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 10, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Matt Weidinger notes that the federal unemployment benefit extension will end on Labor Day — and that, despite this termination representing a “benefits cliff” that is “almost six times “steeper” than the next-steepest such cliff in American history,” Democrats are oddly silent about it.

Weidinger attributes this silence to two things. First, that “the cliff was designed by Democrats” as a cynical ploy to “improve the odds that Congress will approve another extension.” Second, that “most red states” have opted out, and thereby caused a situation in which “over 80 percent of those receiving major federal benefits were in states led by a Democratic governor.” Because Democrats would prefer the public not to know any of this, Weidinger suggests, “it is Democrats who are nixing any chance of another extension.”

Weidinger is, of course, correct. But there is something else going on here, I suspect: Namely, that whatever they might say in public, Democrats know that the policy is a drag. President Biden has insisted for months that extending unemployment benefits was not preventing people from returning to work and was not contributing to the labor shortage. In May, Biden said that he didn’t “see much evidence” of a link between paying people to stay at home and people staying at home. In June, Biden told reporters that the problem of people staying at home was real, but that there was a conveniently simple solution. “I remember you were asking me,” he said. “‘Guess what? Employers can’t find workers’ I said, ‘Pay them more!'” Now, with only 39 percent of Americans approving of his “handling of the economy,” Biden has said he is fine with the cutoff, while his allies in the Senate are waxing lyrical about the “grit and ingenuity of the American people.”

Funny, that.




Asian Americans Disprove CRT

(Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Getty Images)

According to the illiberal race-hustlers among us, America is a thoroughly racist nation where you only succeed if (and because) you are white. Therefore, we need government to coercively redistribute wealth and allocate important positions by racial quotas. Only through such measures can we attain “equity.”

That theory collapses when examined with any care. A person’s race or ancestry has nothing to do with his success or failure in life. In today’s Martin Center article, Kenny Xu demolishes critical race theory by pointing out that Asian Americans have enjoyed great success in this country, despite not being “white” and often overcoming great obstacles.

Xu writes, “Along nearly every measurable life outcome, Asian Americans outperform whites. Asian Americans have the highest per capita incomelowest per capita crime rates, and highest rates of postsecondary achievement. Despite making up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, Asian Americans account for a whopping 60 percent of top scores on the SAT. Whites, despite making up more than half of the country’s population, only account for 33 percent. America is infected by a peculiar strain of white supremacy indeed if it allows for Asian Americans to beat whites on so many different metrics.”

Being white is not necessary for success in the U.S., as many Asians (as well as people of many other races and nationalities) demonstrate.

What “works” for Asians? Education, foresight, productivity.

Xu continues, “No one denies the fact of slavery, discrimination, or racism; Asians have endured plenty of their own in this country. But they also committed to believing in the highest ideals that our country was founded upon, including the idea that anyone could apply themselves and improve their lot in life. They chose to raise their children to value hard work, study diligently, and commit to excellence. Because of that choice, Asian Americans now outperform everyone, including whites, in a nation that is allegedly based upon white domination.”

As was the case with the Jews a century ago, Asians are now “too successful” and, for that reason, many colleges and universities now have de facto caps on the number of Asian students they admit.

Xu concludes that we should junk CRT and focus on allowing everyone to succeed based on his accomplishments. Oh, but that would wipe out lots of “diversity” jobs and deprive Democrats of much of their rhetoric.

PC Culture

Gene Weingarten Deserves Our Pity, Not Our Scorn

The Washington Post Company headquarters in Washington, March 30, 2012 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

David’s piece on the home page rightly points out that the backlash against humor columnist Gene Weingarten — for dissing all Indian food in a sweeping, misinformed, and rather silly statement — was more than a little overheated.

The dust-up followed a familiar sequence. Weingarten wrote something insensitive. He was called a racist. He held his ground. Then he didn’t. He apologized.

Read David’s piece for the details. But even though Padma Lakshmi likened the writer to a “colonizer,” it’s safe to assume that a guy who praised India’s vast contributions to civilized society in the same breath as he knocked its cuisine probably isn’t a raging racist.

What’s more demonstrable is that Mr. Weingarten simply has terrible taste — for which there’s no accounting, I realize, except here. I feel bad for the man. His buds are burnt, his palate’s parched, his life must have fewer dimensions than an A-ha video. He’s gone tongue-blind if he can’t find something to appreciate from India’s rich culinary canon.

His pre-apology follow-up tweet, later deleted, confirms it:

Took a lot of blowback for my dislike of Indian food in today’s column so tonight I went to Rasika, DC’s best Indian restaurant. Food was beautifully prepared yet still swimming with the herbs & spices I most despise. I take nothing back.

That’s one of the best restaurants anywhere. Not opinion. Fact. (The owner is staging an intervention, as it happens). You give this guy Shakespeare, and he calls it Goodnight Moon.

Not always one for subtlety, Preet Bharara handled this best:

Health Care

‘Houseless’ Exempted from Oregon Outdoor Mask Mandate


Oregon Governor Kate Brown is requiring everyone — vaccinated and un alike — to wear masks outside, even though the chance of transmission while outdoors is minuscule. But guess which cadre is exempt from the rules that apply to almost everyone else? “Persons experiencing houselessness.” From the directive:

The rule aligns with the exceptions outlined in the recent statewide indoor mask requirements, and does not apply to:

  • Children under 5 years old;

  • Individuals who are actively eating, drinking, or sleeping — as well as individuals living outdoors, such as persons experiencing houselessness;

  • Persons playing or practicing competitive sports, or engaged in an activity in which it is not feasible to wear a mask — such as swimming;

  • Individuals delivering a speech or performing — such as with outdoor music or theater;

Of course! The USA has become a Salvador Dali painting.

Law & the Courts

Andrew Cuomo Lets a Democrat’s Terrorist Father Out of Jail

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in New York City, May 10, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/Pool via Reuters)

Andrew Cuomo managed one last outrage on his way out the door before his resignation became effective at midnight on Monday: He granted clemency to David Gilbert, along with three other murderers.

Gilbert and Kathy Boudin were the getaway drivers for the 1981 Brink’s armored-car heist that killed Brink’s guard Peter Paige and police officers Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady, who collectively left behind three widows and six fatherless children, the youngest six months of age. (Three others were wounded.) Gilbert claims that he never intended for anyone to get hurt, and this claim is echoed today by the influential son he had with Kathy Boudin, San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin, who said yesterday that Gilbert “never intended harm.”

This was always nonsense. The Brink’s robbery was not just a crime; it was carried out by members of a pair of left-wing domestic-terrorist groups, the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army. The people Gilbert and Boudin were driving came armed with M-16s, shotguns, and body armor. Their weapons were powerful enough to blow a huge hole in the reinforced windshield of the armored car:

The killers, who also included Tupac Shakur’s stepfather, waited in ambush for the armored car and gunned down the two Nyack police officers at a roadblock. Gilbert and Boudin were selected as the drivers rather than the robbers simply because they were white, and the gang assumed that they’d be less likely to be stopped by police looking for black suspects. At trial, far from showing remorse, Gilbert and his co-defendants “spent the trial claiming they were political prisoners and freedom fighters and disrupted what they deemed illegitimate proceedings by raising their fists and shouting, ‘Free the land!’” The fact that Gilbert was unarmed does not change the essential fact that he participated in an act of political terrorism.

This was not a nonviolent group in general:

The left-wing terror group orchestrated a series of bombings in the 1970s. The group was allegedly behind the 1970 firebombing of the home of a New York Supreme Court justice who was set to preside over a trial of members of the Black Panthers. Three Weather Underground members died later that year while making bombs that they hoped to detonate at a social event held at Fort Dix, an Army base in New Jersey. Kathy Boudin was helping make the bombs but escaped unharmed after the explosion.

The Weather Underground bombed the Capitol in 1971, the Pentagon in 1972 (on Ho Chi Minh’s birthday), and the State Department headquarters in 1975. Gilbert was, quite rightly, sentenced to 75 years to life.

Somehow, though, these domestic terrorists have managed to get the radical-chic treatment from supposedly respectable Democratic politicians and academia. One of Gilbert’s co-defendants, Judith Clark, was set free by Cuomo in 2019. Kathy Boudin was released in 2003 after two decades in prison and was hired to teach at Columbia University. Bernardine Dohrn, formerly of the FBI’s Most Wanted List, served another seven months in 1982 for refusing to cooperate with the Brink’s grand jury. When she got out, she settled down with her husband, Bill Ayers, another unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist. “I don’t regret setting bombs, I feel we didn’t do enough,” Ayers told the New York Times in an interview published the morning of September 11, 2001. Ayers and Dohrn took custody of Chesa Boudin, then a toddler, and raised him in their home. Dohrn got a gig at Northwestern Law; Ayers became a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He later received thousands of dollars in education-grant money routed to him by his friend Barack Obama. Obama launched his first political fundraiser in the house where Ayers and Dohrn were raising Chesa Boudin but claimed that he had no idea who they were.

Why do Democrats and liberal academia keep doing this sort of thing? Bill Clinton, for example, pardoned Puerto Rican terrorists. Sixties radicals, even those with undeniable blood on their hands, have all too often been treated sentimentally not only by progressive activists but by mainstream Democrats of Cuomo’s ilk.

There is no traditional counterpart to this on the right, no comparable history of pardoning abortion-clinic bombers, giving professorships to white-nationalist militia leaders, or having cocktail-party shindigs with arsonists. Donald Trump’s worst pardons were typically government officials or soldiers. Even efforts by some on the MAGA right to make a cause celebre of the Capitol rioters or Kyle Rittenhouse have not gained the kind of support from conservative institutions or mainstream Republican politicians that leftist terrorists and rioters have enjoyed for decades.

Letting Gilbert out of jail is one last scandal. It is not at all out of character for Cuomo or his party.


Charlie Watts, R.I.P.

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts during a concert on the band’s “Latin America Ole Tour” in Santiago, Chile, Chile, in 2016. (Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters)

Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones, died today at age 80. Watts had been performing with the band up to the pandemic (he appeared, drumming without drums, on last April’s televised “Together at Home” concert) and had been planning to resume touring until an illness announced earlier this month.

Watts, like his contemporary Ringo Starr, was a drummer’s drummer, content to lay down the foundation of the band’s music rather than jump into the limelight with drum solos or flashy displays. There were a very few big Stones songs such as “Get Off of My Cloud” where Watts took the foreground, but more typically, in songs such as “Paint it Black,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” or “Street Fighting Man,” he would be front and center only for a few seconds of the song, then slide underneath. Unlike Ringo, he never stepped out from behind the drum kit to sing, act, or write songs. Yet he was essential to the sound and longstanding continuity of what Mick Jagger immodestly often described as “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.” He laid down the powerful beats of “Street Fighting Man” on an antique toy drum kit.

Strong, wiry, serious, reserved, and nattily dressed, Watts was in many ways the most quintessential Englishman in the band. A classic Watts story:

One night in Amsterdam in the 1980s, when Richards was celebrating his marriage, he and Jagger stayed up most of the night drinking. At 5 a.m., Jagger called Mr. Watts’s hotel room, according to Richards’s autobiography, and said, “Where’s my drummer?” “About twenty minutes later,” Richards went on, “there was a knock at the door. There was Charlie Watts, Savile Row suit, perfectly dressed, tie, shaved. . . . I opened the door and he didn’t even look at me, he walked straight past me, got hold of Mick and said, ‘Never call me your drummer again.’ Then he hauled him up by the lapels . . . and gave him a right hook. Mick fell back onto a silver platter of smoked salmon on the table and began to slide towards the open window and the canal below it. . . . [I] caught Mick just before he slid into the Amsterdam canal.”

One of the small tragedies of the pandemic’s timing is that a whole generation of aging rockers may be leaving the stage in the next few years having been sidelined when they might have had the chance to take a final curtain call. But after six decades keeping the Rolling Stones rolling, the musical legacy of Charlie Watts is more than secure. R.I.P.

National Security & Defense

Training Error


James Stavridis:

In retrospect, we trained the wrong kind of army for Afghanistan. America and the ISAF tried desperately to use the U.S. army as the model, and it was the wrong approach. The U.S. way of war is very resource-rich: exquisite satellite-based intelligence; high-end technology with precision guided firing; superb air cover (manned and drone) with nearly instantaneous response times; crisp and clear command and control that provided over-the-horizon connectivity; “on time” logistic systems that allowed fuel, food and ammunition to support combat operations; and “golden hour” medical evacuation to sophisticated hospitals. The Taliban had none of that, and while the U.S. was side-by-side with the Afghans, those local partners could fight — by relying on American support.

Think of the American revolution as an analogy: The U.S. and ISAF trained up an army of British redcoats, but what was really needed were more minutemen. . . .

The whole article is worth reading.

Economy & Business

The Three Percent Non-Solution


The Fed is officially committed to achieving an average inflation rate of 2 percent. Some economists say the target should be raised to 3. George Selgin considers the arguments for it and says no.

David Beckworth and I considered a similar idea and came to the same conclusion in NR a few years ago.


Trudeau’s Patronizing Brand of Feminism

Justin Trudeau gestures to a crowd in front of his campaign bus in Cornwall, Prince Edward Island, Canada, August 22, 2021. (John Morris/Reuters)

In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Rondi Adamson humorously wrote about Justin Trudeau’s penchant for gendering innocuous phrases, in this case turning “recession” into “she-cession.” Not for the first time, Trudeau appears to think that such contorted language wins women to his side as they fawn over his allyship. Instead, he reveals a fraternity-grade intellect, an “if I pretend I’m feminist, maybe she’ll sleep with me” mentality that is unbecoming an undergrad, let alone the prime minister of Canada.

Adamson writes:

Shortly after calling a federal election for Sept. 20, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to “counter the she-cession and turn it into a she-covery.” Excuse me while I she-gurgitate. He went on to criticize the Conservative Party, saying that they do not talk of such things “in their lengthy platform.” I guess they’re she-historic.

This isn’t the first time Mr. Trudeau has used “she-cession,” and he is always pleased with himself when he says it. Given that he made these comments and called the election against the backdrop of the impending she-pression in Afghanistan, an embarrassed expression might have been more appropriate.

Mr. Trudeau likes to use language creatively to burnish his feminist credentials. In 2018 he appeared at a town hall in Edmonton, Alberta, and a woman in the audience used the word “mankind” in her question. Mr. Trudeau interrupted her and mansplained: “We like to use ‘people-kind.’ ” After being mocked for it, Mr. Trudeau said he was joking.

You can read the rest of her wonderfully caustic piece here.

National Security & Defense

Joe Biden Has Abandoned the Military Interpreters and Close U.S. Allies He Vowed to Help In June

U.S. soldiers and marines assist with security at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 19, 2021. (Staff Sergeant Victor Mancilla/U.S. Marine Corps)

If he wishes, President Biden can pretend that everything is going to plan and that what we are seeing on our screens is a triumph. But it’s not, and in no area is this as obvious as his betrayal of the “former Afghan military interpreters or other close U.S. allies” he once flatly promised he would help.

Today, the New York Times reports that:

On Monday, a State Department official said that some former Afghan military interpreters or other close U.S. allies, a designated priority group for evacuations, were being turned away from the airport by American officials in order to give priority to U.S. passport and Green Card holders in recent days. The official was not authorized to brief the press, and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official’s account was supported by interviews with Afghans who have approached the airport in recent days, and with American veterans’ groups and other organizations that have tried to organize evacuations for interpreters and other Afghans at risk from the Taliban.

Clearly, this was not the expectation, as Joe Biden made clear back in June:

The Biden administration will evacuate thousands of Afghan interpreters as the U.S. military withdraws from the country, with planning speeding up this week as Afghan leaders visit the White House and the Pentagon.

“We’ve already begun the process,” said President Joe Biden, speaking with reporters outside the White House on June 24. “Those who helped us are not going to be left behind.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week that about 18,000 people have expressed interest in using the Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans to come to the United States as Afghanistan has grown more violent with Taliban gains.

“The idea here is to be able to facilitate their departure from Afghanistan to another location so that they can complete the SIV process,” Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby said June 24, adding that it is not known how many could come to the United States.


President Biden Is Still Making Things Worse in Afghanistan

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on evacuation efforts and the ongoing situation in Afghanistan during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 20, 2021. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters)

From the moment the Afghanistan debacle began to dominate the news, President Biden has steadfastly refused to distinguish between those who are opposed to the Unites States withdrawing troops from the country per se, and those who believe that the White House has badly botched the withdrawal. “How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight?” he asked last week.

This question is non-responsive to the charge at hand, which is why an American public that overwhelmingly thinks we should get out is punishing Biden in the polls nevertheless. Americans want to leave, it seems. But they don’t want to leave like this. And Biden, they believe, is firmly in charge of the this.

Has the president grasped this yet?

By all accounts, Biden hopes that, over time, the details of the withdrawal will fade in voters’ memories, while the fact of the withdrawal will pay political dividends. And maybe he’s right to think that! The thing is, though, he has to get there first — and, as of today, he is nowhere near doing that.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Kabul, Biden hosted two disastrous press conferences, insisted repeatedly on returning to his vacation, and embarrassed and infuriated his closest international allies by being either completely absent or unacceptably tardy. And he’s still going. Today, the White House announced that the president remains determined to remove all troops by August 31st — even if Americans are still stranded, which, if the math is to be believed, they probably will be. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, the military has already started “reducing troop presence” — slap bang in the middle of a frantic, ongoing, and artificially time-limited evacuation drive — while the U.S. Embassy issues and then rescinds last call alerts for U.S. citizens and the Taliban begins blocking Americans from reaching the airport.

In the interests of accuracy, it may be time now to update the tense. Biden hasn’t merely “botched” the withdrawal. As an active matter, he’s still botching it.

Politics & Policy

The Dreadful Victim-Blaming Spin, Lurking Just Around the Corner

U.S. service members provide assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021. (Sergeant Victor Mancilla/USMC/Handout via Reuters)

In response to A Question for Team Biden: Which Americans Currently in Afghanistan ‘Want’ to Stay There?

Jack, the worst-case scenario is that we’re seeing preemptive spin for when the Biden administration chooses to leave Americans in Afghanistan after August 31. Based on the administration’s gaslighting — Politico’s words, not just mine! – it seems that the Biden team, having found themselves in a situation with no good options and terrified of a bigger fight with the Taliban, is prepared to claim, “we evacuated every American who wanted to get out, the ones who didn’t come to the airport by August 31 clearly wanted to stay.”


Can Abortion Advocates Save Newsom?

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference at Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, Los Angeles, Calif., June 15, 2021. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Politico reports that California governor Gavin Newsom’s allies in the abortion-rights movement are going all-in on rescuing him in his recall election, and they’re hopeful that focusing on “abortion access” will help to save him:

Fearful of widespread voter apathy, Democrats and their allies are hammering the message that a GOP governor could veto abortion-rights laws, cut funding for clinics and appoint anti-abortion agency officials, judges and senators in a state that’s long been at the forefront of making it accessible to terminate a pregnancy.

Abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL, as well as the newly formed Women Against the Recall, are phone banking, knocking on doors, posting digital ads and social media messages and holding events with Newsom and other lawmakers as ballots are mailed to voters over the next few weeks ahead of the Sept. 14 recall election.

“As much as people in California support these rights, you can see by the polls that we’ve become a little complacent about what that actually means,” Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said in a livestreamed conversation Wednesday night that was part of the organization’s anti-recall campaign.

Thus far, Planned Parenthood has contributed more than $12,000 to Newsom’s campaign, and NARAL Pro-Choice America has thrown in $10,000. Newsom appears to be more than happy to accept their help and has thrown himself headlong into the strategy: Last week he appeared at an event with Planned Parenthood and portrayed himself as a heroic defender of “reproductive rights.” This strategy might be effective especially paired with the recent negative coverage Newsom’s opponent, conservative talk-show host Larry Elder, has received, including for his opposition to Roe v. Wade.

If progressives in California, where public colleges and universities are required by state law to provide chemical-abortion pills to “pregnant persons,” are trying to help Newsom’s effort by fear-mongering about restricted “abortion access,” the governor must really be in trouble.

Economy & Business

Spending More Money Won’t Solve Unemployment

People line up for assistance with their unemployment claims in Frankfort, Ky., June 18, 2020. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

The unemployment rate gets most of the attention in conversations on employment, but that’s at 5.4 percent right now, which isn’t a cause for alarm. The government keeps many other statistics on employment too. The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed persons by the number of people in the labor force. That first component, the number of unemployed persons, is a statistic in its own right, and we can use it to get a different perspective on unemployment by comparing it with the number of job openings.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has kept count of the number of job openings in the U.S. every month since 2000. It’s never been higher than it is right now. There are currently 10.1 million vacant jobs in the United States. There are 8.7 million unemployed persons. That means that if we could match up each unemployed person to an open job, we could employ all of them and have 1.4 million jobs left over.

Of course, it’s not that easy. Everyone can’t do every job, and there’s lots of mismatch between what’s available and what people can do. The Wall Street Journal reports that the biggest gap between vacancies and hiring is in the service sector, which still has not recovered from the pandemic. Of the 10.1 million open jobs, 8 million are in the service sector, yet there were only 659,000 service-sector hirings in July, so the gap will persist for quite some time.

Narrowing in to specific industries, the Journal reports that industries such as education, mining and logging, real estate, finance and insurance, and construction have already pretty much recovered to pre-pandemic job levels. The big gaps still exist in leisure and hospitality, health and social assistance, retail, and professional services.

You might think they’re just lagging behind a little, and they just need some more time to catch up. That may be true, but there was one other detail from the Journal that complicates the story. “By June 2021, economic output had returned to prepandemic levels, but employers had 6.6 million fewer jobs on payrolls,” the piece says. In other words, it now takes 6.6 million fewer workers for the U.S. economy to produce the same amount of stuff as it did before the pandemic.

That’s a huge productivity gain! Businesses were probably able to use the pandemic, intentionally or unintentionally, as a reason to eliminate slack in their operations. They also probably adopted some practices meant to be temporary pandemic measures that they will continue because they were happy with the results. Think of businesses that reduced their office space and are allowing more remote work, for example.

From the labor side of things, each worker is now more productive, which in theory should translate to higher wages. In fact, that’s exactly what we’ve seen. Companies have been paying new workers higher wages, especially in low-level service jobs.

So that’s all good news, but there’s still 10.1 million vacant jobs and 8.7 million unemployed persons.

This is a different kind of problem than the one politicians are used to talking about. Politicians love to talk about “job creation” and boast of the increase in the number of jobs on their watch.

We don’t have a “job-creation” problem right now. The jobs are out there waiting for people to fill them.

The Biden administration wants to spend a ton of money, but that’s totally non-responsive to the nature of the problem. We don’t need make-work jobs on green-energy projects. We need to better match people with the jobs that are already available.

That’s not a problem you can just throw money at and expect it to go away. As Kevin Williamson has said, those are the problems that rich countries such as the U.S. like because rich countries (by definition) have lots of money they can use to solve them. The federal government is pretty good at writing checks. It’s not very good at much else, and writing checks won’t match unemployed persons with vacant jobs.

The first thing that could help is to stop writing checks, specifically the $300-per-month federal supplement to unemployment benefits that people have been receiving since the pandemic started. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in an August 19 letter to Congress that the supplement would end on September 6 as scheduled and it should not be extended. The expiration of those benefits should push some workers currently on the margin into available jobs.

There’s not much else the administration wants to do that would close the gap. Even President Biden’s favorite report from Moody’s Analytics projects pretty meager employment effects from his $4 trillion “generational investment.”

The present unemployment predicament is a complicated problem that government isn’t very well-equipped to handle. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try, and it will likely result in lots of money being wasted as it’s thrown at a problem that more spending can’t solve.


A Question for Team Biden: Which Americans Currently in Afghanistan ‘Want’ to Stay There?

A child waits with her family to board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021. (Sergeant Samuel Ruiz / USMC)

I’ve noticed something curious amid the unfolding debacle that is the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The obvious and correct priority for the U.S. right now, with the decision to withdraw having been made, is to get every American out of the country as soon as possible, given the threat faced from the unstable situation and the resurgent Taliban. So why does Team Biden keep hedging on this? There has been acknowledged confusion about how long U.S. forces will remain, and how many Americans are still in the country. But what to make of the weirdness of the line of multiple administration officials, including President Joe Biden himself, that they are working to get only those Americans who “want” to leave Afghanistan out of the country?

Department of State spokesman Ned Price, August 19:

“We’re going to bring home all the Americans who wish to come home, but I just can’t put a firm number on it for you right now.”

Joe Biden, August 20:

“But let me be clear. Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, August 20:

“The president I think was clear that we’ll do whatever we have to do to rescue as many Americans as want to leave Afghanistan, and the secretary’s not going to rule anything in or out in terms of what the possibilities might be there.”

An unnamed administration official, speaking to Fox News, today:

“As the president and his team have made clear, the circumstances in Afghanistan are heartbreaking and we are bringing the Americans who want to come home, home.”

Maybe there is something I am missing here. But I can only imagine that, if you are an American currently in Afghanistan, you want to leave, unless we have some truly audacious souls out there who are making their way over to Ahmad Massoud as we speak. So why on earth is it necessary to qualify this language in any way? Why not just say “all Americans?” Surely it’s not to provide some kind of wiggle room, to lay the foundation for an assumption that any American who proves unable to make it to Kabul within the full-withdrawal deadline Biden has now decided to stick to, lest he anger the Taliban, actually wanted to stay. No, that couldn’t be it.


Update, 2:47 p.m.: 

I missed this today, from White House press secretary Jen Psaki:


Health Care

ACLU Suing To Force Parents To Mask Their Children

A child wears a mask during class at Kratzer Elementary School, Allentown, Pa., April 13, 2021. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)

ACLU’s increasingly odd definition of civil liberties has just gotten a bit odder, as the group announced today that it wants to force parents to mask their children:

The legal group goes on to declare it a “disability rights issue” that forces parents of children with disabilities to choose between going to school with maskless classmates, or avoiding school altogether. Putting aside the fact that there is no evidence that it’s dangerous for children to go to school without masks, as Charlie pointed out recently, the statewide bans on mask mandates are not a government infringement on choice. Rather, the bans are merely shifting the choice from school districts to individual parents. If the ACLU were to prevail and the default were to leave it up to the school districts, then it would mean that parents who don’t want their children to wear masks all day would be forced to do so or forgo school. This is another in the long-line of examples demonstrating that the ACLU is just a left-wing group rather than a civil rights organization.

National Security & Defense

Dem Congressman: Not Possible for U.S. to Evacuate All Americans & Allies by August 31

Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) speaks during a news conference in Washington D.C., April 22, 2021. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Democratic Jason Crow of Colorado said on Tuesday that it’s not possible for the United States to evacuate all U.S. citizens and Afghan allies trapped in Afghanistan before the August 31 withdrawal deadline that President Biden is reportedly sticking to following Taliban demands that U.S. forces leave by then. 

“We have a moral obligation to ensure that we get American citizens out and our Afghan partners out. There are more of those folks in the country, in Afghanistan, right now than we have the capability to evacuate between now and the end of the month,” Crow told reporters on Tuesday. “That’s why the mission must be extended, and we have to do what’s necessary to get people out, and it doesn’t have to do with a date on the calendar.”

“This is not a Taliban-negotiated date, this was a date the United States set,” Crow said, noting that circumstances have now changed since President Biden first announced the August 31 withdrawal date in the spring.

“We have a mission that has to get done,” Crow said. “There is broad bipartisan agreement within the United States Congress and across this country that we have to get American citizens out and we have to get our Afghan partners and allies out.” 

“This is a very complicated, very high-risk mission,” said Crow, who served three tours in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. “But . . . if we aren’t willing to use the U.S. military to protect U.S. citizens and our partners and our friends, then what will we use our military for?”

He added that missions such as these are “why we have the biggest, strongest military in the world, and that is to protect our people.”


Biden Is Being Bullied by the Taliban


CNN is reporting that Joe Biden has preemptively declined to extend his self-imposed deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan — despite having no guarantees that every American citizen and Afghan refugee who assisted us in our failed 20-year nation-building project will have been evacuated by that time. Considering the ill-planned and incompetent withdrawal efforts thus far, no one should have any confidence that the job will be done in a week. This is just another inexplicable decision in a series of mind-boggling blunders, though Biden reportedly is seeking contingency plans in case his view changes. The Taliban warned that a “violation” of the Trump agreement would lead to “consequences.” But as Biden knows, the United States made no unconditional promise to exit. The Taliban have already broken their agreement many times over. Moreover, why is Biden allowing a third-world Islamic militia to dictate the actions of the world’s most powerful military? It’s just shameful.


On Afghanistan, Bidenites Blame the Press


Like Rich Lowry, I’ve taken the press treatment of the Afghanistan withdrawal as my latest column subject. I list eight reasons the Biden administration is getting worse press than it’s used to. A sample:

Sixth, the administration’s attempts to blame its predecessor for the situation undercuts its own position. When Biden’s allies say that Trump owns this debacle, they’re conceding it’s a debacle. If things were going well, they would be saying that withdrawal is a great achievement that Trump only talked about but Biden accomplished.


National Security & Defense

‘Do the Math. We Can’t Get Everyone Out by Then’

Crowds outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 23, 2021 (Asvaka News via Reuters)

My reader who works for a contractor in Afghanistan, and who is desperately trying to help his former employees dodge Taliban death squads and get out of the country, offers another update. (See here and here for background.)

He reports some good news. “The State Department P2 system seems to still be functioning. Trust me, it is getting pounded with thousands of e-mails a day. My focus is split between P2 referrals and getting our former employees on evacuation flight manifests.”

My reader praises the work of Samaritan’s Purse, so if you’re looking for an organization to support during this crisis, that seems to be a particularly good one. He says he and his company, another defense contractor, and Samaritan’s Purse have “partnered on three flights that brought out 700 people in one day. . . . Our team is blessed with project managers, and retired tradesmen who have all stepped up to the plate to help with the data confirmation and processing of our Afghan staff. They have the hearts of warriors.”

That’s it for the good news, though. The bad news is that he writes, “My days have been consumed. I feel guilty sleeping — but if I don’t, my effectiveness will suffer and it will be worse. A week until the Biden deadline. Do the math. We can’t get everyone out by then. But I can’t think about that right now; I have to stay focused on the mission at hand and stay in the moment.”

Technically, it’s the Taliban’s deadline, and in his comments on Sunday, Biden suggested the U.S. could continue evacuation operations beyond that date: “There’s discussions going on among us and the military about extending. Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are going to be discussions, I suspect, on how far along we are in the process.”

But my reader’s assessment lines up with that of Representative Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, after attending a briefing last night. “Given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIVs, the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders . . . it’s hard for me to imagine all of that can be accomplished between now and the end of the month.”

This morning, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the group has not agreed to extend the deadline for evacuation, and said the United States is not allowed to evacuate skilled Afghans.


Places, People, Issues

A view of the Old City, Salzburg (Jay Nordlinger)

I have an Impromptus column today, with a variety of items, most of them related to the pandemic. There are a thousand issues within the pandemic, aren’t there? Medical, social, political, psychological, and so on. I hear many people around me say that vaccination is a “personal decision.” I understand that. I also hear people say that vaccination is a matter of public health, or the common good. I understand that, too.

Bummer when things aren’t black and white, isn’t it?

The other day, Arnold Schwarzenegger said something elementary: With citizenship come rights, of course. We got rights. But citizenship entails responsibilities, too. We owe things to one another. Bill Kristol tweeted that, in his judgment, “vaccination is not a ‘deeply personal decision.’ It is a routine public health requirement in a civilized society.”

All of this provides food for thought. In any event, I’m going to publish a little mail.

After writing about Donald Kagan, the late classical scholar, I heard from Neal B. Freeman, an NR luminary, and onetime right hand to WFB. He says,

The Freeman family was blessed to be instructed by Don over two generations. I found his course on ancient Greece to be the best I took. One of my kids felt the same way. (It is recorded that the kid got an A. The father did not.)

Hard to believe, Neal! A sharpie like you?

He continues,

When JLB, Pitts, and I were helping a handful of students (led by the talented Lauren Noble) to stand up the Buckley Program at Yale, the university pushed obstacles in our way. Don, observing the situation from a distance, agreed to join our inaugural board. It was a post he needed as much as he needed a third thumb. The obstacles began to melt away.

Marvelous. By the way, “JLB” refers to James L. Buckley and “Pitts” refers to Priscilla Buckley — two of the ten Buckley children who included WFB.

Responding to some recent writing, a lady writes,

Dear Jay:

I will never tire of reading your Salzburg journals! I love music, Mozart, and Salzburg!

My husband and I visited Salzburg about 30 years ago. We stayed at the Sacher Hotel in a suite overlooking the Old City. I still have one of those “ancient” elongated photos of the Old City framed and displayed prominently.

Thanks for brightening another day!

The subject of another e-mail was “Salzburgers.” A man writes,

That’s what we called ourselves, students from the University of Portland (Oregon) who attended the overseas program in Salzburg: Salzburgers. I was there in ’83-’84. Absolutely LOVED seeing your pictures from the city. Can’t tell you what great memories they bring back.

Pictures trigger memories more than words, probably. I have some pictures in today’s Impromptus, too — from a place in Michigan, on Lake Michigan, called Grand Haven. Again, here. Have a great one.

White House

Psaki Contradicts Admin Officials, Members of Congress on Stranded Americans

Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a media briefing at the White House, August 11, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called it “irresponsible” to say that Americans are “stranded” in Kabul, contradicting reports from Americans stranded in the Afghan capital city, members of Congress attempting to help them, and comments by Biden administration officials.

Her comments at the White House daily press briefing today, claiming that Americans are not stranded in the Afghan capital, are the latest installment of an unconvincing effort to defend the administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan (Jim Geraghty wrote more about the administration’s broader effort to spin itself out of this crisis).

“I’m calling you out for saying that we are stranding American in Afghanistan, when I said we have been very clear that we are not leaving. Americans who want to return home, we are going to bring them home, and I think that’s important for the American public to hear and understand,” Psaki said in response to a question from Fox’s Peter Doocy.

Her claim rests on a dubious interpretation of what stranded means, seeming to suggest that American citizens are not stranded because the U.S. government will eventually bring them home.

But thousands of Americans are currently in Taliban-controlled territory beyond the perimeter administered by U.S. and allied forces at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, as national-security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Although the U.S. embassy in Kabul has encouraged Americans to evacuate, it also notified them that it cannot ensure their safe passage to the airport, then on August 21, it advised them not to attempt the trip due to “potential security threats” — as reports emerged that Taliban guards were beating people attempting to get through.

A State Department cable leaked to Politico shows that over 4,000 American citizens, included in a total of 25,000 people, have been evacuated safely from the country.

Meanwhile, officials have turned to more creative solutions to the Taliban blockade of the airport. Although U.S. officials have indicated that American troops would not leave the airport’s perimeter, the Pentagon has admitted that U.S. forces have gone into the city, beyond the airport’s boundaries, to rescue American citizens.

“On occasion — where there’s a need, and there’s a capability to meet that need — our commanders on the ground are doing what they feel they need to do to help Americans reach the airport,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said today.

He didn’t use the word stranded, but members of Congress involved in the effort to rescue Americans stranded in Kabul have done just that.

“We have received nearly 4000 evacuation requests from Afghanistan since I started an email just 4 days ago. Many Americans stranded and even more fearful Afghans,” Representative Andy Kim, a Democrat who has facilitated the evacuation of Americans from Afghanistan, wrote on Twitter.

Representatives Josh Gottheimer, Charlie Crist, and Ken Buck and Senator Tom Cotton, among others, also posted tweets urging “stranded” Americans to contact their offices to receive assistance.

In other words, Psaki’s spin is news to top Biden national-security aides, members of Congress, and anyone even vaguely following this situation, and thousands of Americans remain stranded in Kabul while the White House plays political word games.

National Security & Defense

Biden Officials Try to Deter Taliban Atrocities, Defend Human Rights with ‘Strongly Worded Statements’

Secretary of State Antony Blinken leaves after speaking during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C., August 2, 2021. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS)

President Biden and his top aides pledged to put human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy, and their emphasis on a loud, though toothless, effort to promote human rights is one of the key instruments with which they have attempted to influence the Taliban’s actions.

From the start of the ultimately successful Taliban blitzkrieg, top administration officials made appeals to the Islamist group’s desire to be accepted as legitimate by the international community, warning it against the brutality that the world has come to associate with its advances. These overtures came mostly from U.S. negotiators in Doha and the White House press briefing room.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield noted in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the Security Council released “a very strongly worded press statement” encouraging the Taliban to respect human rights, a comment widely panned by the administration’s critics.

Unsurprisingly, Foggy Bottom has taken a similar tack, issuing similarly empty statements about human rights, since the start of the Taliban’s new reign in Afghanistan.

After the Taliban swept into Kabul on August 15, the State Department issued a number of statements designed to prove its commitment to the human-rights-centered foreign-policy vision articulated by top Biden officials in the early days of the administration but which only provided reminders of just how hollow their early comments were.

These statements recognized humanitarian workers, victims of terrorism, and persecuted religious minorities, as officials scrambled to contain the fallout of the U.S. pullout. Each of the press releases, issued by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was a stark reminder of the administration’s decision to leave aid workers and Afghanistan’s religious minorities to the mercy of radical militants, as a new government in Kabul takes power without shedding its deep and abiding ties to al-Qaeda.

“On World Humanitarian Day, we recognize and honor all of the humanitarian aid workers who have sacrificed so much — including, for too many of them, their lives — to answer the call to protect and support the world’s most vulnerable populations. We commend the bravery and compassion of humanitarian aid workers who put the welfare of others before their own,” Blinken said in an August 19 statement marking the commemorative day recognized by the U.N.

Normally, such a perfunctory statement would go unnoticed, but the White House’s handling of the withdrawal has demonstrated scant consideration of the implications for humanitarian workers in the country.

The war-torn country was always a dangerous place for aid groups to operate, but the return of the Taliban has already forced many of them underground, amid the Taliban offensive that the White House failed to anticipate. Newsweek reported that the Norwegian Refugee Council’s staff “had gone into hibernation” after the fall of Kabul and that Save the Children’s work in the country is “currently on pause.”

The State Department also lent its support to religious minorities who will likely face stepped-up Taliban mass atrocities.

“On the International Day Commemorating Survivors of Religious Persecution, we recognize that individuals around the world are harassed, threatened, beaten, imprisoned, and killed for exercising their beliefs,” wrote Blinken in a statement that made no specific mention of Afghan religious minorities, such as the predominantly Shiite Hazaras and Christians, against whom the Taliban have a long history of engaging in indiscriminate violence.

“On this day, we reiterate the responsibility all governments have to protect people from harm regardless of their beliefs and renew our pledge to stand up for the world’s persecuted.”

The statement also neglected to mention an Amnesty International report describing the torture and murder of nine Hazara men in July by Taliban members, though a State Department spokesperson did address the report during a recent press briefing, promising to “continue to condemn these — any reported atrocities precisely because they are violations of the public commitment by Taliban leaders to seek reconciliation for all Afghans. This is what the Taliban have said they want.”

But the Biden administration now seems powerless to follow through on its pledges to prioritize the protection of religious minorities, with the only tool at its disposal to shape Taliban behavior the prospect of future humanitarian aid to a Taliban-controlled Afghan government.

Blinken also issued a statement on the International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism: “Over the past 20 years, the United States and its international partners have made great strides in detecting and disrupting terrorist attacks.  The United States is committed to preventing future attacks and to holding terrorists to account for their crimes.”

But the administration’s work to do just that has been hamstrung by the Taliban’s return to power as experts warn of a renewed threat from international terrorist groups. “The terrorism risk to the United States is going to get dramatically worse,” Nathan Sales, a former State Department counterterrorism official, told the New York Times.

Meanwhile, on Fox News Sunday yesterday, Blinken attempted to smooth over comments by Biden claiming that al-Qaeda no longer maintains a presence in Afghanistan. Acknowledging that the terrorist group does in fact continue to operate in the country, the secretary of state said that it no longer has the capability to attack the U.S. homeland — a claim disputed by terrorism experts.

American officials should loudly champion democracy, human rights, and U.S. interests on the world stage; not doing so would be a major failing. But only making lofty, but unsupported, pronouncements damages U.S. credibility, perhaps even more.

Red Warning Lights Flashing for Democrats

President Joe Biden arrives to discuss his ‘Build Back Better’ agenda at the White House, August 12, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

It is early to predict the political fallout from the fall of Afghanistan, or to project the 2022 midterm elections. It is even still a little early to draw hard conclusions about what will happen in the California recall in September or the Virginia elections for governor and House of Delegates in November. But we can say this much: There are warning lights flashing for Democrats.

Warning light No. 1: Joe Biden’s plunging approval rating in national polls. In the RealClearPolitics average, Biden was in double-digit positive territory into late June, and just shy of that less than a month ago.

Health Care

Sweden, Lockdowns, and New Zealand’s Maginot Medicine

A street with less pedestrian traffic than usual as a result of the coronavirus outbreak in Stockholm, Sweden, April 1, 2020. (TT News Agency/Fredrik Sandberg via Reuters)

There hasn’t been quite so much talk of late about how Sweden has been doing — a land that (heresy!) decided to keep calm and (to varying degrees) carry on through the pandemic.

Could this be why?

Richard Orange in The Daily Telegraph:

It’s the start of the new school year in Sweden, and the highly infectious delta variant is starting to hit the country hard, with cases having doubled since the end of July.

In a lot of countries that would mean one thing: lockdown. But not in Sweden. Instead, at Sorgenfri school in central Malmö, the only visible anti-Covid measure is a ban on parents entering the school building . . .

Sweden’s decision to eschew lockdown and leave pubs, restaurants, shopping centres and primary schools open throughout the pandemic generated furious discussion internationally.

Millions of people across the world have been confined to their homes, watched businesses go under, and struggled to stay on top of their studies amid wave after wave of restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus . . .

That is not to say the virus has not taken its toll – nearly 15,000 people have died in total, around 1,450 per million. But that death rate is lower than the average for the European Union as a whole (1,684), and well below those of France, Spain, Italy and the UK.

In fairness, it should be noted that the numbers are much lower in Sweden’s Nordic neighbors (Sweden’s per million rate is around three times higher than that in Denmark and some nine or ten times the rate in Norway and Finland) — differences that can be partly be explained by a badly botched handling of the position in Swedish nursing homes during the early stages of the pandemic, and some other local factors, but only partly. The relatively relaxed approach taken by the Swedish authorities has undeniably taken a toll. (I’d stress that “relatively.”) The Swedes were never so laissez-faire as was sometimes claimed. Some restrictions were introduced from the beginning. These were tightened by quite some measure following a second wave last winter, a turn that has not been fully reversed and is unlikely to be for a while. What the Swedes have been trying to do is devise a balanced response to the pandemic, a response that recognizes that managing a pandemic will involve some hard trade-offs. More contentiously, particularly after initial hopes were dashed, they have been — however much they may or may not admit it — trying to reach a level of herd immunity that delivered widespread and lasting, well, immunity.

Nevertheless, Orange quotes Samir Bhatt, professor of public health at the University of Copenhagen, and one of the team at Imperial College who pushed the U.K.’s lockdown strategy:

“Many times I would have thought that the situation would have gone a different way, but it worked for Sweden. . . . They achieved infection control; they managed to keep infections relatively low and they didn’t have any health care collapse.”

Some of this can be attributed to, I suspect, high rates of voluntary compliance — thanks to what Dr. Bhatt, in an elegant turn of phrase, referred to as “a reliance on the intricacies of what makes Swedish culture Swedish culture.” Bhatt added that “if the UK had adopted what Sweden did, I have no doubt . . . that it would have had an absolute disaster.” I’m not so sure if that would have been true in the end. An instinct for self-preservation is something humanity shares across all cultures, even if it kicks in in some places rather more rapidly than in others, and is always vulnerable to the appeal of the irrational. Hello, anti-vaxxers!

Richard Orange:

The real benefits of Sweden’s radical policy, however, can be seen in the economy, the psychological impact, and in schools.

At the end of the first wave last year, the IMF predicted that Sweden’s economy would contract by 7 per cent in 2020. In the end, GDP shrank by just 2.8 per cent, significantly lower than the EU average of 6 per cent and the UK – a staggering 9.8 per cent.

Sweden’s economy has also bounced back faster than any other country in Europe. By  June, GDP had overtaken where it was before the pandemic struck and the economy is estimated to grow by 4.6 per cent this year.

The government avoided splashing out on costly financial-support packages, spending just $22bn (£16bn) – 4.2 per cent of its GDP – on wage subsidies and other measures.

As a result, in 2020, the country recorded the second-smallest budget deficit in the European Union after Denmark, and its national debt has come through the crisis almost unscathed.

“The public finances have been hit relatively lightly compared to most countries, probably due to the fact that we have used less draconian measures,” Urban Hansson Brusewitz, Director General of Sweden’s National Institute of Economic Research  told the Telegraph.

The psychological toll of the pandemic also appears to have been less dramatic in Sweden.

The National Board of Health and Welfare reported a continuation in the decline in the number of people seeking treatment for anxiety and depression, particularly among children and young adults.

A large part of this is likely down to the decision to keep primary and lower secondary schools open throughout. Even in upper secondary schools, only children who test positive or have been formally contact-traced are asked to stay home.

Entire schools and classes were quarantined very rarely and only in exceptional circumstances if advised by a local infectious disease doctor. That’s a marked contrast to the UK, where as many as a million children were sent home from school during the “pingdemic”.

“We are very happy that we kept our schools open. I think that that is very important,” explained Sara Byfors, unit chief at the Public Health Agency.

An analysis of national grades published by the Swedish National Agency for Education last month found no evidence that the pandemic had negatively affected children’s educational attainment.

As we have now discovered, COVID-19 has a way of hanging around. One wave was not enough, two waves were not enough, herd immunity has proved frustratingly elusive, and variants (for now Delta, with the troubling Lambda waiting in the wings) are a painful reminder of the powers of mutation. This is a disease, it seems, that we are going to have to learn to live with if we wish to preserve our society in some sort of good order, and that is going to take that balanced approach. “Live with” and lurching from lockdown to lockdown are not the same thing.

And nor (even if it were possible in a country such as the U.S.) is the Maginot medicine pushed in New Zealand by the government of the wildly overrated Jacinda Ardern. Ardern continues to pursue the fantasy of “COVID-elimination,” something that risks severely harming her country in order to save it.  And a fantasy is what it is.

Reuters (August 19):

New Zealand’s coronavirus cases jumped on Thursday, as questions grew about the government’s response to the pandemic given the slowest vaccination rate among developed countries and the economic pressures of prolonged isolation.

Eleven new cases were reported on Thursday, taking the total to 21 in the latest outbreak that ended the country’s six-month, virus-free run.

Those six months do not appear to have been used wisely.

Politics & Policy

Still Not Apologizing

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference on gun violence in New York City, July 6, 2021. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Two weeks ago, when Andrew Cuomo announced that he’d resign his post as governor of New York, I noted that he had still failed to apologize for or even acknowledge his misdeeds. Though through the course of his long-lived scandal he repeated a few times that he was taking “full responsibility” for his actions, he never did any such thing, instead offering excuses and rationalizations to justify himself.

Today, on his last day in office, Cuomo continued that drumbeat, calling his resignation “unfair and unjust,” adding,

when government politicizes allegations and the headlines condemn without facts, you undermine the justice system. And that doesn’t serve women and it doesn’t serve men. Of course everyone has a right to come forward, and we applaud their bravery and courage in doing so but allegations must still be scrutinized and verified.

A far cry from the governor who signed legislation making it nearly impossible for anyone accused of sexual harassment or assault to have due process under the law. It’s astonishing that Cuomo chose to step down from his post before he’d actually admit to having done anything significantly wrong.


You Can’t Spin a Calamity, So Stop Trying

U.K. and Turkish coalition forces and U.S. Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 20, 2021. (Sergeant Victor Mancilla/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout via Reuters)

The one trait that seems to unify every key figure in this administration is their stubborn belief that somehow they can spin their way out of an extremely difficult situation. The subtext of almost every administration statement since last weekend is, “hey, it’s not as bad as it looks!”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this afternoon, “it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not,” leaving everyone else wondering how else to describe situation where the U.S. military is sending out helicopters into other parts of the city to get Americans out, and the government is telling Afghan special immigrant visa holders to stay away from the airport “due to a deteriorating security environment.” If you can’t get out, you’re stranded.

While in Singapore, Vice President Kamala Harris referred to the “successful drawdown of the embassy.”

Sunday afternoon, President Biden insisted that the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies was going as well as anyone could expect. “The evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful no matter when it started and when we began. It would have been true if we had started a month ago or a month from now. There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss, of heartbreaking images you see on television. It’s just a fact…  I think that history is going to record this was the logical, rational, and right decision to make.”

Enough! There’s no good spin for this situation, so don’t even try. The administration should just level with the American people and the world, lay out just how difficult the road ahead is, and how challenging the circumstances are, and try to earn some respect through honesty. Winston Churchill did not try to fool the people of the United Kingdom into thinking that everything was fine.

The circumstances in Afghanistan are bad. We haven’t seen any American casualties yet, thank God. But we’ve got thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghan allies who need to get out; the Afghan allies face Taliban death squads, and the average Taliban fighter isn’t known for his discipline and careful avoidance of civilian casualties. Local ISIS affiliates intend to kill Americans. The Taliban may well be bluffing when they threaten “consequences” for U.S. forces in the country after August 31, but only a fool would presume they’re bluffing. And after the evacuation is complete, we will have to deal with the Taliban running Afghanistan again, back in its old habit of hosting anti-American terrorist groups once again.

Headlines like “How the White House wants to spin the fall of Kabul,” feel like a sickening demonstration of a moral vacuum, because something like this is too important to be spun. This isn’t a routine scandal, or bureaucratic snafu, or speaking gaffe that needs to be handled by press secretaries working the press. This isn’t even primarily a political or media story. It’s a human story, with enormous geopolitical consequences for the U.S. military and the American people. The overall impression is that Biden, Harris, Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, and Jen Psaki are in over their heads, and utterly incapable of meeting the moment. History called, and they let it go to voice mail.

Health Care

When Will the Delta Variant Peak Nationally? 

Dr. Scott Gottlieb during his confirmation hearing for commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Washington, D.C., April 5, 2017 (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Has the Delta variant peaked? The good news is that in the southern states that have been hit so hard by the most recent wave, the numbers are slowly moving in the right direction.

“I thought there was an indication the South was peaking, and I think it’s pretty clear right now the South has peaked,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said. “It doesn’t feel that way because we still have a lot of new infections on a day-over-day basis, and the hospitals still have some very hard weeks ahead,” he acknowledged. “They’re still going to get maxed out as the infections start to decline.”

Nationally, it’s a bit harder to say. We still haven’t seen any decline in the national case numbers from the CDC. On the charts of Worldometers, on Friday, August 20, the seven-day average of daily new cases was at 144,001, and yesterday, that average was down to 124,822. We shouldn’t get too excited, as that may just reflect slower reporting of cases on weekends.

If you subscribe to the theory that the virus spreads faster in places where people spend more time indoors — say, in parts of the country experiencing extreme heat that sends people inside for air conditioning — then the cooler temperatures of fall in much of the country should help. But there’s a catch. The weather gets cooler as autumn turns to winter, and later this year the northern states may find themselves with rising case rates, driven by more people spending time indoors as it gets colder outside. There are still plenty of unvaccinated people in those northern states; Vermont still leads the country with a bit more than 75 percent of residents having at least one shot. A bit more than 61 percent of Minnesotans have one shot. One-third of New York State residents haven’t received any shots, and the percentages are similar for Washington State. Barely more than half of Montanans have one shot; less than half of North Dakotans have a shot. Only 54 percent of Michiganders have at least one shot.

Maybe a significant portion of the unvaccinated in those states have lingering protection from past infections. But we’re still talking about a lot of people. New York can boast that 78.4 percent of its residents, age 18 or older, have at least one shot. That’s almost 12 million people! The bad news is, the state still has about 3.3 million people who aren’t vaccinated, and New York has had only 2.3 million diagnosed cases. And a decent chunk of those 12 million vaccinated New Yorkers will need booster shots in the coming months.

The Delta variant may be finishing up with the South, but it may be shifting toward the North in the months to come.


Is Australia Still a Liberal Society?


This news report about COVID restrictions in Australia is like a monitory message from some disturbing authoritarian future:

Biden’s Defenders Are Flailing

President Joe Biden discusses the ongoing situation in Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 22, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Here is Juan Williams regurgitating White House talking points in The Hill today:

Congratulations to President Biden.

Last week he gave the most effective, most honest foreign policy speech by an American president in the last 60 years.

Biden made no excuses.

And where the last three presidents kicked the can down the road, refusing to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan — even after more than 2,400 Americans died in that fight — Biden took responsibility. He shut it down.

Williams then spends a good chunk of his column attempting to shift the blame for Biden’s disastrous handling of the Afghanistan pullout onto Donald


NARAL Admits Pro-Lifers Are Succeeding at Online Messaging


Last week, McClatchy DC published an article about NARAL Pro-Choice America and its efforts to revamp its digital outreach. In the article, NARAL admits that the group has been losing the online messaging battle with pro-lifers.

In Arizona and Michigan, NARAL found that focus-group participants often used pro-life language when discussing New York’s 2019 Reproductive Health Act, which explicitly legalized abortion for all nine months of pregnancy — for any reason up to 24 weeks’ gestation and with broad exceptions after that point. The article also points out that NARAL’s own research has found that Internet users are likely to find pro-life content on Facebook and YouTube.

This is another helpful sign that the pro-life movement is successfully using the Internet and social-media platforms to bypass the mainstream media, which tend to favor the abortion-rights argument. Websites such as LifeNews, LifeSiteNews, and Live Action provide timely analysis and commentary from a pro-life perspective.

In 2020, Students for Life of America launched a YouTube series called “#Why,” a project in which I’ve participated and which provides hard-hitting pro-life perspectives on a range of life issues. Live Action has its own video series entitled “Pro-Life Replies” which provides pro-life responses to common arguments from supporters of legal abortion.

The McClatchy article indicates that NARAL is planning to hire comedians to assist them with their online messaging, a rather strange tactic. I doubt that efforts will be very successful; ending the lives of innocent unborn children is no laughing matter.

Why MMR Mandates Aren’t a Good Parallel for COVID-19 Vaccines

Grace Demars receives a COVID-19 vaccine at North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond, La., August 5, 2021. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

The FDA has finally given formal approval to the Pfizer vaccine, and this will likely pave the way for more widespread adoption of mandates, as there was more legal gray area about mandating vaccines that were only authorized for emergency use. The news comes as New York City announced vaccine requirements for all public school teachers and staff. As the debate over mandating vaccines has come up, one analogy I keep hearing is to the mandates that schools have for the MMR vaccine. Mandates for MMR virtually eradicated measles, with pockets of outbreaks connected to anti-vaxxers. So that has led