Harvard Law School Finally Finds a Seal Bland Enough for 2021

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On the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Dear Reader, you will doubtless be relieved to learn that one of the great problems of American society has finally been solved: Harvard Law School has a new seal. Five years ago, the oldest continually operating law school in the United States — founded in 1817 — scrapped the seal it has been using since 1936. The old seal’s design was, as you can see, entirely inoffensive in and of itself:

The grievance that led to “protests and sit-ins” in 2015–16 was that the crest was originally adopted because it was the family crest of Isaac Royall, who at his death

Politics & Policy

What Does All the DEI Spending on Campuses Accomplish?

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(michaeljung/Getty Images)

To signal their “progressive” virtues, college and university leaders have been larding on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity administrators in recent years. Those administrators are supposed to make all the students feel welcome, to dissolve nasty old stereotypes, and to ensure equal success for everyone.

Like so many other leftist nostrums, the DEI mania is the triumph of (purportedly) good intentions over reality. Having legions of DEI busybodies doesn’t seem to improve things on campus — unless creating make-work jobs for college grads counts.

In today’s Martin Center article, David Waugh of the American Institute for Economic Research looks at the effectiveness of DEI spending and finds it very questionable. In particular, he dives into a recent Heritage Foundation report by Jay Greene and James Paul. Greene and Paul examined 65 representative universities across the U.S., finding that on average, each employed 45 people in DEI positions.

And what do they accomplish?

One of the higher-education fads in recent years is the “campus climate survey.” Those surveys supposedly reveal how well students get along. So, do schools that put more emphasis on DEI bureaucracy have better results? The authors find no such evidence: “There appears to be little relationship between DEI staffing and the diversity climate on campus . . . In general, student reports on campus climate are no better — and often worse, especially for minority students — at universities with larger DEI staff levels.”

The University of North Carolina is near the top in DEI activity, but Greene and Paul don’t see that it makes Chapel Hill more accommodating. Waugh quotes them as saying that, “The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a large DEI emphasis, with the second-highest ratio of DEI personnel to ADA compliance staff among the institutions sampled. In a campus climate survey, UNC students were asked whether they agreed that they ‘felt a sense of belonging to this campus.’ Overall, 73 percent agreed with this statement, but among African American students the figure drops to 54 percent. Again, having many people with job responsibilities to promote DEI does not seem to close the gap between African American and other students in terms of their feeling of belonging on campus.”

Could it be that this is a waste of money? Could it even be that the DEI mania is counter-productive, with administrators stirring up racial tensions to justify their jobs?

U.S.

Andrew Cuomo Leaves His Dog Behind

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“If you want a friend in Washington,” the old saying goes, “get a dog.” So too for the swamp of Albany. But it appears that the loyalty of man’s best friend only runs one way for Andrew Cuomo. According to a report by Brendan Lyons of the Albany Times Union, the disgraced soon-to-be-ex-governor — who sent a U-Haul to the governor’s mansion on Friday and has moved in with one of his sisters — “has asked staff members at the Executive Mansion if anyone would like to keep his dog, Captain, who has remained at the state-owned residence after the governor moved out last week”:

Two State Police sources told the Times Union on Saturday that the governor had recently asked mansion staff members if anyone would be interested in caring for the dog. Captain — a high-strung mix of shepherd, Siberian and malamute — has nipped a few people since Cuomo adopted him in 2018, the sources said, and a mansion staffer recently took the dog home for a few days but decided he was too much.

“A high-strung mix” who “has nipped a few people” and was “too much” for the staff sounds as if the dog has a lot in common with his master. Remember when Gail Collins of the New York Times wrote dozens of columns mentioning Mitt Romney’s dog Seamus? At least Romney kept the dog. Nixon didn’t abandon Checkers. Even Joe Biden only temporarily exiled Major. I guess nobody ever explained to Cuomo that you should leave no dog behind.

Health Care

Bioethicist: Let Doctors Kill the Healthy by Harvesting Organs

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A hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, November 2, 2020 (Shannon VanRaes/Reuters)

We have entered the era of what I call “do harm medicine,” in which the concept of what constitutes harming the patient has become entirely malleable and subjective. I even wrote a book covering that subject.

Here’s an example: When organ transplant medicine began, the “dead donor rule” was instituted to assure a wary public that people’s vital organs would only be procured after the person was dead. A corollary to that rule assures the public that people will not be killed for their body parts.

The dead-donor rule has been under attack for some time within the utilitarian bioethics movement. (I am not writing about the brain-death controversy, which is a separate discussion.) Many bioethicists are now pushing to allow doctors to kill via organ harvest, sometimes called “organ donation euthanasia” (ODE).

At first, this proposed killing license was supposed to be limited to patients on the verge of death or the permanently unconscious. Now, a prominent bioethics journal has published a piece urging that healthy people be allowed to die by removal of vital organs.

The author claims that because people can instruct life-sustaining treatment to be withdrawn (LST), and can donate their organs after death, that ODE is also OK because it will result in death, too, and result in more usable organs procured and more lives saved. From, “May I Give My Heart Away?:On the Permissibility of Living Vital Organ Donation:”

In this situation, according to proponents of ODE, the doctor should respect the decision, even when this will cause the death of the patient. It seems commonly accepted that patient autonomy allows patients to refuse any medical intervention initiated on one’s body and life, and therefore, doctors are morally obligated to withdraw LST when this is what the patient wants. If we should uphold the DDR in such situations, the doctor should wait until the patient is declared dead to procure the patient’s organs.

Proponents of ODE argue that if the patient consents, it would be permissible to procure the patient’s organs before death. This will of course mean that the patient will die from donating his or her vital organs instead of dying from having his or her treatment withdrawn. However, this seems ethically immaterial in this situation since the outcome for the patient will be the same.

But that’s not true. Not everyone dies after having life-sustaining treatment withdrawn. Indeed, under current organ-donation protocols, if the patient doesn’t die, he is taken back to the ward and usually disqualified as an organ donor thereafter.

Once death ceases to be the necessary predicate for donating vital organs — and is replaced with “consent” — there would be no natural limiting principle. And so it is here. Rather than being a form of euthanasia to end suffering, the idea is to permit someone to have themselves killed for the altruistic purpose of saving other people’s lives, called living vital organ donation (LVOD). All that matters would be consent, and moreover, such a program would allow for tailored killing by harvesting:

If the autonomous desire to sacrifice oneself to benefit others should count as a morally relevant reason, all things being equal, this desire will have a greater chance of being fulfilled when the donor is not imminently dying. In such cases, the donation can be postponed until a suitable recipient is in place. By contrast, when the primary motivation is death, as it is in ODE, it is plausible that patients would not be willing or able to wait for months, maybe years, until a receiver match appears.

But consent has the power to justify abundant “do harm” medical practices. Example, policies that allowed sex-change surgeries for the few have now expanded to validate puberty blocking for children, for which there is scant evidence of benefit and the potential for material physical harm. Look ma, no brakes!

Besides, once a fundamental moral principle is breached, it is like a dam breaking. The deluge may begin as a trickle, but soon the reservoir empties flooding the plains below. Hence:

  • Assisted suicide/euthanasia for the terminally ill who ask to die was legalized as a means to prevent suffering at the end of life.
  • That morphed in some places into allowing people with disabilities and chronic conditions who ask to die to be killed to eliminate suffering.
  • Which morphed into allowing the mentally ill who ask to die to be killed in some jurisdictions to eliminate suffering.
  • Which morphed into conjoining organ harvesting with euthanasia (in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada) if the person to be killed consents.
  • Which morphed into several proposals to permit killing by organ harvesting for those facing imminent death.
  • Which has now morphed into a proposal to allow healthy people to ask to be killed for altruistic reasons.
  • Which will one day morph into proposals to allow surrogates to authorize euthanasia via organ harvesting for the incapacitated or letting people order themselves harvested once they become incapacitated in advance medical directives.

Please understand that these proposals are not fringe ideas. Bioethics, which published this article, is a wholly mainstream publication. The idea of killing for organs is considered respectable in the field. And it gives these advocates no pause that their plans would also transform organ-transplant doctors — known for focusing exclusively on saving lives — into outright killers.

The only way I can think of to thwart this drip-drip-drip-into-deluge process is to cast a bright light on where the thought leaders in bioethics want to take health-care policy in coming years. Forewarned, I hope, is forearmed. Hopefully, the people upon whom these policies would be imposed will disagree and thwart the best-laid plans of utilitarians and bioethicists.

Sorry, the U.S. State Department’s Afghan Evacuation E-Mailbox Is Full

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Evacuee children wait for the next flight after being manifested at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 19, 2021. (First Lieutenant Mark Andries/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout via Reuters)

This morning I heard from a longtime NR reader who spent years in Afghanistan working for a defense contractor. This reader’s company worked on the construction of camps and garrisons, parts of bases at Bagram and Kandahar, as well as several government buildings for the Afghan military and police.

“We directly employed thousands of Afghans,” he told me. “Their lives are in danger of retaliation by the Taliban because they helped the American military. Recognizing this, on August 2nd the U.S. government created another classification of asylum/visa processing called ‘Priority 2’.”

The announcement of the Priority 2 program can be found here. An unidentified senior state department official stated, “Many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members are at risk due to these U.S. affiliations and are not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa because either they did not have qualifying employment, or they have not met the time-in-service requirement to become eligible; however, they may be eligible for a P-2 referral, and thus, to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.” Priority 2 covers Afghans who worked with U.S. government-funded programs, as well as those who were employed in Afghanistan by a U.S.-based non-governmental or media organization that does not require U.S. government funding.

My reader said, “I’ve been busy the last week submitting referrals to the State Department on behalf of Afghans and their families who worked for us and whose very lives have been threatened. The submission is through email to a dedicated inbox at State. We began receiving messages that the inbox is full and that we should try later. This has been going on for half a day now.”

He shared with me an  automatic reply e-mail that declared, “The recipient’s mailbox is full and can’t accept messages now. Please try resending your message later, or contact the recipient directly.”

My reader is furious. “Lives are in danger. Evacuations are in chaos  — don’t believe a damn word any American spokesman says – they’re either making it up or they are lying. And the damn system for prioritizing our Afghan workers is a cluster because the DOS can’t manage a damn email inbox! I have never been so disappointed and angry at my government than today. It is maddening.”

My reader has contacted one of his senators – a Republican – but had to leave a message on the constituent line.

White House

Biden Sinks Underwater in Polls for First Time

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As post-Taliban-takeover surveys start to come in, the RealClearPolitics average of polls has President Biden’s approval rating at 47.8. Disapproval is at 48.6. This is the first time he has been underwater in his presidency, and as the catastrophe sinks in, those numbers are bound to get worse for him.

How would you like to be a Democrat in a place like, say, Georgia, and be tied to Biden’s agenda? Biden is at 39 percent approval in Georgia. If I were a vulnerable Democrat, I’d be backing away rather quickly from all things Biden.

Law & the Courts

Will Supremes Give Biden the Rebuke He Deserves on Eviction Moratorium?

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The Supreme Court Building in Washington D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

As Dan notes, President Biden’s illegal eviction-moratorium edict is headed back to the Supreme Court.

Rich and I discussed this briefly on our TMR podcast today, including the likelihood that the realtors’ group that is suing the administration (specifically, the CDC) would lose in their effort to get the stay lifted. As I explained, the three-panel on the case included Judges Cornelia Pillard and Ketanji Brown Jackson, respectively, Obama and Biden appointees, along with Judge Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee.

I confess to being a tad surprised that Judge Rao agreed with her colleagues that the stay on the moratorium should not be disturbed. The Circuit’s short order does not go into detail regarding the court’s reasoning, but I suspect there are two explanations for this.

First, Judge Rao may have felt bound by the same circuit precedent by which District Judge Dabney Friedrich deemed her hands tied. (Dan has previously explained this, and Leslie McAdoo Gordon had a good post on it at Red State.) In a nutshell, even though the Supreme Court made it clear that five justices — a majority — believe that the eviction moratorium is illegal, at least in the absence of express, specific congressional authorization, there was no formal majority opinion in support of that proposition. There is D.C. Circuit precedent for the proposition that lower courts may not construct a binding precedent by combining dissenting votes with a concurring opinion. Like Judge Friedrich, Judge Rao would have had to buck that precedent in order to vote against keeping the stay in place; it could be hard to justify doing that in any event, but it would probably not be worth the effort unless it would make a difference, which it would not have unless two judges decided to do it.

Second, by agreeing on a peremptory order, the panel ensured a quick decision. This means the case will be before the Supreme Court expeditiously — I imagine the realtors are already filing.

On that point, the D.C. Circuit deserves kudos. The judges, including those presumably sympathetic to Biden’s position, could have dragged their feet. That, after all, is the administration’s strategy: The president knows he is highly likely to lose, but was hoping to tie things up in the lower courts long enough that the moratorium, which expires in September, might be moot by the time it gets back to the Supremes. But the panel did not help the administration on that score. The judges admirably agreed to an extraordinarily expedited schedule last week, ensured that the case was fully submitted by midweek, and issued an order before close of business Friday. That is lightning quick by appellate-litigation standards.

The High Court should follow this example. Given the way Biden has abusively exploited the judicial process to sustain a decree he knows is likely to be found unlawful, the justices owe his administration a harsh rebuke. The merits of the case are important, but they are secondary to the bad faith. The Court needs to defend the judiciary as an institution by insisting that the government, above all other litigants, must not convert due process and judicious deliberation, which are supposed to promote fairness, into a punitive weapon.

White House

How Biden Was Supposed to Restore America’s Standing

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President Joe Biden discusses his ‘Build Back Better’ agenda and administration efforts to “lower prescription drug prices” during a speech at the White House, August 12, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Whenever a Democrat comes into office promising to restore our standing in the world and our alliances, it usually means that he will cater more to European opinion than his Republican predecessor.

That was the expectation of Biden, with the added provisos that he could be trusted to say critical things about Vladimir Putin that Trump never did, avoid making statements calling into question our commitment to NATO, and say the typical things U.S. presidents do about human rights and standing by dissidents.

None of this was a particularly high bar, but that people thought Biden would clear it led many to elevate him into an alleged statesman of the first order.

He is still, we can assume, going to say the conventionally appropriate things about most routine foreign matters. Otherwise, what he’s done in Afghanistan has made a hash of all of this and done more damage than Trump’s outrageousness ever did — he’s angered and alienated European opinion, pleased Putin, undercut NATO in a significant way, and created a humanitarian catastrophe that will make his future defenses of human rights sound tinny.

It’s a debacle, but no one who had a realistic view of Joe Biden going in can say he’s particularly surprised.

White House

Biden’s Happy Talk about Access to the Airport

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Biden painted a rosy picture today of the Taliban honoring its agreement to let Americans through to the Kabul airport, whereas his defense secretary told lawmakers something else:

Law & the Courts

Manhattan Federal Judge Makes Bail Conditional on COVID Vaccine

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A healthcare worker prepares the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in El Paso, Texas, May 6, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

This is certainly creative . . . as judicial legislating often is: On Tuesday, a federal judge in Manhattan (the Southern District of New York, SDNY) ordered that a defendant who is unvaccinated against COVID-19 may not be released on bail unless she submits to vaccination.

A couple of weeks ago, with Charlie sitting in for Rich in the anchor chair for our TMR podcast, we had a great discussion of federal bail law in the context of the Capitol riot cases. As I observed at the time, the Reagan-era Congress, at a time of rampant crime, controversially supplemented the law of pretrial release.

Until then, the two pillars of bail were that (a) it could not be excessive (it is a common misconception that the Constitution safeguards a “right to bail”; the Eighth Amendment merely says that, in cases where bail is appropriate, it may not be “excessive”); and (b) it could be denied based on a prohibitive risk of flight (i.e., when the likelihood that a defendant will abscond is unacceptably high due to, e.g., the nature of the crime, the accused’s history of fleeing, or the accused’s lack of ties to the jurisdiction and/or access to wealth that would enable flight).

The 1984 Bail Reform Act added a new ground for denying bail, danger to the community. Pretrial release could be denied if the court found that there was no combination of conditions that could assure the safety of any person or the community at large if the person were released. This was controversial because it theoretically undermines the presumption of innocence: If a person is detained because the allegations against him show a propensity to commit (particularly) violent crimes and/or to intimidate witnesses or jurors, it implies that the court has concluded that the allegations are true, even though they have not yet been proved beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court upheld the Bail Reform Act, and in the ensuing 30-plus years, pretrial release has routinely been denied on danger-to-the-community grounds. In fact, the act now sets forth (in §3142(f)(1)) a rebuttable presumption that, for certain charged crimes (mainly violent crimes, especially those for which the death penalty or life-imprisonment sentences are possible), there is no set of conditions that will reasonably assure community safety.

That is about as close to a presumption of guilt as it gets in our law. But for present purposes, note that the presumption, and the concept of dangerousness as a rationale for pretrial detention, spring from what is to be inferred from the criminal behavior charged.

Some of us may have objections about the propriety of denying bail based on unconvicted criminal behavior (I would not presume to speak for Charlie, but I imagine he would be more uncomfortable with this concept than I am). But few would doubt that, when it addressed dangerous behavior that could justify pretrial detention in the Bail Reform Act, Congress was talking about criminal behavior — usually violent, and usually arising out of the charge that triggers the issue of bail.

Judge Jed Rakoff, however, concludes that “danger to the community” includes lawful behavior — specifically, refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — that is utterly unrelated to the crime being prosecuted (or, indeed, to any criminal behavior in which the accused may ever have engaged).

I do not see how this ruling can stand. And I say that as someone who believes people should get vaccinated, and that the courts will be deferential to state and federal officials who issue vaccine mandates (as they have been to this point).

First, courts will be deferential when mandates are imposed by the departments of government that have the authority to impose them — legislatures, or executives who are acting pursuant to clear legislative authority. It is not for the courts themselves to usurp this legislative authority under the guise of interpreting statutes that have nothing to do with promoting public health and furthering the government’s compelling interest in preventing the spread of infectious disease.

The Bail Reform Act addresses dangerousness to the community in the narrow, specialized context of people charged with crimes. It focuses on whether their alleged criminal conduct could pose a continuing danger to particular people (e.g., witnesses and jurors), or to the overall community (the way a person arrested or indicted on probable-cause evidence of being, say, a terrorist, an arsonist, or an organized-crime member could continue imperiling the public while his trial is pending). The act did not empower judges to detain based on legal conduct that the judges find unacceptably risky: Courts do not deny bail to smokers on the ground that secondhand smoke is dangerous to the community.

It is true that bail conditions frequently direct that defendants refrain from alcohol consumption (which is legal) and illegal drug use. But those conditions are rationally related to criminal conduct. A person with a propensity to commit violent acts is more likely to commit them if intoxicated. But a person’s status as either vaccinated or unvaccinated against an infectious disease has no nexus to the likelihood that the person will endanger the community by engaging in criminal acts.

Notwithstanding my assumption that courts will give legislatures a wide berth, I am skeptical that they would uphold even a congressional statute singling out charged defendants for a COVID vaccine mandate as a condition precedent to bail.

I believe if Congress required everyone to get vaccinated, such a law would likely be upheld — provided that (a) the government first got the vaccines fully approved by the FDA (rather than approved on only an emergency basis, as is now the case — see Jim’s “America’s Crisis of Competence, Part Two” from the Jolt a couple of days ago); and (b) the law provided exemptions for medical conditions or religious objections. But if Congress singled out a group for mandatory vaccination, there would have to be a rational relation between some attribute of the group and a heightened risk of spreading infection — for example, a law requiring the vaccination of medical practitioners who deal constantly with sick people. (To be clear, I am brainstorming a hypothetical that might pass muster; I do not favor discriminatory mandates.)

Merely being accused of a crime — and thus presumed innocent — has no discernible connection to a heightened risk of COVID that would justify a discriminatory vaccine mandate.

Patently, the understanding of dangerousness as that concept was expressed in the Bail Reform Act had nothing to do with infectious disease. In enacting the law, Congress was not mandating vaccination.

Judge Rakoff has no unilateral authority to mandate vaccination, despite his curious assertion that “it seems obvious that the Court has ample authority to impose” a vaccine mandate as a bail condition — which cites no authority.

In lieu of jurisprudential support, Rakoff offers an analogy that does not support his theory. An accused drug dealer, he points out, may be released on the condition that he remain confined at home and wear an electronic bracelet, restrictions that secure not only against flight risk but “also to protect others against any danger the defendant might pose to the community through continued drug dealing.” Yes, because the danger is the drug dealing, not that the defendant might infect someone with COVID if he leaves his house.

Rakoff elaborates that a judge would have the power to impose on the same defendant the requirement to submit to drug testing, as well as physical and mental examinations. These, he reasons, are more onerous conditions than merely being vaccinated.

This, however, conflates dangerousness with comparative inconvenience. As noted above, courts may order drug and other examinations because they are directly related to the dangerousness inherent in violent crimes — the intoxicated or disturbed person is more apt to engage in violent behavior of a nature similar to the underlying charges. (Federal law deems felony drug dealing to be an inherently violent enterprise.) Whether other bail conditions may also be imposed is a function of whether they, similarly, are rationally related to the likelihood of violent behavior; it has nothing to do with whether they happen to be more or less onerous than drug testing.

Finally, Judge Rakoff rationalizes that bail is essentially an act of judicial largesse: “When, as here, a defendant requests that the Court exercise its authority to release her from custody on bail, then the Court’s responsibility is to set conditions on that release that will prevent a danger to the community.” But he has it backwards. A defendant should presumptively get bail unless the offense charged or the person’s prior criminal history raise reasonable grounds to believe the community would be imperiled by release. If there are no such grounds, the court’s responsibility is to release the defendant on bail, not look for reasons unrelated to the charges to deny bail on dangerousness grounds.

Interestingly, the court’s order does not indicate that Justice Department prosecutors sought pretrial detention. Although the judge rationalizes his vaccine mandate under the Bail Reform Act provisions that apply when there is a government motion for pretrial detention on dangerousness grounds, it does not appear that there was such a motion in the case. Rather, in a case where bail was granted, Rakoff — on what appears to be his own initiative (he nowhere claims the prosecutors asked for it) — added vaccination as a condition of release.

Judge Rakoff, a Clinton appointee to the SDNY, is certainly free to believe everyone should get vaccinated. But he has no unilateral authority to order that they get vaccinated. I have not seen any reporting on whether the defendant, Elouisa Pimental, is appealing the district court’s edict.

World

Biden Falsely Claims al-Qaeda Is ‘Gone’ from Afghanistan

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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)

During remarks at the White House on Friday, President Biden asked: “What interest do we have in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda gone?”

But terrorism expert Thomas Joscelyn points out that Biden’s claim is false: A recent United Nations report said that “large numbers of Al-Qaida fighters and other foreign extremist elements aligned with the Taliban are located in various parts of Afghanistan.”

From the U.N. report:

A significant part of the leadership of Al-Qaida resides in the Afghanistan and Pakistan border region, alongside Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent. Large numbers of Al-Qaida fighters and other foreign extremist elements aligned with the Taliban are located in various parts of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida continued to suffer attrition during the period under review, with a number of senior figures killed, often alongside Taliban associates while co-located with them. The primary component of the Taliban in dealing with Al-Qaida is the Haqqani Network

Meanwhile, on the streets of Kabul, the Haqqani Network, which is “closely allied with al Qaeda,” has been placed in charge of security. 

Voice of America reported on Thursday: “The Taliban has placed security for the Afghan capital, Kabul, in the hands of senior members of the Haqqani Network, which has close ties with foreign jihadist groups including a long-standing association with al-Qaida.”

“In an April 2021 report, United Nations (U.N.) sanctions monitors assessed that AQ and the Taliban ‘remain closely aligned and show no indication of breaking ties,’” the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in an August 17, 2021 report

As Joscelyn reported in the Long War Journal in May of this year:

The Taliban has “maintained close ties with al Qaeda” and is “very likely preparing for large-scale offensives against population centers and Afghan government installations,” according to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The DIA’s analysis is cited in a report prepared by the Department of Defense’s Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan.

The inspector general’s report was released on May 18. That same day, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Politics & Policy

Kamala Harris in 2019: I Will Protect the Women of Afghanistan and Keep Terrorists Out

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 10, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Kamala Harris, to the Council on Foreign Relations, August 21, 2019:

Nobody can predict what President Trump will do between now and 2021, so as soon as I take office, I will bring together our military leaders, national security advisers, and top diplomats to coordinate and implement that withdrawal plan. I fully recognize the importance of diplomacy and development to success in Afghanistan, and I want to ensure that the country is on a path to stability, that we protect the gains that have been made for Afghan women and others, and that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.

Is Afghanistan today “on a path to stability”? Has the U.S. “protected the gains that have been made for Afghan women and others”? With the al-Qaeda affiliated Haqqani-group now running security in Kabul, how likely is it that Afghanistan “never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists”?

Law & the Courts

BREAKING: D.C. Circuit Rejects Challenge to CDC Eviction Moratorium. On to the Supreme Court

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A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit today declined to hear a challenge to the renewed CDC eviction moratorium. I previously discussed here why the new moratorium is an open mockery of the rule of law in general and Justice Brett Kavanaugh in particular, who trusted the Biden administration instead of entering an order closing off its fig leaf of an excuse to reinstate the moratorium after the last one expired. I also discussed here why Judge Dabney Friedrich of the federal district court in D.C. felt her hands were tied by the D.C. Circuit from doing anything about it.

Now, the D.C. Circuit has stuck to its prior decision. Five justices of the Supreme Court plainly believe that prior decision to be wrong and the new moratorium to be illegal. The challengers can ask for immediate relief from the Court — they need not take the intermediate step of asking for en banc review by the full D.C. Circuit — and might file something as soon as the end of today or Monday. Will the Court step up and do its job?

Film & TV

Will We Get a Sequel to Dune?

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Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet in Dune. (Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures)

Continuing my thorough, excessive, borderline-compulsive coverage of the coming release of Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi epic Dune (see here, here, here, and here), I must take note of the director’s comments in an interview with TotalFilm. It may be strange already to be thinking about a sequel to a movie that hasn’t even been released yet. But those of us who have been following the production of Dune closely know that it is not going to tell the whole story of the novel; it is expected to cut off somewhere around halfway through (and some of us might have a good idea of where). Does this mean a sequel is guaranteed, à la the two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s It from a few years ago? Maybe . . . but maybe not. Villeneueve said that “it would need a really bad outcome at the box office to not have a Dune: Part Two.”

I’m obviously not objective about this project, but I think Dune has the potential for such success. Yet there are obstacles, and not just in the form of the lingering presence of coronavirus. Last year, Warner Bros., the studio home of Dune, announced that its entire 2021 film slate would be released in theaters and immediately on HBO Max, its affiliated streaming service. Villeneuve was not happy with this decision, claiming that he intended and designed Dune as an immersive theatrical experience. He sounded a similar note speaking with TotalFilm:

Frankly, to watch Dune on a television, the best way I can compare it is to drive a speedboat in your bathtub. For me, it’s ridiculous. It’s a movie that has been made as a tribute to the big-screen experience.

This puts Denis Villeneuve and Dune in the same position occupied by Christopher Nolan and Tenet last fall: For both commercial and artistic reasons, auteur wants you to see his big-budget sci-fi movie in a theater. I did what Nolan told me to do last fall (I enjoyed going to the movie . . . the movie itself was a mixed bag); this fall, I fully intend to follow Villeneueve’s wishes as well. So grab your stillsuits and get ready for October 22, people. If Dune ends up being worthy, only we can get it the sequel it deserves.

World

53 Senators Urge Biden to Send U.S. Troops into Kabul to Rescue Stranded Americans

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British and French forces are rescuing people stuck behind Taliban checkpoints in Kabul. A bipartisan group of 53 U.S. senators is urging President Biden to have the U.S. military do the same:

Biden said on Wednesday that the Taliban is offering “safe passage for Americans to get out” of Afghanistan. But earlier that very same day, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had suggested the opposite at a press conference: “We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport.”

There were more reports on Thursday that some Americans can’t get past Taliban checkpoints as they seek to leave the country.

Although French and British forces have been deployed to Kabul to escort those countries’ citizens to the airport, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at a separate press conference, “I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations into Kabul” to collect stranded Americans or Afghan allies.

Biden is now getting strong, bipartisan pushback from lawmakers in Congress, who are urging him to rescue Americans stranded behind Taliban lines in Afghanistan. In a letter to the president on Thursday, 53 senators asked the “Administration to assist with the passage of individuals to the airport to safety — both those within Kabul and those outside of the capital — as well as to consider cases where Afghans fleeing quickly may not have been able to collect or gather appropriate documents.”

One of the letter’s signatories, Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), said in a separate statement that Biden should give “American troops the power to push back the airport perimeter and create safe, American-controlled corridors to the airport. We cannot wait for Americans to find their own way. Go get them. It’s the duty of the commander-in-chief.”

Law & the Courts

Planned Parenthood Sues Montana over Four Pro-Life Laws

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Sign on a Planned Parenthood building in New York in 2015. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Planned Parenthood of Montana has filed a lawsuit against the state of Montana, alleging that its new pro-life laws set to take effect on October 1 are unconstitutional.

The first bill prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation, the point at which substantial scientific evidence suggests unborn children are able to feel pain. The second law requires abortion providers to offer women an ultrasound before having an abortion, though it does not require women to assent or to view ultrasound images.

The third bill prohibits state health-insurance plans on the federal exchange from including coverage for elective abortions, a measure intended to protect the conscience rights of pro-life taxpayers.

The final law contains several policies regulating chemical abortions, the most common abortion procedure used in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Citing the complication rates of chemical abortions and emphasizing the importance of informed consent, the bill requires that doctors provide women with abortion-inducing pills only after an in-person appointment.

Under its informed-consent provisions, the law requires that doctors tell women about new medical technology that has successfully reversed half-completed chemical abortions, so that women can access resources to halt their in-progress abortion if they regret their decision.

It also forbids manufacturers, suppliers, and doctors from sending abortion drugs via the mail. These safety standards for chemical-abortion drugs are the latest effort among pro-lifers to replace Food & Drug Administration regulations that the agency recently relaxed after a campaign from abortion-rights advocates.

According to its website — the homepage of which features an enormous banner advertising “abortion meds by mail” — Planned Parenthood of Montana operates five facilities in the state, including four abortion clinics. In its complaint, the group argues that the state’s new laws violate the right to privacy and are “particularly cruel and prohibitive” for women in a state with limited abortion access.

“These laws are nothing more than poorly disguised attempts to chip away at Montanans’ access to safe and constitutional abortion,” the lawsuit states. “They will reduce the number and geographic distribution of locations in Montana where women can access safe and effective abortion care.”

The suit also objects in particular to the informed-consent requirements, arguing that sharing the list of possible risks and complications amounts to “biased counseling [that] attempts to scare women out of having” an abortion. The suit alleges that the provisions “are counter to true informed consent, in that they require providers to give patients false and medically unsupported information.”

But the law requires abortion providers to share basic information such as the steps involved in a chemical abortion, possible medical risks and complications, and information about the procedure to reverse a chemical abortion, which, contrary to Planned Parenthood’s allegation, has been found successful and does not harm either the mother or unborn child.

One of Montana’s U.S. senators, Republican Steve Daines, condemned Planned Parenthood’s attempt to block the pro-life laws, calling it an effort  to “force an extreme abortion agenda” on the state.

“It is despicable that Planned Parenthood is seeking to undo the Montana legislature’s life-saving laws that prevent barbaric late-term abortions on babies who can feel pain, taxpayer funding for abortion, and reckless do-it-yourself abortions by mail,“ Daines, who heads the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, said in a statement. “This is yet another example of how the abortion industry puts profits over patients, ignores science, and weaponizes the courts to thwart the will of Montana voters.”

Is Larry Elder the Latest Victim of a High-Tech Media Takedown?  

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Larry Elder at the 2016 FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Nev. (Gage Skidmore)

Larry Elder, the leading candidate to become California governor if Gavin Newsom is recalled next month, insists the incident never happened, but the headline in Politico yesterday afternoon was disturbing. Alexandra Datig, a former girlfriend, claimed that “she broke off an 18-month engagement with the conservative talk show host in 2015 after he waved a gun at her while high on marijuana.”

Waving a gun at a woman would be a horrific act, and the headlines were soon everywhere, from Drudge Report to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A few hours later, the context arrived via the Los Angeles Times, a publication that’s

Education

Why Is College Teaching Often So Poor?

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From the cover of The Amateur Hour (Johns Hopkins University Press)

Students often complain that their professors are boring and little interested in the classes they teach. How different from other service industries, where people are so eager to do their best.

A new book by Jonathan Zimmerman entitled The Amateur Hour explores the history of college teaching and sheds some light on the generally poor level of instruction for students. In today’s Martin Center article, professor Matthew Stewart of Boston University reflects on it.

First, there evidently was no “golden age” long ago when college teaching was excellent. In the 19th century, it was pretty dismal. Stewart writes, “Unsurprisingly, students expressed anxiety and boredom, a combination of emotions bound to lead to resentment, if not cynicism, over the long haul. After students finished parroting the assigned readings, professors sometimes concluded the class by reading straight from the text. In the latter decades of the century, concomitant with the rise of the PhD, lectures came to replace recitations as the primary form of instruction. Nevertheless, the same basic student complaints prevailed. They felt bored and disconnected from the material.”

Yes, there were some top-flight instructors, but not many. One gets the impression that colleges figured out early on that they were selling credentials and whether the students learned much or little didn’t really matter.

Shouldn’t colleges today try to ensure that new faculty members are properly trained in teaching methods? Many do, but it’s doubtful that they accomplish much. Stewart writes, “Belief in the importance of personality correlates strongly with the belief that great teachers are born, not made. Thus the split between those who think that education classes are mostly a waste of time, and those who think that college teachers, like any other teachers, ought to be given formal training and brought up to speed on pedagogical research.”

Many of the faculty who have gone through those education classes are still lousy in the classroom. That has a lot to do with their incentives. To advance, they need to focus on their research. Time devoted to the classroom and students is largely seen as time wasted.

I’m surprised that Zimmerman doesn’t mention (at least, Stewart doesn’t bring it up) Adam Smith’s famous observation that college instructors who were directly paid by the students were far more engaged and effective than were those who were paid by the university. That’s the missing incentive.

National Security & Defense

Into the Whirlwind: Part One

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A U.S. Marine assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit escorts a Department of State employee to be processed for evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. (US Navy/Central Command Public Affairs/Sergeant Isaiah Campbell/Handout via Reuters)

What follows are some initial thoughts on the fall of Kabul. I will follow up shortly with more on what this debacle might mean for America’s position in the world:

  1. Biden’s speech on Monday about the withdrawal of U.S. troops was a much more logically coherent and well-constructed speech than any we have heard from him before. It was also a very steely and cold-hearted speech to the point of being a little unseemly. Even as he was consigning the Afghans who had been U.S. allies until yesterday to perdition, he was also criticizing their unwillingness to defend their country and blaming the consequences of America’s retreat on them. Yet the Afghan army’s advantages he cited had been undermined by the withdrawal of U.S. technical and logistical support as soon as a firm date for the scuttle had been announced. That date had seemingly been determined — and announced to NATO allies — in accord not with military priorities and the safety of soldiers and civilians loyal to the mission but with the political “optics” of the date (i.e., before 9/11). All of which gave the speech a flavor of “America First — and the Rest Nowhere!” It could even be said to have out-Trumped Trump in a single-minded national egotism at odds with the theoretical idealism of the Afghan intervention and even more at odds with the comradeship that has developed between U.S. forces and other allied soldiers. That probably reflects America’s public mood at the moment (of which, more below). But will that mood remain the same if the situation in Kabul worsens appreciably and the De Gaulle–like ruthlessness of leaving the Afghans in the lurch is followed by executions, massacres, rapes, and worse?
  2. Worse? The immediate risk to Biden and the U.S. must be that of the Mother of All Hostage Crises. If there are 10,000 Americans left behind in Afghanistan, that leaves the U.S. with massive problems and the Taliban with strategic opportunities. It’s said in the administration’s defense that the evacuations from Kabul airport are now going well. Good. But the Taliban have a “ring of steel” around the airport, and U.S. forces have no capability of getting Americans into it without the Taliban’s cooperation. That’s a pretty serious limitation which, incidentally, the French and the British seem to be handling better than the Pentagon, rescuing more (of fewer) nationals. All those Americans outside the perimeter are now effectively hostages for America’s good behavior. It points to the following scenario. For the immediate future, the Taliban will cooperate with the U.S. (and vice versa) to consolidate their seizure of power, allowing most of the remaining Americans to depart. Those released will not include Afghans who materially assisted the U.S. intervention — such as the Afghan Special Forces — or who have useful knowledge of American military intelligence. And the likelihood is that as the evacuations wind down, a number of important Americans will be found to be “missing” and hard to track down. They will then become pawns in a long diplomatic blackmail in which the Taliban hold most of the kings, queens, rooks, and bishops.
  3. President Biden’s defense against the charge of incompetence in the Afghan endgame, belatedly echoed by his media supporters, is that it’s impossible to withdraw without leaving chaos behind. They add that U.S. forces must avoid at all costs being sucked back into the maelstrom. In reality there’s no necessary choice between a strategic retreat and a tactical counterattack. Strategic retreats are often camouflaged by tactical attacks that also serve to make clear to the enemy that the retreating force is still a formidable one. Hence the remark of the distinguished historian of both world wars, the late Norman Stone: “The word ‘inevitable’ must never be used in history except to describe a German counter-attack.” America and our allies can rescue anything from what is a historical catastrophe on the scale of the falls of Paris, Dien Bien Phu, and Saigon only if we show an immediate determination to protect our interests and our honor (which is a synonym for reputation in global affairs).
  4. And what of the Afghans? It’s clear that for the moment and probably for a long time that Afghanistan is “lost.” The Taliban were easier to oust in 2001 than they would be today since they were then friendless while now their friends and allies include Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan. To be sure, there are reports that the son of the late Ahmad Shah Masoud, the “Lion of Panjshir” and the leading pro-Western figure in the struggle against the Soviet invasion, is retreating to his father’s old redoubt and appealing for Western aid to mount a resistance to the Taliban. My guess is that Biden and most of the Republican leaders will strive to discourage any such support for a number of reasons: The prospects of resistance obviously look poor today; the “missing” American hostages will be an argument against aid; and the leaders of both parties would plainly like to wash their hands of Afghanistan as they did of Vietnam. Though any resistance faces an uphill struggle, however, it should not be dismissed entirely, as a friend who spent many years reporting on the anti-Soviet guerrilla struggle and its factions confirms: Many Afghans who fought for the government will reason that they might as well keep fighting since they’ll be persecuted and killed by the Taliban anyway. Some will be inspired by strong notions of “honor” aroused by the chilly accusation from President Biden that they didn’t fight for their country. And the tribal areas that once were a sanctuary for Ahmad Shah Masoud will probably prove hospitable to his son and his followers. My cold calculation is that the Western powers — Britain and Europe more than the U.S. this time — will do nothing for a while but settle down in a few years to subsidizing a long-term, low-level guerrilla war on the model of subsidies to various Kurdish insurrections over the years. What happens then will depend on how well or badly the Taliban govern. And that’s surely a factor on the resistance’s side.
  5. Any honest person has to agree with Andy McCarthy’s argument that Biden and Trump share responsibility for the decision to “leave and lose” Afghanistan — though I would add an unequal share for the disorderly scuttle of our departure. There’s a third party that shares that responsibility, however, and that’s the foreign-policy establishment in general, and particularly the State Department and the National Security Council in the Trump and Biden years. However strongly the Mattises and McMasters of that world disagreed with Trump’s desire to leave Afghanistan, that was the policy on which he had won the 2016 election and which both parties had embraced. They were well within their rights to make the case for staying, which is a stronger one than most conservatives (including me) have allowed in recent years. Afghanistan had stabilized to the extent that fewer than 3,000 U.S. troops were needed to keep the country quiet and out of the hands of global jihadist terrorists. True, many more American deaths had been inflicted in earlier years, but by 2018 or so it’s arguable that those deaths increased the power of the argument for a continued intervention. We didn’t want to nullify that sacrifice. All that said, however, the president thought differently, and he had the right under the Constitution to expect his officers to implement that decision or resign. Some did resign; some obstructed, delayed, and temporized. But suppose that they had implemented his decision over a longer time scale, with careful planning, and with a realistic threat to offer continued aid and air support to the Afghan army after our departure. It’s a possibility that we might then have left Afghanistan without losing it, and a likelihood that even if we had lost Afghanistan, we would have left in good order without leaving thousands of our countrymen and our allies behind to hobble and weaken us in our future dealings with whatever regime — a pure Taliban one or a Taliban-Plus coalition — took over in our wake. That unwillingness to see that foreign policy-making has to take democracy into account was itself an invisible failure of duty, and it has spawned the all-too-visible failures we watch on our social media and televisions.
Politics & Policy

Our Upside-Down System

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President Joe Biden waves as he arrives at Fort McNair on his way back to the White House to deliver a statement on Afghanistan, in Washington, D.C., August 16, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Jon Cooper points out that American citizens are paying their own government up to $2,000 each for the privilege of being rescued from Afghanistan.

I’m a broken record, I know, but we really are reaching the point at which the federal government’s enthusiasm for doing the things it’s not supposed to be doing is crowding out its ability to manage the things that it was instituted to do in the first place. Long after the need for COVID “relief” had passed, Washington D.C. persisted in spending billions upon billions of dollars to put cash in voters’ hands. Today, Joe Biden canceled 300,000 student loans. Within a few weeks, he is set to ask for another $3.5 trillion in spending. But when a few thousand Americans need evacuating from a disaster zone of Biden’s own making, they’re asked to open their wallets. It’s absurd.

Lamenting the endless social meddling in which the modern executive branch tends to engage, I often joke that I hope the next president will be elected and then quickly disappear unless there’s a war or a foreign crisis. Well, we have a foreign crisis now, and, suddenly, Joe Biden is quieter than he has ever been. This the exact opposite of how it is supposed to work.

Across almost all facets, our system is hopelessly upside-down. I hope people are beginning to notice that.

White House

What Is President Biden Doing?

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Joe Biden, ahead of the G7 summit, in Cornwall, England, June 10, 2021. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Three quick follow-ups on the topic of today’s Morning Jolt, the mounting evidence suggesting that something is wrong with President Biden, and that he is having some sort of difficulty executing the duties of his office…

One: Is it normal for an American president to take 36 hours to respond to an urgent call from the U.K. Prime Minister? Sure, some delay, during an ongoing foreign crisis, is to be expected. But a day and a half?

Two: As of this writing, shortly after 2 p.m. Eastern time, President Biden has no events listed on his schedule for today, tomorrow, or this coming weekend. The Federal Aviation Administration has pushed back the flight restrictions for “VIP travel” around Wilmington, Delaware from Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern to 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, August 23. Despite the severity of the current crisis, it appears Biden still plans to spend the weekend at one of his homes in Delaware.

A White House official notified the White House pool reporter at 12:50:

This morning, the President and Vice President met with their national security team to discuss security, diplomatic, and intelligence updates in Afghanistan. They discussed the status of operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), which continues to be secure and operational as a result of DOD’s efforts; our efforts to evacuate U.S. citizens, Embassy personnel, SIV applicants and their families, and vulnerable Afghans as quickly as possible; and that every day we operate troops on the ground are at risk. The national security team updated the President and Vice President that DOD has evacuated 7,000 people since August 14 and 12,000 people since the end of July. The President, Vice President, and their team also discussed their focus on monitoring for any potential terrorist threats in Afghanistan, including from ISIS-K. The President and Vice President met with Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, Director Haines, Director Burns, National Security Advisor Sullivan, Ambassador Wilson, General McKenzie, Admiral Vasely, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Finer, Homeland Security Advisor Sherwood-Randall, and other senior officials.”

Three: For everyone responding with “duh, everyone could see this, Jim, everyone could see this for years, what took you so long to write about this?” I refer you to this September 12, 2019 Corner post and the August 11, 2020 Morning Jolt. People have wondered if Biden was starting to lose some of his mental acuity for a long time, and certainly since he started his 2020 presidential campaign. (As I wrote after the first debate, Biden “seems to have aged a decade since he left the vice presidency.”)

But this is different. Biden is commander-in-chief now. People’s lives depend upon his decisions. An aging president is a far more troubling problem than an aging candidate.

White House

Who Will Believe Biden Now?

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I wrote for Politico today on the hit to Biden’s credibility:

Joe Biden did to himself what his opponents couldn’t — shredded his own credibility in a high-profile, hugely consequential matter that won’t be forgotten.

No memos from the desk of Donald J. Trump, no RNC talking points, no right-wing Twitter memes or excoriating floor speeches by Republican senators possibly could have had the effect on Biden of Biden himself selling and defending his Afghanistan policy in terms instantly discredited by unforgettable and horrifying images on the ground this week.

The fate of Biden’s presidency might now depend on whether Taliban commanders decide to transform an ongoing evacuation crisis in Kabul into an explicit hostage crisis.

Even if the United States and the president escape that scenario, Biden has done himself long-lasting harm — not for the first-time in his career — with his own spectacularly ill-considered words.

Politics & Policy

Of Course Florida Should Be Using Monoclonal Antibody Treatments

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

Governor DeSantis is being criticized again, this time for following the Biden administration’s lead and “promoting” the use of monoclonal antibody treatments in the state of Florida.

As far as I can see, there are two constituent parts to this criticism, neither of which makes much sense. The first part is that DeSantis’s interest in monoclonal antibody treatments is somehow corrupt. This is extremely silly, and it has been debunked here and elsewhere for the conspiratorial nonsense that it is. The second part is that, by setting up mass-treatment sites, the administration has in some way “given up” on the vaccine. This is also silly, but I think it is worth explaining why, because the answer has broader implications for how we should look at the issue of COVID-19, and, indeed, for how we should think about our political challenges more generally.

Implicit in the idea that Governor DeSantis is “pushing” monoclonal antibody treatments is the idea that he is doing so as an “alternative” to pushing vaccines. And implicit in that idea is the idea that DeSantis is omnipotent — or, at least, that he could be if he wanted to be.

But he’s not.

As a matter of elementary fact, it is not even remotely correct to suggest that DeSantis has been lukewarm on vaccines. But, even if it were, the idea that he would be able to cajole his state into 100 percent uptake would remain a ridiculous pipe dream. The harsh truth here is that a good number of Americans are simply not going to take the vaccine, irrespective of what incentives you throw their way. For whatever reason, they don’t want to do it, and they won’t.  It doesn’t matter that it works. It doesn’t matter that it’s free. It doesn’t matter that, rationally speaking, one is far better off accepting the risks associated with the inoculation than the risks associated with contracting COVID-19. From millions of people, the answer is going to be a hard “No,” and there’s nothing anyone else will be able to do about it. Accepting that doesn’t suggest complicity in anti-vaccine propaganda; it shows a willingness to accept reality.

This being so, governors such as DeSantis have a choice. They can stick solely to pushing the vaccine, in the hope that they will finally break through to the recalcitrant; or they can keep pushing the vaccine and develop a plan for those who steadfastly refuse to take it (or who do get it, but still get sick). If the aim here is to save lives, rather than to judge people’s worth as citizens based on their willingness to take the vaccine, it seems pretty obvious that the latter course is the right one.

Yes, even in Florida.

Capital Matters

Woke Capitalism: An Update

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A few months ago, I wrote a piece for National Review about woke capitalism as part of a symposium on the issue. In my article, I laid out a case of optimism. It was a timid case, to be sure, but one of the arguments I made was that it is likely that “woke capitalism is nothing more than costless virtue-signaling.” In other words, corporations talk a big game, make big statements, and take actions with zero consequences for their bottom lines.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today by Lucian A. Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita that suggests I may have been onto something:

Corporate leaders have been busy presenting themselves as guardians of the interests of “stakeholders,” such as customers, employees, suppliers and communities as well as shareholders. Our recent research, however, casts serious doubt on whether corporations are matching the talk with action.

The authors look at how the signatories of the Business Roundtable’s Statement on the “Purpose of a Corporation,” aimed at delivering value to all stakeholders, not only shareholders, have behaved since they signed two years ago. A tidbit here:

We’ve identified almost 100 signatory companies that updated their corporate governance guidelines by the end of 2020. We found that the companies that made updates generally didn’t add any language that elevates the status of stakeholders, and most of them reaffirmed governance principles supporting shareholder primacy…

We also found that about 85% of the signatory companies didn’t even mention joining the “historic” statement in their proxy statements sent to shareholders the following year. Among the 19 companies that did mention it, none indicated that joining the statement would cause any changes to how they treat stakeholders.

There is more in the article. This tells me that neither side has yet found a coherent or correct narrative to talk about what corporations are actually doing. Ultimately, both sides need to remember that corporations that wish to survive can’t ignore their bottom line and the impact of the their actual behaviors on it.

Politics & Policy

Why SNAP Might Be the Least-Bad Welfare Program

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A shopper browses for fruits at a grocery store in Pasadena, California, June 11, 2020. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Biden recently approved a 25 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, otherwise known as food stamps, following a reassessment of the thrifty food plan, which is defined by the Department of Agriculture as “the cost of groceries needed to provide a healthy, budget-conscious diet for a family of four.” As a result, the average beneficiary of SNAP would enjoy a $36 increase in SNAP benefits for grocery shopping per month.

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack maintains that “a modernized Thrifty Food Plan is more than a commitment to good nutrition — it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security.” The increased SNAP benefits will cost $20 billion.

The Right, on principle, is rarely thrilled by significant increases in federal welfare spending. Libertarians, who may see welfare programs funded by taxpayer dollars as the government coercing citizens to help one another, often reject any kind of increase in size of the welfare state on principle. Conservatives who generally prefer a smaller federal government, on the other hand, often advocate for the privatization of welfare. The administrative costs involved in public welfare programs have also often invited doubt to the efficiency of such allocation of resources. However, stepping back from the idealized vision of welfare through private charity, the welfare state has become an institution which is too entrenched in the social consciousness, with a base of beneficiaries too large, to be abolished without overwhelming opposition. Welfare programs are also potential solutions to social problems such as hunger, poverty, and lack of economic mobility, which some progressives fervently advocate to be solved by socialism or radical redistribution of income. From a realist perspective, one could argue that conservatives benefit to a certain extent from the survival of the welfare state.

So, if we’re going to have welfare, we should acknowledge that SNAP is one of the better existing welfare programs the government offers. It is tailored to address the specific, pressing social ills of poverty and food security, both of which could have dire effects on society if allowed to fester. It is a means-tested program and will specifically confer benefits to the most destitute segment of the American population. The concept of food stamps is in line with the conservative principle that welfare should not be a tool for the distribution of income, and instead should only provide a basic safety net to ensure survival of impoverished citizens in prevention and mitigation of the adverse societal consequences of poverty. SNAP is one of the less controversial and objected welfare programs implemented at the federal level. SNAP benefits, given their narrow purposes and fixed sum, are also less likely to be misused than other welfare programs that confer more capacity for discretion to the beneficiaries. (Which is not to say food-stamp fraud does not occur.) For instance, Medicaid, the public health-insurance program for low-income citizens, can encourage expensive and unnecessary procedures, which the federal government may not have intended to sponsor, and may divert resources from more worthwhile purposes.

Welfare benefits in kind are also far preferable to simple cash payments. If benefits in kind, such as food stamps, can effectively alleviate poverty and hunger, there would be less reason for proponents of a larger welfare state to advocate for cash benefits. One of the commonly raised argument is that cash benefits would more directly and efficiently aid beneficiaries’ livelihood than SNAP and other welfare programs, which are too inefficiently run and hardly induce a sufficient betterment of living standards to beneficiaries.

Although the American welfare system traditionally distributes mostly in-kind benefits, recent COVID-relief checks have suggested an increasing willingness on the part of the federal government to disburse direct cash payments. Yet such payments not only potentially attract more fraud, but also more directly redistribute income. Cash benefits are, by definition, perfectly liquid and transferrable. While COVID-relief may be effective in stimulating economic recovery by contributing to aggregate consumption, they may be less useful in addressing specific issues of concern, such as food security. After all, how the recipients utilize their benefits is beyond the control of administrators of the program.

So even though the welfare budget is increasing by $20 billion, at least the money is going to the least-bad welfare program.

Hospitals in Blue States Are Hitting Capacity, Too

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Phlebotomists stand outside a triage testing area for the coronavirus at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, Ill., April 22, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

While the country has been justifiably focused on the dire situation in Afghanistan for the past week, the U.S. is quietly hitting another bad spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations – not merely cases, but hospitalizations. And when lots of people get hospitalized for COVID-19, sadly, some of them do not pull through. The seven-day average of daily new deaths in the U.S. has crept back up, from 241 new deaths on July 6 to 703 new deaths yesterday.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. had more than 91,000 people in the hospital for COVID-19, which is the highest since February 4 – when

World

Afghanistan, Belarus, Etc.

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U.S. soldiers descend from a Chinook helicopter in Jegdelic village, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, December 24, 2004. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

Radek Sikorski first went to Afghanistan in 1986, to cover that war for the Sunday Telegraph. In 1989, he wrote about the Soviets’ withdrawal for us — for National Review. He is my guest on Q&A, here.

The Soviet withdrawal, he points out, was far more dignified than ours. Plus, “the Communist regime they left behind actually survived until 1992” and “collapsed only when the Soviet Union itself collapsed.”

Sikorski had a distinguished career in journalism. When his country, Poland, became free, he entered politics, eventually becoming defense minister and foreign minister. Today, he is a member of the European Parliament and has affiliations with Harvard and other institutions.

About the present debacle in Afghanistan, Sikorski says, “We could have kept one base, with an air strip, with some Predators, with some special forces, in order to be able to whack the bad guys if they established a physical presence again, and such a base we could have kept indefinitely.”

And look: “The United States is present militarily in half the countries of the world. Why should Afghanistan be among those countries where the U.S. is at zero?” Honestly, it should not have been “beyond the powers of the United States to defend the Bagram Air Base, for example, for as long as it took.”

In addition to Afghanistan, Sikorski and I talk about Belarus. When he was in government, Sikorski dealt with Alexander Lukashenko, a dictator both brutal and canny. The same can be said of Lukashenko’s patron: brutal and canny. That patron would be Vladimir Putin, of course.

Sikorski says he is reminded somewhat of Poland in the 1980s. Near the beginning of that decade, General Jaruzelski imposed martial law. For the Solidarity movement, the situation seemed hopeless, as “the Polish dictatorship had an external guarantor in the form of the Soviet Union.” Lukashenko has the same thing: “a big daddy in Moscow, who will not let Belarus slip away.”

But — before the decade was out, Poland had its freedom.

What about Poland today? That is another of our topics, in our Q&A. How fares the independence of the media?

Then, Hungary. Radek Sikorski and Viktor Orbán are almost exactly the same age, and they went to the same Oxford college — Pembroke — though not at the same time. Orbán, by the way, got there on a scholarship from George Soros. This is what some call an “irony of history.” The young men studied with the same professor, the Polish-British political philosopher Zbigniew Pełczyński — who had also taught Bill Clinton.

In America, Britain, and elsewhere, Orbán has a lot of fans on the right. What does Sikorski make of this? “Some of these people are friends of mine,” he says, “and I’m just amazed that people are so easily hoodwinked.” Orbán is “a clever operator.” And “he spends quite a lot of energy and time cultivating Western conservatives, but it belies a reality in Hungary, which is corrupt.”

Forget Greece and southern Italy, Sikorski says: “Hungary today is the most corrupt country in the European Union. Don’t take my word for it: Look at the statistics produced by the European Union’s anti-corruption body.” Orbán, says Sikorski, “has enriched his political friends and his own family. Now, I don’t see any conservative values in this” — or in other moves that Orbán has made.

We end our conversation with a pressing, and related, topic: the attraction of illiberal political ideologies, especially to the young. Sikorski speaks of national socialism, with “its appeal to tribal loyalties and to class envy.” Now, this is “a very powerful and convincing combination. But we have seen this movie in Europe before, and we know how it ends, and the end is horrible.”

Again, to hear our podcast, go here.

Politics & Policy

Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Afghanistan, Haiti, Kids in Foster Care & More

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1. The human suffering in Afghanistan is so evil. And that dear girl likely has sexual torture ahead of her, if it hasn’t started already:

Continue reading “Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Afghanistan, Haiti, Kids in Foster Care & More”

Culture

Protesting Prayer Again in Brooklyn

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Franciscan priest Father Fidelis Mochinski outside Brooklyn’s Planned Parenthood at a monthly Witness for Life. (Photo: Kathryn Jean Lopez)

A friend pointed out that I’ve been named in a New York abortion-advocacy group’s statement about a protest and NYPD arrests on Saturday in Brooklyn. For the third time in a row, there has been a protest to a Witness for Life, which involves Mass and a peaceful, prayerful procession to an abortion clinic. I’ve been present on and off for years at the Witness in Manhattan and have in the Bronx and Brooklyn more recently.

The protest group questions the outsized response to their protest — which includes national coverage here. Well, the coverage simply is an outgrowth of my personal involvement. Frequently I find myself both participant and press. It’s one of the blessings of opinion journalism — that I can be transparent to you about where I’m coming from. That’s what draws some to this website, and to certain writers — knowledge that we’re coming from a similar point of view. That becomes more cherished, it seems, in times when reality seems to be upended all around.

I’ve also made it a point to be in Brooklyn for the last two months because of what happened three months ago at the first Witness for Life there (and there were way more of the protesters than the pray-ers first time around). People got into the face of Father Fidelis Moscinski, CFR. I think there may be a sincere misunderstanding: Father Fidelis in other parts of the country participates in Red Rose Rescues, where he goes into an abortion clinic and offers women roses. He wants to show them love, that they have great dignity, and there are people who will help them if they do not want to have abortions. He is asked to leave, and he says he will when the abortions stop. It is a kind of madness to go through life pretending that there is not something abhorrent happening in our nation with legal abortion and at all stages and then-some in so many places. What he does is in the noble tradition of civil disobedience — the civil-rights movement was fueled by it, rooted also in faith in God and His laws. This, too, is a civil- and human-rights movement. Father Fidelis does not do red rose rescues in New York, because he been leading these prayer vigils for over a decade and sometimes needs police protection, when people decide to protest the prayer. The protest rallying cry in Brooklyn is to stop clinic invasion and harassment. But all we are there to do is pray and offer a sign of hope to women who are looking for one in a culture that too often expects girls and women to abort their children. It’s out of a deep love and respect for the sacredness of human life and scared women and girls that the pro-lifers gather.

As for the NYPD, we could not have gotten to Planned Parenthood without them on Saturday. They made two arrests, and sadly they were necessary. They gave ample warning. The protesters were keeping us from walking on the streets to Planned Parenthood. I respect their right to express their anger at people praying. I wish they wouldn’t scream obscenities and sacrilege and flash a Franciscan friar and others, but at the very least, they need to not obstruct our free access to the streets. I’ve never seen the police be anything like aggressive in these encounters. From my observation, they’d much rather we just drop the prayer procession. But as Father Fidelis operates: Not until the abortions end.

Religion

Cardinal Burke Is a Man, Not a Caricature. Please Join in Praying for Him

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Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke attends a consistory as Pope Francis elevates five Roman Catholic prelates to the rank of cardinal, at Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, June 28, 2017. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke is sick with COVID-19. Ventilator sick. With pneumonia.

Some seem to be relishing this, since he has not made known his vaccination status, and he has raised questions about people being coerced into getting it.

Now, first of all, I don’t wish suffering on those I disagree with, and as humans I think that’s generally a good way to try to live. For Christians, it would seem to be mandatory.

As for the media, the coverage of his illness is fascinating. Not the “Gotcha!” nature of it, which is to be expected. But I noticed this in an NBC report on Burke’s sickness:

He has also said the best weapon for battling “the evil of the coronavirus” is a relationship with Jesus, according to The Associated Press.

What on earth is shocking about that? Isn’t that what a pastor would say? Maybe not the year after we shut down houses of worship, opting for the virtual over presence. Religion is essential, in no small part because man will die if he thinks this is all there is. What’s the point? And thus you see the increase in depression and suicide and addiction. At exactly the time when we collectively said religion isn’t essential by our actions.

We absolutely want to keep people safe and act prudently. But it’s not in vaccines we trust ultimately, but God. I went to a funeral Mass yesterday of a priest friend who dropped dead of a heart attack. Each and every one of us is still going to have an end even if we get COVID-19 boosters for the rest of our days.

In one of the Burke talks that is considered controversial, he said quite reasonably:

It is tragic to hear reports of faithful who ask a priest to hear their confession and receive the response that the priests are forbidden to hear confessions, or who ask for Holy Communion and are told that the priests are forbidden to distribute Holy Communion outside of the Holy Mass. It is particularly tragic to hear the accounts of the faithful dying without the help of their priest or without any member of their family or friends present to assist them, and the accounts of lifelong faithful Catholics being buried without any Funeral Rites whatsoever. In some cases, these tragic circumstances have been dictated by the State and in some cases they have been dictated by the Church, beyond the demands of the regulations of the State or in conformity with regulations of the State, which are in violation of religious freedom.

And also said something that needs to be said and often:

From the beginning, there has been a failure to make clear that among all of the necessities of life the principal necessity is communion with God. Yes, we need what is required for our nourishment, health and hygiene, but none of these essential needs can substitute for our most fundamental need: to know, love and serve God. As I was taught long ago, among the first lessons in the Catechism, God made man to know, love and serve Him in this life and thereby to obtain life everlasting with Him in Heaven.

In the face of an international health crisis, we must turn first to God, asking Him to keep us safe from the contagion and from every other evil. Turning to God, we find the direction and strength to take whatever human measures are required to protect ourselves, according to the demands of right reason and of the moral law. Otherwise, if we falsely think that the combat against the evil depends totally upon us, we take measures which offend our human dignity and, above all, our right relationship with God. In that regard, the State should be attentive to the religious freedom of the citizens, in order that the help of God may be sought at all times and in all things. To think otherwise is to make the State our god and to think that mere humans, without the help of God, can save us.

I’m praying for Cardinal Burke’s healing. And for an increase in humility all around. And also, a respect for conscience rights at this time of great fear. Fear does not bring out the best in us, it would seem. Even while encouraging vaccination — Pope Francis appears in a new ad calling it an act of love to get vaccinated — the Vatican has also said that vaccination must be voluntary. I know a woman who had an abortion who believes it would be turning her back on God who has shown mercy on her to take a vaccine that an aborted baby involuntarily had to do with the production of. You don’t have to agree with her to respect her conscience rights. This has been excruciating — and continues to be — for many people whom I deeply respect, who are doing the Lord’s work on several fronts. And while I recognize moral concerns and medical concerns over autoimmune problems are far from the only reasons people are not getting vaccinated, at a time when the Biden administration has expanded research with the remains of aborted children, I’d be concerned if no one wanted to stand up in protest. That doesn’t make them insurrectionists.

One last thing about Cardinal Burke: The narrative that he and Pope Francis are mortal enemies has always struck me as an unfortunate caricature. But we take great comfort in categories, and conflict entertains. Here’s something I wrote about that a few years ago, for what it’s worth.

National Security & Defense

Biden’s ‘I Am Not Sending My Boy Back There’ Comment in Context

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, with sons Beau and Hunter, delivers remarks after he and his family helped assemble care kits for U.S. military service members during a pre-inauguration service project in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

A lot of people are pointing to Biden’s 2010 exchange with Richard Holbrooke as an omen of his decision-making regarding Afghanistan:

A few months before his death in 2010, Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, met privately with the vice president in Washington. Their relationship dated to the 1970s. “They were practically the same age, similarly dominating, agreed on almost everything, and so naturally couldn’t stand each other,” wrote George Packer, Holbrooke’s biographer, in his book “Our Man.”

Holbrooke recorded their brief and contentious exchange in his diary.

Both Biden and Holbrooke were convinced that the war was unwinnable. Still, Holbrooke argued that the United States owed Afghans continued aid and assistance, particularly directed at the women who had suffered under the Taliban’s brutal rule.

The United States simply couldn’t abandon the country.

Holbrooke’s appeal infuriated Biden, who was so angry that he rose from his chair, according to Holbrooke.

“I am not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights!” the vice president shouted at him. “It just won’t work, that’s not what they’re there for.”

Judging by the sequence of events in Holbrooke’s book, this meeting was sometime in August 2010 or later. In the passage right before it, Holbooke mentions he and his wife Kati attended “the final performance of the revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center,” which was August 22, 2010.

The “my boy” in Biden’s comment is undoubtedly a reference to Biden’s son Beau Biden, who was deployed in Iraq from October 2008 to October 2009.

Beau Biden suffered a mild stroke in April of 2010. It is quite likely that at the time of the conversation with Holbrooke, the vice president was deeply worried about his son’s health. In 2013, the younger Biden had a “small lesion” removed from his brain, and was diagnosed with brain cancer. In 2015, Beau Biden passed away from that cancer. In 2018, Joe Biden said that he thinks toxins found in smoke from burning waste at U.S. military installations in Iraq and at other facilities abroad could “play a significant role” in causing veterans’ cancer.

Task and Purpose reported, “in a 2019 speech to the Service Employees International Union, Biden said because of Beau’s ‘exposure to burn pits, in my view, I can’t prove it yet, he came back with stage four glioblastoma. Eighteen months he lived, knowing he was going to die.’”

Biden saw the debate about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan in exceptionally personal terms – and had a particularly high bar of whether anything was worth risking U.S. casualties.

It is fair to wonder if Biden still sees Afghanistan in these exceptionally personal terms. Biden didn’t think Afghanistan was worth risking his son’s life in 2010; he doesn’t think it’s worth risking any American service member’s life now.

Politics & Policy

Queen Pelosi Is Not Amused

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill August 6, 2021. (Gabrielle Crockett/Reuters)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tongue lashed a group of nine moderate House Democrats who want to slow down her $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.

Pelosi told her caucus she would press ahead with the bill, despite warnings from the nine members that they will oppose it unless the House first votes on the $1 trillion “infrastructure bill” already passed by the Senate.

Pelosi told her close deputies that “this is no time for amateur hour.” Using lofty language to justify her iron use of power, she told them that, “For the first time America’s children have leverage — I will not surrender that leverage.”

Should all nine moderates — a group that includes Representatives Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Jared Golden of Maine, and Henry Cuellar of Texas — vote against the blueprint for the reconciliation bill, it will fail, since it has zero GOP support and Pelosi only has a three-vote margin.

Pelosi knows that the nine moderates are far outvoted by the Crazy Caucus of House progressives. She needs both, but it’s easier to whip the nine moderates into line. In addition, as Political Wire reports: “One truth about politics is that moderates always cave more easily than more ideological members.”

I won’t declare the moderates defeated until I see their white flag, but for now, it appears that Republicans are not going to be able to count on them coming to the rescue.

World

The Barbarians Minding the Gates

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Afghans and Spanish citizens residing in Afghanistan board a military plane during evacuations at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. (Ministry of Defense of Spain/Handout via Reuters )

The Wall Street Journal has a report on the difficulty people are having getting past the Taliban to the airport:

At Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, crowds of Afghans continued to gather along the perimeter, trying to flee the country. The Taliban once again repulsed these crowds with violence, beating and whipping families trying to get through the checkpoints and unleashing volleys of gunfire in the air, according to witnesses.

Beyond the Taliban checkpoints, U.S. Marines at the gates of the airport focused mostly on keeping anyone from coming close. As a result, many of the evacuation flights continued leaving with empty seats even as tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with Western governments clamored for a way out before the Taliban track them down.

And Allahpundit has a good round-up of various on-the-ground reports of what’s happening outside the airport.

The short story is that we are relying on the Taliban to let our people and our allies through. The Taliban have an incentive not to push it too far, since they just want us to leave without tempting us to hit them. If that calculation were to change, though, this could turn into an even more nightmarish debacle.

As it is, it is a national humiliation that we are dependent on the good will of our enemies — harassing and beating people presumably within sight of our troops — to get terrified Americans and Afghans to safety.

Culture

Scenes from Another Day of Abortion in America

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(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

There’s a humming you typically hear outside Manhattan’s Planned Parenthood. It’s the background noise of cars running — typically boyfriends making sure they are comfortable in air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter, as their girlfriends endure the abortion of their unborn child. Of course, we no longer have a culture that quite thinks of it in those terms. Today, one boyfriend sat lounging across the street in a collapsible chair while watching videos during his wait time. As I said, though, the boyfriends are typically inside the cars and when I’m there, I see them rarely even budging to open the car door for the girls after the abortions. Today a girl waiting for one of the girls coming out from an abortion beeped so she would see the car. I just want to give these girls hugs and an Uber ride to the Sisters of Life who will love them back into life and help them know the mercy of God.

It’s all a grave injustice we’re going to have to answer for one day. What did I do to make the world more hospitable to life? To let young girls and women know that there is help? Honestly, I fear even in my own desire to help, people only see judgment. This past Saturday in Brooklyn, the memory of the chant of not only “God loves abortion” but “Mary loves abortion,” still gives me chills, as our Witness for Life prayer was protested for a third month in a row. After the protesters formed a human blockage keeping us from processing to Planned Parenthood from St. Paul’s Church after Mass, with ample warning, the police made two arrests. A most courageous priest was maligned for his loving witness with ugly words, inspired by the abhorrently evil crimes of other priests. He wants to save women from the pain of abortion, as well as save the lives of innocent children. Those protesting prayer see the rosary as harassment. It’s actually a plea for God’s mercy on us all. Americans haven’t just failed the women and children of Afghanistan, but those of our own cities, too. The young Hispanic woman I watched devastated, holding her stomach, after her abortion today in Manhattan deserved better than standing alone on a sidewalk. And with the rise of chemical and abortion by mail, we’re always working to become less humane, rather than more. Our nation is filled with young women who are enslaved to legal abortion in America. It’s not health care, it’s cruel and unusal punishment. And we tend to be numb to it — unless we now prefer it to the truth and beauty of human person and possibilities of the joys of unexpected of life.

Media

The Problem Isn’t Socialist Publications . . .

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. . . the problem is that socialist publications have never been tried.

 

 

Politics & Policy

New Poll Shows Support for Heartbeat Bill in Missouri

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(Bilderbuch/Getty Images)

A new poll from Saint Louis University and YouGov found that the pro-life heartbeat bill signed by Missouri governor Mike Parsons enjoys strong support among Missouri voters.

The survey, which included questions about a range of policies, found that 56 percent of likely voters believe abortion should be prohibited after eight weeks’ gestation. The pro-life bill enjoyed broad support from a range of demographic groups, including majorities of white voters and black voters. The survey also found that women were more supportive of the heartbeat bill than men were. These statistics are good news for pro-lifers in Missouri.

This particular poll is notable for two reasons. First, the survey was conducted by two organizations unconnected to the pro-life movement.  Second, the wording of the question about the bill was not particularly favorable to the pro-life position. It asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed that “the Missouri state government should prohibit abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy?”

Typically, respondents are more likely to support pro-life legislation if the survey question asks about “protecting the preborn” rather than about “prohibiting abortion.” The fact that the poll found 56 percent of Missouri voters support the recent heartbeat bill is especially noteworthy.

We shouldn’t read too much into the results of any one survey, but it is significant that this is the second recent poll showing strong support for heartbeat legislation among Missouri voters. A November 2019 poll conducted by Remington Research Group and Missouri Scout found that 61 percent of likely voters in the state supported House Bill 216 which “prohibits abortion at 8 weeks gestation.”

As I pointed out at NRO earlier this year, Missouri has an exceptionally strong pro-life culture, with numerous groups building a culture of life through education, service, and legislative activity. This might explain why strong pro-life legislation polls particularly well in the state.

In the last few years, about a dozen states have attempted to enact heartbeat bills, which protect preborn children anywhere from six to eight weeks’ gestation. Several surveys have indicated that this type of legislation polls well in conservative states. Two recent polls of Texas voters, for example, found that heartbeat bills enjoyed plurality support in the state.

Even though heartbeat bills have been struck down in court, they remain a wise pro-life strategy, especially because Supreme Court decisions are often influenced by public opinion. The fact that strong, protective pro-life laws enjoy support in conservative parts of the country sends a message to the Court as it prepares to consider the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion limit this fall.

Media

MSNBC Columnist Compares Pro-Lifers to the Taliban

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Women with their children try to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

In an absurd and tone-deaf opinion piece, MSNBC columnist Dean Obeidallah argues that Republicans must be insincere in condemning the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan because they themselves oppose “women’s rights.”

“I have to wonder where these voices were when extremists, based on a narrow reading of their religion’s beliefs, enacted a law that forces a woman who was raped to carry the fetus of the rapist to term?” Obeidallah writes, referring to GOP lawmakers supporting a recent pro-life law in Arkansas that offered very limited exceptions to its prohibitions on abortion.

He goes on to argue that, while “nobody is saying the GOP and the Taliban are equally bad,” pro-life Republicans can’t sincerely oppose the Taliban’s egregious violations of women’s rights because GOP lawmakers themselves have voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and joined in filing a brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

It’s one thing to support legal abortion, as Obeidallah does, but it’s another entirely to compare the Taliban’s misogynistic policies — such as, for instance, forbidding women to show any skin or attend school or drive a car — to the eminently reasonable pro-life view that a woman’s right to bodily autonomy does not extend so far that she can end the life of the unborn child in her womb.

By insinuating that the two are even remotely comparable, Obeidallah has exposed a passion for legal abortion so vigorous that he has abandoned all good sense and charity.

World

How Worried Should We Be about Taiwan’s Future?

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A Taiwanese navy honor guard looks on in front of a Taiwanese flag at a ceremony in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, April 13, 2021. (Ann Wang / Reuters)

With China running another wargame on Taiwan’s doorstep, and Chinese state-run media taunting Taiwan that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is “a clearer demonstration of US impotence than the Vietnam War — the US is indeed like a ‘paper tiger,’” Asia-watchers are understandably concerned that a Chinese invasion has rapidly become more likely.

Three big questions to consider:

One: If you were a Chinese military planner preparing for an invasion of Taiwan, would you want Chinese-run state media taunting Taiwan that “once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and the US military won’t come to help”? Or would you prefer that state-run media shut up to maximize the element of surprise?

Would the psychological morale value of this state-run media message be worth it, considering the offsetting factor of Taiwanese forces and the population being on high alert? Or would Chinese military planners prefer for cross-strait tensions to settle and grow quiet, in hopes of catching the Taiwanese government and people off-guard?

Two: If you’re a Chinese military strategist, and you think the U.S. ability to defend Taiwan declined from 2001 to 2011, and from 2011 to 2021, would you want to invade now, or wait and see if your geopolitical leverage is even better a few years from now? What is the trend-line in U.S. readiness and willingness to defend Taiwan?

Three: One of the lowest-hanging fruits that a Chinese invasion would target is Kinmen Island, “Taiwan’s DMZ,” six miles from the Chinese coast, and about 170 miles from the main island of Taiwan, what used to be called Formosa. One of the other lowest-hanging fruits that a Chinese invasion would target is the Matsu Islands — where the Chinese are sending hundreds of dredgers to scoop up sand off the seafloor, in what Taiwanese authorities fear is a Chinese attempt to wear down, provoke, or intimidate the residents there. Matsu is also only about six miles from mainland China, and 130 miles from the main island of Taiwan.

If the Chinese doubt the American willingness to make sacrifices to defend Taiwan’s main island . . . how much is the United States willing to sacrifice to defend Kinmen and Matsu? And if you wanted to test American resolve, wouldn’t some small obscure islands be the right spot to start a small conflict that would, in theory, be easy to de-escalate from?

Politics & Policy

Biden in, um, Full

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After reading Jim’s Jolt this morning, on the crisis of competence in our government, I thought it might be worth revisiting my pre-election synopsis of (now) President Biden:

Biden, too, is deeply flawed, in ways different from Trump. His embarrassingly patent senescence and habitual incoherence are problems, to be sure. But in his prime, such as it was, he was never regarded as serious presidential material, despite his several attempts. Mediocrity is something he’d have to aspire to. He was a gentleman’s-C undergrad who went on to finish 76th out of 85 in his law-school class. He entered politics in a one-party state right out of law school, and there he has stayed for a half century, plagiarizing his way through as he did in school. If he has distinguished himself, it is mainly by being wrong on virtually every issue of great public consequence, often after vacillating from one side to the other. His accomplishments are nil. The defining attribute of his current campaign is to run away from a few sensible positions he used to hold. Otherwise, he would not have been viable to today’s woke Left, against which he is largely impotent.

Education

This Is ‘Equity’ on the March

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Governor Kate Brown has signed into law a bill that eliminates the requirement that students in the state’s public high schools be able to demonstrate basic ability in reading and math to graduate. This, it is said, will make things more “fair” for minority students.

Rick Hess of AEI has some sharp words for this policy here.

He writes, “To be blunt, too many grownups on the American left have thrown in the towel. Many of the same Democratic leaders who, just a few years ago, were cheering Common Core and Obama’s Race to the Top, now nod along as the woke fringe and “diversity, equity, and inclusion” officialdom insist that schools frequently serve as little more than engines of systemic racism. This line of argument turns out to be surprisingly convenient for Democratic officials, as it permits them to placate the woke base, back away from the kinds of demands that offend their teacher union allies, and suggest that the disappointments of grandiose school reform were a product not of their missteps or excessive faith in bureaucracies but of the public’s own moral failings.”

It’s obvious that the far-left now sees education as little more than an empty credentialing process that provides jobs for many of its supporters while instilling a host of “progressive” notions in the minds of students (if they’re paying any attention).

Parents who care will, I’m sure, start to exit Oregon’s public schools. The next move by the statists will probably be to make that illegal. It was just about a century ago that Oregon tried to compel all students to attend public schools, but the Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional in Pierce v. Society of Sisters.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the education blob doesn’t try again.