The California state senate and house this week passed Senate Bill 57, which would permit drug users to safely inject or smoke drugs while at supervised facilities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland. Senate Republicans all voted “no” on the bill. State senate Republican leader Scott Wilk said the bill was “one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation that I’ve seen sent to the governor.” S.B. 57 now heads to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.
If the bill becomes law, the three cities would be able to maintain safe-injection sites until 2028. Drug users could inject themselves with drugs they bring to the sites. The sites would be staffed by employees trained to monitor drug users and would offer sanitized supplies; staff would make referrals to substance-abuse treatment programs. Those enrolled in the safe-injection-site program would get immunity from professional discipline, civil liability, and current criminal laws because of good-faith behavior and compliance with the program. However, users would not be allowed to exchange illegal drugs with other users at the sites.
The injection sites are intended to prevent overdoses on drugs such as fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin as well as guard against the transmission of diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. It is a pricey endeavor — the sites could cost millions to operate annually. California has seen a large increase in overdose deaths recently. Los Angeles County had a 48 percent increase in accidental drug-overdose deaths during the first five months of the Covid pandemic compared to the same time period in 2019. San Francisco had 297 accidental overdose deaths from January to June 2022.
Progressives have pushed for the embrace of safe-injection sites, which they view as compassionate policy. Some studies do suggest that these safe-injection sites will lead to fewer overdoses and HIV infections. However, the evidence does not appear conclusive by any means. Safe-injection sites do not have a good track record of directing drug users toward treatment and recovery; in some cases, referral rates are as low as 1 percent. In 2017, five cities around Seattle passed local ordinances prohibiting safe-injection sites, demonstrating that there is opposition to these programs even in progressive areas. Common sense suggests that providing safe-injection sites will incentivize drug abusers to continue using. If addicts believe they can shoot up safely, they will have less of a reason to try to stop. Common sense also suggests that a better policy would be to help users of potentially deadly drugs into treatment.
Will Newsom sign S.B. 57 into law? It’s not guaranteed. He may realize that, while this effort may be driven by good intentions, it will likely have deleterious consequences.
Why isn’t Donald Trump making a bigger deal of the search of Mar-a-Lago?
Every Trump fan in my life thinks this was a big moment in American politics. And almost every non-Trumpy conservative thinks this was a huge moment and that the FBI needed to have something more serious than a matter with the National Archives to justify going about its business this way.
I would have expected lurid descriptions of how the FBI tossed one of the most famous residences in America. And yet for now, Trump seems to be missing his own moment. Maybe there is less here than meets the eye?
I saw the new movie Vengeance a week or so ago. It’s a dark comedy — written and directed by a guy from The Office — about a New York writer who gets dragged into a family drama in Texas. The set-up is implausible, and the characters annoying and clichéd. But as the plot proceeds, they become richer and more likable, and by the end, the movie really delivers. I’d definitely recommend seeing Minions: The Rise of Gru first, or maybe twice, before going to Vengeance, but it’s interesting and funny.
The episode and its fallout show how Trump — off of Twitter and out of office — can still blot out the sun. The magnitude of the controversy and attention he generates is beyond what anyone else, even the brightest stars in the party, can hope to match.
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended a woke county prosecutor who pledged not to enforce laws that he opposed. For a couple of days, this felt like a big deal. DeSantis was denounced as a strongman by his enemies and celebrated as a brave champion of law and order by his allies. Yet, compared with the action at Mar-a-Lago, the firing was a picayune dispute over county government — local theater compared with Broadway; Hollywood, Florida compared with Hollywood, California.
In retrospect, it seems clear that Democrats, in fact, seriously erred by lumping Hispanics in with “people of color” and assuming they embraced the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. In reality, Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly an upwardly mobile, patriotic population with practical and down to earth concerns focused on jobs, the economy, health care, effective schools and public safety.
An op-ed in the New York Times last week asked the question, “Why Do We Talk About Miscarriage Differently From Abortion?” aimed at legitimizing elective abortion by comparing it to miscarriage.
The immediate answer to this question is obvious to those of us considering it sincerely rather than using it merely as a means of justifying elective abortion. A miscarriage takes place when an unborn child dies spontaneously, whereas abortion directly and intentionally kills an unborn child.
The reason for the attempted conflation is likewise obvious. The authors label both miscarriage and abortion different forms of “pregnancy loss” in an effort to imply that, for various reasons, some pregnancies just don’t happen to work out, thus obfuscating the essential difference between a child’s spontaneous death and a child’s death brought about on purpose by someone’s active choice to kill him. (A related issue is abortion supporters’ recent promotion of the lie that D&C procedures — used both in elective abortions and to treat women after they’ve suffered a miscarriage — will no longer be allowed in cases of miscarriage once pro-life laws are in place. In fact, no pro-life law in the country prevents doctors from using a D&C procedure to remove a child who has died due to miscarriage; what’s disallowed is using a D&C to intentionally kill a living unborn child.)
Though the authors evidently posed this question in an effort to justify elective abortion, it’s actually a fair question considered from another angle. Why does our culture speak about miscarriage and abortion differently when it comes to the matter of recognizing what — or, rather, who — is lost in both instances? When parents suffer a miscarriage, they are likely to receive a great deal of sympathy; most people recognize with sadness the loss of the unborn child who parents never got to meet. But when a woman has an abortion, we are meant to pretend that she’s doing nothing more than eliminating a “clump of cells” or a “parasite,” or making a routine health-care decision that has nothing to do with any loss of human life. In this way, our society’s acceptance of elective abortion has actually undermined our ability to recognize and mourn the loss of miscarriage, because abortion promotes the notion that a pregnant woman isn’t a mother at all necessarily and that the human life growing inside her might not be that valuable after all.
Unless there’s something shocking going on that no one is picking up, Liz Cheney is far behind in her primary and losing ground. Of course, she made her decision that this wasn’t important to her long ago, and maybe the bigger the blowout, the better for her legacy as a lonely crusader against the tide in her party. But every indication is that it’s going to be ugly:
NR’s Diana Glebova reports that Nancy Pelosi has extended Covid-era proxy voting for the House . . . again:
Nancy Pelosi extended proxy voting for the House on Tuesday, continuing the pandemic-era rule until late September, despite numerous members of Congress using it as an excuse to go on vacation and campaign for reelection.
The extension until late September was proclaimed due to a “public health emergency” caused by Covid-19, the speaker of the House said in a letter to her colleagues.
As Diana notes, “A host of representatives were caught misusing the pandemic rule to go on vacation or to campaign for reelection while Congress was in session. Some of the lawmakers have used proxy votes several hundred times since it’s been enacted, including Pelosi’s fellow Californian, Eric Swalwell.”
As I wrote back in March, this is a continuing (mostly) Democratic boondoggle that has nothing to do with public health and everything to do with politics:
“No one has benefited more from the arrangement than Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” the New York Times reported. “It has allowed Ms. Pelosi, whose majority is so slim that she can afford to lose no more than four Democrats if every member is present and voting, to all but ensure that absences alone do not cost her pivotal support.” According to a CNN analysis of Congress from January to July 2021, 73 percent of House Democrats utilized proxy voting at least once, in contrast with just 37 percent of House Republicans.
The proxy-voting provision, which allows for “virtual hearings, markups, and depositions . . . with Members participating from any location,” “was originally set to expire after 45 days, but it has been continually extended by House Democratic leadership — first through the end of the 116th Congress, then again through the end of 2021,” I wrote. “In a body where the vast majority of its members are vaccinated, any Covid-related justification for proxy voting is an insult to the American people’s intelligence. What’s more, the Senate has never implemented remote voting, despite the fact that the average senator is four years older than the average representative.”
When it comes to the border, Democrats tell us the pandemic is over — that’s the rationale for the push to end the pandemic-era Title 42 provision “that turned away asylum-seekers to prevent the spread of Covid,” as NR’s editors wrote in April. But Covid is still very much with us insofar as it allows Pelosi to squeeze as much juice as possible out of her slim House majority. Go figure.
Last week’s defeat of the “Value Them Both” amendment in Kansas — which would have reversed a state supreme court ruling finding a right to abortion in the state constitution — has had mainstream-media commentators swooning. Pundits claim the results demonstrate strong support for permissive abortion laws, even in conservative states, as well as that efforts to use direct democracy to protect the preborn in other states are doomed to fail.
Interestingly, when abortion wins at the ballot box, commentators are quick to argue that such elections are politically important and portend future victories for legal abortion. But the media typically ignore pro-life political wins or claim that such victories are the result of gerrymandering, luck, or mere circumstance.
Perhaps the most flawed analysis of the Kansas election results was authored by Nate Cohn and in the New York Times blog “The Upshot.” Cohn claims that based on the results in Kansas, we can determine that voters in only seven states would support an amendment similar to “Value Them Both.” Cohn’s exact methodology is unclear, but he appears to predict how a similar amendment would do in other states based on public attitudes toward abortion. Since “Value Them Both” received only 41 percent support in Kansas, he argues that a similar amendment would succeed only in states whose pro-life sentiment is at least nine points higher than in the Sunflower State.
Cohn and other pundits are reading too much into the results of one election. Research on direct democracy suggests that many factors affect the success or failure of ballot questions, including the exact wording of the question, the timing of election, the presence of other ballot questions, and fundraising and spending on both sides of the question.
Additionally, data from other states reveal issues with Cohn’s analysis. In 2020, the Louisiana ballot contained a constitutional amendment similar to “Value them Both,” making it explicit that the state constitution does not contain a right to abortion. Cohn’s model predicts that such a ballot question would receive only about 55 percent of the vote in Louisiana. However, the amendment actually was approved by more than 62 percent of the voters. Similar constitutional amendments were approved by voters in Tennessee in 2014 and voters in Alabama in 2018. In both cases, public support for the measures exceeded Cohn’s predictions.
Furthermore, there were a number of circumstantial reasons why the particular amendment in Kansas was defeated. For one thing, it was drafted well before the Dobbs decision was handed down, and the pro-life organizers in favor of the measure likely failed to anticipate the onslaught of outside money and publicity. The wording of the amendment was somewhat confusing, and post-Dobbs media coverage of life issues has been more biased and partisan than ever. All of these factors played a role in the amendment’s defeat.
Propositions pertaining to abortion are likely to be on the ballot in five other states this fall. Separate ballot questions in California and Vermont would place the right to an abortion in their respective state constitutions. These will be difficult for pro-lifers to defeat. However, a proposed amendment to place a right to “reproductive freedom” in the Michigan constitution provides a unique opportunity for pro-lifers. Fifty years ago, pro-lifers won an unexpected victory in the Wolverine State when they resoundingly defeated Proposal B, which would have legalized abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. History may well repeat itself in 2022. As always, pro-lifers would do well keep up the fight.
Pizza has a long history in Italy. It even arguably shows up in the Aeneid, the poet Virgil’s Augustan-era epic poem about the origin of Rome. Virgil’s poem focuses on Aeneas, a mythic Trojan who escapes from the sack of Troy with a band of refugees and endures a journey around the Mediterranean until he and his crew settle in what would become Rome. At one point in their travails, this “miserabile vulgus” (roughly, “wretched crowd”) rests from its travels and enjoys a meal. Here is how it is described in Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of the epic:
There with his officers and princely son, Aeneas took repose
beneath a tall tree’s boughs. They made a feast,
putting out on the grass hard wheaten cakes
as platters for their meal—moved to do this
by Jupiter himself. These banquet boards
of Ceres they heaped up with country fruits.
Now, as it happened, when all else was eaten
their neediness drove them to try their teeth
on Ceres’ platters. Boldly with hand and jaw
They broke the crusted disks of prophecy,
making short work of all the quartered loaves
This has always struck me as a kind of “proto-pizza,” at the very least. But why “crusted disks of prophecy”? Because, earlier in the epic, Aeneas is told by the shade of his father that when his crew “devoured [their] tables,” they were finally in the place they will call home. Aeneas did not understand what this meant until his son jokingly said that was what they were doing by eating the “crust” of the proto-pizza.
The dish itself took a long journey to becoming the ubiquity it is today. As often happens, a somewhat-quirky delicacy from another country arrived to America, which ran with it and then transmitted it to the world. So much so that Domino’s, one of the more successful American pizza franchises, attempted to set up locations in Italy, starting in 2015. Well, they say it’s hard to sell ice to eskimos, and apparently it’s also hard to sell Domino’s to Italians. The franchise has recently closed its last locations in the country. Via the Wall Street Journal:
EPizza SpA, the Milan-based company that held the master franchise rights to operate the Domino’s brand in Italy, said increasing competition hurt its stores, according to documents filed in April in Italian bankruptcy court. Locally run restaurants and pizzerias began using food-delivery services, eating into the revenue of the Domino’s franchises, according to the documents.
The pandemic also hobbled ePizza, according to the bankruptcy documents.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent and prolonged restrictions from a financial point of view have seriously damaged ePizza,” the company said in the documents.
It’s understandable that these franchises have struggled. Having consumed pizza in both America and Italy, I’ve found that, while Italy makes great pizza, there are places in this country that can compete. But Domino’s could not compare in sheer quality to the best Italian pizza. Where it could compete was in convenience. When Covid restrictions compelled more pizza places to start using delivery, though, that was probably game over for Domino’s in Italy.
But could other forms of American pizza survive, even thrive, in Italy? I think so. Italy may have invented pizza, but America has truly run with the dish, inventing multiple new forms that I could see Italians enjoying. New York, Detroit, and, especially, Chicago have their own types of pizza that Americans could try marketing to Italy, I think with some success. Chicago-style pizza, in particular, could awaken Italians to the new possibilities for the dish, with its thick crust, pie-like volume, and hearty portions.
I understand there is some level of controversy in this country about whether Chicago-style pizza is pizza at all. As with the “controversy” over whether Ohio is a Midwestern state (it is), however, this is a debate I do not understand. Chicago-style pizza is definitely pizza, and it is delicious, probably my favorite kind. There is a legitimate discussion to be had over what the best kind of pizza is. But if anyone would dare dispute that it at least qualifies as pizza, then may his gustatory spirit flee away into darkness.
Sure enough, a strong jobs report last week lent support to the argument that the labor market is in such good shape that we cannot be in recession. But this argument ignores the economics of recessions, and the lessons of history. Policy-makers truly believing we are not in recession creates systemic policy risk because the normal recession playbook will be left on the shelf. As the unrecognized recession gets worse, the Fed and the Democrats will keep fiddling while Rome burns.
To be sure, there will be between now and the next election a large number of partisan “recession deniers” who will try to keep the word out of print in order to support Democratic candidates. There is no point trying to reason with such people of course, but at the Fed it also seems that a genuine belief has spread that we are truly not in a recession. That belief is, I believe, based on a simple conceptual error.
If this period feels more chaotic than any in recent memory, it is because many of our previous assumptions are being challenged: that other large powers will exercise restraint in war; that a rules-based order benefits everyone; that open trade raises every country’s standard of living; that democracy is gaining ground; that as a result of all the above the geopolitical risk premium will remain low. These are the foundations upon which the low inflation and bull market of decades was built. Are we now experiencing a brief pause or the start of a major unwind?
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the United Kingdom’s attorney general, Suella Braverman, has clarified that schools are legally permitted “to refuse to use the preferred opposite sex pronouns of a child.” School personnel who encourage children to “socially transition” without their parent’s knowledge or consent risk being in “breach of their duty of care to that child.” Braverman also wrote that schools are legally obligated to “provide single-sex toilets in schools.”
The United States, with its latest Title IX guidance, is moving in the opposite direction. More on that here and here.
Britain’s main gender-youth clinic was shut down after an independent review deemed it unsafe. Now, it’s facing mass legal action from an expected 1,000 families in a medical-negligence lawsuit.
The Times of London reports:
Tom Goodhead, chief executive of Pogust Goodhead [the law firm filing the suit], told The Times: “Children and young adolescents were rushed into treatment without the appropriate therapy and involvement of the right clinicians, meaning that they were misdiagnosed and started on a treatment pathway that was not right for them.
“These children have suffered life-changing and, in some cases, irreversible effects of the treatment they received.”
Papers are expected to be lodged at the High Court within six months.
The treatment of gender-confused minors at American gender-youth clinics is even more reckless and is happening on a larger scale. Should the lawsuit be successful, the incident at the Tavistock could be a shot heard around the world.
Here’s a fun poll from YouGov on the s0-called Inflation Reduction Act:
56. Do you think that this bill will increase or decrease inflation?
Increase inflation: 36%
Decrease inflation: 12%
Will not change inflation: 23%
Not sure: 29%
Which, as YouGov notes, means that “Americans are three times as likely to think the Inflation Reduction Act will increase inflation as to think it will decrease inflation.”
Among Republicans, the increase-decrease numbers are 69-4, with 13 percent thinking it will have no effect. Among independents, they’re 33-10, with 21 percent thinking it’ll be a wash. Democrats are the only group who say it’ll decrease inflation (21 percent) more than increase inflation (13), but if you add “will not change inflation” to the equation, that becomes 47 percent for increase/not change inflation and just 21 percent for decrease inflation.
This, obviously, is disastrous for the Democrats. It’s also richly deserved. The Inflation Reduction Act has nothing whatsoever to do with reducing inflation — and everybody knows it. Over and over again, President Biden and his party have had the chance to make it clear that they care about the inflation that their last major bill made much worse, and over and over again, they have chosen to focus on the issues that they wished voters cared about instead. Eventually, after a lot of hemming and hawing, they decided that they were going to keep doing what they’d wanted to do all along, but that, to square the circle, they’d slap the word “inflation” on their work in the hope that the electorate is full of morons.
In October 2021 Boris Johnson pledged that Britain could meet its ambitious net zero targets ‘without so much as a hair shirt in sight’ as the Government set out its plans to decarbonise the economy. ‘Green is good,’ he said, and not ‘inextricably bound up with a sense that we have to sacrifice the things we love’.
With Britain facing energy bills that give (only somewhat accidentally) a taste of what net zero will be like, Johnson can consider himself lucky that he will be out of office before winter comes.
Although he couldn’t reasonably have been expected to admit it, it is worth noting that for many climate fundamentalists, although not, to be fair, Johnson, the hair shirt is a big part of what attracts them. Pointless asceticism has been a feature of many creeds over the centuries, not least those, like climate fundamentalism, that have more than a hint of millenarian fervor about them. Among its benefits are the opportunities it offers for moral preening and, of course, the chance to police the behavior of others.
Lis Costa, managing director of the Behaviourial Insights Team – aka the Nudge Unit – has said her team is ‘considering the full remit of its policy toolbox” to reduce household demand. Along with subsidies for vulnerable households, she has proposed sending letters to households to let them know how their energy use compares with their neighbours.
The Behavioural Insights Team, often known by our other name The Nudge Unit, is a unique company. We started life inside No 10 Downing Street as the world’s first government institution dedicated to the application of behavioural sciences.
We are now a world-leading consulting firm whose mission is to help organisations in the UK and overseas to apply behavioural insights in support of social purpose goals.
Since December 2021 BIT has been wholly owned by Nesta, the UK’s leading innovation charity.
BIT coined the term ‘behavioural insights’ in 2010 to help bring together ideas from a range of inter-related academic disciplines (behavioural economics, psychology, and social anthropology). These fields seek to understand how individuals take decisions in practice and how they are likely to respond to options. Their insights enable us to design policies or interventions that can encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves and society.
There is nothing creepy about that, nothing at all.
When the UK coalition government was formed in May 2010, the new prime minister, David Cameron, translated his enthusiasm for the theory of behavioural insights or ‘nudge’ into reality. He helped set up the Behavioural Insights Team at the centre of government, and encouraged them to innovate and create policy initiatives based on their theories of influence and persuasion.
Yet another reminder that under Cameron, May, and Johnson, the Tories became another party of the big state and, while they were at it, nanny’s little helpers.
This is not the first time the Nudge Unit has proposed ‘energy leaderboards’. Back in 2011 they suggested emulating US firm Opower’s ‘success’ in a neighbourhood energy comparison scheme which resulted in a reduction of 2-3% in energy use . . .
Energy leaderboards are a classic nudge, but a distasteful tool, reminiscent of communist bloc policing. What next, dunce caps for the worst energy consumers? Corner time in the close for gas guzzlers? Remove the covers of our electricity and gas meters so neighbours can come and inspect our selfish energy consumption on a daily basis?
. . . ‘Social norms’ were deployed by the [Tory] Government and public heath bodies to encourage compliance with lockdown rules. Nudge Unit reports are littered with language that betrays a disdainful view of autonomy and agency. We have a ‘powerful tendency to conform’ according to one report which was published and then rapidly unpublished in the same week that Boris Johnson promised no hair shirts. And if the idea of an energy leaderboard letter chafes, be aware that, among myriad interventions, the same report proposed ‘stronger carbon taxes’ on meat and travel.
Ah, the wars against (checks list) meat, cars, and air travel. Of course.
Successive UK governments have put the emissions-reduction agenda before affordability and security of supply. Reducing energy is not like reducing food waste. It represents an immiserating race to the bottom. A modern, prosperous and contented society requires energy. We expect the Government to provide energy security, not exert subliminal pressure to change people’s behaviour, purely in order to cover up its own policy failures.
The Nudge Unit is manifestly and obnoxiously obsessed with climate change, and out of touch with the plight of millions of households this winter. They have produced various reports with climate nudge suggestions from influencing children in schools, to taxing meat, to changing the weather reports (evident in the last heatwave!) to product placement in dramas . . .
It is not up to . . . the Nudge Unit to say what household energy should be, or that subsidies should be the remedy for rising energy prices. It is the cross-party political consensus on climate/Net Zero that needs a nudge. Not us.
Of course, this sort of dystopian thinking could never take root over here.
International sports organizations are becoming increasingly important in the fight to keep males out of female sports. One huge win was the decision of FINA, the international federation for swimming, to ban males who transition after the age of twelve from competing as self-identified women. This may yet stop Lia (formerly Will) Thomas from doing further damage to women’s swimming after the NCAA failed to ensure fairness.
USA Wrestling and the International Rugby League adopted similar policies. This, too, has had a knock-on effect. The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) is the latest sports body to exclude male athletes who self-identify as female. The IRFU’s decision prevents males over the age of twelve from playing female rugby — a contact sport — based on “medical and scientific evidence” that shows males retain their advantages “even after testosterone suppression.”
And the Union Cycliste Internationale, the international governing body for cycling, has managed to prevent a male cyclist from displacing more women at the U.S. Elite Track Cycling National Championships this week after it tightened the testosterone-level requirements. These are promising signs.
The Justice Department’s unsealing today of an indictment targeting an Iranian man who allegedly plotted former national-security adviser John Bolton’s assassination is especially disturbing given that the Iranian regime knew specific details about his whereabouts in a few instances.
In court documents made public today, prosecutors and federal agents described the assassination plot in detail, including how the suspect, Shahram Poursafi — a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — allegedly coordinated with U.S.-based individuals (one of whom worked with federal agents) from Tehran to surveil Bolton’s home and office.
In an affidavit submitted to the court, an FBI agent notes at a few points that Poursafi, who the Justice Department suspects worked in tandem with the guards’ Quds Force, demonstrated accurate knowledge of some of Bolton’s movements. He knew that Bolton was at home during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays this past year and at least one instance in which the former senior official was traveling. Each of those times, according to the Justice Department document, Poursafi did not state whether he knew this through in-person surveillance, a hacking operation, or other sources.
In addition, Poursafi allegedly had a second plot against a different former U.S. official in mind. Subsequent reports have indicated that that official is former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. According to the FBI affidavit, Poursafi told the person that he hired for the Bolton hit job that taking out the second official would require considerably less surveillance and intelligence work, since that was already “complete, and had been gathered ‘from the United States,’ not via ‘Google,’” per the document. Who completed that work in the U.S.? The affidavit does not say.
It was reported several months ago that Pompeo, Bolton, and other targets have been assigned government security details, considering Iranian threats. Still, the accuracy with which Iran surveilled Bolton, as revealed today, is chilling.
On a list titled “17 Famous People Who Started Out As Heroes But Lived Long Enough To Become Major Villains,” BuzzFeed includes Jim Jones, the murderous cult leader; Philippe Petain, a Nazi collaborator; Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and child; Harry Harlow, who emotionally tortured baby monkeys, and — you guessed it — J. K. Rowling, who “went from beloved children’s author to a TERF after making a number of anti-trans comments, then repeatedly doubling down on them.”
In July, a new Twitter account, @BasedMikeLee, surfaced, claiming to be run by Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) himself. Recent weeks have seen vigorous online debate and speculation about the claim. The account’s tweeting habits contributed to this ambiguity — its posts alternated between traditional political statements (such as this recent thread on the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago) and . . . definitively less traditional posts. (“I’m taller than @RandPaul”; “The haters can’t handle this frickin’ smoke”; “This account is no cap — bussin, forreal forreal”). Was this, in fact, the senior U.S. senator from the great state of Utah? Or a suspiciously talented impersonator?
Yesterday, the New York Times published an opinion piece from Wang Wen, a literal CCP propagandist. That’s not an exaggeration — here’s Wen’s biography, as described in the Times article: “Mr. Wang researches global governance and has studied China’s re-emergence as a world power. He is a Communist Party member and a former chief opinion editor of The Global Times, an arm of the official Communist Party newspaper, The People’s Daily.”
Wang’s article, titled “Why China’s People No Longer Look Up to America,” is breathtaking. “When I was a university student in northwestern China in the late 1990s, my friends and I tuned in to shortwave broadcasts of Voice of America, polishing our English while soaking up American and world news,” Wang writes. “We flocked to packed lecture halls whenever a visiting American professor was on campus.” But now that America has ostensibly sacrificed its moral standing — and, perhaps just coincidentally, Wang has accepted a full-time job as a CCP apologist — things have changed:
But after years of watching America’s wars overseas, reckless economic policies and destructive partisanship — culminating in last year’s disgraceful assault on the U.S. Capitol — many Chinese, including me, can barely make out that shining beacon anymore.
Yet as relations between our countries deteriorate, the United States blames us. Secretary of State Antony Blinken did so in May, saying that China was “undermining” the rules-based world order and could not be relied upon to “change its trajectory.”
I have misgivings about some of my country’s policies. And I recognize that some criticisms of my government’s policies are justified. But Americans must also recognize that U.S. behavior is hardly setting a good example.
Last I checked, America is not conducting a full-scale ethnic genocide of one of its religious minorities, replete with concentration camps and forced abortions. Any rational, unbiased observer would surely scoff at the idea that the January 6 riot at the Capitol was morally analogous to Uyghur concentration camps. But then again, Wang is not an unbiased observer. What’s that famous Upton Sinclair line? “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Whether or not the New York Times is obligated to publish salaried CCP organs, I’ll leave up to the readers to decide.
America is a big place, full of many smaller places. And as proud as we are to be from the former, one of the best things about this country is the way we also continue to be proud of those latter places we are from. As an Ohio native, I embrace both my state (and its cryptids) and the Midwest, the region to which it belongs.
From these particularistic attachments spring not only many of the traditions, values, and associations that form us as persons, but also debates about place superiority — and even questions of definition and categorization. One such discussion often becomes a debate about what, exactly, constitutes the Midwest — and, for reasons that escape me, whether Ohio counts; it obviously does — both geographically and “culturally.”
“Data journalism,” often (rightly) mocked as an attempt by the people Edmund Burke called “sophisters, economists, and calculators” to legitimate their political preferences with a patina of objectivity, has come to the rescue. In this instance, however, its conclusions are at least interesting and worthy of consideration. In the Washington Post, Andrew Van Dam has attempted to use Airbnb listings to calculate “the most Midwestern things on Earth, according to data.” Essentially, Doran and his team used the frequency of descriptors in Airbnb listings as a way to answer some of these timeless questions. As he explains the process:
In Airbnb, we’d stumbled on an ideal data set for drawing that elusive line between culture and geography. More importantly, once we’d looked at more than half a million Airbnb listings and built a database powerful enough to answer “Where is the Midwest?” we could use it to answer a much more difficult follow-up: “What is the Midwest?” What cultural touchstones make it different from the rest of the country?
The map of the Midwest drawn by this research designates Iowa as the most Midwestern state, followed by Indiana and Wisconsin. That’s fine with me. The Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas also make the cut. As do Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio (sorry haters), despite having large urban centers whose populations are less prone to describe themselves as Midwestern in listings.
As for the most Midwestern thing, it gets interesting. With some extraneous info (e.g., brand names and state-specific attributes) screened out, the data reveal that the most Midwestern thing is . . . the walleye. The Post describes it thus:
a drab but delicious freshwater fish whose primeval bulging eyes and snaggled teeth would look at home in one of those Nebraska fossil beds. It’s the state fish of both South Dakota and Minnesota, and at least six Midwestern towns have claimed to be the walleye capital of the world.
Though I will forever cite this article’s conclusion of Ohio as Midwestern as definitive, I have to say that, by this metric, I am not very Midwestern myself. The walleye, alas, did not feature heavily in my upbringing. I did not experience much of what champion fisher Marianne Huskey Fechter called the “nostalgia of the walleye,” though I hardly begrudge those who have or do. Here, for those curious, are some of the other Airbnb descriptors established by these data as definitively Midwestern:
A lot of these are tourist-heavy, which is understandable, given the source of this information. But, as Van Dam notes, others connote regional dialect (“supper”) or characteristics (“smallmouth” and “largemouth” both appear because both types of bass can be found in the Midwest). “Lutheran” is a particularly amusing one to me, though even as a Midwestern Catholic, I cannot deny its utility as a Midwest descriptor.
At any rate, it’s all interesting information and should help continue the eternal — and welcome — conversations that arise from Americans’ particularistic attachments.
This is not unserious stuff: a semester-style course anchored in David’s 29 video lectures (sampler — No. 10: “The Merits and Limits of Self-Interest,” No. 14: “The Price Mechanism,” No. 26: “The Broken Window Fallacy”) requiring reading and writing about ’rithmetic and theory and more (yes, there will be quizzes . . . and an exam!). Its virtue is simple: The course is a trustworthy opportunity for the curious mind to do that thing it’s put off for years — getting (finally!) thorough insight and appreciation of “a properly understood framework of economics,” a thing that Professor (if we may) Bahnsen assures is often poorly taught and understudied. In David’s own words, his objective is to provide a
substantive understanding of economics, but to do so rooted in First Principles. I want people who take this class and go through these lectures to come away with an understanding of economics applied, financial matters that are relevant in their lives, that are thinking about a framework of society structured, the political applications that may have to do with economic policy — I want all of these things to branch out of a foundation of economics that is informed by the principles we’ll cover in this class.
Kudos to David for conceiving and creating this project — which is free. Get started, here.
A former Twitter employee, Ahmad Abouammo, was found guilty this week of spying for Saudi Arabia, which paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars for providing regime critics’ private user information, including from anonymous accounts. The Justice Department charged another former Twitter employee, Ali Alzabarah, for his role in the scheme, but Alzabarah, who performed website maintenance for the company, fled the U.S. for Saudi Arabia when Twitter confronted him for accessing the personal information of over 6,000 accounts. This espionage incident displays the lengths Saudi Arabia will go to in order to suppress citizens’ criticism and dissent.
This is not the first time dictatorships in the Middle East have manipulated technology to bolster their governments and limit freedoms. For instance, the United Arab Emirates frequently establishes obstacles to social-media access, imposes limits on specific content, and violates the rights of users. These measures are used to identify and quell dissent as well as persecute dissidents. Many of these measures were implemented in response to the Arab Spring uprisings, when protesters used social media to coordinate large-scale demonstrations. Autocratic regimes in the Middle East perceived the Arab Spring democratization movement as an overall threat to their governments and authority. They understood that social media was becoming a tool for mass mobilization and democratization; they countered this movement by using social media to identify regime opponents. Across the Middle East, nations have instituted vague cybercrime and anti-terrorist laws, which they use as cudgels to strike down civil-rights activists and human-rights supporters. The use of espionage within the Twitter company is simply the latest bold move.
Social media can be used as a tool for connection, information-sharing, and genuine learning. But autocratic governments can hijack social-media accounts and data for the purposes of censorship and repression. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the Middle East but is happening around the world. Social media, as a hub of free expression, is targeted by governments seeking to restrict such freedom.
Former president Donald Trump is using the FBI’s Monday “raid” on his home at Mar-a-Lago to solicit donations from his supporters. In a fundraising email, Trump implored his supporters to donate: “I will continue to fight for the Great American People. I need every single red-blooded American Patriot to step up during this time.” Trump ended the email by urging his supporters to “Please rush in a donation IMMEDIATELY to publicly stand with me against this NEVERENDING WITCH HUNT.” Trump is also sending texts asking supporters to donate.
Meanwhile, failed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton used the unprecedented search as a fundraising opportunity for Onward Together, Clinton’s political action organization launched in 2017. As if pouring salt on Republicans’ wounds, Hillary jumped on social media and started hawking her products that brag about beating the rap on the FBI’s investigation into her email scandal. Hillary is promoting hats and shirts on her website that feature the caption, “But Her Emails.” The hats and shirts each go for $30. Hillary tweeted, “Every ‘But her emails’ hat or shirt sold helps@onwardtogether partners defend democracy, build a progressive bench, and fight for our values. Just saying!” According to Hillary, the hats sold out after her tweet but are now in stock again.
Comedian Tim Young responded to Hillary with this tweet:
Hillary is out here bragging that she nor Epstein client Bill will ever be raided by the FBI… because it's clearly a two tiered justice system.
The fact that Hillary is fundraising off of the “raid” on Mar-a-Lago when she’s also been the target of an FBI investigation is somewhat ironic — but Hillary has never been a woman with much self-awareness. She’s the same woman who used BleachBit (computer software used to destroy files permanently) to erase 33,000 emails that she kept on her private email server so that they would not get into the hands of the FBI. Clinton also had her staffers destroy her phones using hammers. However, as Young pointed out, Hillary won’t have to worry about a raid from the FBI. With the hyper-political Attorney General Merrick Garland at the helm of the DOJ, Hillary appears safe. And besides, where is the evidence?
With Trump controversies consuming yet another news cycle, I thought it might be useful to highlight an overall trend and a paradox.
Underneath much of the Washington establishment’s hostility to Donald Trump is the fear that he would undermine the position of the United States as the hub of various international alliances and commitments. To preserve the architecture of the post-war international order, these critics believe, Trump must be fought with every possible tool; according to this view, breaking political guardrails would have a civic price, but it would be worth it to preserve America’s place in the world.
Former President Trump’s announcement that he will assert his Fifth Amendment privilege to avoid answering questions in New York attorney general Letitia James’s investigation of the Trump organization is significant.
James’s probe is civil in nature; it’s not a criminal case. The difference? In a criminal case, the Supreme Court has held that no negative inference may be drawn against a defendant who refuses to answer questions based on the privilege against self-incrimination. As Justice Scalia explained while dissenting in United States v. Mitchell (1999), this modern interpretation cuts against not only the original meaning of the privilege but also common sense (“If I ask my son whether he saw a movie I had forbidden him to watch, and he remains silent, the import of his silence is clear.”) Nevertheless, if a criminal defendant declines to testify, the jury may not deduce that if he had an innocent explanation that would rebut the charges, he would surely have provided it.
On the contrary, common sense reigns in civil cases. Yes, a party still has his constitutional right not to provide evidence that could be used against him — one may take the Fifth to avoid disclosing potentially incriminating evidence. Nevertheless, the fact finder is permitted to draw a negative inference from the party’s refusal to answer questions.
The New York state civil matter is an investigation of the Trump organization’s business practices. So, contrary to the implications in a criminal case, taking the Fifth is not cost-free. With respect to any question Trump refuses to answer — and he is apparently declining to answer all questions — the fact finder may infer that if he testified truthfully, his answers would have helped the state’s case.
When something is not cost-free, then our analysis has to be about costs and benefits — or, more accurately here, costs and worse costs. After consulting with his lawyers, former president Trump has decided that the damage he will sustain in the civil litigation by refusing to answer questions is not as bad as the damage he could sustain — not just in the civil litigation but in general — if he were to provide truthful testimony. That does not necessarily mean his truthful testimony would be incriminating, but it could very well mean that. And at a minimum, we can deduce that his testimony would not be helpful to his position.
There is no doubt that Trump is in a tough spot. When you are implicated in criminal investigation (and the search conducted at Mar-a-Lago Monday is clearly indicative of a criminal investigation, and may be relevant to multiple criminal probes), it becomes very risky to testify in a civil deposition because the statements made can be used against you in the criminal probes. This, naturally, gives the adverse lawyers in the civil case the incentive to ask questions they know may bear on the criminal case. But that’s the way it goes. You have to decide whether you’ll get hurt worse by answering or not answering.
Trump has decided he would get hurt worse by answering. Naturally, like most similarly situated investigative subjects, he is insisting that he is taking the Fifth on advice of counsel and because the government at every level is out to get him — as he put it today, “I have absolutely no choice because the current Administration and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency.”
Maybe. But when it gets down to brass tacks, it’s still a calculation of risk. Trump decided the greater risk would be testifying.
In the Soviet Union, the rule of law and an independent judiciary had been replaced by a political machine under state control that was used to destroy anyone who was regarded as a threat to the regime.
Stuff like that can’t happen here, though. Or can it?
In this article, Rebecca Bynum writes about the amazing lengths to which Washington’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, has gone to crush a critic of the government, Tim Eyman.
Stalin henchman Lavrentiy Beria said, “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” Ferguson allegedly has done the same thing regarding Eyman, bleeding him dry over paperwork disputes.
[Ferguson] is clearly on a crusade to crush Mr. Eyman in the belief that he would be removing an obstacle to the political left’s agenda. Ferguson is pressing forward regardless of the constitutionality of his actions. Ironically, Ferguson fundraises off the publicity of his prosecution of Eyman for his own campaigns.
Read the whole thing. Zealous left-wing AGs won’t hesitate to abuse their power (and spend taxpayer money) on their political opponents. I’m afraid that we will see much more of this sort of thing as “progressives” use every dirty trick possible to ensure that they stay in control.
The Left used to pride itself on “speaking truth to power,” but now that it has power, we find that it’s eager to suppress voices of those who disagree with it.
That’s nowhere more true than on college campuses, where “progressive” students and faculty have learned that if they complain loudly enough, they can usually prevent ideas they dislike from being heard. Fortunately, a resistance movement is building, and in today’s Martin Center article, Wenyuan Wu writes about it.
How bad are things? She gives this astounding case:
Though examples of the phenomenon are too numerous to recount, one anecdote and two data points are worth mentioning here. Last September, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) canceled a guest science lecture by University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot due to his support for merit-based college admissions. Even though Abbot had been expected to deliver a lecture on atmospheric and planetary sciences, his critics labeled his views on affirmative action “infuriating,” “inappropriate,” and “oppressive”—fatal ideological stains accentuated by Abbot’s being “white.”
Such instances have sparked the creation of Free Speech Alliance chapters at a growing number of schools, including MIT. They consist of alums, students, faculty members, and others who want to keep our campuses from becoming ideological monocultures.
Perhaps your school has one and if so, why not support it? If not, why not start a chapter?
She nails the truth in saying, “More importantly, colleges and universities will be doing young Americans a huge disservice by deciding for them which speeches are appropriate on campuses and filtering the variety of opinions available using subjective tools. ”
The Left wants people with closed minds, true believers in its vision of a tightly controlled, egalitarian state. Let’s not let that happen.
I’ve noticed a number of commentators starting to worry about a repeat of 2010, when a couple of bad Senate candidates seriously hurt the Republican Party. Some of the fear is focused on J. D. Vance in Ohio, including from our own Jim Geraghty. Vance won an especially contentious, and spendy, primary campaign earlier this year. But Jim looked at the polls and didn’t see Vance coasting the way a Republican should in Ohio. Jim worries that Vance is getting defined by Tim Ryan. Jim writes:
Since June, J. D. Vance has yet to lead a poll over Tim Ryan*, which
Normally, when politicians want to escape the hard numbers associated with their decisions, they bring a bit of magic to the party. For Republicans it is the “growth fairy.” We’ll just have so much economic growth that our federal revenues will go up to meet our commitments.
For Democrats and Republicans both, there has traditionally been a dream that a few judicious investigations and a leprechaun will lead us to a pot of gold called “waste and inefficiency.” As soon as we find all the waste and inefficiency, we’ll turn it into the riches that pay for the latest moderate rebels in Syria or prescription-drug benefit.
These are nice stories, and they’re almost always false. Instead, we usually turn to the magic of our reserve currency and international debt markets, which is a powerful sorcery of its own.
While I think that all these mythical stories are false, I do admit that there is something mysterious about federal revenues. They don’t seem to move in a way that perfectly correlates with the policy levers that are pulled in Washington. I’ve come to view the federal revenues, which have run between 16 to 20 percent of GDP no matter the tax rates, as a kind of rough approximation of Americans’ trust in their institutions. After successfully concluding World War II, trust was very high. So too at the turn of the millennium. You can guess which way it went after the financial crisis.
Now, Democrats have come up with a new form of magic: the enforcement dwarves. New IRS agents, 87,000 of them, who will magically turn up a net of $124 billion in new revenue, according to the propaganda of the Inflation Reduction Act. In my book, that looks like an awful lot of squeezing — in middle-class and working-class audits — for not all that much more blood out of the rag.
People don’t remember the agony of mass middle-class audits or the radical expansion of audits to the working poor that was instituted by the earned-income tax credit. There’s a reason Democrats stopped pushing for hard enforcement.
But this has been a season of Democrats relearning the hard lessons of the 1970s and 1980s, hasn’t it?
Daniel Pilla writes about what the IRS will do with its billions in new funding:
The centerpiece of IRS spending would be for tax-law enforcement. The bill promises $45.638 billion for this purpose, to include enhanced audits and collection, legal and litigation support, criminal investigations, digital asset monitoring and compliance, and the general enforcement of tax laws and other financial crimes.
And while the administration has repeatedly assured us that the targets of this increased enforcement action will be only high-income earners, I have shown clearly that the targets will likely be self-employed persons, along with those who claim the benefits of the laundry-list of refundable tax credits — lower-income taxpayers.
But even if the IRS targets only high-income taxpayers, spending the lion’s share of the $80 billion on enforcement is simply bad policy.
Six weeks ago, I wrote about plans to demolish what is now known as the Victory Monument, a massive, triumphalist excrescence that wrecks what would otherwise be a pleasant park in the Latvian capital, Riga. It was originally constructed in the 1980s to commemorate the Red Army’s “liberation” of Latvia toward the end of the Second World War, a liberation that, in the view of most ethnic Latvians, would have been improved had the Red Army had not stayed on — for nearly half a century.
As I noted:
Like neighboring Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia had been forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, part of the spoils of Stalin’s pact with Hitler. When the Germans invaded their erstwhile Soviet accomplices in 1941, they overran and then occupied the Baltic states, until, in due course, the Red Army drove them out. That returned the trio to Moscow’s grim “union” for a second, far more prolonged taste of what that meant, including, notoriously, the killings, jailings, terms in the Gulag, and mass deportations that characterized the early phases of a reoccupation that lasted nearly a half century and, in Latvia’s case, ended with ethnic Latvians only just remaining the majority in their own country. Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that they want to be rid of a complex (the monument consists of an obelisk and a series of statues) built to celebrate the opening act of a fresh national catastrophe.
Plans to demolish the monument (no easy task: It’s vast) continue.
Rīga City Council has designated a builder for the demolition of the Soviet monument, but the company’s name will not be disclosed for the time being.
Rīga City Executive Director Jānis Lange said that it would be impossible to dismantle the monument by breaking down the steps from top to bottom as it would take too long. Given that the builder must also dismantle the bronze statues and pool adjacent to the monument, and then perform the site development work, the demolition of the monument has to be quick.
At the end of my article, I argued that the demolitions would not stop there:
[T]he Baltic monument wars will continue elsewhere, just one front in the long-standing effort to define the identities of these lands by changing how the past is reflected in their landscape. After the Baltic states were annexed, the Soviets destroyed, with a couple of unlikelyexceptions, almost anything honoring the republics’ inter-war independence. Many of these have now been rebuilt, and many of their Soviet successors have been torn down. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means that the pace of clearing away the remnants will pick up. . . .
The [Estonian] government has agreed communist monuments in public spaces, including the T-34 tank in Narva, will be moved as soon as possible, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said on Wednesday. . . .
There are estimated to be between 200 and 400 Soviet monuments across Estonia.
“A separate issue is the Narva tank, which has been talked about a lot. Currently, this tank belongs to the City of Narva, and in the current legal space it has been difficult. But since it is clear that Narva is not doing it itself, tensions are rising there, it is clear that the Estonian state and government must make the decision themselves to move this and other monuments with symbolic value,” said Kallas.
“It is important to [emphasize] that commemorating the dead is not prohibited in any way and will not be prohibited, but that it should be done in the right place and that is at a cemetery, where it can be done with dignity,” said Kallas.
A visit to the military cemetery in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, quickly reveals that the Soviet dead are indeed treated with dignity.
The tank in question (a replica of a Soviet T-34) is a Soviet war memorial in Narva, the easternmost city in Estonia, which is separated from Russia by a not particularly wide river (I wrote about a visit there for the New Criterion a few years back), and, following some threatening remarks by Vladimir Putin in June, discussed the city in a Corner post here.
The tank stands at the spot where the Red Army crossed the Narva River in the course of brutal fighting in and around the city in 1944. By the end of it, Narva, formerly one of Northern Europe’s more beautiful small cities, had been destroyed. It was rebuilt in Soviet style and, with formerly independent Estonia now forcibly incorporated into the USSR, was repopulated by settlers, mainly Russian, from elsewhere in the Soviet Union. The surviving Estonians who had lived in Narva before the war were not allowed to return. The city today is overwhelmingly Russian speaking.
Aliide Naylor, the author of a book about the Baltics, which I reviewed for NR here, has been in Narva recently, and has written a useful update on the debate surrounding the tank here.
It now appears that the tank will be removed sooner rather than later, and will probably end up in a museum in the city. This is an approach similar to that taken with the large statue of Lenin, which used to stand in the city’s main square, but which was later tucked away in a quiet corner within Narva’s impressive Hermann castle where, so far as I know, the old murderer still stands.
Share buybacks have never been particularly popular with the Left (#understatement). They are perceived as a device that can be played by unscrupulous executives wanting to ramp up their company’s share price and as a handy tax-avoidance scheme.
A return of capital to shareholders in the form of dividends is taxable, while its de facto equivalent in the form of a share buyback is not (it is, too simplistically, assumed). Another complaint? Companies are using buybacks to return capital to their shareholders, rather than put that capital to productive use.
Strangely, the argument that management might have decided that that productive use does not exist, and that it would be better (directly or indirectly) to return capital to the company’s shareholders — which is to say its owners — so that they can deploy it elsewhere generally goes unmentioned.
All that said, I’ve never been a great fan of share buybacks. To me, they represent too much of a bet by the company’s management on where a firm’s share price is going. I’d rather that decision was left to investors as they weigh whether to buy, sell, or hold. I prefer dividends. But yes, it is certainly true that share buybacks are more tax-efficient for shareholders who pay tax on dividends, a category that excludes, incidentally, investors who hold their shares or mutual funds in their 401(k)s.
And all that said, I am not a fan of either banning or taxing share buybacks.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said that the goal of the buyback tax is to curb share repurchases and to encourage companies to invest in their businesses, rather than buying back shares to boost stock prices.
“Unless you take some steps to check it, it’s never gonna get checked,” Wyden told reporters Saturday. “What’s wrong with reinvesting that in new equipment, for example, that could reduce carbon emissions?”
What’s wrong with that, Senator, is two-fold. Firstly, a company management is probably best placed to decide how the firm’s capital is best invested. Secondly, that management has a duty to the company’s shareholders, not, in the absence of legislation to the contrary, to the socio-political agenda of certain senators or some other section of the ruling class. The rules might be different under a corporatist regime, but that is not yet where we are. Not yet, anyway.
Buybacks aren’t tax free: Owners who sell shares back to the company realize a taxable capital gain. Any boost in the share price contributes to a higher taxable gain for remaining owners when they sell their shares in the future.
Why not pay dividends instead? Companies and shareholders might prefer buybacks in some instances, such as if the company is disbursing a one-time lump sum or shifting the balance of equity and debt on its books. For the economy overall, buybacks have the effect of distributing capital specifically to those owners who choose to participate because they believe they have a more productive use for it. Capital flows from companies that don’t need it to companies that do.
Sen. Sinema’s 1% levy represents a climbdown from the 2% rate Senate Democrats tried to include in the Build Back Better plan last year. But don’t think the rate will stop at 1% once Democrats create this new tax, and don’t assume there are no economic costs even at the 1% rate. This is still a tax on capital and investment by a different name, and it will hit share values and your 401(k).
America needs fewer tax impediments to the free and productive flow of capital to investors and entrepreneurs, as Sen. Sinema recognized with her other changes to the Schumer-Manchin plan. Alas the progressive demand for more revenue, and to punish business, is insatiable, so any tax gimmick they can conjure up to cobble together 50 Senate votes will do.
Note: Updated with the sentence “I prefer dividends”, just to make absolutely clear that I have (as ought to be obvious) no objection to dividends, which as I see as a preferable way of not only providing investors with a current yield, but, under certain circumstances, returning ‘excess’ capital to shareholders.
On Friday, Israel began Operation Breaking Dawn, striking Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) targets and assassinating the senior-most PIJ commander, Tayseer al-Jabari, in what Israel says was a preemptive strike against PIJ terrorists in Gaza.
Israel’s southern communities had been locked down since August 2 after Israel arrested PIJ senior member Bassam al-Saadi in Jenin, a city in Samaria (in the West Bank). Reportedly, al-Jabari was preparing imminent attacks against Israel, including firing anti-tank missiles near the border.
Israel struck 170 targets in a 66-hour period, including PIJ bases, terrorist attack tunnels, weapons factories, and the residential buildings of PIJ leaders, killing two PIJ commanders, including al-Jabari. Israel claims every major PIJ leader has now been killed.
PIJ retaliated, shooting over 1,100 rockets at civilian areas in Israel. An unexploded rocket hit a residential area in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, and some Israelis were slightly injured while running to bomb shelters.
The Iron Dome, one of Israel’s missile-defense systems, intercepted 96 to 97 percent of the rockets fired on Israel. Forty-four Palestinians were killed in this round of fighting. A cease-fire went into effect at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, and except for a barrage of rockets fired by PIJ eight minutes later, it has held. A senior Israeli diplomatic official said PIJ had been dealt a “very significant blow” and was set back decades by the operation.
Many media outlets put their usual anti-Israel spin on the story. The Associated Pressran a headline reading, “Israeli strikes on Gaza kill 10, including senior militant.” The word “terrorism” is not mentioned once in the story. The AP uses the euphemistic term “militants” to describe Islamic Jihad, also omitting the word “Palestinian” from the name.
The AP also refers to Hamas, the terrorist group that runs the Gaza Strip, rather euphemistically, as “militant.” Both of these groups are designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. government. What the Israeli prime minister called a new wave of terrorism this past spring, which saw the murders of 21 Israelis in multiple deadly terrorist attacks around Israel, this AP story describes as “a wave of attacks inside Israel.”
NBC’s headline was “Israel Strikes Gaza, with Palestinian Militant Commander and girl, 5, among the dead after days of tension.” NBC showed its bias in the headline by not identifying the commander as a member of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad and by allowing readers to infer that Israel targets innocent civilians such as the five-year-old girl.
Al Jazeera published an article with the headline, “Photos: Children Killed as Israel Bombards Gaza,” describing the Gaza Strip as a “besieged Palestinian enclave.” Al Jazeera refused to call PIJ a terrorist or militant group, instead describing PIJ as the “Palestinian Islamic Jihad Group” and referring to the terrorists as “fighters.”
The Guardian’s headline was, “Israel Strikes Gaza amid tensions following arrest of Palestinian militant.” Arsen Ostrovsky, an international human-rights lawyer, took the liberty of fixing the Guardian‘s headline on Twitter, rephrasing it as “Israel Strikes Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, after relentless threats by the terror group to hit Israeli civilian centers”:
Many left-wing media outlets frequently place the blame on Israel for its conflicts with the Palestinians and Palestinian terrorist groups, which are proxies for Iran. The New York Times ran a headline that omitted any mention of Palestinian rockets, saying, “Israel Strikes Gaza as Tensions Rise.” The Times article mentions the rocket response in the second sentence of the subheading, saying, “Militants responded with a volley of rockets into Israel.” The Times makes the 1,100-rocket barrage launched at Israeli civilians sound like a game. They also neglect to mention the PIJ by name in the subheading, instead referring to the terrorist organization as “a Palestinian militant group.” See the pattern?
Israel is often blamed for civilians killed during conflicts with Palestinian terrorists (even though Palestinian terrorists use women and children as human shields), but rockets from Palestinian Islamic Jihad actually killed more Palestinian civilians during the fighting than Israeli bombs did.The Associated Press tweeted, “Close to one-third of the Palestinians who died in the weekend of fighting . . . may have been killed by errant rockets fired by the Palestinian side, according to an Israeli assessment that appears consistent with AP reporting.” Surprisingly accurate and fair reporting.
The AP should have included the video evidence that shows an errant rocket being fired from Gaza and then going off course and landing in Jabalia, which killed five Palestinian children. Here is an instance captured by Hezbollah’s Mayadeen outlet showing a long-range missile being fired from Gaza City and then malfunctioning and falling inside a civilian area in Gaza.
Avi Mayer, a former spokesman for the foreign press for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), posted videos that reportedly show the IDF aborting operations because of the possibility of civilians being killed:
Incredible video: Israeli Air Force pilots aborted an airstrike targeting Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Khaled Mansour *three times* due to the presence of children; the airstrike was carried out only once it was confirmed no children were nearby. pic.twitter.com/qbVKl9zYup
The fact that the media routinely view Israel’s conflict with its terrorist neighbors — PIJ and Hamas — through a lens that finds a moral equivalence between both sides is not only bad journalism, it’s morally repugnant.
I love sports, but I especially love sportsmanship, which has obviously been on a long decline. But check out this episode from the Little League World Series, which is just . . . simply . . . beautiful:
As a friend noted to me today, the truly Machiavellian move would be for President Biden to fire Wray for authorizing a politically inflammatory raid on Mar-a-Lago and then take the opportunity to install his own guy to quash any Hunter Biden investigation.
If China were to go to war with Taiwan, one of the many negative consequences would be an immediate and severe disruption to ocean shipping. The waters around Taiwan are some of the busiest in the world for commercial vessels, and the Port of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s busiest, is a top-20 port globally.
As such, shipping lines have a lot to lose if China’s aggressive rhetoric turns into aggressive action. Wars that affect ocean trade are not as common as they used to be (thanks largely to the global peacekeeping presence of the U.S. Navy), but they still do happen from time to time.
To mitigate risk, the maritime insurance industry designates areas of the sea according to the likelihood of war. Currently listed sites include Ukraine, the Strait of Hormuz, Libya, and Yemen. Insurers have taken note of China’s military exercises following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Elisabeth Braw of the American Enterprise Institute writes for Foreign Policy:
I asked Neil Roberts—head of marine and aviation at Lloyd’s Market Association, which represents underwriters, and secretary of the Joint War Committee (JWC), a London-based body that classifies the world’s waters according to risk—how concerned insurers are. Higher risk means more expensive insurance. And if the JWC places a body of water in its highest-risk category—as it did with the Sea of Azov and the Russian and Ukrainian parts of the Black Sea on Feb. 15—the terms of cover have to be confirmed through negotiation instead of slotted into preexisting arrangements, making it difficult to obtain insurance at all.
The maritime insurance industry got the Russian invasion right when many commentators were still doubtful of Putin’s resolve to invade. The simple explanation of that: Commentators don’t lose money for being wrong, but maritime insurers would have been in deep trouble if they were wrong. It’s not just a matter of being overly cautious, either. Insurers would have also been in trouble if they had jacked up rates only for nothing to happen.
What are they saying now about Taiwan? Braw writes:
As of Sunday, the JWC had not elevated any waters around Taiwan to its highest-risk category. In fact, those waters are not listed by the JWC at all, which means they are not considered to pose an elevated risk to shipping, though it goes without saying that crews have been informed of the exercise areas and are expected to avoid them. “Underwriters were naturally asking questions but were reassured by JWC’s advisors, who said that there are no real signs of preparation or intent to follow through [on military attacks against Taiwan],” Roberts told FP. “If there were other signs like a media blackout, that would indicate differently. JWC considers the situation to be as it appears: an exercise, albeit amidst aggressive rhetoric.” China’s intent seems to be to send a message to Taiwan and the United States, not undertake a hugely difficult and highly risky amphibious invasion or even attempt to seize outlying islands like Kinmen. “There are navigation warnings that shipping companies will take into account, but access to Taiwan’s ports is entirely possible with just some extra awareness needed,” Roberts added.
So far, that judgment was proven correct. Sky News reported that ships were able to navigate around the Chinese military activities without much difficulty:
Lloyd’s List Intelligence reports that there has been no reduction in port calls nor has there been any further reports of disruption to ports in Taiwan.
The impact is largely being felt through detours around Taiwan’s eastern coast, which analysts say are inconvenient but manageable.
“Delays are obviously never good and especially not for a supply chain that has been riddled with delays for a long time,” said [BIMCO shipping analyst Niels] Rasmussen. . . .
“Small speed increases in the vessels’ onward schedule should be able to make up for these delays during the next month or two.”
Rasmussen’s last point about speed is important. Environmentalists are pressuring the shipping industry to reduce its carbon emissions. The International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency, wants to reduce the industry’s emissions by 50 percent by 2050, compared to 2008 emissions. New ships are powered by cleaner-burning fuels, such as liquefied natural gas, but the only practical way for most existing ships to pollute less is by slowing down.
The ability to decide ship speed ought to belong to the shipping companies, not to the environmentalist zealots at the U.N. The advantages of flexibility are on display right now. With high fuel prices, ships have slowed down to save money. Then, when something like the Taiwan incident pops up, ships are able to take detours at higher speeds to maintain their schedules. Taking that flexibility away from carriers would make situations such as this much more disruptive and costly.
Insurance markets certainly aren’t perfect, but insurers have better incentives to get difficult questions about risk correct than just about anyone else. They see the risk of war over Taiwan as being very low, so that’s good news.
A group of House Republicans demanded answers about the Biden administration’s slow-walked investigation into Chinese apps like TikTok and WeChat in a letter to Secretary Gina Raimondo, head of the U.S. Department of Commerce, obtained exclusively by National Review.
Those apps, owned by Chinese parent companies, have recently faced heightened scrutiny after a BuzzFeed News report revealed that TikTok owner ByteDance could access U.S. users’ data. That’s significant given ByteDance’s extensively documented ties to the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the fact that it is under the Party’s legal jurisdiction.
The letter’s lead author, Representative Jim Banks — the chairman of the Republican Study Committee — said that it seems as though the Biden administration has fallen asleep at the switch. “The Biden administration should be using every tool at their disposal to protect the data privacy of Americans from the Chinese Communist Party and so far, there has been no evidence to prove that is happening,” he told NR in a statement.
In June of last year, President Biden replaced Trump-era executive orders that would have banned TikTok, the messaging platform WeChat, and digital payment app AliPay from the United States, with a different order that directed the Commerce Department to investigate all entities that might provide Americans’ sensitive data to foreign adversaries. That order followed TikTok’s legal challenges to Trump’s ban order that had temporarily frozen the measure. The new Biden approach instead tasked the Commerce Secretary with completing an investigation by the fall of 2021 — perhaps leading to a future ban of such apps.
But the GOP lawmakers emphasized that, to their knowledge, the Commerce Department has not yet concluded that investigation.
“Unfortunately, based on publicly available information, nineteen months into the Biden administration, the Department of Commerce has done little towards the enforcement of the [data security] rule other than subpoenaing some Chinese companies in March 2021,” they wrote in the August 4 letter. They seemed to be referring to Commerce’s public disclosure that month of having subpoenaed “multiple Chinese Companies that provide information and communications technology and services (ICTS) to the United States.” The letter’s signatories also included House GOP conference chair Elise Stefanik, Michael Waltz — a prominent Republican voice on China policy — and over a dozen other lawmakers.
The Commerce Department, meanwhile, did not respond to NR’s request for comment asking whether it had taken further steps to investigate Chinese apps.
The lawmakers also highlighted the TikTok revelations as a reason for Commerce to act urgently. They cited the BuzzFeed report, in addition to an Australian Financial Review story which revealed that TikTok has a server connection to a mainland Chinese company run by a firm run by a Chinese Communist Party official.
“American cybersecurity experts have since renewed their call for banning TikTok,” they wrote. Indeed, it is puzzling why, rather than banning TikTok or taking action on TikTok to protect American user data, the Department of Commerce is still allowing TikTok to expand in the United States at an alarming rate!” They noted that the number of TikTok users in the U.S. is expected to reach nearly 90 million next year.
While there was a flurry of Congressional activity surrounding the TikTok revelations in June, that seems to have died down as Congress adjourned for a recess. ByteDance’s well-funded Washington lobbying team had a record quarter, coinciding with the BuzzFeed report, according to legally-mandated disclosure forms.
The failure to investigate TikTok reflects the slow pace at which Commerce is investigating other Chinese tech firms. The House lawmakers additionally wrote: “The Department of Commerce Probe that could force U.S. telecom carriers to expunge Huawei equipment is proceeding at a snail’s pace.”
In addition to scrutinizing TikTok, Huawei, and Tencent — which owns WeChat — they asked Raimondo whether Commerce considers BGI Group a national security risk. BGI is a Chinese genomics giant suspected of collecting genetic information worldwide and has a history of research collaboration with the People’s Liberation Army.
You snicker — but it would instantly mute the strongest (and facially plausible) arguments against the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago: that this is a politically motivated Department of Justice fishing expedition; that Hillary Clinton didn’t face prosecution for similar mishandling of classified materials; that this is all a plot by Democrats to (a) either destroy Trump by indicting him or (b) build him up in the eyes of the Republican base so that he’ll declare he’s running for president, win the GOP nomination, and then, presumably, be defeated by Biden again in 2024.
“The DOJ is persecuting Trump / protecting Hillary / ignoring Hunter,” its critics charge?
There’s a way to fix that.
(To be clear, I’m not endorsing a Machiavellian DOJ, which would be a malign thing in American life. It should operate without fear or favor. As the kids these days say, however: “I’m not saying . . . I’m just saying.”)
Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute writes against reinstating the ban on crude-oil exports:
A number of perverse Beltway ideas never seem to die despite their underlying fallacies. The latest such nostrum is the argument that a renewed ban on the export of crude oil and refined products would reduce domestic fossil-energy prices, as asserted in a recent letter to President Biden from four U.S. senators urging Biden to “preserve petroleum supplies for the U.S. and our allies.”
Just such an export ban on crude oil was implemented by the U.S. beginning in 1975. This followed the 1973 global price increases and the imposition of price and allocation regulations on the U.S. market, resulting in an artificial suppression of domestic production. (It was the regulatory regime and not the “embargo” that created the queues and massive market dislocations.) The export ban was ended by legislation in 2015, after the technological revolution in fracking and horizontal drilling yielded a sharp increase in U.S. output.
Notwithstanding ubiquitous assertions to the contrary, the ban did not reduce U.S. prices below international ones because it created a disincentive for foreign producers to export oil to the U.S. Why should foreign producers sell to us for less? Market forces thus resulted in domestic and international prices being equated, controlling for such factors as transportation costs and exchange rates. The same is true for such refined products as gasoline.