The Manhattan D.A.’s Trump-Organization Case Ends with a Whimper

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New York City District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a news conference at the Supreme Court after the exoneration proceeding of Steven Lopez, a co-defendant of the Central Park Five case, in New York City, July 25, 2022. (David 'Dee' Delgado/Reuters)

Allan Weisselberg, the 75-year-old former chief financial officer for the Trump Organization, is pleading guilty to the fairly piddling tax-fraud charges on which he was indicted by the office of Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg last July. The case was always obviously not about Weisselberg or the accused crime, but about showing some progress against Donald Trump and either (1) obtaining Weisselberg’s cooperation against Trump or (2) punishing him for not cooperating. Under the plea deal, Weisselberg is likely to spend only a few months in prison, and he will not cooperate.

What does this all mean? For Bragg, it likely

Economy & Business

Inflation Harder on Young Singles

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The Wall Street Journal reports on how inflation is widening the money gap between young married couples and singles.

The median net worth of married couples 25 to 34 years old was nearly nine times as much as the median net worth of single households in 2019, according to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. In 2010, married households’ median net worth was four times as much. And now, after a spell of rapid inflation and more than two years of pandemic living, single people are getting left further behind, say economists at the Fed and elsewhere.

As previously noted here by Dan McLaughlin, research by W. Bradford Wilcox and Lyman Stone points to the higher rates of sexual fidelity, commitment, and relationship quality among religious Americans who marry in their twenties without cohabitating first. Add financial stability to the list.

Elections

Is There Any Evidence That NBA Games on Election Night Reduce Turnout?

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) and guard Andre Iguodala (9) during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., June 13, 2019. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

The NBA today announced that no games will be played on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, declaring that “the scheduling decision came out of the NBA family’s focus on promoting nonpartisan civic engagement and encouraging fans to make a plan to vote during midterm elections.”

Is there . . . any evidence at all that playing NBA games on the evenings of Election Day impedes voter turnout?

The elections are held on Tuesdays, and NBA games usually begin around 7 p.m. local time. The earliest poll-closing times in the country are Indiana and Kentucky at 6 p.m.; the latest is New York at 9 p.m. local. If the Indiana Pacers were to hold a game that evening, the polls would have closed about an hour before tip-off.

Even if the teams, coaches, referees, stadium employees, and other personnel have to get to work well before then, they would have had the opportunity to get to their polling places and cast their ballots since 6 a.m., and that’s not counting the copious early-voting opportunities. In Indiana, in-person absentee voting starts 28 days before Election Day. Only four states — Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi, and New Hampshire — do not offer pre–Election Day in-person voting options for all voters, though they may offer pre–Election Day in-person voting options for eligible absentee voters. While all of those states have their share of NBA fans, none of those states are home to NBA teams.

On November 6, 2018, the NBA held four games. That day, Americans voted at the highest turnout rate in a midterm election since 1914.

The four games were in Charlotte, where North Carolina’s turnout was a “robust” 53 percent; Dallas, where Texas’s turnout was 46.3 percent; Phoenix, where Arizona’s turnout hit a near-record for midterms at nearly 65 percent; and Portland, where 63 percent of eligible Oregonians turned in a ballot. (Note that in Oregon, everyone votes by mail. There is no way that a Trail Blazers game can be the reason someone didn’t vote.) All four states saw significant jumps compared to four years earlier. For those who didn’t vote in those states, they didn’t decline to exercise their right because the NBA was playing that night.

If the NBA wants to not schedule games on Election Day, that’s their right. But it appears to be a solution in search of a problem.

Elections

Washington State Primary Results Point to a Pretty Good November for House GOP

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Over at RealClearPolitics, Sean Trende has a must-read piece that cuts through the noise about the midterm elections:

In short, in Washington state, all candidates run on the same primary ballot. Because of this, and because of the fact that the primary occurs relatively late in the election season, there tends to be a strong correlation between a party’s combined vote share on the primary ballot and its eventual vote share in November, typically with a slight swing toward Democrats. It’s been helpful in providing a sense of where things really stand in Washington state’s races, and for understanding what the national environment is like.

The results in Washington State, Trende concludes, “suggest that the environment for Republicans is better than it was in 2020 and is certainly consistent with them winning control of the House and being positioned to take the Senate. At the same time, it seems as though, at least for now, the scenario many were pondering last summer, where Republicans won the popular vote for the House by 2010-like margins (if not more) is increasingly unlikely.”

Read the whole thing here.

Media

The Washington Post’s Covid Straw Man

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pauses as he speaks on stage at the Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit in Tampa, Fla., July 22, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

An analysis piece from the Washington Post’s Philip Bump, titled “A less deadly virus now doesn’t validate skepticism from 2020,” argues:

The pandemic has changed. The virus has changed. But, for many people who have scoffed at the danger posed by the virus since it first appeared here 2½ years ago, their rhetoric hasn’t changed. And now that the omicron BA.5 subvariant appears to be less deadly, they’re pretending they were right in dismissing the risk or the need for preventive measures all along.

I’m not aware of very many people arguing that omicron, by virtue of its being less deadly, is a vindication of their previous opposition to draconian lockdown measures. The actual argument from prominent anti-lockdown voices like Ron DeSantis — whose “ham-handed effort to cast his opponents as disconnected from the realities of the pandemic” Bump cites as evidence of this phenomenon — is that initiatives like school and business closures were never justified, regardless of the dominant strain of Covid in question. There’s an enormous amount of evidence for the Florida governor’s position. Bump, tellingly, doesn’t acknowledge any of it.

Film & TV

The Little Bullet Train That Could

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Brad Pitt in Bullet Train (Sony Pictures)

Summer visits to the theater can’t be compared with those at any other time of year. Memories of seagulls chasing my friends and me through the Big Lots parking lot as we ambulated from McDonald’s to the Marcus Cinema, for whatever comic-book hero or spectacle we were there to see, elicits a smile. Older now, I experience a similar joy when turning to my wife and spontaneously querying if she’d like to take in a movie that starts in ten minutes amid a sultry afternoon. We decide what to watch on the five-minute drive over, pulling into the parking lot to see a dozen cars at most and reveling in having a theater to ourselves.

Bullet Train was one such movie consumed out of spontaneity and, boy howdy, did it deliver. If you’ve ever thought, “I’d love it if Pulp Fiction had occurred in Japan,” then this is it. Our boyish, California-lovin’ protagonist, Ladybug, played more capably by the 58-year-old Brad Pitt than a man his age has any right to, stumbles aboard a bullet train with a simple mission that goes sideways, upside-down, and is inverted on a routine basis. The stars of the film are a pair of British brothers skilled in “wet work,” an across-the-pond analog to Samuel L. Jackson’s and John Travolta’s electric partnership in Fiction. Their charisma, eccentricities, and interplay carry the film as capably as the Japanese transit system.

Director David Leitch, best known for Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde, allows knives, katanas, firearms, and refreshment carts to fly about in hyper-realistic combat scenes that hearken to his early, uncredited work in the original John Wick — a revolutionary film in terms of combat choreography. The crunching of windpipes, copious blood, and pulpy kinetic interactions earn the movie its R rating, but rarely does it devolve into pornographic excess. The writing has wit, and Pitt’s character’s mystical wokeness offsets some of the most gruesome moments to hilarious effect. The movie has lines you and your buddies will quote to each other for years to come.

Ross Douthat reviewed Bullet Train for the magazine, and it’s a fine read. That said, his light criticisms of it are less convincing when put in the Japanese context. 

Douthat writes

In everything else, though, the movie feels as if it needed to be pushed a little more on its decisions. The flashbacks go on too long and the director is too pleased with their flourishes. The characters are constantly paired off, in fights or conversations, but you often lose track of what’s happening with one pair while another duo is getting their backstory filled out — even though everything seems to be happening in the same three or four cars. The movie starts with a pretty full train but uses its noncombatant passengers for gags and then makes them evaporate; the unrealism is fine but there are a lot of missed opportunities for misdirection and surprise.

As a foremost expert in Japanese culture and life — having spent three weeks there while my ship’s davit and close-in weapon system were repaired — I can authoritatively say the dreamy nature of the movie is intentional. Walking around Yokosuka and Tokyo, you find a surrealism to even the busiest parts of Japanese cities. Everything is hushed and private, and Bullet Train uses its Japanese setting to allow itself the room it needs to stage running gun battles, fist fights, and ridiculous repartee in the hushed spaces unique to Japan. It is not the right of passengers to intrude on the story; they play their small parts and take leave, allowing the train to carry the main characters to their final destination. 

Bullet Train is worth tossing aside this chunk of prose, turning to your spouse, asking if he or she would like to take in a movie, and then walking out the door five minutes later — with beverages and snacks surreptitiously stowed in a large bag. Bullet Train has a heart, never takes itself too seriously, and makes you dread the last stop on the line. Just be doubly sure to show the conductor your ticket. 

Elections

Is Dr. Oz Serious?

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Screenshot capture from Dr. Oz’s campaign advertisement, August 15, 2022 (@DrOz/Twitter)

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate nominee in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, is flailing. He’s down by about eleven points in the polls, despite the fact that his Democratic opponent, John Fetterman — the goateed, heavyset, six-foot-eight-inch lieutenant governor of the state whose down-home, working-class public presentation is straight out of Pennsylvania central casting — was off the campaign trail for the past three months after suffering a stroke. (Fetterman held his first post-stroke public rally late last week.) Oz needs a course correction, and quickly. Whatever he’s doing right now clearly isn’t working.

But you don’t need a pollster to know that Oz is in trouble. Judging by his campaign’s latest advertisement, it’s not difficult to see why the Republican is struggling to catch on in an election year that should, by all accounts, heavily favor his party:

It’s tough to envision the working- and middle-class Pennsylvanians that Oz will need to win being wooed by cartoon animation, circus music, and a baffling children’s-show-style narration. (“That’s crazy!”) The issues with Fetterman’s record that the ad identifies — get-out-of-jail for violent criminals, more government spending in an inflationary environment, slowing energy production, and so on — are all entirely legitimate themes for Republicans to run on in 2022. But voters, understandably, want to know that the candidate they’re voting for is serious about solving these issues. Oz’s latest ad is a lot of things, but “serious” is not one of them.

Politics & Policy

‘And Then There Were None’?

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Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) during a meeting on Capitol Hill, October 19, 2021 (Elizabeth Frantz / Reuters)

Today is Primary Day in Wyoming. Liz Cheney is the state’s sole congressman. On Election Day 2020, President Trump won 70 percent of the vote in Wyoming. That was his highest total in any state. Cheney won her House race with 73 percent of the vote.

Immediately after the election, Trump began his attempt to overturn the national result. On January 6, a mob attacked the U.S. Congress, for the purpose of stopping a constitutional process. (They succeeded for several hours.) It was the worst attack on our capitol since the War of 1812 — and that long-ago attack was carried out by a foreign power.

On January 13, Liz Cheney voted to impeach Trump. She was one of only ten Republicans to do so.

Naturally, Trump, Peter Thiel, and the rest of the big guns in the GOP have made special targets of the “traitorous ten.” That is a coinage of the day. Some of us consider the Republicans in question more like the “faithful ten” — faithful to the Constitution and their oath of office.

Nonetheless, Trump & Co. are winning, big-time. One by one, the ten GOP impeachers have bowed out of politics or been defeated in primaries. Cheney will probably go down today.

I think of an Agatha Christie title: “And Then There Were None.”

That was a pretty gutsy thing to do: vote to impeach a president of your own party, after he won 70 percent of the vote in your state. I admire Liz Cheney.

• Cheney was No. 3 in the Republican House leadership. That didn’t last long. She was kicked out and replaced by Elise Stefanik, a New York representative who had a reputation as a moderate. (Cheney was, and is, a conservative.)

The important thing was loyalty to Trump — Stefanik had it, Cheney didn’t. Stefanik campaigned for the leadership job by going on the talk shows of Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka. That lets you know where the juice is in today’s GOP.

A Republican congressman from Ohio, Anthony Gonzalez, had a comment:

“If a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit. Liz isn’t going to lie to people. Liz is going to say what she believes. She’s going to stand on principle. If that’s going to be distracting for folks, she’s not the best fit. I wish that weren’t the case.”

Very well said.

• Cheney voted for an independent commission to investigate January 6 — a commission modeled on the 9/11 commission. Each party would have chosen five private citizens to compose a panel of ten. In the House, 35 Republicans voted for an independent commission — bucking GOP leader Kevin McCarthy et al. But Republicans succeeded in killing the commission in the Senate.

In the stead of such a commission, a congressional committee was empaneled. As Cheney noted on the opening day of the January 6 hearings — ongoing — every member of the congressional committee would have preferred an independent commission. Every member of the congressional committee voted to have one.

But an independent commission was not to be. So . . .

Said Cheney, “We cannot leave the violence of January 6th — and its causes — uninvestigated.” She also said, “If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system.”

Further words from Cheney:

“I have been a conservative Republican since 1984 when I first voted for Ronald Reagan. I have disagreed sharply on policy and politics with almost every Democratic member of this committee. But, in the end, we are one nation under God. . . . When a threat to our constitutional order arises, as it has here, we are obligated to rise above politics.”

For months now, Republicans have claimed that the January 6 hearings are a “circus,” a “show trial,” and so on. I’m inclined to respond: They wish. The hearings have been conducted with sobriety, with gravity — which is not necessarily the norm in Congress. Many of the witnesses have been Republicans, and many of those have been alumni of the Trump administration.

If the hearings are conveying false things, people can step forward and contradict those things. Under oath. Any takers?

An oath — the penalty of perjury — sobers people up.

• Today, Cheney will likely be defeated by Republican candidate Harriet Hageman. In the past, Hageman supported Cheney. “I know Liz Cheney is a proven, courageous, constitutional conservative, someone who has the education, the background, and the experience to fight effectively for Wyoming on a national stage.”

That was in 2016 — the Before Times. In 2022, Hageman is saying, “Absolutely the election was rigged.” She means the presidential election of 2020. And remember what Congressman Gonzalez said: “Liz isn’t going to lie to people.”

Which renders her PNG — persona non grata — in GOP-Land.

• In a speech at the Reagan Library in June, Cheney said, “We have to choose, because Republicans cannot be loyal to Donald Trump and to the Constitution.” That is pretty stark — and correct, I think. What is the popular phrase, in GOP-Land? “Binary choice.”

• About the Russian assault on Ukraine, Cheney is absolutely clear, in my judgment. In May, she co-authored an article with Jake Auchincloss, a Democratic congressman. They began,

As a Republican congresswoman from Wyoming and a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, we have firsthand experience with the partisan clashes in Washington. The two of us have frequently been on opposite sides this term, including on national security issues such as President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which one of us (Cheney) opposed and the other (Auchincloss) supported.

But on the issue of Ukraine, there is no daylight between us. And there should be no partisan divide among members in Congress. It must be the policy of the United States that the strategic objective in Ukraine is victory for a free and democratic Ukraine, and defeat for Vladimir Putin. The strength of our democracy here at home depends on it.

Most Republicans, I find, are relatively quiet on Ukraine. I know people who used to be flaming Reaganites — who talked of freedom, democracy, and human rights in every other breath — who are now pretty much mum on Ukraine. Why? In brief, because the people whose approval they want are not enthusiastic about the Ukrainian cause. To put it mildly.

• “Why can’t Cheney just shut up about January 6?” That is a question I’ve heard from many, many people — from Republicans, I mean, and not necessarily Trump-enthusiastic ones. “Why can’t she just shut up about the 2020 election? Why can’t she move on? Why did she join Team Pelosi?!”

The “team” Cheney is on, when it comes to January 6, is the team of finding out the truth and telling it straight.

Cheney thinks that January 6 is very important, as she has explained repeatedly, and with remarkable patience. In the same vein, she thinks that the Trumpian lie about the election is very important. According to polls, a majority of Republicans believe the lie — believe that the Democrats, perhaps in cahoots with the Venezuelans and the Chinese, stole the election from Trump.

This affects our politics, and infects our politics. It infects our society as a whole. It led to the attack — the physical assault — on the U.S. Congress. It poisons everything.

Cheney thinks there needs to be an honest accounting of the past, yes. People ought to be held responsible. But she also believes the truth needs to be established for the sake of the future: to prevent future manipulation and future explosions of violence.

She thinks that Donald Trump remains a grave threat — a threat to our constitutional and democratic health. He is, after all, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2024.

There are election “deniers,” of course — millions of them. But there are also election sweepers-under-the-rug. Cheney has a problem with both camps. And they with her.

• Obviously, Trumpers hate her. But you know who might hate her even more? Anti-anti-Trumpers. In my observation, Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the other Republican member of the January 6 committee, are their two most hated GOP congressmen. Maybe their most hated congressmen, period!

Occasionally, they may be embarrassed by Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and other such GOP-ers. But I don’t sense any hatred of this type. You might get an eye-roll. But of “Liz ’n’ Kinz,” to use a phrase I’ve heard? Hatred.

How to explain it? Well, I could write several paragraphs. But it may suffice to say that everyone hates the one guy in the room who’s not gettin’ high. He has broken solidarity. He has committed a kind of betrayal.

Anyway . . .

• I mentioned 2024. Will Cheney run for president? I don’t see how. I don’t see how she can run in the Republican Party. I don’t see how she can run in the Democratic Party — she is a conservative, after all. Her father’s daughter. Independent campaigns are fool’s errands. Ditto third parties.

• On the subject of father and daughter: I think I will long remember the sight of Liz Cheney and Dick Cheney, absolutely alone on the Republican side of the House chamber. This was during the commemoration of the January 6 attack on the first anniversary, in 2022. Adam Kinzinger was not present because his wife was giving birth.

• Something else that will stay in my memory is a statement that Liz Cheney made at the beginning of the January 6 hearings: “I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

• When I was in college, I took part in a politics program, in Washington. Our group leader was a veteran Hill hand. He said to us, “The No. 1 goal of every congressional office is the reelection of the member.” That kind of shook our idealistic selves.

Henry J. Hyde, the longtime congressman from Illinois, used to give a speech to incoming GOP House freshmen. He had a theme: What are you willing to lose your seat over? Here is some of what he said on November 29, 1990:

This may sound odd, even ironic. You are here in the flush of victory. And yet it is precisely now that I ask you to contemplate the possibility of defeat — perhaps even the necessity of defeat.

Edmund Burke, in 1774, set forth a model we should all emulate when he told his Bristol constituents: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement, and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Let me put the matter plainly: If you are here simply as a tote board registering the current state of opinion in your district, you are not going to serve either your constituents or the Congress of the United States well.

Your constituents expect you to represent their interests, and that you should certainly do. But you are also a member of the Congress, and your responsibilities are far greater than those of an ombudsman for your district. You must take, at times, a national view, even if, in taking that view, you risk the displeasure of your neighbors and friends back home.

Indeed, I feel obliged to put the matter more sharply still: If you don’t know the principle, or the policy, for which you are willing to lose your office, then you are going to do damage here.

This institution needs more members willing to look beyond the biennial contest for power, more committed to public service as a vocation rather than merely a career.

In my view, Liz Cheney has shown courage, something rare in politics, as in other departments of life. I don’t care whether she gets just two votes in Wyoming — her parents’. I’ve seen a lot of good people lose. Liz Cheney, by her conduct in the last year and a half, has rendered a patriotic service. If she never does anything else in the public sphere — she has done a lot.

World

The Baltic Monuments War: The Narva Tank Is Rolled Out

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A girlstands next to an AS-90 artillery weapon during commemoration for the centennial of the ceasefire of the War of Independence near the border crossing point with Russia in Narva, Estonia, January 3, 2020. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

I wrote last week about plans to remove a replica Soviet tank that has stood (since the 1970s) just outside the eastern Estonian city of Narva. It marked the spot where the Red Army crossed the Narva River in 1944 during the course of the brutal fighting that destroyed what had once been one of northern Europe’s most beautiful cities.

The Financial Times:

Estonia has removed a Soviet tank memorial from a town close to the Russian border as its prime minister pledged to clear all such monuments from public spaces in the Baltic country.

Prime minister Kaja Kallas said on Tuesday that since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February tensions over Soviet-era monuments had increased and that moving them was necessary to stop Russia “tearing open old wounds”.

She added: “No one wants to see our militant and hostile neighbour foment tensions in our home . . . Considering the speed of the increasing tensions and confusion around memorials in Narva, we must act quickly to ensure public order and internal security.”

Livestreamed video from the town showed the Estonian army removing a second world war T-34 Soviet tank from its plinth using cables and a crane. It was then loaded on to a truck to be taken to the Estonian War Museum close to the capital, Tallinn.

What Kallas is getting at with those remarks is that Soviet monuments in Estonia (it’s equally true of those in other Baltic states), which were, for the most part, erected as monuments to Soviet power rather than Soviet mourning, have the potential to take on a second life as focal points for discontent among the Russian speaking minorities who are mainly either (primarily Russian) settlers who arrived during the second Soviet occupation (1944-91) or their descendants. This is why “recontextualizing” the monuments doesn’t work.

When discussing the fate of the giant Soviet “Victory Monument” complex in Riga (which is also set to be demolished: I wrote about that here), Latvia’s president referred specifically to this issue, as I explained in the course of this passage:

For many Russian-speakers, the complex had become not only a focal point for commemorations of wartime victory (attendance could run into six figures), but a place that was theirs, an assertion of their continuing presence in Latvia and, with it, a vision of modern Latvia, whether colonial, post-colonial, or a fusion of both, that ethnic Latvians do not share and never will. It’s telling that the Latvian president’s arguments for removing the monument concern the future as well as the past.

The meaning of a monument can evolve over time. The functions filled by the object Levits labels a “Kremlin propaganda facility” now include, he maintains, acting as a public display of support for the notion of a “Russian world.” This “world,” a concept promoted by Putin and condemned, reasonably enough, by Levits as “imperialist,” rests upon the idea of a murkily defined Russian “space” even larger than Russia itself. Within it, the argument runs, Moscow may have the right to assist, one way or another, threatened “compatriots” beyond its borders, such as the Baltics’ supposedly bullied Russian-speakers. The implications of that are not hard to work out.

Such issues are particularly dangerous in Narva, a city (Estonia’s third largest) only separated from Russia by a narrow river, and where an overwhelming majority of the population is Russian speaking. Many hold Russian citizenship. A potential focal point for trouble — which could be exploited by Russia — is the last thing that the Estonian government wants to see. It’s worth remembering that just two months ago, Vladimir Putin specifically referred to Narva as being a part of historically Russian lands. Trolling? Probably, but there’s generally a point to Putin’s trolling and, for that matter, to his historical “research.”

I’d expected that the tank would be transferred within Narva — to the grounds of the city’s (magnificent) castle, perhaps, which is where Estonia’s last Lenin — other than those dumped with other such monsters outside a museum — still lurks. But, by transferring the tank to a museum just outside Tallinn, the Estonian government has clearly decided to take no chances. As the FT notes, there were major disturbances in Tallinn (the Estonian capital) when the “bronze soldier,” a Soviet memorial in the form of a (comparatively modest) statue of a Red Army soldier that had stood in a central part of the city, was moved to the city’s military cemetery in 2007. “Alyosha” is still there today, presiding over respectfully treated Soviet graves.

Speaking the other day, Estonia’s president, Alar Karis, had this to say (via the Baltic Times):

According to the president, he thought a while ago that it would be enough to add a plaque explaining the history to the tank, but this is no longer enough. “The place of a World War II tank is not on a pedestal by the road connecting Narva and Narva-Joesuu, but in a museum. In the museum, the tank would become a part of history again, would not let us quarrel in the present…

Wise words.

Politics & Policy

A ‘Show Trial’ Is Exactly What This Is

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Committee Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) questions Cassidy Hutchinson, as Hutchinson testifies during a public hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 28, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In response to Of ‘Turncoats’ and ‘Show Trials’

With all due respect to Kevin Williamson, “show trial” is precisely what you would call hearings with no interest in anything but one-sided, un-cross-examined testimony from those pre-screened to agree with their foregone conclusion, conducted by a single party and the only two Republican representatives who don’t consider the proceedings illegitimate.

Mr. Williamson joins their ranks by calling the arrested on January 6 “turncoats,” when, 19 months later, almost none of them have been tried and many of them languish in a political prison having been charged, typically, with “entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds” and “disorderly conduct . . . parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building” — not insurrection. Perhaps Williamson can explain why the hearings can be useful before the prisoners of January 6 have even been tried — unless he has condemned them in his own mind without the need for legal disposition.

As to my suggestion that Cheney is a “turncoat,” I would refer Williamson to her approved campaign ad, running to no effect in Wyoming, where she is about to be resoundingly fired. “There is nothing more important [Liz Cheney] will ever do,” says Dick Cheney, “than lead the effort to assure that Donald Trump is never again in the Oval Office.”

Does it sound to Williamson that Cheney is a dispassionate, objective finder of fact, or participating in a show trial for her own political vendetta?

Politics & Policy

Pro-Abortion MDs Want Media to Cancel Pro-Life Voices

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(SeventyFour/iStock/Getty Images)

The media already mostly ignores anti-assisted-suicide voices in its biased reporting on that issue.

Now, Physicians for Reproductive Health — an organization of pro-abortion medical and non-medical activists — is pushing the media to ban all pro-life voices from its reporting on abortion. From the organization’s open letter to the media, “Stop Giving Airtime to Anti-Abortion Extremists“:

We are writing today with a big request: stop giving air-time to anti-abortion activists. As the undersigned over 600 providers of abortion care, people who have had abortions and will have abortions, abortion advocates, and individuals who work with the media regularly, we could not be more concerned for the safety and well-being of our communities, in part because of the misinformation, disinformation, and inflammatory threats shared and encouraged by anti-abortion activists in the media.

Abortion is one of the most important moral, political, and cultural issues of the current moment. It will, of necessity, become a difficult discourse and debate.

These zealots, however, pretend that there is only one legitimate point of view. But this is ridiculous.

For example, many abortion absolutists claim that pro-lifers are “racist” because restrictions on abortion will “disproportionately” impact women of color (based on the demographics that African Americans have a higher percentage of abortions than white women). But it is an odd form of racism that wants more babies of color born rather than fewer. See what I mean?

The letter pretends that supporting abortion is based on scientific fact:

We know your reporting standards are to cover “both sides” of any debate. Allow us to be clear: Medicine and science are not up for debate. Health care is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact. And the fact is, abortion is not in the realm of theory or belief. Abortion belongs in health care, social services, and public health reporting.

What baloney. Science can tell us what is destroyed in an abortion — a gestating human being. It cannot tell us whether destroying that nascent life is moral, immoral, or morally neutral. The analysis of that question is found in the realms of morality, philosophy, political, and/or religious discourse. In other words, finding a proper abortion policy is not a question of objective fact, but precisely a matter of subjective opinion.

The letter also claims that giving a voice to “extremists” — meaning anyone who is pro-life — threatens the safety of workers in the abortion industry and encourages protests. Of course, no one should threaten, harass, or attack anyone, but these days, the ones doing most of the attacking and harassing are pro-abortion zealots against Supreme Court justices, crisis-pregnancy centers, and Catholic churches.

Only listen to “the real experts,” the zealots urge:

If you believe in the evidence-based reasoning of medical care, if you believe in keeping communities safe, and if you believe in centering the needs of experts of an issue, in this case people who have and provide abortions, then we ask that you interview and center the real experts of this area of medicine.

This call to the media to ban pro-life voices from the discourse — as if media’s reporting isn’t already overwhelmingly weighted to the pro-choice side — is not only profoundly anti-democratic, but it would heighten already too-hot community tensions.

This call for organized media censorship not only reflects the anti-democratic consequence of being is so caught up in one’s own supposed righteousness that disagreement becomes unbearable, but it is a fool’s errand. Pro-life voices are not going away.

Politics & Policy

Democrats Already Are Planning More Tax Hikes If They Keep House

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi bangs the gavel in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., August 12, 2022. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Nancy Pelosi’s hand-picked chair of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee is liberal Richard Neal of Massachusetts. He made headlines last week by telling Bloomberg News that he would seek to raise both corporate and individual income-tax rates should Democrats keep the House.

His lust for higher taxes has energized the three leading House Republicans who are seeking to become Ways & Means Chairman if the GOP takes the House:

“It’s incredibly maddening that they haven’t learned their lesson after they tanked the economy and ignited the worst inflation crisis in 40 years with their reckless spending. When Republicans retake control of Congress, we will get our economy back on track,” Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri told Fox Digital. . . .

“Of course Democrats are already planning their next tax hike before President Biden has even signed their Inflation Act into law,” Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., told Fox News Digital in a statement.

Representative Vern Buchanan of Florida, the third Republican seeking the Ways & Means chairmanship, didn’t respond to Fox’s request for comment.

Nonetheless, all three are completely opposed to the just-passed $80 billion addition to the IRS’s budget. One of the most important jobs facing a GOP-led House will be to roll back the IRS’s hiring bonanza and block its implementation.

Elections

Liz Cheney’s Future

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I don’t know whether Liz Cheney will win or lose her primary election; the polls suggest she is likely to lose, but one never knows until the votes are counted.

But I do know that sometimes it is better to lose the small thing and win the big thing — and, in this case, the nomination of such a body as the Republican Party in Wyoming is the small thing. Liz Cheney already has won the big thing. The voters will pass judgment on Liz Cheney, and history will pass judgment on them. Cheney probably will have the better part of it.

It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world — but . . . Wyoming?

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Economic National Interest

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I argue that free markets are good for America and contrast that with the failed record of protectionism:

A more protectionist United States that tries to recreate the employment patterns of yesteryear would put countless existing jobs at risk. One of the things that makes America great is that much of the rest of the world desperately wants to do business with us. We’d be foolish to squander that position in world markets with self-inflicted wounds.

Hochman is right that economic policy should consider the national interest. Edmund Burke agreed, which is why he supported freer markets and freer trade. Burke was no utopian globalist, and he was no doctrinaire libertarian, but through careful study of how policies actually worked, he settled on economic liberalism as a worthy principle for Britain’s prosperity and prudently advocated liberal reforms in Parliament. Conservatives in the U.S. today ought to follow his lead by advocating the reduction of government intervention in the economy, not merely calling for a different style of it.

Read the whole thing here.

Culture

The Marriage Gap

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On the homepage today, I have a piece about how marriage has become an elite institution — and how that harms the economic chances of the underprivileged.

Politics & Policy

Dick Cheney, Manhood, Etc.

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Dick Cheney at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2017 (Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters)

A couple of weeks ago, Dick Cheney made an ad for his daughter, Liz: here. In all likelihood, it will be his last political ad. Concerning that ad, a few observations from me.

• It seems to many of us that Dick Cheney did not make that ad to help his daughter win her primary — that appears to be hopeless. Rather, he made it to make a statement.

• The ad reminded me why so many of us conservatives admired, and even loved, Dick Cheney: as a congressman, as defense secretary, as vice president. Cheney has not changed at all. But the Right has, dramatically.

Consider CPAC alone. The crowd used to roar for Ronald Reagan. Jack Kemp. Dick Cheney. Mitch Daniels. Daniels gave a speech on the menace of the federal debt. He was introduced by George F. Will. Can you imagine? Today, the crowd roars for Donald Trump, and Viktor Orbán, and Steve Bannon, and so on.

In January 2009, in the transition from Bush 43 to Obama, Cheney had a long sitdown with a group of conservative journalists in the vice-presidential residence. When he saw Charles Krauthammer, he said, “I’m honored.”

I wrote up the discussion under the heading “‘Darth Vader’ Speaks.” Cheney had said, “Hillary Clinton referred to me as ‘Darth Vader.’ I joke that I asked my family if they were offended by that, and they said, ‘No, it humanizes you.’”

• One of the things I liked most about the Cheney ad is that there was no pussy-footin’ around — no pussy-footin’ around Donald Trump. I am so sick of pussy-footin’, I could . . . choke.

• Cheney begins, “In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump.” I take issue with this: What about the leading Confederates? Still, Cheney has a point, and a case.

• Of Trump, Cheney says, “He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him.” Doesn’t everyone know this is true? Somewhere inside himself? Don’t even those who mouth support of Trump, or excuses for him, know it?

• “He is a coward,” says Cheney. “A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters.” There has been a good deal of discussion recently about what constitutes real manhood. In a speech, the chairman of the Claremont Institute said, “Trump is a manly man.” A lot of people think that about Putin as well — swaggering around bare-chested and so on.

Jonah Goldberg has had a go at this subject: here. So has Kevin Williamson: here. I agree with them, as usual.

Harvey Mansfield wrote a book on the subject. I podcasted with him about it, and other important matters, a couple of years ago. (For a write-up, go here.)

In a column yesterday, Dan Hannan had a striking passage, I thought. He was talking about Trump and the Trumpification of the GOP. “There was something unmanly about the way his erstwhile conservative critics rushed to abase themselves before him, abandoning their previous convictions and raging at the handful of Reaganite commentators who stuck to theirs.”

On Sunday, Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Arizona, rallied with Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida. Here is what she said of DeSantis:

“I’ll tell you what he’s got — I don’t know if you’ve heard of this — but he’s got BDE. Anybody know what that means? Ask your kids about it later.”

I had never heard of “BDE.” Turns out the letters stand for “big d*** energy.”

Coyly, Lake continued,

“I call it ‘big . . . DeSantis energy.’ Right? He’s got the same kind of BDE that President Trump has. And frankly, he has the same kind of BDE that we want all of our elected leaders to have.”

All right: What is a man? A real man? A genuine man? I could give you chapter and verse — literally cite the Bible — but I will say merely that the men I have admired in my life would never cheat, lie, steal, bully, brag.

When you talk this way, people accuse you of “moral preening.” “Sanctimony.” “Virtue signaling.” What can you do? You just have to let them, and obey your highest sense of right.

• Says Cheney in his ad, “Lynne and I are so proud of Liz for standing up for the truth, doing what’s right, honoring her oath to the Constitution when so many in our party are too scared to do so.”

Do not underestimate the degree of fear among Republicans — both in electoral politics and in the media. If you are anti-Trump, a lot of people will tell you that they agree with you, in whispers. But raise their voice, they are unlikely to do.

There is a threat of violence, of course. Here is a paragraph from a piece that Tim Alberta wrote about Peter Meijer, the Michigan congressman, last year. The subject is January 6.

On the House floor, moments before the vote, Meijer approached a member who appeared on the verge of a breakdown. He asked his new colleague if he was okay. The member responded that he was not; that no matter his belief in the legitimacy of the election, he could no longer vote to certify the results, because he feared for his family’s safety. “Remember, this wasn’t a hypothetical. You were casting that vote after seeing with your own two eyes what some of these people are capable of,” Meijer says. “If they’re willing to come after you inside the U.S. Capitol, what will they do when you’re at home with your kids?”

• There is something I dislike about the Cheney ad, strongly: the music. Any music at all. One video after another — in politics, sports, etc. — is spoiled by music. Dick Cheney’s ad does not need music. A soundtrack. A soundtrack can only detract. The man and his message are potent on their own.

• All of us have politicians we admire (though I know some people who have sworn off politicians altogether). My list is pretty darn short, I’m sorry to say. These days, a great many people on the right — young and old — admire Trump and his countless imitators. Dick Cheney is my kind of pol, my kind of conservative. He is a dinosaur. But I hope that America produces more like him, for coming generations.

Elections

No, Beto O’Rourke Isn’t Beating Greg Abbott

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Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke walks outside Uvalde High School the day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

About a month ago, I looked at the polling numbers in Texas and concluded Beto O’Rourke’s decision to interrupt Texas governor Greg Abbott’s press conference on the Uvalde school shooting, shouting, “this is on you!” had little effect. “The incumbent was leading by mid to upper single-digit percentage points before the shooting, and the incumbent is leading by mid to upper single-digit percentage points after the shooting. Sometimes moments that seem like a big deal at the time turn out to be footnotes in the course of a campaign.”

The newest Dallas Morning News poll finds Abbott ahead of O’Rourke, with the incumbent Republican leading among registered voters 46 percent to 39 percent, ahead 48 percent to 42 percent among those likely to vote, and ahead 51 percent to 41 percent among those certain to vote.

From the accounts in the national press after Uvalde, you would have believed the Uvalde shooting was a game-changer, and that the race was approaching toss-up status.

Newsweek: “Beto O’Rourke’s Chances of Ousting Greg Abbott Are Getting Better”

NBC News: “Beto O’Rourke raises Democrats’ hopes again in Texas”

The New York Times: “After Recent Turmoil, the Race for Texas Governor Is Tightening”

Beto O’Rourke has better name recognition, much better fundraising, and much better media coverage than the typical Democrat running statewide. Abbott beat Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points in 2014 and Lupe Valdez by 14 points in 2018. O’Rourke is likely to win a significantly bigger chunk of the votes in November 2022, but not enough to beat Abbott.

Despite Democratic arguments that the Uvalde mass shooting, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and other issues had changed the dynamics, Texas is still a Republican-leaning state in a year that is likely to be good for GOP candidates. No matter how much the media may want to turn Beto O’Rourke into a star, and no matter how much money that Democrats from outside of Texas pour into his campaign, he is the same guy who came close but no cigar against Ted Cruz in 2018.

International

When Money Dies: Argentina’s Inflation

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(Andrzej Rostek/Getty Images)

Back in the 1970s, prompted in part by fears of mounting inflation in the U.K., the British author Adam Fergusson wrote When Money Dies, a history of inflation in Weimar Germany that was also intended as a warning to Brits (inflation was then gathering speed) of the consequences of a breakdown of fiscal and monetary discipline. Not altogether surprisingly, it was a book that came back into focus amid widespread concern over where the measures adopted to deal with the global financial crisis might take us. Copies were changing hands at high prices, and the book was republished in 2010 (FWIW, I reviewed it back then for the Wall Street Journal here).

The reason I mention this book? Not because I expect the U.S. to tip over into hyperinflation any time soon — a rare moment of optimism, I know — but because of reading various recent accounts of what life is now like in Argentina. Inflation there, for now, is running at around 7 percent a month, still well short of hyperinflation (a threshold typically deemed to have been crossed when inflation crosses 50 percent a month), but already showing signs of what happens when money — or, in this case, a money, the Argentinian peso — dies.

A money that people can trust (more or less) is central to the functioning of an efficient market economy. When that trust collapses, people revert to barter, or turn to currencies on which they can rely. I saw both in the course of visits to Moscow in the early 1990s, a time of wild inflation. Inflation in Russia peaked at over 2,000 percent in 1992, and only returned to double figures in 1996. Payment in dollars, or other hard currencies (but the more recognizable the currency the better) was widely preferred over the ruble, and for those without access to them, life was very hard indeed. Outside metro stations, for a while anyway, informal markets sprung up, where people sold what they still had.

AP (August 11):

The effects of the inflation scourge is plainly evident in Villa Fiorito, around 15kms (9 miles) from downtown Buenos Aires, where unemployed women gather in the hopes of bartering goods for food in a plaza.

Every afternoon, women set up their blankets and carefully lay out all kinds of goods, including clothes, toys and used kitchen utensils with the hope of exchanging them for food to feed their families.

When a currency starts falling fast, price signals (at least those denominated in that currency) fall apart. No one knows what, in that currency, things are worth.

Bloomberg (May 31):

When prices rise fast enough for long enough, consumers can lose any sense of what they should’ve been paying in the first place.

That’s an extreme case of what’s known in economics jargon as “unanchored expectations” –- and in Argentina, it’s the daily reality.

[A]s prices soar and scatter, people are losing their bearings. No wonder, when a two-hour domestic flight costs the same as a month of college tuition, a pair of sneakers is equal to the minimum monthly social-security payment, and a new iPhone goes for half a year’s average rent or more. Price-tags also vary wildly from store to store, and tracking down the daily essentials at the least-unaffordable rates is a drain on time and energy for working Argentines. . . .

In the oceanside city of Mar del Plata in April, the same bag of coffee beans cost 200 pesos at one store and 500 pesos at another, according to the latest annual survey by Universidad FASTA. . . .

Under the circumstances, running a business can be very risky indeed. How does the owner price what he or she has in stock? Thus it can make sense to stop trading for a while. And that’s one of the reasons (outright hoarding is another) that shortages are a regular feature of an inflation-wracked economy.

The New York Times:

Prices are fluctuating so much that in recent weeks many companies have halted sales to see where prices settle, making it difficult to find certain items, including cooking oil and car parts. Some farmers are also holding onto their wheat and soybeans, betting prices will rise — and blunting the economic benefits of a commodity boom that should benefit an exporter like Argentina.

The whole New York Times piece (by Jack Nicas and Ana Lankes) is well worth reading, not only for the sense it gives of life in a country where the currency is collapsing, but as an account of what happens when markets fall apart. From time to time, I’ll read criticism of “market fundamentalists” (a species, in reality, rarely seen in the wild), but it’s worth paying attention to what happens when the fundamental elements that make a market work — and, as noted above, a reasonably trustworthy means of exchange is one of them — fall apart.

And so, as Russians did 30 years ago, Argentinians are turning to currencies they can trust, such as, in the country’s north, Bolivia’s boliviano (which has been pegged to the dollar for a while now, although there are — ten cuidado — questions as to how long that peg can be maintained), and, of course, the dollar, a well-established standby, given Argentina’s disastrous economic history, for decades. There are restrictions on how many dollars Argentinians can buy, and the official exchange rate (a bit over 130 pesos to the dollar, compared with the, ahem, unofficial rate, the dólar blue, of about 290) is, once again, an absurdity, giving a boost to a black market of considerable sophistication ($100 bills, I read in the Times’ report, carry a premium, as they are more difficult to forge) and size, with support systems to match. That’s needed as many large transactions are in cash, dollars that is. Among the people interviewed for the NYT piece is the CEO of Ingot, a safe-deposit-box company. Business, he says, is booming.

Politics & Policy

A Small Step against the Yearning for a Political Messiah

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at commencement for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., U.S., May 18, 2022. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

The Daily Beast checks in with the “#KHive,” ardent supporters of Kamala Harris during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, who are adjusting to the hard reality of watching Harris’s underwhelming performance as vice president:

One self-described former member of the #KHive, who requested to speak anonymously so as not to alienate themselves from friends made through the movement. “I was obsessed with the idea of this person who could undo the systemic, the systematic racism and sexism and heterosexism in government with one fell swoop, and now I’m thinking to myself, did I just make up a person in my head who could do those things?”

Yes. Yes, you did, and good for you for recognizing that you built up Kamala Harris into an unreal image that no flesh-and-blood human being could fulfill. I won’t even get into my usual spiel that Harris was an unaccomplished first-term senator and prosecutor whose record was primarily a wide-ranging effort to expand police powers. Just recognize that in political leadership and running the U.S. government, it is as silly to look for a woman on a white horse as it is to look for “a man on a white horse,” the perfect, all-knowing, all-wise, visionary leader who will put everything right. We’re not electing a messiah; we’re selecting a temp worker for four years with an option for four more.

Many Americans greeted the arrival of Barack Obama with the same near-religious fervor, and no doubt there are more than a few Donald Trump supporters who see him in near-messianic terms. (Trump explicitly wanted people to see him this way, declaring while accepting the Republican nomination in 2016, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”) Almost every presidential candidate makes bold promises, shrugging off the proven difficulties of getting Congress to pass sweeping legislation. The checks and balances laid out in our Constitution are designed to prevent a new president from stepping into office and quickly enacting sweeping changes. Our system of government isn’t supposed to generate a Napoleon, an Ataturk, or a Mao, an all-powerful figure capable of completely transforming the daily life of the country within just a few years.

This isn’t sarcasm; that K-Hive member is to be saluted for adjusting his or her expectations of what an American political leader can achieve. Having modest expectations for new presidents and other elected leaders is not cynicism; it is a recognition that enacting a big change in American life requires a broad coalition, which usually requires years of efforts at persuasion to build a consensus. There is no savior figure who is going to come along and do it for you.

Woke Culture

Joan of Arc Was a Woman

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Statue of Saint Joan of Arc on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, France. (Flory/iStock/Getty Images)

The famous Globe Theatre in London announced that an upcoming production I, Joan, about Joan of Arc, will portray Joan as “non-binary” and use “they/them” pronouns.

The poster shows Saint Joan wearing a chest binder, looking depressed, and nervously twisting her wrist. It doesn’t exactly scream feminist icon.

“It’s going to be this big, sweaty, queer, revolution, rebellion, festival of joy!” the play’s writer, Charlie Josephine — who identifies as “nonbinary” — explained. “It’s like an expansion of a historical figure. I hope that opens new possibilities for empathy and new possibilities for understanding for everyone.”

Everyone?

Feminists have long claimed Joan of Arc as an icon because of how she broke traditional gender norms by wearing men’s clothing and taking on military leadership in the 15th century. Others have insisted that Joan’s busting of gender stereotypes is less significant than her Catholic faith since that was her most foundational belief, which she died professing. In either case, almost everyone can agree that Joan of Arc was a remarkable woman — and largely because she was a woman.

While the Globe’s production isn’t necessarily casting doubt on the literal femaleness of the historical figure, Joan of Arc, the idea being promoted here is still sexist: On account of her departure from gender norms, Joan wasn’t a woman — hooray for that.

Trade

Truck-Chassis Industrial Policy Isn’t Going Well

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A truck hauls shipping containers at Yusen Terminals at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Truck chassis are the trailers that trucks use to move shipping containers. One of the many problems facing supply chains has been a chassis shortage.

American companies have been unable to purchase enough chassis to meet their needs partly because the federal government instituted a combination of tariffs and duties in 2021 that amount to an effective ban on importing truck chassis from China, where the world’s largest truck-chassis manufacturer is located. Domestic manufacturers were left to pick up the slack.

I wrote against these tariffs in November 2021. In that article, I said that domestic manufacturers were struggling to meet America’s chassis needs, and orders would only begin to be delivered in the second half of 2022.

Well, it’s the second half of 2022, and domestic chassis manufacturers are still behind.

The Journal of Commerce reports:

North American chassis manufacturers have run into production delays in 2022 for the second consecutive year, slowed by difficulties in sourcing raw components and retaining factory workers, which means widespread shortages of marine chassis may persist until 2024 . . .

Lessors and equipment pools have ordered at least 50,000 marine chassis from US and foreign manufacturers due to be delivered this year, according to a JOC.com estimate, but manufacturers say they will fall well short of that number. Exact figures on the overall US chassis fleet are not available, but lessors and equipment pools have historically registered between 35,000 and 75,000 new marine chassis per year with US government agencies, according to conversations with chassis manufacturers and lessors.

Dave Manning, CEO of the North American Chassis Pool Cooperative, which owns chassis manufacturer Pratt Intermodal, said orders due to be delivered this year will be pushed into 2023 and orders for next year into 2024.

“Nobody is hitting the targets that they thought they would this year, and so the goal of getting on top of the chassis shortage by 2023 is probably moving more into 2024, even though chassis are being added every week,” he told JOC.com in late July. “I believe it’ll be 2024 before we start to feel there’s an adequate supply of marine chassis.”

It turns out that it’s really hard to make something in a different country just because government decides it wants it made there. “According to chassis manufacturers, the construction of a single chassis requires raw materials and subcomponents from between 20 and 30 separate suppliers,” the JOC story says. Those suppliers have been unable to meet producers’ needs.

Chassis manufacturers have been finding it difficult to hire and retain factory workers. “Many of the new employees the company [Pratt Intermodal] hired in 2022 quit after completing their training, and long-time veterans have become wary of rejoining a sector with a history of cutting jobs at the first sign of a downturn,” the story says. Politicians often yearn for the return of manufacturing jobs to America, but American workers seem less enthusiastic.

And the Chinese company that’s the largest chassis manufacturer in the world, CIMC, didn’t just give up. It has started producing some chassis parts for the U.S. market in Thailand instead, to get around the tariffs. CIMC’s U.S. subsidiary, CIE Manufacturing, has facilities in California and Virginia where it assembles chassis, but those facilities already existed years before the tariffs were put in place as part of the company’s strategy to focus more on the North American market.

The “make them here instead” mantra popular with politicians hasn’t worked for truck chassis. Americans in need of chassis have simply been stuck without them in many cases, and it looks like many will continue to be without them for at least the next year and a half.

Industrial policy in action.

Editor’s note (August 16): This post has been updated to clarify that CIE Manufacturing obtains some chassis parts from Thailand, not entire chassis.

World

Staying Alive

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A local removes broken glass from a window of his damaged apartment following a Russian missile strike in Kostiantynivka, Ukraine, August 6, 2022. (Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters)

Today on the home page, I have a piece about Oleh Sentsov. He has led a turbulent life, you could say. He’s a filmmaker. (His breakout movie was Gamer, in 2011.) For five years, he was a political prisoner of the Kremlin. Now, he is in the army of his country, Ukraine, on the front lines, in the east. I was able to talk with him. My piece about him is here.

An excerpt — the last two paragraphs of the piece:

There is one other thing he’d like to say — say to me. He’s a little embarrassed about my writing about him. He has a measure of fame, owing to his movies. But there are so many other Ukrainians, doing more, deserving attention. I understand. I understand entirely. And over the years, many people such as Oleh Sentsov have said exactly the same thing to me.

I assure him that I have written about a variety of Ukrainians and will keep doing it. They all should have their stories told, in this nightmare they are living.

• Continuing with a theme: I highly recommend this piece by Anne Applebaum: “The Other Ukrainian Army.” Its subtitle reads as follows: “Imperiled by Russian invaders, private citizens are stepping forward to do what Ukraine’s government cannot.”

I think that if Americans knew more about the everyday heroics of the Ukrainians, they would admire them more, be all the more impressed by them. Why Ukraine is not more of a cause — especially on the right, I would say — is a very sore subject.

• The Washington Post has it exactly right: “There should be no impunity for Russia’s slaughter of POWs.”

• If you can bear it, here is an article by Luke Harding, in the Guardian: “‘Absolute evil’: inside the Russian prison camp where dozens of Ukrainians burned to death.”

(Harding had Putin’s number early. In 2011, he was the first foreign journalist since the Cold War to be expelled by the Kremlin.)

Another article that is hard to bear — and very important:

After months of meticulous, painful and at times gruesome investigation, officials in Bucha said Monday that they had reached what may be the closest they will get to a final accounting of victims of the murderous rampage by Russian troops that set off worldwide outrage over alleged atrocities: 458 bodies, of which 419 bore markings they had been shot, tortured or bludgeoned to death.

• On Twitter, Yaroslav Trofimov, the chief foreign-affairs correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, circulated a video from the Russian media and wrote,

As teachers in Russian-occupied south Ukraine refuse to collaborate, Moscow commentator says they should all be imprisoned “in a Zaporizhzhia Gulag under the baking sun until they learn how to love the Fatherland.” Also suggests executing family members of Ukrainians who resist.

“Until they learn how to love the Fatherland.” That is an especially perverted nationalism, and all too familiar.

• Mention of Zaporizhzhia leads me to this article, from Reuters:

The head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power firm warned on Tuesday of the “very high” risks of shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the Russian-occupied south and said it was vital Kyiv regains control over the facility in time for winter.

• More news to know about:

Russians are turning the Mariupol Philharmonic into a prison. In addition to the cages, they are building a special bunker-garage to receive paddy wagons that will transport Ukrainian prisoners. This structure is being built exclusively for one purpose — the “tribunal”.

That is from Anton Gerashchenko, here.

• On the subject of Mariupol: The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget A. Brink, tweeted,

Russia brutally and heartlessly destroyed one of Ukraine’s most forward-looking cities, killing, detaining, and forcibly deporting countless thousands. Still, as I saw at the I Am Mariupol Center, its people continue to pull together, help each other, and fight for their future.

Americans can be proud that their government is on the side of decency in this war. Obviously, American opinion is divided. There is a lot of pro-Putin sentiment. And anti-anti-Putin sentiment. I hear it all around. But I think that, when people know the fundamental facts about the Russian onslaught, they support the government’s support of the Ukrainians.

• There are Americans — and then there’s Steven Seagal. Max Seddon, the Moscow bureau chief of the Financial Times, circulated a photo and commented,

Steven Seagal, Russia’s special representative for humanitarian ties with the US, is in the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Here he is visiting a former site for prisoners of war in Olenivka, where Ukraine says Russia massacred dozens of detainees to cover up evidence of torture

Seagal is a Lord Haw-Haw of our time. I have no doubt he’d be a hit on certain circuits in his native country.

• I found this quite interesting: “Posters in the Moscow subway are trying to scare Russians away from using VPNs to access blocked Western sites and apps. . . .” I bet.

• File this under “human interest” — though the article relates to animals:

Natalia Popova has found a new purpose in life: rescuing wild animals and pets from the devastation wrought by the war in Ukraine.

Everyone doing his part, whatever it is.

• When you have time, I recommend an essay by Igor Pomerantsev, the Soviet-born poet. “Death Is a Master from Russia,” it’s called. It is something to read more than once, I think — literature, and burningly real.

• An item from RFE/RL:

Dire warnings of a new Russian offensive in the south have prompted government officials to order a mandatory evacuation of the Donetsk region, causing more misery for its weary inhabitants. Many of them must now decide whether to flee or risk their lives.

“RFE/RL” stands for that combination of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. This is one of the most valuable and noble projects of the U.S. government — has been for decades. In a world of lies, it strives to deliver the truth.

(In 2018, I wrote a piece about the “radios”: “Still Broadcasting Freedom.”)

What will the United States stand for in the world? On whose side will we be? What values will we support? These are questions to be answered day after day.

World

The World Loves Top Gun: Maverick

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Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick. (Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures)

Last I checked in on Top Gun: Maverick, the long-awaited sequel to the Tom Cruise fighter-jets-go-fast ’80s cheesefest, it was to note how good a movie it was (better than the original), and how its international success despite not opening in China (or Russia) should send a message to Hollywood. In recent decades, Hollywood had made an increasing play for the Chinese market, resulting in a proliferation of the sort of big-budget spectacle that translates easily, and, quite frequently, in outright censorship of movie elements that were politically sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party. (Eric Schwartzel tells this story in the excellent Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy.)

Top Gun: Maverick has none of this. This has, if anything, benefited the old-fashioned, unwoke, CGI-complemented-not-CGI-dependent blockbuster, which is inching toward $700 million in the U.S. with the kind of sustained, week-over-week performance that is quite unusual in a time of frontloaded blockbusters. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, for example, just ended its run a little over $400 million in the U.S., nearly half of which it made in its opening weekend.

Top Gun: Maverick‘s firm yet unforced pro-American themes, moreover, have not hurt it at the global box office, where it has currently outperformed its domestic take, at over $700 million worldwide. Its four biggest overseas markets: the United Kingdom ($97.2 million), Japan ($82 million), South Korea ($62.8 million), and Australia ($61.6 million). This corresponds well with some of America’s best military partnerships (some of the best allies anyone would want to have). And three of them have a rather pointed interest in checking Chinese-communist aggression, given their proximity.

We hear a lot these days about China’s growing global influence and its increasing cultural assertiveness. It’s true that the country produces its own blockbusters now, jingoistic propaganda films such as The Battle at Lake Changjin, which portrays a key battle in the Korean War from the Chinese perspective. That movie was wildly successful in China itself . . . but nowhere else. Forget this nonsense about the U.S., China, and Russia being “civilizational equals.” Fact is, the world just isn’t very interested in the way the CCP is selling itself abroad. But Top Gun: Maverick‘s marriage of American military might with American cultural power — the world seems very interested in that. At a time when many seem to have given up on the U.S. and its position in the world, there might be a lesson in this.

Politics & Policy

The Progressive Fizzle

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Today’s column compares President Biden’s legislative accomplishments with what progressives wanted when he took office with a Democratic Congress.

Among the items on the progressive to-do list were an expansion of the Supreme Court, statehood for places expected to vote for Democrats, a higher minimum wage, higher income-tax rates on high earners, a federal overhaul of election law, an amnesty for illegal immigrants, a ban on assault weapons, federal Medicaid funding for abortion, and measures to increase union membership. None of it has happened.

When the New York Times endorsed Biden in 2020, the first two policies it mentioned in praising his “bold agenda” were his plans to create a government-run insurance option for middle-class Americans of working age and to lower the age of eligibility for Medicare to 60. Both, the Times cheered, would move us toward “universal health care.”

Neither even made it to a vote. . . .

A Year Later, Biden’s Promise of ‘al-Qaeda Gone’ from Afghanistan Looks Even Worse

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President Joe Biden looks down as he delivers remarks about Afghanistan, from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 26, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A year after the fall of Afghanistan, let us recall the words of President Joe Biden, August 20, 2021, explaining why it was safe to abandon the country:

What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with al Qaeda gone?  We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as — as well as getting Osama bin Laden.  And we did.

Now, the assertion that al-Qaeda was “gone” from Afghanistan was so obviously false that even sympathetic media and Biden’s own administration acknowledged at the time that it wasn’t so. Politifact

International

More Warning Signs of China’s Weakening Economy

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People wearing face masks shop at a morning market in Beijing, China, March 30, 2022. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Central banks in major economies around the world have been raising interest rates in an effort to reduce inflation. The People’s Bank of China cut interest rates, in the latest sign of China’s weakening economy.

China’s brutal Covid lockdowns had reduced economic growth earlier this year, but those policies have begun to ease. The newest data indicate that China’s economic problems are deeper than those policies. Despite the lockdowns’ easing, “economic activity slowed across the board in July, including factory output, investment, consumer spending, youth hiring and real estate,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

In response, the PBC cut rates by 0.1 percentage points and injected the financial system with $59.3 billion in new funds. The unexpected rate cut sent the renminbi, which is already having a disastrous year, even lower against the dollar.

That will only exacerbate the problem that China is facing, along with other emerging markets, as investors look for safety. The higher returns that come with the higher risks of emerging markets were worth it when interest rates were low in the developed world. Now that interest rates are higher in the developed world, there’s less reason to take risks in emerging markets. With the People’s Bank of China now cutting rates against the Fed’s rate increases, that process will only move faster — to China’s detriment.

The effect of the PBC’s move on global commodities markets was swift. The Journal reports:

Brent crude futures fell more than 5% to $93.19 a barrel, putting the energy benchmark on track for its lowest closing level since mid-February, before the war in Ukraine sent oil-and-gas markets higher. Copper prices fell 2.5% to about $7,900 a metric ton, and soybean futures lost 3.1% to $14.09 a bushel. China consumes about 15% of the world’s oil, imports more crude than any other country and consumes more than half of refined copper globally.

I’m looking forward to the White House talking about Xi’s Price Cut on gasoline.

Kidding aside, China now seems to be facing a series of crises all at the same time, and they are mostly self-inflicted. The zero-Covid policies, which were unlike those of any other country in the world, hurt China’s economy. They put Xi Jinping in a tricky spot: stay the course and wreck the economy or change his mind and look weak. He chose to stay the course.

Then, there’s China’s foreign-debt crisis, which is a consequence of its Belt and Road Initiative. China is more exposed to developing-world debt that seems unlikely to be repaid than any other country in the world. The financial-system risks are made even worse by the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts in the Chinese housing market, which is in dire straits.

Lurking in the background is the Chinese population crisis caused by the one-child policy. The Chinese needed a bunch of people to be born over the past few decades, and unless they discover time travel, there’s no way to fix that problem now. Crazy as it may sound, the most populous country in the world is running out of people, and likely at a faster rate than previously believed. That spells disaster for economic growth, as the workforce shrinks relative to the swelling population of retirees. And making matters worse, this most recent batch of economic data showed Chinese youth unemployment at 19.9 percent, a record high.

China has found its way out of economic disasters before, so this recent stretch of bad news should not be taken as a firm indicator of the future of the country. But times are tough in China right now, more so than they are elsewhere in the world, and they are tough because of the CCP’s past and present decisions.

Sports

Repeal and Replace Preseason Football

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New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) throws the ball during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at MetLife Stadium, in East Rutherford, N.J., October 3, 2021. The Jets won 27-24. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Once you reach a certain age as a Jets fan, you know you’re going to be disappointed. Part of the experience of an NFL season is that you don’t yet know the manner and timing of the disappointment. Will it be injuries? A totally lost season? A chance to make the playoffs that goes poof in December? Or will they hold out for a bitter playoff loss?

This year, the Jets had a promising off-season. But over the weekend, Zach Wilson (second-year quarterback and future of their franchise) went down during a preseason game. Early indications are that Wilson avoided the worst, and that he should be back in a few weeks. But it does, to me, underscore the stupidity of preseason football.

Everybody knows the games are meaningless, and compared to preseason baseball, there’s a significantly greater risk of an injury that could knock a player out for a significant portion of the season.

If players need more practice and the NFL needs more revenue sources before the season starts, they can think of creative ways to create fun pre-season events. How about combine-like skills events? Races? Throwing competitions? Flag football scrimmages?

As players get bigger and stronger there has to be a way to get players in shape for the season that does not involve putting their bodies at risk for games that don’t count.

The Economy

Housing: Another Gloomy Data Point

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A for-sale sign outside a home in New York City in 2012. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The median existing house price reached a new peak in June ($416,000), a 13.4 percent increase over the year. As Reuters notes, this was “ the 23rd straight month of double-digit annual price gains, the longest such run since the late 1970s.” Interestingly, that was another period of high inflation: Make of that what you will, but before coming to a conclusion, check out the article by Allison Schrager that I discuss below.

Meanwhile, signs of unease continue to keep cropping up.

From Bloomberg today:

A gauge of US homebuilder sentiment declined for an eighth-straight month, marking the worst stretch since the housing market collapsed in 2007 amid higher borrowing costs and elevated prices.

The National Association of Home Buyers/Wells Fargo gauge decreased by 6 points to 49 in August, figures showed Monday. The reading was worse than the most downbeat estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists and below the breakeven measure of 50 for the first time since May 2020.

Builder confidence is tumbling as high mortgage rates exacerbate affordability challenges, on top of elevated costs of materials and labor. Buyers are retreating, leading to an increase in housing inventory and a drop in new construction activity.

And from Bloomberg a week ago:

In an American housing market that for years has been plagued by too little inventory, builders are suddenly finding themselves with a glut of unsold homes.

This year’s surge in mortgage rates tossed buyers to the sidelines. The waitlists for new houses are gone. And new-home sellers such as Kevin Brown, who works just south of Houston, are on the front lines of a massive shift.

Also (again via Bloomberg, last week):

The supply of homes for sale across the US grew at a record rate last month, another sign that higher mortgage costs are cooling down the housing market.

The number of active listings nationwide jumped 31% from a year earlier, a record-high increase for a third straight month, according to a report Tuesday by Realtor.com.

Overall, however, inventories are still well below pre-Covid levels, something that will be helping prices. Which is bad news for potential buyers, particularly those looking for their first home, and that keeps the pressure on rents.

Meanwhile Allison Schrager (also on Bloomberg) takes a step back and looks at the impact of ultra-low interest rates on the housing market, adding as she does so an interesting twist.

Before turning to that, I’d add that, on the assumption that interest rates (more generally, not mortgages specifically) do return to a more normalized level after a period in which they were at a 4,000-year low, the consequences are likely to be . . . interesting. I’ve worried for some time about the impact of ultra-low rates: We may not have to wait too long before discovering how expensive cheap money really was.

But back to Schrager:

The real estate market has been on a wild ride. House prices, measured by the Case-Schiller index, increased 30% between March 2020 and December 2021, a steeper rise than the lead-up to end the housing bubble in 2008. This was in part because many people moved during the pandemic, but also because the 30-year mortgage rate was only 2.65% in spring of 2021.

The impact of the Fed’s interference may be felt for years. In the spring of 2020, the Fed was desperate to avoid economic collapse, so it reverted to its 2008 playbook. It cut rates to zero and brought back quantitative easing, buying long-dated government bonds and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Most residential mortgages are securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and resold in what is known as an agency MBS.

In 2020, the mortgage-backed security market was in trouble, and the Fed was even more aggressive than it was in 2008. It effectively became the only ultimate buyer of these securities: Its holdings of agency MBS increased by $1.3 trillion between 2020 and 2022, while the market for agency mortgage-backed securities grew by $1.5 trillion. The Federal Reserve now holds more than 40% of the total outstanding amount of agency MBS, or nearly half the market. . . .

Buying mortgage-backed securities may have made sense in spring 2020, but why the Fed did not start tapering for 18 months, even as the housing market was clearly overheating, was never explained.

Even though the Fed has ended QE, its role in fueling the screwy housing market may last for the next decade. The Fed would like to shrink the size of its MBS portfolio. So far it plans to do so by not reinvesting all the securities as mortgages are paid off.

But higher rates mean fewer people will refinance or move, so the mortgage portfolio won’t shrink as fast as the Fed anticipates. There are some whispers about the Fed selling some of its mortgage-backed securities. If that’s the case, Charles Schwab expects the MBS spread [over 10-year bonds] will grow even larger, and odds are so will your mortgage rates.

Schrager adds:

There will also be a hangover from the very low rates in 2020 and 2021. Like many people, I bought a home in the spring of 2021. Now between rising rates and a slower housing market, I am not sure I can ever afford to move. The housing market may be slower and less liquid for a long time.

Mess with a market, in this case the market for money (and thus its price), at your peril.

Economy & Business

How Subsidies Backfire

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It’s an irresistible temptation for most politicians: If something seems desirable, why not promote it with government subsidies?

Ah, but if you think through the long-run effects, you discover that subsidies tend to backfire. The lovely original objective is not attained, and there are pesky side effects that the politicians hadn’t figured on (or hope that nobody will blame them for).

For a lesson on the impact of subsidies, I recommend this AIER article by Anthony Gill. He analyzes two subsidy programs: one for electric cars and the other for college tuition.

When a government decides to help save the planet by subsidizing purchases of electric cars, the result is higher prices for the vehicles. When government chooses to push educational “attainment” higher by subsidizing college, the result is higher tuition (as well as lower-quality education).

Gill sums it up: “The best ‘free thing’ government could give us is not a bevy of subsidies and handouts, but the freedom to allow entrepreneurs, big and small, to figure out what is best for all of us.”

Music

Xanadu Is a Bad Movie with a Good Soundtrack

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Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu (Screenshot via Movieclips/YouTube)

When pop sensation Olivia Newton-John died last week at age 73, lots of people probably went and (re)watched Grease, the 1978 musical smash hit in which she starred alongside John Travolta — that is, they indulged their nostalgia for a prior era’s nostalgia (already, by the 1970s, Baby Boomers were feeling nostalgic about their youth in the 1950s). I, instead, decided to watch Xanadu.

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Xanadu. I’m aware of it only because I’m a fan of Electric Light Orchestra, and ELO collaborated with Newton-John on the movie’s soundtrack. Released in 1980, Xanadu stars Newton-John as Kira, a mysterious beauty who entrances frustrated artist Sonny Malone (Michael Beck). Xanadu — the movie — is so legendarily bad that it not only flopped upon its release but also helped inspire the Golden Raspberry Awards, a kind of anti-Oscars celebrating the year’s worst films. (Xanadu‘s director won its first Worst Director “award.”)

I decided I had to see for myself if it really was that bad. And yeah, it’s pretty bad. There’s hardly a plot to speak of. Newton-John turns out to be the muse of Beck’s character, sent to Earth to inspire him to create a musical club (the titular Xanadu); he spends the movie literally chasing her. Usually, musicals at least have the characters miming the words to songs, but in Xanadu, that happens only a handful of times. Instead, there are just scenes set to music with an uneven relationship to what is actually happening on-screen. (This “Redshirts” tribute video does a much better job at that.) There are bizarre scene transitions that PowerPoint could put to shame, cheesy ’80s special effects that other movies of the era were able to outdo, and pointless scenes that are interesting only for reflecting a trope (“Oh, look, a scene where characters try on new clothes in a mall“) or for reminding me of something else (“Well, this Don Bluth animated sequence sure does remind me of Thumbelina“). Also, everybody roller-skates.

So, is there anything good to say about Xanadu? Surprisingly . . . yes. Gene Kelly (yes, that one, in his final film role) is perfectly cast as a wistful elderly former band leader. We even get to see him dance at a spry 68. Newton-John doesn’t have much to work with, though her “struggle” to transcend the limitations of being a muse (once they have accomplished their requisite inspirational duties, they return to the realm of the gods and are forbidden relationships with mortals) perhaps unintentionally mirrors the attempt of her naturally effervescent, charismatic personality to transcend the trappings of a bad movie. The movie also makes some half-hearted gestures at interesting ideas about the nature of inspiration, the importance of hanging on to dreams, and how to merge the best of the past with the best of the present. Concerning the latter, especially, one scene that has a ’40s big band with an ’80s rock band reminds one of nothing so much as Electric Light Orchestra’s own aesthetic. There is, moreover, a kind of earnestness to the movie; in its lack of ambition (or plot, or appropriate choreography . . .), it unintentionally achieves a kind of purity that contrasts well, with, say, Grease. It’s not enough for me to agree fully with Kelly, who said of Xanadu that “the concept was marvelous, but it just didn’t come off.” But it wasn’t a totally joyless experience to slog through it.

And the soundtrack is pretty good, however imperfectly the songs from it can line up with what is actually going on. I’m more team ELO than team ONJ, though her talents are rightly well regarded. The ELO material on the Xanadu soundtrack is not the best ELO, but it’s still pretty good (my favorite: “I’m Alive“). The songs are perhaps a little too pop-oriented, though they would have fit in fine on Discovery, the disco-very album that ELO released just before Xanadu.

Jeff Lynne, the creative force behind the band, mainly signed on to do the movie because he wanted to meet the star (“I took it because I thought, well, I like Olivia. . . . She’s great. It would be nice to meet her”), and he had a strange working relationship with the production (writing songs to fit already filmed dance scenes, rather than the other way around). He says he has never seen the movie: “I wrote half the songs, though I’ve never seen the thing. I don’t suppose anybody else has, either. It was supposed to be really bad. I don’t think I’ll ever see the movie after reading the reviews.”

The best comparison I can think of to Xanadu is the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. Not the album, which Kyle Smith once argued is even better than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but the movie. The Beatles, in peak “nothing is Beatle-proof” mode, decided they could make their own feature. The result is a plotless, meandering, surreal experience occasionally punctuated by great music (set to some pretty far-out scenes that amount to proto-music videos), best viewed in an unplanned manner around 2 a.m. on public television (i.e., the circumstances of my viewing it). Magical Mystery Tour, the movie, also flopped, but, as with Xanadu, its soundtrack did well. Xanadu actually gave the amazingly prolific ELO its only U.K. No. 1 hit, in the title track, on which Newton-John sings lead and Lynne, who produced it, does backing vocals. (ELO never had a U.S. No. 1, the strongest evidence yet against American exceptionalism.) Allegedly, even John Lennon liked some of the songs on Xanadu.

So, yes: Xanadu was a flop, so bad that some of the cast blamed it for destroying their careers. It’s a mess of a movie that I will never watch again. But the soundtrack is good, it didn’t destroy ELO (which went on to release the excellent concept album Time shortly after Xanadu) or Olivia Newton-John (who would, among other things, get “Physical” just a year later). And in spite of myself, there were bits here and there that I actually enjoyed. If nothing else, it’s a testament to the appeal of Newton-John that she was able to shine even in something this bad . . . and also that her career managed to thrive despite it. R.I.P. to a legend who could make even a bad movie worth watching.

Editor’s note: This article originally said Gene Kelly was 78 when Xanadu was released; he was 68. This has been corrected, and the attendant dig at Joe Biden, deleted.  

NRI

NRI’s Annual Prize Dinner Is Coming to California!

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We are pleased to bring the Ninth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner to Simi Valley this fall.

This year’s Prize Dinner, on September 29, will honor Young America’s Foundation and Larry Kudlow. Rich Lowry and many of your favorite National Review writers will be in attendance. It’s sure to be a fun night with dinner, dancing, and cocktails.

Tickets to the dinner and our room block at the Four Seasons Westlake Village are selling out quickly, so we encourage you to make your reservation soon!

Sponsorships and tickets are tax-deductible (less $150 per guest attending), and all funds raised go to support NRI.

We ask that you kindly RSVP by September 9; click here to register. If you have questions, you can reach us at wfbprize@nrinstitute.org or 212-849-2858.

Views and opinions expressed by National Review Institute are not necessarily shared by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation.

Economy & Business

Victoria’s Secret Isn’t Worth Knowing

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A customer passes by an L Brands Inc., Victoria’s Secret retail store in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 13, 2016. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

What do you get when a brand known for unsubtle sex appeal attempts a multiyear pivot to body affirmation and corporate wokeness? A whole bunch of nothing. Thus, Victoria’s Secret, with its familiar pink-and-black-themed displays of lacy bits and other boudoir essentials, has had difficulty adjusting to increasingly online and brand-skeptical young professional women, evidenced by a substantively declining market share.

Indeed, Victoria’s Secret may need to rethink its rebrand, because no one is buying its calculated wokeness.

The Wall Street Journal shared a recent study conducted by the retailer:

Most shoppers who participated in a study conducted by the lingerie seller in February weren’t able to identify Victoria’s Secret & Co. as the brand behind recent ads of models wearing its lingerie, according to internal research documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The ads show women with different ethnicities, body types and ages mostly in natural-looking lingerie, including a pregnant Grace Elizabeth and multiracial model Paloma Elsesser.

When asked to pick two images that portrayed the brand, the focus group of roughly 28 women, aged 18 to 40, consistently selected photos of Hailey Bieber, another Victoria’s Secret model, in leopard and shiny strap lingerie, the documents show. Once prompted, however, most customers agreed more inclusive marketing was a step in the right direction.

Note that despite Victoria’s Secret’s lead model being a curvier multi-ethnic woman, women repeatedly associated the brand with Hailey Bieber, the archetype of elfin models of yore. Only when audibly nudged (bullied) did the women agree on the value of inclusive marketing.

Adding to the retailer’s woes are the women understandably miffed at the company for ads and limited sizing that omit them from the pool of desirable customers. Perhaps the most underreported reason for Victoria’s Secret’s diminished stature is the long-term damage it’s done to the self-image of young women. For decades its campaigns depicted unnaturally perfect women draped over chesterfields and davenports, selling a particular vision of “sexy.” However, there’s a heckuva lot of women who aren’t that who nevertheless attain other visions of sexiness. Thirty years ago, the company could get away with not targeting them because their storefronts were both the most accessible and the least icky — it certainly beat buying from the adult-video store out by I-41.

But now, these women are rejecting Victoria’s Secret in favor of companies such as AdoreMe and LoveHoney that offer a much broader array of styles and sizes and the convenience of trying things on at home. What an outstanding provision of the free market.

So, where does that leave Victoria’s Secret? Seemingly in a no-win position: The women who might once have preferred the brand for lack of other options have gone elsewhere, while others who still like it are unmoved by its new, “inclusive” marketing and declining quality. What to do? If the company could accept a man’s advice — an unbiased observer, of sorts — here’s what I would suggest.

Women have known Victoria’s Secret for a long time, and the brand might as well accept where it sits in the lingerie landscape: the expensive mall brand that presents a particular vision of sexiness and idealized beauty. It can lean into this and go upscale, with trained staff and an improved, boutique-style shopping experience. But rejecting the brand that the company has long cultivated in favor of imitating its newly successful online competitors is foolish.

Go Outside, Progressive Writers

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(FREDERICA ABAN/Getty Images)

Do America’s progressive writers know anybody who isn’t . . . a lunatic? I ask this because, in the course of my morning reading, I came across two widely shared pieces that, had they been presented to mixed company at the pitch stage, would ineluctably have yielded raised eyebrows, widespread confusion, and, eventually, a friendly “are you feeling all right?”

The first contribution is from the Atlantic. It’s called “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol,” and it claims that those shadowy, ever-present “Christian nationalists” have started combining sacramental beads and “gun culture.” To underscore the idea, its artwork is in the

Religion

The Atlantic: Rosaries Are Worse Than Firebombings

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(Pixabay)

It would be hard to find evidence more damning of the worldview of the editors of the Atlantic than the decision to run these two articles two days apart: Kaitlyn Tiffany on “The Right’s New Bogeyman: A mysterious pro-abortion-rights group is claiming credit for acts of vandalism around the country, and right-wing activists and politicians are eating it up” and Daniel Panneton on “How Extremist Gun Culture Co-Opted the Rosary: The AR-15 is a sacred object among Christian nationalists. Now ‘radical-traditional’ Catholics are bringing a sacrament of their own to the movement.” Read in combination, they perfectly encapsulate an asymmetrical threat assessment, in which “our” people are never really bad, but “their” people are to be viewed with constant suspicion. In this view, even actual terrorism by people on the cultural left is dangerous only because it helps conservatives politically, while even the slightest hint of association with the smallest number of extremist weirdos is enough to justify denouncing a core Catholic devotional prayer.

So, when Jane’s Revenge takes public credit for firebombing crisis-pregnancy centers, this is how Tiffany reacts, quoting a comparison to “moral panic” over Antifa during the 2020 riots that cost $2 billion in damages and killed two dozen people:

Right-wing media outlets have provided ample coverage of this new threat, and anti-abortion politicians have demanded government action to address it. But the group’s practical significance remains in question. Just how meaningful is Jane’s Revenge? . . . Whoever is behind Jane’s Revenge, the group has become a prominent bogeyman on social media. . . .

Pro-abortion-rights activists have engaged in vandalism in recent weeks, and the blog posts associated with Jane’s Revenge are actively encouraging the behavior. But that does not imply the existence of a complex, coordinated campaign of violence.

In addition to downplaying Jane’s Revenge and its campaign of terror, Tiffany fails to contextualize it by omitting the activities of “Ruth Sent Us,” the group that published the home addresses of Supreme Court justices to direct protesters to their homes, as well as the assassination attempt on Justice Brett Kavanaugh by a pro-abortion fanatic.

Contrast how Panneton frames the Rosary. First, the Atlantic‘s subtitle hilariously refers to it as a “sacrament,” an error that can only be explained by having had zero Catholics review the article before publication. Even an ex-Catholic who made it through the third grade would have caught that one. There are seven sacraments, and the Rosary — a sequence of prayers dating to the medieval Church — is not one of them:

Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics. On this extremist fringe, rosary beads have been woven into a conspiratorial politics and absolutist gun culture. These armed radical traditionalists have taken up a spiritual notion that the rosary can be a weapon in the fight against evil and turned it into something dangerously literal. Their social-media pages are saturated with images of rosaries draped over firearms, warriors in prayer, Deus Vult (“God wills it”) crusader memes, and exhortations for men to rise up and become Church Militants. 

No examples are given of anything bad coming of any of this — and even Panneton has to concede that this is a far cry from the proper and traditional Catholic view of the Rosary. Of course, literally any idea or symbol can be put to a bad use by bad people — Satan himself, the Bible reminds us, can quote Scripture, too. Panneton warns darkly that “the pro-choice protests that followed the leaked early draft of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, led to a profusion of social-media posts on the far right fantasizing about killing activists,” yet somehow, he, too, fails to mention the actual violence emanating from the pro-Roe side — even Jane’s Revenge, just two days after the publication of Tiffany’s piece.

Somebody ought to tell Atlantic readers that firebombings and assassination attempts are worse than the Rosary. It does not seem that the editors of the magazine have the heart to be the ones to do it.

History

George Washington’s Warning against an American Caesar

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A painting of George Washington (James Peale/Wikimedia Commons)

Over the weekend, I wrote an essay pushing back against the notion that America might be better off with a “Caesar” atop its politics — that is, a strongman/autocrat type who could circumvent the forces supposedly obstructing our country’s true prosperity and freedom. I argued that such a solution does not fit the American character, and that one can acknowledge the challenges facing the country while also looking to its people and to already existing institutions for recovery and renewal.

I think that a lot of talk about Caesar, civil war, etc. is being peddled by people with a skewed and somewhat self-interested detachment from political reality, people who exist almost entirely in the Manichean world of day-to-day politics and do not apprehend the country and its greatness in their fullness. But to the extent that there is the kind of genuine discontent, particularly on the right, that would look to a Caesar figure for succor, it is worth remembering that such discontent — or at least the fear of it — is not new in American life. Indeed, George Washington warned against the very thing.

As his second term as the first president of the U.S. came to a close, Washington presciently detected a worrisome trend in the young nation’s politics: the rise of “the spirit of party” (what we would today call partisanship):

From his Farewell Address:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual, and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.

There is an argument you hear more and more on the right these days: that the Left has already embraced the punitive dimension of state power and has used it against the Right, which now has no choice but to retaliate. There is, unfortunately, much evidence for the former contention, much as the Left may deny it. Thus it is true, to a considerable extent, that the existence of this retaliatory spirit on the right is the fault of the Left. And so the more the aggressions of the Left continue, the more difficult it will be to resist the temptation to descend into aggressive retaliation as an end in itself.

But Washington counseled against the “frightful despotism” of “the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension,” seeing at the end of such a process the end of America’s experiment in self-government. Today, some might say Washington was calling for “unilateral disarmament” — that he just didn’t “know that time it is.” Not true. Rather, Washington was calling for us to resist excessive escalation of this tit-for-tat attitude. Not to escape politics, which will always be with us — it is “inseparable from our nature” — but to govern for the common good with maximum deference to and use of constitutional powers.

This will still, inevitably, involve a great deal of political conflict with the Left, much of which now has little use for the framework bequeathed to us by, among other things, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. That one side of our politics is increasingly abandoning these aspects of American heritage is dispiriting, yes. But it is also an opportunity for patriotic citizens and for dutiful statesmen. In the spirit of Washington, they should take it.

Culture

Objections to Early Marriage

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In my piece on sex education in the latest issue of the magazine, I argue that parents can successfully encourage their school-aged children to be abstinent. According to a Planned Parenthood poll, 45 percent of parents support not only abstinence in youth but abstinence until marriage. Impressing this value upon one’s college-aged children is more difficult, but it is not impossible. Helen Andrews, writing for First Things in 2013, made an interesting point:

There is still the problem that most college-educated Americans don’t marry until their late twenties or early thirties. It is much more difficult to ask an average eighteen-year-old to remain celibate for the entirety of his twenties than just the first half of them. But to convince Yale students to start marrying earlier, it is necessary to know their objections to early marriage. One is the fear that a romantic commitment will limit their post-graduation plans by forcing them to factor another person’s needs into their career choices. This is immaturity, and they should be told to get over it. Accommodating another person’s desires is an important part of being an adult, and if people don’t learn that skill before they marry, they are going to get an unpleasant crash course in it when they have kids. It is foolish to think that, with careful planning, one can construct a marriage — or, for that matter, a happy life — that does not involve sacrifices, and the sooner this is learned, the better.

Politics & Policy

Stacey Abrams Inadvertently Reveals the Pro-Abortion Problem

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks at a news conference in Atlanta, Ga., May 24, 2022. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

In a recent interview, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams offered this thought about abortion laws:

It’s not a particularly unique stance among Democratic politicians; nearly to a one, Democratic lawmakers with national ambitions insist that it is always unacceptable to limit abortion in any way. But slightly more interesting is one of the reasons Abrams gives for her stance: “Arbitrary political parameters make no sense.”

Viewed from a different angle, this comment is actually the stance that most pro-lifers take on the subject: Arbitrary line-drawing about when an unborn child attains the right to life isn’t a coherent rationale for abortion policy. Pro-lifers often support incremental laws that are based on facts about fetal development, such as protections that take effect when a fetal heartbeat can be detected or when an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain. These rationales are compelling as a matter of messaging, to be sure, and there’s nothing wrong with supporting incremental pro-life policy if doing so brings us closer to our goal of total abolition. But our support for pro-life laws flows from our ultimate rejection of arbitrary dividing lines as a rationale for abortion policy.

When Abrams argues that limits on abortion are arbitrary, she inadvertently reveals that only one of two positions is coherent and non-arbitrary: The unborn child always has the right to life, from the moment of conception, or the unborn child never does. This latter position is the one that Abrams has chosen, for the apparent sake of consistency.

But there are two problems with her claim. First, she ignores that it is abortion supporters who are most arbitrary, tending to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn child only at arbitrarily chosen dividing lines during pregnancy — say, at the end of the first trimester or once the baby is “viable,” an ever-shifting line. Second, she doesn’t seem to realize that acknowledging the child’s humanity only at the moment of birth is also arbitrary.

Passage through the birth canal doesn’t magically bestow personhood or confer rights; the complete exit from the womb doesn’t make the child any less dependent on others for survival. All of the arguments for abortion would equally justify infanticide after birth. Perhaps this is why, for several years running, Democrats in Congress have voted against a bill requiring doctors to care for babies who are born alive after an attempted abortion. In their effort not to be arbitrary and to remain consistent, they inadvertently reveal the deadly logic of abortion: Any “unwanted” child can be killed, inside the womb or out.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Desalination

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Edward Ring of the California Policy Center writes about desalination as a solution for water shortages:

For all its potential, desalination has yet to be a game changer. Worldwide freshwater consumption is estimated at 7.5 billion acre feet per year. Of that total, roughly 20,000 desalination plants worldwide produce an estimated 30 million acre feet of fresh water per year. That’s an awful lot of water, but it’s less than 1 percent of global water consumption.

Nonetheless, desalination plays an outsized role in arid coastal regions around the world. In Israel, for example, five massive desalination plants on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea produce nearly a half-million acre feet of fresh water per year, an amount the nation plans to double by 2030. Israel’s Sorek Desalination Plant, located a few miles south of Tel Aviv, produces 185,000 acre feet of fresh water per year, from a highly automated operation that occupies only about 25 acres. Approximately 80 percent of Israel’s municipal water comes from desalination, and this nation of 9 million people is now exporting surplus water to Jordan.

Read the whole thing here.

International

Government Incompetence Comes for French Reactors

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(were1962/Getty Images)

The French have a nuclear problem, primarily of their own making. The Wall Street Journal reported recently on France’s energy woes, with reactor efficiencies dipping with rising temperatures, low water levels (necessary for reactor cooling), and maintenance troubles. The shortfalls are partly attributable to the reality that electronics and energy systems of all stripes do not function as well in extreme temperatures. Still, the evidence points more to man’s shortsightedness and political foolishness as the primary culprit of diminished French fission. 

Joe Wallace writes for the WSJ

France is contending with its worst nuclear outages in decades, putting it at greater risk of blackouts this winter than big neighbors experiencing their own energy headaches. The danger is even higher than in Germany, which is bracing for economic pain as Russia throttles gas supplies to punish European allies of Ukraine.

The shortfalls, which traders expect to last well into 2023, mean France has switched from power exporter to importer. That has exacerbated a continentwide squeeze on energy supplies that has already helped push inflation to record rates, threatened the region’s industrial base and hit consumers’ pocketbooks.

Scorching summer weather has worsened Europe’s problems. Water levels have plunged in reservoirs and rivers, making it hard to generate hydropower, transport coal and cool nuclear plants, while reducing the efficiency of gas power plants. Keeping homes, offices and factories cool is creating extra demand for electricity.

However, while plants must lower their output expectations, maintenance failures coupled with the nationalization of the industry best explain the issue. As a U.S. Navy Nuclear Power School dropout, I may not know physics real good, but I can tell you that constant and meticulous maintenance is the reality for every reactor. While incredibly safe, the plants necessitate forethought and inspections as a matter of course. In France, corrosion has brought twelve reactors to a halt as repairs on piping take place.

Paul Brown explains for the Energy Mix:

The fault seems common to a whole series of France’s reactors. The shutdowns affect four of the largest N4 reactors of 1,500 megawatts, five 1,300-MW, reactors of similar design, and three 900-MW units. This, on top of a series of outages at 18 other reactors for repairs, updating, or regular safety checks, has left France with the lowest nuclear output in decades.

These repairs may take years — which some may claim (wrongly, in this case) is a result of French work ethic but seems reasonable if you’re at all familiar with nuclear-maintenance protocols. As one can imagine, one does not simply roll a Miller welding cart up to reactor-piping manifold, spin up your Makita cutoff tool with a wire brush, and start blazing away at welds. Tool control, radiation-level monitoring, shutdowns, tag-outs, and inspections all take time. 

Nuclear power is incredible technology, but it functions similar to a steam locomotive — slow to start, technically demanding to keep at its peak efficiency, and slow to stop. But when she’s doing what she was made to do? Nothing more beautiful.

Perhaps the most unforgivable failure in this French episode is their government’s meddling in the energy market. Already a majority shareholder of the French nuclear power owner (84 percent), the government has capped rates the sector can charge, meaning the government, and ultimately the taxpayer, is subsidizing the industry at break-even levels while offering to fully nationalize the Electricite de France S.A. (EDF) for $9.8 billion, or twelve dollars per share. 

The company is thus hamstrung, taking losses as it attempts to finish building a pair of new reactors and conduct the expensive routine maintenance required by its fleet of reactors, let alone repair the dozen damaged ones. 

For American observers, it is perhaps best to note the limitations of even the best energy production systems when coupled with government intervention, and accept that no matter what our energy composition is in the next few decades, there are inherent weaknesses to electronic and mechanical systems when it comes to heat, corrosion, and upkeep. We need not be disheartened, but neither should we expect that any one solution will be without its eccentricities and particular needs. As Sowell likes to say, “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.” In this, politics and energy are kin.

Politics & Policy

Higher Education Has Much to Answer For

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Among many other harms it has inflicted on the country, higher education bears considerable responsibility for the politicization of science. The felt need to conform to “progressive” beliefs in the academy has pushed science away from a dispassionate search for knowledge. It’s now more important to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.

That is one of the takeaways from Professor John Staddon’s new book Science in an Age of Unreason, which I review today for the Martin Center.

Staddon writes, “Weak science lets slip the dogs of unreason: many social scientists have difficulty separating facts from faith, reality from the way they would like things to be. Critical research topics have become taboo, which, in turn, means that policy makers are making decisions based more on ideologically driven political pressure than on scientific fact.”

Government programs and university pressures have badly distorted the incentives facing those who do scientific research. These days, careers depend on getting lots of publishable results, and the quest for quantity is hurting quality.

Worse, the mania for “diversity” has infected science, overriding other considerations when it comes to hiring of faculty and what topics will or won’t be studied. Furthermore, “science” is now routinely used as a cudgel to get people to go along with various beliefs — such as global warming and the need for extraordinary measures against Covid — that lead to the expansion of government power.

Staddon has written a super book, and I recommend it highly.