Culture

‘All I Want for Christmas’

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In response to Mariah Carey and Me

Kyle, I don’t have very strong feelings about Mariah Carey’s inescapable Christmas anthem, but I will confess that “Santa, Baby” and “Little Saint Nick” both kind of make me want to join al-Qaeda.

Economy & Business

‘Go Build Your Own’

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(Illustration/Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

“If you don’t like Twitter,” goes the popular refrain, “don’t try to control it with the government, go and build your own.”

I agree with this. That’s exactly what disgruntled consumers should do. But it is too much to ask that, if and when they do, they aren’t mocked for it?

Axios has a short piece this morning casting the growth in conservative tech outlets as something sinister. The headline is “Right wing builds its own echo chamber,” and the central complaint is that “conservatives are aggressively building their own apps, phones, cryptocurrencies and publishing houses in an attempt to circumvent what they see as an increasingly liberal internet and media ecosystem.” Some of the piece is just silly. There’s nothing unusual or novel about news outlets having their own apps. MSNBC has one; why wouldn’t The Daily Wire? The rest is an attempt to have it both ways. “Conservative media has been a powerhouse for a long time,” it explains, “but this phase of its expansion isn’t just about more or louder conservative voices — it’s about building an entire conservative ecosystem.” (The authors even put “censorship” and “cancel culture” in scare quotes.)

Okay, but what’s the alternative? If conservatives are outnumbered on the existing services, and if they can’t use the government to force those services to be neutral, the only choice remaining is for them to create their own. One gets the impression from the piece that, for some at least, “if you don’t like what’s out there, build a new one” was more of a taunt than an earnest suggestion, and that now that it’s been taken literally, those who promulgated the advice so liberally aren’t quite sure what to do next.

Impromptus

Legends and Legacies

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Archie Griffin at the Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., December 07, 2019 (Justin Casterline / Getty Images)

Today’s Impromptus has China, Israel, Bob Dole, and more. It even has an ode to Rite Aid. (Seriously.) (Not a good one, maybe, but an ode.) The column begins, however, with football: “I, a Michigan Wolverine, have come to praise Nick Saban, the Alabama football coach. He is a hero in my eyes. Why?” Well, I proceed to explain.

Here in the Corner, I’d like to stick with football for a minute — and the behavior of fans. I have been harping on this issue for some time now. In this Impromptus of October 1, for example. Last Saturday night, Archie Griffin was present at the Big Ten Championship game, to hand out the MVP trophy. Michigan beat Iowa. Griffin, as you know, is the only player ever to win the Heisman twice. He was a running back at Ohio State. He is now 67 years old.

The Michigan fans — whose star defensive end was about to receive the MVP trophy — roundly booed Griffin. Why? Because Ohio State is a Michigan rival.

This is pure . . . horse manure, I’ll say. A lot of people think it’s cool, obviously — including the booers. I think it’s . . . well, I’ll stick with my previous description. (To read about the booing on Saturday night, go here.)

Let’s have some mail:

Jay:

. . . I’m always thinking I should write you about this or that, but you cover so much ground I don’t know where to begin. The opportunity passes, you’re on to your next piece, and the cycle repeats.

But I know that, while I don’t write, I do talk about your work all the time. How do I know this? Here’s how: A couple weeks ago, my wife and I went to Ann Arbor for the Notre Dame vs. UM hockey game. After each Irish player was introduced, the Michigan students shouted something from behind the newspapers they were “reading” to show their lack of interest in our squad. I couldn’t catch the first half of the chant, so I asked my son what they were saying. He told me: “Who cares? You suck!” Then he laughed and said, “What would Nordlinger say?”

In an Impromptus last Thursday, I had this little item:

Several weeks ago, a story caught my eye: “Amherst College Ends Legacy Admissions Favoring Children of Alumni.” I believe there is a consensus against legacy admissions. I myself have a soft spot for them.

I think there is something nice about an association between a family and a college: members of a family going to the same college, generation after generation (as long as those members are roughly qualified). Wearing the same colors, rooting for the same team. Maybe having the same professors, for a couple of generations. Making financial contributions to the college. Having a loyalty.

This is a happy and benign kind of tribalism, I think.

I would not favor legacy admissions in Japan, say, or France: countries with a few elite universities and institutes, determining the fates of millions. That’s different. But America, with its jillion colleges and universities, dotting the land? From sea to shining sea?

Anyway, a topic to mull over and debate.

I received several letters on this topic, of which I’ll share just one (because I know your time is short!):

I also read about the Amherst change in admission policy. My alma mater, MIT, states unequivocally that they do not consider legacy in admissions. My father-in-law went there for both undergrad and Ph.D. Now my daughter is a junior in high school and has MIT as her first choice. Assuming she is similarly qualified to other applicants, what is the rationale for not giving her some kind of preference? You make the obvious case in Impromptus.

In one of our many discussions about choosing a college, regarding MIT she simply said, “It would be cool being third-generation MIT.”

Of course, “cool” and “MIT” might not be synonymous, and there are other and better reasons she wants to go there. Still, it would be cool!

End on a money issue? In another column last week, I had this:

About three weeks ago, I was in a store. The price of my (few) groceries came to $14.92. I said to the cashier, “The Columbus year! When he ‘sailed the ocean blue.’” She smiled.

Shortly after that little experience, I was amazed to see the following, from the Women’s March:

We apologize deeply for the email that was sent today. $14.92 was our average donation amount this week. It was an oversight on our part to not make the connection to a year of colonization, conquest, and genocide for Indigenous people, especially before Thanksgiving.

I commented in my column,

That’s a real thing, a real apology, ladies and gentlemen. You can’t parody anything anymore. People are just — cracked.

I’d like to share two letters:

Sometime in the 1990s, my wife and I went out to breakfast on the Fourth of July. When the check came, the total was $17.76. I loved it!

And how do you like this?

Jay,

I see we share a quirk. (I guess it qualifies as a quirk, anyway.) A
number of years ago, I was in the checkout line at my supermarket and
the cashier read my total aloud: “That’s 19.18.” I said, “The year the
war ended.” The cashier looked like he was in his late teens or early
twenties and answered, without skipping a beat, “Yeah. The war to end
all wars. They sure got that wrong, didn’t they?” I was stunned.

Thank you to one and all. Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here.

Culture

Mariah Carey and Me

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Singer Mariah Carey poses as she attends Variety’s 2019 Power of Women: Los Angeles, in Beverly Hills, Calif., October 11, 2019. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

I was in Dallas on October 21 for National Review Institute’s eighth annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize dinner, and the next day I and a friend repaired to the much-loved old bar, the Stoneleigh P, for refreshment. Little did I know my visit would make pop-culture history after I took a look at the jukebox and posted this tweet:

After a fan retweeted the image, Carey herself got in on the action with this tweet:

When Mariah Carey notices you, suddenly it’s international news. CNN sent out a Twitter alert on this and published a story. USA Today did too. The Washington Post weighed in and called me a “reporter,” which shows that their writer couldn’t even accurately relate what’s in my Twitter bio. NPR covered the story on Morning Edition. The Today show did a piece. People magazine did one (plus several mentions) and failed to mention that I worked there for eight years! (Where’s the love, guys?)

NBC New York got in on it. HuffPost leapt into the fray. Dallas’s hometown glossy D Magazine didn’t seem too upset to get scooped by a tourist. Nor did the Dallas Observer. And so on, and so on.

Mr. Google tells me there are 82,000 results for Mariah Carey paired with Dallas jukebox. But that really is all there is to the story. Mariah Carey tweeted about my tweet about a jukebox at a bar in Dallas. There aren’t any more details. There’s no narrative. There’s no intrigue. There’s no cultural resonance. There’s . . . nothing . . . here.

The takeaways from this story are as follows: The Stoneleigh P is a good bar and you should go there when you’re in Dallas; there are a lot of entertainment reporters eager to write stories about absolutely nothing if there’s a celebrity involved. Anyway, as of last Wednesday, even at the Stoneleigh P, it’s Mariah Carey season, so buckle up. But that means we only have to hear the song for 20 more days.

Politics & Policy

Today in History

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Today is December 6, the anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.

Did Thaddeus Stevens actually say of the amendment and Abraham Lincoln: “The greatest measure of the 19th century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America”? Maybe not, but it is a good and true observation.

There are many things to think about and remember on this day. One thing worth meditating on is the fact that there was a time when the Republican Party knew what power was for and what to do with it.

Law & the Courts

We Love Both the Mother and Her Baby

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Christina Bennett talks outside the Supreme Court during the Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization oral arguments, December 1, 2021. (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

Representative Conor Lamb (D., Pa.), says he was outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday and “never saw one sign about mothers once they give birth.” I’m not sure where he was looking, but the Attorney General of Mississippi organized a near six-hour rally with signs that said “Empower Women. Embrace Life.” I still have the button they gave speakers on my coat. (Here were my two cents.) A young girl on Amtrak cheered it on Thursday night as we approached New York, and I’m not even sure she’s pro-life. Unless you are a hardened abortion activist, you can rally around this. We led with the woman, because people of good will want to know that women have the help they need. And I am still pretty sure they would recoil at the right to a dead baby.

During the course of the rally, we celebrated moms who did some incredible things to provide for their babies. Multiple speakers talked about paid family leave and other resources we need to discuss to make sure moms have a fighting chance. We talked about some of the ministries that exist that welcome women and their babies and stick with them for the long haul. You can read a little about what some of that looks like in my contribution to National Review’s “End Roe” issue.

I’m sorry you didn’t come to see us up front at the bottom of the steps of the Court, Mr. Lamb, we would have had plenty to talk about.

You can watch the rally here:

Law & the Courts

On the Extremism of Abortion Activism Today

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Abortion activists block and disturb a pro-life prayer vigil outside Planned Parenthood in Manhattan, N.Y., December 4, 2021. (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

On Saturday, I was confronted by two abortion activists who appear to be readers of my work. (Kathryn Jean Lopez, what are you going to blame abortion on next? I’ll own that. Abortion has devastatingly grave consequences on our souls and the soul of our nation, so to speak.) One who stuck with me until the Witness for Life prayer vigil outside Planned Parenthood returned to Old St. Patrick’s for Benediction, kept announcing what a good day she was having because no one was forcing her to give birth that day.

Again, this harkens back to the Amy Coney Barrett questioning last week during the Dobbs oral arguments. They want the right to a dead baby if there is a pregnancy. The callousness toward the unborn baby is so cruel. And even more alarming is the number of people who are willing to say, “My mother should have aborted me.” I had that conversation with an Uber driver going back to my hotel after the Supreme Court oral arguments and rally. He said his mother would have been better off aborting him because it kept her with an abusive husband. Any suggestion that his life was a consolation to her didn’t trump his contention that she had every right to decide to have a dead baby — him. I’ll live up to the accusation I met on the streets Saturday: This is the result of a half century of Roe. Regular people — not just the abortion activists — have no sense of the beautiful, unrepeatable value of their own human life. They can talk about the importance of climate change and saving the planet, but they can’t see the value of the creation that is themselves. This is why we treat one another so badly, and even if not with poor intentions, it is transactional at best. Abortion is a deep wound on our hearts, minds, and souls. The end of Roe will be only a first step in healing.

Law & the Courts

The Anti-Dobbs, Pro-Roe War on Adoption

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It was a chilling, disgraceful weekend for anyone watching the interwebs and the discussion of adoption. Advocates of abortion are going after adoption because of Amy Coney Barrett’s questions about safe-haven laws during the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization oral arguments. She was getting to the point that these laws, in all 50 states, do alleviate the burden of parenting. She wasn’t saying it’s easy to leave a baby with authorities, no questions asked, never to be seen again. But the response from the lawyer for the Mississippi abortion clinic opposed to the state law made it clear, as I note in my syndicated column today, that advocates for abortion are fighting for a right to a dead baby. That’s ugly to have to confront, but it’s the truth. And I don’t think most Americans are behind that. They want to know that a woman in a tough situation has options. But the right to a dead baby? While women often say they couldn’t live with themselves knowing someone else was raising their baby, if we educated people more about the options birth mothers have and that there are people more than willing to open their homes to a baby, there wouldn’t be this confusion. Women deserve better than a culture that encourages and even pressures her to abort her baby.

Naomi Schaefer Riley, by the way, opens her new book, No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster-Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives, with the cruel attack from the Left on Amy Coney Barrett’s two adoptions. This is consistent with a child-welfare culture that is hostile to interracial adoption. Better to remain in foster care than wind up in a white forever family is the view.

We need a culture that celebrates birth mothers and supports foster and adoptive families. Yes, absolutely adoption is a loss. We don’t want to rip families apart. But if a baby is born addicted to meth, that baby is going to be better off in the home of someone who isn’t enslaved to such a potent drug that keeps her from parenting. I know a young boy who was near dead last year around this time because of similar circumstances. Adoption can be a lifesaving option. It is going to be for him. We need to be realistic, but the denigration is abhorrent.

Adoption is better than abortion. To say otherwise is to make it clear you are fighting for the right to a dead baby.

Education

Why Are ‘Summer Books’ So Politicized?

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Nearly every college assigns a “summer book” for incoming students to read. This goes back a long time — I recall that as a freshman in 1969, I was expected to have read Northrop Frye’s The Educated Imagination. It had nothing to do with current events, much less any ideological position.

Over the years, however, things have changed. Today, “summer books” are mostly chosen to help get the new students in a leftist frame of mind. They emphasize issues that the college administrators think will help turn them into social-justice warriors.

In today’s Martin Center article, Ashlynn Warta writes about the trouble with these book choices. She writes, “Common reading programs are an opportunity to start students’ education on an intellectual high note. Before the semester even begins, students can begin grappling with good reading material that will prepare them for an academically rigorous time in college. Unfortunately, research from the Chronicle of Higher Education reveals that many universities squander this opportunity by assigning trendy, politically charged books that often lack depth.”

Rarely do schools assign a great book that has “stood the test of time.” Instead, they go for trendy, one-sided books that involve race, criminal justice, poverty, etc.

Her conclusion rings true: “While the summer reading is only one book, it nevertheless is indicative of what colleges and universities deem important for students to learn. And the findings from the Chronicle’s report suggest that many colleges are more interested in promoting vapid, headline-chasing, and politicized materials than in providing students with a well-rounded education.”

Politics & Policy

Who Fears Crossing Kamala Harris?

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Vice President Kamala Harris stands next to members of the media as she arrives at El Paso, Texas, June 25, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

John, do you know what’s really jaw-dropping about that brutal Washington Post story detailing Kamala Harris’s management style? It’s not even this quote:

“It’s clear that you’re not working with somebody who is willing to do the prep and the work,” one former staffer said. “With Kamala you have to put up with a constant amount of soul-destroying criticism and also her own lack of confidence. So you’re constantly sort of propping up a bully and it’s not really clear why.”

It’s that a former Harris staffer — presumably, someone who still works in Democratic politics in one way or another — felt comfortable giving that quote to the Washington Post about a woman a heartbeat away from the presidency. Lots of staffers in Washington have bitter memories of bad experiences working for their high-profile bosses. Lots of them hold their tongues out of a lingering respect for the office, not wanting to create new problems for their party, or not wanting a reputation as a complainer. Or they don’t want to make an enemy out of someone who could become president someday.

Kamala Harris is, in theory, the second-most powerful person in the executive branch and a 79-year-old-man’s heartbeat away from the presidency. And yet clearly this former staffer does not fear the consequences of criticizing Harris in print, and apparently quite a few former Harris staffers are willing, perhaps even eager, to speak without attribution about her flaws. They apparently don’t fear the day when Harris is in the Oval Office and she, having figured out which former staffers were eager to blab to the Post or other publications, could effectively blacklist them from administration jobs. (Perhaps this former staffer either already feels blacklisted or thinks so poorly of Harris that he or she never wants to work under her in any capacity again, even if she were to become president.) The upshot of this story is that it seems no one really fears crossing Kamala Harris.

This illuminates one of the great contrasts between the hype and mythology surrounding Kamala Harris — “Making History,” smiling on the cover of Vogue, etc. — and the mundane reality. A surprising number of people who have actually worked with and for her not only don’t see her as a legend, an icon, or an inspiring leader, they walk away from their experience with her not thinking all that highly of her. She may well have been a talented prosecutor, but in a lot of ways she’s just a standard-issue pol who figured out how to climb the ladder of interest-group dominated California politics. She’s in over her head, her political instincts are terrible, and that’s even before the uniquely challenging dynamics of this particular presidency — unfamiliar staff, old president, few real friendships on Capitol Hill, and an unclear sense of priorities.

National Security & Defense

Confusion at Natanz

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A view of a damage building after a fire broke out at Iran’s Natanz Nuclear Facility, in Isfahan, Iran, July 2, 2020. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS)

All anyone can say with any certainty is that something very strange happened near the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz this past Saturday evening. Disturbances at Natanz have become somewhat commonplace recently, with a major fire in July 2020, followed by an explosion in April 2021 that cut off power to the facility. Both of these episodes appeared to be deliberate sabotage designed to set back Iran’s nuclear program, either by Israel or another of Iran’s neighbors who has a much clearer view of what a nuclear Iran would mean for their region. Whatever went down Saturday night about twelve miles from the enrichment plant is far murkier, and may signal that we are entering a new and even more dangerously unstable phase of the Islamic Republic’s long pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Strange indicators:

  1. The first abnormality was a dramatic flash of light following some sort of explosion, which set off nervous Internet chatter that it might have been a nuclear test. That does not appear to be accurate. Other explanations include a non-nuclear offensive electromagnetic pulse or a routine test of a new Iranian missile-defense system.
  2. The missile-defense test was only one of a shifting series of official Iranian accounts, which suggests that the regime doesn’t have any more idea of what actually happened than the rest of us. Other explanations included the detonation of an attacking drone, which would suggest an attack had been foiled.
  3. Finally, after the explosion, there were reports that the nearby villages of Shoja Abad and Ahmand Abad had been evacuated, which would not be normal after a routine missile-defense test — after all, if this had been planned and there was potential danger to nearby civilians, you would evacuate them before the test. Post-explosion evacuations suggest authorities were at least for a time worried about the stability of the enrichment plant.

This most recent episode at the accident-prone Natanz comes close on the heels of the failure of the seventh round of nuclear negotiations in Vienna initiated earlier this year by the Biden administration, which is determined to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action despite the intransigence of the Iranians, not to mention their ever-accelerating enrichment activities over the course of 2021. It is well beyond time to face the reality that the JCPOA is not any sort of meaningful restraint on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions, if it ever was.

The number of observers who jumped to the conclusion that this might have been a nuclear test suggests that we can add a nuclear Iran to the twin specters of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and a Russian invasion of Ukraine that are looming in 2022, for which the Biden administration seems woefully unprepared. This week, the Israeli defense minister and Mossad chief will arrive in Washington for urgent consultations on the Iranian nuclear issue. Hopefully this time, President Biden and his team will listen to them.

World

Ukraine, Russia, and Us

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John R. Bolton (left), who at the time was President Trump’s national-security adviser, and William B. Taylor, who was acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, lay wreaths at the Wall of Remembrance in Kyiv, August 27, 2019. The wall commemorates soldiers who have died in the war against Russia in eastern Ukraine. (Gleb Garanich / Reuters)

I would like to offer some links to podcasts. Here is a Q&A with Walter Wolf, an old friend of mine, who has written a very helpful book on a terribly important subject: The Right Rehab: A Guide to Addiction and Mental Illness Recovery When Crisis Hits Your Family. Here is a music podcast — an episode of my Music for a While — which begins with a dance from The Nutcracker. This ballet has been canceled in Berlin, you know. (I wrote about it in this column.) Racially and ethnically offensive (they claim).

Here is another Q&A, which is with John Bolton. We talk about Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is massing along that border. Ukraine is under dire threat — further threat. “We are potentially days away,” says Bolton, from a Russian action that may result in the effective partition of Ukraine.

For Putin, says Bolton, Ukraine is part of a “comprehensive strategy” aiming to reconstitute some of the Soviet Union. In the crosshairs are six countries that form a “gray zone” between NATO’s eastern border and Russia’s western: Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and, of course, the juiciest target, Ukraine. Bolton wrote about this in an article about a week ago, here.

In our podcast, I throw at Bolton some of the things you hear: “Don’t poke the bear.” “Isn’t Ukraine in Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’?” “Is Ukraine really separate from Russia anyway — its own nation?” “Don’t the people in eastern Ukraine want to be with Russia?” “Doesn’t Russia have a right to Crimea?”

Some more: “In 2014, the Obama administration engineered a coup. It overthrew a legitimately elected president, Viktor Yanukovych. We Americans are responsible for the deaths in the Maidan revolution. Because we interfered in Ukraine, we have no right to tell Russia not to interfere. Moreover, our interference caused Putin to annex Crimea and launch his war in the Donbass. It’s on our hands, actually.”

And so on and so forth.

Bolton and I also discuss, “What can the United States, and the West generally, do? What steps can we take, to deter Russia?” “If Russia moves against Ukraine, what will the effect be elsewhere? In the Baltic states, for example? How about faraway Taiwan?” In brief, “Why does Ukraine matter?” (It matters, needless to say — or is it? — to Ukrainians. How about to the rest of us?)

Bolton says that the resolve and credibility of the United States is on the line. We left Afghanistan in disastrous, ignoble, horrifying fashion. This and other things make dictators — in Moscow and Beijing, prominently — lick their chops.

As Bolton notes, Russia and China have been cooperating for the past many years — in military exercises, not least. Ukraine and Taiwan have much in common: as nations trying to hold on to their independence and sovereignty against hungry, empire-minded dictatorships in whose shadow they live. Ukraine and Taiwan are offenses unto the bigger powers that want to gobble them. To those powers, they represent grievances. Sore spots. Embarrassments. Insults to pride.

In an article last week, Nicholas Dujmovic, a friend of mine who is an ex-CIA man and now teaches at Catholic University, brought up a scenario to make one gulp: What if Russia invades Ukraine, and China invades Taiwan, simultaneously?

I myself noted something in a column — smallish, maybe, but possibly important in a symbolic way: The Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the United States teamed up to write an article decrying the upcoming U.S.-led democracy summit.

In a different column, I made a point about nationalists — nationalists in America and elsewhere in the West. Many of them are disdainful of Ukrainian nationhood. (Not all of them are this way, mind you.) Ukraine ought to be right up their alley — but no. Some are openly pro-Putin; others are anti-anti-Putin, you could say.

Bolton points out that some of these guys have “an affinity for Russian nationalism, and too bad for the little countries on their borders.”

I think back to Diane James, the UKIP leader — who cited Putin as one of her heroes. “I admire him from the point of view that he’s standing up for his country,” she said. “He is very nationalist. He is a very strong leader. He is putting Russia first.”

I think of Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League in Italy. His party started a “Friends of Putin” group in parliament. Then they signed a “friendship and cooperation” agreement with Putin. Salvini himself wore a Putin T-shirt in Moscow — a shirt showing Putin in a heroic pose. These guys are very open. They don’t sneak around.

Neither does Éric Zemmour, the presidential candidate in France, who is attempting to out–Le Pen the Le Pens. He is for the renunciation of his country’s alliances with the United States, Britain, and Germany. He wishes to “join hands with Russia” instead.

Whether Ukraine will make it — whether it will be able to fend off Russia and retain its nationhood — I don’t know. It seems to me its enemies are strong, its supporters are few — and everyone else is indifferent. But Ukraine is a gut-check for the West. Would you bet on the West? You may have more confidence than I.

Two years ago, I published a piece called “Ukraine and Us: A report from an anxious capital.” Let me paste a portion here:

Vitaly Portnikov [a leading journalist in Ukraine] makes an ominous statement. The “post-Soviet space” is “pregnant with war,” he says. Bismarck and others spoke of the Balkans as “the powder keg of Europe.” Here is another one, possibly. The United States and other democratic nations should do all they can to uphold the international order and the rule of law. Big powers should not be allowed to invade smaller powers and rearrange borders. This is a recipe for disaster. Adventurism, unchecked, will spread. The world has seen it before, to its horror.

“Have no illusion,” Portnikov says, that “if you give something to Russia, if you placate Russia, this will all calm down.” That would be a “great mistake.”

Again, for my podcast with John Bolton, on this multi-layered and tense subject, go here.

History

Bob Dole, R.I.P.

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Former Senator Bob Dole pays his respects at the casket of former President George H.W. Bush as it lies in state inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., December 4, 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters )

Etched in memory: the moment, during the lying-in-state of President George H. W. Bush, when former senator Dole saluted his coffin. Their primary duel in 1988 had been bitter; “quit lying about my record,” Dole had snarled, on network television, after Bush beat him in New Hampshire. And as an infantry lieutenant, Dole probably resented Navy pilot Bush as a flyboy: Bush was shot down in the Pacific, Dole was shot up in Italy and bore the marks of it all his life.

But there, at the head of the lonesome valley, Dole stood up, brushed off a helping hand almost with contempt, and saluted with his left (his right being unusable, thanks to the Nazis).

At ease. And thank you for your service.

Health Care

‘I hardly recognize my profession’

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So says Dr. Sally Satel about the medical profession, which has fallen into “indoctrinology.”

The essay is available here.

What will it take before leaders in medicine (and other afflicted professions) say to the purveyors of leftist ideology: “Your ideas are harmful and have no place here”?

Law & the Courts

Breyer’s Botched Argument

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Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, April 23, 2021 (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

I wrote the other day about how surprising it was to see Justice Breyer lead off his questioning at the Dobbs oral argument by regurgitating some lines from the Souter-Kennedy-O’Connor opinion in Casey.

The gist of the Breyer/Casey argument is that it’s very important to not overturn a precedent if there is political pressure to do so. It’s a foolish argument because in any contentious case challenging a precedent there is political pressure to overturn the precedent and there is political pressure to uphold the precedent. In the Dobbs case, it is obviously true that the side applying the most political pressure is the side threatening to pack the Supreme Court if Roe is not upheld.

Over at Slate, liberal writer Mark Joseph Stern is unsparing in his criticism of Justice Breyer’s argument: “During Arguments Over Roe’s Fate, Justice Breyer Played Right Into the Conservatives’ Hands.” 

“[Breyer] zeroed in on the worst possible argument for preserving the constitutional right to abortion in light of the conservatives’ approach to precedent,” Stern writes. “He read aloud several of the most vexed and disputed sentences of modern constitutional law as though they were widely embraced as the gospel truth.”

More:

​​The Casey troika provided several reasons for this turnabout, including a generation’s reliance on the promise of abortion access. But a more contentious justification involved an overt consideration of public opinion. Noting “political pressure” to reverse Roe, the court declared: “To overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason to reexamine a watershed decision would subvert the Court’s legitimacy beyond any serious question.” In other words, if the court overturned Roe in the face of so much pressure, the public would perceive it as weak, waffling, and wedded to popular opinion—in a word, illegitimate.

Conservatives despised this conception of stare decisis. In his dissent from the bench, Chief Justice William Rehnquist asserted that “once the court starts looking to the currents of public opinion regarding a particular judgment, it enters a truly bottomless pit from which there is simply no extracting itself.” Justice Antonin Scalia dismissed the rationale as “almost czarist arrogance,” providing a mocking summary: “We have no Cossacks, but at least we can stubbornly refuse to abandon an erroneous opinion that we might otherwise change—to show how little” anti-abortion activists “intimidate us.”

While Stern singles out Breyer, it is worth noting that Justices Sotomayor and Kagan both freely chose to echo Breyer’s argument.

Politics & Policy

A Brutal Washington Post Story on Kamala Harris

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Vice President Kamala Harris waves at panelists during a virtual townhall event to address different care policies in the Build Back Better Agenda at the White House in Washington, D.C., October 14, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

It’s hard to tell what’s worse for Vice President Kamala Harris in this Washington Post story—the comments from anonymous former staffers trashing her management style or the on-the-record comment defending her management style by likening Harris to Donald Trump:

“People personalize these things,” [former Harris staffer Sean Clegg] continued. “I’ve never had an experience in my long history with Kamala, where I felt like she was unfair. Has she called bulls—? Yes. And does that make people uncomfortable sometimes? Yes. But if she were a man with her management style, she would have a TV show called ‘The Apprentice.’ ”

Staffers who worked for Harris before she was vice president said one consistent problem was that Harris would refuse to wade into briefing materials prepared by staff members, then berate employees when she appeared unprepared.

“It’s clear that you’re not working with somebody who is willing to do the prep and the work,” one former staffer said. “With Kamala you have to put up with a constant amount of soul-destroying criticism and also her own lack of confidence. So you’re constantly sort of propping up a bully and it’s not really clear why.”

Coronavirus Update

Germany Treats Natural Immunity the Same as Vaccination

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Syringes of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up community vaccination center in Valley Stream, N.Y., February 23, 2021. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Watching the Smerconish program on CNN this morning, I was surprised to learn that Europe treats natural immunity attained after recovering from COVID the same as vaccination for purposes of public-health policy. The U.S. does not. Lawsuits have been filed seeking to remedy that disparity.

Smerconish asked his guest — UCSF infectious-disease expert Dr. Monica Ghandi — whether we or Europe had the better approach in this regard. She said that the studies are in “equipoise,” that is, some show vaccines offering better protection and some natural disease. She concluded that because natural immunity does seem to protect against severe disease upon reinfection — as this study also indicated — Europe has the better approach.

Germany also treats travelers to the country equivalently. From the Reuters story:

All travellers arriving in Germany will be required from this weekend to demonstrate immunity from COVID-19 either from a vaccine or previous infection, or present a negative test result, government sources reported.

Allowing proof of natural immunity — or negative testing — has always been the compromise answer allowing us to declare a truce in the vaccine-mandate wars and end the roiling that government and private-sector coercion has been causing throughout society and the economy. That’s the sweet spot. That’s the answer to restoring COVID comity.

There seems little reason not to follow this approach — unless the real point of mandates isn’t effective public-health policy but societal control.

World

It’s Tough to Deter Putin Once You’ve Given Him the Pipeline He Wanted

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they arrive for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (Sputnik/Sergey Bobylev/Reuters)

God only knows if this unidentified U.S. intelligence official speaking to Sky News is correct…

Russia is planning a military offensive against Ukraine, which could begin as soon as early 2022, according to United States intelligence officials.

The finding estimates that Moscow is planning to use 175,000 troops and almost half of them are already deployed along various points near Ukraine’s border, according to an anonymous official in Joe Biden’s administration.

The official added that plans call for the movement of 100 battalion tactical groups along with armour, artillery and equipment.

… but if Russia does make a surprise attack on Ukraine early next year, it will rank among the least surprising surprise attacks in recent history.

Yesterday, President Biden told reporters:

I have been in constant contact with our allies in Europe, with Ukrainians.  My Secretary of State and National Security Advisor have been engaged extensively.

And what I am doing is putting together what I believe to be will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.

But that’s in play right now.

We will see whether those “comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives”  really do make “make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.”

As John E. Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, observed over at the Atlantic Council:

The issue in question is Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany that stretches under the Baltic and North Seas. If made operational, this pipeline would enable the Kremlin to use gas for political purposes by withholding it from countries in east Europe that pursue policies it does not like, and make it easier for Moscow to expand its current war of aggression in Ukraine.

As a gesture to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Joe Biden waived Congressional sanctions on Nordstream AG and its chairman last May that would have stopped the project in its tracks; in exchange for this enormous concession, the administration received only a vague commitment from Germany to take action against Russia if it used gas for political purposes. Inevitably, Moscow began to do just that this summer — without a contrary word from Berlin, and not much more from Washington.

The administration’s decision was not popular in Congress, as both Democrats and Republicans have long understood that Kremlin energy (and other) policies pose a major threat to US interests in Europe and especially in Ukraine. As a result, the House of Representatives added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would sanction Nord Stream 2 without presidential waiver authority, which would have made the sanctions bullet-proof. For the administration, this placed a premium on killing the amendment in the Senate, and Secretary Blinken spent lots of time last week lobbying Senate Democrats to do just that.

For some Democrats this poses a dilemma as they recognize that the administration’s Nord Stream 2 waiver was a disaster, and not easy to defend publicly,

Joe Biden wants to send a clear message of deterrence to Putin . . . but he also doesn’t want to have a big fight with Germany over the pipeline. To govern is to choose.

Science & Tech

Friday Evening Apocalyptic News Dump: Scientists Have Created ‘Living Robots’ That Can ‘Reproduce’

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(ipopba/iStock/Getty Images)

Ah, Friday evening. A time when, even though the news may continue, many people stop paying attention to it, as they accept the relief offered by a weekend to turn inward toward their own recuperation, recreation, or other aspects of their personal lives. As such, it is often a time taken advantage of by media outlets seeking to bury bad news amid the collective disengagement of the news-consuming population.

Today, thanks to me, National Review will be one of those outlets, to relate a development from the world of science (though a development that, in truth, emerged earlier this week). Apparently, scientists have created what CNN calls “the first living robots,” and recently discovered that this dubious spawn is capable of a kind of reproduction. From the story:

The US scientists who created the first living robots say the life forms, known as xenobots, can now reproduce — and in a way not seen in plants and animals.

Formed from the stem cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which it takes its name, xenobots are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide. The tiny blobs were first unveiled in 2020 after experiments showed that they could move, work together in groups and self-heal.

Now the scientists that developed them at the University of Vermont, Tufts University and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering said they have discovered an entirely new form of biological reproduction different from any animal or plant known to science.

“I was astounded by it,” said Michael Levin, a professor of biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University who was co-lead author of the new research.

“Frogs have a way of reproducing that they normally use but when you … liberate (the cells) from the rest of the embryo and you give them a chance to figure out how to be in a new environment, not only do they figure out a new way to move, but they also figure out apparently a new way to reproduce.”

Oh, good: Another set of scientists scientists so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. So now we have xenobots who can self-replicate. But don’t worry, we are assured. The utmost precautions are being taken:

While the prospect of self-replicating biotechnology could spark concern, the researchers said that the living machines were entirely contained in a lab and easily extinguished, as they are biodegradable and regulated by ethics experts.

Oh, thank goodness! I am so relieved. It’s not like there are any recent examples of experts getting something wrong, or things escaping from a lab. I’m sure we’ll be just fine. Unless the supervolcano or the asteroids get us first.

Happy Friday.

Law & the Courts

Can the Supreme Court Keep a Secret If Roe Is Going Down?

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Pro-life demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments in Dobbs vs. Women’s Health. (Isaac Schorr)

As is traditional, the Justices of the Supreme Court met in conference today to vote on the cases they heard this week and assign authorship of the opinions. That includes Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the Court has been asked to overturn its 1973 abortion decision in Roe v. Wade. It appeared, from Wednesday’s argument, that there was a significant chance that there may be five votes to overturn Roe. A ruling toppling Roe would rival only Bush v. Gore and Obergefell v. Hodges (the same-sex marriage case) as the biggest blockbuster news from the Court since the Nixon years. It is expected that an opinion in Dobbs will be handed down the last week of June, when the Court is likely to finish its annual term.

The nearly seven-month delay, while customary in big Supreme Court cases, raises a number of questions if, in fact, Roe ends up falling. One is the humanitarian toll: Given the rate of abortions in the United States, there could be another half a million lives lost between today’s vote and the announcement at the end of June. The second is the uncertainty: Even if there are five or six votes today, some of them could change as the draft opinions are reviewed. A justice could die or have to resign, as happened to Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, and his or her votes would no longer count. (In April 1946, Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in the midst of a session announcing opinions of the Court and died hours later; because the opinions were finished and being released, Stone’s votes counted).  A third is the Texas abortion case, which was heard a month ago and proceeded on an expedited schedule for emergency relief on the assumption that Roe is good law; will the Court decide that case on that basis, only to turn around and conclude that it is not good law?

There is another question, though, that I wonder about: If the Court is doing something as dramatic — and as upsetting to the sorts of people who clerk for the liberal justices — as overturning Roe, will it be able to keep that a secret for seven months? The Court in modern times has had a remarkable record of keeping the justices, the law clerks, and the rest of the Court’s personnel sworn to secrecy about even the most momentous pending cases. Rumors have cracked that more often in recent years, especially in Obamacare cases, but we have never really seen the dam break. It will be quite impressive if it can keep a secret this time — and if it can’t, we may see a pressure campaign on the Court (or worse, violence) unprecedented in modern times.

The most famous leak in the Court’s history dates back to 1857, when the Court decided Dred Scott v. Sandford on March 6, two days after James Buchanan’s inauguration. Buchanan was sworn into office by the chief justice, Roger Taney, who was also the author of Dred Scott, after which he gave his inaugural address. Buchanan favored the outcome the Court would reach — in particular, the part declaring that Congress had no power to prevent slavery in the territories — and his speech included a passage saying that slavery in the territories “is a judicial question, which legitimately belongs to the Supreme Court of the United States, before whom it is now pending, and will, it is understood, be speedily and finally settled. To their decision, in common with all good citizens, I shall cheerfully submit, whatever this may be.” This is, of course, the way politicians talk about decisions that they expect to come out in their favor.

When the decision arrived two days later, it spawned many conspiracy theories about political involvement in the timing and outcome of the long-delayed decision and whether Buchanan was tipped off by Taney. In his “House Divided” speech the following June, Abraham Lincoln eagerly promoted the theory that Buchanan (“James”) and Taney (“Roger”) had been in cahoots along with Stephen Douglas and the outgoing president, Franklin Pierce:

The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas’ “care not” policy, constitute the piece of machinery in its present state of advancement…Several things will now appear less dark and mysterious than they did when they were transpiring. The people were to be left “perfectly free,” “subject only to the Constitution.” What the Constitution had to do with it, outsiders could not then see. Plainly enough, now, it was an exactly fitted niche for the Dred Scott decision to afterward come in and declare the perfect freedom of the people [to decide on slavery in the territories] to be just no freedom at all.

Why was the amendment expressly declaring the right of the people voted down? Plainly enough, now, the adoption of it would have spoiled the niche for the Dred Scott decision. Why was the Court decision held up? Why even a senator’s individual opinion withheld till after the presidential election? Plainly enough, now, the speaking out then would have damaged the “perfectly free” argument upon which the election was to be carried. Why the outgoing President’s felicitation on the endorsement? Why the delay of a reargument? Why the incoming President’s advance exhortation in favor of the decision? These things look like the cautious patting and petting of a spirited horse preparatory to mounting him when it is dreaded that he may give the rider a fall. And why the hasty after-endorsement of the decision by the President and others?

We cannot absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen — Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance — and when we see these timbers joined together and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortises exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few, not omitting even scaffolding, or, if a single piece be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such piece in — in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first blow was struck.

Conspiracy theorists are not always wrong. While the full story of what passed between Buchanan and Taney will never be known, it was revealed much later that Buchanan had corresponded with two other justices, John Catron and Robert Grier, and not only learned where the Court was headed but actively pressured his fellow Pennsylvanian Grier to join the decision so that it would not be supported only by the Court’s Southerners. One hopes that the Court, this time, will avoid outside pressure and publicity until it can deliver an opinion.

Politics & Policy

Stephen Colbert: Overturning Roe Shows ‘We Don’t Live in a Democracy’

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Stephen Colbert inside the White House press-briefing room, July 27, 2007 (Larry Downing/Reuters)

On Thursday, The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert launched a diatribe against Roe v. Wade’s potentially imminent demise at the hands of the Supreme Court. Pointing to statistics showing that Americans oppose overturning Roe, Colbert said: “So if it is this unpopular, why is everyone saying it’s gonna happen? Well, I don’t want to get too technical, but . . . what’s the word . . . we don’t live in a democracy.”

“We don’t live in a democracy.” Huh.

Let’s get this straight. Nine unelected judges overturning abortion laws in almost every state in the Union is “democracy,” but the same judicial institution handing decision-making power on the issue back to the democratically elected legislatures in said states is anti-democratic. 

This is, of course, exactly wrong. Just to paint you a picture of how truly anti-democratic Roe was: Prior to the 1973 ruling, 30 states had bans on abortions in all instances. Sixteen states had bans with exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. Three states — Hawaii, Washington and Alaska — allowed abortions, but only for residents. Only New York allowed abortions for out-of-state and in-state women, but even the liberal Empire State capped its permissiveness at 24 weeks, except if the mother’s health was in danger. (At the time, that gave New York the gruesome distinction of having “the most liberal abortion law in the world,” in the words of the pro-abortion advocate Dr. Alan Guttmacher.)

Roe changed all of that. With a sweeping 7–2 ruling, the Burger Court invalidated the abortion bans passed by actual democracy — elected representatives in state legislatures across the country — in the vast majority of states.

If overturning Roe meant a universal federal ban on abortions, then Colbert might at least be able to argue that the Court would be acting in an equally anti-democratic fashion as it was in 1973. But he’s not. He’s saying that handing power back to the people is proof that we “don’t live in a democracy.” In fact, there’s only one side arguing for a top-down mandate on the issue — and it’s not the pro-lifers.

It’s beginning to seem like “democracy” just means “progressives getting what they want.” 

Culture

Abortion-Themed ‘Art’ Wins the Turner Prize

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The Turner Prize, Britain’s biggest art award, has chosen as its winners a group of eleven “artists” from Northern Ireland for their abortion- and gay-rights-themed work. Apparently, all it takes to sweep up a $30,000 prize nowadays is to decorate a pretend pub in pro-abortion and anti-conversion-therapy posters.

In May, the Turner Prize announced that all the nominees would be groups who had helped “inspire social change through art.” This attracted quite the crowd. Also in the lineup were a group of “Black, queer, trans and nonbinary people who stage night clubs” and “Cooking Sections, whose art highlights the problems of salmon farming.”

A reviewer for the Times of London remarked on the poor quality of the contestants’ “long didactic lectures and endless filmic disquisitions and propaganda that comes freighted with what is probably meant to sound like poetry.” Still, who needs talent when you get far more credit (and money) for conforming to the world’s most boring and belligerent political agenda?

Politics & Policy

Dead Babies in Boxes and Other Realities of Life with Roe — and After

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Outside of a Planned Parenthood in lower Manhattan on October 15, 2021. (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

So, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health this week makes real the prospect of Roe v. Wade being overturned. I was at the Court on Wednesday, where hope was in the air in the beautiful energy of the thousands gathered to pray and let women know we love them as much as those vulnerable babies we seek to protect in the law.

Alveda King, niece of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., on Wednesday morning asks the Supreme Court to end Roe.

Back in New York on Friday afternoon, I prayed the Rosary across the street from Planned Parenthood on Bleecker Street, as I try to do when I am in town. (Tomorrow morning will be the big monthly first-Saturday Witness for Life there, which has been going on for a dozen years or so.) And as I was there, the medical-waste truck arrived to take away the result of a women’s right to choose: what I assume must be dead babies.

Before things started to open up from COVID-19 shutdowns, I would often be outside Planned Parenthood praying or sidewalk-counseling every morning. And I would encounter these trucks and the boxes going in and being taken out, often thrown into the truck, sometimes dropped, as happened with the tenth box today, as it was going into the truck. No names, no burial, no even acknowledgement that there are dead babies here.

For some visuals from today:

First the boxes go in. 

The truck sits waiting. Life goes on around before the products of conception arrive. 

The boxes come out and sit before they can all be transported to the truck. All the while, life goes on around as if nothing horrific has happened. 

They make it to the truck. 

Picking up a dropped box of "medical waste" leaving Manhattan's Planned Parenthood on the afternoon of Dec. 3, 2021

One dropped. 

Would there be a constant vigil. We need to make our lives constant vigils and helps to women so that they do not feel like they have to have their babies killed by so-called health care that is harming them and killing the second patient. 

***

During the Dobbs oral arguments, there was a back-and-forth about competing interests. Can we just tell the truth and say there are two patients when a woman is pregnant, and one of them is a baby and the other of them is already a mother? She chooses now if she is going to let her baby live or not. She can let her live and chose an adoption plan — or as Amy Coney Barrett pointed out on Wednesday, she can even — no questions asked — drop the baby off with qualified people (like at an emergency room), because of safe-haven laws. Abortion is the choice to eliminate the baby. Euphemisms are how we have lived with abortion so long.

If Dobbs overthrows Roe, there will likely be more abortions in places such as New York. Governor Kathy Hochul has already implored Texas pregnant women to come here for their abortions — “Lady Liberty is here to welcome you with open arms.”

It’s also important not to look away from what is right before our eyes and to be truthful about what abortion is, because abortion is getting more hidden with chemical abortion. I’ve heard some predict there won’t need to be abortion clinics before too long, because more abortions will be done through the mail and such. What a cruel reality and prospect — to leave women and girls even more alone in the misery of abortion!

So talk about what it is and how we do better. We can’t settle for abortion post-Roe. We have to show the real resources that exist for women for life and how amazing women are when given a chance to be mothers.

Politics & Policy

Getting Weird Out There

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Pro-abortion rights activist Alicia Hurt holds a placard during a protest outside the Supreme Court building, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The New York Times today printed a defense of legal abortion in the form of a personal essay. It went under the title “I Was Adopted. I Know the Trauma It Can Inflict.

The essay grows out of the moment in oral arguments at the Supreme Court this week when Justice Barrett was questioning counsel about the burdens of parenthood that were cited in the reasoning for making abortion available before viability. Barrett asked whether those burdens were sufficiently lifted by the presence of “safe harbor” laws whereby women can surrender their parental rights shortly after birth. It was not, as has been suggested by Barrett’s critics, an attempt to suggest that adoption is easy and simple and satisfies every demand that pro-choice women want from the legal system. It was a simple inquiry into what actually constitutes relief for these supposed burdens.

In any case, the author of this Times essay explains that adoption is traumatic. That’s easy to believe. But the evidence she cites is curious:

Researchers have a term for what children who are adopted, even as infants, may suffer from later in life: relinquishment trauma. The premise is that babies bond with their mothers in utero and become familiar with their behaviors. When their first caretaker is not the biological mother, they register the difference and the stress of it has lasting effects.

This comes at the end of a long section in which she describes the bonding between unborn child and mother during pregnancy as a kind of maternal brainwashing.

But this is a curious way to defend abortion, since it seems to show that nature primes mothers and children to bond early in pregnancy and that the experience of the unborn child in utero is emotionally formative. This seems to be making the pro-life argument for the reality of an unborn child’s personhood.

Immigration

Joseph Robinette Trump on Immigration?

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People cross the Cordova of the Americas international border bridge towards El Paso, Texas, U.S. September 20, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

The White House has announced an agreement with Mexico to resume the “Remain in Mexico” program for certain illegal-alien “asylum-seekers” starting Monday, December 6. This, combined with other indications of stepped-up immigration enforcement, has caused dissatisfaction among the administration’s anti-borders confederates about Biden presiding over the second Trump term when it comes to immigration.

At first blush, this grumbling seems absurd. FY 2021 had the highest number of illegal-alien arrests at the southern border in history, a consequence of a historic surge across our borders. The number of deportations has plummeted. (We have a report coming out next week, based on FOIA’d information, showing an alarming drop even in the number of illegal-alien criminals being deported, at a time when crime is spiking.) Obama’s Central American Minors program has been restarted, to fly certain illegal aliens directly to the U.S. The House of Representatives has passed an amnesty for some 7 million illegal aliens, plus measures to increase legal immigration (though these provisions may yet be stripped out of the budget-reconciliation bill in the Senate). Regulations are in the works to facilitate the immigration of people likely to go on welfare and to dramatically expand asylum.

And those are only the high points of the Biden administration’s unprecedented anti-borders campaign.

On the other hand, the hard-left activists aren’t totally wrong. In addition to finally restarting Remain in Mexico (albeit in dramatically watered-down form) months after being ordered to do so by a federal judge, the Biden administration has continued limited use of Title 42 expulsions (premised on a public-health emergency), which send people back to Mexico without hearings. What’s more, DHS has been permitted to deport by air some Central American and Haitian families, as my colleague Todd Bensman has reported. Even detention of illegal aliens are up from the very low levels during the worst of the pandemic.

These are all half measures. Title 42 expulsions are applied only to single men; most Central American families are still being released into the U.S., not flown home; and even Remain in Mexico will exempt many “asylum-seekers”, including all those from the eastern hemisphere (like these guys), and people claiming to be LGBT etc., which is certain to prompt an explosion of Latin Max Klingers starting next week.

But even a little enforcement can make a difference after the open-borders free-for-all since January 20. While October border arrests, at about 5,100 illegal-alien apprehensions per day, were still the highest numbers for that month in a generation, they were down 21 percent from the historic peak in July.

This suggests that the anti-borders pragmatists in the White House have gained the upper hand, after the first six or seven months of Biden’s term, when the anti-borders fanatics were in charge. The dissension within the administration over immigration policy is not about the objective, which is de facto unlimited immigration, but about tactics and optics. Even before Biden’s overall approval ratings tanked he was already underwater on immigration with the public — and it’s only gotten worse since. While the Democrats are virtually guaranteed to lose their majority in the House of Representatives next year, they hope to retain the Senate — but that will be impossible if their man in the White House continues to preside over an epic immigration disaster.

The administration’s gestures toward border enforcement are unlikely to yield much political benefit. While anything is better than nothing, the enforcement moves’ grudging and half-hearted nature mean they will have only limited effect, doing nothing to change the broad (and accurate) public perception of the administration as hostile to America’s borders and sovereignty. At the same time, outrage among Biden’s hard-left cadres will only grow with each prospective illegal alien who is unable to get in.

Break out the popcorn.

Health Care

Oregon Slides toward Forever-Masking

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Oregon governor Kate Brown speaks at the state capitol building in Salem, Ore., February 20, 2015. (Steve Dipaola /Reuters)

My home state of Oregon has announced its plans to become the first permanent-masking regime in the Union. KATU’s Genevieve Reaume reports:

The Oregon Health Authority’s meeting does not mean that the move is official yet — it was a meeting with various stakeholders to iron out the details of how to write the specifics of the rule — but it signals that the instantiation of a forever mask mandate is right around the corner. As KATU writes, “this is the first step in making the rule permanent.”

To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Oregon’s mask mandate will extend in perpetuity. Reaume clarifies that “the current rule is temporary” and “can’t be in place more than 180 days,” and that “making the rule permanent allows the state to keep the rule.” Finally, she adds, “the rule can be repealed.”

Still, the possibility of a repeal in the future does not negate the simple fact that Oregon will probably pass a permanent masking law. Even on its own terms, the current rationale of using this as a workaround for the 180-day limit is bad enough as it is: Oregon is one of only nine remaining states that has any kind of mask mandate at all. It’s one of only four states that has a mask mandate that applies to vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals alike. It was the last remaining state to have an outdoor mask mandate — which also applied to vaccinated residents — until a couple of weeks ago, when the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) finally relented, repealing the outdoor-masking rule it had reinstated during a surge back in August.

The state’s public-health bureaucracy is defending the continued goalpost-moving with pandemic mandates, but its reasoning is increasingly tortured. Dr. Paul Cieslak, the medical director for OHA’s communicable diseases and immunizations division, told KATU that “permanent means indefinite. It doesn’t necessarily mean permanent.” Cieslak might benefit from consulting a thesaurus. We can play word games all day — “permanent means perpetual, unending, enduring; it doesn’t necessarily mean permanent” — but again, the simple fact is that until the rule is repealed, a permanent mask mandate is . . . a permanent mask mandate.

If and when this rule goes into effect, is it ever going to be repealed? Oregon’s public-health officials assure us that it can be. They stop short, however, of promising that it will. And their record of broken promises over the course of the last two years does not inspire confidence. Those of us who worried that pandemic restrictions were going to become permanent were accused of alarmism and conspiracy theorizing. Now — at least in Oregon — it looks like that permanence is coming to pass. Why should we trust that it won’t be here to stay?

The Economy

Jobs Data: Probably Better Than They Seem — So Stick with the Accelerated Tapering

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(REUTERS/Mike Blake )

Well, the jobs numbers were a little confusing.

The Financial Times explains, wisely deploying the word “complex”:

Employers . . . added just 210,000 jobs for the month, a steep drop-off from the 546,000 positions created in October and well below economists’ forecasts of 550,000. Since the start of the year, monthly gains have averaged 555,000.

Doesn’t look great, but:

Despite the slower-than-expected pick-up in November, the unemployment rate fell significantly, dipping 0.4 percentage points to 4.2 per cent. Less than six months ago, it hovered closer to 6 per cent.

Well, good.

The New York Times’ Neil Irwin offers at least a partial explanation for the slowdown in job creation:

Soft job creation numbers may also be evidence of a tight labor market. Employers may want to add jobs in larger numbers, but are constrained by the number of workers they’re able to find. That story is certainly consistent with many business surveys and anecdotes about labor shortage issues.

There’s probably something to that.

Back to the Financial Times:

“With this report, we get more evidence that the economy has re-accelerated from a bit of a slowdown in the third quarter,” said Ellen Gaske, an economist at PGIM Fixed Income.

She pointed to the discrepancy in the two surveys that comprise the jobs report, with one measuring households and the other employers. The “establishment” survey suggested a sharp slowdown in hiring, while the “household” survey showed a gain of 1.1m.

Are statistics in the age of COVID all that they might be? For what it’s worth, the data released today included decent upwards revisions to the number of job gains for both September and October.

It’s an iron rule that a single day’s data releases are not too determinative of anything, but a couple of takeaways seem fair enough.

The first is that — so far as employment is concerned — we are edging back toward the pre-COVID normal (I’ll make no comment about inflation).

The Financial Times:

The so-called labour force participation rate, which has stagnated since June 2020, ticked up to 61.8 per cent for November from 61.6 per cent in October, although is still about 1.5 percentage points lower than the pre-pandemic threshold.

Some of that decline will reflect the supposed “Great Retirement,” although I wonder how durable that phenomenon will really prove, particularly if inflation — no friend to those on fixed incomes — continues to bite.

The Financial Times:

For “prime age” workers aged between 24 and 54, the employment-to-population ratio, which tracks the percentage of Americans in the age bracket who currently have jobs, improved substantially in November, rising to 78.8 per cent, from 78.3 per cent the previous month. That is the highest level since early 2020.

However, there are still 3.9 million more Americans out of work than there were before the pandemic.

So, there is still quite some way to go, and that some way may be extended because of the Omicron variant, or, perhaps more likely, because of government overreaction to Omicron. This new variant must, of course, be taken seriously. However, a panic-stricken overreaction is not taking it seriously, but an evasion of the sort of thinking that is needed in the face of a problem of this nature. One way or another, we are going to have to “live with” this virus. That’s not a takeaway from these numbers, but it is a takeaway unchanged by them. It’s worth pointing out that retail employment actually declined (albeit by a small number, some 20,000), and leisure and hospitality jobs were flat. These are sectors that will be hit very hard in the event of an Omicron panic.

Meanwhile, the FT notes that “average hourly earnings rose another 0.3 percent month over month in November, the slowest monthly pace since March, bringing the annual pace of wage growth to 4.8 per cent.” Comparing these numbers with the data since March 2020 is tricky, as much of those were distorted by changes in the composition of the workforce. Thus the spike in the spring of 2020 reflected the fact that lower-paid workers suffered a disproportionate percentage of the jobs lost when the pandemic struck. Equally, the decline in wage growth seen briefly earlier this year was, at least partially, a reflection of the return of more of the lower-paid into the workforce.

It is thus more useful to compare wage growth with data from before the pandemic, when annual growth rates were around 3 percent. The comparison suggests some wage pressure now, but perhaps not an inordinate amount. In fact, this was the lowest month-on-month figure for wage growth since March, and was indeed slightly below expectations. That might well be in line with the uptick in people joining the workforce: Even if they are still not the whole way there (see Irwin’s comment about possible difficulties in filling jobs), are employers now beginning to find wage levels that will secure them the workers they need? (The ending of various federal pandemic-relief programs will have almost certainly played its part in this too, as will the inevitable erosion of any savings accumulated during the pandemic.)

The Times’ Irwin sees the overall picture in rosy terms:

The speed with which unemployment has gone from a grave crisis to a benign situation is astounding. Unemployment was 6.7 percent last December. In one year, we’ve experienced an improvement that took three and a half years in the last economic cycle (March 2014 to September 2017).

There’s no doubt that we have seen a remarkable turnaround, but we should forget neither the extraordinary amounts of money thrown at the problem, nor the fact that this crisis was brought about by, so to speak, a bolt from the blue (and almost certainly exacerbated by some of the steps taken by governments to deal with it). The latter type of crisis is very different from one that was home-grown and created by flaws within the financial system. The cure for that was always likely to take time, “financial” crises tend to.

Edmund Andrews, writing for the Stanford School of Business in 2019:

new study of financial crises going back to 1870, coauthored by Arvind Krishnamurthy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, finds that the recession of 2007–09 played out pretty much as expected . . .

If anything, Krishnamurthy says, the recovery that began in 2009 was quicker than the historical patterns would have suggested.

And my last takeaway from today’s data (so far) is that they are no reason to reverse the acceleration of the taper now advocated by the Fed.

The NYT’s Irwin:

[A] more aggressive tapering plan from the Fed will be an effort to adjust its policy stance with the facts on the ground without causing too much disruption to markets or the economy.

If the Fed succeeds, the economy will keep growing steadily and the labor market will continue its gradual improvement. But it’s worth noting just how rapid the improvement has already been. In February — a mere nine months ago — the Congressional Budget Office was forecasting the unemployment rate would be 5.3 percent in the current quarter. It has ended up a full percentage point below that level.

Ultimately, this has been a speedy labor market recovery, and one that appears to have more room to run. Policymakers have every reason to take the win and continue adjusting to that reality.

Politics & Policy

Parsing the Admin’s Stance against Uyghur Forced-Labor Legislation

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Dusk falls over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., November 18, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Josh Rogin’s bombshell report over at the Washington Post last night was the final piece in the puzzle for those following the Biden administration’s lobbying against the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. His report provided confirmation that a senior administration official (Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman) was leaning on lawmakers — in this case, Senator Jeff Merkley — to “slow down and water down” the bill, which would put severe restrictions on imports originating from the Xinjiang region. And Rogin received a comment approximating an on-the-record confirmation from Merkley.

The White House is trying to deflect the accusations, telling Real Clear Politics’ Philip Wegmann that “the Administration is not lobbying against the passage of this bill.” But there’s no mistaking the significance of Rogin’s scoop: Biden officials are lobbying against the legislation by attempting to weaken it, even if they are not telling lawmakers to vote against it. Here’s the key portion of the report:

Biden administration officials have been quietly telling lawmakers to slow down. Administration sources confirmed that in an October call between Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the other co-sponsor, Sherman made it clear that the administration prefers a more targeted and deliberative approach to determining which goods are the products of forced labor. She also told Merkley that getting allied buy-in was critical and more effective than unilateral action.

Senior administration officials are lobbying against the bill’s key component, namely that it requires customs officials to presume that goods from Xinjiang were produced using forced labor. That’s a lobbying campaign against the bill, no matter what White House flacks say.

Rogin’s scoop was also significant because he received on-the-record comment from Merkley urging his colleagues to get the Uyghur legislation “over the finish line.” The quote from Merkley did not directly address the information sourced elsewhere in the piece — which Rogin attributes to “administration sources” — but it’s telling that Merkley opted to give a response for the column at all.

The piece also reveals that the lobbying campaign isn’t solely the John Kerry production that previous reports revealed. The lobbying effort surrounding the forced-labor bill, the Rogin report suggests, isn’t a rogue mission that’s been undertaken by the climate envoy’s office. Secretary Antony Blinken’s deputy is a key figure in the effort. What role has Blinken played in this? The president and White House aides?

It’s possible that the extent of this effort was Sherman’s call to Merkley, but the campaign could well be more extensive than that. It likely is more extensive. Congressional Democratic leadership has been particularly cagey about Uyghur forced-labor measures, as shown by this week’s blowup over an effort by Marco Rubio to get the forced-labor provision inserted into the annual defense-authorization package. Rubio and his Senate allies — including, prominently, Mitt Romney — claimed that corporate interests were leading on congressional Democrats to stonewall the legislation. But that was before Rogin’s column dropped, providing direct, irrefutable evidence of a sliver of what could be a much larger lobbying effort by top U.S. officials.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed last month that the administration is providing “technical assistance” on human-rights legislation — which seems to refer to the administration’s work to water down this sort of legislation. Psaki hasn’t said anything more than that, but it demands asking who, in addition to Merkley, have been the targets of the administration’s outreach.

After Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a shaky press conference Thursday morning in which she addressed the kerfuffle over Rubio’s amendment by promising that the House would vote on a version of the legislation put forth by Representative Jim McGovern, the Connecticut Democrat said that his bill would come to a vote next week. Getting a House vote on the bill is a promising step, but that would be just one hurdle surmounted before it can become law. And congressional leaders have already proven adept at hiding behind a smokescreen of procedural excuses.

The Economy

Private Supply-Chain Investment Explodes

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Trucks arrive to pick up containers at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, Calif., November 22, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

If you have a business with a bright idea on how to make supply-chains run better, come collect your winnings. Venture-capital investment in supply-chain technology has gone through the roof this year. According to FreightWaves, investment exceeded $7 billion for the third straight quarter. That’s approximately double the investment made in the fourth quarter of 2020. Investment in 2017 was below $2 billion per quarter.

This explosion in capital is exactly what one would expect in a free-market system experiencing a crisis. Lots of people are upset right now with skyrocketing shipping costs. That means there’s a lot of money to be made in solving the problems that are making people upset. So the supply-chain sector becomes more attractive for investment than it was before, and lots of ideas that might not have gotten funding last year will now be able to get funding.

Plenty of these investments won’t pan out. There’s lots of failure in venture capital. But some of these investments might have huge positive impacts on the future of transportation in the U.S., and the sheer volume of investment means there are lots of chances for breakthroughs.

Private investment is especially important in transportation since many of the most important parts of the sector are privately owned. Trucks, trailers, trains, tracks, ships, port terminals, airplanes, and the information systems they all run on are privately owned. The government is certainly involved, with publicly owned highways, airports, and seaports. But solutions are much more likely to come from private money than public money.

Public spending, such as the new infrastructure law, is beset by myriad concerns that have little to do with transportation. Disbursing the funds appropriated in the law has been left to a larger-than-ever Department of Transportation, thereby making transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg very powerful in determining what projects get funded. It’s safe to say that private investors working with supply-chain businesses probably know more about where investment is needed than the former mayor of South Bend.

Public funding also won’t touch certain areas. The government spending on port infrastructure, for example, is not allowed to go towards port automation technology because politicians wanted to protect union dockworker jobs. Private investment faces no such strictures.

Where public–private partnerships exist in transportation, they mostly involve state and local governments, not the federal government. State and local government revenues are way up in 2021, and those governments can use that money to invest in ports and highways when needed.

There’s also reason to believe that in some respects federal spending will make outcomes worse because of all the strings attached. As Scott Lincicome and Ilana Blumsack pointed out in October, the infrastructure bill includes “Buy America” provisions, prevailing wage rules, and burdensome environmental-review requirements that will make projects take longer, cost more, and be less effective than they otherwise would be.

The influx in private investment into supply-chain technology is a cause for optimism. It indicates that market signals are reaching the people they need to reach to get money flowing to the right places to have a chance at making a difference. Our supply-chain problems did not arise overnight, and pandemic-emergency measures won’t solve them. The trial-and-error process of innovation is well under way. Solutions will mostly be piecemeal and won’t grab headlines. But there is considerable room for new ideas, and entrepreneurs see a chance to make money implementing them.

Science & Tech

Popularizing Uterus Transplants into Biological Males

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3d rendered illustration of an x-ray of the uterus on a blue background. ( fruttipics/Getty Images)

The “patriach of bioethics” was a man named Joseph Fletcher. A former Episopal priest turned atheist, he was a wild utilitarian for which virtually nothing was inherently wrong. In his last book, he pitched the then unthinkable idea that uteruses could be transplanted into men, writing back in 1988:

Transplant or replacement medicine foresees the day, after the automatic rejection of alien tissue is overcome, when a uterus can be implanted in a human male’s body—his abdomen has spaces—and gestation started by artificial fertilization and egg transfer.

Hypogonadism could be used to stimulate milk from the man’s rudimentary breasts—men too have mammary glands. If surgery could not construct a cervical canal the delivery could be effected by a Caesarean section and the male or transsexualized mother could nurse his own baby.

Fletcher wasn’t crazy, just ahead of his time (except for the use of the masculine pronoun).

Advocacy in bioethics has continued to touch on this subject, a few even calling it a fundamental human right for a biological male to receive a uterine transplant, gestate, and give birth.

Now, the idea is following the usual progressive political formula, moving from academic discourse into left-wing popular media advocacy. From an article just published in Salon:

Eyvazzadeh added that the risks and cost do not mean the transplant won’t become a more common operation in the future. Surprisingly, she thinks uterus transplants could become an option for an unexpected population: men.

“I predict with our aging population, and the rise of infertility, we will need men to share the burden of growing our population,” Eyvazzadeh said. “While some people may think this is far-fetched, it is not for the near future; I predict in maybe 200 years from now, it will be a reality.”

Transgender female patients will also be another group of people to benefit from the research into uterus transplants.

“Transgender females are also good candidates,” Eyvazzadeh said. “I am not aware of a transgender female having a uterine transplant yet.” Indeed, many doctors believe a uterus transplant could work for a transgender woman.

However, as with most surgeries and procedures that involve a uterus, Eyvazzadeh said to “absolutely” expect many future debates.

“Anytime a treatment involves a woman’s uterus, there will definitely be a debate especially when it involves IVF,” Eyvazzadeh said. “As with all new technology, they will get safer and more effective and ultimately more cost effective.”

I want us to notice a few things.

  • There is absolutely no discussion or concern of the impact on the baby — both with regard to safety and socially. I mean, do we not think that women’s biology beyond the uterus has any impact on the baby’s thriving? Are we going to say that having a “mother” who is biologically male would not impact the child’s social development?
  • There is no discussion about the primary societal purposes and limitations of medicine. The sector is increasingly viewed as a means of attaining life satisfaction and facilitating personal fulfillment, as much as promoting wellness and curing disease (starting, in my view, with cosmetic surgery and moving on from there). This has an impact on available medical resources for other necessaries. Bodily recreationism of males giving birth would materially add to this growing problem.
  • There are no moral boundaries that some don’t want to cross anymore. The impact of such social anarchy and collapse of norms beyond “anything goes” is hard to predict.
  • The transgender movement is evolving into an a subversion of the unique contributions women make to society. Mothering is too important to allow the social anarchists to distort its importance to children and the formation of families.
  • What kind of unethical research and experiments would be required to make males giving birth even workable? We already have witnessed cruelty to animals in an experiment in which researchers enabled male rats to give birth by surgically attaching them to females. Think of the other animal research that would be required to perfect the procedure and then, the human experimentation necessary to get all of the hormones and other necessaries of gestation right. This should be simply beyond contemplating.

We are so becoming so morally and socially paralized that we can’t even say “no” to the most bizarre and unnatural proposals anymore. Enabling males to give birth is not a proper role for medicine. Learning how to do it would be an abuse of the purposes of science. And it would be immoral social policy.

The idea should be rejected out of hand and no resources invested for the research required to effectuate the nightmare.

Culture

Noah Smith Says the Quiet Part out Loud on Abortion

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Planned Parenthood employees look out from their building, St. Louis, Mo., June 4, 2019. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

Since oral arguments in the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s abortion ban concluded, we’ve been treated to a long line of bad takes from the pro-abortion crowd. But blogger Noah Smith might have taken the cake. On Wednesday night, he tweeted:

Think about what Smith is admitting here: Abortions disproportionately take the lives of non-white — and particularly black — babies. According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, Hispanic women have double the amount of abortions that white women do. Black women have five times the amount. In cities such as New York, more black babies are killed in the womb than are born every year. Nationally, some 474 black children are aborted for every 1,000 live births to black women — in other words, almost a third of black babies are aborted every year. These are staggering, horrific numbers to contemplate.

In fact, contra Smith’s odd assumption that conservatives aren’t aware of these racial disparities in abortion rates, the numbers on black and Hispanic abortions are cited regularly by pro-life activists — and particularly black pro-lifers, who often refer to abortion as “black genocide.” The African-American Issues4Life Foundation deemed our national abortion regime “the Darfur of America.” Even Jesse Jackson was once pro-life, regularly referring to the procedure as “murder” before eventually reversing his position in preparation for his 1984 presidential run. In 1977, Jackson said:

Politicians argue for abortion largely because they do not want to spend the necessary money to feed, clothe and educate more people. Here arguments for inconvenience and economic savings take precedence over arguments for human value and human life. . . .

Psychiatrists, social workers and doctors often argue for abortion on the basis that the child will grow up mentally and emotionally scarred. But who of us is complete? If incompleteness were the criteri(on) for taking life, we would all be dead. If you can justify abortion on the basis of emotional incompleteness, then your logic could also lead you to killing for other forms of incompleteness — blindness, crippleness, old age.

The abortion lobby and its activist allies argue that these disparities are the result of racism and poverty, but as Jason Riley pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, “black women have much higher abortion rates even after you control for income.” In fact, non-white abortion rates have much more to do with abortion’s well-documented racist roots. It’s no coincidence that 79 percent of Planned Parenthoods are situated in minority neighborhoods. Pro-lifers are all too familiar with the racist and eugenicist views of Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, who (though not pro-abortion herself) vigorously pushed for forced sterilization of “morons, mental defectives and epileptics,” and framed this belief — and her support for birth control — in explicitly racist terms. In a 1939 letter to a friend discussing her Negro Project initiative, which targeted black neighborhoods with birth-control programs and tried to persuade community leaders to push contraception and sterilization, Sanger wrote: “We don’t want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the [African-American] minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”

This is abortion’s legacy. It’s what the abortion industry has always been. Despite what flowery messaging from Planned Parenthood and NARAL would have you believe, this is very much still a part of the abortion regime today. None other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself described abortion as a way to control “populations that we don’t want to have too many of” in 2014. And in pitching abortifacients to Bill Clinton, Ron Weddington, a co-counsel for the pro-choice advocates in Roe v. Wade, said: “You can start immediately to eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy, and poor segment of our country. It’s what we all know is true, but we only whisper it.”

Kudos to Smith for his honesty — he just comes out and says that “people of color are disproportionately high users of abortion.” That’s why the alt-right embraces the practice. Richard Spencer applauded the fact that it is only “the unintelligent and blacks and Hispanics who use abortion as birth control.” As Elliot Kaufman pointed out, the alt-right doesn’t “oppose abortion because it’s good for racial minorities; they support abortion because it kills them. They hate black people and think America would be better if fewer of them were born.” Smith and other pro-choicers who make this argument simply don’t know what pro-lifers actually believe. 

Editor’s note: This post originally stated that almost half of black babies are aborted every year. It has since been corrected. 

White House

Amateur Criminologist Jen Psaki: Retail-Store Looting Is Caused by the Pandemic

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 12, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In yesterday’s White House press briefing, when asked about large-scale looting of stores in places such as Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco and Lakewood, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she thinks the root cause of the crimes is the COVID-19 pandemic:

Q    And does the President still think that crime is up because of the pandemic?

MS. PSAKI:  I think many people have conveyed that, and also one of the reasons that crime — one of the root reasons crime we’ve — root causes of crime in communities is guns and gun violence.  And we’ve seen that statistically around the country.

Q    But, to your point, so when a huge group of criminals organizes themselves and they want to go loot a store — a CVS, a Nordstrom, a Home Depot — until the shelves are clean, do you think that’s because of the pandemic?

MS. PSAKI:  I think a root cause in a lot of communities is the pandemic, yes.

Apparently, under Psaki’s theory, these looters believe the virus can be repelled by large amounts of cash and jewelry.

World

World’s Leading Anti-Semitic Organization Tries to Erase Jewish History

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Palestinians celebrate on the first day of Eid al-Adha on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 20, 2021. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

Today is the sixth night of Hanukah, the celebration of the Jewish rebellion against the Seleucid Empire and the rededication of the Holy Temple in 167 b.c. — around 750 years before the birth of Mohammad. Yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution by a 129–11 vote that denies any Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, referring to the site solely by its Muslim name of al-Haram al-Sharif.

The resolution was supported by numerous purportedly enlightened democracies of the European Union — Belgium, France, Spain, and Italy — who now have large Muslim populations. Hungary and the Czech Republic, incidentally, did not support it.

Unlike Islam and Christianity, Judaism is not a universal faith. It is tied to a place, and that place is Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Al-Haram al-Sharif sits on rubble of an ancient Jewish house of worship in a city with a permanent Jewish presence. It has meaning to all three Abrahamic faiths.  Yet, to avoid conflict, Israel handed custodianship of that site to Jordan’s Hashemites. And Jews are often stopped from visiting or marching near it by the Israeli government to maintain the peace. Palestinian leaders, on the other hand, often spread conspiracy theories about Jewish incursions on the site to trigger riots and create political pressure. But none of that, and certainly not the UN’s resolution, can change irrefutable historical facts.

Law & the Courts

At Confirmation Hearing, Kavanaugh Hailed Brown v. Board as ‘Single Greatest Moment in Supreme Court History’

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Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (Doug Mills/Reuters Pool)

Congressional Democrats are claiming that originalist Supreme Court justices made comments at their confirmation hearings indicating they would vote to uphold Roe v. Wade.

The Washington Post reports that congressional Democrats believe Justice Kavanaugh’s praise of Brown v. Board at Wednesday’s oral arguments in the Dobbs case “was at odds with his tone” during his confirmation hearing:

Democrats [entertaining Court-packing or term-limits for justices] are driven in part by what they see as contradictions between what Supreme Court nominees tell senators during their confirmation hearings and their actions on the bench once they have secured a lifetime appointment.

A particular point of contention this week was comments from Kavanaugh, who said pointedly during the oral argument that the Supreme Court had overturned long-standing precedents in the past, including in Brown vs. the Board of Education, which found that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

For Democrats, that was at odds with his tone during his bruising confirmation fight in the Senate three years ago, when he assured senators that he believed Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established a constitutional right to an abortion, was settled law.

At his confirmation hearings in 2018, Kavanaugh, like every other Supreme Court nominee, said respect for precedent was important, but he never suggested he would always uphold erroneous precedents. In fact, he hailed Brown v. Board, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, as “the single greatest moment in Supreme Court history”:

Chairman GRASSLEY: Now to a question. I imagine that your 12 years of judicial service on the second-highest court in the land has given you plenty of opportunity to think about my first question, which is what makes a judge a good one, and what influences in your life have shaped your vision of how a judge should go about doing his job? 

Judge KAVANAUGH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think the first quality of a good judge in our constitutional system is independence. Independence comes directly from Article III of the Constitution. The independence of the Federal judges really is guaranteed by the Framers in our life tenure and our protection from pay reduction. So because we have life tenure, we are independent and immune from political or public pressure. So I think the first thing that makes a good judge is independence, not being swayed by political or public pressure. That takes some backbone. That takes some judicial fortitude. The great moments in American judicial history, the judges had backbone and independence. You think about Youngstown Steel. You think about, for example, Brown v. Board of Education, where the Court came together and knew they were going to face political pressure and still enforced the promise of the Constitution. 

[…]

Senator CORNYN: But can you talk about the extraordinary circumstances under which the Supreme Court would revisit a precedent?

Judge KAVANAUGH. Well, Brown v. Board of Education, of course, overturned Plessy. Plessy was wrong the day it was decided. It was inconsistent with the text and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection. […] Brown v. Board, as I have said publicly many times before, [is] the single greatest moment in Supreme Court history

Here’s an Associated Press story suggesting Kavanaugh was misleading on Roe:

Kavanaugh repeatedly told the senators under grilling from Democrats and Republicans that the women’s right to an abortion has been affirmed.

“The Supreme Court has recognized the right to an abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade case — has affirmed it many times,” he told Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

How could anyone interpret that factual statement as a commitment — or even a hint of a commitment — to not overturn Roe in the future? 

White House

The Biden Administration’s Omicron-Driven Travel Restrictions Make No Sense

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., October 6, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 was first identified in South Africa, but that does not necessarily mean it originated in that country. As noted in yesterday’s Jolt, at least three European countries have identified cases that were tested before South Africa first reported the new strain to the WHO on November 24.

The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said it found Omicron in samples dating from November 19 and 23. Belgium said that a case tested positive on November 22, and had developed symptoms eleven days after traveling to Egypt via Turkey. The German government said a person who tested positive for the variant had arrived at Frankfurt international airport on November 21.

In other words, the Omicron variant has probably been floating around European airports for a few weeks now. Yesterday, Biden boasted that, “on the very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took an immediate step to restrict travel from the countries in South — in Southern Africa.” But that’s closing the barn door after the horses have already left — and perhaps not even the correct barn.

Whether you generally support or oppose travel restrictions as a tool to limit the spread of COVID-19, it makes little sense to have travel restrictions in place for some countries that have the variant, but not others. The variant doesn’t get any more or less contagious, or any more or less virulent, depending upon a traveler’s country of origin.

The administration is now requiring all inbound international travelers to test within one day of departure, regardless of their vaccination status or nationality. That would seem to be sufficient precaution to minimize the risk of travelers infected with Omicron entering the U.S . . . but South Africans still cannot enter the U.S., regardless of whether they test negative. Meanwhile, Europeans — who may well have already encountered the Omicron variant — are allowed to enter the U.S. with a negative test. None of this makes sense, and as many have observed, this sort of reaction effectively punishes South Africa’s government for promptly reporting the threat of Omicron to the world. Put another way, South Africa is paying a much higher price for reporting the truth than China ever paid for spending weeks insisting the virus was not contagious.

Asked about this yesterday, Jen Psaki blamed the administration’s health advisers. “As you know, we are assessing and reviewing, working 24/7 — our health and medical teams are — to evaluate, learn more about this variant.  And we will assess if additional restrictions need to be put in place.”

Media

It’s Different When Ron DeSantis Does It: CNN Edition

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis talks to the media during a news conference in Miami, Fla., August 29, 2019. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

There’s some choice DeSantis Derangement Syndrome on CNN this morning. Check out this headline:

DeSantis proposes a new civilian military force in Florida that he would control

Gosh! A “civilian military force in Florida that he would control”! That sounds terrifying — especially when paired with the piece’s artwork, which, for some reason, shows both Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump.

And what would this “civilian military force in Florida” do?

St, Petersburg, Florida (CNN)Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to reestablish a World War II-era civilian military force that he, not the Pentagon, would control.

DeSantis pitched the idea Thursday as a way to further support the Florida National Guard during emergencies, like hurricanes. The Florida National Guard has also played a vital role during the pandemic in administering Covid-19 tests and distributing vaccines.

Sounds . . . fine? Useful, even.

Ah, but this is unusual, right? Oh wait, no, it’s not:

States have the power to create defense forces separate from the national guard, though not all of them use it. If Florida moves ahead with DeSantis’ plan to reestablish the civilian force, it would become the 23rd active state guard in the country, DeSantis’ office said in a press release, joining California, Texas and New York.

So nearly half the states do it — including California and New York — and Florida itself used to have one before it was abandoned. Which makes the problem . . . what, exactly?

CNN continues:

But in a nod to the growing tension between Republican states and the Biden administration over the National Guard, DeSantis also said this unit, called the Florida State Guard, would be “not encumbered by the federal government.” He said this force would give him “the flexibility and the ability needed to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible.” DeSantis is proposing bringing it back with a volunteer force of 200 civilians, and he is seeking $3.5 million from the state legislature in startup costs to train and equip them.

Ah, right. The problem is that this unit would be “not encumbered by the federal government,” and, thereby, that it would be under DeSantis’s control. Which is just absolutely horrifying — unlike, say, the massive, nuke-filled, “civilian military force” that is under Joe Biden’s control, which is completely different, for reasons that CNN will presumably arrive at next time a Republican is in the White House.

Politics & Policy

The Difficulty of Measuring College Learning Gains

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Colleges want us to think that their students amass a great deal of knowledge as a result of their courses. Some do, but many coast along, enjoying the “beer and circus” of campus life (as Murray Sperber puts it), graduating with little or no intellectual gain. How can we separate the wheat from the chaff?

One idea is for schools to administer an exam to assess a student’s competency. Will that work, though? In today’s Martin Center article, Richard Phelps argues that the concept is fraught with difficulty.

He writes that, “General cognitive ability, however, doesn’t change much in college. Though politically incorrect to even mention the fact, some have more to begin with through the luck of their genetic configuration. Some nurture it better than others by habit (e.g., with “thinking” activities rather than television watching, keeping physically fit). Moreover, general cognitive ability can be affected as much by activity outside the classroom as inside it.”

Phelps notes that there are many content-area exams that schools (or prospective employers) can administer to find out how much or little a student knows. Maybe the status quo isn’t so deficient after all. Also, there are a number of different college rankings that purport to measure student success. Maybe they help to steer students toward better institutions.

Phelps concludes, “With so many performance measures and so many college rankings, will every college find itself ranked high in something? No. Some will not rank highly on any measure, and those may be the colleges to avoid.”

Law & the Courts

Would Five Votes to Overturn Roe and Casey Be Just as Good as Six?

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

In the history of the Supreme Court, there have been many high-profile 5-4 rulings. To name a few: Obergefell (same-sex marriage), Hobby Lobby (religious liberty), Casey (abortion), Miranda (rights of criminal suspects), Heller (guns), Citizens United (campaign finance).

One should always be cautious and not read too much into questions from Supreme Court justices at oral arguments, but it seemed on Wednesday that the five self-described originalist justices are interested in fully overturning Roe and restoring the right of legislatures to enact abortion laws, while Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to be seeking some compromise that would allow the Supreme Court to uphold Mississippi’s 15-week limit on abortion without overturning Roe.

A 5-4 decision has just as much force as a 6-3 decision, but the practical benefit of the latter is that in normal circumstances it is a little more secure. If a single justice who was in the majority of a 5-4 decision is replaced by a justice with a different judicial philosophy, the ruling may be reversed.

But in the Dobbs case, it would seem that a five-justice majority to overturn Roe and Casey would have the same practical benefit as a six-justice majority. Even if Chief Justice Roberts does not vote to overturn Roe now, it is almost impossible to imagine Roberts voting to reinstate Roe in the event a Democratic appointee fills the seat of one the five originalist judges. There is no stare decisis rationale for reinstating an overturned precedent, and Roberts can’t believe there’s a case for Roe on the merits.

Each justice has a duty to faithfully interpret the Constitution, of course, and each justice’s conclusion should not depend on whether he would be a lone dissenter or part of a five-justice decision or part of a unanimous decision.

Fiscal Policy

Analysis: SALT Cap Relief Is Costly and Regressive

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(Michael Burrell/Getty Images)

No matter how you slice it, there’s no way to avoid one conclusion on the state and local tax deduction: The benefits go to people who are already well-off.

A new analysis out today from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) shows that Democrats’ latest attempt to expand the SALT deduction (which was capped at $10,000 per year by Republicans in 2017) “will be both costly and regressive.” Democrats think they’ve found a way for the restoration of the deduction to be revenue-neutral, but it’s just another budget gimmick.

Here’s how it would work. Because of Congress’s budget-scoring rules during the legislative process that led to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017, the SALT deduction cap is set to expire in 2026. The cap increases revenue, which is why Republicans put it in the TCJA to begin with. Democrats oppose the cap, but they need the revenue. So they want to extend the cap through 2031 to get more revenue on paper that they will then use to remove the cap through 2025. Instead of robbing Peter to pay Paul, they’re hypothetically robbing Paul from 2026 to 2031 to actually pay Paul from 2021 to 2025.

Of course, when 2025 rolls around, Democrats aren’t just going to let the deduction go away. They will then try to extend it again, which is why this is a gimmick.

To get a deficit impact without the gimmick, the CRFB scores the proposal for only the first five years. It finds that it will add $250 billion to the debt in that time. The deduction would be fully restored for individuals making up to $550,000 and couples making up to $1.1 million. Those income limits are supposed to make the measure less regressive, but the CRFB finds it will still be regressive.

The analysis finds that 93 percent of the benefit would go to the top quintile of income earners, and 65 percent of the benefit would go to the top 5 percent. The SALT provision would be the second most expensive part of the Build Back Better bill, which Democrats say is about expanding the social safety net and rebuilding the economy, not giving more money to wealthy taxpayers.

SALT promises to become a sticking point in the Senate. Joe Manchin has expressed skepticism about a bill that relies on budget gimmicks, and relatively few taxpayers in West Virginia took the SALT deduction the last time it existed in full (the state in total got only 0.2 percent of the deduction’s nationwide benefit; California got 20.7 percent, and New York got 13.1 percent). Bob Menendez, from high-tax New Jersey, has been focused on getting the deduction restored from the very beginning. Democrats can’t lose a single vote in the Senate, and a tax cut for the well-off is set to divide them now.

World

When China Says ‘Jump,’ Much of the Business World Asks ‘How High’?

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Ray Dalio defends the indefensible in the latest illustration of the power the CCP has over American capitalists.