Politics & Policy

Has Joe Biden Lost All of His Leverage?

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, D.C., October 4, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President Biden visited Howell, Michigan yesterday to tout the infrastructure bill and “Build Back Better” legislation. This is a traditional presidential move when trying to get a big bill passed, but the destination was a little odd; Michigan has two Democratic senators who are reliable votes for both bills, no matter the details. Tomorrow Biden is scheduled to visit Chicago, Illinois “promote his vaccination mandate for large businesses.” (Say, where is that OSHA regulation, anyway? It was announced a month ago…)

Considering how the pandemic kept Biden behind closed doors and away from crowds for the better part of two years, it is good to see the president getting out of Washington again. But if these events are designed to help unite and galvanize Democrats behind Biden’s legislative agenda… how much good does it do to go to Michigan? It’s not like Debbie Stabenow or Gary Peters are the real obstacle.

Then again, with Biden’s job approval rating hitting a an abysmal 38 percent in the latest Quinnipiac survey today, does Biden really have any leverage over any wavering Congressional Democrat? If Biden went to Arizona – where Civiqs polling found he has a 39 percent approval rating – would senator Kyrsten Sinema feel significant pressure to compromise? If Biden went to West Virginia, where Civiqs polling found he has a 19 percent approval rating, and no, that is not a typo – would Joe Manchin feel any more pressure to compromise? Highly unlikely.

Biden is effectively going through the motions, pretending to be a much more popular, much more persuasive president, and just hoping that some other factor somehow gets Sinema and Manchin to sign on to a proposal that would please 218 House Democrats and the other 48 Democratic senators.

Point and Laugh: Bill de Blasio May Run for Governor

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks in Times Square in New York, April 12, 2021. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has reportedly told people he wants to run for governor of New York. This may be the most delusional idea in American politics since Bill de Blasio ran for president. At least when de Blasio was mulling a run for governor back in March, it was possible to argue that somebody needed to challenge scandal-tarred Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary, and Bill de Blasio is somebody. But Cuomo is gone now; New York Democrats may prefer a more progressive Democrat than Kathy Hochul, Cuomo’s successor, but they are no longer desperate for a

Politics & Policy

McConnell Calls Democrats’ Bluff on Debt Limit

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 14, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

For weeks, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been insisting that Democrats could not pursue reconciliation to extend the debt limit by themselves because there was simply no time left, with the October 18 date put out by Treasury secretary Janet Yellen quickly approaching. But Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has now called their bluff.

In a new statement, McConnell has announced he has made an offer to Democrats. He is now giving Schumer a choice between reconciliation proceeding on an expedited basis (i.e., without Republicans using all tactics at their disposal to bog down the process) or, giving him Republican support to pass an extension of the debt ceiling to provide enough room to cover spending into December. The first option would mean Democrats would have enough time to extend the debt limit via reconciliation in the next two weeks. The second option would give them months to pass something via reconciliation. Either way, Democrats can no longer credibly claim that reconciliation isn’t an option due to a time crunch.

Full McConnell statement below.


Hack of Australian Activist Indicates Chinese Collusion with Far-Left Group

The Chinese national flag in Beijing, China, April 29, 2020 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The Chinese government’s hack of an Australian human-rights activist’s email account shows that an Australian far-left group collaborated with Chinese agents, suggesting that Chinese collusion with radical groups in the West might take place in other Western democracies.

Over the past couple of years, Drew Pavlou has become a lightning rod in Australian political circles for his activism on Chinese influence in the country and his advocacy for victims of Chinese repression. This work has, unsurprisingly, also made him a target of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Australian recently reported on a trap laid by cybersecurity experts to confirm that the Chinese government had successfully hacked Pavlou and Vicky Xu, another prominent critic of the party in Australia. Pavlou and Xu each exchanged emails about a fake book deal worth exactly $350,000. Then, incredibly, that figure started to show up in the tweets of pro-Beijing activists critical of their work:

About seven weeks later, the Twitter account of registered not-for-profit Critical Social Work Publishing House, an organization established to “publish the work of social work practitioners and others helping to address injustice and inequality from a critical perspective” tweeted the exact figure that had been planted in Mr Pavlou’s email . . .

Critical Social Work Publishing House is written by two Australians, one of whom is Jaqueline “Jaq” James, a pro-China voice who claims to be a “Western Propaganda Analyst” and has lectured in English for the People’s Liberation Army. She also claims to have worked as a legal policy officer for the Australian government.

The other author is Milton James, believed to be her father, who wrote a July 2020 article questioning whether the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre – where Chinese authorities killed hundreds of students – actually happened. “The story that Chinese troops machine-gunned hundreds of innocent student protesters on the night of 3rd or 4th June 1989 has been thoroughly debunked by many of those present in the square of those nights,” he wrote.

There are lessons for the role that fringey left-wing groups play in China’s propaganda machine. Critical Social Work Publishing House appears to be a run-of-the-mill left-wing activist group; on Twitter, it bills itself as “a not-for-profit organization that publishes work addressing injustice and inequality from a critical perspective.”

Whether the Miltons knew they’re doing the party’s bidding or they were approached with the stolen information by an intermediary is unclear. But these fringey groups are a medium through which Chinese party-state entities are transmitting some of their attacks — and not just in Australia.

The formation of an international “No Cold War” coalition involving a number of likeminded groups seems to include many recognizable names, such as the U.S. anti-war outfit Code Pink. But a number of observers, including, most recently, a report by an institute linked to the French military, have raised questions about whether its formation might be linked to the party’s disinformation and foreign influence apparatus, given its odd fixation on topics understood to be some of the Chinese government’s priorities.

Pavlou’s breach indicates the existence of at least one instance of Chinese collusion with radical, pro-authoritarian groups in Western democracies. The full extent of this is unknown and deserves to be investigated.

Unfortunately, as one might expect, the impact of such breaches isn’t only that information ends up with Western apologists for the Chinese regime. Pavlou told The Australian that he believes the mother of an Australian-based Uyghur with whom he had been in contact was sent to a reeducation center in Xinjiang after he was hacked.

McAuliffe Distances Himself from Biden as Virginia Polls Tighten

Terry McAuliffe campaigns for governor with President Biden in Arlington, Va., July 23, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

At a virtual campaign rally last night, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe attempted to distance himself from President Biden.

“We’re facing a lot of headwinds from Washington,” he told supporters. As you know, the president is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through.”

A McAuliffe spokesperson later told Politico Playbook, “Terry’s point was clearly that Democrats can’t take anything for granted and must turn out to vote this year: Glenn Youngkin is running on a divisive, Trumpian agenda that puts election conspiracy theories and banning abortion first.”

I think McAuliffe’s point was pretty obvious: Virginians might not be thrilled with the


Biden’s ‘Taiwan Agreement’

President Joe Biden holds a meeting on infrastructure with labor and business leaders at the White House in Washington, D.C. July 22, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President Biden sparked confusion last night when he referred to a seemingly nonexistent agreement between the U.S. and China over Taiwan.

“China has . . . I’ve spoken with Xi about Taiwan. We agree, we will abide by the Taiwan agreement. That’s where we are and I made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement,” Biden told reporters yesterday evening.

Since the start of this month, Beijing has sent 150 military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Although the ADIZ is not Taiwan’s sovereign airspace, the Chinese sorties are a massive provocation and an escalation of Beijing’s ongoing effort to wear down the Taiwanese military ahead of a potential future attack.

There’s no doubt that this is a dangerous situation that calls for competent leadership from the White House — and Biden’s comment suggests that is in short supply.

China experts were vexed by Biden’s comments for one simple reason: There is no “Taiwan agreement” with Beijing. The U.S. does adhere to a One China policy, according to which it acknowledges that the People’s Republic claims Taiwan as part of its territory, but Washington does not recognize the Chinese claim.

The U.S. One China policy is based, in addition to a number of other statements and legislation, on a series of communiques issued with Beijing in which Washington offers up this careful language. This is, however, different from any sort of agreement with China.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party attempts to package its claim over Taiwan as a “One China principle,” to which it attempts to hold the rest of the world, including the United States. That attempt to falsely conflate the U.S. policy with China’s claims is deliberately intended to confuse foreigners into pushing Beijing’s line.

As Biden ought to know from his decades of experience working on U.S. foreign-policy issues, the Taiwan portfolio is one where precise diplomatic terminology matters more than most, as leaders need to be capable of cutting through this thicket of Chinese obfuscation. Referring to an evidently nonexistent “Taiwan agreement” muddies the waters at a time when the U.S. position needs to be crystal clear.

There is, of course, also the possibility that Biden was referring to an agreement he made with Xi secretly. The two did have a phone call prior to the spike in People’s Liberation Army sorties into Taiwan’s ADIZ. But barring that extraordinary possibility, it seems like Biden just made a significant misstep.

This is all the more worrying when considered with an apparent disclosure by climate envoy John Kerry in an interview with BFMTV that Biden “literally had not been aware of what had transpired” when the new AUKUS nuclear-submarine deal cratered U.S.–French relations.

Biden also seems to be unaware of the nuances of the U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan. There’s no doubt that his aides have a better grasp on these things. But as national-security adviser Jake Sullivan travels to Switzerland for talks with the Chinese Communist Party’s top foreign-affairs official, his presumed understanding of foreign policy is of little comfort when the president just doesn’t seem to know what’s going on.

PC Culture

The Corruption of Critics

(Moon Safari/Getty Images)

I wrote before about how thoroughly the critical profession has allowed itself to become corrupted; if your analysis is based on anything other than the quality of what you’re appraising, you’re allowing yourself to be swayed — to be corrupted. There are at least two pretty obvious drivers of critical corruption: politics and the quest for coolness.

Essayist Freddie deBoer, in his Substack, has a long post today going through why he thinks music critics are more concerned with seeming cool than being honest about their reactions to an album, which has led them to disavow previous positions that have been rendered untenably uncool over time (the post is titled “The Problem with Liz Phair’s Self-Titled Album Is That It’s an Irredeemable Piece of S***”). He adds

We have an entire industry of busy young writers coming up with ways to praise women artists and Black artists and queer artists for everything but the art they produce. That isn’t respect, but respect’s opposite. It’s a consolation prize, a simulacra of critical praise that abstracts musicians away from music until the laurel you’re giving out is utterly vague praise for existing as a particular kind of individual.

Obviously true, and I wonder how many artists from “underrepresented groups” are rolling their eyes each day as the delivery van pulls up to their door with yet more honors, gongs, statuettes, trophies, and certificates of praise. Enough already, many of them must be thinking. I’m not that good. DeBoer segues into a slam of the very bad but very P.C. movie Promising Young Woman, which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for its completely ridiculous revenge-fantasy scenario.

You know what that movie is? It’s a homework assignment; it’s bad fan fic scrawled in the margins of a gender studies textbook. But it received dutifully positive reviews from a critical corps that’s terrified of getting canceled and that has devolved to assigning Representation Units to every piece of s**t movie and show that crosses their transom and determining their opinion based on that.

I don’t think you can trust most critics to tell you what they actually think anymore. I think they’re lying to the public and lying to themselves in an effort to stay afloat.

Economy & Business

Billion, Trillion, Whatever


An amusing correction in the New York Times, where ace reporter Reid Epstein was off only by a factor of 1,000:

An earlier version of this article misstated the size of Democrats’ social policy bill in Congress. It is $3.5 trillion, not $3.5 billion.

There’s a widespread impression that in these matters, it doesn’t really matter whether you write “billion” or “trillion” or “gozonkawonkillion,” or whatever — that these numbers just wash over readers.

For perspective: $3.5 billion would be about 10 percent of the annual budget of the Department of Energy; $3.5 trillion is quite a bit more than the GDP of the United Kingdom, the world’s fifth-largest economy.


The College Debt Trap: How’d We Get In and Can We Get Out?

A graduate from California State University San Marcos celebrates during a car parade during the Coronavirus outbreak in San Marcos, Calif., May 15, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Josh Mitchell, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has recently written a book entitled The College Debt Trap. In it, he addresses those questions.

In today’s Martin Center article, I discuss his book and argue that he gets some things right, others wrong.

Mitchell’s historical presentation is excellent: how American politicians panicked over Sputnik and started the avalanche of federal interventions in higher education, how LBJ thought that promoting college was a big part of solving poverty and inequality, how the Student Loan Marketing Association was created to keep federal higher-ed subsidies “off the books” and then mushroomed into a gigantic political player, how all the federal manipulations began to have unintended consequences as new schools were created to game the system and lots of students defaulted on their loans, how higher-education officials figured out that they could rake in money by steadily increasing tuition, and how politicians pushed the “college is good for everyone” idea, causing many people to make ruinous decisions involving borrowing so they could earn degrees that turned out to have far less value than expected.

Where his analysis falters is that he’s too accepting of much of the “conventional wisdom” that has been propagated about higher education, especially that the country badly needed to increase the percentage of people who went to college and that the economy grew because of the surge of graduates. He also misses two big downsides to that surge, namely the dumbing down of standards and credential inflation fueled by the huge glut of people holding college credentials.

In the end, can we escape the debt trap? Mitchell offers some sensible ideas, such as requiring that colleges bear some of the cost when students default, but doesn’t argue for the one and only change that would really end the problem that the government has created — to get the feds out of the business of financing higher education.

Politics & Policy

Biden Says He’d Sign Reconciliation Bill That Includes Hyde Amendment

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on infrastructure investments at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 training facility in Howell, Mich., October 5, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President Biden was asked Tuesday night if he’d sign a reconciliation bill that includes the Hyde amendment, a measure that prohibits federal funding of abortion except in rare circumstances. “I want to get the bill passed,” Biden replied. “I’d sign it either way.”

West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin said on Monday that the “Hyde amendment is a red line” for him, and last week Manchin told National Review the measure “has to be” included in the bill.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, however, has threatened to vote against the bill if it includes the Hyde amendment:

Jayapal elaborated on her views during a podcast hosted by former Obama administration officials. “The Hyde amendment is the law,” Jayapal said. “I would like to repeal it, but I’m not suggesting we put the repeal into this [reconciliation] bill. What I am saying is that the Hyde amendment is already law, so why would we add it into the bill as a political statement when it’s already the law?”

Jayapal seems to be arguing that the Hyde amendment is a permanent law that applies to all federal funds. But that is not true.

In the context of the traditional Medicaid program, the Hyde amendment is a budget rider attached each year to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill.

What’s not quite clear is whether Jayapal honestly misunderstands how the Hyde amendment works or if she is deliberately misrepresenting how the Hyde amendment works. Evidence for the latter is this report in Esquire on Manchin’s Hyde comments: “I later dropped this tidbit to a Democratic member of Congress who reacted as though I’d handed over a copperhead. This is indisputably a landmine in the ongoing negotiations, as the progressive caucus has made eliminating the Hyde Amendment one of the primary ancillary policy goals of the reconciliation bill.”

Whether or not Jayapal made an honest mistake, it is indisputably true that the current iteration of the House Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill would fund abortion in several different ways.

Congressional Democrats have two paths to applying the Hyde amendment to the reconciliation bill:

Option 1: Senate Democrats could explicitly include the Hyde amendment in the reconciliation bill. This has been done before. The Senate parliamentarian has typically held that the Hyde amendment is subject to 60 votes in reconciliation, but the 60-vote threshold is required only if a senator raises a point of order. In 1997, when Congress created the Children’s Health Insurance Program through a reconciliation bill, Democratic senator Patty Murray’s point of order was withdrawn, and the Hyde amendment was permanently attached to the program.

Option 2: Senate Democrats could route all relevant funds through funding streams to which the Hyde amendment will be applied. For example, rather than creating a new “direct appropriation” for the new Medicaid-like program, the funding would come from the Labor-HHS appropriations bill to which the Hyde amendment will apply. If any relevant funds in the reconciliation bill can’t be rerouted through Hyde-protected programs or appropriations bills, they could be stripped out and taken up during the normal appropriations process.

Monetary Policy

Biden, Central Planning, and Saule Omarova

(Nerthuz/Getty Images)

The fact that someone went to Moscow State University in the Soviet years should not (obviously) automatically disqualify them from holding a position in a U.S. administration. Nor should the fact that that person received a “Lenin personal academic scholarship,” even if that award will have been evidence of ideological reliability as well as academic excellence. In totalitarian societies, most people go along, whatever they may actually believe.

After all, Yegor Gaidar attended the same university and won the same scholarship.

Yegor Gaidar?

He served in various senior roles in the early Yeltsin years, including as minister of the economy in 1991–92. In the course of a fair-minded obituary after his (premature) death, The Economist noted:

His father was a war correspondent; his grandfather was a famous children’s writer, Arkady Gaidar, who fought on the Bolshevik side in the civil war of 1918-22. In the autumn of 1991 the parallels with that civil war, and the famine that accompanied it, were self-evident. Mr Gaidar threw himself into the midst of the crisis as bravely as his grandfather had done. The task was urgent: to prevent starvation and make the economy work, or risk the consequences.

By the winter of that year Russia had two months’ worth of grain left, and producers were refusing to sell their crops to the state at regulated prices. Shops were empty. There was no money to import food, either: foreign-exchange reserves stood at $27m and the country’s foreign debt, inherited from the Soviet Union, was $72 billion. The only option for Mr Gaidar and his team was to abolish price regulation and allow free trade.

Price liberalisation made the erosion of Russians’ savings visible, and was hugely painful. But it also re-established the market economy for the first time since the 1920s. The reformers’ other task was to break the communist grip on assets as quickly and peacefully as possible. The mass privatisations of the 1990s were far from just or clean. Mr Gaidar was not to blame for the worst abuses, but he took responsibility nonetheless. He knew that reforms should preferably not be carried out without democratic institutions and public support. But he also knew that the alternative was far worse. . .

He was honest, both intellectually and personally. Unlike many of the current Kremlin-dwellers, he did not enrich himself in the 1990s. His office was spartan and stacked with papers; good food (and drink) were his main indulgence. And as an academic, he never compromised his analysis for the sake of political expediency.

Last month, President Biden nominated Saule Omarova as Comptroller of the Currency. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, “Omarova graduated from Moscow State University in 1989 on the Lenin Personal Academic Scholarship.” Sadly, unlike Gaidar, she doesn’t seems have paid too much attention to the implications of the collapse of the Soviet economy, a collapse she witnessed firsthand. Central planning had presented the Soviet economy with disaster after disaster (as a reminder, the Russian economy grew very rapidly in the late Czarist period, which is just one reason why “but industrialization” is not an adequate response to criticism of Soviet economic management). With the Soviet authorities no longer prepared to use the amount of force necessary to preserve their system from the consequences of sustained economic failure, it collapsed.

Lesson: Central planning doesn’t work.

This was a lesson that Omarova appears to have failed to learn.

Well, there’s one exception to that, and perhaps that was the lesson she learned. Central planning works very well for central planners.

The Wall Street Journal:

Some Trump appointees were ridiculed for having supported the elimination of their agencies. Ms. Omarova wants to eliminate the banks she’s being appointed to regulate.

The Cornell University law school professor’s radical ideas might make even Bernie Sanders blush. She graduated from Moscow State University in 1989 on the Lenin Personal Academic Scholarship. Thirty years later, she still believes the Soviet economic system was superior, and that U.S. banking should be remade in the Gosbank’s image.

“Until I came to the US, I couldn’t imagine that things like gender pay gap still existed in today’s world. Say what you will about old USSR, there was no gender pay gap there. Market doesn’t always ‘know best,’” she tweeted in 2019.

After Twitter users criticized her ignorance, she added a caveat: “I never claimed women and men were treated absolutely equally in every facet of Soviet life. But people’s salaries were set (by the state) in a gender-blind manner. And all women got very generous maternity benefits. Both things are still a pipe dream in our society!”

There is certainly a discussion to be had about Soviet maternity benefits (even if the comparison with the U.S. is less straightforward than Omarova seems to imply), but as to Omarova’s point about the gender pay gap (which is not, incidentally, something that her caveat properly addresses), the reality is that while formally women were paid the same as men (in the 1930s, pipe-smoking Joe Stalin boasted that “the Woman Question had been solved”), the reality (so far as it can be deduced from Soviet statistics) was that women were paid roughly two-thirds as much as men. As anyone who, like Omarova, grew up in the USSR knew, the difference between formal and real rights was . . . substantial.

Back to the WSJ:

Ms. Omarova thinks asset prices, pay scales, capital and credit should be dictated by the federal government. In two papers, she has advocated expanding the Federal Reserve’s mandate to include the price levels of “systemically important financial assets” as well as worker wages. As they like to say at the modern university, from each according to her ability to each according to her needs.

In a recent paper “The People’s Ledger,” she proposed that the Federal Reserve take over consumer bank deposits, “effectively ‘end banking,’ as we know it,” and become “the ultimate public platform for generating, modulating, and allocating financial resources in a modern economy.” She’d also like the U.S. to create a central bank digital currency—as Venezuela and China are doing—to “redesign our financial system & turn Fed’s balance sheet into a true ‘People’s Ledger,’” she tweeted this summer. What could possibly go wrong?

Ms. Omarova believes capital and credit should be directed by an unaccountable bureaucracy and intelligentsia. She has recommended a “National Investment Authority,” with members overseen by an advisory board of academics, to finance a “big and bold” climate agenda. Sounds like the green infrastructure bank the Senate rejected.

She’d also like a politically and structurally independent “Public Interest Council” of “highly paid” academics with broad subpoena power to supervise financial regulatory agencies, including the Fed. The Council, she explained, would not be subject to the “constraints and requirements of the administrative process.” Ivy League professors know best.

As comptroller, Ms. Omarova would supervise some 1,200 financial institutions. While she couldn’t enact her People’s Agenda without legislation, she would have sweeping powers to punish banks that don’t follow her diktats. Recall how financial regulators during the Obama Presidency pressured banks to cut off credit to pay-day lenders.

Our sources say the President nominated Ms. Omarova over the objections of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, to whom the comptroller reports . . .

History shows that ideas of this sort are a prescription for economic disaster, but they are also about something else, which, is power, and in Omarova’s case, power for her class: something that Lenin would have appreciated, and, in today’s world, almost certainly would have supported.

More broadly, she appears to want the rewiring of much of our economy in a technocratic (that is to say, post-democratic) way. It is a recipe for economic catastrophe, but those who control the sort of system that would emerge as a result of this rewiring will do very well indeed (see the USSR for details). Notice the role that Omarova allocates for academics, some of whom, at least, should, she reportedly thinks, be “highly paid,” a telling proviso.

The same, by the way, will also be true of the Green New Deal.

Scrolling on down through The Economist’s obituary of Gaidar, who, as a former member of the Soviet aristocracy, certainly understood power, I read this:

One of Russia’s biggest problems, as he saw it, was the growing accumulation of wealth and power by bureaucrats and their friends in the name of a “strong state”. People who argued for such a state, he wrote, “have only one purpose—to preserve the status quo…A self-serving state destroys society, oppresses it and in the end destroys itself . . . ”

Food for thought.

This nomination should be rejected.


Why the World Can’t Abandon Taiwan

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York during a visit to the U.S., in New York City, July 11, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen has written a tour de force essay making the case for why Taiwan’s ability to defend itself from Chinese aggression matters to the world, as Chinese warplanes swarm her country.

“A failure to defend Taiwan would not only be catastrophic for the Taiwanese; it would overturn a security architecture that has allowed for peace and extraordinary economic development in the region for seven decades,” wrote Tsai in a new piece for Foreign Affairs magazine.

She’s clearly right. If Beijing successfully took the island, Chinese forces would cut straight through the first island chain that blocks Beijing from projecting power into the pacific. It would weaken key U.S. allies in the region, potentially forcing them to accept some sort of settlement with China and obliterate U.S. influence over the region.

Perhaps just as important, as Tsai also emphasizes at length in the piece, the party would also kill a thriving modern, democratic society that embodies everything the party strives to delegitimize.

Tsai’s essay seems initially to have been written to align with the Taiwanese government’s annual push to reverse Taiwan’s exclusion from the U.N. Much of the piece deals with how the country has contributed to solving international problems, such as climate change, global public health, and more.

But the article has taken on a slightly different significance in the aftermath of a spike in Chinese military incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone at the start of this month. Fighting pandemics and manufacturing critical technologies are important, and particularly relevant to the question of Taiwan’s U.N. exclusion. What’s more pertinent in light of China’s recently stepped up aggression is what Tsai bills as her country’s role “as a liberal democracy on the frontlines of a new clash of ideologies.”

That ideological dimension has a massive bearing on the strategic element of this conflict. The democratic world, for the most part, is locked into a struggle with Chinese authoritarianism, which sees fit to corrupt and stamp out anything that stands in the way of the party’s ability to perpetuate its rule. Taiwan demonstrates that there can be Chinese democracy, and for this reason, among others, Beijing seeks to conquer its neighbor.

Tsai wrote that her country is making the necessary investments in its security:

In addition to investments in traditional platforms such as combat aircraft, Taiwan has made hefty investments in asymmetric capabilities, including mobile land-based antiship cruise missiles. We will launch the All-Out Defense Mobilization Agency in 2022, a military reform intended to ensure that a well-trained and well-equipped military reserve force stands as a more reliable backup for the regular military forces. Such initiatives are meant to maximize Taiwan’s self-reliance and preparedness and to signal that we are willing to bear our share of the burden and don’t take our security partners’ support for granted.

But no one believes that Taiwan can repel a Chinese attack by itself. Tsai’s article explains why the U.S. and likeminded countries must join a potential future effort to defend the country, if they are to avert the national-security catastrophe that would result from a dominant Chinese position in the Indo-Pacific.

Politics & Policy

A Lively Journal


If you aren’t familiar with EconJournalWatch, I suggest checking it out if you like good scholarship along classical-liberal lines.

Politics & Policy

Michael Tomasky: ‘Democracy’ Means Democrats Get Whatever They Want

President Joe Biden talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as they depart after the president met with Democratic lawmakers to promote his infrastructure bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C, October 1, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Last week, I tackled Robert Kagan’s disingenuous argument in the Washington Post that, in effect, the supposed lingering threat of Donald Trump to the electoral system meant that Republicans had no choice but to yield to the Left on everything, including its spending priorities. In The New Republic, Michael Tomasky presents a version of the same argument. It is just as disingenuous:

So the Democrats have to be the party of democracy. That means they need to make some obvious moves, such as protecting voting rights, which seems tragically iffy at the moment; but it also means, as Joe Biden repeatedly and correctly says, that they need to show the country that democracy works and can produce positive outcomes. If they don’t manage to come to terms on this reconciliation bill, the negative impacts won’t be merely economic. This reconciliation bill is about democracy. If they don’t pass it and don’t show that democracy works, especially with the government in the hands of one party, the Republican Party will benefit—they’ll almost certainly take the House and the Senate in 2022, and they’ll be teed up to steal the 2024 election for Donald Trump, and American democracy will be on life support.

Tomasky is essentially saying that, unless the Democratic Party gets everything it wants, then democracy will have failed. Never mind that “democracy” produced a political configuration, after the 2020 elections, in which the House of Representatives was only narrowly in the Democrats’ favor while the Senate was narrowly against it (only the Georgia runoffs produced the current 50–50 tie, broken by Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaker). Never mind the political implications of that victory, which amounted to a simultaneous repudiation of Trump as president but also, as Yuval Levin put it, a rejection of “the woke Left and the activist base of the Democratic Party.” Never mind that Social Security and Medicare, to which Tomasky compares the legislation being debated by Congress in terms of possible “historic significance,” passed Congress with resounding majorities. And never mind that “democracy” is supposed to involve a meaningful degree of give-and-take, not an imaginary “negotiation” over trillions that is completely untethered from fiscal reality or constitutional propriety.

Forget all of that. Democracy, apparently, means Democrats get what they want.


Newest Attack on Sinema: She’s No McCain!

Then Senate-candidate Kyrsten Sinema speaks to supporters after officially winning the Senate race in Scottsdale, Ariz., November 12, 2018. (Caitlin O'Hara/Reuters)

As Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal points out today, the late John McCain was, for decades, cheered by the media as a national hero for bucking his party. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, on the other hand, has been branded a democracy-busting traitor for slowing the Democrats’ unprecedented $5 trillion welfare-state reconciliation bill.

There’s a new talking point pushing back against this comparison. Sahil Kapur at NBC News — along with other lefty journalists — argue that unlike McCain, who “talked to with reporters all the time and was forthcoming about his policy views, popular or not,” Sinema does not.

Well, why does Sinema have to be in front of journalists “all the time”? So they can badger her for the billionth time about gutting the filibuster? Back in July, Sinema announced that she supported the bipartisan infrastructure plan but was opposed to the price tag of $3.5 trillion on the reconciliation bill. That same month, she wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post detailing her position on the filibuster. Her stance is neither unexpected nor unexplained.

Progressive like to pretend that Chuck Schumer has no idea what Sinema wants. This contention seems highly unlikely, considering the Arizona senator was one of the leading negotiators on the infrastructure bill. And, of course, for weeks, we heard the same accusation leveled at Joe Manchin, until someone leaked a memo that showed Schumer had been lying the entire time.

These attacks tie in with the allegation that Sinema is undermining “democracy” by not properly representing or communicating with her constituents in Arizona — a state Biden won by .3 percent. (What happened to country above party?) And, of course, if we adopted this new standard, the weak-kneed West Virginia senator wouldn’t be involved in any of these negotiations at all. But Democrats — the party that tells you that the most expensive bill in the history of mankind costs “zero” — are inventing new rules, standards, and definitions as they go along.


In Which I Agree with Ben Domenech about National Divorce

(haveseen/Getty Images)

There has been a vogue of “national divorce” rhetoric from some quarters of the right (see, e.g., this David Reaboi column). Ryan Williams of Claremont offers some sympathy for that view in his interview in The Atlantic, but Williams is not actually endorsing it — indeed, the very act of giving an interview to The Atlantic is a decision to continue engaging with Blue America and its established institutions:

We have to find some modus vivendi to go forward. If we’re two Americas, one of the more perfect solutions might be the return of federalism — the feds laying off in many respects. Let red America be red and blue America be blue. It’s obviously more complicated than that, because even in red states you have plenty of Democrats, and vice versa. But we need to restore a robust federalism, one that allows states much more leeway. We’ve gone much too far into the realm of federal control, arbitrariness, and overreach. . . . I worry about such a conflict. The Civil War was terrible. It should be the thing we try to avoid almost at all costs…A lot of normal Americans just want to go about their daily lives, raise their families, and make sure that our kids are successful. . . . [W]e underestimate the extent to which we can lower the temperature in America and move forward with a lot more unity.

In general, I have three problems with talk of breaking up the country. One, it disrespects our heritage. 750,000 Americans died to settle for all time the question of whether some states could leave the country. Two, it is not remotely practical, because Red and Blue America are deeply economically and geographically intertwined. And three, we should stand and fight, not run away. I confess this is partly temperamental; I’m a stay-where-you’re-planted guy. I didn’t leave New York when terrorists blew up my office. And I’m not leaving America now. In this morning’s Transom newsletter, Ben Domenech captures my view of the third point:

A new poll from The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics found that a shocking number of Americans are so fed up with division that they want what you might call a national divorce – a  breakup of red and blue states. Their poll found 41 percent of Biden voters and 52 percent of Trump voters favor this separation.

Let’s get one thing straight: That’s not happening. It’s not a thing that we will do. Federalism exists for a reason, to allow very different Americans with very different priorities to live in a country together.

What’s more, I’m disappointed in any conservative who seriously entertains such ideas. Did you miss every lesson about the growing backlash to leftist overreach we’ve seen for decades? They’re headed toward the exits, white-knuckling it til the midterms, barely hanging on to power, sending George Soros-funded shouting children into the bathroom to harass Kyrsten Sinema, and you want to bow out now?

That’s loser talk. . . . The answer to our division isn’t to give up on the American experiment. It’s to fight and take it back. It’s to say to the arrayed forces of the left: You can’t have my country. We built it. We own it. It’s ours. And we intend to keep it.

Politics & Policy

Kerry on Biden: He ‘Literally Had Not Been Aware of What Had Transpired’ on Submarine Deal

Former Vice President Joe Biden (right) and former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry carry pizza boxes after an event on Biden’s “No Malarkey!” campaign bus tour in Decorah, Iowa, December 6, 2019. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

In an interview with French television, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry helpfully explains that President Biden simply had no idea that the U.S.-U.K.-Australia deal on submarines would irk the French government, and “had not been aware of what had transpired.”

Kerry: President Biden asked me about it, and I told him, and expressed–

Interviewer, surprised: You told Joe Biden that it was not the right-

Kerry: He asked me. He said, ‘what’s the situation?’ and I explained exactly, uh… He was he had not been aware of that, he literally, literally had not been aware of what had transpired. And I don’t want to go into the details of it, but suffice it to say, that that the president… My president is very committed to, um, strengthening the relationship and making sure that this is a small event of the past and moving on to the much more important future.

Golly, who could have possibly predicted that John Kerry would go rogue, act like he’s the smartest guy in the room, and tell an anecdote where the president comes across as a clueless, oblivious novice?

Remember, questioning the 78-year-old president’s ability to remember what he’s been told in briefings, or handle the pressures of the job, is absolutely unacceptable, or at least that is what I keep getting told.


U.S. State Department: ‘We’re Not in a Position’ to Say How Many Americans Remain in Afghanistan

A Taliban patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 4, 2021. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

More than a month after the last U.S. forces departed Afghanistan, the U.S. State Department still cannot offer any specific figures on how many American citizens, green card holders, or Special Immigrant Visas remain in  Afghanistan. At yesterday’s State Department press briefing, with Ned Price:

QUESTION: The Qataris said yesterday that another charter flight had taken off with American citizens on board. Can you confirm whether or not that’s the case? If so, how many were on board and how many in total have now gotten out? And how many U.S. remain behind? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Conor. So we continue to fulfill our pledge to U.S. citizens, to lawful permanent residents, and to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. As you heard us say, we’ll be relentless in helping them depart Afghanistan if and when they choose to do so. Since late last month, we have assisted 105 U.S. citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents to depart.

Now, these are numbers of people whose individual departures we directly facilitated. An additional number of U.S. citizens and LPRs have departed on private charters or have independently crossed via land border, and they are not included in those tallies. There have been private charters that have departed in recent days, but we’re just not in a position to detail those from here.

Then later in the briefing:

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. I just wanted to follow up on Afghanistan flights as well, but specifically on SIVs. Last week some SIV holders made it out on a chartered flight, and I’m wondering if – first of all, are you all relying on charter flights for SIVs at this moment? And then just looking ahead, what is the plan for SIVs since you guys have committed to help even after August 31st? Secretary Blinken talked about this in his testimony a bit, about a potential mechanism for people to get documents. I’m just wondering if you have any overall update on SIV relocation.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. So it does remain a priority of ours, and we’ve spoken about the priority groups we’re assisting should they decide to leave Afghanistan. At the top is, of course, American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and then Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, and SIVs are certainly in that category.

We are continuing to process SIV applications at every stage of the SIV process, including by transferring cases to other U.S. embassies and consulates around the world where applicants are able to appear. We know, of course, that it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country or to find a way to enter a third country, but we are developing processing alternatives so that we can continue to deliver these important consular services for the people of Afghanistan.

Yes, the State Department’s position remains that those who wish to leave Afghanistan should make an appointment with a U.S. Embassy outside of Afghanistan. But they’re still “developing processing alternatives.”

As for how many Americans and Afghan allies are left, the State Department offers no estimates, no ranges, no numbers. Once again, American citizens, an unknown but considerable number of U.S. green card holders, and more than one hundred thousand Afghan allies who qualified for Special Immigrant Visas remain trapped in Afghanistan, despite the president’s promise, “if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.”


More Evidence of China’s Brutal Pogrom against Uyghurs

Umer Jan, 12, takes part in a rally to encourage Canada and other countries as they consider labeling China’s treatment of its Uyghur population and Muslim minorities as genocide, outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., February 19, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

CNN has published an important story in which a former Chinese policeman describes in vivid, first-person terms, how he systematically tortured Uyghurs to garner false confessions. He was told when assigned to the crackdown that he was arresting terrorists. But he soon learned they were just ordinary people living routine lives disapproved of by the regime.

No matter. Confessions were to be had! It’s real “Fourth Reich” stuff that is not for the squeamish. From the story:

The ex-detective turned whistleblower asked to be identified only as Jiang, to protect his family members who remain in China. In a three-hour interview with CNN, conducted in Europe where he is now in exile, Jiang revealed rare details on what he described as a systematic campaign of torture against ethnic Uyghurs in the region’s detention camp system, claims China has denied for years.

“Kick them, beat them (until they’re) bruised and swollen,” Jiang said, recalling how he and his colleagues used to interrogate detainees in police detention centers. “Until they kneel on the floor crying.”

During his time in Xinjiang, Jiang said every new detainee was beaten during the interrogation process — including men, women and children as young as 14. “Everyone uses different methods. Some even use a wrecking bar, or iron chains with locks.”

The methods included shackling people to a metal or wooden “tiger chair” — chairs designed to immobilize suspects — hanging people from the ceiling, sexual violence, electrocutions, and waterboarding. Inmates were often forced to stay awake for days, and denied food and water, he said. “Everyone uses different methods. Some even use a wrecking bar, or iron chains with locks,” Jiang said. “Police would step on the suspect’s face and tell him to confess.”

Other means of torture included forcing other inmates to rape men and electric shocks on privates, that I won’t quote because of its brutality.

CNN reports that the whistleblower’s description match the statements of victims:

CNN cannot independently confirm Jiang’s claims, but multiple details of his recollections echo the experiences of two Uyghur victims CNN interviewed for this report. More than 50 former inmates of the camp system also provided testimony to Amnesty International for a 160-page report released in June, “‘Like We Were Enemies in a War’: China’s Mass Internment, Torture, and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang.”

The story includes the victims’ statements, who are identified:

“They put me in a tiger chair,” Bekali said. “They hung us up and beat us on the thigh, on the hips with wooden torches, with iron whips.” He said police tried to force him to confess to supporting terrorism, and he spent the following eight months in a series of internment camps. “When they put the chains on my legs the first time, I understood immediately I am coming to hell,” Bekali said. He said heavy chains were attached to prisoners’ hands and feet, forcing them to stay bent over, even when they were sleeping.

He said he lost around half his body weight during his time there, saying he “looked like a skeleton” when he emerged. “I survived from this psychological torture because I am a religious person,” Bekali said. “I would never have survived this without my faith. My faith for life, my passion for freedom kept me alive.”

His faith is precisely why the regime launched the pogrom. Nothing can come before loyalty to the State!

The genocide and human-rights atrocities against Uyghurs are systemic and ongoing. Of that, there can be no doubt. For example, BBC reported a similar story earlier this year. The question now is what will the world do about it.

Apparently, not much. John Kerry shamefully sniffed that fighting climate change has to be the priority.

Meanwhile, big business continues to profit mightily from doing business with China — which means winking at slave labor. And the U.S. has failed to begin the urgent process of uncoupling from China as a vital part of our supply chain for necessities such as medical equipment and computer components.

Good grief, we won’t even boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics! Can’t have our entertainment chain interrupted, don’t you know.

We are quickly reaching the point where maintaining the status quo becomes moral complicity.


Sadly, Our History Is for Sale

The Jefferson Monument in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

In this Law & Liberty essay, lawyer Mark Pulliam writes about the ways that leftists are taking over America’s history, specifically sites such as Jefferson’s home, Monticello and Madison’s home, Montpelier. His title reads, “Is History for Sale?” and the clear answer is yes. Wealthy “progressives” who want to show their superior virtue (the new conspicuous consumption) have put lots of money into “recontextualizing” those and other places.

Pulliam writes that, “My overall impression of Montpelier is that the juxtaposition of slavery and the life of James Madison was intended to tarnish his remarkable achievements while simultaneously promoting the cause of identity politics. The message seemed to be that the Founding Fathers were not heroes, but flawed men who preached about liberty and equality but failed to live up to those principles. Or, even worse, that Madison’s remarkable contributions were no greater than the toil of the enslaved people at Montpelier. This may be familiar grist in a college history class, but did tourists travel from across the country for such a scolding?”

And at Monticello, visitors find a lot of leftist propaganda by writers such as Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. Those books have nothing to do with Monticello, but they are part of the leftist project of besmirching America.

I like Pulliam’s conclusion: “Slavery happened in America, just as it had throughout recorded history, around the globe (and still exists in some places). It ended here following a bloody, costly Civil War, over 150 years ago. Must all of our Founding Fathers’ accomplishments be forever diminished — even negated — by a preoccupation with this unfortunate aspect of our history? The Founders’ ideals ultimately prevailed, a triumph that warrants celebration, not atonement. America is a great country, possibly the greatest of all time. Her story, fairly told, should instill a sense of pride, not grievance or self-hatred.”

What is the point of this? I think it is to pave the way for an even bigger government, charged with the impossible task of bringing about “equity.” The more people can be made to loathe America, the more they will support the statists who say that they can make everything fine, as long as they have unlimited power.

NR Webathon

NR’s Fall Webathon: Stand against the ‘Age of Conformity’

William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

On the first day of NR’s Fall Webathon, readers like you donated more than $21,000 to the cause of National Review’s conservative journalism. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

For 65 years, the Left has sneeringly claimed that this magazine is on its way out of business. Well, NR is still standing — thanks entirely to readers like you. And this year, we celebrate National Review Online’s 25th anniversary.

Twenty-five years of holding both the Left and the Right to account.

Twenty-five years of groundbreaking conservative commentary, complete with coverage of the stories you won’t see anywhere else.

Twenty-five years of holding firm against the cultural Zeitgeist, whether that was the Right’s slow drift toward surrendering to “comprehensive immigration reform” or today’s woke party line on the left.

Twenty-five years of mixing it up with all comers. Twenty-five years of testing ideas, rejecting the bad ones, and making the good ones better. Twenty-five years of Charlie Cooke and Kevin Williamson. Twenty-five years of Jim Geraghty and Kyle Smith. Twenty-five years of Andy McCarthy‘s insightful legal commentary and Jack Butler’s bad Dune takes.

Twenty-five years of building a community with you, our faithful readers.

If NR is a part of your life, I invite you to join that community by subscribing to NRPlus. Join it with a generous donation to the National Review webathon. Join it, and stand against the “age of conformity” in which — as the editors of this magazine wrote in NR’s 1955 mission statement — liberals keep trying to impose “radical social experimentation.”

Come hell or high water, we’ll keep fighting. But we would love to have your support.

Fiscal Policy

Debt Blame-Shifting from Democrats

United States Capitol Building (rarrarorro/Getty Images)

If you listen to the president, not only will $3.5 trillion cost nothing, but Republicans are obligated to raise the debt limit even though they don’t control Congress and don’t support new spending.

Two new graphics went up today on the president’s Twitter account. One shows the debt increase for President Trump at $7.8 trillion, while the debt increase under Biden is only $678 billion. The second shows that President Trump is responsible for 28 percent of the debt in American history, while Biden would be responsible for only 2 percent. “The reason we have to raise the debt limit is—in part—because of the reckless tax and spend policies of the last Administration,” the tweet says.

“In part” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.

First things first: Nobody is saying that Donald Trump was a fiscal conservative. Donald Trump wouldn’t say that Donald Trump was a fiscal conservative. He did add $7.8 trillion to the debt while he was president, more than any previous president, and $7.8 trillion is 28 percent of the total debt this country has accumulated. He ruled out reforming the driver of the debt — mandatory entitlement spending — on the campaign trail and kept that promise while in office (it’s significantly easier to keep your word when you promise to not make hard decisions).

Before Donald Trump, Barack Obama added more to the debt than any previous president, and George W. Bush added more to the debt than any president before him. Both parties have been spending like drunken sailors for quite some time.

But ask yourself: Would the debt be higher or lower today if Democrats controlled Congress and the White House the past four years?

Democrats consistently called for more spending than Republicans wanted throughout the Trump administration. As Brian Riedl wrote for NR Capital Matters in December last year, the Left tries to have it both ways with criticizing Republicans about the debt. We saw this happen during COVID. As Riedl wrote, “Many liberals demanded that Republicans shoot a $3 trillion bazooka at the COVID-19 recession last spring — and continue to demand trillions more — and then attack the ‘Republican deficits’ that result.”

That $3 trillion bazooka, the HEROES Act, was passed by the Democrat-controlled House and never voted on by the Republican-controlled Senate. Mitch McConnell was hectored by Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and every progressive activist group under the sun for his failure to bring the act to the floor for a vote. He stood firm, and the Senate passed a smaller package that President Trump signed into law.

During COVID, Republicans consistently wanted less spending than Democrats did, even with a Republican in the White House. Yes, Republicans spent a lot of money, but we know Democrats would have spent more. They passed legislation that said they would.

All of that history is a distraction from what’s going in the present. As Phil pointed out when this whole “costs nothing” nonsense started, we shouldn’t even believe Democrats’ claims that the spending is paid for. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation’s estimates, their revenue proposals are about $1.5 trillion short. They told us the bipartisan infrastructure deal would be paid for, but it came up short, too. Their reconciliation instructions allow for $1.75 trillion to be added to the debt.

Democrats want seven and a half times more stimulus to “build back better” from the COVID recession than the federal government provided after the much more severe Great Recession. That’s on them, and if they want to pass it, they can raise the debt limit to do so.

Science & Tech

The Machine Stops

Facebook logo on a smartphone screen. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

News of Facebook being down has reminded me of an excellent and eerily prophetic short story by E. M. Forster. Originally published in 1909, “The Machine Stops” imagines a future in which everyone exists, voluntarily, underground in little cells, rarely ever sees any other humans physically, communicates entirely via something like FaceTime and messaging apps, and has all of his needs tended to by the giant apparatus that oversees all these functions, simply referred to as The Machine. But one day, well . . . you can probably guess:

But there came a day when, without the slightest warning, without any previous hint of feebleness, the entire communication-system broke down, all over the world, and the world, as they understood it, ended.

Anyway, you can read the whole thing here. Since you might have time to now.

Politics & Policy

Don’t Let This Political Opportunity Go Down the Drain!

Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema speaks to supporters after officially winning the U.S. Senate race at the Omni Montelucia resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, November 12, 2018. (Caitlin O’Hara/Reuters)

Charlie, I’d like to think there would be broad public support for a political party that put a “Let People Use the Bathroom in Peace” plank in the party platform.

Politics & Policy

Kirsten Powers Grants the Mob Amnesty

(Panama7/Getty Images)

Kirsten Powers asks:

This isn’t a good question. We either have norms or we don’t. And if we only have norms when the press decides they count, then it doesn’t really matter what the justification for breaking them is; we’ve already conceded defeat.

Kirsten Powers thinks that deportation may be the line at which following politicians into bathrooms becomes okay. But here’s the problem: Once she’s agreed that such a line exists, she’s invited everyone else to come up with their own version. Everyone — yes, everyone — thinks that they have a good reason to break the rules. For some people it’s immigration, for some people it’s abortion, for some people it’s foreign policy. “Which is worse,” I might ask after a pro-life activist followed Susan Collins into a toilet, “tens of thousands of babies being murdered every year or being followed into a bathroom (bc you refused to stop and listen) by ppl desperate for your help?”

We really do have two options here. We can stand up for decorum in our system, or we can watch as it disappears. On January 6th, the rioters had their own, misguided question: “Which is worse: a stolen election or a riot by ppl desperate for your help?” They were utterly wrong on the facts, and their behavior was reprehensible. But that doesn’t change the fact that many of them believed that what they were hoping to achieve was more important than our political norms. She may not know it — indeed, she’d likely be horrified by it — but Kirsten Powers’s question is posed in exactly the same vein.

Where Are the Senators?

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Pool via Reuters)

Our Congress is not a parliament. It is composed of members who are elected from specific geographic regions (districts in the House and states in the Senate). The members are then supposed to represent their people’s interests in the national legislature.

The interests of the people that one member of Congress represents will often conflict with the interests of the people that another member of Congress represents. This is true even within the same party. Despite the increased nationalization of our politics, there are still differences between a New York Democrat and a California Democrat, or a Florida Republican and a


McAuliffe’s Position on Parental Rights Contradicts Virginia State Code

Then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe speaks to volunteers at the Remote Area Medical Clinic in Wise, Va., July 21, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

During last week’s Virginia gubernatorial debate, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe revealed his disdain for parental input into children’s education in the state’s public schools. Here’s the summary from NR’s editorial:

McAuliffe, a former governor of Virginia and longtime Democratic operative, issued this pronouncement after being asked whether “protections for transgender students” should be determined at the state level or in each school district.

Responding first to the question, Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin raised the issue of “school systems refusing to engage with parents,” offering the recent example of parents in Fairfax County, Va., who were unaware of sexually explicit content in books available to children at the school library.

“You believe school systems should tell children what to do,” Youngkin said to McAuliffe. “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.”

In response, McAuliffe said, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions,” adding, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Asked in a subsequent interview whether parents should have buy-in on a school’s curriculum, McAuliffe doubled down: “Listen, we have a board of ed working with the local school boards to determine the curriculum for our schools. You don’t want parents coming in in every different school jurisdiction saying, ‘This is what should be taught here’ and, ‘This is what should be taught here.’”

It turns out that, in addition to the several obvious issues with McAuliffe’s position, the former Virginia governor has also blatantly contradicted the state’s own code, section 1-240.1. of which enumerates the “rights of parents” as follows: “A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.”

Perhaps revising this section will be the Democrat’s first agenda item if he finds himself in office.


Replacement, I Mean, Replenishment Theory


There’s a very strange opinion piece at the Financial Times. Parah Khanna writes about the future of climate-driven immigration. Among other bizarre pronouncements about the future, there is this:

Today’s fiscally strained and depopulating Visegrad countries could fuse into a larger federation to better administer their vital forests, agriculture and rivers in order to prepare for demographic replenishment by Arabs and Asians.

I always find this odd. Why would people who take all that trouble to emigrate choose regions that are failing? Why would current governments try to improve resource management in their own lands, if they expect no share in what’s reaped from this investment?

But “replenishment” is a deft choice of words.

Politics & Policy

Biden: Being Filmed in the Bathroom by Activists ‘Happens to Everyone’

President Joe Biden answers questions from the media in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 24, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

On the homepage today, I take aim at that the indifferent manner in which the mainstream press has treated the news that a group of left-wing activists followed Kyrsten Sinema into a bathroom and filmed her. Lamenting the lack of condemnation, I write:

Where I come from, “avoiding” others while using the lavatory is standard procedure. Being followed into the lavatory by angry crowds is not.

One imagines that this might be more obvious if the politics were slightly different. If, instead of a left-winger berating a moderate Democrat in the loo, a right-winger had berated a moderate Republican, it would have been the biggest news of the year. Within minutes, the occurrence would have had a name — the “Arizona Attack,” perhaps. Within a day, it would have been deemed to be representative of everything that was wrong with the American Right — and with the United States itself. Within a week, we would have been drowning in breathless TV segments, tendentious op-eds, and mawkish lectures about the sanctity of democracy in America.

As if to prove my point, all Joe Biden would say today (while laughing) was that the incident was not “appropriate” but that “it happens to everyone”:

This is an astonishingly understated reaction — not only because Biden and his party have spent the last six months referring everything back to January 6th (which was, indeed, a national disgrace), but because Biden is talking here about a member of his own party. Thanks to his antics on Capitol Hill last Friday, the moderates in the Democratic party had already started to suspect that the president’s sympathies lay with the progressives. Now, having learned that he is unprepared to criticize the left of his party even when it films a sitting Senator in the toilet, they must be sure of it.

In and of itself, Biden’s stance is outrageous. As was the case under Trump, presidents have a responsibility to call out bad behavior when they see it. But it’s also politically baffling, given that he needs Sinema’s vote to pass even a watered down version of his agenda, and that he still needs to earn her trust. Had the president played this a little smarter, he could have condemned the intrusion at ASU as the indignity that it was without conceding a single one of the policy goals that are currently under dispute. Instead, he shrugged his shoulders. Absurd.

Politics & Policy

Evan McMullin Confirms He’s a Fraud

Third party candidate Evan McMullin, an independent, talks to the press as he campaigns in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 12, 2016. (George Frey/Reuters)

In 2016, a small number of conservatives, desperate for an alternative to Donald Trump, cast their protest vote for independent candidate Evan McMullin. Yet, even with the benefit of running against two highly flawed candidates — and fawning widespread media attention — the former CIA operations officer and investment banker came in far behind even Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

Now, if sanctimonious posturing was our only political currency, McMullin would be in his second term right now. But as it goes, he has, like many professional Never Trumpers, turned on some of the most basic, long-held conservative positions simply because Trump or his fans supported them. He is as unserious and unprincipled as any partisan MAGA supporter he decried in 2016.

If there was any doubt, McMullin has announced he’s challenging one of the most traditionally conservative, non-Trumpy senators in Washington, D.C., Mike Lee of Utah. Lee won his state by 61.6 percent in 2010 and 68.2 percent in 2016. I’m no expert on Utah politics, but if McMullin, who won 21 percent of Utah’s votes in 2016, believes he can really knock off Lee by bringing together Democrats and independents, he’s targeting one of our most Constitution-conscious senators. If not, he is, like last time, running another profitable vanity project, rather than targeting a House race, which would be a task far more compatible with his limited skill set. Either way, he’s turned out to be a fraud.

Health Care

A Theory on Juvenile COVID Vaccines

A student wearing a protective mask, attends class on the first day of school, amid the coronavirus pandemic in Florida, August 18, 2021. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Dr. Fauci is out there implying that you should wear masks around your children until they can get vaccinated. That’s interesting. The U.S. is notable for our rush toward vaccinating five to twelve year olds.

Countries such as Denmark have given up all restrictions on public life because they have achieved, through voluntary means, a vaccination rate it deemed sufficient to end the public-health emergency of COVID. They vaccinated 12-15 year olds and there is no rush to go lower. Spain also approved a vaccine for 12-19 year olds. France, 12-17 year olds. But Germany only recommended vaccinating 12-15 year olds with underlying health conditions. The U.K.’s joint committee on vaccination and immunization recommended against a COVID vaccines to 12-15 year olds universally, again, offering them only to the immunocompromised. They’ve now expanded that to offer, on a voluntary basis, a single Pfizer shot to 12-15 year olds. In Norway only one dose is offered to young teenagers. In Sweden vaccines are only recommended for 12-15 year olds who have “lung disease, severe asthma or another high-risk medical condition.”

Yet, everyone who is enthusiastic about our public-health leaders is confident that approval will come for a full vaccine regime for children ages 5-12 in the United States. I think they are right, and I think so because there is such a strong demand for it. But, looking at all these peer nations, I can’t help but wonder if the demand in the United States for juvenile vaccinations is driven by the fact that the United States is a global outlier for the non-pharmaceutical impositions we’ve placed on childhood during the COVID era. We closed schools more and for longer. We mask children more and we mask them younger than virtually anywhere else in the world, and far beyond the recommendations made by the World Health Organization.

It is, I think — but of course cannot prove — that the demand for COVID vaccinations of young children in the United States was induced and partly created by our unusual persistence in treating children as if they were in more danger than they are. Our mask guidance for kids is the strictest in the world. So our demand for vaccines is highest. My theory is that we’re holding our own kids hostage.

Politics & Policy

How Dare Kyrsten Sinema Lock the Door to Her Stall While Getting Harassed by Left-Wing Activists

Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) leaves a meeting without taking questions from reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 30, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

So some snot-nosed goons followed Kyrsten Sinema into an ASU bathroom to harangue her about the reconciliation bill and this is the Daily Beast headline: “Sinema Locks Door to Bathroom Stall as Protesters Demand Answers”

Of course, people usually lock their bathroom stalls when using the bathroom, both for privacy and as a courtesy to others. This is even more natural to do when people are filming and harassing you while you are using the bathroom. That the Daily Beast thinks this is part of the story shows colossal poor judgment, distorted by ideological fanaticism and a lack of basic decency.

The tweet was worse, making it sound like Sinema locked herself in the bathroom to avoid the activists, when there was no door to the bathroom itself and she only locked the stall the way most people always do.


What a loathsome performance.

Politics & Policy

How Bad Are Public Schools Today?


They are saturated with “progressive” activists who are using school to indoctrinate students into their CRT/BLM beliefs. Anyone who opposes them will be subjected to harassment. If you doubt that, read this Legal Insurrection article by Ramona Bessinger, a teacher in Rhode Island.

Here’s a key paragraph: “Everything in school now is about race. During orientation, teacher professional development included a”privilege walk,” in which teachers were requested to talk about our personal bias, to share our personal trauma, and to connect with children on their personal trauma. Much of the bias focus was on race. I declined to participate in the voluntary privilege walk, but observed it. We also were told to be surrogate parents to our students, given lesson plans on Malcolm X, and that discussions around justifiable violence towards white people should be taught to children of color.”

Public schools were bad enough before, when the silly educational fads made them about, as Heather Mac Donald has written, “anything but knowledge.” Now they are worse. They still don’t teach knowledge, but insist on teaching hate-filled propaganda. What good will the students be to anyone with their heads filled with divisive ideas?

Read the whole article.


I’m Sorry, a Wild Card Game Is Not October 2, 1978 (Blessed Be That Day)


The Yankees yesterday eked into a wild-card game with the Red Sox at Fenway tomorrow night. I readily admit a one-and-done between these two teams at Fenway is a lot of fun, and it’s naturally drawn comparisons to 1978:

But this is a very different context. Back then, a one-game playoff was a truly exceptional event, the first in the AL since 1948. Both the Yankees and Red Sox were two very good, 99-win teams that had won the pennant between them the prior three seasons. The path to getting to the playoff itself was utterly amazing, not just the Yankee comeback from 14 games back, but the off-the-mat surge by the Red Sox at the end of the season to get the tie.

And, of course, the playoff itself was one of the best games in baseball history.

Here, we are talking about two flawed teams that tied for the consolation prize and are clearly inferior to the first-place Rays.

All that said, may tomorrow night be hugely entertaining and may, of course, the Yankees emerge victorious.

Politics & Policy

Did the Historians Ignite Joe Biden’s Appetite for Big Risks?

President Joe Biden gives a statement about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 24, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

We will see how the seemingly endless vote-wrangling on Capitol Hill shakes out for President Biden and the Democratic Party. I think a failure to find enough votes in the House and Senate to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and the “Build Back Better” legislation would panic Democrats so much, that they are likely to quickly unify around some sort of face-saving smaller-scale version of these bills. But the president’s visit to Capitol Hill on Friday turned out particularly odd, with Biden effectively telling House Democrats not to vote for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework until there was a deal on the other legislation, effectively “whipping against his own bill.”

Why would Biden not take the half-a-loaf that was on the table, and effectively go for double or nothing? I wonder if Biden’s early March meeting with Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jon Meacham, and other historians, discussing Biden’s potential to be an transformative, era-defining president, stirred up Biden’s ambitions and/or delusions of grandeur. Axios reported, “They talked a lot about the elasticity of presidential power, and the limits of going bigger or faster than the public might anticipate or stomach.”

Passing and enacting a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal would be, in the eyes of Democrats and presidential historians, a nice accomplishment. But passing and enacting a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal and a $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” legislation would permanently expand the cost, size, and scope of the federal government in American life – along with flood the economy with $4.7 trillion in new spending over the coming years.

But the problem is, not every Democrat in the House and Senate was elected with a mandate to permanently expand the cost, size, and scope of the federal government in American life. Some were elected because they weren’t the party of President Trump. Opposing Trump was the only thing every Democrat could agree upon in 2020. And if Democratic primary voters had really wanted a president with ambitions like these, they could just as easily have voted to nominate Bernie Sanders.

But Biden wants to be remembered as a transformative president. Well, so far he’s managed to transform his once-high job approval rating.


Coup Talk


In an influential recent article, Robert Kagan wrote that “Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year.” No, he didn’t, I reply at Bloomberg Opinion:

No Republican state legislature sought to overturn the verdict of the voters. There were no dueling electors. The courts were all but unanimous in dismissing Trump’s legal challenges. Vice President Mike Pence rejected the lawless course that Trump and his associates were pushing: that he should throw out the electors from seven states that went for Biden.

It would have been another blow to the health of the American political culture if he had gone along. But even in that case, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would have presumably called an end to the farce by suspending the joint session of Congress. Trump would not have stayed in power after Jan. 20.

To say that Trump’s effort to reverse the election results was doomed to failure isn’t revisionism. It’s what his opponents were rightly saying through much of the period between the election and the end of his term. . . .

The false claim that Trump nearly succeeded is being used to justify sweeping legislative changes to our political system. The smaller-bore changes that his post-election campaign suggest we actually need are, meanwhile, being ignored. For more on that, check out the column.

NR Webathon

‘25 Years of Blowing the Whistle on Immigration B.S.’


It is, amazingly enough, the 25th anniversary of NRO. We’re up with a webathon around this epochal event, and I have the first entry on how we’ve been on the ramparts on immigrant lo this quarter of a century:

Yes, indeed, it’s been a quarter century of exceptional writing, exacting argumentation, memorable wit, intramural debate, and unremitting opposition to and merciless mockery of stupid and noxious ideas.

It’s the latter I was thinking about the other day when we were publishing wall-to-wall coverage of the debacle at Del Rio.

Haven’t we been here before, I asked myself? (It was, I readily admit, a rhetorical question.)

The answer, of course, is that we have, over and over.

There are many things that we have been consistent about here for the past 25 years, whether it’s abortion, guns, family, government spending, or our constitutional order.

But immigration is right up there. We have been a reliable and sometimes lonely voice of reason on this issue for a very long time, which is one reason I’d like to ask that you support our 25th-anniversary webathon.

Health Care

Can Employers Punish Employees If Spouses Aren’t Vaccinated?

A woman receives a COVID-19 booster vaccine in Derby, England, September 20, 2021. (Carl Recine/Reuters)

How much power do we want to give employers?

First, President Biden pushed employers to force employees to receive a medical intervention, i.e., a COVID vaccine. Even before the new rule has been promulgated, many companies are now imposing the requirement and firing employees who disobey.

Now, at least one employer is going a further step to fine workers if their spouses aren’t vaccinated. From the Daily Mail story:

Louisiana‘s largest health system is ratcheting up the pressure to get people vaccinated against COVID-19 and will start fining employees hundreds of dollars each month if they are married to someone who is unvaccinated.

Ochsner Health has told its workers it will charge them a monthly premium of $200 if a spouse or domestic partner covered under an Ochsner health plan have not been vaccinated.

Ochsner has said all employees must be vaccinated by October 29 to keep their jobs.

Wait just a darn second. What could allow such an intrusive approach?

President and CEO Warner Thomas said the surcharge for unvaccinated spouses and partners is part of an effort to keep health premiums low for employees. As a self-insured organization, Ochsner bears the cost of COVID treatment for patients who are on its insurance plan. Unvaccinated people account for the vast majority of the health system’s COVID patients.

‘The reality is the cost of treating COVID-19, particularly for patients requiring intensive inpatient care, is expensive, and we spent more than $9 million on COVID care for those who are covered on our health plans over the last year,’ Thomas said in a statement.

The COVID vaccine fee for spouses will begin in 2022 and could deduct up to $2,400 yearly from the employee’s paycheck.

Usually, the Affordable Care Act would preclude such a course as it prohibits most underwriting. But self-insurers have different rules, so this might be legal — although the amount charged seems arbitrary rather than based on a careful analysis of data.

On one hand, I understand the concern. But is it about controlling costs, or about controlling behavior?

Ochsner’s innovative approach to vaccines raises important liberty issues: How intrusive into the privacy of workers’ families should a self-insured employer have the right to be? How far will we allow a self-insured employer to punish workers because of the health decisions of covered family members? For example, should Ochsner impose a further surcharge if children aren’t vaccinated — even though youngsters have very little risk of serious illness from COVID? And should surcharges be allowed also with regard to other life choices that can add significantly to health-care costs such as obesity and promiscuity? After all, once a precedent is set. . . .

Adding a health surcharge raises an even more overarching worry. The Biden administration has readily used COVID as the pretext to empower private-sector coercion to gain our compliance with government-desired policies. That’s a prescription for corporatocracy that allows control without engaging democratic processes or overcoming the impediment of constitutional checks and balances.

Thus, don’t be surprised if President Biden signs an emergency order allowing health-insurance companies to underwrite for COVID (and other) vaccines under the Affordable Care Act as they now can for smoking. The technocracy likes such sledge-hammer approaches. It’s so much more efficient than persuasion.


Should the Faculty Really Control Tenure?


If you listen to most professors (those who have tenure, anyway), the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”

They regard themselves as the “talent” of the operation and therefore entitled to choose all the new talent. Outsiders, especially trustees, ought to sit quietly by and let the experts do their thing.

But does that serve the interests of the college or university best? In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson argues that it does not. She quotes Duke professor Michael Munger, who observes that, “The faculty gain nothing from improvements, and they lose nothing from mistakes, since costs are being paid by the endowment, and by the diligent and selfless efforts of the trustees and the president.”

Perhaps the worst problem with faculty control, Robinson points out, is that the existing faculty members usually want the new faculty to be intellectual replicas of themselves. Thus, academic departments suffer from groupthink, but the professors don’t see that as a problem. The cost of academic monoculture is borne by the school as a whole, not themselves.

Robinson maintains that governing boards should move to reestablish their authority over tenure for the good of the institution. She concludes, “The recent controversy surrounding Nikole Hannah-Jones presents a unique opportunity to examine tenure processes, practices, and criteria across the UNC System. The UNC Board of Governors should use this opportunity for meaningful reform to benefit students, North Carolina citizens, and the university as a whole.”

Law & the Courts

Supremes Start with Sentencing Case

The Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Supreme Court begins its term today, with in-person arguments sans Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is COVID-positive (though we hope and expect he will appear in the flesh soon, since he is vaccinated and symptom-free). Among the cases up for argument on Day One is a sentencing issue under federal law. I mention it because it is relevant to the discussion of federal sentencing in an essay I wrote for the last issue of the magazine (“Fictions of the ‘Carceral State’”).

At issue in Wooden v. United States, as Daniel Harawa explains at SCOTUSblog, is the vexing question of what is meant by the word occasion.

In 2014, when James Wooden was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm, federal prosecutors charged him with being an armed career criminal under section 924(e)(1) — a penalty provision in the firearms part of the penal law (added in 1984). This prescribes a mandatory minimum 15-year sentence if the felon in question has three prior violent felony convictions “committed on occasions different from one another.”

Wooden has twelve prior convictions, all committed before 2006. There is an unresolved dispute over whether a 1989 aggravated assault qualifies as a violent felony, but a 2005 burglary conviction clearly does. What about the other ten? That’s what the Supremes have to sort out.

In 1997 Wooden burglarized a storage facility in which mini warehouses were situated. Wooden entered and stole from ten different mini warehouses and was convicted of a separate count of burglary as to each one.

So, did Wooden engage in one occasion of burglary that had ten related subparts? Or were there ten occasions of burglary since a) Wooden could not have been physically present in more than one mini warehouse at a time, so there was clearly some separate deliberation between each burglary, and b) consistent with that, he was convicted of ten separate crimes?

The answer is different depending on which Circuit is answering it — the Sixth Circuit says there are ten separate occasions, the Second Circuit says it’s one. The circuit split is why the Court took the case.

I’d note, as I did in the aforementioned essay, that there would have been no issue prior to the reforms of the 1980s. Before the enactment of the Sentencing Guidelines (also in 1984, though they didn’t go into effect until 1987), prosecutors could control sentencing exposure by breaking single factual occurrences into separate criminal counts, and judges could impose whatever sentence they saw fit as long as it was within the combined statutory maximum.

For example, a defendant who structured $50,000 in funds into five separate $9,999 deposits to avoid filling out reports (triggered at $10K) under the currency laws might be charged with five counts of money laundering, and the judge could combine those five counts and impose a sentence of up to 25 years (five years per count). By contrast, the sentencing guidelines would treat the case as one episode of money laundering in which $50,000 was structured, and the sentencing range would be more like twelve to 18 months.

As I read the law, I think the Sixth Circuit has the better of the argument. If a defendant sells a buyer two vials of crack, that is one drug sale, not two. But if a defendant robs a bank, then goes down the street and robs a second one, that’s two bank robberies, not one. On the facts here, it seems to me that separate mini warehouses are more like the latter than the former.

That said, you might wonder why, even if this was technically justifiable as an application of the career-criminal provision, why did the prosecutor invoke it on these facts? The answer is probably that the career-criminal provision provides no discretion. Congress said that if the conditions are met, the defendant “shall” be sentenced to the 15-year mandatory minimum. Prosecutors and courts occasionally abuse their discretion, which is why Congress enacted these mandatory provisions in an era of high crime. Here, though, a little room for discretion might have been prudent.