World

Message from Afghanistan: ‘Good Evening Sir. No Place Is Safe’

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Taliban forces patrol near the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, a day after U.S troops withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 31, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

A few updates from “Samaritan,” my reader who’s been trying to get his company’s former employees, including at least one green-card holder, out of Afghanistan.

His best bit of news is that he’s heard from another former employee, an Afghan engineer, who made it to the United States.

“He took the chance at Abbey Gate with his wife and children,” Samaritan reports. “They made it through because he was pending Special Immigrant Visa. Once the Marine guards confirmed his SIV status with the Department of State, they let him through. They flew them to Qatar, then Spain, and they now reside in Fort Dix in New Jersey awaiting resettlement. Once he got a SIM card for his cell phone, he pinged me with the good news. He hopes to make his way to Houston for work, and where there is a small but growing Afghan community.”

Samaritan also shared a fun memory from his time in Afghanistan. “When I worked there, I had more than a few Afghans ask me if I had a horse or if I was from the American West — I’m pretty sure they didn’t mean California. Some of it was driven by their fascination with the U.S. Special Forces horse soldiers who were the initial invasion force in October 2001. They were legendary among Afghans.”

But that’s about for the good news. His legal permanent resident “is still getting the run around from State on visa interviews for wife and children. There is still no system in place. It’s as if State has given up developing a reasonable alternative, and the only thing they have to offer is ‘come see us if you can.’”

Another one of Samaritan’s guys fled to Jalalabad, about 75 miles east of Kabul, with his family, to his parents’ home, concluding that Kabul had grown too dangerous. “Of course, over the weekend there were six bombings in Jalalabad (ISIS-K attacking Taliban fighters because the Taliban is too lenient). I asked him if he was safe.”

Samaritan showed me the text message: “Good evening sir. No place is safe. I am totally confused what to do and where to go. If I go to Kabul, I think someone can easily hunt us.”

Samaritan also sent me a recording of the phone message from the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, you receive a recorded message: “The consular section does not accept phone inquiries about non-immigrants, or immigrant visa cases, or policies. Inquiries are accepted through our web site. You can access our web site at Islamabad.usembassy.gov. We will repeat this address again at the end of this message. On our web site’s home page, click on visas and then select contact information’ on the drop-down menu.”

The problem is, there is nothing at the address, “Islamabad.usembassy.gov.” The web address for the U.S. embassy in Pakistan is https://pk.usembassy.gov/. (The drop-down menu on the visa page is also a little different from the phone message’s description.)

“We figured out the correct website and navigated to the webpages for servicing immigrant visas for my guy’s wife and children,” Samaritan says. “They have an active case pending through the closed Kabul embassy . . . but Islamabad embassy won’t handle his case because it hasn’t been transferred by the Kabul embassy. We been trying to reach the Kabul embassy to transfer the case to no avail. We will keep trying.”

Canada’s Liberal Party Lost the ‘Popular Vote’ Again, but Still Won — and That’s Fine

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Canadians wave as the Snowbirds aerobatics team fly past during Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada July 1, 2019. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

Herewith, your regularly scheduled reminder that when progressives complain about mismatches between the “popular vote” and the overall electoral outcome, they are really complaining about a core principle of Anglo-American democracy: localism.

Back in 2020, I noted that, despite having won fewer votes than the Conservative party overall, the Canadian Liberal party had won 36 more seats in parliament:

Take Canada, which is without question an “advanced democracy.” In 2019 — that’s last year — Justin Trudeau was elected as prime minister despite his party losing the “popular vote,” and despite not a single Canadian voter asking for him to fill the role. Wegman

Politics & Policy

It Might Not Just Be Manchin and Sinema Who Sense That Their Party Is Loony

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Left: Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.V.) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2021. Right: Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 4, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

When Democratic proposals begin to fail, Senators Sinema and Manchin tend to take all the heat. But that doesn’t mean they’re actually alone in their opposition. Indeed, as we’ve now seen with both the minimum wage and the filibuster, their reluctance is often a warning sign that there are other Democrats who do not want to get aboard, but do not want to say so quite yet.

This morning, Politico reports that:

It’s unclear exactly how many Democrats are siding with prominent House and Senate moderates. One centrist Democrat up for reelection next year, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), declined to say whether she’s comfortable with the $3.5 trillion spending number on Monday, or whether she agrees with pausing the legislation.

The 2022 midterms are still a long way out, but at the moment Hassan is losing. And she knows it. Perhaps, when it comes to it, she won’t care. Perhaps she’ll be convinced that she can save herself by acquiescing to the binge. Perhaps she’ll end up voting for the whole thing, if she gets the chance, out of blind loyalty to her party.

But perhaps she won’t. And, at the very least, the fact that she won’t answer questions suggests that this is not a position she especially wants to be in.

The same Politico piece notes that:

Democrats close to the centrists say progressives are vastly overplaying their hand. A group of five to 10 House moderates have signaled to leadership that they would be willing to let the infrastructure bill fail rather than be held hostage by liberals over the broader spending bill. It’s a more attractive alternative to them than having to vote for painful tax increases to pay for an unrestrained social safety net expansion, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

That this wasn’t obvious all along is astonishing to me. The Democrats’ plans are utterly absurd. They are extraordinary. They represent government malpractice of the highest order. Joe Manchin seems to know it. Kyrsten Sinema seems to sort of know it. The moderates in the House seem definitely to know it.

Does Senator Hassan? Do others?

History

Sean Wilentz Fires Back on the 1619 Project and the Climate of Anti-History

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Nikole Hannah-Jones interviewed on CBS This Morning, July 17, 2021. (CBS This Morning/via YouTube)

Sean Wilentz is a proud liberal and sometimes a hard-edged Democratic partisan. But he is also a distinguished Princeton University historian whose academic work is broadly respected across the political spectrum. That has not stopped some progressives from attacking his work for reasons more of politics than scholarship — specifically, for the sin of writing the book No Property in Man, which argues that the Constitution was shaped in good part by Founding-era resistance to empowering, entrenching, or even naming slavery. He has recently found himself in their crosshairs for his vocal criticism — along with that of other leading liberal historians — of aspects of the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project.

In a thoughtful but unsparing essay titled “The 1619 Project and Living in Truth” in the Czech historical journal Opera Historica, Wilentz has fired another salvo against the 1619 Project, its editor and lead essayist Nikole Hannah-Jones, Times Magazine editor in chief Jake Silverstein, and more broadly, the intellectual climate of “anti-racist” politics that produce warped history while intimidating serious scholars into silence. Wilentz is scathing on Hannah-Jones’s preposterous and unsupported claim, in the lead essay, that “one of the primary reasons” for the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence was American colonial fear that the British would restrict or abolish slavery:

I instantly wondered how anyone even lightly informed about the history of either slavery or the American Revolution, could write that sentence. Unfortunately, the ensuing explanation only made matters worse. The British, the essay claimed, had grown “deeply conflicted” over slavery, and the British government was facing rising calls to end the Atlantic slave trade – a reform that would have “upended” the entire colonial economy, not just in the South. For that reason – the essay mentioned no other – the American colonists, North and South, believed that the British posed a threat to slavery, an institution they desperately wanted to protect. Rather than run the risk of losing slavery, the colonists declared their independence. The Revolution was supposedly, at its core, a reactionary, proslavery struggle to fend off abolition of slavery by the British.

The paragraph covered subjects of unsurpassed importance and it was historical gibberish. As I would later confirm with the foremost scholars of the subject who know far more about the Revolution than I, there is no evidence of a single colonist expressing support for independence in order to protect slavery. The 1619 Project’s claims were based not on historical sources but on imputation and inventive mindreading. . . . At the time of the Revolution, there was considerably more in the way of anti-slavery politics in the colonies than in Britain proper. These are elementary facts.

***

It required no advanced knowledge of American history to understand the perversity of The 1619 Project’s lead essay’s treatment of the Revolution. If it were a high school history paper, that discussion alone would have been grounds for failure. It’s rare, after all, to read a student get every single stated fact perfectly wrong, in support of a proposition for which there is no other evidence cited, on two of the most important topics in all of U.S. history, indeed, all of modern history, the causes of the American Revolution and the origins of antislavery. But this wasn’t a high school paper, it was the New York Times Magazine, and the author was, according to her contributor’s biography, a highly acclaimed journalist. The essay may have been historically fallacious, but it was also inflammatory and attention-getting.

Wilentz notes that he believed, naïvely, that the Times Magazine would correct the record without much difficulty if approached by distinguished historians with the truth on their side. But, of course, that misunderstands both the narrative goals of the 1619 Project and the power of Hannah-Jones (backed by devotees of that narrative) within the Times organization, a subject Wilentz touches upon. That narrative, which is a classic of the critical race theory approach to history, needed the American Founding to be irredeemably corrupted by racism and slavery as its core purposes; thus, even though Hannah-Jones’s essay would read perfectly well without the discussion of the Revolution at all, it was intolerable to her and her aims to amend that conclusion. And her power in the organization meant that, if never admitting error on this point was important to her, it would be important to Silverstein, truth be damned. Critics were there to be silenced or dismissed, not engaged in respectful debate. Wilentz repeatedly reminds his Czech readers of parallels to this approach that they know only too well:

The style of such attacks on liberal dissenters to toe the ideological line would be depressingly familiar to anyone versed in the politics in Central or Eastern Europe since 1945, although the outcomes, obviously, were infinitely less grave. . . . Other historians are willing to overlook The 1619 Project’s errors in the name of the greater good it supposedly brings to historical study and teaching, as if those errors were minor and as if the objections no more than pedantic nit-picking delivered in bad faith. Again, the fellow traveling behind falsehood would be familiar to central and eastern Europeans. . . . Subordinating truth to the demands of justice cannot be just, and may be a big step toward creating injustice, even tyranny. You in the Czech Republic have had to learn that lesson the hard way, repeatedly, over many difficult decades. “Living in truth,” as Václav Havel described it, must be the basis for more than politics, including the study of history. It appears to be a lesson that many American historians, in far less onerous but still fragile and worrisome situations, must now learn for themselves.

National Security & Defense

Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson: A Lost War

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General H. R. McMaster and military historian Victor Davis Hanson are both senior fellows at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In this frank, no-holds-barred conversation, they discuss the United States’ mission in Afghanistan: how it began, how it was conducted, and its ignominious end. McMaster and Hanson debate what worked and what failed, how social issues in the United States may have influenced our mission in Afghanistan and our decision to leave, and whether the United States should have continued to maintain a presence instead of leaving in a matter of weeks, abandoning thousands of Afghans loyal to the U.S. mission there (as well as an unknown number of U.S. citizens) after 20 years of military operations in the country.

Recorded on September 17, 2021

Politics & Policy

A Modest Problem

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A sign at the entry to a beauty salon informs of mask requirements in Bronx N.Y., July 27, 2021. (David 'Dee' Delgado/Reuters)

In response to my piece on the hypocrisy of America’s celebrity class, I have received an emphatic e-mail instructing me to “shut up, and just wear a damn mask.”

I would simply point out that I’m not the only person implicated by this injunction. In particular, I don’t like the idea of my three-year-old having to wear a mask at school, on the grounds that it would prove impractical for him to spend such a long and unbroken period of time each day with his middle finger fully extended.

Politics & Policy

Senate Parliamentarian Says What We All Know to Be True

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United States Capitol Building (rarrarorro/Getty Images)

The Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled Sunday night (working on Sunday nights is the most parliamentarian thing ever) that Democrats’ proposed immigration changes could not be included in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.

There’s an instinct to be hesitant about an unelected parliamentarian being able to halt an elected legislature’s agenda through an internal decision announced on a Sunday night — except, that’s not what really happened here.

Democrats are using the budget-reconciliation process to evade the 60-vote threshold required to pass ordinary legislation in the Senate. According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on budget reconciliation:

The purpose of the reconciliation process is to enhance Congress’s ability to bring existing spending, revenue, and debt limit laws into compliance with current fiscal priorities and goals established in the annual budget resolution. In adopting a budget resolution, Congress is agreeing upon its budgetary goals for the upcoming fiscal year.

“Spending, revenue, and debt,” “fiscal,” “budget,” “budget,” “budgetary,” “fiscal” — the reconciliation process is about money. Now, most everything Congress does is at some point about money, and one can argue that completely unrelated policy areas — such as, say, immigration — are budgetary issues. That’s why there’s another rule about what counts as budgetary, called the Byrd rule.

The Byrd rule, named for Senator Robert Byrd, defines what is extraneous to budget reconciliation. According to a CRS report on the Byrd rule, a measure is extraneous if it falls under one or more of six definitions. One of them: The measure “produces a change in outlays or revenues which is merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision.”

A change to immigration law clearly falls under that definition. MacDonough said as much in her decision: “The policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation.”

Democrats are sore about this because Republicans in 2017 were able to pass their flagship legislative achievement, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), through reconciliation. It seems unfair, then, that they can’t do the same. The problem is that the Republicans’ legislative agenda in 2017 was to cut taxes. Agree or disagree (and there’s plenty in the TCJA that wasn’t perfect), taxes are clearly a fiscal issue. Immigration is not.

The Byrd rule isn’t some strange, rarely used part of the Senate rules, either. According to the CRS report on the Byrd rule:

The Byrd rule has been in effect during Senate consideration of 22 reconciliation measures from late 1985 through the present. Actions were taken under the Byrd rule in the case of 18 of the 22 measures.

MacDonough was not doing anything extraordinary or unexpected by ruling that immigration changes can’t be included in reconciliation. She was merely interpreting a well-known, agreed-upon rule in an obvious way in response to Democrats trying to do something that was clearly in violation of that rule.

It’s roughly the equivalent of a basketball referee preventing a basketball team from putting eleven players on the floor at once. The rules say each team gets five players, we all know each team gets five players, and the referee is not the bad guy for pointing out that each team gets five players.

Sports

San Francisco Runners Made to Mask While Their Mayor’s ‘Spirit’ Parties Maskless

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San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks during a rally against the death of George Floyd, in San Francisco, Calif., June 1, 2020. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Charlie aptly took San Francisco mayor London Breed to task for her mask-mandate hypocrisy. Caught maskless in a nightclub last Thursday without a mask on, Breed responded to critics who claimed she had violated the city’s own indoor-mask mandate for such settings by saying “we don’t need the fun police to come in and micromanage and tell us what we should or shouldn’t be doing.” That would be defensible — if she were not, at the same time, continuing to enforce and promote San Francisco’s indoor-mask mandate for such settings. If this is how Breed feels, then there’s no reason to maintain such an order, and she should work to undo it.

Breed added that she was caught up in the “spirit” of her evening out and “wasn’t thinking about a mask.” Over this past weekend, several thousand other people in the city participated in an activity it’s also easy to get caught up in the spirit of (as I can personally attest): running. They had assembled for the San Francisco Marathon. But thanks to August regulations issued by the National Park Service, mask-wearing was mandated for large portions of the course:

Participants in four races must wear masks on some portions of the course, race officials announced in updates to the race’s health protocols over the last two weeks. Stretches of Sunday’s marathon, half marathon and 10K races, as well as all of Saturday’s 5K, are in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area run by the National Park Service, and the agency announced last month masks are required indoors and in “crowded outdoor spaces” on park property amid the COVID-19 delta variant‘s nationwide spread.

Runners who don’t wear masks could be fined by the National Park Service or face disqualification, race officials said. The National Park Service has said visitors who violate the mask requirement on its properties “may be subject to citations as appropriate.”

Julian Espinoza, Public Affairs Specialist with Golden Gate National Recreation Area, told KCBS Radio in an email that the event organizers are responsible for mask enforcement.

Kyle Meyers, Production Director for the San Francisco Marathon, told KCBS Radio’s

Eric Brooks runners won’t immediately be pulled from the course, but they could be disqualified if officials get word they weren’t wearing a mask.

Given that I learned about this only after the fact, it’s too late for me to complain about it constructively. But it’s worth noting for its absurdity nonetheless. I’m glad that the San Francisco Marathon actually happened, at least. Yet I cannot get past the ridiculousness of requiring masks for some portions of the marathon and the other races run on the same day. The idea that the outside world is somehow dangerous is one of the most unfortunate consequences of coronavirus, and also among the most dangerous in the long term. It has, among other things, given many people the idea that they are better off remaining indoors and secluded, increasing our detachment from the real world, and physically inactive, thereby contributing to our growing obesity epidemic.

The people who signed up for the San Francisco Marathon are obviously not among their number, and they are to be commended for that. But it remains absolute nonsense to inflict on them a precaution that simply does not make sense, and that is completely out of whack with everything we know about outdoor transmission of coronavirus (it is virtually impossible). I don’t blame the race organizers for complying with these silly rules; I blame the rules themselves, which both reflect and contribute to a collective neurosis that the unexposed human face simply cannot exist publicly anywhere ever again, and that one’s fellow human beings, even in a race setting, are not compatriots or even competitors but rather walking vectors of disease.

San Francisco’s own mayor selectively flouts this mindset, to which she has contributed and which she enforces in the law, when it benefits her own pleasure-seeking. Meanwhile, in the same city, thousands engage in organized strenuous physical activity with the pointless obstruction of a face mask. It is yet another example of the ongoing and nightmarish perversity of mask mandates as they exist in many places today.

Fiscal Policy

Who’s Rich Enough to Pay Higher Tax Rates, According to Democrats?

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) participate in a “No Climate, No Deal” demonstration outside the White House in Washington, DC, June 28, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Federal tax rates on income have risen four times in the last 35 years.

In 1990, a Democratic Congress enacted a tax increase on married couples making more than $82,000, which works out to $176,000 in today’s dollars.

In 1993, another Democratic Congress enacted a tax increase on married couples making more than $140,000, or $268,000 in today’s dollars.

In 2010, a Democratic Congress raised taxes on married couples making more than $250,000, or $316,000 today.

In 2013, Democrats sought to raise taxes on married couples making more than $250,000 but settled in a split Congress for an increase on couples making more than $450,000, or $535,000 today.

Today, Democrats are proposing to increase income-tax rates on couples making more than $450,000.

This history is part of the context of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s infamous “TAX THE RICH” dress. Over time, as the Democratic Party’s coalition has grown more affluent (and more concentrated in high-cost areas), the line between middle-class households who need to be protected from higher tax rates and rich people who should pay them keeps inching higher. The congresswoman herself denies that she means to include doctors in her category of rich people. Their median pay in 2020 was $208,000. “Physician” is the most common job held by people in the top 1 percent of income.

Monetary Policy

Biden’s Far-Left Treasury Department Nominee

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on actions to protect voting rights in a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pa., July 13, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

In July, President Biden nominated Graham Steele for assistant secretary of the Treasury for financial institutions. Steele will be in front of the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow for his nomination hearing.

If confirmed, Steele would head the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Institutions (OFI). The OFI coordinates policy on financial regulation and also oversees federal initiatives on financial education and cybersecurity.

Steele is no moderate Democrat when it comes to financial issues. From 2010 to 2015, he worked for Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, whose Rust-Belt-moderate image doesn’t align with his radical policy views. (Brown is the current chair of the Senate Banking Committee.) Steele’s nomination earned a glowing endorsement from Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, whose idea of financial regulation often treats the rule of law as an afterthought when it conflicts with progressive policy goals.

In an op-ed from September 2019, Steele argued that “remaking the financial system does not need new laws” since Congress has delegated so much power to the executive branch. He wrote, “A new presidential administration needs to use that authority to go big and change the fundamental structure of Wall Street.” Some of his ideas in that piece include forced divestment of fossil fuels and pursuing an “economic and racial justice agenda” through federal consumer-protection agencies.

Steele also has plenty of old tweets that could get him in trouble. It’s clear that the modern Democratic Party just isn’t far left enough for him. He deleted a bunch of tweets criticizing now-President Biden from when he was a Warren supporter. In one he said, “This primary is fundamentally a choice about whether we want leaders who want to wield power, or if we want leaders who will defer to conservatives and wealthy elites,” suggesting he believes Biden is the latter. Another said that Biden “does not appear to have any actual plan for dealing with Wall Street.” During the spat between Democratic House leadership and “the Squad” in July 2019, Steele sided with the progressives, saying that House leadership was “attacking the progressive base that is the most vibrant part of their own party right now.” He also quote-tweeted a story about Representative Don Beyer (D., Va.) supporting the re-nomination of Jerome Powell as Fed chairman, saying that “it would be a huge missed opportunity to re-appoint a conservative white male as Fed chair.”

His opinion of Republicans is far lower. He referred to a Republican proposal on unemployment insurance as “absolutely villainous” in a tweet, going on to say that “a consistent theme of GOP bargaining since at least 2009 has been a willingness to create leverage by threatening to cause completely unjustified pain to millions of people.” Believing that one’s political opponents are consistently motivated by a desire to cause pain to other people is not a mark of level-headedness.

In his September 2019 op-ed, Steele repeated the maxim that “personnel is policy.” He’s right about that. Nominations like Steele’s have been part of a larger progressive strategy to fill Biden’s administration with appointees far to the left of most Democrats, let alone the American people. We may have avoided a President Elizabeth Warren, but filling the executive branch with her devotees is no better.

Culture

‘Are Women Still Human?’

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Pro-choice activists at a “Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action” rally hosted by the Tennessee chapter of Planned Parenthood in Memphis, Tenn., May 21, 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

Over at Public Discourse today, my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Carl Trueman and I have written an essay examining the philosophical anthropology undergirding the feminist argument for legal abortion. When we discuss personhood in the context of abortion, we most often focus on the personhood of the unborn human being, whose identity determines whether abortion is similar to getting a tooth pulled or is in fact a form of killing.

But the abortion question also intimately involves a second person: the unborn child’s mother. And it is the modern feminist movement’s view of the pregnant mother — of women — that leads to the demand for an unlimited right to abortion. Here’s more from our piece:

If we are to believe those who defend a right to abortion, it is nothing less than the power to end the life of her unborn child that guarantees a woman her humanity—that is, the autonomy befitting her status as man’s equal.

The morality of a society is part of a shared way of imagining the world, held in common by members of said society. For abortion to be plausible, let alone acceptable, a society must hold certain ideas intuitively. One is the idea that a woman must have control, specifically sexual and reproductive control, over her own body. Most legal-abortion proponents defend their position in the language of women’s rights, arguing that, without legal abortion, women would be unable to control their bodies. This argument indicates a deeper, often unstated assumption: that sexual activity is the normative way in which human beings find fulfillment. . . .

Defending legal abortion as a necessary means by which women can control their reproductive decisions requires assuming that unlimited, consequence-free sex is a prerequisite for human freedom and flourishing. Both contraception and abortion are necessary, in this view, because they enable women either to avoid or to destroy the natural consequences of sexual activity; controlling one’s reproduction by avoiding the act that leads to conception isn’t so much as considered. What is billed as “reproductive control” is in fact merely the ability to pursue sexual gratification and dispose of the consequences.

Defending legal abortion on the grounds of “reproductive autonomy” is close to impossible, and in fact makes no sense at all, unless you take as a premise that unlimited, consequence-free sex is something akin to a human right. Once you assume this to be true, the facts of female biology become nothing short of tyrannical, as second-wave feminist thinkers put it. It is in response to this  thinking that feminists began to demand contraception and abortion, technology that, in their view, enables women to participate in sex with the same “freedom” that men have. But as we point out, it’s a very impoverished freedom, indeed.

Elections

Washington Post Poll: No Backlash against Youngkin Due to Texas’s Abortion Law 

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Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks during a campaign event in McLean, Va., July 14, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

On September 2, when the Supreme Court declined to block enforcement of Texas’s law that prohibits almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (about six weeks into pregnancy), many political reporters and pundits speculated that the Texas law could prompt a backlash against Republicans nationwide.

“Abortion becomes a ‘huge motivator’ in governor races,” read the headline at Politico:

“It will be a huge motivator for individuals to come out and vote,” Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor who is running again, said in an interview. He repeatedly described himself as a “brick wall” on women’s rights. . . .

Earlier this week, McAuliffe launched a new TV ad attacking Glenn Youngkin, his Republican opponent, featuring a doctor who said Youngkin had a “far-right agenda” on abortion. AdImpact, a political ad tracking service, reported over $92,000 in spending on the ad since it launched on Tuesday, airing over 200 times across the state in two days. The ad, along with an older second ad also attacking Youngkin on abortion, accounted for 50 percent of the campaign’s total airings in that timeframe, including primetime spots like during ABC’s “Bachelor in Paradise.”

But two new polls show there hasn’t yet been a backlash against the only Republican running in a competitive gubernatorial election this year.

A Washington Post poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race, which was conducted from September 7 to September 13, found Republican Glenn Youngkin trailing Democrat Terry McAuliffe by just three percentage points — 47 percent to 50 percent — among likely voters. Among registered voters, Youngkin trailed McAuliffe 43 percent to 49 percent. Another poll of the race conducted by Emerson from September 13 to 14 found McAuliffe leading Youngkin 49 percent to 45 percent among likely voters.

In Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam won the 2018 gubernatorial election by nine points, and Joe Biden carried the state by ten points in 2020. 

So, McAuliffe is still favored in 2021, but there doesn’t yet appear to be any significant voter backlash against Republicans in Virginia due to the issue of abortion. There was wall-to-wall media coverage of the Texas law from September 2 until September 10 (when President Biden’s vaccine mandate became the top national news story), but the Virginia race remains close according to the Emerson and Washington Post polls.

At last week’s gubernatorial debate, McAuliffe tried to put the issues of abortion and vaccine mandates front and center. Youngkin said at the debate he would not sign a version of the Texas abortion law, and he dodged a question about whether he would ever be willing to sign a law banning most abortions after six weeks, but he did say he would sign a bill that would protect the lives of babies capable of feeling pain. McAuliffe, meanwhile, admitted that he would sign a radical late-term abortion bill sponsored by Virginia delegate Kathy Tran.

Who Created the Incentive to Play the Victim?

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questions Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, July 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Maureen Dowd almost gets it. In Sunday’s column, Dowd picked up on a pattern in recent news events:

  • Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, a now-defunct health technology company, is now on trial for nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She intends to play the victim and say she was driven to commit fraud on a massive scale because of “a decade-long campaign of psychological abuse” perpetuated by her former boyfriend and business partner.
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to criticism of her wearing a designer dress while freely attending a $30,000-per-head opulent gala that is

U.S.

2021, 1793, and Other Years

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Statue of Verdi, Verdi Square, New York City (Jay Nordlinger)

That man up there is Giuseppe Verdi. At least that is a statue of him, in New York’s Verdi Square. I bring up this square in a piece today, here: “New York Stories: On the rise and fall — and rise again? — of a city.”

Let me quote, please:

Outside my window, I’m looking at Verdi Square and Sherman Square, which are in the general area of 72nd and Broadway. These squares, together, were once known as “Needle Park.” In 1971, there was a movie, The Panic in Needle Park, starring Al Pacino.

By the time I got here, “Needle Park” was heavenly — no needle park at all. The biggest danger was being bumped by a baby stroller, pushed by a happy young mom (or her nanny).

And now? Not bad; not good. Anyway, no matter where you live, you might find this piece on New York interesting.

Let’s have some reader mail. An Impromptus column last week contained the following item:

In the 1980s, a lot of people referred to AIDS as the “first political disease,” or “politicized disease.” People also said, “AIDS is the first disease to double as a civil-rights issue.” I wonder: Have the politics around any disease been as fierce as those around the current pandemic?

The answer, says Randall B. Clark, is “an emphatic yes”: the politics around the yellow-fever epidemic of 1793.

The onset of yellow fever that year was more intense than previous epidemics and arrived at the same time as refugees from the slave revolt on Santo Domingo — and also some rotting coffee beans on a Philadelphia quay.

Federalists, such as Hamilton and Knox, hypothesized a connection between, on one hand, émigrés and beans, and, on the other, yellow fever. Republicans, such as Rush, postulated the illness’s origin in American indolence. Political prescriptions followed: Federalists took a gentle “tonic,” while Republicans bled themselves. Soft medicine for those who thought themselves (and the citizenry) blameless; harsh treatment for those in need of virtue.

I wrote about this at length in a law-review article that ended my scholarly career: Bleedings, Purges, and Vomits: Dr. Benjamin Rush’s Republican Medicine, the Bilious Remitting Yellow-Fever Epidemic of 1793, and the Non-Origin of the Law of Informed Consent.

Mr. Clark’s paper can be found here.

One more e-mail? A quickie? From that wit and sage Dave Taggart, in Calhoun, Ga.? In another Impromptus of last week, I discussed Bess Myerson, who was Miss America 1945. (She was a significant winner, too.) Dave writes,

I miss when Miss America and the Heavy Weight Champ mattered.

Now I know how my father felt when he talked about listening to Little Orphan Annie and Jack Armstrong on the radio.

Yes. The full title of that second show, by the way, was “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.”

Politics & Policy

Essays for Autumn

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Fall is here, and with it today the Fall 2021 issue of National Affairs. Among the essays in this issue:

  • Daron Shaw and John Petrocik show that high voter turnout doesn’t favor the Democrats
  • Judge Glock on what our measures of partisan polarization miss
  • Robert Cherry on lessons in policing from this violent year
  • Tom Miller on what has become of Obamacare
  • Mary Ann Glendon and Carter Snead make the case for overturning Roe
  • Avik Roy on bitcoin and federal finances
  • Eli Lehrer on how to govern virtual spaces
  • Ilya Somin on the power of voting with your feet
  • David McCormick and Jared Cohen on federalism and national power
  • Alex Bozmoski and Nate Hochman on conservatives and climate policy
  • Andrew Taylor on the expert in American life
  • F. H. Buckley sketches the next Republican Party
  • Brad Littlejohn on the traditionalist cosmopolitanism of the Scottish Enlightenment

You can find them all here, and subscribe to the magazine here.

Happy autumn!

Politics & Policy

My Going Maskless Is Different, Says San Francisco Mayor, Because ‘I Was Feeling the Spirit’

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San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed speaks during the California Democratic Convention in San Francisco, Calif., June 1, 2019. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

The mayor of San Francisco says that she shouldn’t be criticized for breaking her own COVID rules, because, and I quote, “I was feeling the spirit and I wasn’t thinking about a mask.” CBS reports:

“We don’t need the fun police to come in and micromanage and tell us what we should or shouldn’t be doing,” said Breed during an interview to address the controversy.

The city’s health order states attendees at live indoor performances must remain masked except when actively eating or drinking. Breed maintained that she was drinking at the time.

“My drink was sitting at the table,” said Breed. “I got up and started dancing because I was feeling the spirit and I wasn’t thinking about a mask.”

In a vacuum, I agree with this. It’s a free country, and we don’t, in fact, need the “fun police to come in and micromanage and tell us what we should or shouldn’t be doing.” It’s just that, well, London Breed is the “fun police.” The rule in San Francisco is that unless you’re actively eating or drinking, you need to wear a mask. And, per her own testimony, London Breed wasn’t actively eating or drinking; she was dancing while her drink was “sitting at the table.” Is the rule that Breed broke stupid? Yes, it is — especially given that San Francisco has a system of vaccine passports that applies to the very club she was attending. But it’s the rule nevertheless, and, as mayor, she has to follow it, too.

Under the current rules, my three-year-old has to wear a mask when traveling on airplanes. Like many children, he, too, likes to dance when he feels the spirit. And, like many children, he, too, is less than fond of the fun police. But do you know who cares about any of that? Nobody, that’s who. As I write, millions of American kids are on their way to school with masks strapped over their faces — a fact of which London Breed’s political party not only approves, but is willing to sue in order to universalize. If, as Breed implies, these rules represent unnecessary and intrusive micromanagement that can’t possibly survive contact with reality, then maybe we should do the obvious thing, and blow them all up?

Education

Noem Must Fix South Dakota Standards Fiasco

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Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., February 27, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

Hard-left activists have taken over the writing of K-12 history and civics standards in ruby-red South Dakota. Governor Kristi Noem’s administration has belatedly attempted to set things right, but the troubled standards are nowhere near fixed. While public attention has been drawn to the controversy, the press has done little to explain what is actually in the new social-studies standards or how the process ran off the rails. The resignation of two “workgroup” members from the committee drafting the new standards shortly before the release of the final report has also spurred public interest. The picture that emerges from an examination of public documents, as well as conversations with committee members, is disturbing.

While Noem deserves credit for an important move to curb politicization of South Dakota classrooms (more on that below), she bears significant responsibility for the current mess. Noem has positioned herself nationally as a tough-minded conservative, yet she’s handed control of South Dakota’s Department of Education to squishy establishment types only too happy to allow leftist professors, bureaucrats, and their hand-selected teachers to run the show. That said, the real bad actors in this story are at the South Dakota Department of Education, which has blatantly defied the governor’s wishes.

Here’s the bottom line. Unless Noem throws out the current, hopelessly compromised draft social-studies standards, replaces the state education bureaucrats responsible for this fiasco, and puts thoughtful conservatives in charge of the standards revision process, South Dakota’s schools are poised to become playthings of the Left.

This past May, I praised Governor Noem for being the first politician to sign the candidate/office holder pledge designed by the group “1776 Action.” That pledge commits Noem to keeping critical race theory (CRT) and action civics (in practice, leftist political activism for course credit) out of South Dakota’s schools. While I lauded Noem’s move in May, I also warned that fulfilling her pledge would require heavy lifting. Like most states, South Dakota’s education bureaucracy is controlled by woke leftists. At the very moment Noem was promising to keep action civics and CRT out of South Dakota’s schools, her Department of Education was revising state standards to match the approach favored by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), a leftist group that supports both action civics and CRT. To make her pledge count as more than empty talk, I said, Noem would need to call a halt to South Dakota’s current standards revision process and put new people in charge — appointees who actually believe in her pledge.

Sad to say, Noem did not follow through. Instead, she allowed the existing standards revision process to continue on a track that placed it in direct opposition to the spirit and substance of her pledge. Just a couple of weeks after Noem’s pledge, Melinda Johnson, the social-studies specialist at the South Dakota Department of Education, signed a contract with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) for the services of a consultant who would facilitate revisions to the state’s social-studies standards. Beth Ratway, the consultant/facilitator/team leader provided by AIR, is a leading advocate of action civics and a proponent of teaching for “social justice” (in practice, leftist politics). Once Ratway was hired to guide South Dakota’s social-studies revisions, the behind-the-scenes reality of Noem’s education policy could not have been more different from its public face.

Ratway co-chaired the 2020 Advancing Social Justice Conference for NCSS and received a special commendation from the group for her efforts. Nikole Hannah-Jones, of the 1619 Project, was a featured speaker at Ratway’s conference, and plenty of the conference panels pushed for action civics and CRT. Ratway is also affiliated with the Educating for American Democracy (EAD) initiative, a left-dominated coalition dedicated to pushing action civics on America’s schools. EAD has been roundly criticized by conservatives like Mark Bauerlein, Jonathan Butcher, John Fonte, Joy Pullmann, Peter Wood, Scott Yenor (and me). So, the key facilitator of South Dakota’s social-studies standards revision process is an advocate of everything Noem has pledged to oppose.

You can see Ratway at work in an extraordinary video where she provides teachers with strategies for bringing “social justice” training into their classrooms, even when parents object. Ratway’s seminar in misdirection validates long-standing conservative concerns that bland-sounding language built into state education standards is cleverly designed to enable leftist political indoctrination. Grassroots conservatives get called conspiracy theorists for raising these concerns, but Ratway’s video is essentially a “how to” lesson for leftist educators looking to defuse legitimate parental concerns about indoctrination. The trick Ratway gives them is to reference ambiguous phrases from state standards as a defense.

Drawing on language from the United Nations, Ratway defines “social justice” as “fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” Invoking authors like the Marxist educator Paulo Freire (an ed-school favorite), she adds material on “questioning institutional knowledge” so as not to “reproduce power and privilege.” Ratway tells the teachers watching her seminar to push these ideas indirectly, by framing them as questions like, “What would a historian ask?” She also suggests pushing social justice under the guise of exploring “multiple perspectives.” Yet Ratway’s goal is very evidently not a balanced and open exploration of “multiple perspectives.” On the contrary, she aims to promote a broadly leftist political vision under the decidedly misleading guise of open-mindedness.

Ratway tells teachers that when parents challenge politicization, they should say that they have no choice but to teach this way because it’s “in the standards.” Indeed, the standards Ratway favors are full of seemingly neutral phrases like, “use multiple perspectives” and “think like a historian,” designed to be used as pretexts for leftist politics.

A striking moment (51 minutes into Ratway’s video seminar) features a teacher who would like to advocate for social justice in her classes but has been forced by COVID to work remotely. This teacher is reluctant to get political because she “worries constantly” the parents will record her classes. Flummoxed and stumped, Ratway is unable to come up with a workaround for a would-be social-justice warrior forced to endure parental scrutiny. It is a telling — and inadvertently funny — moment.

If you’ve long suspected that educators use bland jargon to disguise leftist political agendas, this video is for you. But why is someone like Ratway running the history and civics standards revision process in Kristi Noem’s deep-red South Dakota?

Make no mistake, notwithstanding Ratway’s modest title of “facilitator,” she and social-studies specialist Melinda Johnson were in firm control of the standards revision process. Supposedly, a “non-partisan” committee of nearly 50 South Dakota educators and citizens have been putting heads together, with the help of Ratway and Johnson, to come up with South Dakota’s standards. In fact, as I’ll explain, the fix was in from the start, and the 40-some committee members were largely window dressing for the pre-arranged conclusion: do whatever the leftist National Council for the Social Studies says. This could hardly have been more at odds with the governor’s pledge.

Consider the proposal from AIR accepted by the South Dakota Department of Education when it contracted for Ratway’s services. That proposal touts Ratway’s expertise in the NCSS’s College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards and commits to integrating the C3 framework with the revised standards. The NCSS C3 Framework is designed to promote action civics in the schools. Two of the C3 Framework’s authors, Peter Levine and Meira Levinson, are leading national advocates of action civics. The National Association of Scholars, which resolutely rejects action civics, and has convened a national alliance to oppose it, has issued a scathing critique of the NCSS C3 Framework which concludes: “Any state which has adopted the C3 Framework, or allowed the C3 Framework to shape its social studies standards, should immediately remove these standards and craft new standards.” (Are you listening, Governor Noem?)

AIR’s proposal also commits it to using a tool created by the Great Lakes Equity Center to ensure that the revised social-studies standards are “equitable and diverse.” That assessment tool is filled with references to the literature of hard-left multiculturalism and CRT. The writings of Gloria Ladson-Billings, the mother of critical race theory in K-12 education, are the leading inspiration for this measuring stick by which South Dakota’s draft social-studies standards are to be assessed.

Finally, AIR’s proposal promises to train the team writing the revised standards in the “Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards” Those standards are sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), once a respected civil-rights group but in recent years notorious for ill-founded accusations against religious and conservative groups. The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance Social Justice standards promote identity politics, intersectionality, CRT-style ideas like “systemic” injustice and race-based “privilege,” and action civics to boot.

In short, a couple of weeks after Governor Noem promised to fight these very same educational approaches, and well before the standards writing committee even had a chance to go to work, South Dakota’s Department of Education signed a contract effectively committing the state to violating the governor’s pledge, and agreed to pay nearly a quarter-million dollars to do so.

Meanwhile, around the time the contract for Ratway’s services was signed, the committee writing the standards was being trained in the use of the C3 Framework via video by Taylor Hamblin, a professor of education at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. In this video, for example, Hamblin shows how to combine the South Dakota state standards with the C3 Framework to make students “take informed action,” i.e., publicly advocate for a position on some controversial issue. Using a South Dakota state standard that simply says, “Describe the changing federal policy toward Native Americans after the Civil War,” Hamblin uses C3 techniques to transform a history lesson into an exercise in action civics.

Hamblin instructs students to create opinion pieces that promote the use or recognition of indigenous names for various places now named differently. (Think Denali instead of Mount McKinley, or Coaquannock instead of Philadelphia.) It’s a variant of the practice of “land acknowledgements” favored by the contemporary Left. In fact, the NCSS social-justice conference Ratway co-chaired opened with a guilt-laden “land acknowledgement.”

Supposedly, Hamblin’s classroom exercise advances “critical thinking.” In fact, it promotes the opposite. Renaming controversies raise complex issues of historical responsibility, assimilation, national identity, the imposition of contemporary values on the past, and the rights, wrongs, and responsibilities of the early pioneers and Native Americans. Actual critical thinking would explore these issues from a variety of viewpoints, without imposing one-sided activism on students under cover of state-mandated standards.

Forced consensus seems to be a thing with the duo in charge of the revised standards. Instead of having the committee vote on the wording of a given standard, with the majority winning the day, Melinda Johnson and Beth Ratway insisted on unanimity.

They devised a system of red, yellow, and green flash cards. Red was a no vote. Yellow meant you had reservations but would support the proposed language and not speak against it. Green meant yes. Ratway and Johnson insisted that the group could not move forward with its work if even one person voted no. Instead, the recalcitrant red-light voter would find Ratway and Johnson standing behind them while others in the group worked to push them to yellow or green. In practice, this pressure-technique was applied almost exclusively to conservatives, who were the main objectors to the committee’s consistently left-leaning work-product. In short, the demand for consensus was aimed at stifling public dissent from the committee’s conservative minority.

But what about Governor Noem’s pledge to bar CRT and action civics? How could the committee move forward with an action civics-based approach in the face of the governor’s promise to the contrary? When one of the conservatives presented that question to the group, the challenge was quickly dismissed. A team leader pointed out that the standards revision process had gotten off the ground even before Governor Noem took office, as if the current governor’s wishes were irrelevant. Taylor Hamblin maintained — in the face of massive evidence to the contrary — that the action-civics-based C3 Framework was entirely compatible with the governor’s wishes.

When the South Dakota social-studies standards controversy broke out publicly a couple of weeks ago, one of the workgroup’s left-leaning members said: “People worried about public comments by government officials on what should be taught. We were told to ignore the publicity and do what was best for the students of South Dakota.” My sources confirm this. In effect, the committee was told to ignore the governor’s wishes.

Ultimately, Johnson and Ratway failed to silence the committee’s dissenting conservatives. In late June Sue Peterson, a representative in the South Dakota state House from Sioux Falls, and Dr. Richard Meyer, a retired orthodontist from Rapid City with a longstanding interest in education, resigned from the social-studies standards committee. They objected to the direction the committee was taking on the content of the standards, its obvious defiance of the governor’s pledge on action civics, and the attempts to force a false consensus. Peterson and Meyer did not make their concerns public at the time, since the final version of the standards had not yet been released. A report of their resignations leaked to the press, however, in mid-July.

Toward the end of that month, the standards revision committee submitted their text to the Department of Education. In open violation of Noem’s pledge, that text included provisions for exercises in action civics, with specifics to be filled in after the standards themselves were officially approved. Three days after the draft standards were submitted, Noem issued Executive Order 2021-11 barring CRT and action civics from K-12 and promising to pass a law to that effect in the 2022 legislative session. The EO was a laudable exercise, yet it came entirely too late.

Rather than releasing the standards as submitted by the workgroup in late July, Noem’s administration released a hastily revised draft in early August. The action-civics mandates were removed and a few positive additions inserted. In the end, however, the changes were largely cosmetic. The structure and substance of even the revised version were deeply at odds with what Noem had led her supporters to believe. How could things have gotten to the point where a conservative state representative felt compelled to resign in protest over leftist bias in a Kristi Noem-sponsored education initiative?

The cynical interpretation of all this is that Noem cares more about splashy public promises than about governing. Although she had good reason to know that her Department of Education was in league with the leftist education establishment, Noem did nothing to enforce her public pledge until word of the resignations leaked. By that point, it was too late for more than cosmetic changes to the standards. We got superficial damage control instead.

The more charitable interpretation is that Noem could reasonably have expected her Department of Education to adhere to her public pledge. In this view, the lion’s share of blame falls on openly defiant educators and bureaucrats, and on the appointees at the Department of Education who enabled them.

Although there is truth in both views, the root problem is that Noem stocked her Department of Education from the first with the same crew of go-along-to-get-along bureaucrats who have allowed leftist ideologues to run things in South Dakota for years. Sadly, this is typical of education bureaucracies, whether red-state or blue. America’s education establishment is so totally dominated by the Left that unless Republican governors and state secretaries of education aggressively push back against the tide, nothing changes.

Yet Noem is presenting herself to the country as a conservative disruptor willing to undertake precisely that sort of pushback. Noem can still be a hero if she follows through on her promises, ditches this summer’s ill-starred standards, makes a clean sweep of her Department of Education, and moves to draft social-studies standards that break from the usual leftist fare. We desperately need alternative models for history and civics education, and Noem is well-placed to create one. To do so, however, she’ll need to go beyond showy gestures and govern as the bold conservative she claims to be.

This summer’s draft South Dakota social-studies standards, along with the bogus eleventh-hour “fix,” are object lessons in what not to do. I’ll have more to say about what’s wrong with them, and how to repair the damage, in a follow-up piece. I hope Governor Noem will be listening. The opportunity for national leadership on this issue remains.

Education

Why North Carolina Should Join the States That Ban Racial Preferences

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Students walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, September 20, 2018. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Nine states have adopted measures to ban the use of racial preferences by the government, including the use of preferences in admissions for state colleges and universities. In North Carolina, there is a move in the legislature to put a ban on preferences to a vote of the people next year.

The Martin Center’s Shannon Watkins recently interviewed Wenyuan Wu, who is the executive director of Californians for Civil Rights, and we publish it here.

Wu argues that racial preferences have not been beneficial to “underrepresented” groups: “In reality, when we look at say, for example, the academic achievement of underrepresented minorities at various privileged universities, like Ivy League schools and some flagship state universities, you see that both the graduation and matriculation rates of underrepresented minorities have stayed stagnant or even declined in the last 35 years or so. ”

That is true, and I would only add that for most students (no matter their racial background), going to an elite college doesn’t necessarily mean getting a better education. In fact, the elite schools often give undergraduates little attention; students might learn more at an institution where the faculty has time for them.

Furthermore, Wu notes that a strong majority of the people dislike the idea of basing admission decisions on racial quotas: “According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, over 74 percent of Americans do not support the consideration of race in college admissions, they support the merit-based consideration. And the same type of public opinion trends can also be found in similar polls like that: A 2016 Gallup poll, and also many other state ballot electoral results, such as the ‘no on 16’ vote in California and a vote against affirmative action in Washington State back in 2019.”

Even in far-left California, a strong majority voted in favor of keeping the race-neutrality language in the state’s constitution when the question was on the ballot last year.

Wu concludes, “The public has spoken. American people do not want racial preferences as a bandage to solve past discrimination or present inequities. We intuitively realize that—even though we have these achievement gaps and racial disparities in many areas, not just education, but also wealth, access to public services, etc.—racial preference is not the answer.”

Politics & Policy

Senator Sinema to Nancy Pelosi: Break Your Word on Infrastructure, and I’m Out

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

Hot on the heels of Senator Manchin’s “Whoa, Nelly,” Politico reports that Senator Sinema has told Joe Biden that she’s aware of the game being played by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and she’s having none of it:

MODS TO BIDEN: BIF NOW OR BUST — Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.) delivered a tough message to President JOE BIDEN at a private meeting Wednesday, we’re told:If the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan — or if the vote fails — she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill.

Sinema is not the only moderate taking this stand. Rep. KURT SCHRADER (D-Ore.) — one of approximately 10 moderate Democratic House members playing hardball with leadership — said he and several members of their group are on the same page. Some of the lawmakers have conveyed that message up the chain to leadership and the White House. A senior Democratic aide confirmed the warnings.

“If they delay the vote — or it goes down — then I think you can kiss reconciliation goodbye,” Schrader told Playbook. “Reconciliation would be dead.”

Or, to put it another way:

INSIDE THE MODS’ CALCULATION: Progressives think if they band together and threaten to kill the infrastructure bill, it will convince moderate members to go along with the larger reconciliation package. But multiple sources — including a senior Democratic aide and several in the centrist camp — tell us the left is misreading their colleagues.

The upshot: Some moderates privately have decided that no infrastructure bill is better than one that’s paired with $3.5 trillion in spending.

I have long been baffled by the idea that “spend $3.5 trillion or we won’t let you spend $1 trillion” would be a convincing argument to the non-crazies. Perhaps it’s actually not.

Economy & Business

An Explainer

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Writing in the New York Times, Ezra Klein claims that the words “supply side” will “summon the ghost of Arthur Laffer.”

Arthur Laffer is not dead.

Immigration

The Senate Parliamentarian Does the Right Thing

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The Senate parliamentarian says that Senate Democrats can’t stuff an amnesty for 8 million people into the reconciliation bill. The idea that large-scale changes to the immigration system are primarily fiscal in nature and therefore could be included in reconciliation was always laughably absurd, and the parliamentarian has done the right thing here.

 

 

 

Politics & Policy

Joe Manchin Is Realizing That His Party’s Spending Plans Are Absurd

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va) confer before addressing reporters at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 9, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Per Axios, Joe Manchin may be closer to realizing that the Democrats’ spending plans are ridiculous than his party had realized heretofore:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is privately saying he thinks Congress should take a “strategic pause” until 2022 before voting on President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social-spending package, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Manchin’s new timeline — if he insists on it — would disrupt the plans by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to vote on the budget reconciliation package this month.

Driving the news: Back home in West Virginia last week, Manchin told a group of employees at a Procter & Gamble facility in Martinsburg he wanted to pause all the talk about the $3.5 trillion bill until 2022, Axios was told.

I wrote recently that to take Manchin at his word is to conclude that he has to oppose most of the proposed plan. The United States just spent $6 trillion fighting COVID, and it’s horribly in debt. The deficit this year will be $3.2 trillion, and next year, and for every year thereafter, it will be $1.1 trillion. It would be an act of vandalism to make this worse, and, at some level at least, Manchin seems to know this.

Axios notes that “Manchin’s new timeline — if he insists on it — would disrupt the plans by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to vote on the budget reconciliation package this month.” Which is true, but which shouldn’t matter in the slightest to anyone outside of Washington, D.C. Neither of these bills are necessary, and the timetables for both are a contrivance. So Nancy Pelosi is vexed for a while? Who cares?

Presumably not Joe Manchin, whose state voted for Donald Trump in 2020 by around 40 points, and who is considerably less popular there than the Republicans are.

In response to this news, we will get a fresh round of calls to “primary him!” and “pressure him!” and “tell him what to do!” But they will all be guff. Joe Manchin hasn’t lost an election since 1996. He knows what he’s doing. One can only hope that he’ll now have the courage to say in public what he’s apparently started to say behind closed doors.

World

How Israel Assassinated an Iranian Nuclear Scientist with a Robot Machine Gun

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The Iranian flag waves in front of the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. (Lisi Niesner/Reuters)

This is an extraordinary story. I came across it from a tweet that made it sound like a soft feature on the scientist:

It is anything but:

Around 1 p.m., the hit team received a signal that Mr. Fakhrizadeh, his wife and a team of armed guards in escort cars were about to leave for Absard, where many of Iran’s elite have second homes and vacation villas.

The assassin, a skilled sniper, took up his position, calibrated the gun sights, cocked the weapon and lightly touched the trigger.

He was nowhere near Absard, however. He was peering into a computer screen at an undisclosed location more than 1,000 miles away. The entire hit squad had already left Iran.

Read the whole thing.

Science & Tech

Vaccines by Eating Greens? Greens Will Never Let It Happen

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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)

Scientists are conducting an experiment that, if successful, would permit us to receive some vaccines and other medicines by eating food rather than by jab. From the Study Finds story:

Vaccinations can be a controversial subject for many people, especially when it comes to injections. So what if you could replace your next shot with a salad instead? Researchers at the University of California-Riverside are working on a way to grow edible plants that carry the same medication as an mRNA vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine is one of the many inoculations which use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology to defeat viruses. They work by teaching cells from the immune system to recognize and attack a certain infectious disease. Unfortunately, mRNA vaccines have to stay in cold storage until use or they lose stability.

The scientists hope that by genetically modifing edible plants, storage issues could be overcome making vaccine efficicacy last longer and become easier to distribute:

First, the team will try to successfully deliver DNA containing mRNA vaccines into plant cells, where they can replicate. Next, the study authors want to show that plants can actually produce enough mRNA to replace a traditional injection. Finally, the team will need to determine the right dosage people will need to eat to properly replace vaccinations.

“Ideally, a single plant would produce enough mRNA to vaccinate a single person,” says Juan Pablo Giraldo, an associate professor in UCR’s Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, in a university release.

This is an interesting idea, but methinks that the scientists involved are naively ignorant about the implacable opposition they will face.

Radical greens will never allow greens to be modified genetically–regardless of the medicinal benefit. Think about it. We live in a world where anti-GMO activists fight tooth and tong — mostly successfully — to keep even the most beneficial and least-likely-to-cause-environmental-damage modified foods from being created or distributed.

Example: Distribution of “Golden Rice”–which has the great potential to prevent blindness in children who live in developing countries caused by Vitamin A deficiency by engineering the plants to produce beta-carotene–was thwarted for many years, even though growth and distribution will be via a non-profit NGO.

Similarly, a Swiss experimental wheat field intended to develop a plant that is resistant to fungal infection was trampled asunder by activists who apparently prefer human starvation to a benign modification of wheat so that it will be more resilient.

Now, consider the prospect of vaccines or other medicines being engineered into plants. The Luddites would go ballistic!

Unless the world’s temper changes–unless society finally finds the gumption to simply push past the anti-GMO zealots–vaccine spinach will never go into production.

World

Use the U.N. to Confront China’s Crimes against Humanity

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A Chinese police officer guards a road near leading to what is officially called a vocational education center for Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, September 4, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Expect Chinese diplomats to be laser-focused on rebutting allegations that Beijing is carrying out a genocide against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, while taking advantage of recent cringe-inducing headlines about the Biden administration, during the U.N. General Assembly’s high-profile open debate.

“Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land,” is the name of an event organized by China’s U.N. Mission on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly to take place at the end of this month. There’s no doubt that the event will feature genocide denial and disgusting smears of concentration-camp survivors.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is putting China on the defensive for its atrocities. This week saw the opening of a U.S.-funded photography exhibit at the U.N. facilities in Geneva, coinciding with the opening of a new session of the U.N. Human Rights Council. The “Wall of the Disappeared,” as it is called, features photos of people disappeared by the Chinese party-state and thought to be imprisoned in the Xinjiang camp system. It was organized by the World Uyghur Congress, a vocal Uyghur group that Chinese diplomats have long attempted to silence at U.N. meetings.

But even as the U.S. speaks out about these atrocities, Biden-administration officials see room for potential cooperation with Beijing during UNGA week. At a press briefing today, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., pointed to areas “where we are able to cooperate” with China, such as climate change. “But it does not mean that we ignore the areas where we have contentions, such as issues of human rights,” she added.

America’s U.N. engagement this month comes down to a stark choice between speaking out in clear terms about the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide of Uyghurs and productively engaging China on climate change. It’s time for the Biden administration to retire its talking points about cooperation. That approach has been stonewalled by China, and, worse, it distracts from U.S. officials’ own upstanding commitments to confront this modern mass atrocity.

National Security & Defense

France Recalls Ambassadors over Zombie Submarine Deal

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Workers look at the French Navy vessel Suffren, first of the nuclear Barracuda-class attack submarines, leaving the workshops of its construction at the Naval Group site in Cherbourg, France, in 2019. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

The U.S.–France relationship is in meltdown over a recently canceled submarine deal that Australian officials had cast doubt on for months.

For the first time in the 240-year alliance, France has recalled its ambassador from Washington over the announcement of a nuclear-submarine deal involving the U.S., U.K., and Australia that displaced a different multibillion-dollar contract between the Australian government and a French company for 12 diesel submarines.

Infuriated, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the move a “stab in the back” on Wednesday when it was unveiled, and in a communiqué this afternoon announcing his decision to recall Paris’s envoys in Washington and Canberra warned that the new trilateral pact — called AUKUS — affects “the very conception we have of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.” Le Drian also ordered France’s ambassador to Australia to return home.

Paris is understandably upset by AUKUS’s handling of the 2016 contract, but that deal was already on the ropes. Politico EU noted the rampant cybersecurity risks, budget problems, and delays that plagued the project, leading Australian officials to cool on it:

Canberra signaled in June it was looking for a way out of the contract, signed in 2016 with French company DCNS (now known as Naval Group) to build 12 Barracuda submarines.

Questioned by a Senate committee about issues with the project, Australia’s Defense Secretary Greg Moriarty said: “It became clear to me we were having challenges … over the last 15 to 12 months.” He said his government had been considering its options, including what it could do if it was “unable to proceed” with the French deal.

Moriarty’s admission came after his government in April refused to sign a contract for the next phase of the French submarine project, giving Naval Group until this month to comply with its demands. There were reports dating back to the beginning of this year that Canberra was seeking to walk away.

More directly, however, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said today that he told President Emmanuel Macron in June that Australia might withdraw from the deal. “I made it very clear, we had a lengthy dinner there in Paris, about our very significant concerns about the capabilities of conventional submarines to deal with the new strategic environment we’re faced with,” he said during an interview with 5aa Radio.

Despite the angry French response, the United States, Australia, and all of its allies with an interest in deterring Chinese aggression stand to benefit if AUKUS is able to construct these nuclear submarines. Canberra traded up from a program plagued by delays and significant budget problems to a deal to construct subs far superior — “the gold standard,” Naval War College professor Andrew Erickson called them — and more capable of meeting its defense needs. Since 2016, Australia’s security situation has changed significantly, as China’s attempts to pressure the country to adopt a pro-Beijing line have grown more coercive.

Whatever the long-term consequences of this dispute and the merits of France’s rage, the 2016 contract was already a zombie deal. And AUKUS replaced it with something of greater value to Western democracies operating in the Indo-Pacific.

Fiscal Policy

Democrats Want New Tax Break for Union Members

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(Getty Images)

As fewer American workers join unions, Democrats want to create a new tax deduction for union members.

According to the Ways and Means Committee’s summary of the Democrats’ proposals, Section 138514, located in Part 5 of Subtitle I (that’s the letter I, not a Roman numeral; it’s the ninth subtitle), would create a $250 above-the-line tax deduction for union dues starting next year. “Above-the-line” means the deduction could be taken by all taxpayers, even those who take the standard deduction and don’t itemize. Overall, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation’s estimates, the deduction would add up to $4.3 billion over the next ten years.

Union dues haven’t been tax-deductible at all since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017. Supporters of the Democrats’ proposal may argue they are simply restoring a tax deduction that was previously available, but that’s not quite right. Joe Bishop-Henchman of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation explains:

Before 2017, all membership dues payments and unreimbursed employee expenses, not just union member dues, were deductible. Unlike the union dues deduction currently being proposed, the deduction could only be taken if a taxpayer itemized, and if together with other “miscellaneous itemized deductions” the amount totaled more than 2 percent of a taxpayer’s income. Only 9 percent of taxpayers claimed unreimbursed expenses at all, most of which were travel and entertainment costs.

This version would not allow the deduction of dues payments to professional organizations, or agency fees paid by non-members of unions that still fund union activities. It would incentivize just one type of payment: union dues paid by union members. It would also inappropriately be made an “above the line” deduction, a status generally reserved for items that are excluded from or adjust what is considered income.

The deduction would also work differently depending on whether people live in the nation’s 27 right-to-work states. The Heritage Foundation’s Rachel Greszler explained it this way to the Washington Examiner:

Some workers in non-right-to-work states are required to pay union agency fees but not fees for the political and lobbying portion of the dues. Under the proposed strictures, if a worker is only paying the agency fee but not the political portion, that worker cannot deduct his or her dues, Greszler explained.

“It is only allowing the deduction as long as you are a member that’s contributing to the lobbying and the political campaign contribution part of the union membership,” she said.

It’s no secret which party disproportionately benefits from union political spending. By making union dues tax deductible, Democrats are essentially making it more financially viable for people to contribute to organizations that help elect Democrats. Relatively few Americans would be able to use this deduction, since the vast majority of Americans aren’t union members, and the Supreme Court has ruled that public-sector workers can’t be forced to pay dues if they don’t want to. But it shows where Democrats’ priorities are on spending: They’re willing to forgo $4.3 billion in revenue that they desperately need for budget reconciliation so that they can throw a bone to the unions.

Biden’s Booster Bungle Shows a White House in Dysfunction

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Delta variant and his administration’s efforts to increase vaccinations from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., September 9, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

By a 16-2 vote, an FDA advisory panel rejected President Biden’s plan to offer boosters to the general public as soon as next week. Putting aside for a moment the arguments for or against booster shots at this stage of the pandemic, the sequence of events on booster shots has revealed a White House in complete dysfunction.

On August 18, Biden announced a plan to start giving booster shots to every American adult starting the week of September 30. “Just remember, as a simple rule — rule: Eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot,” Biden said.

CDC director Rochelle

U.S.

There’s a Lot of Trash Out There

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One downside of the new media environment is that people with no journalistic — or apparently any other! — scruples can retail complete falsehoods as they please. Take this laughably conspiratorial and fictional post. It suggests that NR is killing anti-Google articles at the behest of Google. This is false. It says “sources close to the National Board” say we have been hemorrhaging donors and subscribers. This is false (NR just had a banner fundraising year, and paid subscriptions have been steadily up in recent years). It suggests I fired Jonah Goldberg and David French. This is false. And there are various malicious fantasies woven throughout the piece along with the outright falsehoods. 

 

If anyone is wondering why NR is skeptical of further regulating or breaking up Big Tech, you don’t have to look far, let alone fabricate lurid conspiracy theories — it’s because we’ve been opposed to government regulation and overweening anti-trust law for 65 years. That said, one of our most prominent staff writers is fiercely critical of Big Tech and says so all the time on our website and podcasts. We’ve editorialized in favor of policies opposed by Google and editorialized against Google in its contretemps with the Federalist. Even one of our staunchest opponents of more tech regulation is happy to smack Google as warranted

 

There’s “too good to check,” and then there’s “too unhinged to bother even trying to make sense.” 

National Security & Defense

Add Seven Kids to the Death Toll of Biden’s Bungled Afghanistan Exit

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A U.S. Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport, June 2010. (Masood Hossaini/Pool via Reuters)

General McKenzie admitted today that the U.S. drone strike in Kabul of August 29 was not, in fact, “righteous,” as General Milley described it two weeks ago, but was an absolute disaster. “As many as ten civilians, including up to seven children,” McKenzie said, “were tragically killed in that strike. Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K.”

I wonder what the excuse for this one will be? That this was the plan all along? That any president exiting Afghanistan would have droned seven kids in a Toyota? That this shows once again why we had to leave Afghanistan in the way we did — because, if we hadn’t, the president would still be incinerating children?

This happened because Biden felt that it was politically necessary to hit someone in order to change the narrative, and so he hit someone in order to change the narrative. Presumably, it did not help matters that, by August 29, the United States had become reliant upon the Taliban for intelligence.

Zack Evans reports:

At the time of the strike, CENTCOM spokesman Bill Urban contended that “significant secondary explosions from the vehicle” indicated that the targeted car was equipped with a bomb. However, McKenzie said on Friday that the secondary explosion was likely a propane tank in a nearby driveway.

CENTCOM initially said the strike neutralized a potential ISIS-K car bomb en route to Kabul airport, where an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed 13 American service members and almost 200 Afghans days earlier.

“The procedures were correctly followed and it was a righteous strike,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley said initially following the strike. On Friday, Milley acknowledged the mistake.

Biden apologists are casting this “mistake” as one final indignity on the way out of the Middle East. But this, too, isn’t quite right, given that hundreds of American citizens and U.S. permanent residents remain trapped in Afghanistan — where they’ll presumably stay until, once again, it’s time for a change in the news cycle.

Politics & Policy

‘No Reason for Treason’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and MBD discuss General Milley’s unconstitutional actions, the Durham indictment, and the intensification of the border crisis. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Law & the Courts

Don’t Go Up in a Balloon over the Minor Texas Abortion Case Ruling

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There seems to be significant misunderstanding about an order issued by federal district judge Robert Pitman yesterday in the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Texas in connection with the Fetal Heartbeat Law (a.k.a “abortion ban”).

To be clear, Judge Pitman did not, as some are suggesting, rule against the merits of the Justice Department’s complaint (which relies on a dubious interpretation of the 14th Amendment, as Ed Whelan explains here).

Here’s what happened. The Biden Justice Department’s suit seeks a preliminary injunction which would suspend the law until the court can decide the merits of the case. That calls for a preliminary injunction hearing, at which the DOJ would have to show (among other things) a likelihood of success when the case is fully submitted.

Not content with that, so alarmed is the Biden administration by “the near-unavailability of constitutionally permitted abortions in Texas since [the law] went into effect,” that the DOJ decided to seek “emergency relief” — a temporary restraining order (TRO), which would suspend the law immediately, based on little more than the federal government’s filing of its lawsuit.

Texas does not believe there is any emergency, but agreed to negotiate an expedited schedule on the motion for a TRO or preliminary injunction. Based on these negotiations, Judge Pitman issued a scheduling order: Texas is to submit its brief by September 29, and the DOJ to respond by October 1, before the hearing the court has scheduled for that day. By court standards, that is fast.

Still, the DOJ was not satisfied. It submitted an “emergency motion” insisting that the court should issue a TRO. It proposed that Texas should file a brief by noon on Monday (September 20), and that the court should then hold a TRO hearing the following day. By the DOJ’s lights, it would win the TRO hearing, and then — with the law suspended — the court could set a briefing schedule for the preliminary injunction. (And, of course, no need to do that on an expedited basis if the court has issued a TRO suspending the law — take all the time you need!)

It was this latter emergency motion that Judge Pitman denied. All this denial means is that he is sticking with his original expedited schedule. His short order from yesterday opines that “this case presents complex, important questions of law that merit a full opportunity for the parties to present their positions to the Court.” Pitman expressed no view on whether there should be an injunction against the operation of the law, nor did he in any way signal how he may come out on the merits.

Most observers believe Pitman, an Obama appointee, will be inclined to rule in the DOJ’s favor. I still think so. He was right not to allow the Justice Department to bully him into picking up the pace. But yesterday’s order was just on a minor matter of timing and the efficiency of conducting a proceeding that, while prompt, gives each side adequate time to brief significant issues. It is not a major victory for Texas or a sign that the court will rule against the DOJ on the important questions.

Politics & Policy

No, You Don’t Have to Be a Criminal to Want to Limit Government

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(artstreet/Getty Images)

At the Bulwark, Jim Swift writes:

As the Wall Street Journal has reported, one idea that the White House and congressional Democrats have proposed for closing the tax gap involves giving the IRS the ability to get more data about bank accounts with a value over $600—specifically to see the amounts of money flowing in and out.

After dismissing a cherry-picked set of criticisms — and ignoring that, thus far at least, even Democrats in the House have rejected this proposal — Swift concludes that:

What the Democrats want to do is give the IRS more knowledge about where and how money flows. As the IRS commissioner wrote last month, more and better data “will provide the IRS with a lens into otherwise opaque sources of income with historically lower levels of reporting accuracy.” In opposing this measure, Republicans claim they are standing up for privacy and for people who don’t yet have bank accounts but hypothetically might someday—but they are really covering for tax cheats.

Ah, yes. That old chestnut! Favor restrictions on government power? You’re not just wrong; you must be a wannabe criminal.

Swift’s view has a long pedigree in unthinking and reactionary circles, being of a piece with the notion that if you expect the Fourth Amendment to be rigorously enforced you have “something to hide,” or that if you plead the Fifth in a courtroom you “must be guilty,” or that if you hope to uphold the First Amendment so that you can speak as freely as you wish, you’re probably just “a bigot.” There is, in fact, no area to which it cannot be stupidly applied.

It is true, of course, that limiting government power sometimes helps bad actors. But it is rarely true that helping bad actors is the aim of those who wish to limit government. Supporters of the exclusionary rule are not motivated by a desire to help the guilty, but to raise the cost of government malfeasance. Advocates of robust mens rea requirements are not motivated by a desire to make prosecutors’ jobs more difficult, but by a desire to limit punishment to those who knew they were breaking the rules. Proponents of unanimous juries are not seeking to let malefactors go free, but to ensure that the harshest sanctions our society imposes are levied only when it is sure. The ACLU did not defend the marchers at Skokie because it hoped to hear more from neo-Nazis; the ACLU defended the marchers at Skokie because it did not want the government to have the power to silence anyone.

There is nothing at all unusual or pernicious about the pro-privacy stance that has upset Swift. Right or wrong, it is about as American as stances get. The IRS has an enormous amount of power, and, especially given some of its recent behavior, it is entirely natural for Americans to oppose expanding that power so that it is permitted to monitor every bank account in the country. That Jim Swift’s first reaction upon hearing that there was opposition to this absurd proposal was to call its opponents “tax cheats” speaks volumes about him — as well as about what, at this point, might only charitably be described as his political worldview.

World

Apple and Google Bow to Putin

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Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, November 26, 2020. (Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via Reuters)

Apple and Google, which are happy to advertise their wokeness in the domestic capacity, continue to sacrifice their stated values in exchange for access to markets controlled by autocratic regimes. We’ve already seen plenty of examples of this with regard to China, but the latest news is out of Russia, where the tech giants removed an app that was being used by Vladamir Putin’s political opponents.

My former colleague Tom Rogan has the details:

Created by the Russian opposition journalist and political prisoner Alexei Navalny , the app was designed to help elect opposition politicians. Smart Voting is particularly valuable in Russia, where Putin’s cronies have stacked the deck against anyone who might challenge Putin’s mafia state . Many candidates have been banned, rallies curtailed, and organization restricted. Navalny’s organization has been listed as an unlawful extremist group. Putin’s intent in these elections is clear. He wants to see his ruling United Russia party retain control, alongside a series of pro-Putin but very nominally independent parties.

Smart Voting clearly didn’t fit within that agenda. So Putin threatened criminal sanctions against Apple and Google unless they removed the app. Celebrating their defeat of the tech giants on Friday, Putin’s cronies declared a “turned page.”

As of now, Apple and Google are silent about how this decision squares with their stated corporate values.

Education

Many Employers Are Now Providing ‘Free’ College

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There’s much talk in Washington about having the federal government provide “free” college education. What that entails is making the taxpayers cover the cost of more students going through traditional degree programs. All of that educational seat time is largely wasted, as students must pass many classes they don’t really want in order to get the bit of learning they do want or need.

That makes no sense. Much better, argues economics professor Richard Vedder in this piece, is for employers to provide education as a benefit for workers. Many now do. But the education is targeted to skills that they think worth paying for.

Writes Vedder,

to be sure, working at Wal-Mart or Amazon won’t get you a free college education at a spiffy private school, studying something academically trendy but vocationally nearly useless, such as gender studies. There are three things in common with many of these company sponsored programs: they are generally on-line (remote instruction), often limited to certain majors that the company wants employees to have, and they are limited to a modest number of respectable but not superlative schools.

Too bad that the U.S. blundered down the road of mass subsidies for college for everyone instead of letting the invisible hand of the market work.

Britain Delivers a Welcome Blow to the Metric System

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The back of a new British Twenty Pound Note showing Adam Smith’s head (kevinj/Getty Images)

The British government has announced that U.K. businesses will once again be allowed to sell their products in traditional, British units of measurement, like pounds and ounces, instead of the metric system.

This move is a win for freedom-loving people everywhere, and the restoration of customary units should be a cause for jubilation in the streets.

The metric system has its origins in the French Revolution, as a way to stick it to the Ancien Régime. It didn’t go international until 1875, when a group of diplomats got together in Paris (which, historically, is a pretty good indicator that a bad decision

Politics & Policy

Anthony Gonzalez and the GOP

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Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R., Ohio) attends a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, December 2, 2020. (Greg Nash / Pool via Reuters)

Frankly, I’m not sure I had heard of Anthony Gonzalez until Josh Mandel called him a “traitor.” Mandel is the leading GOP Senate candidate in Ohio. Who was this traitor Gonzalez? A GOP congressman from Ohio who had voted for President Trump’s (second) impeachment. Ah.

He was one of the ten. A roll of honor, in my opinion.

The Ohio Republican Party duly censured Gonzalez. That’s what state GOPs do now. I wrote at the time, “Some of my friends and colleagues get bent out of shape when someone suggests that the GOP has devolved into nothing but a personality cult around Trump. But you can see why people do the suggesting . . .”

House Republicans voted Liz Cheney — another impeacher — out of their leadership. Anthony Gonzalez made a striking statement: “If a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit. Liz isn’t going to lie to people.”

Republicans voted to replace Cheney with Elise Stefanik. While campaigning for the job, Stefanik made appearances on the talk shows of Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka. That shows you where the juice is in today’s Republican Party.

Donald Trump, for his part, went to Ohio, to rally against Gonzalez. “He’s a grandstanding RINO, not respected in D.C.,” said the former president. I thought the second part of that statement was interesting. Since when does Trump, and Trump Nation, care about respect in D.C., the Swamp? The less respected, the better, right?

Trump said that Gonzalez had “voted for the unhinged, unconstitutional, illegal impeachment witch hunt.” Gonzalez, he said, was “a sellout, and a fake Republican, and a disgrace to your state.”

In response, Gonzalez said, “I couldn’t care less about what the former president says about me.” (He said this to Declan Garvey of The Dispatch.) “What I do care about is the fact that he continues to double and triple down on the election lies that led to insurrection on January 6 and very likely could lead to more violence in the future.”

Well said.

Gonzalez has now decided to bow out of Congress. Jonathan Martin (whose stops include National Review) has written the story for the New York Times.

Mr. Gonzalez said that quality-of-life issues had been paramount in his decision. He recounted an “eye-opening” moment this year: when he and his family were greeted at the Cleveland airport by two uniformed police officers, part of extra security precautions taken after the impeachment vote.

“That’s one of those moments where you say, ‘Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport?’” he said.

Another excerpt from JMart’s piece:

Mr. Gonzalez was emphatic that the threats were not why he was leaving — the commute was more trying, he said — but in a matter-of-fact fashion, he recounted people online saying things like, “We’re coming to your house.”

Many GOP officeholders and officials are worried — very worried — about violence against them and their families. They confide this to journalists such as Tim Alberta (another NR alum). They receive regular, and credible, threats. I think this subject is too little remarked on — the threat of violence, and its influence on our politics.

The Right is willing to talk about BLM and Antifa; the Left is willing to talk about the insurrectionists and related thugs. Who is willing to damn all thugs, and stand up to them? Bless those who do.

On Thanksgiving Day last year, President Trump said of Brad Raffensperger, “He’s an enemy of the people.” He later said that Raffensperger’s brother “works for China.” This is not true. Nor is it true that Raffensperger is an enemy of the people. He is the secretary of state of Georgia, and he refused to help Trump subvert the election. I would call him a friend of the people.

Raffensperger and his wife were subjected to a deluge of death threats and rape threats. They required 24-hour security. I’m not sure what their security situation is now.

Obviously, you take some risks when you enter public life. But physical safety? Should that be part of it? In America?

On Twitter, I spoke of Anthony Gonzalez, and the threat of violence that hangs over politicians who vote or act the “wrong” way. The head of CPAC responded,

Jay this man is a former professional football player. Pretty sure he isn’t quitting for fear of getting a wedgie.

I saw those guys on January 6 — the “Hang Mike Pence” crowd. They didn’t look like mere wedgie-givers to me.

Back to Jonathan Martin’s report:

Mr. Gonzalez, who turns 37 on Saturday, was the sort of Republican recruit the party once prized. A Cuban American who starred as an Ohio State wide receiver, he was selected in the first round of the N.F.L. draft and then earned an M.B.A. at Stanford after his football career was cut short by injuries. He claimed his Northeast Ohio seat in his first bid for political office.

Yes. He is exactly the sort of recruit the Republican Party once prized. But now he is persona non grata. Everything is topsy-turvy. By the next session, the House GOP may well be 100 percent Trump — not a single dissenter or heretic in the bunch.

Anthony Gonzalez saw the president incite a mob to attack the U.S. Congress for the purpose of stopping a constitutional process. He thought this was a very big deal — impeachable, in fact. He has refused to lie about the election, or dance about the subject. If Gonzalez is a traitor, the country could use more of this treason.

Politics & Policy

Who Has Been Politicizing the HHS Office for Civil Rights?

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Health and Human Services (HHS) Director Xavier Becerra attends a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., February 24, 2021. (Michael Reynolds/Reuters)

It has been over six months since President Biden’s inauguration, but he has yet to name a Director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — perhaps the most important federal office you might not have heard of. OCR is responsible for ensuring every program administered or funded by America’s largest federal agency by budget complies with all applicable civil rights and conscience and religious freedom laws. If that weren’t a big enough task, it also enforces our nation’s health information privacy laws, including HIPAA. OCR is charged with enforcing these laws according to their terms and free from undue political influence, but I fear the office which I led for four years under the Trump administration has lost its way and is being politized beyond all recognition under the new regime.

I founded a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at OCR to make sure our conscience laws were enforced just like every other civil right. Indeed, the Conscience Division found Xavier Becerra, the current HHS Secretary, in violation of federal conscience laws twice while he was California attorney general — including once for forcing an order of nuns to buy abortion coverage. Because federal law prohibits HHS from funding states that discriminate against people who won’t perform, cover, or pay for abortions, Becerra’s abortion radicalism cost his state $200 million in Medicaid funds. This summer, however, OCR quietly vacated the violation findings against California and HHS restored the disallowed funds. Around the same time, OCR revoked formal violation findings against the University of Vermont Medical Center which had forced a nurse to assist in an abortion over her religious objections, in gross violation of law. Political appointees overruled the work of dedicated career professionals who conducted these investigations, pored over hundreds of documents, investigated witnesses, and meticulously built these cases over years. Now the violators have gotten full pardons because political appointees at HHS are doing favors for abortion special interests. This is what fully politicized law enforcement looks like.

Although Becerra is a walking conflict of interest on conscience issues, he is likely not making the day-to-day policy decisions at OCR. This person is, though:

The person explicitly equating the Conscience Division with supposed rape apologists (though DeVos is not one) is Laura Durso, OCR chief of staff and political appointee. Here’s another example of temperate, dispassionate neutrality from Durso:

In a 2018 recorded interview, she called formation of the Conscience Division “insulting,” said “they don’t care about the vulnerable,” and alleged it is part of a conspiracy to impose Christian beliefs on the nation.

It gets worse. In the same interview she enthusiastically agreed with the host — saying “yeah” “yeah” “yeah” — when he slandered the Division as “an office that makes people feel like crap” whose work “is the most immoral thing that you can think of.” Not exactly a great way to win friends among people she now supervises. But winning friends was never the point. Rather, she was brought in to demoralize if not disband an office that has been effectively enforcing conscience protection laws passed by the people’s representatives in Congress.

During a budget hearing on June 16th of this year, Representative Jim Banks asked Becerra whether he would “disavow any of [Durso’s] outrageous statements and attacks on career professionals of the Division” and if he would “commit to removing a biased ideologue like Ms. Durso from any decision making related to the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division.” Becerra dodged and claimed he had “never seen” or “heard” of the statements, but promised he would “certainly take a look” at them.

Becerra has had months to see, hear, and consider Durso’s disgraceful statements, yet continues to empower her ongoing wrecking project. We can certainly hope the next OCR Director will end the rampant politicization of a once proud office, but until the HHS Inspector General’s Office or Congress opens up an investigation, as they should, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Politics & Policy

Note on Gun Non-Debate

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A man grabs a gun displayed at Shore Shot Pistol Range gun shop in Lakewood Township, N.J., March 19, 2020. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Forgive me for revisiting that Gail Collins New York Times column I examined yesterday, but I think it is important to understand the extent to which this kind of ignorance and bigotry shapes the gun-control conversation. Here’s a selection from the comments section on that column. Comments sections are a mixed bag, at best, but this particular remark bears the endorsement of both Gail Collins and the New York Times:

This bears all the features of the worst of our contemporary discourse.

  1. Beware the One-Armed Paper-Hanger: “As a gun-owner in Oklahoma,” he begins, as though this gave his remarks some special standing. And, for some people, maybe it does — “Hey, look, even those rubes in Oklahoma agree!” But that is the most childish kind of thinking. And, as the rest of the comment reveals, this plea for special standing is a cover for basic ignorance.
  2. “An assault rifle is not for hunting; you might as well call it fishing when you throw dynamite in the river.” The first thing to note there is that the Second Amendment is not about hunting — it does not say anything about a “well-regulated hunting party.” But, in reality, so-called assault rifles — meaning semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines — are very commonly used in hunting, both in the United States and around the world. In fact, the AR-style rifle is probably the single-most-common hunting platform in the United States, used on everything from small game to predators to mountain sheep. This is not a new development — Colt was marketing its AR-style rifles as hunting tools as far back as the early 1960s. And the fastest-growing hunting pursuit in the United States is hog-hunting, in which AR-style rifles are used more than any other firearm. In fact, because the traditional 5.56mm chambering for the AR is considered — take note, gun-grabbers — insufficiently powerful for hogs and other large and tough game, there is a whole new world of more powerful hunting cartridges designed specifically for the AR platform, some of them engineered specifically for hog hunting, which is why they have porky designations such as .300 HAM’R and .458 HAM’R. You cannot say, “We don’t want to ban hunting rifles, we only want to ban AR-15s,” because banning AR rifles means banning the most common hunting rifles in use today.
  3. “The kick of dangerous rifles is posing at the range imagining you’re Rambo . . . loudmouth swaggered [sic] who scare people at Braun’s [sic].” That kind of sneering really gets to the heart or the issue — this is not a crime-policy debate, but a culture-war exercise. It’s not “these guns,” it’s “these people.” All rifles are “dangerous rifles” — they are designed to kill things — but, while you will see the occasional goofball at the firing range, you don’t see a lot of Rambo antics. (And, besides, wasn’t his thing archery?) Most firing ranges require that rifles be fired seated from a bench, and most of them prohibit rapid firing of either rifles or handguns. You see all kinds of people at the range for all kinds of reasons: Hunters and sports shooters sighting in scopes, precision shooters trying to improve their shots a quarter of an inch at a time, people familiarizing themselves with new firearms, and people keeping in practice for self-defense. It’s hard to pose as Rambo when you’re wearing giant earmuffs. But it is easy to be an ignorant snoot.
  4. “Horrified by the removal of all restrictions on buying and carrying weapons here.” It is — and this still matters! — not true that all restrictions on buying weapons have been removed in Oklahoma, or anywhere else in the country. Oklahoma couldn’t remove all the buying restrictions even if it wanted to, because these are a matter of federal law, not state law. As far as I know, no restrictions on buying firearms have been removed in Oklahoma. And even though Oklahoma has “constitutional carry,” that does not mean that it has removed all restrictions on carrying weapons. It has the restrictions you would expect: The people who cannot legally buy a gun cannot legally carry one, there are many places where you cannot carry, etc. In Oklahoma, there also are restrictions on what kind of handguns can be carried. Businesses, churches, and property owners can prohibit weapons on their premises. Etc.

I would like to emphasize that what is at issue here is not a difference of opinion — these are questions of fact. Gail Collins and the New York Times have a duty to these facts, even on the opinion page. Crime and firearms policy are serious issues, and they deserve to be taken seriously. This kind of thing is a public disservice.

U.S.

Remembering September 17th

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Former president George W. Bush speaks during an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, Pa., September 11, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Today is the 20th anniversary of former president Bush’s visit to a mosque, just six days after the 9/11 attacks. His visit was an act of statesmanship and moral leadership. It should be remembered.

In the days immediately following the terrorist attacks, the president was concerned about reports of bias against Muslims, including harassment. He wanted it stopped. Bush did not mince words:

Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes.  Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America.  That’s not the America I know.  That’s not the America I value.

I’ve been told that some fear to leave; some don’t want to go shopping for their families; some don’t want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they’re afraid they’ll be intimidated. That should not and that will not stand in America.

Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.

You could see a hint of sadness on Bush’s face, and his resolve: “That should not and that will not stand in America.”

In part because of his deep religious faith and commitment to pluralism, Bush was repulsed by religious bigotry, and demonstrated respect for the Islamic faith. On September 17, 2001, he said:

The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.  That’s not what Islam is all about.  Islam is peace.  These terrorists don’t represent peace.  They represent evil and war.

When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world.  Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace.  And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race.

Bush understood the ability of a president to shape public attitudes. He wanted to make clear that American Muslims weren’t to be made an enemy. He instinctively understood that his role was to unite the country — each and every citizen — and certainly not to stoke divisions:

America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country.  Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads.  And they need to be treated with respect.  In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.

If Bush had a different approach to presidential leadership, our country could have been much more divided on religious, racial, and ethnic lines.

The United States has been commemorating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — remembering the horror, honoring the fallen, and celebrating the everyday men and women who became heroes on that terrible day.

We should include in our remembrance an appreciation of Bush’s leadership on September 17, 2001. America would do well never to forget his message, so central to the heart of the American ideal, and never to forget the importance of a president calling us to our best selves.