How Much Worse Can It Get?

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U.S. Border Patrol agents search for tracks left by illegal immigrants in Altar Valley, Ariz. January 10, 2008. (Tim Gaynor/Reuters )

I thought for sure the arrest numbers at the border would go down a little in July, if only because of the brutal summer heat.

I was wrong.

Border “encounters” continued their climb under the Biden administration, reaching about 213,000, up 13 percent from June. Of those, about 200,000 were Border Patrol arrests (the rest were illegals at ports of entry).

Perhaps most alarming is that the illegal surge continues to globalize. The share of Border Patrol arrests of illegals not from Mexico or the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) has doubled over the past six months,

Law & the Courts

Judge Friedrich Leaves the CDC Eviction Moratorium to the DC Circuit

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The Biden Administration is pushing a CDC eviction moratorium into the teeth of five current Justices of the Supreme Court concluding that the prior (and for all practical purposes identical) moratorium was beyond the power of the CDC to order. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s decision not to join the other four in entering an order against the moratorium, however, left technically in place the DC Circuit’s prior ruling favoring the moratorium. I noted after listening to Monday’s argument that Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee who ruled against the moratorium the first time around, was concerned that this tied her hands. She ruled today that it did. The case will move on to the DC Circuit, which may again be not only sympathetic to the administration’s flimsy legal arguments but also uninterested in hurrying the case along, unless the challengers can get the Supreme Court to act peremptorily (something it is rarely inclined to do).

This is why Kavanaugh should just have done his job the first time instead of trusting the integrity of the Biden Administration.

UPDATE: Here is the judge’s opinion. Judge Friedrich concluded that the new moratorium was the same as the old one:

The current moratorium applies only “in U.S. counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels of SARS-CoV-2 as defined by
CDC”…a category that presently includes roughly ninety-one percent of U.S. counties…In contrast, the previous moratorium applied in all U.S. counties….Apart from these differences, the moratoria are virtually identical—the remainder of their definitions are the same, their exceptions are the same, their applicability provisions are the same, and the criminal penalties for violating those provisions are the same The minor differences between the current and previous moratoria do not exempt the former from this Court’s order. For obvious reasons, extending the effective dates of a vacated order does not evade the effects of the vacatur. Indeed, consistent with that principle, both the government and the Supreme Court already considered one extension of the moratorium in pari materia with the version that this Court addressed in May. …Further, although the CDC has excluded some counties from the latest moratorium’s reach, the policy remains effective nationwide, shares the same structure and design as its predecessors, provides continuous coverage with them, and purports to rest on the same statutory authority. In the analogous context of the voluntary cessation doctrine, courts frown upon attempts to moot out legal challenges by repealing one rule and replacing it with a policy that is fundamentally similar. [Citations omitted]

As a result, Judge Friedrich held, the new moratorium was properly back before the same judge in the same case – but also that “the Court’s hands are tied:”

It is true that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in this case strongly suggests that the CDC is unlikely to succeed on the merits. Four Supreme Court Justices voted to vacate the stay, “an action which would have been improbable if not impossible had the government, as the stay applicant, . . . made a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits.” CASA de Maryland, Inc. v. Trump, 971 F.3d 220, 229 (4th Cir. 2020) (Wilkinson, J.). And while Justice Kavanaugh voted to uphold the stay, he squarely concluded “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its existing statutory authority by issuing a nationwide eviction moratorium.” Ala. Ass’n of Realtors, 141 S. Ct. at 2320 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring). Other decisions from the federal courts of appeals further suggest that the government is unlikely to prevail…But the Court’s hands are tied. The Supreme Court did not issue a controlling opinion in this case, and circuit precedent provides that the votes of dissenting Justices may not be combined with that of a concurring Justice to create binding law.

Politics & Policy

Biden, July 8: ‘The Taliban Overrunning Everything and Owning the Whole Country Is Highly Unlikely.’ 

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People standing on a vehicle hold Taliban flags as crowds gather near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Pakistan, July 14, 2021. (Abdul Khaliq Achakzai/Reuters)

It cannot be emphasized enough that the withdrawal from Afghanistan being executed by the Biden administration was based upon explicit assurances from the president that it would not be a rerun of the American humiliation and defeat in Vietnam.

President Biden, speaking July 8: 

Q: Mr. President, some Vietnamese veterans see echoes of their experience in this withdrawal in Afghanistan.  Do you see any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam, with some people feeling —

THE PRESIDENT:  None whatsoever.  Zero.  What you had is — you had entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy — six, if I’m not mistaken.

The Taliban is not the south — the North Vietnamese army. They’re not — they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability.  There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan.  It is not at all comparable.

Biden also said that day, “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

Today, the headline over on the Politico Playbook newsletter is “Joe Biden’s ‘fall of Saigon’.” The Financial Times declares, “Joe Biden’s credibility has been shredded in Afghanistan.” NBC News reports, “Potential Al Qaeda resurgence in Afghanistan worries U.S. officials.”  Everything that Biden insisted wasn’t going to happen… is happening.

Biden could have said, “we’re going to leave Afghanistan, the Taliban is likely to take over, the world will have an epic humanitarian disaster on its hands, and Islamist fundamentalism will have its greatest propaganda victory since the formulation of the Islamic State.” But if Biden had discussed the likely consequences of his decision with clear-eyed realism and blunt honesty, maybe the American public wouldn’t have been such big fans of what the president wanted to do regarding Afghanistan.

Politics & Policy

Ron Johnson, Pro Publica, and Simple Math

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Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) asks questions during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs/Rules and Administration hearing to examine the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

Another morning, another Ron Johnson smear piece on the front of the Appleton Post-Crescent, a newspaper operated by the USA Today Network. The headline reads “Benefitting the Rich.” Written by Justin Elliott and Robert Faturechi of Pro Publica, the piece details how in 2017 Johnson ensured that “pass-throughs” — a spooky catch-all term for LLCs, S-corps, partnerships, and sole proprietorships — had their tax burden reduced like C-corporations. 

Johnson explained the move, saying, 

Earnings at C-corporations saw a tax reduction via the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21% while earnings at pass-through corporations would have been taxed at a top personal income rate of 38.5%, a great competitive disadvantage.

The original pass-through deductions would have effectively reduced this rate to 35.6% for pass-through entities, still a large disadvantage. My effort reduced the rate on pass-through income to 29.6%, still higher than the rate on C-corporation earnings but less of an unfair differential.

Seeing as a majority of businesses in the U.S. are pass-throughs, not monolithic C-corps such as Coca-Cola, I raise my morning cup of coffee to the senator. 

The Pro Publica writers are hilarious covering this. They scribe, in the hushed, over-wrought tones that journalists are prone to when they feel they have a juicy bit of info, that

The Trump administration championed the pass-through provision as tax relief for “small businesses.

Confidential tax records, however, reveal that Johnson’s last-minute maneuver benefited two families more than almost any other in the country — both worth billions and both among the senator’s biggest donors.

I land towards the former between innumeracy and trigonometric competence, but the math is pretty easy here. People who make more money save more from reduced taxes than those who make less. 

Simple example: 

You make $1 million

Taxed at 38.5 percent Tax due $385,000 Take home $615,000

Taxed at 29.6 percent Tax due $296,000 Take home $704,000

Savings from tax reduction $89,000

Let’s say you’re a small-business owner now: 

You make $300,000

Taxed at 38.5 percent Tax due $115,500 Take home $184,500

Taxed at 29.6 percent Tax due $88,800   Take home 211,200

Savings from tax reduction $26,700

The small-business owner got ripped off! The bigger business owner received $62,300 more in tax relief! Tosh, the higher earner made more money and paid more total tax. 

You never see in these breathless articles anyone note just how much the likes of Johnson’s donors pay in taxes — only what they “saved” from the relief. Probably because these billionaires pay a metric tonne to our benevolent government and showing it is so undercuts the story-crafting that a bunch of fatcats are wandering the countryside, paying not a red cent in tax. 

Also, this idea that rich people donate more should be self-evident. It’s hard to drop $20,000 on a PAC function when working at Applebees. 

Maybe this is just my Wisconsinite solidarity, but the USA Today Network has been after Johnson much of this year. I’m inclined to think their reasons for this piece and others are political instead of holding public officials equally to account. 

Education

Fixing Academic Peer Review

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(charliepix/Getty Images)

Like so much of the academic world, the peer-review process has become corrupt, ineffective, and dysfunctional. Fortunately, there is a solution. In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Adam Ellwanger interviews two statistics professors, Ryan Martin of NC State and Harry Crane of Rutgers, about Researchers.One, which, Ellwanger writes, “invites scholars of all disciplines to use its platform to publish their scholarship without the middleman.”

Martin says, “Today, the bestowal of this mark of quality has become the primary role of the peer review process. But this creates a disincentive, especially for junior folks, to try to branch out and develop genuinely new ideas. So, it’s kind of like these mob movies like Goodfellas and Casino: the strategy to be successful in a world like that is to keep your head down and stay in line. That also happens in the academic world.”

Crane adds, “Peer-reviewed research is referenced all the time as evidence that a published claim is true. If something was peer reviewed, then that means it’s been vetted, so people assume it must be true. But that’s not actually what peer review does. In reality, peer-review is a purely administrative process that allows people to rise up the academic ladder. Whatever scholarly purpose it serves is secondary. That’s why we started Researchers.One.”

Researchers.One allows any scholar to upload his or her research, where it is available for anyone to read and comment on — except that anonymous comments are not allowed. Authors can respond to criticism. Real debate over the merits of the work ensues.

Why is that better? Martin explains: “The typical style of peer-review relies on the subjective assessment of two or three anonymous reviewers. From our perspective, that judgment is better left to a broader community of scholars that help one another refine and test the work that’s been done. That’s not something any individual viewer or an editorial board can do. ”

Let’s hope that Researchers.One catches on. The way the peer-review process currently functions, it’s too easy for hostile reviewers to suppress good research, and too easy for bad but politically correct research to gain unearned praise and acceptance.

Politics & Policy

On Harris, Spending, and Inflation

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My latest New York Post columns: Kamala Harris is failing:

The latest news is that a group of high-powered Democratic women, led by a prominent public relations specialist, gathered over dinner to strategize how to rehabilitate the vice president’s public image. That is generally not a sign that things are going well. Democrats in 2024 may have a Joe Biden problem. Biden has visibly slowed already, and he will be 82 by then. But they might prefer that to having a Kamala Harris problem on top of the ticket. We should all hope for Biden’s good health in the meantime.

Democrats are playing with fire with spending and inflation:

There are two things the government shouldn’t do in that situation. One is spend a ton more money, expanding the amount in circulation. The other is to drive up wages and demand. Joe Biden and the Democrats are doing both. Businesses have to offer higher wages to compete with extended unemployment benefits. Senate Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution Wednesday morning, a package stuffed with more benefits. This is on top of $1.9 trillion the Democrats spent in January. There’s also a bipartisan bill with $550 billion in new infrastructure spending. This is the wildest peacetime spending spree in U.S. history. The $6 trillion price tag is over $46,000 for every household in the country. By comparison, the federal government spent $4.1 trillion, in current dollars, fighting World War II.

National Security & Defense

McConnell: Biden Should Provide Afghans Support to Stop Taliban from Conquering Kabul

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Following news that the Taliban captured the Afghan cities of Kandahar and Herat on Thursday and that the United States is deploying thousands of troops to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement urging President Biden to “immediately commit to providing more support to Afghan forces, starting with close air support beyond August 31st. Without it, al Qaeda and the Taliban may celebrate the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning down our Embassy in Kabul.”

Here’s the full McConnell statement:

“Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster. And the Administration’s surreal efforts to defend President Biden’s reckless policy are frankly humiliating.

“The Biden Administration has reduced U.S. officials to pleading with Islamic extremists to spare our Embassy as they prepare to overrun Kabul. Absurdly, naively, our government is arguing that bloodshed might hurt the Taliban’s international reputation, as if radical terrorists are anxious about their P.R.

“The Taliban doesn’t believe in a political settlement. They want military victory and bloody retribution. President Biden and his team have a proud superpower trying to fight atrocities and war crimes with plaintive tweets.

“Unless President Biden adjusts course quickly, the Taliban is on track to secure a significant military victory. The latest news of a further drawdown at our Embassy and a hasty deployment of military forces seem like preparations for the fall of Kabul. President Biden’s decisions have us hurtling toward an even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975.

“Here’s what should happen now. President Biden should immediately commit to providing more support to Afghan forces, starting with close air support beyond August 31st. Without it, al Qaeda and the Taliban may celebrate the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning down our Embassy in Kabul.

“If we let the Taliban dominate Afghanistan and al Qaeda return, it will resonate throughout the global jihadist movement. It will replay what happened when the last Democratic president let ISIS claim much of Iraq and Syria for a caliphate and a wave of global terrorism was unleashed.

“President Biden’s strategy has turned an imperfect but stable situation into a major embarrassment and a global emergency in a matter of weeks. President Biden is finding that the quickest way to end a war is to lose it. The costs and ramifications will echo across the world.”

The Media Refuse to Cover the Allegations against David Chipman

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David Chipman testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, September 25, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The Washington Post recently published an editorial imploring the Senate to get past the “gun obsessives’ delusional oversensitivity” and move forward with the confirmation of David Chipman, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The Post cherry-picks some innocuous selections from Chipman’s repertoire, ignoring his most sneering and contemptuous barbs. The Post’s editors then try to outdo Chipman, claiming his critics have a “toxic obsession with firearms,” believe in “cockamamie conspiracy theories,” and harbor a “bizarre infatuation with the weapons of war.”

The Post then contends that Chipman, a “lifelong civil servant,” is a “nominee

Health Care

The NFL Is Incentivizing Vaccines Better Than the Ivy League

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A student receives a dose of a coronavirus vaccine on the campus of the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tenn., July 22, 2021. (Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

Stanford and a number of Ivy League schools have mandated that students on campus must wear masks and be tested for COVID weekly. This mandate is for both those who are vaccinated and those who are not. This policy is well-intentioned, but for young adults frustrated with pandemic life, this begs the question: Why should they get vaccinated if the restrictions are going to remain no matter what? 

Young people are disproportionately likely to be unvaccinated, and in response, the White House has taken unusual steps to make the vaccine seem more attractive. For instance, the White House hired TikTok influencers and popstars to help boost uptake. None of these efforts address the reason younger people don’t want to get a shot, though. 

Children and young adults have a much lower risk of hospitalization and death from COVID than other age groups. This is a well-known fact, and it affects how young people view the attractiveness of the vaccine. The New York Times reported that

But the straightforward sales pitch for older people — a vaccine could very possibly save your life — does not always work on healthy 20-somethings who know they are less likely to face the severest outcomes of Covid. . . . public health officials now face an overlapping mix of inertia, fear, busy schedules and misinformation as they try — sometimes one person at a time — to cajole Gen Z into getting a shot.

There just isn’t a powerful health incentive for young people to get a vaccine, especially for those that are politically apathetic or have previously contracted COVID. However, “returning to normal” is both biologically and psychologically good for young adults. Therefore, the best way to incentivize young people to get the vaccine is to allow them greater personal freedoms if they get inoculated.

Unfortunately, the recent actions of public schools and private universities are undercutting that incentive structure. If both vaccinated and unvaccinated students must abide by the same COVID restrictions, vaccine-skeptical people won’t see much reason to get the shot. If schools truly want to incentivize vaccines, they should follow the NFL’s vaccine protocols. 

NFL players that are fully vaccinated can practice and train without limitations. However, those that are unvaccinated must wear masks, stay socially distant, take COVID tests, and abide by other restrictions. Furthermore, if a team has an outbreak, that team could forfeit the game, and the players will have their pay docked. These incentives work; nearly 90 percent of NFL players have received the vaccine.

Colleges shouldn’t implement identical protocols, obviously, but the point is to line up the right incentives. Unvaccinated students could be instructed to wear masks and socially distance themselves. Schools could also mandate COVID testing, and if students are positive, they would be forced to quarantine. Students would have the freedom to make their own vaccination decision, but they would do so in an environment that makes the pros and cons of their decision quite clear.

Young people are spreading the Delta variant faster than ever before. Rather than relying on TikTok influencers, our leading institutions should consider why young adults aren’t getting vaccinated. You wouldn’t think that the National Football League would have a more sensible vaccine policy than universities such as Stanford, but stranger things have happened in the last two years. 

Warning Signs for Eric Greitens Making a Comeback in Missouri

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Eric Greitens speaks to the corps of cadets at the 22nd Annual Ethics Forum at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., in 2011. (Petty Officer Second Class Timothy Tamargo/US Coast Guard)

The race to replace the retiring Roy Blunt in the Senate should not be one that causes Republicans to lose a lot of sleep. Missouri, a competitive state at the presidential level in 2000 and 2008, has been a blowout in recent years; Mitt Romney carried it by a nine-point margin in 2012, and Donald Trump’s margins were 18.5 points in 2016, 15.4 points in 2020. After two terms of Democrat Jay Nixon, the state turned to Republican Eric Greitens by a 51-46 margin in the 2016 gubernatorial race, and his GOP successor Mike Parsons won 57-41 in 2020. Democrat

Books

Time Magazine Plays the Prophet

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Books stacked on an open desk. (utah778/GettyImages)

Time magazine just put out its “Top 100 YA Books of All Time” list, and in the inimitable phraseology of the Car Talk brothers, it is “BoooooooooooGUS.”

Setting aside the fact that much of the YA literature of today is a cesspool of sap, the premise of the list is wrong. Time proudly writes that over 50 percent of the chosen titles were published in the last decade. How can such books be considered the “all-time best” when they’ve not actually stood the test of time?

Instead of looking across the decades at the goldmine of children’s literature available, the Time panel tasked with this project (filled with contemporary YA authors — one of the last groups of people who should be creating such a list) preferred to remain short-sighted. Yes, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables make the list, but it feels as if they were thrown in just to cover the “pre-1900” base. Both are excellent books, but what about Little House on the Prairie? Wind in the Willows? Narnia? Hatchet, The Hobbit, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? All of these and many others were on the 2015 “All-Time Best” list. For heaven’s sake, Harry Potter didn’t even make the new and improved run-down! And that series is pretty hard to beat for literary and cultural influence.

Time claims its criteria was “artistry, originality, accessibility when it comes to mature themes, emotional impact, critical and popular reception, and influence on the young adult category and literature more broadly.” Perhaps the selection committee should do some more reading, not just of the books they were so quick to cut from the previous list, but of actual experts in the field, educators and writers who’ve studied this literary genre and can speak on it with reasonable authority. Cheri Blomquist is a perfect example, beginning with her recent book Before Austen Comes Aesop: The Children’s Great Books and How to Experience Them. Blomquist’s main point is that we need to rethink the way we teach literature to our children, and this is also applicable as regards Time’s list.

Blomquist’s premise focuses on the Great Books. According to her, “the Great Books of Western literature have at least four main qualities:

  1. Their ideas and themes are both representative of their times and universal. Thus they remain relevant and important to modern readers.
  2. They have contributed to the ‘Great Conversation of Great Ideas’ of Western thinkers down through the centuries.
  3. They have layers of riches such that readers can return to them again and again and make valuable discoveries every time.
  4. Their craftsmanship is beautiful and often exemplary.

She then takes this list and adapts it for her Children’s Great Books selection:

  1. The book has played a significant role in the history of children’s literature.
  2. It has influenced the development of Western literature—children’s, adult, or both.
  3. It has been valued by young people for much of its existence.
  4. It has long been considered excellent literature.

Books on Blomquist’s Children’s Great Books list are not all old, but she does have a caveat, stating that “the contemporary works on the list are those currently considered excellent by literary critics and have already proven to be influential, but time will tell if they will be considered great in the long run.”

Time’s criteria had the right idea, but its error comes down to poorly defined terms. To boast that the majority of books on this list are contemporary undermines its “All-Time Best” claim. If these books merit being on, say, a “YA Bestsellers of the 2010s” list, or a “Best Contemporary Coming-of-Age” books list, that is well and good. But to claim “All-Time Best” status requires just that: time.

World

Leverage Lost: U.S. Dangles Aid to Prevent Taliban Attack on Embassy in Kabul

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Ambassador Ross Wilson speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 30, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

The Biden administration is dangling the possibility of U.S. aid to a potential future Taliban-controlled government of Afghanistan, in a last-ditch bid to prevent an assault on its embassy in Kabul.

The situation in the country is in free fall. Since the start of a blitz last week, Taliban fighters have now taken eleven provincial capitals, as U.S. efforts to negotiate a political solution and a desperate plea to the group to negotiate a power-sharing agreement founder. The deadline for the completion of the U.S. withdrawal is August 31, and the White House and Pentagon have demonstrated little interest in significantly higher levels of air strikes to stop the Taliban’s advance.

Washington is now placing its hopes in a diplomatic push, one feature of which is to convince the Taliban not to attack the U.S. embassy in Kabul, if the Afghan capital falls, the New York Times reported today.

As the Times reports, part of this push includes preventing a Taliban assault on the U.S. embassy by saying that keeping it open is the only way a government the group runs can possibly receive future financial assistance from Washington.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s Afghanistan envoy and a veteran of the Bush and Trump administrations, has spearheaded the U.S. diplomatic effort.

Earlier this week, as Khalilzad traveled to Doha to meet Taliban negotiators, he and other administration officials faced criticism for saying that the Taliban would fail to gain international legitimacy if it came to power by force.

The most recent iteration of that argument came from within the walls of the Kabul embassy. “The Taliban’s statements in Doha do not resemble their actions in Badakhstan, Ghazni, Helmand & Kandahar,” wrote Ross Wilson, a top U.S. official there, on Twitter today.

For now, though, U.S. diplomats will remain in the country, as Khalilzad and the administration attempt to sway the Taliban.

“We are withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, but we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan,” the State Department told the Times in a statement, saying there are no plans to evacuate the embassy.

Given how far things have fallen, the administration’s line about international legitimacy is almost certain to fall on deaf ears. Unfortunately, the outcomes of this withdrawal demonstrate the logical end of a foreign policy based largely on appeals to international legitimacy backed by little else.

Chicago Department of Health: No Evidence Lollapalooza Was a ‘Super-Spreader’

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A fan crowd surfs during a performance at the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park in Chicago, August 5, 2011. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said today that there is no evidence that the city’s four-day Lollapalooza music festival was a super-spreader, that a grand total of 203 cases could be traced back to the festival, that four out of every 10,000 vaccinated attendees have reported testing positive, and that as of yesterday, no hospitalizations or deaths had occurred among any attendees.

“There’s no evidence of substantial impact to the city of Chicago’s epidemiology,” Arwardy said.

That is not the consequence that many public health experts and media voices predicted.

It has now been two weeks

World

Afghanistan for the Layman

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Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint in the Guzara district of Herat Province, Afghanistan, July 9, 2021. (Jalil Ahmad/Reuters)

The Taliban continue their advance through Afghanistan, with regional capitals falling one after another. Today’s WSJ headline reads, “Speed of the Taliban Advance Surprises U.S., Alarms Allies,” and the NYT asks, “Could the Taliban Take over Afghanistan?” Worrisome, but abstract. It’s difficult for the average Western reader to conceptualize how this conflict is taking shape, as Afghanistan’s geography and socio-political structure are . . . well, foreign. 

These news reports tell of almost a dozen regional capitals falling to the Taliban in a brief span, which can leave a reader to wonder, “How many regional capitals are there, anyway; is nine a lot?” There are 34 total regional capitals, apparently. Numbers mean little outside of context. 

Helpfully, there are maps, providing us with an illustrated reference and a soaring perspective. But maps suffer their own flaws, representing vast swaths of land as “owned” by one side or another but effectively uninhabited by either force.

The best combination of word, illustration, and scope I found comes courtesy of Vox’s Jen Kirby. Published August 11, she sat down with Andrew Watkins, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, to unpack what is happening in Afghanistan, why it matters, and the possible outcomes. 

A fascinating excerpt describing the Afghan government’s minuscule presence in the vastness of the country reads:

Jen Kirby

So when we see the Afghanistan map with all the color-coded territory, it’s not so much that the Taliban has full control over those large swaths. It’s just that those little village outposts have fallen one by one, so there’s nobody around to stop the Taliban from closing in on the cities.

Andrew Watkins

That’s exactly it. That’s not only what’s happening, but that’s also the significance of what’s happening. The fewer obstacles that stand in the Taliban’s way in the countryside, the fewer speed bumps they have on their way to the doorsteps of the cities — which is where they are now — around most of the country.

The New York Times ran a piece and got someone to go on the record with something I’ve been told over the last couple of weeks. One Afghan government official told them some of these districts fell when 10 Taliban fighters showed up. A lot of this was just the collapse of government authority, and if it could collapse in the face of 10 Taliban fighters, we have to be honest: It was barely there to begin with.

You can read the full and valuable interview here.

 

Health Care

Why Is the NHS — and the High Court — Determined for Alta Fixsler to Die?

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An NHS logo is seen on an ambulance in London, England, January 2, 2021. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Bill McGurn writes about the ongoing fight to get two-year-old Alta Fixsler out of her U.K.-NHS prison, explaining that this isn’t even a cost-saving measure (as bad as that would be), but something  “more monstrous”:

That even if it wouldn’t cost the NHS a penny, Alta Fixsler must be denied the possibility of treatment elsewhere because the experts and her assigned guardian have concluded, as the Hon. Mr. Justice Alistair MacDonald ably summed up in his decision, that she “has no quality of life” and “the burdens of Alta’s life outweigh any benefits.”

This is, of course, a moral judgment, not a medical one. On its own terms, it isn’t clear why it is owed any more deference than the contending moral calculus raised by Alta’s parents. Their faith, they say, is rooted in “the sanctity of life,” the “fundamental Jewish belief that human life, no matter how compromised, is invaluable.”

The Fixslers further note that Judaism isn’t simply a set of beliefs but a way of life, with guidance on everything from what they eat to how they pray to their obligations to others. The rabbis Alta’s parents consulted acknowledge Jewish law doesn’t always require patients be put on life support. But to remove it after it has been applied, they say, would hasten death and constitute a grave sin.

The justification for forbidding the Fixslers to take Alta to another hospital overseas rests largely on the grounds she might experience pain in transit. Think about that. Millions of people live with significant daily pain and suffering. Does this pain mean their lives have any less worth?

Ah, our new barbarians say, such people are conscious, able to make that calculation for themselves. Alta cannot, and she has no hope of getting better.

But even the doctors admit they can’t say for sure whether or how Alta experiences pain. Even so, they insist their judgment must be final and absolute, illuminating the death wish lurking behind so much of modern notions of “compassion,” which here elevates avoiding even the possibility of pain above all else, including living.

And if it comes to life-or-death decisions, are these best left to the courts and the clinicians? Or might there be something to be said in cases like Alta’s for deferring to the two people who love her most, her mom and dad — Abraham and Chaya Fixsler ?

Read more from his Wall Street Journal column.

I wrote about Alta here and here.

These extreme cases cast a light on the dangerous ways the medical profession is thinking these days.

Politics & Policy

Rental Assistance Program Used Just 10 Percent of $46 Billion Congress Provided

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The Capitol Building viewed from the Washington Mall in Washington D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

Congress can spend money quickly, which is a different goal than actually getting the money to the people they said they were going to help.

More than seven months after it was launched, the biggest rental assistance program in U.S. history has delivered just a fraction of the promised aid to tenants and landlords struggling with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

Since last December, Congress has appropriated a total of $46.6 billion to help tenants who were behind on their rent. As of June 30, just $3 billion had been distributed, though a senior official said the Biden administration hoped at least another $2 billion had been distributed in July.

If the Biden administration official’s estimate is correct, that would add up to a whopping 10.7 percent. At this pace, the rental assistance program will allocate the entire amount by June 2026.

Congress loves to throw money at a problem and ignore questions of whether the Byzantine federal bureaucracy and patchwork of programs and systems can actually allocate the appropriated money fast enough to address the problem.

I am reminded of former president Barack Obama admitting in 2011, after spending two years promising that his stimulus would fund “shovel-ready jobs,” that  “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.”

Media

‘Benign Spin’

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I’m afraid our old friend Max Boot is guilty of not reading past the headline.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about the Right’s abandonment of an Apollonian politics of reason and order for a Dionysian politics of intoxicating anarchy. Max Boot, apparently reading only the headline (which described this as the GOP’s “hippie phase”) refers to this in the Washington Post as “benign spin.”

I don’t think “benign spin” is an honest or accurate characterization of an argument whose main points of comparison were the ritual murders of the Manson family and the terrorism of the Weather Underground.

Read the damned column, Max, if you are going to write about it.

Putting the word “opinion” atop something cheap, sloppy, and stupid doesn’t make it anything other than cheap, sloppy, and stupid. Max Boot knows this. So does the Washington Post.

Monetary Policy

Inflation: A Better Time in the Transit(ory) Lounge?

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(Maximusnd/iStock/Getty Images)

Headline inflation came out at 5.4 percent year-on-year in July, about where it had been expected, and at the same rate as the previous month, which had been the highest number since . . . August 2008. The monthly rate of increase was 0.5 percent. Core inflation (which excludes energy and food) was 4.3 percent, down slightly from June’s 4.5 percent. Looking at core inflation on a month-by-month basis, the rate was 0.3 percent, below expectations of 0.4 percent and well below June’s numbers (0.9 percent). The results represented the first deceleration since February. More favorable base effects helped, but one major reason for the decline was that the surge in used-car and used-truck prices, a phenomenon that owed a great deal, one way or another, to pandemic-related dislocation, eased off dramatically: They increased by 0.2 percent (month-on-month) in July, after rocketing by 10 percent in June. A plateau is not the same as a cliff, of course, but there are now signs (via Manheim) that prices are falling.

It also seems that other prices — airline tickets, for example — that had risen on the back of pent-up demand are beginning to cool off, a trend, it seems, that may now be reinforced by the Delta variant putting a crimp in people’s plans. On the other hand, the surge in home prices, which typically would take a number of quarters to show up in the CPI (as OER, essentially the rent people would have had to pay on owner-occupied housing) has not yet really made its presence felt. The interplay between house prices, a structural housing shortage, ultra-low mortgage rates, and inflation may well mean that this presence turns out to be very far from (to use the Fed’s favorite adjective) “transitory.” Shelter makes up about one-third of the CPI.

So, what now? Inflation is something that can feed on itself, and even if, well, food is excluded from core inflation, it won’t be excluded from the way that consumers look at the price environment.

The Washington Post:

The cost of many grocery items — including meats, poultry, eggs and dairy — also ticked higher again in July, according to the report. Groceries have been trending higher for well over a year, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing a 2.6 percent rise in the “food at home” category compared with last year.

Well over a year.

And it won’t help if real wages are under pressure.

The Wall Street Journal:

Inflation is eating into household spending power despite wage increases in some industries. Average hourly earnings of private-sector workers, adjusted for inflation, fell 0.1% in July from June on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said. However, wages in the leisure and hospitality industry, where labor shortages are unusually acute, rose 0.4% from June, adjusting for inflation.

On the other hand (also from the Wall Street Journal):

Last Friday’s jobs report showed average hourly earnings have risen at a 5% annual rate over the past three months.

There’s a catch though:

That will lead many businesses to at least try to offset higher labor costs by charging higher prices.

The key question — to which I don’t, of course, have the answer — is how long people will be prepared to wait before they cease to think of more rapidly rising prices as “transitory” and start adjusting their behavior accordingly.

The Washington Post:

For the Fed and White House, price challenges are compounded by the fact that inflation can be driven by what people expect it will be in the future. For example, if businesses shift their plans for investment or consumers change their spending habits because they think prices for construction materials or hotel rooms will continue to soar, that behavior could drive prices up, too.

Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said it matters to households that “we’re on month five of this, and we might be in for another year of it.”

Strain adds:

“The Fed may be absolutely right to keep its zero interest rate policy. But I think the Fed has been too blasé, too serene, too dismissive of this potential risk.”

There is a limited amount that can be drawn from one month’s numbers, but these latest data provide some grounds for optimism that the pandemic effect on inflation may slowly be passing (for a relatively upbeat view on the prospects, take a look at this analysis by Matthew Klein), but that’s still far from a given.

Strain is right to be concerned that the Fed may be too relaxed about what might lie ahead for inflation. What’s more, given the way that the nation’s debt is ballooning, the central bank enjoys relatively little room for maneuver now —  and will have far less in the years to come. It is not too hard to see how the country could reach a point when a Volcker moment (when Paul Volcker became Fed chairman in August 1979, the Fed Funds rate stood at 10.5 percent or so: It peaked at around 20 percent less than two years later) is essential but impossible. Under the circumstances, the Fed would do well to err on the side of caution. On the brighter side, the sharp spike in Americans googling “inflation” appears to have reversed, so there’s that.

And then there’s the small matter of all that money that’s been created out of thin air . . .

World

U.S. Officials Eye a Political Solution to New Taliban Blitz

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Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint in the Guzara district of Herat Province, Afghanistan, July 9, 2021. (Jalil Ahmad/Reuters)

The White House says it isn’t ready to give up hope amid the Taliban’s wildly successful blitz campaign, but officials are making the specious point that the Islamist group should reconsider its actions if it wants to be taken as a legitimate player on the international stage.

The Washington Post reported earlier today that an internal military assessment found that the Taliban are likely to take Kabul within 90 days, and the paper cited some anonymous officials who think that it could fall even within a month.

This prompted an interesting exchange at today’s White House press briefing, where press secretary Jen Psaki brushed off the “anonymous assessments.”

“We are closely watching the deteriorating security conditions in parts of the country, but no particular outcome, in our view, is inevitable. We will continue to coordinate air strikes, with and in support of Afghan forces,” she also said.

“The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community,” Psaki added, reprising the line offered by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative to the Afghan peace process in Doha, during his conversations with the Taliban this week.

Nothing is inevitable, but the administration’s points here sound detached from the dismal reality on the ground where the Taliban have retaken nine of the country’s 34 capitals since Friday, leaving them in control of over two-thirds of Afghanistan. Kabul remains beyond the Taliban’s grasp, for now, but this stepped-up assault has included attacks on high-value targets within the Afghan capital.

The Post’s reporting shows that the administration, at least in private, sees the writing on the wall. But Psaki and others aren’t willing to concede the failure of Biden’s withdrawal yet, so they’re offering a questionable rhetorical backstop that makes it seem as though negotiating a political settlement remains remotely possible.

To Psaki’s credit, Afghan foreign minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar claimed that one does, at least if the international community “speaks with one voice” and pressures the Taliban, he said during an event hosted today by an Australian think tank.

But he also said, “We are probably experiencing the most massive, brutal, and opportunistic military campaign of violence and terror, by the Taliban, in the history of our country.”

That’s the military problem to which the administration is seeking a political solution.

Appealing to the Taliban’s desire to be recognized internationally seems like a losing strategy, with the Afghan government and its defense forces in disarray, President Biden’s reluctance to send much more help, and the current U.S. indifference to the plight of the country. The U.S. has signaled no increase in air strikes (which are conducted from abroad, since Bagram air base was shuttered in June), and the administration reportedly is cool to the idea of even continuing them past the August 31 withdrawal deadline.

The Afghan government wants help, but if Biden and his team are to be taken at their word, all they can muster is an attempt to make Taliban negotiators uncomfortable in their palatial Doha hotel suites.

U.S.

Ron Kind’s Retirement a Blow to Democrats’ Hopes of Holding the House

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Democratic Wisconsin congressman Ron Kind announced his retirement on Tuesday, dealing a blow to Democrats’ hopes of keeping control of the House in 2022.

Kind has represented western Wisconsin’s third congressional district since 1997, but voters in the district backed Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. In 2016, Kind ran unopposed, and in 2018 he cruised to reelection by 19 points.

But in 2020, Kind narrowly defeated former Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden, a first-time candidate, 51.3 percent to 48.6 percent. Van Orden is seeking the seat again in 2022, and Kind was high on the GOP’s target list.

Although the incumbent ran ahead of other Democrats on the ticket for many years, that trend may not have continued if Kind had sought another term in 2022. The retiring Democratic congressman has recently come under fire for renting out a massage parlor to a woman who “lost her occupational license in another state after local police linked her to human trafficking and prostitution,” the Washington Free Beacon reported last month.

Politics & Policy

Andrew Cuomo Resigned Because It Cost Democrats Nothing

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Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo speaks at the opening of Pier 76 park in New York, N.Y., June 9, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

A popular new liberal talking point claims that Andrew Cuomo resigned because principled Democrats tend to hold their own accountable far more often than Republicans. “Normal political parties,” says one writer, “can police their own.”

Indeed, if your entire political philosophy is to obsess about Donald Trump it might be easy to overlook the fact, as National Review’s editors pointed out the other day, that Republicans had recently pushed out both Eric Greitens in Missouri and Robert Bentley in Alabama. Or that not long ago, someone like Ted Kennedy was being adulated as the “Lion of Senate,” even though everyone knew he was a drunken degenerate; or that during his presidency, credible, corroborating evidence existed that Bill Clinton may have raped a woman. Joe Biden himself was given a dispensation by the media after being accused of sexual assault by Tara Reade. We don’t know if these accusations are true, but if Republicans had adopted the standards set only a year earlier by the Left — which is to say abandoning belief in due process when politically expedient — Biden could have been subjected to intense pressure. Reade, after all, had more credibility than any of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers.

It should also be pointed out that Democrats only displace their own when it holds no genuine political repercussions. Everyone understood that Al Franken’s resignation meant another Democrat would take his place. And everyone knows well that Cuomo’s ouster means another Democrat will take his place — and, in the long run, one that is likely more progressive. Virginia’s Ralph Northam, who either smeared his face with black makeup to look like Michael Jackson or draped himself in a white sheet to cosplay a racist cross-burner, survived only because a cascading array of potential scandals — Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax was accused of sexual assault and then Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to also dressing in blackface — threatened Democratic control.

Let’s not forget either that Cuomo was pushed from office for groping women — bad enough — and not for his deadly incompetence during the COVID pandemic or subsequent corruption. To remove him for his actions last year would have necessitated, to some extent, conceding that the pandemic response had been botched by a man anointed a hero by Democrats and allies. Biden is still praising Cuomo. Now, they can get rid of him for his personal transgressions. Quite a different story.

Not that any of this is surprising. Parties police their own only when the political pressure becomes untenable and the cost to do so is low. It has nothing to do with principles.

Music

‘We Don’t Care How Well You Play, Your Opinions Are Not Acceptable!’

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It’s frightening how rapidly America is becoming a nation where having the wrong views about politics and national controversies can cost you your job or your business.

As we read in this NY Post story, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has fired its principal flutist, Emily Skala, simply because the management disagrees with her thoughts about COVID. The orchestra has a “progressive discipline policy” that allows it to terminate musicians for behavior it disapproves of.

Lesson for orchestral musicians — if you have any thoughts that might conflict with those of “woke” management types, keep them to yourself.

Skala has been with the Baltimore Symphony for 33 years. Now that she has identified herself as a person with unacceptable views, she must be terminated.

It’s the BSO management that ought to be terminated.

Science & Tech

Cryptocurrency Regulations, Space Taxes, and Innovation

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(ktsimage/Getty Images)

The infrastructure bill recently passed by the Senate contained a provision that would impose on the trading of cryptocurrency the same reporting requirements applied to the transaction of other traditional financial securities, such as stocks. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Gary Gensler has also been advocating for more regulations on cryptocurrency trading and soliciting congressional support for his position. This has fueled concern in the financial industry that the growing interest in the cryptocurrency market may be dampened by the anticipated regulations.

This isn’t the only new venture now suddenly threatened by congressional regulation. One may recall that, a few weeks ago, Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon had, in response to Jeff Bezos’s successful venture into space, indignantly suggested that space travel be subjected to an excise tax, lest space exploration become “a tax-free holiday for the wealthy.” Blumenauer stressed that he was “not opposed to . . . space innovation” and only wanted to tax space-travel ventures that “don’t have a scientific purpose.” However, space innovation is driven by not only scientific development, but also financial interest.

One may even contend that the scientific development associated with space innovation is itself driven by financial interest. After all, the prospect of becoming a pioneer in the potentially enormously lucrative industry of private space travel is a tremendous incentive for investors to divert resources to scientific research and development aimed at enhancing space-travel technology. There is simply no way to tax and hence in effect disincentivize the expansion of the private space-traveling industry without impeding potential scientific development.

As of August 10, Blumenauer has yet to formally introduce this space-travel-tax bill, and one can only speculate how serious he had been in his suggestions. However, his suggestions, together with congressional action to strengthen regulation on cryptocurrency, indicate a broader trend of taxing innovation. While the government may have a wide array of reasons for imposing new taxes and regulations onto budding industries, its increasing interest in doing so may, nonetheless, potentially have a chilling effect on innovation.

As the elementary principles of supply-side economics go, tax cuts and deregulation bolster the development of an industry, whereas new taxes and regulations impede it. Even by expressing interest in taxing certain industries, the government may be inducing considerable hesitation on the part of potential investors, who become wary that the profitability of the industry may be diminished by tightening regulations, to assume the risks associated with installing their capital in a relatively young and unestablished industry.

The expansion of the cryptocurrency market may be hindered if they are subjected to the same stringent regulations as traditional securities. While traditional stock trading formally began in America when the Philadelphia Stock Exchange was founded in 1790, formal regulations and “third-party reporting” requirements for did not emerge until 1934, when the SEC was formed in response to the Wall Street crash of 1929. Although the lack of regulations ultimately proved to be a recipe for financial disaster, it also arguably contributed to the initial flourishing of stock trading in America. Cryptocurrency’s roots, on the other hand, can only be traced back as far as the late 20th century. Despite its exponential growth in market value and investors, cryptocurrency exchange is still an emergent market and has yet to command the broad investor confidence that traditional securities trading arguably enjoys. To impose the same stringent regulations applied to traditional securities onto cryptocurrency exchange in its infancy may well prevent it from attaining the establishment conventionality of the stock market.

The government often has different reasons to tighten regulations or impose taxes on budding industries, be it to enforce tax-compliance, increase tax revenue, or simply to punish wealthy citizens for pursuing extravagant exploits. However, regardless of the intentions of the lawmakers, regulations and taxes would foreseeably disincentivize investment in these budding industries and impede their development. The space-travel industry and cryptocurrency exchange are but two of the many markets that may be affected by this broader sentiment. Though the aforementioned short-term aims may be achievable through government action, free enterprise, investors’ interest in emergent industries, and society’s zeal for innovation do not benefit in the long run.

Culture

Donald Kagan, R.I.P.

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Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Donald Kagan, the great historian of the ancient world, has died.

I took his famous intro course on Herodotus and Thucydides when I was a Yale freshman. Kagan’s stunt was to pull some random young men out of the audience — the course was always given in one of the largest lecture halls, so many wanted to take it — and arrange them onstage as if in a line of a hoplite phalanx.

I remember two serious points after almost 50 years. Unless they have been contradicted by better evidence, or they recount something that is physically impossible, always accept traditional accounts as a working hypothesis. And, despite Thucydides’s greatness — Kagan revered him — Herodotus was superior in this respect: He would offer evidence that contradicted his own conclusions (the Spartans say this, the Corinthians say this, but I believe the Athenians who say this . . .). His counter-explanations sometimes turn out to be the correct ones. Thucydides, the master artist and philosopher, has to know everything, and for that reason sometimes doesn’t.

I stayed in touch with him in numerous other ways. My friend Greg Hyatt, from Methuen, Mass., told me once that he was praying for a Yankees victory (unheard of in his part of the world). The reason: Kagan, atheist and Yankees fan, had said he would believe in God if the Yankees won. So Greg resolved to help him.

Kagan wrote a wonderful essay on Joe DiMaggio, correcting a famous John Updike essay on Ted Williams. Williams, Kagan argued sternly, was all about his batting average, whereas DiMaggio’s arete inspired his teammates.

Kagan was the master of Timothy Dwight, one of Yale’s residential colleges, which in my senior year put on a production of Kiss Me, Kate. I was Frederick Graham, the self-regarding ham (why they cast me in that role I have no idea). For the cast party, Master Kagan gave us a case of champagne.

For many years, Kagan was an unpaid teaching assistant for Elizabeth Altham, one of his former students (and one of WFB’s last amanuenses), who became herself a teacher at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a conservative Catholic school in Rockford, Illinois. Kagan’s assignment was to pinch hit on questions regarding the ancient world. So a teacher’s influence spreads through his students to new generations.

Kagan gave a farewell lecture at Yale at the end of his tenure, in the hall where he had demonstrated hoplite phalanxes, surveying the shifting role of the university throughout history. The modern university, he concluded, most resembles Oxford and Cambridge in the 18th century. Students in both learn nothing much, but network with rising fellow members of the elite. It was an impish envoi — disproved by his own splendid career. R.I.P.

Law & the Courts

No, Florida’s Masking Policy Is Not ‘Unconservative’

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Florida governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign rally at Pensacola International Airport in Pensacola, Fla., October 23, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Over the last few days, I’ve seen a number of people suggest that there’s something intrinsically “unconservative” about Governor DeSantis’s decision to bar mask mandates in every school district in Florida. The case made in defense of this proposition seems to be two-fold. First, that DeSantis is “interfering” with local schools by setting a statewide rule. Second, that by barring a mandate, DeSantis in effect setting a mandate.

Neither of these arguments is correct.

The core unit of political organization in America (which is also known as the “United States“) is the state. It is not the federal government, which was the creation of the people, which has limited powers in a few enumerated areas, and which left the states intact; and it is not the local counties within the states, which are creations of the state and can be preempted at any point and for any reason. By design, the states are in primary control of areas as meaningful as criminal law, education, zoning, transportation, agriculture, energy, taxation, and industry. As such, it is a mistake to assume that the same relationship applies between the states and the localities as applies between the federal government and the states. As a prudential matter, it is often a good idea for state governments to defer to the wishes of local communities, just as, when they are drafting laws and regulations, it can be appropriate for statewide officials to leave space for any meaningful differences that might exist. But, unlike the federal government, state governments are not obliged to do this by either law or tradition, which means that determining what qualifies and what does not qualify is a political rather than a constitutional question. (This is why, for example, the federal government’s Obamacare mandate was a big legal problem, whereas Massachusetts’s individual mandate, while a terrible policy, was not.)

This brings us to the second critique, which is that, as a political choice, there was something wrong with DeSantis’s decision to set a statewide policy for masking in schools. Frankly, I consider the claim that to bar mandates is in effect to impose a mandate to be sophistic nonsense — not least because by complaining that the Florida regulation “takes away” the power of schools to set their own policies one is obliged to concede that it hands that power directly to parents. Certainly, one can reasonably argue that Florida has got the balance wrong, and that school boards, not individual parents, are better placed to make this call. But one cannot credibly argue that Florida has “restricted” choice. It hasn’t. It has allocated choice. Florida had three options. The first was to set the substantive policy for every school and every student (no masks or mandatory masks). The second was to allow each school to make that determination. The third was to let parents decide. By going with the third option, Florida handed the decision to the smallest possible unit: the individual.

Was this the right call? Substantively, I happen to think so, yes. There’s no good evidence that masking children does anything useful, let alone that mandating masking does, which makes this issue a good candidate for personal choice. Clearly, the current problem in Florida and beyond isn’t that children are contracting COVID, but that the combination of a new variant and the millions of people who have declined to get the vaccine has caused a temporary spike in infections. Still, people of good faith can disagree about that — and do — and the fact that they can underscores that, for once, this is not a process question but a policy question that deserves to be treated as such.

Culture

Wild Rice Sues to Stop Repair of Oil Pipeline

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A demonstrator lifts his fist during a protest of the Line 3 pipeline in Solway, Minn., June 7, 2021. (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

This is the peril posed by the “nature rights” movement. Whenever any human activity interferes with what environmentalists believe should be done, such laws permit them to sue and stop the enterprise.

Case in point. Two years ago the Ojibwe tribe granted wild rice the “right to exist,” which could be said to be a synonym for a right to life. As I noted back then:

The law begins: “Manoomin, or wild rice, within all the Chippewa ceded territories, possesses inherent rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve, as well as inherent rights to restoration, recovery and preservation.”

The Rights of Manoomin include:
– The right to clean water and freshwater habitat
– The right to a natural environment free from industrial pollution
– The right to a healthy, stable climate free from human-caused climate change impacts
– The right to be free from patenting
– The right to be free from contamination by genetically engineered organisms

Imagine the litigation such a law would generate if it were enforceable outside of tribal lands.

Well, we don’t have to imagine anymore. The “wild rice” has now brought a lawsuit in tribal court seeking to prevent the repair of an oil pipeline — a microcosm of things to come if the “nature rights” movement continues to advance. From the CBC story:

Wild rice is the lead plaintiff in a new lawsuit aimed at halting construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline replacement.

“Wild rice is the most important spiritual, central part of our culture. Wild rice is what’s making us come out and protect water,” Frank Bibeau, a treaty rights attorney for the White Earth First Nation in Minnesota, told As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal.

“Wild rice protects us. Wild rice feeds us. Wild rice tells us when there’s something wrong in the water or in the air or in the ground. Wild rice is an indicator species. And wild rice is disappearing.

Bibeau filed the suit Wednesday in the White Earth Nation Tribal Court. It lists the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a defendant, and several White Earth tribal members and Line 3 protesters as plaintiffs alongside wild rice, or manoomin in Ojibway.

Ironically, the point of the repair is to prevent leaks and ruptures. But the wild rice apparently “wants” no oil piped.

The lawsuit asks the tribal court to grant an injunction to void the water permit the DNR issued to Enbridge for Line 3.

If the tribal court rules against the oil pipeline, that would not end the story:

But even if the lawsuit is successful, Bibeau says he doesn’t expect the state to abide by the tribal court’s decision. Still, he says Line 3 opponents could use a tribal court victory to fast-track their case to a U.S. federal court.

That’s where things could get dicey, depending on the judge.

As I said, this is a microcosm story. But it also a cogent warning of our future that may await if states and the federal government don’t pass laws exclusively reserving “rights” to the human realm (individuals and juridical associations) and prohibiting nature and animals from having legal standing in any court of law.

Health Care

Gee, Thanks for the Speedy Work, CDC

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A man receives his second dose of a coronavirus vaccine at the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, March 30, 2021. (Nathan Howard/Reuters)

Most of us knew, or strongly suspected, that those vaccinated against COVID-19 would need booster shots eventually, and that those at high risk would need them sooner, and those at lower risk would need them later. It was just question of when. The 2.8 million Americans vaccinated in December 2020 were vaccinated eight months ago.

Israel announced plans to give boosters to senior citizens back on July 29. France and Germany announced boosters would be available in September.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control will meet Friday to discuss booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Analysts are already predicting that this meeting will lead to a CDC endorsement of boosters for the elderly. Meanwhile, Israel has already given a third shot to 500,000 seniors. By Friday, when the CDC meets, Israel will have been rolling out the third doses for sixteen days.

I would complain about the CDC moving at its usual pace of bureaucracy, but maybe it’s moot, as the agency estimates that 1.1 million Americans have already gone to get an unauthorized third shot. Maybe those who need boosters the most — or those who think they need them the most — have metaphorically cried,  “to hell waiting for CDC approval, better to get the third shot too early than too late.”

Once again, our policy is to try to get those who don’t want to be vaccinated to take the shots, and, at least for now, to officially deny third shots to those who want them.

Media

Who Guards the Guardians?

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A host of organizations portray themselves as reliable “fact-checkers” that help readers discern content that is “reliable” from that which is not. The problem is, how do we know if those “fact-checkers” are themselves reliable? What if they exist mostly to color people’s impressions of controversies rather than to objectively report on false claims?

That certainly seems to be the case, and in this AIER essay, Phil Magness and Ethan Yang dive into the credibility of a group called NewsGuard. The authors focus on the way NewsGuard has handled COVID and related health-policy disputes. Far from acting as an honest umpire, it has clearly taken sides.

Here’s a key paragraph:

To briefly summarize, NewsGuard’s coverage of Covid-19 policy and the GBD in particular suffers from a recurring pattern of frequent errors that warrant correction, reliance on fact checkers and other figures who lack qualifications to make scientific assessments, biased depictions designed to disparage or undermine the scientific credibility of the petition, and the promotion of false information from dubious secondary sources, rather than the “scientific experts” it claims to use. In sharp contrast, NewsGuard writers such as John Gregory take a friendly and non-scrutinizing stance toward pro-lockdown opponents of the GBD such as CovidFAQ website – even when they spread factual misinformation about the GBD’s contents and engage in duplicitous editing under the guise of issuing a “correction.” The self-appointed fact checker, it would appear, suffers from a biased and deficient internal fact-checking process for its own work on Covid-19.

I think it’s a safe assumption that “fact checkers” are leftist agents in disguise until proven otherwise.

Read the whole thing.

Law & the Courts

Judge Blocks Pro-Life Laws in Indiana, Relying on Testimony from Abortion Activists

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Demonstrators hold placards during a Planned Parenthood rally outside the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, April 5, 2017. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/Reuters)

Federal judge Sarah Evans Barker has issued a permanent injunction against several pro-life laws in Indiana, including a provision that required women to consult with a physician in person prior to obtaining chemical-abortion drugs.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, abortion providers and abortion-rights activists began pushing to relax FDA safety regulations that had previously required doctors to prescribe the two drugs for a chemical abortion at an in-person appointment. After a long series of court fights — including a stop at the Supreme Court where the justices affirmed the permissibility of the FDA safety standards — the FDA under the Biden administration relaxed the policy and permitted women to begin obtaining chemical-abortion drugs via telemedicine appointments.

In response, a number of states have enacted their own safety requirements, prohibiting doctors from prescribing chemical-abortion drugs without first examining a patient in person. Unsurprisingly, abortion-rights groups have sued to block such policies, and in Indiana, they’ve scored a victory.

Citing prominent abortionist and abortion advocate Dr. Daniel Grossman, as well as abortion-advocacy group the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Judge Barker asserted that prescribing abortion pills via telemedicine is safe and would increase access to abortion for women who do not live near an abortion clinic. Barker again cited these sources, in addition to Planned Parenthood and other abortion-clinic officials, to establish that in-person examination is not necessary before determining whether to prescribe abortion pills and that such regulations impose a unique burden on low-income women.

The judge also blocked Indiana’s requirement that doctors inform women that human life begins at fertilization, once again citing Grossman, who called this statement not “truthful.”

“Plaintiffs again contend that this statement is at best misleading, conflating a religious or ideological view of when ‘life’ begins with one sounding in science,” the judge wrote. She went on to rule that the requirement was unconstitutional, declaring that “this mandatory disclosure does not communicate truthful and non-misleading information.”

While Barker also struck down a state provision requiring abortions later in pregnancy to be performed at a hospital, she did uphold the state’s ultrasound requirement, as well at its policy requiring that counseling be offered only by physicians or advanced clinicians.

Politics & Policy

Andrew Cuomo Endured Because the Watchdogs Averted Their Eyes

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Andrew (left) and Chris Cuomo (Mike Segar/Reuters)

If you feel some sense of satisfaction in Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, great. As the editors declare, his departure from power “is a salutary act of political hygiene.”

But this whole sordid saga does feel sad – not because Cuomo did a hell of a job, as President Biden insists – but because the consequences for Andrew Cuomo’s egregious behavior took so long to catch up with him. A slew of institutions that were supposed to be watchdogs and opponents of bullies ended up enabling, excusing, and defending Cuomo’s worst impulses. The “system” failed, time and again.

Tim Murphy of Mother Jones wrote yesterday, “As he spoke to the press, Cuomo himself sounded surprised at the turn of events—perhaps that’s because the reality of who he was was in plain sight for such a long time.  For years the kind of domineering behavior that precipitated Cuomo’s downfall was misconstrued—or cynically spun—by many allies in the Democratic Party and in the press as effectiveness.”

If Cuomo was always a petty and abusive tyrant in plain sight… where the hell was everyone who claims to stand up for the powerless?

Why were so many state legislators afraid to stand up to Cuomo? Why did the U.S. Department of Justice just shrug off Cuomo calling up the White House and raging about a U.S. Attorney investigating him? Why was the most monstrous governor in America the most wildly celebrated and frequently welcomed CNN guest since… er… Michael Avenatti?

If Cuomo had leveled with public about his decisions involving nursing homes and the virus from beginning, we might be less angry about it. “We were so afraid of overcrowded hospitals that we enacted policy that was the wrong call, a decision spread the virus among more seniors.” Cuomo underestimated the risks, gambled, and lost. Instead, Cuomo always insisted his decision was the right one – even after “court orders, leaks, and investigations revealed that Cuomo dramatically and intentionally understated the pandemic’s toll on nursing home residents in New York.”

We could have avoided this mess, at least in part, if more national media institutions had looked more skeptically at his state’s handling of pandemic. As of this morning, with COVID-19 having attacked Americans from coast to coast for more than 18 months, New York still ranks second in the country in deaths per million residents, at 2,793. (New Jersey continues to lead at 3,001 per million residents, meaning COVID-19 killed one out of every 333 New Jersey residents. How did Phil Murphy’s management of this crisis get so little national scrutiny?)

We would be in a better state today if CNN executives had recognized the glaring conflict of interest their early pandemic programming – and I wish other big media institutions had called them out on it, instead of celebrating it. We would be in a better state today if CNN had maintained their pre-pandemic policies, that they were happy to interview the governor on air with any other anchor or reporter, but not his brother.

We would be in a better state today if the moment CNN learned Chris Cuomo was consulting with his brother, they took serious action, to make clear anchors can’t be part of a governor’s communication strategy team.

We would be in a better state today if Penguin Random House had realized that $5 million was far too much for a book by the governor, and that publishing a book about Cuomo’s leadership during the pandemic while the pandemic was going on was a bad idea.

The story of Andrew Cuomo really is like that of Harvey Weinstein – apparently, almost everyone who interacted with him knew what was going on, but almost everyone feared his power and didn’t want to risk their careers by standing up to the bully. A lot of people who think of themselves as brave, and independent, and righteous proved quiet and cowardly when it counted the most.

Politics & Policy

‘The Mother of All Reconciliation Bills’

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This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Alexandra, and Jim discuss the behemoth reconciliation bill, the IPCC’s alarmist climate-change nonsense, and Cuomo’s downward spiral. Listen below, or follow this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

History

Gary L. McDowell, R.I.P.

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Dr. Gary L. McDowell, professor emeritus at the University of Richmond, died last week. He leaves behind a loving family and a legion of grateful students, of which I am one.

His work, both in academia and in government, advanced the conservative movement and illuminated its intellectual foundations. At the U.S. Department of Justice, he helped Attorney General Edwin Meese articulate the then-revolutionary case for originalism. As a scholar, he championed the Founders’ Constitution while his peers increasingly discounted their intent and design.

His scholarship was prolific, reaching back into the early 1980s. It was wonderfully varied too: He was an expert on folk music, writing about Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly when he wasn’t contemplating James Madison and John Marshall.

Through his work as the director of the Institute for United States Studies (IUSS) at the University of London, Dr. McDowell developed a friendship with Prime Minister Margret Thatcher; few Americans better understood the Iron Lady or her moment.

It was during his time in the United Kingdom that I first met Dr. McDowell, as a student at the IUSS. I was with him briefly, just nine months, but his dedication to free inquiry and open debate — the basic principles of America’s political system — lasted long after. I reached out to him recently, seeking his thoughts as we chart a path forward for the conservative movement. We had not talked in years, but immediately I was his student again. As was his custom, Dr. McDowell went above and beyond to help.

Until his last days, he took ideas seriously and treated people generously. These are his legacies and they will not be forgotten. He spent his life advancing the common good so that in his stead others might keep the lamp of liberty burning.

Todd Young is a U.S. Senator from Indiana

Law & the Courts

Law Schools Are Succumbing to ‘Progressivism’

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(utah778/Getty Images)

“Progressives” want to use education at every level to dictate how people will think. Teaching skills and knowledge is a secondary concern. It should surprise no one that law schools are a prime target; leftists want as many lawyers and judges as possible to be steeped in their belief system.

That is my topic in today’s Martin Center article, “Progressivism Surges Through America’s Law Schools.”

One manifestation of this is the clamor for including critical race theory in the law-school curriculum. There’s nothing wrong with discussing and debating whether CRT makes the least bit of sense, but it should not be “taught” anywhere. I think that Rich Vedder and Amy Wax are correct when they write: “The CRT approved story is that white racism is pervasive and accounts for all racial disparities. What is not taught—what students are not even allowed to hear—is the contrary position that persistent racial inequalities are oftentimes rooted in cultural differences and behavioral tendencies that are not traceable to slavery and cannot be solved by purging the vague category of ‘structural racism.’”

Some law schools are already requiring students to take courses with CRT ideology embedded in them, and now the American Bar Association is advancing the idea that vague “diversity” goals should be part of the accreditation standards for law schools.

We are also hearing of law professors who decline to teach certain cases and topics because they might be “hurtful” to some students.

The intolerant mindset of leftism has already soaked into the legal profession. One legal-aid lawyer, a woman of impeccable credentials, has been fired simply because she dared to criticize CRT.

Quite a few years ago, a friend who was a partner in a big law firm told me that he didn’t care to interview applicants from a certain prestige law school because their heads were filled with irrelevant theories but they knew little about the nuts and bolts of our law. Things have gotten worse since then.

World

A Marshall Plan for COVID-19

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A woman receives a dose of a coronavirus disease vaccine at a temporary vaccination unit set up at a former TikTok studio in the MEGA Park mall in Almaty, Kazakhstan, June 23, 2021. (Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters)

Members of the Aspen Economic Strategy Group recommend a Marshall Plan for COVID-19.

The group released a letter to this effect, signed by former House speaker Paul Ryan, George W. Bush administration alums Joshua Bolten, Glenn Hubbard, Hank Paulson, and Bob Zoellick, and several former members of President Obama’s cabinet, among others. I’m a member of the group and a signatory as well. Former Clinton Treasury secretary Larry Summers described the letter as a “bipartisan spur” to the Biden administration to provide international leadership to address the pandemic through a global vaccination campaign.

The letter opens:

The United States government should take up a position of world leadership on ending the global COVID-19 pandemic through vaccine outreach to the world. Such an effort would serve a clear humanitarian purpose. It would represent forward defense of our security interests by slowing the virus’s rate of mutation. No other action would so clearly signify a US commitment to enlightened international leadership at a time when our strength and outward looking vision is increasingly being challenged and no other initiative would do more to stabilize the global economy.

Specifically:

With the Delta variant of COVID becoming pervasive and more mutations likely, now is the time for bold action. The necessary global approach will involve financial commitments, as well as active policies to encourage production capacity at home and abroad, to strengthen local health system capacity in partnership with developing countries, and to promote private sector initiatives. We must reject the false dichotomy between domestic and global efforts. Given mutation risk, safety anywhere depends on safety everywhere.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that it would cost $50 billion to vaccinate 60 percent of the world’s population by the middle of next year. As the signatories note, that’s less than 1 percent of what the U.S. has committed in response to the pandemic.

Such a campaign would be in the U.S.’s economic and geopolitical interest. At a time of soaring deficits, additional billions of spending should not be undertaken lightly. But I agree with the letter that the initiative would pay for itself.

The Biden administration should take this advice.

Politics & Policy

Kyle’s Wrongness

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In response to I’m Wrong Again

Kyle, the prediction business isn’t kind to anyone. I will say that when we discussed this on The Editors podcast earlier today, Jim and I predicted that Cuomo would resign before he got impeached but obviously didn’t think it’d be today (I will let Charlie and Xan fess up to their own predictions — or not). I think bragging rights on understanding where this was headed, though, belong to Andy, who wrote yesterday what turned out to be a kind of curtain-raiser for a resignation.

Law & the Courts

Jen Psaki: FYI, We Run Everything Now

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(giftlegacy/Getty Images)

Having ignored the will of Congress and defied the Supreme Court, it seems that the Biden administration’s next move will be to sidestep the federal system:

Last May, when Donald Trump started talking about how much authority he had over the states, every journalist in the country suddenly discovered the Tenth Amendment. It’s still there, right? Or does it only apply when a Republican president is trying to usurp the power of Democratic governors whose political positions he happens to dislike?

PC Culture

Before the Diversity Mania Took Hold of America

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Scientific advisories consult with Major General Leslie R. Groves, Officer in Charge of the Manhattan Project. (United States Army Signal Corps)

We have become so used to hearing that everything must be “diverse” that it’s good to remember that it wasn’t always so. In this article, Michael Barone reflects on the fact that the Manhattan Project (our effort at building the atomic bomb before the Nazis did) was remarkably un-diverse.

Barone writes, “The Manhattan Project didn’t look like America. If undertaken today, it would be criticized for failing to meet diversity and inclusion guidelines.” More than criticized, no doubt; it would be hamstrung by demands that every group be “represented” on the project. Academic research “proving” that diverse teams result in better results would be cited to show why we must not have too many people from certain “dominant” groups and need the insights of people from historically oppressed groups.

As we know, however, “diversity” encompasses only a very few aspects of human diversity — sex, race, and ethnicity. You never hear the diversity crowd demanding “inclusion” for people based on religious beliefs, their musical tastes, their body mass indexes, height, family size, pet preferences, and so on.

One suspects that the diversity advocates don’t really believe their theory but only use it as a cudgel to gain political power. Barone asks if Ibram X. Kendi would insist on a “diverse” medical team if he needed complicated brain surgery. I think that “diversity” ceases to be a consideration once humans have to worry about the consequences for themselves of deciding whom to choose on grounds other than demonstrated competence.

What if we were faced with the need for something akin to the Manhattan Project again? Suppose that we discover a massive asteroid on a collision path with the earth, sure to hit in 40 years. We need to find a way of preventing that collision or face the extinction of life on our planet. If the U.S. government were to assemble a team to accomplish that task, would it set aside the diversity mania? Or would time and money be squandered on making the research team appropriately “inclusive”?

History

Some Clear Thinking on the Loss of Freedom

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(Larry Downing/Reuters)

There are lots of people who don’t mind at all if the government limits or abrogates freedoms that they don’t happen to care about. But eventually, the mega-state will get around to something they do care about. By then, it’s too late.

In this essay for AIER, Richard Ebeling reflects on the steady erosion of freedom in America (and elsewhere) over the last century.

Ebeling writes:

It is difficult, I think, for most of us to even imagine how inconsequential government really was in people’s lives, at least at home, in these Western countries not much more than a century ago. Of course, even before the First World War, the modern welfare state was gaining footholds in these nations, but even with this, and especially in the United States and Great Britain, most people, to use the happy phrase of the British laissez-faire liberal, Herbert Spencer (1820-1902), could go through their daily lives and pretty much ‘ignore the state.’

Ebeling provides a useful historical overview of the growth of government. It goes back to that greatest of governmental disasters, the First World War.

He concludes:

However, if current trends continue in the present direction for too long, the potential and possibility for liberty may be irreparably lost. We need to remember and to forewarn others that liberty is far easier to lose than to be successfully and fully regained once it is lost.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

Denying Quorum Is Denying Democracy

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Texas State Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, joins with other Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 13, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

About a month ago, Texas Democrats found out they didn’t have the votes to stop Republicans from passing an election-integrity bill, and so they fled the state to deny the legislature quorum. A month later, some have returned to the Texas legislative chambers. Those that have returned have been attacked by fellow Democrats for aiding and abetting “voter suppression.” This kind of thinking is inimical to a stable political regime. 

Texas Democrats have been remarkably effective at preventing the passage of an election-integrity bill spearheaded by Republicans. They stalled the bill at the end of the legislative session and fled the state after Governor Greg Abbott called a special session to address the matter. Over a month later, when some representatives finally returned to the legislative chambers, fellow Democrats pilloried them. Representative Ana-Maria Ramos from Texas’s 4th district tweeted:

Democrats like @TurnerForTX and @jamestalarico checked in today to help Republicans pass anti-voter bills. There is currently an injunction stopping TX from arresting Democrats, yet these Democrats on the floor today chose to participate in voter suppression.

Others joined in, saying that they were “praying” that no other Democrats returned to the chambers. This is utterly unacceptable rhetoric. The Democrats who have returned to fulfill their elected duty as representatives are not coming back to pass voting restrictions. If the legislative chamber ever does meet quorum requirements, not a single Democrat will vote for the bill. 

No, the Democrats who are returning are doing so because they believe that the legislative chamber itself deserves their presence. They want to work on legislation they think can help their constituents. We know this because they have told the public why they are coming back. To lambast these progressive representatives as supporters of voter suppression would be farcical if it weren’t so harmful. 

We can’t have a functioning polity if a party leaves every time they don’t get the legislation they like. Denying quorum does not prevent just a single voting bill from moving forward. The move prevents every kind of legislation from moving forward. Texas Democrats aren’t responsible for passing the voting-integrity bill any more than the Freedom Caucus is responsible for the latest infrastructure bill. A functioning democratic regime relies on the premise that the “other side” is allowed to pass laws, even ones you disagree with.

It seems that Texas Democrats have simply given up on this fundamental premise. If the Democrats from Texas denied quorum for a day, or a week, in order to raise awareness for a local issue, that might be understandable. However, the representatives who have attacked their fellow party members are actually attacking the crux of the democratic order. 

Democracy doesn’t die in darkness; it dies when political factions are unwilling to accept the basic principles on which democracies are founded. The Texas Democratic Party needs to stand up for the legislative process and tell its members to come back and do their job. It’s long overdue to end this undemocratic and un-American charade.

Politics & Policy

I’m Wrong Again

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Sure, I predicted Donald Trump would never run for president (a few days before he rode the Escalator of Destiny) and that Joe Biden was toast (after the media in 2019 finally noticed his habit of creeping on little girls, and his brand seemed moribund when all of his party’s energy was with its socialist wing).

But I still thought I was on terra firma when I repeatedly wrote that Andrew Cuomo would never go willingly. The man struck me as arrogance and entitlement incarnate, and I thought he’d have to be dragged out by his hair. I’m stunned, but happy to be proven wrong.