Culture

Looks Like Obama’s Birthday Bash Wasn’t Scaled Back Much

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Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (right) and his vice presidential running mate Sen. Joe Biden buy ice cream during a campaign stop at Windmill Ice Cream Shop in Aliquippa, Pa., August 29, 2008. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Amusing pictures over at the Daily Mail site today show that, a few days after President Obama vowed to scale back his gigantic 700-person birthday bash tonight on Martha’s Vineyard to limit it to “only family and close friends,” it appears to be full steam ahead with a massive rager, complete with a huge dance floor, rows of tables, and a tent large enough to hold a polo match in. It’s pretty obvious that whatever is going on at the regal $12 million estate paid for by members of the Party of the People (TM) is going to be a bit more elaborate than dinner with friends.

Welp, this wouldn’t be the first time Obama lied about something. The Mail has been watching the airport and logging the names of all the celebrities who have been showing up there. It’s unclear which of them are going to the party, since so many rich Democrats like to summer on Martha’s Vineyard.

Note that I think Barack Obama is perfectly entitled to have a huge celebrity-clogged birthday party outside. I also think he’s perfectly entitled to have a huge birthday party inside, if he wants. (And a tent with walls to foil photographers in which hundreds of people congregate might as well be inside.) But I don’t particularly want to hear Obama or his fans telling me somebody else’s parties are “superspreader events” while their parties are just innocent gatherings of good friends.

The other thing that interests me about the party is that President Biden isn’t expected to attend. Just how much do these two men hate each other? Don’t we have 5,000 White House reporters who breathlessly updated us on everything President Trump tweeted? Why can’t they get us some dish about the very obvious enmity between the most recent two Democratic presidents? Biden claims he’ll be too busy to attend because he’s, er, going to Rehoboth Beach this weekend. Either he wasn’t invited or he snubbed the invite. Either way, it’s news. Are reporters curious about the internal rifts in both parties, or nah?

National Security & Defense

Naval Debauchery: Disparity in Punishment for Enlisted and Officers

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U.S. Navy sailors on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan as the ship arrives for a scheduled port visit in Busan, Republic of Korea, in 2017. (Mass Communication Specialist Third Class MacAdam Kane Weissman/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece titled “The Navy’s Debauchery Problem: An Enlisted Perspective,” which outlined concerns I had with the Navy’s culture and which you can read here. Some readers had strong and differing opinions on the matter. As a result, I’ve written some follow-up posts, the latest of which is below.

One matter I brought to the fore was a perceived gap in the treatment of enlisted sailors and officers regarding punishments rendered. If critical of the piece, former and current officers who commented and sent mail argued that members of the wardroom suffer more severe consequences for illegal, immoral, or incompetent actions than the enlisted do. Senator Tom Cotton said as much in his report, noting a “dominant and paralyzing zero-defect mentality” that rewards risk-aversion at the expense of having the most potent naval force possible. 

Having observed commanding officers relieved of command for the great crime of looking at some risqué pictures on government computers while enlisted members routinely bring terabyte hard drives of the stuff on deployments, I think the officers’ point is understandable. 

Zero tolerance removes nuance from proceedings. It forces superior officers to either dismiss unacceptable behavior because firing the officer in question is far too harsh a punishment or remove otherwise competent officers for singular infractions, harming naval readiness. 

What I think drives much of the enlisted’s perception of officer immunity is that a sailor suffers “the lash” in public while an officer is “whipped” with a pen behind closed doors. In other words, a sailor who has transgressed will find himself before the entire chain of command, answering for his crimes and being sentenced. Never did I see something similar happen to an officer, and only rarely to the senior enlisted. 

It is ironic that military superiors so often would quip “perception is reality” when upbraiding a sailor but balk when sailors wonder at why their supervisors don’t experience the same humiliating forms of punishment as they do. 

There is an attractive middle ground here that allows officers to mess up while aiding his or her professional growth — public hearings. It would do the enlisted good to see their superiors held to account, communicating transparency and equality before the law, while simultaneously giving commanding officers a way to correct a junior officer’s actions without (apologies) torpedoing his or her career through an unsatisfactory evaluation. 

Many sailors see the light after a bout of non-judicial punishment and have successful careers as Chiefs, LDOs, and Warrant Officers thereafter. Naval traditionalists may despise the suggestion, but cracking the wardroom door has many advantages.  

Elections

Newsom’s Recall Problem Is with Hispanic Voters

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California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, Calif., June 15, 2021. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Two new independent polls on California’s September 14 recall election have a startling explanation for why Governor Gavin Newsom is in trouble. His support among minority communities is crumbling as issues such as crime, COVID restrictions, and a huge unemployment-benefits scandal dominate the race.

The Emerson College poll found that among likely voters, 48 percent favored keeping Newsom in office versus 46 percent who want him gone — a slim two-point margin. In a new poll by SurveyUSA taken for three media outlets, the recall leads 51 percent to 40 percent.

In 2018, Newsom won in a landslide based on his support among Hispanics (64 percent voted for him) and African Americans (86 percent voted for him).

Today, Hispanics in the Emerson poll support recalling the governor by 54 percent to 41 percent. In the SurveyUSA poll, the recall wins among Hispanics by six points. Among blacks and Asians in both polls, Newsom, leads but he’s down significantly from his 2018 showing.

Overall, nearly a quarter of Democrats in both the Emerson poll and the SurveyUSA poll now back ousting their own party’s governor. In 2018, Republican nominee John Cox won only 6 percent of the Democratic vote.

Many minority voters who routinely vote Democratic have found it impossible to secure a place in the middle class. The Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, says the walls against economic advancement are causing a political reassessment. “Our values are faith, family, and free enterprise. We’re entrepreneurs. We want to thrive; we don’t want to survive,” he told The Atlantic magazine.

What’s happening in California can be found in other states such as Texas and Florida. Christopher Hahn, a former Democratic consultant who hosts the Aggressive Progressive podcast, says Hispanic and Asian voters were routinely taken for granted by the Joe Biden campaign last year. “I believe they did (that) in 2020, and it almost cost him the election,” Hahn says.

Democrats don’t seem to be listening to what their most loyal voters are now saying as the 2022 midterm elections loom.

Education

Due Process for Accused College Students — Getting Better or Worse?

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy during a visit to Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, May 27, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

That’s the question that economics professor Richard Vedder, who has for many years focused largely on higher education, asks in this essay. 

Due process was of little concern during the Obama years, when Education Department officials wanted to prove their “toughness” with regard to accusations of sexual harassment. During the Trump administration, the worst excesses of the Obama years were rolled back. (The courts also played an important role.)

The future doesn’t look bright, what with Biden’s nomination of Obamaite Catherine Lhamon to a key position in the Department. Vedder writes:

She ferociously enforced policies that circumvent or highly discourage such mainstays of Anglo-American jurisprudence as the presumption of innocence, the right of cross examination, the separation of the prosecutorial process from the adjudication decision, etc. She advocated for relatively low standards of proof — not the “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “clear and convincing evidence” standards commonplace in American criminal law.

With Lhamon and others like her in office, the many Title IX enforcement officers who abound on most campuses will feel emboldened to resume their efforts that have drawn fire from judges and others who still care about fair procedures.

And Vedder adds this:

From personal involvement in supporting a few students in disciplinary actions, I have been struck at how mean-spirited, even vindictive some university student life officials seem to be towards student members of the community. As a citizen who has been a foreman of a grand jury and been involved in dozens of civil court proceedings as an expert witness, I would say on average the level of respect towards the accused is lower in university proceedings.

He’s right.

Law & the Courts

Rick Hasen’s Misleading Account of the Article II Electors Arguments

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Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi prepare to read the final certification of Electoral College votes at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 7, 2021. ( J. Scott Applewhite/Pool via Reuters)

I walked yesterday through Jane Mayer’s wrongheaded effort to smear conservatives who read the electors clause of Article II of the Constitution as giving a unique role to state legislatures in the selection of electors in presidential elections — the so-called “independent legislature doctrine.” As I detailed, the Supreme Court has held since 1892, and reiterated unanimously in 2020, that state legislatures have broad power over that selection, which could and historically did include legislatures selecting the electors themselves rather than conducting a statewide popular vote. There are two arguments that flow from this.

  • One, which is entirely mainstream and respectable, is that laws passed by state legislatures to govern a presidential election cannot be rewritten or overruled by state courts, state executive officials, or the state constitution. That argument was the premise underlying the Supreme Court’s unanimous 2000 decision in Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, and it was a hot issue in 2020 in cases in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Minnesota. There is significant, if not yet majority, support for this view on the Supreme Court. There are many conservative legal scholars and advocates who support it.
  • The other, which is radical, dangerous, and in conflict with federal law, is that the plenary power of legislatures to make the rules and to choose electors instead of holding a popular vote means that a legislature can hold a popular vote and then decide after Election Day to change the rules and cast the votes itself if it does not like or trust the result. No federal judge has endorsed this view. It exists on the Trumpier fringes, but its support is decidedly marginal.

Mayer conflated these two very different arguments, misleading her readers. Election-law professor Rick Hasen, who seems to have been Mayer’s primary source on this point, has written his own column at Slate doing the same thing, for the evident purpose of making his readers believe that mainstream conservative legal thinkers — “white-shoe [Federalist Society] lawyers” — are plotting a “coup” in 2024 in whicharcane legal arguments about the awesome power of legislatures to run elections as they see fit” will result in state legislators’ overruling the legally cast votes of their own state’s people:

The 2020 fight over the independent state legislature doctrine was a close call. It would not be at all surprising to see at least five or perhaps all six conservative justices embrace the argument next time it comes before the court in a timely way. It’s easy to picture how this might play out in the next presidential election. Imagine that a state legislature sets forth general rules for conducting the 2024 election, but it does not provide every detail about how the election is run. Republican legislatures in states won by the Democratic candidate could seize on some normal election administration rule created by a state or local election administrator or some ruling from a state court, and argue that implementation of the rule renders the presidential election unconstitutional, leaving it to the state legislature to pick a different slate of electors. Now maybe the courts won’t bite on this theory — in 2020, Justice Kavanaugh seemed wary of the argument because it came very late in the process. . . . [Emphasis added.]

The potential coup next time will come in neatly filed legal briefs and arguments quoting Thomas Jefferson and wrapped in ancient precedents and purported constitutional textualism.

In fact, Kavanaugh was considering no such argument. The argument in the Pennsylvania case was the first one — that the state court’s openly rewriting the law to count ballots arriving outside the statutory deadline meant that those ballots were not legal votes, and should be thrown out by a court in an election contest. (Or, given that the case was brought before the election, not counted in the first place.) The result that the Pennsylvania Republicans asked for, and that the Court’s conservatives met with varying degrees of enthusiasm, was to have Pennsylvania award the state’s electors to whichever candidate got more legal votes in the election. That is, as Hasen knows perfectly well, how election contests work in courts all the time, and I do not understand him to argue that well-established election contest procedures are improper.

Only when things reached the desperation stage post-election — after it was clear that the illegally counted late-arriving ballots were not enough to change the outcome anyway — did Donald Trump start pushing in earnest for the state legislature to get involved. None of the justices offered any support for that effort, which ultimately failed after no state legislature attempted it and Congress certified the electoral votes. In fact, the Court did not even revisit the legal question raised by the Pennsylvania ruling after it was too little, too late to make a difference in the presidential race, even though Justice Clarence Thomas rightly argued that it should have done so in order to prevent any such controversy from recurring in 2024.

It is true, of course, that the paucity of support from the conservative legal mainstream for Trump’s clown-show alternate-electors plot did not prevent him from pressuring political actors to go along with it. We should be concerned about a recurrence of that, which is why we ought to oppose proposals (thus far not enacted) in states to give legislatures the power to overrule the outcome of a popular vote, and why we should revise the Electoral Count Act to make challenges harder to get through Congress. But by making out conservative Supreme Court justices as conspirators in a theory none of them has endorsed, and by confusing that theory with a different one, Hasen is selling his readers a false bill of goods.

Health Care

Moderna Has a Great Booster . . . That No One Will Get for a Long While

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Moderna Therapeutics headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., May 18, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

As noted yesterday, Moderna has a new reformulated booster that basically stops the Delta variant in its tracks. If we could get this booster out into people’s arms now, vaccinated and not yet vaccinated, we could crush this Delta wave fast.

But we won’t be able to get this booster out into people’s arms fast. It’s in a phase-two trial, which means it still has to get through phase three. The phase-three trial for Moderna’s first vaccine began July 27, 2020, and cut off data collection on November 25, 2020; the company announced the results of the phase-three trial on December 31, 2020. That’s about four months of testing.

Assuming the third phase of testing goes well, Moderna will to submit an emergency-use authorization to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Moderna applied for an EUA for its original COVID-19 vaccine on November 30, and the FDA granted it on December 18. That’s about three weeks.

Four months and three weeks from now, the Delta variant wave will probably have long since come and gone. There’s at least a little evidence that the Delta wave already peaked in some southern states. Four months and three weeks from now, we’ll be more concerned about the Lambda variant or some other new variation of COVID-19.

The Delta variant was just 3 percent of new cases in the U.S. in late May . . . and now it’s 83 percent of all new cases. But as quickly as it arrived, this variant may quickly leave, too; over in the U.K., cases crashed more than 50 percent from the peak in just two weeks.

Our medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies have amazing abilities to come up with vaccines that can tackle both the original version and mutated versions of COVID-19. But in addition to vaccine hesitancy, we have the problem of getting the updated versions of the vaccines out to people while they’re still useful. No one wants to cut corners on the process of ensuring that a vaccine is safe. But this process is moving far too slow to be effective.

Politics & Policy

Cryptocurrency Isn’t Infrastructure

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(SlavkoSereda/Getty Images)

The Biden administration’s infrastructure bill is laden with initiatives and policies that have little to do with building roads and bridges. One of the peculiar inclusions in the Biden bill concerns cryptocurrency brokers. The “infrastructure” bill contains language that looks to regulate crypto brokers in order to generate greater tax revenue. Unfortunately, it would also drastically increase the powers of the surveillance state in the process. 

The trillion-dollar price tag attached to the bill is staggering. Currently, there is no good plan to pay for the bill. However, one way the administration is looking to generate revenue is by taxing digital assets. To do so, the government is looking to expand asset-reporting requirements for those dealing with cryptocurrencies. According to a fact sheet, this push is projected to add $30 billion to the government’s coffers. 

However, the new legislation’s language is quite vague and opens the door for potential abuses. The text itself reads: “any person who (for consideration) is responsible for regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets on behalf of another person” would be treated as a broker. 

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, these newly-classified brokers would have significant reporting requirements:

These newly defined brokers would be required to comply with IRS reporting requirements for brokers, including filing form 1099s with the IRS. That means they would have to collect user data, including users’ names and addresses. . . . The mandate to collect names, addresses, and transactions of customers means almost every company even tangentially related to cryptocurrency may suddenly be forced to surveil their users. 

Given that the requirements brokers have to fulfill are significant, the fact that the definition of a broker is so vague is frustrating. Yahoo reports that some are concerned that there may be no limit as to who can be investigated: 

Kristin Smith, executive director of the Blockchain Association, told CoinDesk the draft language could mean a number of individuals interacting with crypto may have to start reporting their transactions.

“We interpret this to mean software wallet developers, hardware wallet manufacturers, multisig service providers, liquidity providers, DAO token holders and potentially even miners,” she said.

Because of the numerous uncertainties, it just isn’t clear how this kind of legislation would work, practically. Given that crypto miners verify individual transactions of Bitcoin, it’s entirely possible that individual miners could be held liable as a broker. The administration says it has “no intention” to prosecute ordinary citizens, but “trust me” promises aren’t very reassuring. 

The current bill’s vague language about cryptocurrency will create more problems than it solves. The cryptocurrency sector is inherently unpredictable, and the government isn’t adroit enough to regulate the ever-evolving crypto market. Instead of worrying about whether small brokerage firms and ordinary crypto miners are getting away with petty tax evasion, politicians should worry about bigger issues — such as their own profligate spending.

Education

Why Student-Loan Forgiveness Is Not a Viable Solution

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Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) speaks during a news conference about cancelling student-loan debt, Washington, D.C., February 4, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Embattled New York governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced a $125 million student-loan-forgiveness program. At least 50,000 former students from the CUNY system experiencing financial hardship would have their burden of outstanding student-loan debt alleviated. The proposal has been only part of the recent trend of policymakers’ advocating for large-scale student loan forgiveness. The Washington Post reports that, absurdly, Democrats’ “victory” in extending the CDC eviction moratorium has caused them to consider anew unilaterally extending student-loan-debt forgiveness.

As of 2021, Americans owe collectively $1.7 trillion of student-loan debt. It is perfectly reasonable to empathize with students who are burdened by a crippling amount of debt fresh out of college. Many of them graduate from college, hopeful and confident that their academic credentials would be translated into viable career paths, only to realize that the competition for jobs is fiercer than anticipated and that they have no means of paying their debt off. However, despite the students’ plight, student-loan-cancellation programs should not be the solution.

Canceling student loans is hardly a fair solution. When students consciously take out loans to fund their pursuits of higher education, they are making an investment on an individual level with the belief that education would broaden their prospective career paths, and that in the long run, the financial gain from a successful career would be greater than the loan repayments. Before deciding to take out a student loan, students should reasonably have considered the material risk of not being able to secure employment.

Adults ought to bear the responsibility of their own actions. It is important that the government consider whether or not helping individuals escape from the financial responsibilities they had voluntarily assumed in self-investment with taxpayer money is justifiable.

Cuomo’s student-loan-cancellation plan is funded by federal stimulus funds through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which in turn was extracted from the taxpayers’ pockets. In 2019, the college enrollment rate of 18-to-24-year-olds was 41 percent. According to the 2018 census, only 61.28 percent of Americans have attended “some college.” Furthermore, studies have found that households with annual income exceeding $114,000 take out loans twice as large in amount but at the same rate as students from the lowest income bracket. 40 percent of the total student-loan debt is owed by students who have attained advanced degrees, such as lawyers and doctors, who on average earn a comfortable living. It seems peculiar that a government program providing financial assistance should disproportionately benefit citizens who are relatively well-off, and such data further raise the question of whether student-loan forgiveness should be considered a fair and sensible redistribution of financial resources. Should taxpayers who never attended college help fund the education of those who chose to? Should prospective students, seeing the government’s tendency to generously forgive student loans, be induced to expect the government to bail them out from their miscalculations? Should they be led to have an unduly low perception of risk of taking out loans to finance their education?

As established, Cuomo’s student-loan-forgiveness program, like other proposed programs of the same nature, is at best questionable and at worst unjustified. However, the problem of excessive student-loan-debt burden remains. If student loan forgiveness isn’t the answer, what is?

One of the more obvious solutions has to be implemented on the individual level — just don’t go to college if it is not likely to yield significant gain. The myth that one must obtain a bachelor’s degree to have the remotest possibility of becoming successful has long been entrenched in contemporary social consciousness. Observing the contemporary mainstream perception of education, it appears as though, as the perception of success becomes more monolithic, higher education is increasingly viewed as indispensable, and the only respectable option to pursue after high school. As a result, most high-school graduates do not consider alternative options to college, such that many students are not making informed and independent decisions when they decide to assume debt to attend college.

The harsh truth, however, is that knowledge amassed from attaining a degree in humanities is often applicable only in considerably narrow fields such as education and academia that have limited demand for labor. It is essential that prospective students not only realistically assess their career prospects and their ability to repay student loans upon graduation, but also consider alternatives to college. After all, life is brimful of opportunities. By making rational decisions based on individual circumstances instead of going with the flow, one may end up in a more comfortable situation than being waist-deep in debt.

National Security & Defense

Navy Debauchery, Continued: On the Author’s Disputed Credentials

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U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, docks at a port in Danang, Vietnam March 5, 2018. (Kham/Reuters)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece titled “The Navy’s Debauchery Problem: An Enlisted Perspective,” which outlined concerns I have with the Navy’s culture and which you can read here. Some readers had strong and differing opinions on the matter. As a result, I’ve written some follow-up posts, the latest of which is below.  

A common response from critics of my recent Navy-culture piece was, “You only served six years; how could you possibly know what the Navy is really like? You cast the Navy as a caricature of itself.” It’s lazy criticism seeking to delegitimize my arguments, but it’s good for a writer to show receipts, and I happened to see more in six years than many do in twelve. Readers can decide whether I accrued enough experience to further comment on our forces afloat, but it’s worth explaining, briefly, here.

In the final days of high school, I went to the recruiter’s office hoping to be a corpsman (medic), but having scored a 97 on the ASVAB — the military’s approximation of the SAT, graded on a 1-99 scale — I was strongly urged to join the nuclear program instead. I naively agreed. After Basic in Great Lakes, Ill., it was straight to the swamps of Goose Creek, S.C., to become a “nuke,” a mechanic for the reactors known as an MMN. I passed the first of three schools but ultimately washed out of the program after seven months — earning the designation “nuke waste.” (Note to Navy: never send an English major to a nuclear-physics program.) They converted me to a regular mechanic and stationed me aboard a frigate, the Rodney M. Davis (FFG-60) homeported in Everett, Wash.

The RMD was “pirate navy” with an all-male crew, excepting a handful of female officers, and home to a culture of hard drinking and adulterous nonsense. The lead electrician had a gym bag full of whiskey bottles underway, and half of my division spoke openly of cheating on their wives. Perhaps the most jarring was when the ship’s doctor was arrested partway through deployment for allegedly using Medical’s morphine recreationally, for which he received a “bad conduct” discharge from the service.

My year aboard her saw an INSURV (an intensive inspection where you look busy for four months and work 80 hours a week), a deployment to Southeast Asia, and, ultimately, a decommissioning of the tired old gal. While aboard, I worked in the Auxiliaries Division (A-Gang), with a stint in the wardroom as a cabin boy serving meals and doing laundry. Day-to-day life comprised cleaning sea life out of A/C condensers, acting as the diesel-filter remover because of my long, skinny arms, and pumping bilge water out of the ship while on watch. It was a sweaty, miserable time, but deployment saw us pulling into ports of call I would have otherwise never seen like the Maldives, Thailand, Yokosuka, etc.

After decommissioning the RMD, the Navy, in its infinite wisdom, saw my ASVAB and produced orders to Portsmouth, Va., to learn about how to make liquid nitrogen and oxygen for aircraft in their cryogenics (O2N2) school. The class was primarily “nuke waste.”

Three months out East confirmed a truism in the Navy, that “the farther from Washington D.C. you are, the better the Navy gets.” Proximity to D.C. means more visits from the brass and an overall more-oppressive sailor experience as a result. Seeing as cryo-school was on a nearly defunct base — in case we blew ourselves up — I saw little of this “East Coast Navy” until we went to the nearby naval shipyard for morning PT every few days. What a sad, over-regulated, and depressed bunch of sailors. Suicides tend to spike in dry dock, and I could certainly see why.

Upon graduation, my next duty station was the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), homeported off San Diego. Once aboard, my chief sent me TAD to AIMD (loaned me to the intermediary repair branch of aviation) to become a calibrator of gages, scales, and other items of sensitive measurement. It was not possible to live on the ship due to an intensive repair period, so I got the enviable opportunity to live aboard a Navy berthing barge. After a year of award-winning gage work, advancing to E-5, and having forgotten most everything I learned about cryogenics, it was back to O2N2 to prepare for a deployment to the South China Sea.

The following three years predominately were spent at sea, with two deployments and many months in between cruising the California coastline so pilots could get qualified on flight-deck launches and landings. Days deployed become rotations of working, sleeping, and eating with little to break up the tedium, with the exception of two things: “brilliant” ideas, like group PT and altered work assignments, that issue from the Chief’s Mess and fizzle within a month, and revelations in the POD (Plan of the Day) like the news that a couple — usually married but not to each other — was busted canoodling in a fan room. The POD would detail their punishment and the regulations they broke; it was like the military version of People magazine without the pictures. Otherwise, the days were spent taking logs and watching the news to see if the angry man in North Korea threatened to blow us out of the water again.

While cryo is a nice gig at sea, there is little work in port as the airwing is no longer around. When there’s nothing to do, you become a target for special assignments. The final year saw me TAD again, first in maintenance authorization and later the Security Department. Before the 2018 deployment, there was a short maintenance period, so I’d approve work orders and do tag-out checks. Our ten-man group worked out of an air-conditioned space on the ship that was once a pilots’ lounge. The job was to keep sailors and contractors from electrocuting themselves, and we were shockingly effective.

After a four-month deployment to Southeast Asia from January to April of 2018 – USS Carl Vinson became the first carrier to dock in Vietnam since 1975 — the final months of my Navy time took place in Hawaii and San Diego, working security. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much as I did were I not months away from freedom, but the chain of command was excellent, and the work — standing and looking at people beadily while cradling a Mossberg M500 — was simple enough. The worst bit was getting “voluntold” to be a urinalysis observer, but after watching the 50th guy pee in a cup, it becomes old hat.

All of this is to say, I’ve reported to multiple duty stations, held positions topside and below decks, and deployed thrice. I’ve lived the small-boy and aircraft-carrier lives and attended schools in Great Lakes, San Diego, Portsmouth, and Goose Creek. My experiences with the Navy’s flaws are neither contrived nor difficult for most sailors to observe.

I believe turning a blind eye to correctable shortcomings is a failure of leadership. Please, do feel free to disagree with me on the merits of my argument, but as to the claim that I haven’t seen enough of the Navy to have an opinion . . . well, in the immortal words of Johnny Cash, “I’ve been everywhere, man.”

Immigration

It’s No Mystery Why the Border Crisis Has Gotten Worse under Biden

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A U.S. Border Patrol agent instructs asylum-seeking migrants as they line up along the border wall after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico on a raft, in Penitas, Texas, March 17, 2021. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Does policy matter? A recent Politico story headlined “Biden’s Vision for the Border Has Gone Bust” notes the explosion in attempts to cross the U.S.–Mexico border but then focuses on structural factors:

U.S. officials and immigration experts say they have theories but no concrete explanations for why the increase is happening now. Many see it as a confluence of destabilizing conditions, some new, some long-standing: a still-raging pandemic, worsening economic crisis and devastation from past natural disasters.

Left unmentioned in this summary is the Biden administration’s own policies. Structural factors obviously play a significant role in migration issues. If our neighbors to the south were as wealthy and stable as our northern neighbor Canada, there would obviously be much less pressure at the border.

But policy intersects with those structural effects. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden made clear that he would break from Donald Trump’s border and immigration policies. Press outlets did not shy away from recognizing the dramatic nature of President Biden’s policy changes earlier this year. On the first full day of his presidency, NPR ran a news story about Biden’s “two major steps to dismantle much-criticized Trump-era immigration policies”: suspending deportations and stopping the “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers. That story quoted an activist leader celebrating these changes as “huge.”

Biden has more broadly dialed back immigration enforcement, as this Washington Post story from May explains. Providing another incentive for border crossing, President Biden and congressional Democrats have trumpeted efforts to pass a mass amnesty (even through reconciliation — thereby risking blowing a hole in both immigration enforcement and the reconciliation process).

The Biden administration has also substantially changed the dynamics of border control. During the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration invoked Title 42 to expel many border-crossers immediately. The Biden administration has exempted unaccompanied children as well as many family units from Title 42. Since Biden assumed the presidency, there’s been a significant growth in migration from these categories: The number of individuals in family units encountered by the Border Patrol jumped from about 7,000 in January to over 50,000 in June, while the monthly number of unaccompanied minors went from 5,600 to over 15,000 during that period. July’s numbers, once they are finalized, are likely to be even higher.

Title 42 is still applied broadly to single individuals, but the number of apprehensions of those individuals has doubled, from 62,000 to 113,000. (The use of Title 42 can also inflate the number of apprehensions, as many of the border-crossers encountered in a given month were actually ejected before — likely under Title 42 — and now are trying to cross the border again. Unaccompanied minors and many family units, however, are not expelled under Title 42 and instead are processed by immigration authorities, often being allowed into the U.S.) Activist groups are suing to force the Biden administration to end the use of Title 42 completely, but the administration is keeping it partly in place for now.

To quote Politico, a “confluence of destabilizing conditions” has contributed to the overwhelming of the border, but one of those conditions is the Biden administration’s own policy program. The chaos at the border has helped overwhelm the asylum system and interfered with the goals of a humanitarian asylum policy. It also threatens to polarize the nation’s immigration debate even more.

On the Childless in Politics

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Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a news conference for a proposed Green New Deal on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., February 7, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Does it matter if people in politics, or who comment on politics, do not have children? J. D. Vance, the author and currently distant second-place challenger for the Republican nomination for next year’s Senate race in Ohio, has kicked up yet another kerfuffle with a Twitter potshot at Paul Krugman:

Vance then expanded this into a rant on Tucker Carlson Tonight:

We are run in this country, via the Democrats, via our corporate oligarchs by a bunch of childless cat ladies who are miserable at their own lives and the choices that they’ve made and so they want to make the rest

Politics & Policy

The Dubious Green-Energy Policies in Biden’s Behemoth Infrastructure Bill

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the bipartisan infrastructure deal at the White House, June 24, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Democrats in Congress have just released a titanic infrastructure bill. The bill spans 2,700 pages and, if passed, will authorize about $1 trillion in spending. The massive spending package has been criticized by Republicans for being profligate while some left-wing Democrats have argued the bill doesn’t go far enough. A significant portion of the bill is concerned with climate change and gives subsidies for electric vehicles and charging stations. However, Congress should have concerns about whether this green-energy initiative will power America in the right direction.

A cursory look at the spending package put together by the Democrats reveals how far-reaching the plan is. The bill covers roads, ports, wildlife, research & technology, climate change, and diversity initiatives. One part of the text is dedicated to “limousine research,” which allocates funding for the creation of limo crashworthy standards. The Biden administration also dedicates Section 23007 of the bill to addressing the lack of women in the trucking workforce.

The initiatives for limos and female big-rig drivers are only minor parts of the legislation, though. Subtitle D of the bill is solely dedicated to climate change, and the administration has heavily marketed its goal to increase electric-car sales to 50 percent of all car sales by 2030. 

If that goal is to be reached, refueling stations will be needed across the country. This new infrastructure bill wants to make sure those stations become more ubiquitous. The proposal allocates nearly a billion dollars every year until 2026 to establish charging stations in urban and rural areas across the nation. 

The idea is that the U.S. can reduce carbon emissions by moving to electric vehicles. While incentivizing electric cars and their requisite charging stations may sound like a good way to reduce emissions, congressmen should be wary that they don’t accidentally increase our carbon footprint. The problem is that “clean” cars are only as clean as the carbon emissions produced by the local power plant. Thus, if the source of our energy grid creates more carbon than gasoline, a move towards electric vehicles would actually worsen carbon emissions. 

Fortunately, natural gas emits less carbon than gasoline and about 40 percent of our energy grid is powered by natural gas. However, nearly 30 percent of all total energy in the U.S. is consumed transporting goods. Currently, cars, trucks, and 18-wheelers use petroleum products, and switching to electric power would assuredly strain our electrical grid. Given that coal is an incredibly inexpensive store of energy, we should be careful that coal doesn’t become necessary to keep up with increased demand.

Even if we aren’t forced to more heavily rely on coal (which seems unlikely), a blanket plan to phase out gasoline across the entire nation is still asinine. There are numerous coal-reliant states, particularly in the Midwest, which should reject electric cars for the foreseeable future. West Virginia relies on coal for 93 percent of its electricity. Moving away from petroleum-powered vehicles would immediately result in a carbon emissions spike. 

Part of the Biden administration’s plan to overhaul our infrastructure system is to incentivize replacing gasoline vehicles with electric ones. It’s a noble goal, and we should take intelligent steps to reduce emissions. However, replacing gasoline-powered cars indiscriminately is dubious, and it is an especially bad idea in coal-dominant areas. Fighting climate change by enacting economically inefficient and environmentally unsound policies doesn’t help anyone.

Education

One Way of Keeping Down College Tuition

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(Nicola Patterson/Getty Images)

Americans, compared with people in other nations, spend a huge amount on college tuition (and related costs). The higher-ed establishment likes to say that the U.S. is as successful as it is because we “invest” so much in higher ed, but the truth is that only a nation that was already successful could afford such a wasteful and dysfunctional system as we have.

In today’s Martin Center article, Ross Marchand, senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, pins the blame for the high cost of college here on federal subsidies that allow colleges and universities to spend more and charge more.

Marchand argues that one of the reasons why costs stay so high is that states don’t compete on price for students. He writes, “A promising way is to increase colleges’ competition for students. Normally, goods and services face enough competition to keep costs in check. The U.S. higher education system, however, isn’t a typical market because of the vastly different costs of in-state versus out-of-state tuition.”

Is there any way around that? Yes, Marchand says. States could and should enter into compacts whereby students from other states would be entitled to the same lower tuition rates as are given to in-state students.

Could that work? Marchand points out that it already does, on a small scale: “These kinds of compacts already exist, but so far savings are meager. In New England states, participating students only save around $4,000 a semester even though in-state/out-of-state tuition differences can total in the tens of thousands of dollars.”

If the feds were to weigh in on the side of such compacts, that would kick-start the move toward tuition equalization.

Of course, lowering tuition doesn’t automatically reduce wasteful spending, but with fewer bucks coming in, schools might have to cut some of their needless expenditures — such as for “diversity and inclusion” administrators.

Law & the Courts

What Joe Biden Has Done Should Be Too Much Even for John Roberts

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Chief Justice John Roberts on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 9, 2017 (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The best defense of John Roberts has always been that, rather than being weak or easily influenced, he comes from a judicial school of thought — popular among conservatives in the 1980s and before — that holds judicial restraint as its highest value. In recent years, many conservatives (including myself) have come to believe that the judicial branch has a strong role to play in enforcing the Constitution as written, as well as in policing the statutory limits that Congress has placed on the executive branch. But, before originalism took over (as it should have), this was not always the case. Indeed, insofar as conservatives were likely to criticize the Supreme Court during the middle of the last century, it was not for coming to the wrong decisions per se, but for being “activist” at the expense of the other branches. Viewed through a certain light, John Roberts’s jurisprudence can be seen as an expression of this older view. Yes, he’s sometimes willing to step in if the question is particularly obvious or the infraction particularly egregious. But, in general, he’d rather exhibit a light touch.

Until recently, it has been possible to square John Roberts’s approach to the eviction moratorium with his general approach to his job. But, as of this week, that is no longer the case. We don’t actually know what Roberts thinks of the statutory question underlying the CDC’s eviction moratorium, because he didn’t write anything explaining himself. Perhaps he thinks that the law allows for the CDC’s actions. Perhaps he thinks that it doesn’t, but that it’s not obvious enough to warrant intervention. Perhaps, like Kavanaugh, he thinks that the law does not allow for the CDC’s actions, but that the Court did not need to get involved immediately given that the order was about to expire. Whatever Roberts thinks, though, and however it intersects with his philosophy, his preference for restraint cannot survive the new position that President Biden has taken, which is to have flatly rejected the court’s opinion, and to have said publicly that, while it expects to lose, it is seeking “the ability to, if we have to appeal, to keep this going for a month — at least — I hope longer.”

This cannot stand. There is restraint, and then there is surrender. As a Supreme Court Justice, let alone as the Chief Justice, it is incumbent upon John Roberts to defend the role of his branch, which, since Marbury v. Madison, has been to adjudicate disputes over the law. By admitting that he is gaming the system, President Biden has thrown down a precedent-smashing gauntlet. If the man who claims that his primary preoccupation is with the reputation of his Court proves unable to stand up to such a challenge, he has no job being a part of it at all.

Culture

Breaking: Crisis-Pregnancy Centers Help Women Avoid Abortion

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(kieferpix/Getty Images)

A new research paper has found that pregnant women who are considering abortion and visit a crisis-pregnancy center (CPC) are about 20 percent less likely to choose abortion than pregnant women who don’t visit one.

For those of us familiar with the work of these centers — and who are inclined to believe the wealth of statistics suggesting that most pregnant women don’t view abortion as their primary or most desirable option, even for a unplanned pregnancy — this result isn’t especially surprising.

The entire purpose of a CPC is to help women consider abortion alternatives and obtain the assistance they need to make it easier for them to continue pregnancy and give birth to their child. For some mothers, this means considering and choosing adoption. For others, it looks more like offering financial or material support that the mother isn’t receiving from the child’s father or from her family. For others, it might simply be counseling and encouragement, the assurance that motherhood is a worthwhile choice and one that the woman is capable of undertaking.

But in their conclusion, the authors of the study suggest that the higher rate of pregnant women choosing not to abort after visiting a CPC must be at least in part because these centers are lying to the women who visit them.

“CPCs may be providing resources to people who are considering continuing their pregnancy and/or they may be misleading people about the care and referrals they provide related to abortion,” the authors write. “Pregnant people need access to accurate information, decision support, and resources to make the pregnancy or abortion decision that is best for them.”

This is hardly the first time that CPCs have been accused, with no evidence, of  providing fraudulent information to women and thereby convincing them not to abort. A few years back, abortion-advocacy organization NARAL Pro-Choice America conducted an undercover “investigation” into CPCs called “Unmasking Fake Clinics,” in which the group accused these centers of misleading women with “lies” such as this one: “More than 67% of the locations intentionally referred to the fetus as ‘baby’ and told our investigator she was already a mother because she was already pregnant.”

A pro-life perspective, to be sure. But also a factually accurate one, and hardly an example of fraud or medical misinformation.

Nevertheless, supporters of abortion have long been fixated on CPCs, even going so far as to lobby California to pass a law requiring CPCs to advertise for the state’s free or low-cost abortion program — an explicit violation not only of their pro-life mission but also of their free-speech rights. The law was subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court.

Though this paper confirms that CPCs enable abortion-minded women to choose life for their unborn children, it’s evidently not without flaws. Not only does it speculate that this outcome might be the result of fraud, but it does so without actually asking any of the women surveyed about their experience at a CPC.

As Lyman Stone pointed out critiquing the paper, it contains a variety of odd comments such as referring to women having visited “an abortion provider or other legitimate medical provider,” in contrast to visiting a CPC. He also noted that the researchers asked women who continued pregnancy if they regretted  their decision but didn’t ask women who chose abortion whether they regretted that choice.

Once again, it seems impossible for “pro-choice” activists to comprehend that, in the majority of cases, women don’t actually want to choose abortion — and that, far from harming or misleading these women, the majority of CPCs actually offer women a real choice by giving them the help they need to choose life.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since its initial publication.

Law & the Courts

New York Magazine Writer Baffled by Support for the Rule of Law

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Detail of King George III in Coronation Robes, c. 1765, by Allan Ramsay. (Public domain/via Wikimedia)

At New York magazine, Ed Kilgore has penned a confession: He has no principles, and he doesn’t understand people who do.

Kilgore is absolutely baffled that, in his words, “conservatives are freaking out about the eviction moratorium,” and he can’t comprehend why I, for example, would think that Joe Biden announcing on live television that he is going to take an action that he knows is illegal “calls into question Biden’s oath of office.”

Kilgore writes:

Charles C. Cooke greeted Biden’s presser by claiming the president had violated his oath of office. Cooke subsequently called, and I am not making this up, for civil disobedience against the moratorium. Not to be outdone, David Harsanyi called the moratorium extension an “unprecedented attack on the Constitution” and Phillip Klein urged Republicans to “shut down the Senate” to protest the outrage. Ryan Mills chipped in with a human-interest story about “small landlords” being unable to make ends meet by evicting impecunious tenants and getting some new ones into their properties. And Kevin Williamson rounded things out with a broader piece on abuse of “emergency” powers by presidents past and present. Several other cries of anguish and fist-shaking vows of defiance may have appeared at NR as I write this piece; I’ve hit the publication’s paywall from every available direction.

Other than the hysterical use of “civil disobedience” — in fact, I suggested that the courts, the states, and the American people should follow the law as determined by the Sixth Circuit and the Supreme Court, rather than the law as illegitimately invented by the CDC — this is a correct summary of NR’s position. And Kilgore just cannot grasp why. At one point, he shares a reader’s suggestion that it is because there are “lots of landlords among NR subscribers/contributors.” At another, he wonders whether opposition to the policy itself is “a matter of deep conviction at NR,” but proposes that if it is, it’s a mistake, given that it might contribute to the Republican Party’s “optics problem.” At no point does it seem to cross his mind that we believe that what Joe Biden has done is deeply destructive to our constitutional order, and that it is our obligation to say it. That tells us a lot about him, and nothing about us.

At the time the moratorium was passed, David Harsanyi complained that Trump was “again dropping Obama-esque decrees,” while Robert VerBruggen wrote that the “ban oversteps the bounds of the law” and that “the courts should not let this stand.” In May, Andrew McCarthy noted that the measure was losing badly in those courts, and proposed that “Americans should be disturbed, though not surprised” by the new government’s position. How did Kilgore think NR would react when, after the order had been in place for nearly a year, the Biden administration started telling reporters not only that it intended to renew it using a legal theory that it knew was unconstitutional, but that it intended to do so in the explicit hope that the lawsuits would take a while to sort out.

When Donald Trump stole funds to pay for his border wall, despite a lack of congressional authorization, I slammed him for “making an end run around the legislature,” for engaging in “Jesuitical parsing,” and for having decided to “declare himself a monarch.” Lamenting that nobody seemed to care, I wrote:

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson warned that Americans’ “peculiar security is in the possession of a written constitution; let us not make it a blank paper by construction.” We must follow this advice with our statutes, too, for if we do not we will be complicit in the destruction of the greatest innovation in the history of government. To permit presidents to circumvent quotidian policy disputes by appealing to a phantom Too Important Clause is to tear up James Madison’s Constitution and to sanction an alternative settlement within which any sufficiently frustrated executive is able to delve deep into the statutory well and find a watery justification to get his way. “Emergency,” “crisis,” “prosecutorial discretion” — these words all mean something concrete. If, when things get tough for the president he can always find an Enabling Act somewhere in the forest, then we do not have a system of government at all. We have a dictatorship. How ironic it would be if historians looked back and concluded that the Anglo-American preference for parliament was defeated in the end not by Charles I or James II; not by George III or the Declaratory Acts; and not by the panoply of evil, masquerading isms that stained the last century in blood; but by simple partisanship, which turned us first into sophists, and then, bit by bit, into vandals.

For about a month, I took this argument onto every radio show, TV show, and podcast I could get myself on. I tweeted until I bored my followers. I even made a video. To borrow Kilgore’s term, I “freaked out.”

Why? Not because I cared a great deal about the wall — I didn’t. And no, not because NR has lots of pro-wall readers, although I must assume it does. But because I am deeply invested in the maintenance of our constitutional order to which, as an immigrant, I took an oath. This isn’t partisan, and it’s not a matter of policy preference, either. I had the same reaction to Obama’s DACA order, to whose aims I was sympathetic. I had the same reaction to Trump’s wall funding, to whose aims I was indifferent. And I will have the same reaction when, a few years hence, the next Republican president gets frustrated with Congress and decides to break the law in pursuit of something I’ll presumably like. We either have a Constitution or we don’t. I must now presume that the likes of Ed Kilgore have landed firmly on the side of don’t — at least, not when a president he favors happens to be sitting in the White House.

Law & the Courts

Ohio Court: We’re Following the Law, Not the CDC’s Usurpation

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On Wednesday, I argued that:

The Constitution tells us that the federal government makes “the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby.” Typically, this means that the courts of all sorts are obliged to follow the rules that have been set or delegated by Congress. In this case, though, those courts are not obliged to follow anything, because they’re bound only by “the supreme Law of the Land,” and because the CDC moratorium, which has no constitutional or statutory basis — and which has been rejected by the highest court in the country — isn’t a law.

I concluded:

As soon as possible, state governors, legislatures, and courts should make it clear that they intend to follow the law as set by the Supreme Court, rather than the “law” as set by the arrogations of the director of the CDC.

Per the Cincinnati Enquirer, at least one court has decided to do just that:

A moratorium on evictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has no binding authority in Hamilton County, the county’s municipal court said in a statement Thursday.

The court’s judges voted on the issue, an official said.

The statement cited a July 23 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the CDC exceeded its authority by imposing a 60-day moratorium.

Hamilton County contains the city of Cincinnati, which, if you know your Roman history, makes it an absolutely perfect place to reject executive overreach.

Politics & Policy

Tweeting Does Not Require a Master’s Degree

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(Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

See how long you can read this Wall Street Journal article — “Social-Media Manager, the Most Millennial Job, Comes of Age” — without screaming. This got me:

The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism launched a master’s degree in digital social media in 2018 in response to the growing number of jobs in the field, says Daniela Baroffio, who oversees the program. The school aimed to meet executives’ demand for social-media experts who have a handle both on hard skills, like data analytics, and storytelling, she says.

Now, I don’t quibble with some of the article’s premises. Knowing how to use social media — and how not to — is important for the brand and reputation of many kinds of business and endeavor, some more than others. Maturity, professionalism, judgment, and an understanding of the relevant technology are all important. If you run a big organization, you probably do not want some 20-year-old in charge of the face of your business to a big audience.

But a master’s degree? What ever happened to just training people in jobs? Who wants to take out tens of thousands of dollars in debt to learn how to use Facebook properly? The creeping credentialism of our economy is not just an economic boondoggle; it is also a way of reinforcing class divisions. It should stop.

Politics & Policy

No, a Vaccine Mandate Is Not Like Requiring Seat Belts

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A healthcare worker holds coronavirus vaccines at a vaccination center in El Paso, Texas, May 6, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Mainstream bioethics thinking is growing increasingly authoritarian. Princeton’s notorious utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer now joins Ezekiel “Mandate” Emanuel in an internationally syndicated column urging that everyone be legally required to take the COVID jab.

Singer justifies this imposition by comparing the proposal to laws that require people to wear seat belts in cars. From, “Why Vaccination Should be Compulsory:”

We are now hearing demands for the freedom to be unvaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. Brady Ellison, a member of the United States Olympic archery team, says his decision not to get vaccinated was “one hundred percent a personal choice,” insisting that “anyone that says otherwise is taking away people’s freedoms.”

The oddity, here, is that laws requiring us to wear seat belts really are quite straightforwardly infringing on freedom, whereas laws requiring people to be vaccinated if they are going to be in places where they could infect other people are restricting one kind of freedom in order to protect the freedom of others to go about their business safely.

Good grief. There is a huge difference between a law that requires wrapping a cloth belt around one’s body while in a moving car and injecting chemicals into one’s system. Yes, both acts involve attempts to promote public safety. But the former’s interference with liberty is de minimus, while the latter is one of the most potentially portentous that can be asked of people.

In free societies, legal mandates must be reasonable. A national vaccination mandate — which would be unprecedented — fails that test.

Why aren’t near-universal mandates “reasonable?” Well, young people almost never become seriously ill from COVID — although a very few certainly do. But there is also some evidence of a very slight — but potentially serious — risk from the vaccines for the young. If we care about freedom, surely, for the young, vaccination may be the preferred — but should not be the mandatory — course.

There is also significant evidence that people who recovered from COVID already have significant natural resistance to the disease. That being so, is it reasonable to force people with antibodies to involuntarily inject substances into their bodies, particularly since there is a very slight potential for serious bodily injury or death from the vaccine? No.

Finally, the people most at risk of serious disease are the unvaccinated. People who choose to go unprotected are risking mostly themselves. Allowing them to face that risk is more reasonable than violating their personal autonomy.

Singer enjoys playing hypothetical mind games and making comparisons, as the one involving seat belts. All right. Let’s play.

What do you think Singer would say about a legal mandate requiring men to wear condoms every time they had sex (except for purposes of procreation)? After all, think of the HIV and other VDs that would be prevented — serious illnesses and deaths avoided — if all men did that. Think of the fewer unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions. And, more like seat belts than vaccination, the action required would be wholly external with zero risk of side effects.

I can guarantee you Singer would resist such a law — as would I — because it would interfere with the most intimate of human activities without a sufficiently compelling cause to justify such a dramatic infringement of personal liberty. In other words, it would not be a reasonable assertion of government authority.

We never went that far at the height of the AIDS epidemic, before the treatments came online, when it was almost 100 percent fatal. Nor do we now require people who have risky sex to take the HIV prophylactic drugs that prevent infection. Similarly, it would be unreasonable to force everyone to accept the jab.

Yes, I know about the potential for variants. But authoritarianism can spread, too. In free societies, significant interferences with personal liberty can be justified only by urgent need — and then should be done in the least intrusive way practicable. Especially with testing readily available, a vaccine mandate simply does not pass that test.

Politics & Policy

The CBO Score Should End Republican Support for the Infrastructure Deal

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A view of the Interstate 81 freeway in Syracuse, N.Y., April 28, 2021. (Zoe Davis/Reuters)

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released its cost estimate of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. The CBO, like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget two days ago, found that only about half of the $550 billion in new spending is paid for by the legislation.

Because of the CBO’s methodology, it’s possible it is still underestimating the ultimate impact on the deficit. It gives credit for $51 billion in savings for delaying the implementation of a Medicare prescription drug rule that has never been in effect to begin with. The reasoning goes like this: If the rule were implemented, it would cost $51 billion, so not implementing it saves $51 billion. Only in Washington is such logic acceptable. It would be like your deciding to go out to dinner and then changing your mind and not going. You didn’t save any money, and neither does delaying the implementation of this rule.

The CBO also only scores the legislation it is given, not the future legislation that passing this current legislation could create. For example, the infrastructure legislation effectively creates a new welfare program to pay people’s Internet bills, but it doesn’t appropriate any money for it. So the budget impact from that program in this piece of legislation is $0, even though it will require funding in the future. The program currently has $3.2 billion in funding and is expected to last a little over a year. Even a lowball estimate of the program costing $2 billion per year would mean an additional $20 billion in debt tacked onto the CBO’s estimate over the ten-year budget window.

All along, it seemed too good to be true that Congress could scrape together $550 billion without raising taxes or doing any serious spending reforms. If there were truly that much money sloshing around that legislators could scoop up to pay for stuff that polls well, they would have done it already. No new taxes and no meaningful spending cuts is a politician’s dream — the CBO score should be a splash of cold water to wake them up from their fantasy.

The CBO score should also signal the end of any Republican support for this measure. Throughout the negotiations, we were repeatedly promised that the spending was paid for. So long as it was, there was a case to be made for supporting it along these lines: We need the infrastructure, passing this bill allows Republicans a feel-good, bipartisan win, and even if it doesn’t work out, it won’t add anything to the debt in the long run, so it’s worth a shot.

The first part of that was always suspect since people say we need infrastructure spending no matter what. As David Harsanyi pointed out in April, our infrastructure is not crumbling, and there was never a good argument why, in situations where more spending is needed, that the federal government needed to pass a massive omnibus bill to provide it.

The potential downside of a feel-good, bipartisan win is that the other party gets to claim victory, too. Killing a piece of legislation only because it gives the other party a win is petty, but that factor does need to be taken into account. In this case, the president is a Democrat, and most American voters don’t know who lead Republican negotiator Rob Portman is, so it always seemed pretty likely that Democrats would get more of the credit for a bipartisan win.

Is it still worth it for the sake of bipartisanship? Even the president’s favorite Moody’s report touting the benefits of infrastructure spending projects hardly any long-term economic impact from the bipartisan deal. Moody’s actually says that annual GDP growth would be 0.1 percentage points lower in 2031 if the bipartisan infrastructure deal were passed than if no additional legislation was passed at all. The unemployment rate and labor-force-participation rate in 2031 would be identical in the absence of this legislation as in its presence, according to Moody’s. Analysis from the UPenn Wharton Budget Model found no long-term GDP boost. It also found that the increased government spending would crowd out private spending and slightly reduce the nation’s capital stock.

So if Republicans support this legislation, they are giving Biden and congressional Democrats a win while passing a 2,700-page bill (with plenty of pork) that will increase the debt and have no meaningful impact on economic growth. That’s a high price to pay for bipartisanship — especially when the other party has already promised to pass its entire policy wish list in one bill without any input from you whatsoever.

Media

The Brothers Cuomo

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (L) speaks at a church in Harlem, N.Y., March 17, 2021; CNN anchor Chris Cuomo poses as he arrives at an event in New York, N.Y., May 15, 2019. (Seth Wenig; Mike Segar/Reuters)

Family and cable-news television are two different kinds of institutions.

Call me old world, but I don’t think you can fault CNN’s Chris Cuomo for not doing segments on his brother’s disgraces as governor. I don’t think family members should be expected to denounce each other in public, ever. I find the demand that they do so sinister; it reminds me of the Soviet cult of Pavlik Morozov, the child who betrayed his parents to the state. The world, the devil, the justice system and — hopefully — our consciences are enough to convict us of our sins and crimes. In general, family should not be offering public chastisement for sins known in public already.

This is entirely separate from the question of CNN, which has been notably silent on the governor of New York. And further, as a putative news organization, CNN should not have had its employee Chris Cuomo doing so many (or any) segments with his brother, the governor of New York, when the news cycle was going better for him.

But I think we’re past the point of considering CNN a news organization anyway.

World

Young Alta Fixsler’s Life and Religious Liberty Have Been Taken Away from Her by the United Kingdom

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(Michał Chodyra/Getty Images)

The European Court of Human Rights will not help two-year-old Alta Fixsler’s parents keep Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital from taking her off life support. Her family is Hasidic, and Justice Alistair MacDonald of the British High Court previously ruled that he refused to “accept the submission that the assessment of Alta’s perspective should start from the assumption that Alta would share the values of her parents, of her brother, and of her wider family and community.” So, because she is a severely disabled child, she does not have religious liberty? Her parents and their rabbi were dismissed as being under the influence of “the flattering voice of hope” and not “medically qualified” to make decisions about Alta’s life. Further, the judge declared that “the sanctity of Alta’s life is not, within the context of the secular laws that this court must apply, absolute.”

Alta’s parents want to be able to take her to Israel, where both parents are citizens, but Justice MacDonald said earlier this month that there’s no point in that since “Alta has and will continue to have minimal or no awareness of her family and social relationships, minimal or no ability to respond to external stimuli so as to take comfort or enjoyment from those who love her or the world around her and engage in the enlargement of knowledge of her world.” Alta’s father is also an American citizen, and hospitals in both countries are willing to take her and see if they can help improve her condition — and let her live her short, painful life, loved.

The longtime member of the House of Commons and human-rights activist Lord David Alton told me:

I have written to the U.K. Government about the case of Alta Fixsler and strongly believe that she should be allowed to travel to the U.S. or Israel with her parents. This case, and others like it, revolve around fundamental questions concerning life, death, and care. It strikes at the heart of beliefs about parental and family rights and duties. The U.K. has wrongly allowed legalism and the State to ride roughshod over the wishes of loving parents. The decision should be reversed without delay.

Politics & Policy

Under Fire from Social-Justice Warriors, Classical-Music Organizations Grovel

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(Cyano66/Getty Images)

If you don’t really have any talent, the surefire way of getting attention these days is to claim that some institution is racist. For several years now, the malcontents have been griping about classical music, claiming that it is “too white” and “not inclusive.”

Naturally, the leaders of orchestras and opera companies and other groups have abased themselves before the critics and are hastily trying to make amends by hiring “diversity” administrators and putting more works by “underrepresented minority” composers on programs.

For a thoroughly depressing read about this, Heather Mac Donald has written an essay for City Journal that lays out the ugly facts.

Sadly, nobody in the classical-music world seems to have the nerve to tell the SJWs that there is no racism in it and hasn’t been for many decades.

Mac Donald’s concluding paragraph explains the truth:

Without home transmission, the best hope for creating more black classical musicians is to restore widespread music education. The antiracism advocates have said little about that imperative, however. It’s easier to extract racial quotas from compliant organizations than it is to engineer a change as profound as exposing students to a vanishing musical aesthetic. Packing off every opera and orchestra administrator to implicit bias training will not produce a single competitively qualified black musician. Nor will potential students be inclined to pick up the violin after learning that its repertoire belongs to a white supremacist tradition. But more power is to be gained by pushing the racism line than by pursuing the unlikely rebirth of public school music training. So the search has been on to find racial scapegoats.

A large part of the problem, I suspect, is that most classical-music organizations depend on government support to some degree. To clash with (or even ignore) the SJWs is to put that money at risk.

As classical music goes “woke,” it will suffer the same erosion of support that pro sports have.

Law & the Courts

Impeachment in New York State

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) speaks during a news conference, in New York, May 10, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/Reuters)

Back in March, the scandals swirling around Governor Andrew Cuomo had become intense: leading establishment Democrats in New York began calling for him to step down (woke progressive Dems and Republicans were already in favor of his ouster). The state assembly’s plodding impeachment inquiry was underway, with Cuomo allies waiting anxiously to see how Attorney General Letitia James’s sexual-harassment probe would turn out.

At that point, I wrote a column that included a description of New York impeachment procedure, including some oddities in the law that Governor Cuomo might be able to exploit to his advantage.

With AG James now having dropped the hammer on Cuomo, Democratic allies are abandoning him and the moribund impeachment investigation has been revitalized — as I noted earlier, after the assembly spent months dithering, state lawmakers have suddenly given Cuomo just a week to pull together and present any evidence he’d like them to consider as they weigh potential (and now, highly likely) impeachment articles.

That being the case, it’s worth revisiting how impeachment works in New York. Here’s what I wrote on the subject five months ago:

The beginning of state impeachment mirrors federal impeachment procedurally: A simple-majority vote of the legislature may allege an article of impeachment. The Assembly has 150 members — 107 Democrats and 43 Republicans — so it takes 76 to make a majority.

This is a problem for Cuomo: 41 Republicans are already on record supporting an impeachment resolution, and upwards of 40 Assembly Democrats appear to support Cuomo’s impeachment. The latter number is likely to increase as well-known national Democrats call for Cuomo to resign, including several of New York’s own who jumped on the bandwagon late last week: Senators Chuck Schumer (the majority leader) and Kirsten Gillibrand (who worked for Cuomo at HUD in the Clinton years), and Representatives Jerry Nadler (House Judiciary Committee chairman) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (the young firebrand who is influential on the hard left in both Washington, D.C., and New York). So far, the Biden White House remains mostly mum, but the heat is on.

There are significant differences between federal and New York impeachment procedures after impeachment articles have been adopted. The most significant one: Were Cuomo to be impeached by the Assembly, he would be suspended from office until the trial’s conclusion. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a moderate Democrat, would become the acting governor.

In New York, as in our federal constitutional system, the impeachment trial takes place in the Senate. The Empire State’s Senate has 63 members. (I had a brain freeze during the podcast and mistakenly said it was 40 — sorry to our listeners.) Each senator represents a district. New York being New York, there is always confusion. The state has 62 counties, but the districts do not match up with counties . . . and there has even been some confusion in the recent past regarding the number of votes needed for a majority.

The lieutenant governor is nominally the president of the Senate, just as the vice president is president of the U.S. Senate. Similarly analogous to the federal system, an impeachment trial of Governor Cuomo would be presided over by the chief judge of the highest court. Again, New York being New York, the highest court is not the Supreme Court — it is the Court of Appeals. (In New York, the Supreme Court is an inferior court, the next level up is the Appellate Division, and the Court of Appeals is the top tribunal.)

The state impeachment trial differs from its federal counterpart in significant ways. First, the jurors include not only all 63 state senators but also the judges of the Court of Appeals — all seven of whom, like Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, are Cuomo appointees. Currently, there are 43 Democrats and 20 Republicans in the Senate. As in a federal impeachment trial, it takes a two-thirds supermajority vote to convict. Conviction results in the removal of the official and disqualification from holding state office in the future — it is not a disqualification from seeking federal or even municipal office (Cuomo, in theory if not in reality, could still run for president or for mayor of Mount Kisco).

In another quirk of state impeachment, not only would Hochul be recused from presiding over the trial (because she is next in line if Cuomo is impeached); also recused from participation would be the Senate’s most powerful Democrat, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — a Cuomo rival who has called for him to resign. As the chamber’s president pro tempore, she is second in line (after the lieutenant governor) to succeed to the governorship, and state law therefore disqualifies her. So between the eligible senators and the judges, there would probably be 68 jurors voting on the impeachment verdict. It would be 69 if DiFiore decided she would vote in addition to presiding. State law does not saywhether the presiding official votes. I bet she would vote only if it mattered to the outcome. The magic number would be 47.

It has been over a century since a governor in New York has been impeached. Governor William Sulzer (a.k.a. “Plain Bill”) was impeached in 1913 just ten months into his term, after incurring the wrath of Tammany Hall boss Charles Murphy (“Silent Charlie”). His fellow Democrats accused him of diverting campaign funds to make personal investments and then obstructing their investigation. Historians debate the validity of at least some of the charges, but Sulzer never had a chance and was removed from office.

The incident points up another divergence from the federal system: While there is debate about what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as we’ve discussed at length in connection with President Trump’s impeachments, that constitutional standard appears to be a model of clarity compared with New York law.

Writing in the Fordham Urban Law Journal in 1987, former state senator John Dunne and Michael Balboni, the former counsel to the state Senate Judiciary Committee, explained that a Senate investigation in the early 1980s found the impeachment proceedings against Governor Sulzer to be deeply flawed. More important, the committee lamented that state law lacked an authoritative definition of “what acts constitute impeachable conduct.” The state needed, according to the committee, a definition “broad enough to include a wide range of misconduct, criminal as well as civil, yet specific enough to prohibit the use of impeachment as a political tool.”

In a helpful recent piece for New York Public Radio (in Gothamist), Brigid Bergin notes that some legal commentators point to Section 240 of the state’s judiciary law, which controls jurisdiction for impeachment trials. That provision refers to “willful and corrupt misconduct in office” as an explanation for what constitutes an impeachable offense.

U.S.

Is ‘Normal Life’ for Americans Going to Return by 2022?

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( Halfpoint/Getty Images)

Throughout the worst stretches of the pandemic in 2020, Americans could endure knowing that the vaccines were on their way, and with them, they thought, a return to normal life.

Many Americans have gotten vaccinated – 165.6 million fully vaccinated, 193.1 million with one shot – and the country isn’t really in “lockdown” anymore. Just about all of the businesses that survived the forced closures and capacity limits are reopened. Just about every school district is scheduled to open this fall. Summer travel and vacation returned. Crowds returned for sports events and concerts.

And yet… mask mandates are coming back in some places, and the fights about vaccine mandates in workplaces are going to heat up fast. The Delta variant is this new wild card, disrupting the previous smooth rate of improving numbers, with no one entirely sure what the next month holds. Will any locality attempt to reinstate social distancing? Capacity restrictions in buildings? School closures and a return to distance learning because of a local outbreak? On top of all this, there may well be a need to get booster shots into arms in the coming year – at least for those most vulnerable to a breakthrough infection. Oh, and then there’s the question of vaccinating children under 12.

Until this week, Amazon had said it expected most of its employees to begin returning regularly to the office the week of Sept. 7 of this year. They just announced they’re pushing the return to the office back to January of 2022. That’s approaching two years away from the office! Apple pushed back its expectation of a return to the office from October. Google pushed it back from September to mid-October. Microsoft said October 4 at the earliest.

“Normal life” isn’t back yet, and it doesn’t appear “normal” will be coming back fully this fall. That probably ought to make the Biden administration nervous. And Congressional Democrats should be particularly unnerved about the prospect of running for reelection in 2022 in a country where COVID-19 or some variant of it is still disrupting the lives of Americans.

Our Jimmy Quinn reported that two Senate Democrats have joined their GOP colleagues to discuss the Wuhan lab where the pandemic might have started. This is good news for many reasons – but it also might reflect some Democrats realizing the pandemic is not going away completely anytime soon. That means questions about where it started aren’t going away, either.

If, God forbid, the wave of infections driven by the Delta variant or some other variant gets worse, and the fall and winter are not the full return to normalcy that a lot of people expected, Democrats and the Biden administration might get really interested in the origins of COVID-19 and the trail leading back to Wuhan. They may well want to remind Americans that whether or not the virus emerged from a lab, we’re in this ordeal because of the decisions of the Chinese government.

Law & the Courts

Biden Keeps Saying ‘the Quiet Part Out Loud’

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President Joe Biden speaks during an event for clean cars and trucks at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Joe Biden keeps admitting that he’s simply trying to buy time:

It is getting dull repeating this, but here goes, once again: This is a violation of his oath of office and an impeachable offense. American politicians are not allowed to take actions they know are illegal — and Biden knows, as he’s told us — in order to take advantage of the slow movement of the courts. Nor, for that matter, are they allowed to take actions that they know are illegal in order to set up a fight with the judicial branch in which they know they are in the wrong, so that they can subsequently pretend that the judicial branch is doing something out of line.

That Biden is doing both of these things — and that the people who spent four years gnashing their teeth over Donald Trump don’t care — tells us all we need to know about who this president is, as well as how the remainder of his presidency is likely to be received by the press.

Politics & Policy

CBO Says Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Would Add $256 Billion to Deficits

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) speaks in support of a judicial nominees during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 4, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Despite repeated claims by supporters that the bipartisan infrastructure package would be fully “paid for,” the Congressional Budget Office on Thursday said the bill would actually add $256 billion to deficits.

The official scorekeeper of Congress wrote that, “over the 2021–2031 period, enacting Senate Amendment 2137 to H.R. 3684 would decrease direct spending by $110 billion, increase revenues by $50 billion, and increase discretionary spending by $415 billion. On net, the legislation would add $256 billion to projected deficits over that period.”

Supporters of the law have insisted it was paid for.

“It’s paid for,” Republican senator Rob Portman has said. “We do it without raising taxes.”

Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema claimed, “So, we’ve taken a lot of time to ensure that we were paying for this package, and doing so in a way that was responsible and that was defensible.”

And Senator Mitt Romney claimed on the Senate floor, “This is a bill which is paid for.”

Now, the CBO has determined that it is not, which could throw a monkey wrench into plans to get it across the finish line given that paying for the new spending had been one of the main stumbling blocks throughout negotiations.

Politics & Policy

Are Gavin Newsom’s Days in Office Numbered?

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California governor Gavin Newsom waits to speak at a news conference in San Diego, Calif., October 9, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Two quick thoughts in light of the new poll from SurveyUSA showing Californians support recalling Governor Gavin Newsom, 51 percent to 40 percent.

First, for Newsom, the Delta variant is hitting at a really bad time. If you’re an incumbent governor facing a recall, you desperately want your state to be putting the pandemic in the rear-view mirror — and with it, all of the complaints about the lockdowns, mask mandates, dining at the French Laundry, etc. — rather than returning to a heightened state of alert.

Right now, cases are climbing again, hospitalizations are climbing again, counties are enacting vaccine requirements for employees, and more than half the state is under mask mandates again. It’s not as bad as winter, but the pandemic is still a factor in people’s lives. That puts people in a bad mood, and while Newsom didn’t cause the pandemic, they’re irritated at how the state’s rules and regulations in response to it make their daily lives more difficult.

Second, the heavily Democratic California electorate should be enough to protect him, provided that enough of the state’s 10.2 million registered Democrats feel motivated to come out and vote. The recall election is Tuesday, September 14 — an off year, with nothing else on the ballot, two months or so before the usual Election Day on which people vote. Will California’s less tuned-in Democrats turn out to vote? If I were Gavin Newsom, I would not take that for granted.

Dems See the Endless Possibilities of the ‘Illegal but Good’ Agenda

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) speaks outside the U.S. Capitol with Rep. Mondaire Jones (D., N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) as they celebrate news of a coronavirus disease eviction moratorium extension from the White House, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., August 3, 2021. (Gabrielle Crockett/Reuters)

“With eviction victory in hand,” a Washington Post headline informs us, “congressional Democrats turn attention to student loans”:

A torrent of Congressional Democrats is calling on the White House to extend a soon-expiring pause on federal student loan payments, emboldened by their success in pressuring the Biden administration to approve a new eviction moratorium.

It wasn’t “congressional Democrats” who procured this victory. It was a “torrent” of activists who happen to be in Congress. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted yesterday, progressives took “direct action” and pressured the president of the United States to nullify property rights while ignoring Congress and SCOTUS. Congress did nothing

Politics & Policy

The Unforeseen Consequences of New York City’s Vaccine Passports

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appears at an indoor training center, which will be partially converted into a temporary hospital amid the outbreak of the coronavirus in the Queens borough of New York, N.Y., March 31, 2020. (Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters)

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s ability to govern terribly is second to none. He has overseen a historic crime spike coinciding with a drastic decline in community–police relations. The homelessness crisis remains unaddressed, and drug abuse runs amok in the city. So when he manages to outdo himself, the man deserves some serious applause.

De Blasio recently announced that residents will be required to provide proof of vaccination to gain entry into “indoor dining, indoor fitness facilities, indoor entertainment facilities.” Already, even Democrats are identifying the myriad problems this policy poses.

For one, it’s an egregious encroachment on liberty. The nanny state (city?) is saying that it is within its power to segregate private facilities, so long as it is an issue of public health. Hopefully, this does not set some sort of precedent. Imagine if municipalities had had this authority during the height of the AIDS scare: “No admission unless you have proof that you are HIV-negative.” It’s a colossal privacy concern that can easily double as a political weapon.

But the shark most ominously lurking in the waters is the different rates of vaccination among demographic groups. Only about 40 percent of African Americans in New York City have received at least one dose. Among Latinos, the number is higher (63.5 percent) but still nothing to boast about. Conveniently, the health department does not publicize the statistics of vaccination for non-Hispanic whites. But if New York follows the trend in other liberal cities such as Portland, Ore. (and I see no reason why it would not), non-Hispanic white people are likely overrepresented among the vaccinated. This sounds like a rather inequitable policy, Mayor de Blasio. More black and brown people getting denied service than white people? That’s what could easily ensue.

The hypocrisy of de Blasio never ceases to astonish. No one has forgotten his grotesque double standard when he kept houses of worship shut down as he personally marched in the massive, superspreader riots that engulfed the city last summer. The argument for allowing those mostly peaceful protests, however, was that the cause of the activists was so important, so just, that they simply had to be permitted. The inequities, the systemic racism, of America just had to be addressed. But vaccine passports are inequitable, are they not?

If it was not completely clear before, it is now. De Blasio and the other politicians taking notes from him do not actually care about lofty leftist ideals like equity. They demand obedience to their ill-considered rules. It shows that they merely desire power. 

 

Politics & Policy

A Case for Turner and Hooch

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This is my new favorite Washington scandal: A bottle of whiskey valued at $6,000, a gift to Mike Pompeo from the government of Japan, has gone missing.

Maybe they’ll find the bottle, but I seriously doubt they’ll find the hooch.

Science & Tech

The Senate Should Pass Senator Rubio’s Bill Demanding Mandatory Disclosure of Big Tech’s Communications with the Government

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law during a hearing on “Online Platforms and Market Power” on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 29, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Marco Rubio has introduced a bill that would require America’s social-media firms to make public any “requests or recommendations regarding content moderation” that come from the U.S. government (or any other governments). This is an excellent idea, and Congress should pass it swiftly.

There are a host of legal and philosophical problems with the idea that the federal government should regulate the internal deliberations of privately owned companies such as Facebook and Twitter. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with Americans demanding to know to what extent their own government is engaging in that process. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, the federal government works for us, and it has no “rights” to speak of in this area. If they wish, those who are in charge of that government may contact a private company and make a “request” or a “suggestion.” But it is reasonable for voters to expect to know when they do.

Because governments are able to marshal physical violence in pursuit of their goals, even friendly recommendations carry a certain force when addressed to people or organizations over which the requesting party has jurisdiction. At the moment, we are wholly reliant upon the executive branch’s willingness to disclose its own dealings. Under Senator Rubio’s arrangement, Americans would have a statutory right to know the nature of those dealings — including which requests are being made, how frequently, in what language, to what end, and with what partisan hue.

Per Senator Rubio, the bill would

publicly disclose any requests from governments to moderate, censor or otherwise limit speech — with the exception of certain law enforcement activities, including terrorism and human trafficking, so our intelligence community and police forces are able to continue pursuing dangerous criminals — within seven days, as well as the action that took place as a result.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be required to submit an annual report of disclosures to the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary. Companies that do not comply would be subject to daily fines of $50,000 until they publicly disclose the required information. The funds would be directed to enhance rural broadband throughout the United States.

These exceptions make sense, although, naturally, the law’s language will have to be written tightly in order to prevent the federal government from simply marking anything it considers inconvenient as “intelligence.” It might also be a good idea to demand that the government also disclose any communications; that way, an auditor could compare and contrast the two filings. And finally, it will be important to make clear that government officials are not permitted merely to launder their communications through other organizations — say, the DNC — by contacting them first and asking them to make a given request.

It is fitting that this bill has been introduced by a Floridian — and co-sponsored by a Floridian, in Senator Rick Scott — given that Florida has the most efficient set of freedom-of-information laws in the country (the “Sunshine Law“), and Rubio’s bill is ultimately a freedom-of-information law. As I noted last month, “a company whose editorial decisions are being routinely manipulated and informed by the federal government can no longer be considered a purely ‘private’ actor, just as an industry whose players admit and reject customers on the basis of a single criterion on a single list cannot be regarded as meaningfully ‘competitive.’” Senator Rubio’s bill would help ensure that whatever mixing of public and private is going on is made public. Everyone — irrespective of their views on the regulation of Big Tech — should desire that.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Border Crisis Merges with His COVID ‘Crisis’

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President Joe Biden speaks during a town hall-style interview at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 21, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Funny things can happen when you whip up a state of confusion and panic, drop-kick basic norms, contradict things you said in very recent history, and otherwise convey a sense that the wheels are falling off the national choo-choo. Americans might react by saying, “Boy, things sure are tough, so please restrict and control our lives even more, wise leaders.” But they might also start to think, “Hang on, you’re in charge. Isn’t this all your fault?”

There is a border crisis that is indisputably real and is indisputably of Biden’s own making. Thousands of illegal immigrants are carrying the coronavirus, and the federal government is all but welcoming them into the country. In some cases the government is bringing them up from the border and giving them hotel rooms in unsuspecting communities.

If you do this kind of thing while COVID infections are surging, of course people are going to connect the dots. This isn’t a “GOP talking point,” nor is it merely a gotcha that points out hypocrisy. This is the reality: The federal government is successfully terrifying people about COVID while it is shrugging at the thousands of infectious illegal aliens who are coming into the country and spreading the virus.

I realize progressives will say the mocking quotes in my headline should be around the crisis relating to the border and not around the crisis relating to COVID, but, sorry folks, you don’t get to choose what people notice or what they fear. The more the mainstream media ignores the border crisis, and the associated COVID infections, the more traffic will surge to outlets that are actually covering this. I expect the White House to dial back the COVID fear porn because pushing the panic button isn’t advancing its goals of seizing more power, but rather the fear is zapping its approval ratings. This week is the first time three consecutive polls listed in the RealClearPolitics survey had Biden at less than 50 percent approval.

Politics & Policy

NY State Assembly Gives Cuomo Impeachment Defense Deadline

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at an event to announce five new vaccination sites in New York, N.Y., April 23, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Democrats have obviously decided that Andrew Cuomo is now a liability.

The New York State Assembly has informed Governor Cuomo that, if he has any additional evidence in his defense to present to its impeachment inquiry, he must do so by next Friday, August 13.

As we’ve noted here several times, (a) the impeachment inquiry has been a meandering sham, controlled by Cuomo allies in the legislature, and (b) of all the pending Cuomo investigations by federal and state entities, the only one that posed real peril for the governor — the only one that could shift the ground and inject real purpose into the impeachment theater — was the one conducted by state attorney general Letitia James, through two well-regarded outside investigators.

That report turned out to be devastating. Once President Biden followed its release by calling for Cuomo to resign, the governor’s support collapsed.

The best weathervane on this is Assembly speaker Carl Heastie, Cuomo’s most important (erstwhile) ally in the chamber. When AG James dropped the hammer on the governor at the press conference on Tuesday, Heastie bleated that he was “disturbed,” and then made like a good New York pol — i.e., he stood back to see which way the wind would blow, how the tabloids and cable news would react, and where the polls would go. Then, right after Biden made himself heard Tuesday afternoon, Heastie promptly made up his mind that Cuomo had lost the confidence of the legislature — overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats — and had to go.

Cuomo could try to tough it out — that is his instinct — but I wouldn’t bet on it. Those who are relying on the Ralph Northam or Bill Clinton survival models are applying the wrong template. In this instance, the media, which Democrats rely on as their scandal defense, have never been solidly in Cuomo’s corner.

The politics applicable here isn’t Republican/Democrat; in New York, it’s woke-progressive/establishment-Democrat. The former have wanted Cuomo out all along; the latter, which are cowed by the former (see, e.g., Biden’s cave on the eviction moratorium), were with Cuomo as long as it looked like he could ride it out and remain his old powerful, vindictive self. Now that he’s roadkill, they are turning on him, too — for the reasons deftly described by our pal John Podhoretz in the New York Post yesterday.

Clock’s ticking.

Politics & Policy

The Democratic Panic about the Imminent Demise of Democracy Only Extends So Far

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I wrote about the eviction moratorium for Politico today:

Is a president of the United States flagrantly defying the Constitution an authoritarian act? A threat to democracy? Something that at least should be discouraged or frowned upon?

Judging by the reaction of Democrats and center-left commentators to the lawless last-minute decision of President Joe Biden’s CDC to extend an eviction moratorium sure to be struck down in the courts, the answer is emphatically “no.”

At the same time we are constantly being told that, say, a Texas election bill to prohibit drive-through voting or Tucker Carlson’s latest monologue on his influential Fox News program represents dire democratic backsliding, none of Biden’s allies are raising a peep of protest against a measure that represents exactly the sort of high-handed unilateral rule practiced by authoritarians everywhere.

Indeed, Biden’s handiwork is being celebrated as courageous and compassionate. What can he do as follow-up? Suspend habeas corpus? Quarter troops in people’s homes?

Politics & Policy

Tough Luck, WHO!

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Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

It’s easy to see why the World Health Organization and its director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, want to halt the use of COVID-19 vaccine boosters until at least the end of September. While 4.2 billion doses of various vaccines have been administered so far, lots and lots of countries who are dependent upon vaccines manufactured elsewhere have barely begun their vaccination efforts.

Vietnam has given one shot to about 6.8 percent of its citizens, Bangladesh is at 5.8 percent, Egypt is at 3.8 percent, and Nigeria has given one shot to about 1 percent of its citizens.

Meanwhile, Israel started giving a third dose to those 60 years and older this week, and France and Germany announced similar plans to start next month.

Except . . . some evidence does suggest that the vaccinations become less effective in the elderly after six months. The evidence isn’t clear-cut; we’re talking about elderly patients who generally have weaker immune systems in general. But there’s certainly no harm in a third shot for the most vulnerable, and it represents a reasonable step to keep those most at risk from COVID-19 and the Delta variant out of hospitals.

Now we’re presented with the odd sight of the World Health Organization . . . discouraging vaccinations among those most vulnerable to the Delta variant.

But wealthier countries are under no obligation to expose their elderly or immunocompromised citizens to greater risk, just so that the poorer countries of the world can catch up. No country can be expected to prioritize the health and safety of foreign citizens over its own citizens. Keep in mind, Israel offered to send 1.4 million unused doses to the Palestinian Authority, but the Palestinians contended the vaccines were too close to the expiration date. Germany has pledged to donate at least 30 million vaccine doses to poorer countries, and France was the first country to donate vaccines to COVAX.

And while the CDC is not encouraging third doses, the city of San Francisco is now offering supplemental Pfizer or Moderna doses to those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was supposed to be fully effective with one dose.

The U.S. has donated more than 100 million doses to other countries. By comparison, Chinese manufacturers sold half a billion doses to COVAX, the international immunization effort — and there’s that little complication that the Chinese vaccines don’t really work all that well.

And keep in mind, this is a discussion about a third dose of the existing vaccines. This morning, Moderna announced that lab studies show one of its potential boosters, with half the dose of its vaccine, increases antibody levels against the Delta variant by 42-fold! Imagine how fast we could shut down the Delta variant with that . . . But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process stands between us and that effort.

Law & the Courts

‘Small-Time Landlords “Hanging on By Their Fingernails” as Eviction Moratorium Drags On’

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Ryan Mills has a great piece up on how the eviction moratorium is affecting small-time landlords:

One of Raj Sookram’s tenants stopped paying rent in December. Another man hasn’t paid him a cent in 20 months. He now owes Sookram over $20,000.

One woman stopped paying this spring, Sookram said, then demanded that he fix her hot water heater when it blew. That ended with city officials threatening Sookram with daily fines.

In all, Sookram said, about half of the tenants living in his 13 Rochester, N.Y., rental properties are behind on rent. Sookram said he’s struggling to pay his bills and taxes. He’s had to take out loans and work side handyman gigs to provide for his wife and three kids.

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on — and as the federal government continues to extend its legally dubious eviction moratorium — more and more people are “jumping on the bandwagon, like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to pay you,’” Sookram said.

Law & the Courts

Hey, Crazy Left, Aim over There!

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People gather during a protest supporting an extension of the pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., August 1, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Realizing that President Biden’s new eviction moratorium edict is blatantly lawless — by the administration’s own assessment, which was still ringing in everyone’s ears when Biden decided to appease his party’s Bolshevik wing by decreeing it anyway — Democrats are now pleading with their crazies to aim the tirades at the Supreme Court instead of the White House.

Politico reports:

“I hope that progressives will put as much attention on the inevitable Supreme Court ruling swatting this down as they did on Biden the last few days,” said Brian Fallon of Demand Justice, a former Obama Justice Department spokesperson who advocates for enlarging the court. “I hope that all the energy and compassion for people who stand to suffer if the moratorium was not continued will remain when the Supreme Court becomes the villain instead of Joe Biden.”

Fallon said that “ideally” Biden would “castigate” the court if it torpedoes the eviction ban, but declined to predict that the president will do so.

In just a few lines here, we see nearly everything that is wrong with government.

First, anyone notice the 800-pound gorilla Fallon fails to mention? Right . . . Congress! The media-Democrat complex drone on about Biden’s “compassion” and the “inevitable” invalidation of it by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court. But this is not a conservative-liberal controversy. It’s a division of authority question.

As I observed last night, the constitutional issue is not the Commerce Clause, as it would arguably take some originalist revamping of the Court’s jurisprudence to invalidate the moratorium. This is a straightforward statutory issue: Congress has not empowered the executive branch (via the CDC or any other component) to intrude on private rental contracts by barring evictions. The salient thing is not Biden’s heart or the Court’s ideological trajectory. It is that Congress has not enacted legislation that either imposes an eviction moratorium or delegates authority to do so to the CDC.

So . . . Fallon hopes that woke-progressives, having brow-beaten the hapless Biden into doing something he knows is illegal, will now shift gears and brow-beat the justices — they’re lookin’ at you, Brett Kavanaugh — into prioritizing empathy over black-and-white legal analysis. But what do Fallon and his allies studiously avoid suggesting? That the Democratic-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate propose a bill that restricts evictions.

Why not? Because such legislation would be unpopular. Because it would powerfully illustrate that, contrary to hard-Left anti-property dogma, the people being crushed by the moratorium are small-business owners who can’t pay their mortgages and other bills because the (mostly modest) rental payments on which they depend have been suspended by the government.

For all the demagoguing of the “ultra-conservative” Supreme Court, progressives know the Court could not care less whether the law provides for a moratorium. The justices would simply say: If it’s in the law, we’ll uphold it, but we’re not going to put it into the law — that’s Congress’s job.

The Constitution insulates the Court from politics precisely so that the justices can apply the law as it is written, without fear or favor, and regardless of whether they think it reflects good policy (as long as it is constitutionally compliant, a matter on which they indulge a rebuttable presumption that Congress acts lawfully). Yet, the Left assumes, and not without reason, that its mau-mauing works. Under circumstances where something lawless and oppressive against voters is the objective, extortion is seen as a better strategy than pressuring accountable congressional Democrats to enact a law.

Of course, Fallon also hopes Biden will join in the “castigation” of the Court, something Democrats would condemn a Republican president for doing.

Unlike Fallon, I believe it is anything but clear that the Roberts Court will inevitably swat down Biden’s lawless moratorium. The risk-averse justices failed to swat down the last one, though it, too, was lawless, because it only had five more weeks to run. This time, Biden strategically structured the moratorium to lapse after 60 days — i.e., it is due to expire while the Court is on its long summer recess.

It would require effort to get a case up to the Supreme Court and convince the justices that they needed to expedite action on it. Hopefully, as aggrieved owners sue, district judges will promptly issue injunctions against the moratorium. But the courts could stay the injunction until the Supreme Court has a chance to rule. The justices could easily drag their feet until the moratorium lapses, and then say the case is moot.

That is what Biden is banking on. As usual, the process is as much the penalty as the underlying illegality.

Law & the Courts

Proposing a Fetal-Personhood Amendment to the Constitution

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(mj0007/Getty Images)

I had the chance to write for a feature put together by the New York Times opinion page, in which seven contributors offered ideas for constitutional amendments.

My contribution was a fetal-personhood amendment that would explicitly include unborn human beings under the existing protections of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. For a time, attempting to add a human life amendment to the Constitution was a fairly serious strategy idea for the pro-life movement.

The existing proposals for such an amendment — which were introduced in Congress a few times in the 1970s and ’80s and, back in those days, even received substantial support from prominent Democrats (including Joe Biden) — were divided into two types: a federalism-style amendment to overturn Roe and send the issue of abortion back to the states, or a personhood amendment that would ascribe to the unborn the rights of citizenship, making legal abortion an impossibility under the Constitution.

My proposal falls into the second camp. Here’s a bit of how I explained the need for such an amendment:

The Supreme Court held in Roe v. Wade that the Constitution protects a right to abortion. But a unique human life begins at the moment of fertilization, which means that every abortion intentionally ends a human life; the court’s decision denied to an entire class of human beings that right upon which all other rights depend.

Unless the court overturns its decades of hazy and unworkable precedent protecting abortion, lawmakers who attempt to safeguard the equality of the unborn will remain unable to do so. Even if the court changes course, without a constitutional amendment explicitly recognizing fetal personhood, states will maintain a maze of abortion laws, some of which will continue to allow abortion.

You can read the rest of my pitch and the draft amendment over at the Times. This piece is only a thought experiment in the sense that such an amendment isn’t politically likely, at least right now, and constitutional amendments are tough to pass (for good reason). My more immediate hope is that in the upcoming Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization the Supreme Court will take the opportunity not only to uphold Mississippi’s reasonable abortion regulation but also to undo the major damage it has done to our constitutional order with its decision in Roe v. Wade and the flimsy house of cards it has built over the decades to prop up that ruling.

U.S.

Party On

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Former president Barack Obama in Atlanta, Ga., November 2, 2020 (Brandon Bell/Reuters)

I’ll be the one to say it: President Obama should not have canceled his big birthday party on account of COVID. According to news reports, all guests and staff would have been tested for COVID. It was requested that all attendees be vaccinated, and the event was to be held outdoors. There would have been indoor prep work done by staff, but restaurant workers do indoor prep work every day in every city in the country and in most of those restaurants, the guests are not tested prior to attending.

Vaccinated and/or tested people engaging in such relatively safe activities should live their lives. Canceling the party over concern about optics is just more COVID theater, and we have already had far too much COVID theater.

If the party had gone on, Obama would have been trolled by some Republicans, but that’s life. Some opportunistic ribbing isn’t going to hurt him. Some people who are more sincerely worried about COVID might argue that, by going on with the party, Obama is setting a bad example. To the contrary. By getting vaccinated and getting on with his life, Obama would have been setting exactly the right example.