Law & the Courts

‘Everybody Is Walking Around with a Gun Because They Are More Afraid of Getting Shot Than Getting Arrested’

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The New York Post yesterday had an informative, if chilling, account of what’s driving the murder spree in New York City, namely, a cycle of reprisals by teenagers no longer afraid to carry guns.

Today, the great Bob McManus has a column on one of the idiotic policies making this level of bloodshed possible.

Health Care

More Americans Than Ever Died of Drug Overdoses Last Year

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Needles used for shooting heroin and other opioids and other drug paraphernalia in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pa., in 2017. (Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

As Isaac Schorr noted earlier this morning, new preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control reveal that more than 93,000 people in the United States died of drug overdoses last year, up a shocking 30 percent from 2019, when the CDC reported that 71,000 people died of an overdose.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, the steep rise in drug-overdose deaths was primarily the result of a continued surge in opioid-related overdoses, especially from opioids laced with fentanyl. About 69,000 of the 93,000 overdose deaths were opioid-related. Here’s more from BuzzFeed’s report on the new numbers:

While fentanyl is now linked to 3 out of 5 overdose deaths nationwide, the preliminary statistics suggest deaths from methamphetamine, cocaine, and prescription pain pills also increased in the last year. That likely reflects their contamination with fentanyl, and increasing use of multiple drugs together . . . As little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be a lethal dose; one survey conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration reported that 26% of counterfeit pain pills contained that dosage or higher.

Shannon Monnat, a professor at Syracuse University who researches the geographical patterns in overdoses in the U.S., told the Associated Press that the “poisoned drug supply” is at the root of this enormous uptick in overdose deaths. “Nearly all of this increase is fentanyl contamination in some way,” Monnat said. “Heroin is contaminated. Cocaine is contaminated. Methamphetamine is contaminated.”

Meanwhile, public-health experts suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns and isolation were almost certainly a major factor in this sharp uptick in drug use and deaths from overdose. It’s long past time for a national reckoning on this crisis.

Politics & Policy

We Must Get the COVID History Right

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According to authoritarian governors, especially Andrew Cuomo, the COVID episode proves how much we need muscular government, led by people who don’t hesitate to coerce people in the name of safety. What they don’t want anyone to think about is the horrible unintended consequences of their actions.

James Bovard does want people to think about those consequences in his latest essay for AIER, “No Victory Lap for Governors Who Locked Down America.”

Among the bad results of lockdowns was a host of mental problems. Bovard writes:

The lockdowns that governors imposed also pointlessly ravaged many Americans’ mental health. The Centers for Disease Control last month reported a 51% increase in emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts by teenage girls in early 2021. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found a 300% increase in the percentage of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder (41% of adults in January 2021). The CDC also reported a record number of drug overdose deaths last year, due in part to the lockdowns and other government-imposed disruptions.

Moreover, the economic devastation was immense.

Cuomo, Whitmer, Newsom, and other authoritarians will say that they had good intentions and just wanted to keep people safe. The trouble is that whatever their intentions, the results were disastrous. Politicians should not have such power.

Bovard concludes, “In reality, Cuomo’s speech relied on what Hegel called “the truth which lies in power.” As long as politicians are exalted, the actual details of their decrees are irrelevant: they have been coronated as saviors. Cuomo assured his fellow Covid-profiteering governors that ‘this will happen again.’ This is why Americans must recognize the catastrophic failure of political iron fists during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Yes, this will happen again, maybe another health scare, maybe some other reason for politicians to act like dictators. We need to learn from COVID and stop the abuse of power.

Culture

Jussie Smollett Returns, Doubles Down

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Actor Jussie Smollett leaves court in Chicago, Ill., March 26, 2019. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)

Jussie Smollett very obviously lied to police when he claimed he was attacked by two men who happened to be carrying around a noose and a bottle of an unknown liquid (which Smollett or someone close to him claimed was bleach for a TMZ story) on a frosty Chicago night two and a half years ago. Smollett’s apparent motive for perpetrating the most notorious hate-crime hoax since the Tawana Brawley incident in the 1980s was to increase his leverage in salary negotiations on his Fox television show Empire, from which he was fired.

Today Smollett was back in court, and again insisted (this time to a Fox News reporter) that he was innocent. He claimed he was caught up in a “dog and pony show,’” the network reported. As Emily Zanotti writes on The Daily Wire, after charges against Smollett were dropped by the Cook County State’s Attorney, who nonsensically failed to secure a guilty plea in the process, a special prosecutor re-launched charges that Smollett had lied to police.

Although plenty of evidence has been collected against him, the case is still barely moving forward. Today Smollett was in court because of a possible conflict of interest involving his attorney, who has also had discussions with the two brothers Smollett apparently hired to help stage the fictitious attack on him and who would presumably testify against him if the case went to trial. The people of Chicago deserve a speedy resolution to this farcical case.

National Security & Defense

Democrats Take Aim at the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force

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A U.S. Marine walks near Afghan National Army soldiers during training in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2017. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

The debate surrounding open-ended congressional authorizations for the use of military force is in full swing, and for the first time in two decades, Congress seems poised to roll back a 2001 legal justification for armed hostilities that it granted the executive branch two decades ago.

On Tuesday, an amendment to repeal the resolutions providing legal justification for America’s post-9/11 military operations and the 2002 Iraq war authorization by Representative Barbara Lee was adopted by the House Appropriations Committee. “Let’s finally end blank checks for endless wars,” wrote Lee, a longtime proponent of reining in presidential war powers, on Twitter yesterday.

Her proposal would repeal the 2001 authorization after eight months, to allow Congress a chance to replace the legislation, according to Politico’s Morning Defense Newsletter, and would repeal the 2002 authorization outright.

Six months into the Biden administration, it’s more likely than ever before that Congress will eventually vote to repeal that authorization, which provided legal justification for the Iraq War. The House of Representatives already approved such a measure last month with some support from conservative lawmakers, but it remains held up in the Senate, where Republicans who remain skeptical of pulling the resolution requested consultations with defense experts to determine its impact.

An eventual repeal vote would be significant but would remain small-ball stuff compared with repealing the 2001 AUMF. The 2002 authorization has been cited in a handful of cases beside the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the significantly broader congressional resolution that President George W. Bush signed on September 18, 2001 that granted him sweeping authority to wage the War on Terror is the main event. It’s among the most consequential pieces of foreign-policy legislation in U.S. history yet consists of just one key sentence:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

60 Words and a War without End” is what a blockbuster Buzzfeed News feature billed the 2001 AUMF in 2014. Those words authorized not only the war in Afghanistan but also operations in an additional 18 countries, according to a count by the Congressional Research Service. When Congress voted to adopt the resolution in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks, it received overwhelming support and just a single vote in opposition from either house — from Lee.

“Let the congressional debate begin,” she told Buzzfeed, about repeal efforts amid ongoing U.S. military operations in such countries as Yemen and Somalia. “If people think it’s worth it for whatever reason, then let their member of Congress vote for it. That’s the point.”

With the adoption of her amendment by a House subcommittee, it seems at least that a critical mass of her Democratic colleagues have come around to that view, for the first time ever. It’s sure to kick off an extensive debate about whether, and just how, to limit the powers granted by the 2001 authorization. Anything from a clean repeal, to various measures to phase out the resolution over time, could theoretically come of this.

Despite the war-weary attitude reflected in public-opinion polls and the unprecedented amount of movement on repealing these authorizations, however, none of this will be a slam dunk. Defense hawks will point out that doing so would strip a key legal backing for operations overseas, including ongoing operations against ISIS, putting Americans at risk. Jettisoning the law would make it that much more difficult for the president to respond to security threats.

Whether the Biden administration would get behind efforts to roll back the 2001 law also is unclear. During his nomination hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “I would be determined and committed to working on” getting a consensus around a war-powers overhaul. The administration released a statement of support for repealing the Iraq resolution, making Biden the first president to support a rollback of any of these AUMFs, but supporting the same for the 2001 authorization would be a different thing entirely.

All of this comes amid a broader U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East, led by the Biden administration, as well as a debate over a White House budget proposal that would cut the Pentagon’s budget. It comes to the backdrop of an emboldened Iranian regime’s election of a new hardline president and a Taliban resurgence in post-U.S. withdrawal Afghanistan.

This conversation about war-powers reform also ought to take these other factors and very real threats into account, without just deferring to talking points about endless war.

World

‘Can Cuba Break Free of Communism?’

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This week on The Editors, Rich, Alexandra, Jim, and Michael discuss the protests in Cuba, the Democrat drama in Texas, Eric Adams’s NYC mayoral win, and much more. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

World

Genocidal Regime Criticizes Discrimination in American Culture

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

“The United States prides itself as a beacon of human rights, but it doesn’t have any intention of ending the serious discrimination against American Muslims,” writes the state-run media institution of a government running concentration camps and a campaign of genocide against a Muslim population.

The U.S. State Department issued its annual report on ongoing genocides this week, and regarding China, the report declared:

The People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. The crimes against humanity include imprisonment, torture, enforced sterilization, and persecution. In July 2020, Treasury sanctioned two PRC government entities and six current or former government officials in connection with serious human rights abuses in Xinjiang. In March 2021, Treasury alongside the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Canada sanctioned two PRC officials in connection with serious human rights abuses. The United States in July 2020 issued the Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory to highlight risks for businesses with exposure to entities engaged in human rights abuses in Xinjiang, including the use of forced labor. Then-Secretary Pompeo designated China as a Country of Particular Concern in 2020 for severe violations of religious freedom.

Over at the State Department, spokesman Ned Price contended that the U.S. government officials’ willingness to discuss how the country hasn’t lived up to its own professed values ought to strengthen U.S. criticism of human rights abuses, not undermine it.

“Without commenting on what sounds like the PRC playbook, that we have been very clear that as part of our commitment to human rights – our defense, our promotion of human rights around the world – that as a confident democracy, as a country that is comfortable and confident in its standing, we can be open, we can be transparent about where we have veered off course, where we have not met the ideals that – towards which we strive every day,” Price said.

Here’s hoping that’s the case. But brutal authoritarian regimes undoubtedly prefer a world where citizens of free societies spend a lot of time discussing and lamenting their own failures, and never quite get around to getting that fired up about the ongoing extermination of an entire culture in another country, to the point where the Turpan Public Security Bureau is thanked in the credits of a Disney film, generating only mild controversy.

Elections

Republicans Outraise Democrats in Second Quarter ahead of 2022 Midterms

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Senator Tim Scott (R., S.C.) speaks about his new police reform bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 17, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) announced this morning that it had raised a record-breaking $45.4 million in the second quarter of the year, more than $20 million of which the group raised in June alone.

The National Democratic Congressional Committee, meanwhile, announced just yesterday that it had a similarly record-breaking haul last quarter, but with a much lower final total, with $36.5 million overall and $14.4 million in June.

Both groups are looking ahead to next year’s midterms, emphasizing in their respective press releases that the record-breaking nature of the amounts raised during a non-election year indicates a higher level of interest in the 2022 congressional races.

So far this year, the NRCC’s strategy has focused on big-ticket items plaguing the early days of the Biden administration, including the crisis at the southern border, the ongoing rise in crime across the country, and the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 stimulus bill.

With an evenly divided Senate and razor-thin margin in the House, Republicans are hopeful that continued struggles for the administration — and the possibility of unpopular further spending from Democrats — will give GOP candidates the edge in taking over vulnerable seats next fall.

One particularly notable success last quarter for Republicans on the Senate side is a report from the campaign of South Carolina senator Tim Scott, whose seat is up in 2022. This is Scott’s third reelection effort, as he won a special election in 2014 for the seat to which he was appointed in 2013, and he was elected to his first full term in 2016.

Roll Call reports this morning that Scott’s campaign raised $9.6 million last quarter, the most any sitting senator has reported amassing so far this election cycle. In fact, as the report notes, it’s “more than four times what Scott raised in the first quarter of the year, and $3.4 million above what he raised in winning his first full term in 2016.”

His success this early in the upcoming election cycle is likely a sign not only of increased Republican interest in the 2022 races overall but also a result of Scott’s rising profile within the GOP. Earlier this year, Scott was chosen to deliver the GOP response to Biden’s State of the Union, and he made several significant legislative efforts during the Trump administration, including adding his “Opportunity Zones” legislation to the GOP tax reform in 2017 and a more recent conservative plan for police reform that Senate Democrats blocked.

Despite Democratic attempts to turn southern states blue, Scott’s South Carolina appears to remain solidly Republican. In last year’s Senate races, the state’s other senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, successfully defended his seat against challenger Jaime Harrison, even though Democrats poured immense resources into the race and Harrison’s campaign raised a whopping $86 million. In the final full quarter of the race alone, Harrison amassed $57 million, the largest single-quarter total by any candidate in U.S. Senate history, yet Graham defeated him by ten points.

Health Care

Ezekiel ‘Mandate’ Emanuel Strikes Again

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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)

If Ezekiel Emanuel thinks it is wise policy, the country’s preeminent bioethicist generally wants to mandate it. For example, he repeatedly called for mandatory national shutdowns. He has urged that all children be forced to have a flu shot every year. He also advocated that different levels of government impose vaccine mandates. He also believes that doctors should be required to perform abortions when asked, or find an abortionist for the patient if they have a conscientious objection. “Mandate” should be Emanuel’s middle name.

Now, he is back with a seemingly more reasonable demand, but which really isn’t. He has co-authored a piece advocating that every health-care worker — from doctors to pharmacists to nurses to custodians — be vaccinated as a condition of continued employment. From “Vaxed or Axed,” published in STAT:

One industry that has been strangely silent about mandates is health care, including hospitals, home health agencies, long-term care facilities, and others. Why aren’t all 17 million health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, home health care agencies, and outpatient care sites such as federally qualified health clinics, pharmacies, physician offices, physical therapy offices, and the like required to get vaccinated against Covid-19?

Maybe because a lot of those workers would quit rather than be forced to put an experimental, RNA-impacting chemical in their bodies?

Emanuel and company complain about the low rate of vaccinations among health-care workers:

A survey of nine hospital networks found rates of fully vaccinated workers were as low as 53%. Even worse, as we rely more and more on out-of-hospital care, it turns out only 26% of home-health workers had been vaccinated as of March. A survey released in April found that fully 30% of health care workers are “vaccine hesitant” with 18% of frontline workers outright opposed to vaccination.

That raises an interesting red flag. Why are those so intimately impacted by COVID — and who are clearly not cowardly, having worked valiantly in the trenches saving lives before the vaccines came out — reluctant to receive the jab? It seems to me that addressing their concerns — rather than coercing them with the threat of job loss — is the better approach.

But, but, the Hippocratic Oath!

Mandating vaccination isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the ethical thing to do. All health care workers pledge that their highest duty is to promote the best interests of their patients. In the words of the Hippocratic oath, physicians pledge that, “Into whatever homes I go, I will enter them for the benefit of the sick …” (There were no hospitals at the time of Hippocrates, only home care.)

Funny, the oath also forbids abortion, and Emanuel doesn’t blink in his pro-choice views.

I can think of several reasons to oppose such mandates: First, the vaccines have received only an “emergency use” authorization. That means they are not fully approved. It also means — according to the law that allows EU approvals — that people can refuse such substances. Specifically, the statute states (my emphasis):

Appropriate conditions designed to ensure that individuals to whom the product is administered are informed—
(I) that the Secretary has authorized the emergency use of the product; (II) of the significant known and potential benefits and risks of such use, and of the extent to which such benefits and risks are unknown; and (III) of the option to accept or refuse administration of the product, of the consequences, if any, of refusing administration of the product, and of the alternatives to the product that are available and of their benefits and risks.

Oops. If we have the legal right “to accept or refuse administration” of the COVID vaccine, it means that workers cannot be forced to be inoculated. And that should apply to the private sector as well as the public. After all, it is like trying to force someone to take a drug for an “off label” use. That is just not reasonable.

Even when the vaccines receive full approval, which I expect they will, it would still be unwise for health-care employers to compel their employees to be vaccinated. Many already have natural immunity, having previously recovered from COVID. Moreover, there are real questions being asked whether somebody who already has antibodies in their blood should also be vaccinated.

Perhaps Emanuel hasn’t noticed, but people don’t trust “the experts” much anymore. Mandates of the kind Emanuel proposes would only make things worse. Besides, we should resort to coercion only for compelling reasons. The current state of the COVID pandemic doesn’t warrant such draconian measures.

We should also be wary about having the private sector enforce policies desired by the federal government, but which it won’t engage for political or constitutional reasons. Checks and balances matter. Having the private sector do the mandating — when the feds and state governments can’t or won’t — would not be good policy from either direction.

Finally, there is a reasonable middle-ground way of achieving Emanuel’s goal of improving patient safety without forcing people to choose between putting unwanted chemicals in their bodies and keeping their jobs. And we know it works — because we did it before the vaccines came online, and to great success. Just require health-care workers who don’t want the shots to be tested for COVID twice a week. That will protect patients significantly and by far less intrusive means. Moreover, many patients will have been inoculated — as I have been — meaning they are already significantly protected anyway.

Once again Emanuel wants to force us to do what he thinks is right. And, as before, his advice should be ignored.

Politics & Policy

With Democrats Pushing to Expand Medicare, Trustees Report Is over Three Months Late

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( zimmytws/Getty Images)

As part of the extravagant $3.5 trillion infrastructure package, Democrats are now pushing to expand the financially-troubled Medicare program by adding dental, vision, and hearing services. Before considering such a measure, it sure would be nice for Congress to have an up to date view of Medicare’s finances, especially to see how the pandemic affected the program. Unfortunately, the annual Trustees report is more than three months overdue.

By law, the Trustees of Social Security and Medicare are supposed to deliver a report about the programs’ finances by April 1st. Though rarely on time — the last year the deadline was met was 2008 — this report has already surpassed the dates that the reports were delivered during the Trump administration, though there were several years under the Obama administration when the reports were even later. Motley Fool notes:

  • Reports during President Obama’s term got submitted on May 12, Aug. 9, May 13, April 25, May 31, July 28, July 22, and June 22.
  • The track record during President Trump’s administration was equally consistent, with late-filed reports on July 13, June 5, and April 22 twice in a row.

Just last week, Biden fired the Trump era commissioner of Social Security, Andrew Saul, after he refused to resign, so it is unclear to what extent that could impact the timing of the reports.

This year’s reports are heavily anticipated because everybody is eager to see how the trustees believe that the pandemic disrupted the programs. But it will be even more relevant now that Democrats have announced plans to expand Medicare. In last year’s report, the trustees revealed that the core hospital insurance program was running a deficit every year in the future, and that the trust fund would be depleted by 2025 — after which point tax increase would be required to avoid automatic benefit cuts.

 

Hey, Maybe the Walls Aren’t Closing In on Donald Trump After All

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Former president Donald Trump at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio, June 26, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Credit Ankush Khardori at New York magazine for noticing that articles suggesting “the walls are closing in on Donald Trump” don’t seem quite so convincing anymore, and recognizing that for the past five years or so, “often, pundits offered analysis that distorted the public’s sense of how the criminal-justice system really works and flattered the audience’s prejudices by suggesting that serious legal consequences for Trump might be just around the corner.”

The root of the problem is that there is a near-insatiable demand for news or commentary that promises or suggests, “that political figure you hate is about to be indicted

Health Care

The Absurdity of a Federal Vaccine Mandate

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

In the week after the U.S. failed to reach President Biden’s July 4 vaccination goal, the conversation of what to do next has yielded increasingly preposterous suggestions. Slowing vaccine rates have many officials worried that the optimal immunity levels of 85 to 90 percent may not be reached any time soon. But in the flurry of proposals, there is one option of which the American people should be exceptionally wary: a federal vaccine mandate.

Biden set himself a lofty goal when, at the beginning of May, he vowed to get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 70 percent of adults. Even though the nation fell short of that over the holiday weekend, an impressive number of Americans have still made the choice to get vaccinated. The most recent CDC reports suggest that 67 percent of adults have been inoculated at least once, and almost 50 percent are fully vaccinated. But the surge of the Delta variant and increasing case numbers in recent weeks have many officials and media outlets calling for more drastic measures. Mobile vaccine clinics in workplaces, door-knocking campaigns, and stronger education efforts have all been floated. However, the discussion of vaccine mandates is taking federal intervention much too far.

Earlier this year, Biden rejected the idea of a federal vaccine tracker, but conversations in support of vaccine passports set an unfortunate tone for federal intervention on vaccine choice. Some have taken it to the next level, with Indiana University’s Dr. Aaron Carroll vocally supporting vaccine mandates and the New York Times publishing letters in agreement. This is an absurd suggestion. Vaccination is a personal medical decision, though recent coverage has debated the decision as if it is purely a matter of weighing scientific evidence.

Even as few others have joined the federal mandate platform, local and de-facto mandates like those implemented in healthcare systems should be cautiously considered at this time. These are viable methods of encouraging widespread immunization, but the fact remains that all three COVID-19 vaccines have yet to obtain full FDA approval. While the evidence gives us every reason to believe that the vaccines will eventually receive full authorization, they are still only available under emergency-use authorization. The distinction may be a technicality, but Americans who want full assurance of the safety and efficacy of vaccines should have it.

That’s not to say that Americans shouldn’t already feel comfortable with the vaccine. Despite the emergency status, overwhelming evidence shows the decision of immunization to be a safe and responsible one. But it is still that: a decision. Many who have yet to get the vaccine are not waiting because they never plan to get it. They are simply wary of the possibly rushed development. While some may disagree with that hesitance, that does not invalidate their right to that choice.

To Biden’s credit, his administration has so far opposed efforts like vaccination passports and registries that would enable this extension of federal power. For the sake of the American people, we should hope it stays that way.

U.S.

Carp Bombing in Wisconsin

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Bald eagles are back, and they may be gunning for city hall. This past weekend, city hall employees in Neenah, Wis., discovered a heavily dented hood on a municipal vehicle, with a large, dead carp lying on the ground nearby. Jake Prinsen of the Appleton Post-Crescent writes,

Police and the inspector found a dead carp several feet away and determined the damage was caused by an eagle or other large bird that dropped the fish. “The police said there’s no way someone could have hit (the car) with the fish hard enough to do that kind of damage,” said Neenah office manager Samantha Jefferson. “It had to have come from way far up — it’s crazy.”

The report notes once-endangered bald eagles have made a comeback in the state.

To follow up on the story, I reached out to a local spokes-eagle, Pam Plumage, about this heinous assault on government property but was rebuffed by incomprehensible squawking. Is this an isolated incident of aquatic-bombardment activism, or does it portend a return to the great human-eagle wars of old? Too soon to say. This story is still developing.

Politics & Policy

There Goes Biden’s ‘Moderate’ Brand

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President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 20, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

President Biden’s implicit promise to turn down the temperature and restore normal patterns of rhetoric to the presidency can no longer be taken seriously after yesterday’s ridiculous episode of hyperventilation disguised as a speech.

No one disputes that there should be some voting restrictions, a.k.a “rules.” There have to be agreed-upon methods for validating ballots and there have to be time windows. Republican-led states around the country have passed a series of rules updated for the post-pandemic era. This is not “the 21st century Jim Crow,” as Biden absurdly suggested. It’s not “autocratic.” We are not “facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That’s not hyperbole, since the Civil War.” Not hyperbole? That statement is a quintessential example of hyperbole and amounts to an assertion that, for instance, today’s voting rules are worse than Jim Crow laws. Or does Joe Biden not believe that Jim Crow laws were a grave threat to democracy?

Biden’s hate-fueled speech, peppered with words such as “odious,” “vicious,” “unconscionable,” and “pernicious,” was unbecoming of a president and was much more along the lines of what you’d expect to see in an opinion piece issued by Paul Krugman, the Squad of far-left congresswomen, or Teen Vogue. Moreover, as David Harsanyi points out, the whole speech is simply the predicate for casting doubt on the legitimacy of the next election season, should Republicans do well in it:

The second reason Biden likely gave this speech was to preemptively corrode trust in the 2022 and 2024 elections. Biden spent the first part of his talk bragging about how the United States had just conducted the cleanest election in history, grousing about efforts to undermine trust in our voting system. He then spent the rest of his time doing exactly that. Many of the Democrats who can’t stop talking about the horrors of Trump’s “Big Lie” had no compunction disputing results in Georgia or the presidential election only a few years ago. Now, they are creating a ready-made justification for delegitimizing any Republican victory.

This speech was a disaster for anyone who’d like Americans as a whole to recover faith in our institutions and return to believing that our elections are fair. Biden is an angry, divisive, hyper-partisan demagogue who can never again be viewed as a man of temperate instincts.

Education

Sensitivity Versus Education

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Over the last 20 years or so, the feelings of students (well, of some students anyway) have become paramount in our educational institutions. Teachers and professors have to walk on eggshells to avoid giving anyone reason to claim to be offended.

In today’s Martin Center article, Assumption College professor Geoffrey Vaughan discusses that problem.

In many courses, students are taught that power relationships determine everything and that it’s imperative to sympathize with the downtrodden groups. “The power play in the woke world,” Vaughan writes, “is what I call sympathy by proxy.’ You don’t have to be aggrieved yourself. You just have to imagine that someone else might be. Like the psychological disorder Munchausen by proxy, in which someone pretends that a person under her care is suffering a terrible disease, the perpetrator is lauded for heroism, becomes the center of attention, and controls the fate of the poor unfortunates.”

In our brave new educational world, the more aggrieved you claim to be, the more power you have. Educators have to be wary of offending any student who is cloaked in that power. And that makes teaching very difficult, since teaching implies that students don’t know things.

Vaughan concludes, “Sensitivity by proxy is insulting to the people supposedly protected and harmful to education. Your feelings get hurt when you learn, and so will those of other people.”

Lots of Americans are paying lots of money for this thin gruel of education.

Immigration

Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot Is Back — Sort Of

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Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 1, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In response to the unrest in both Cuba and Haiti, which could lead to new waves of boat people, DHS Secretary Mayorkas announced on Tuesday that “if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States … Any migrant intercepted at sea, regardless of their nationality, will not be permitted to enter the United States.”

There are two things to say about this new apparent hawkishness. First, it’s clearly driven by fear of political disaster for the president’s party. The Mariel Boatlift of Cubans in 1980 was one of the cascading calamities that doomed Jimmy Carter’s reelection (as well as Governor Bill Clinton’s, when thousands of Mariel detainees, housed at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas rioted). When Clinton faced a similar crisis as president, all the Haitian and Cuban rafters were sent to Guantanamo, as I suspect would be the case this time if there’s another mass exodus from either or both countries. As it is, Biden’s main weakness with public opinion is on immigration, because of the “apocalyptic” situation on the border with Mexico — adding a seaborne border crisis would hand Congress to the Republicans on a silver platter next year.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the administration’s stand is not really hawkish. Note that Mayorkas said “if you take to the sea.” A little-covered aspect of the border surge is the presence of thousands of Cubans and Haitians traveling through Mexico with children, who sneak over the border and turn themselves in. Since January 20, they’ve almost all been released, meaning they are, in fact, “permitted to enter the United States,” and will never be made to leave, contrary to Mayorkas’s stern warning.

(I was going to include the number of Haitian and Cuban illegal-alien “asylum-seekers” apprehended so far this year at the Mexican border, using a nifty new interactive tool at the CBP website, but the range of countries you could search for just a couple of weeks ago — including Haiti and Cuba, as well as India, Venezuela, Ecuador, and even Romania — has newly been limited to Mexico and the Northern Triangle of Central America. I expect this was to limit news coverage of how the border crisis is attracting people from all over the world, with close to half of families turning themselves in in May coming from beyond Mexico and the Northern Triangle. Also, the June numbers have yet to be released — perhaps they’re waiting for late Friday afternoon.)

So this announced policy of turning back illegal aliens apprehended by the Coast Guard, but admitting those who turn themselves in to the Border Patrol, represents a revival of sorts of Clinton’s Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy, wherein Cubans caught at sea were sent back, but those who reached the beach in Florida got to stay. Only this time, your foot needs to land on the left bank of the Rio Grande.

Time Magazine’s Phony ‘Conservative Case Against Banning Critical Race Theory’

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Social-distancing dividers in a classroom at St. Benedict School in Montebello, Calif., July 14, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Time has an article entitled “The Conservative Case Against Banning Critical Race Theory.” Given the conventions of opinion journalism, the first thing a reader would expect from an article with such a title in a national news magazine is that the author would be a well-known conservative, hence, a person one would trust to make a “conservative case” against a position advanced by many fellow conservatives. The reader is told only that the author is University of Chicago law professor Aziz Huq. Fine, you might think; Chicago is a place with a fairly open tradition of conservative scholarship. Maybe, if you

Fiscal Policy

Dems Announce $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Bill — Time for Republicans To Walk

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 22, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

If there was ever any doubt about whether Republicans should abandon the ridiculous charade of the allegedly bipartisan infrastructure bill, Tuesday night’s news should obliterate it. Senate Democrats have announced that in addition to the sham of a bipartisan agreement, they are also moving ahead with a separate $3.5 trillion package on a purely partisan basis containing every liberal wish list item but the kitchen sink.

The AP reports:

Senate Democrats announced Tuesday that they have reached a budget agreement among themselves that envisions spending an enormous $3.5 trillion over the coming decade. The fiscal plan would pave the way for Democrats’ drive to direct a huge pool of federal resources at climate change, health care and family-service programs sought by President Joe Biden.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the accord flanked by all 11 Democrats on the chamber’s budget committee after a two-hour evening meeting that capped weeks of bargaining among party leaders, progressives and moderates.

To be clear, the plan would have Democrats ram this bill through while also expecting Republicans to vote for another infrastructure bill with nearly $600 billion in new spending. So in total, we are talking about $4.1 trillion in new spending.

The underlying spending being considered is bad on the merits, but it is completely irresponsible at a time when the U.S. is facing the largest debt as a share of the economy in its history — surpassing even World War II. It is absurd when the economy, which has already had $6 trillion worth of government infusions since the spring of 2020, is clearly recovering from the pandemic as the economy reopens — and when inflation is increasingly worrisome. Meanwhile, with the Medicare system already driving the long-term debt problem due to the increased retirement-age population and rising health care costs, the legislation would recklessly expand Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing services.

If Senator Joe Manchin wants to go along with this insanity, Democrats have the power to ram through much of their agenda on a partisan basis. But Republicans should do absolutely nothing to grease the wheels of this abomination by giving it the imprimatur of bipartisanship.

Elections

Biden’s Voting-Rights Bluster

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At Bloomberg Opinion, I write about Biden’s speech this afternoon.

President Joe Biden says the U.S. is facing a crisis of democracy, but he’s not acting as though he believes it.

In a speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Biden said that the voting system is threatened as it has not been since the Civil War. His recommended solution is to pass legislation that has been known for months to be dead in Congress and that wouldn’t address the chief problem even if successful. . . .

Economics

Sic Transit Transitory?

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(Maximusnd/iStock/Getty Images)

Not the easiest of days for those arguing that the current surge in inflation is “transitory.”

Caroline Downey, with some background for NR:

The Consumer Price Index, the major inflation metric, surged by 5.4 percent on the year through June, representing the largest year-over-year increase since 2008, according to data released Tuesday by the Department of Labor.

The jump exceeded many financial firms’ and economists’ predictions. For example, economists at Goldman Sachs expected only a 5.1 percent increase from the prior year, up from 5 percent the prior month.

The increase was largely driven by price hikes in the used car and truck market, accounting for over a third of the increase, the Labor Department said. Federal Reserve and elected officials have expected inflation to moderate as the supply and demand disequilibriums in the average consumer basket rectify now that the pandemic is dwindling. They’ve suggested that production bottlenecks and supply squeezes are largely to blame for the upticks, which they claim will resolve over time rather than contribute to sustained inflation.

Perhaps.

It is true that some of the factors driving the increase are likely to ease off (not least the rise in used-car prices, which is finally showing signs of turning down) as the economy normalizes. It is also true that some context is needed. (For example, despite the strong recent run-up, hotel and airline prices are below where they were two years ago.) Nevertheless, it is difficult not to feel uneasy about what might lie ahead given (1) the spending plans that the administration has in mind and (2) the fact that the immense pile of debt that the U.S. has piled up (and is piling up) makes it extremely tricky for the Fed to try to push up rates very far.

I would also be keeping a sharp eye on the housing component in the CPI. The rent paid by tenants as well as owners’ equivalent rent (OER) together account for about a third of the CPI. The sharp rise in home prices is — although there is typically a lag — going to start to have a noticeable effect on the index before too long: Asset-price inflation cannot neatly be confined to one “box.”

And then there’s the question of inflationary expectations.

Downey:

A large component in the inflation equation that the Fed can’t control as easily is inflation expectations, or what people think the direction of prices will be. Near-term consumer inflation expectations have risen recently according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York survey. Year-ahead inflation expectations jumped 0.8 points to a new high of 4.8 percent in June, but inflation expectations over the next three years stayed relatively constant at 3.6 percent. One interpretation of that data is that American households are increasingly sensitive to inflation movements in the short term but not necessarily the medium to long term.

The question of how long those three-year expectations will remain subdued is, to put it mildly, an interesting one. Inflation notoriously feeds on itself, and one key question will be whether the distortions created by the pandemic, from the simple math of a depressed baseline to supply–demand mismatches caused by a battered supply chain, will fade quickly enough to avoid a definitive reset of inflation expectations upwards.

And, if that is the key question, this (from the New York Times) makes for ominous reading:

Administration officials have subtly shifted their views on how long the so-called transitory price effects will linger in the economy, according to two administration officials, even before this month’s report was released.

In Mr. Biden’s official budget request, released this spring, officials forecast an inflation rate that stayed near historical averages for 2021 and never rose past 2.3 percent per year over the course of a decade. But internally and publicly, administration officials have now begun to acknowledge the possibility that higher inflation could stay with the economy for a year or more.

A recent post from Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, titled “Historical Parallels to Today’s Inflationary Episode,” concludes that the past period of inflation most comparable to today’s economy in the United States came immediately after World War II, when supply disruptions drove up prices. That period, the post notes, lasted about two years.

Two years is plenty of time in which a reset can set place.

And that means that now is not the time to be injecting extra trillions into the economy.

Monetary Policy

Inflation: Averages Aren’t Everything

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(Rmcarvalho/Getty Images)

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation report sounds more alarming in the opening paragraph than it does if you read the whole thing. The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, or CPI-U, a standard measure of inflation, increased by 0.9 percent in June. “This was the largest 1-month change since June 2008 when the index rose 1.0 percent,” the BLS says. It’s a 5.4 percent increase from June 2020.

Everything’s 5.4 percent more expensive than one year ago! Well, no.

The CPI is an average. The BLS calculations are very complicated and take into account all kinds of variables. The topline summary of how it works is that BLS statisticians divide the country into 32 geographic areas and consider prices in 243 different categories. That’s 7,776 (243 x 32) different item-area combinations. First, they calculate the price index for each item-area combination — all 7,776 of them — then, they weight each category based on consumer preferences and average them together for the national CPI.

High-level aggregation in economic data is useful because it condenses vast amounts of information into one number. The CPI is used for calculating cost-of-living adjustments and shifting tax brackets, among other things, and having one number to point to is useful when making those kinds of decisions. But there’s always a trade-off: By condensing that much information into one number, you lose a lot of details.

Consider two sets of numbers. The average of Set 1 is 1. The average of Set 2 is 20.6. You’d probably think Set 1 and Set 2 are completely different if that was all you knew. But they’re not: Set 1 is [1, 1, 1, 1, 1] and Set 2 is [1, 1, 1, 1, 99]. Only one number is different between Set 1 and Set 2, but that one number throws off the average by a factor of 20.

That’s an extreme example that partly illustrates what’s going on with the CPI right now. More than one-third of the total CPI increase was due to the increase in the price of used cars and trucks. It went up 10.5 percent in June, the largest recorded increase ever (records began in 1953).

The first reason for the increase in used-car prices is the shortage of new cars because of the shortage of computer chips. As Autoweek reported, “With declining new car availability and no shortage of demand, there’s going to be a continued increase in used car prices.” They also found that fewer cars are being repossessed since many consumers used stimulus money to pay off debt. Fewer people leased new cars during the pandemic too. Repo cars and off-lease cars are two of the major sources for used car dealers. Demand is high and supply is low, so prices really go up.

The food index increased 0.8 percent in June. That’s way less than the used-car index, and one-tenth of one percentage point below the total CPI increase of 0.9 percent. But the food index is also an average. The food category is broken into many different areas. The BLS reports that the beef index rose 4.5 percent in June. Fruits and vegetables only rose 0.7 percent, and dairy rose 0.2 percent. If consumers spent less on beef this month, they’d wouldn’t notice much else unusual about the prices of food.

Electricity is actually down 0.3 percent for June. Medical-care commodities are down 0.4 percent. So even with the highest inflation since June 2008, prices in those important areas have decreased.

Now, let’s consider those annual numbers. A 5.4 percent increase since last year! That would be absolutely terrifying if only it weren’t for one thing. What was going on last year? People were locked down because of the pandemic. June 2020 was not a fun time. People were out of work. Even if they kept their jobs, many people weren’t driving to work, which means they weren’t buying gas or coffee or lunch. People weren’t going on dinner dates. Nobody was going on vacation.

So, prices are up 5.4 percent relative to a pandemic-induced recession. That’s not nearly as alarming, and to a certain extent, it’s what a successful return to non-lockdown life will look like. Gasoline prices are up 45.1 percent from June of last year — because people weren’t allowed to leave their homes last year, and now they are. That’s great news! But increased demand increases the price. Trade-offs, everywhere. (Gasoline prices are about the same today as they were in late 2014, and lower than they were the three years before then.)

The inflation isn’t as bad as it might seem at first glance. The takeaway, however, is not to endorse the Biden administration’s plans to spend trillions of more dollars. There are plenty of other reasons why spending trillions during an expansion isn’t a good idea. Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out some in his piece for the last issue of the magazine:

[Deficit spending] increases the share of the federal budget that goes to interest payments. It raises the risk that spending will have to be abruptly cut or taxes increased if interest rates rise in the future. It may well direct resources to less productive uses than the private sector would find for them. Our fiscal imprudence could have any number of negative consequences. High inflation just doesn’t seem to be one of them.

Things could change in the future. Inflation could come back. There just aren’t any strong indications right now that it is, even though the average is unusually high. Few things are 5.4 percent more expensive than they were a year ago. Food, a category less affected by the pandemic (people still ate last year), is 2.4 percent more expensive, which isn’t unusual at all. Some categories are going to yank up the average as the pandemic ends. Don’t let the average scare you.

Politics & Policy

Forget Critical Race Theory. I Don’t Trust Elites to Teach Kids Basic Civics

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An American flag outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., December 15, 2020 (Al Drago/Reuters)

We the People, a new Netflix show produced by Michelle and Barack Obama, “combines music and animation to educate a new generation of young Americans about the power of the people.” Like many other such efforts, the show confuses busybodyism with good citizenship, downgrading republican virtues and individual freedom while elevating dependency and statism.

Creator Chris Nee explained to NPR that, “President Obama was the one who said, ‘Let’s really shoot for the stars. Let’s age this up from where the Schoolhouse Rock demo is. Let’s go for 14 to 18.’” “I’m Just a Bill,” is an inoffensive but highly useful explainer on how a bill becomes a law. Certainly, We the People comes nowhere close in quality or usefulness.

“Our goal from beginning to end,” Nee says, “was to remind us that, first and foremost, civics is a nonpartisan conversation.” Is it? “The Second Amendment,” sings Adam Lambert in the voice of an unidentified Founder, is “the right to bear arms, which were very different back in my day.” Now, I hate to break the news to the producers, but the press also relied on “very different” technology when the Bill of Rights was ratified. As did the government. “Very different” religions dominated America in those days, as well. The Founding generation not only experienced their own technological advances, but many of them demanded these rights be codified lest someone one day say, “Hey, things change.”

One can debate whether the Second Amendment was a mistake. It takes an imaginary Founder, however, to make the case that “unalienable rights” were conditional on the vagaries of progress.

The song skips other inconvenient parts of the Bill of Rights — the takings clause and state rights, for example. Other episodes aren’t much better. The “tax” song harps on the supposed misappropriation of federal funding. Only 2 percent of taxes go to “medical research.” Only 9 percent go to “provide for the poor, but 15 percent goes to defense and supplyin’ the war.” I’m not keen on war, myself. But kids might be surprised to learn — elsewhere — that the Constitution created powers for national defense but has nothing to say about Medicaid.

Nee claims that bias was avoided because “everything was being run through both university professors and also through a group of people through the Obamas’ team who were looking to make sure that we were really giving voice to all sides.” You have to laugh at the notion of Barack Obama — so antagonistic to individual rights, especially religious liberty — assembling a team that honors “all sides.” One side that doesn’t get a say, for example, are the Founders. And while I guess we should appreciate that We The People doesn’t devolve into trendy antagonism toward the Founding, it embraces Obama’s long-term efforts to reimagine American principles as something they never were.

Politics & Policy

Droughts are Devastating the West

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Dry land visible at a section that is normally under water, on the banks of Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in California and according to daily reports of the state’s Department of Water Resources is near 35% capacity, near Oroville, Calif., June 16, 2021. (Aude Guerrucci/Reuters)

As of today, there is virtually no county in the western United States that is not under drought conditions. Wildfires are increasing, water resources are drying up, and conservation efforts are not keeping pace. As Democrats offer unrealistic energy deals, conservatives should use this moment to take the lead on dearly needed conservation efforts.

Environmentalists often portray the problem of climate change as being off in the distant future. They tell the public that a two-degree increase in temperature over the next 50 years will negatively impact the entire planet. Or, at other times, the concern is that rising water levels will eventually threaten the coastlines. While those activists will implore the public that we need to act now, their message nonetheless implies the threat is years away. But the real problem is right on our doorstep. 

Last year, around 37 percent of the west had sufficient rainfall, but today that number has tumbled to 0.76 percent. However, the precipitation numbers don’t show the human impact of the current problem. When water is scarce, nearly every part of the food chain is affected. The New York Times reports that, 

in New Mexico, farmers along the Rio Grande were urged not to plant this year. Crop failures have been reported in Colorado and other farming areas. The level of Lake Mead, the huge reservoir on the Colorado River, is so low that Arizona, Nevada and other states will likely face cutbacks in supplies. In North Dakota, ranchers are trucking water and supplemental feed for their livestock because the rangelands are so dry and the vegetation is stunted.

Droughts also create conditions for wildfires, which have been spreading across the country at a record-breaking rate. So, what can we do about water shortages? For one, better education about how much water is wasted could help families conserve resources. To do that, though, we need to change the rhetoric around environmental policy to prioritize problems that voters can actually feel — such droughts, wildfires, and floods. People are more willing to adjust their behavior when the problem is more salient to them.

Everything doesn’t need a government solution, though. For instance, the Trump administration banned controlled burns in California because of concerns about COVID-19. In 2012, Colorado drastically reduced prescribed burns, too. However, just getting the government out of the way would significantly help firefighters.

Foresters agree that burning forests intentionally to prevent later fires is an important firefighting technique. As the Denver Post reports: 

“Prescribed fire is a critical tool, because it’s the most effective way to reduce fuels to make people and communities safe,” said Brett Wolk, assistant director of the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State University. “It also is the only way to restore ecological processes in the forest,” he said, such as removing debris on the surface and creating opportunities for new plants and trees to grow.

Future temperature increases and slowing rising water levels are legitimate concerns, but it’s more important to address environmental problems that are affecting citizens now. Rather than trying to enact sweeping reform, Republicans should advocate targeted policies that help everyday voters. Increasing federal funding — or, better yet, state and local funding — for water infrastructure could be a good start. These kinds of minor adjustments can make a big difference, and we desperately need to take those first steps. 

Media

Does the Walkout Preserve or Endanger Democracy? For the Press, It Depends Which Party Is Walking

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Democrat Senator Carol Alvarado speaks to the media alongside other members of the Texas State Senate and Texas House of Representatives following a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House in Washington D.C., June 16, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Beginning in 2019 and continuing on into the plague year, Oregon Republicans — a minority in the state legislature — started staging walkouts so as to deny the Democratic majority the quorum they’d need to pass their legislative priorities. The state’s constitution requires two-thirds of legislators to be present.

Among the outraged was Vox’s David Roberts, who accused Oregon Republicans — or, as he put it, “a handful of white people from the far right” — of “holding the state government hostage.” According to Roberts, the walkout represented nothing less than “an extraordinary escalation of anti-democratic behavior from the right, gone almost completely unnoticed by the national political media.”

By the time Roberts’s piece was up, stories about the walkout had been up at the Washington Post, CNN, and Associated Press for the better part of a week. The first of these asserted that “the scene this week flouted the state’s maxim, which celebrates collaborative political parley” and accused Republicans of not following the “Oregon Way.” The last ended solemnly by noting that “NASA says that in the absence of major action to reduce emissions, global temperature is on track to rise by an average of 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Fast forward to 2021 and the script seems to have flipped. In Texas, where it is Republicans in the majority, Democrats are fleeing — and being celebrated for doing so. So comfortable are Democrats in their position with the media, they are posting pictures of themselves maskless on a chartered aircraft — anyone who has traveled recently knows that if your mask slips a centimeter below your nose on a commercial flight, an attendant is liable to sentence you to death — and buses armed with Miller Lite. Roberts has yet to weigh in on the matter, much less condemn it as an attack on self-government.

The national political media, meanwhile, is covering Texas Democrats like they’re some kind of righteous traveling circus.

Max Burns, a contributor to the Daily Beast, Independent, and NBC News, tweeted that “the Texas Democrats are even cooler now that they’re fugitives fighting to protect voting rights from [Texas governor Greg Abbott] Ol’ Boss Abbott.” Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson, who decried the tactic when it was used by Wisconsin Democrats in 2011, mocked Abbott for stating that the legislators could be arrested. He had no such complaints when Oregon’s Kate Brown sent state police after truant Republicans.

Karen Attiah of the Post asked desperately, “Can we stop saying ‘fleeing the state,’ as if they are cowards or victims? I don’t understand why we can’t just say they left the state. This was a power move. Not a weak one.”

And finally, there’s the coup de grace, Vox’s “The GOP voting bill that literally caused Texas Democrats to flee the state, explained” by Ian Millhiser.

He writes:

Texas Democrats are relying on a provision of the state constitution which says that ‘two-thirds of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business’ in order to prevent the GOP’s election bill from passing. (Such provisions are fairly common in legislative procedure. The United States Constitution, for example, states that a majority of each house’s members ‘shall constitute a quorum to do business.’)

This stands in stark contrast to Roberts’s claim a little over a year ago that there is no “governing rationale” for a two-thirds quorum requirement.

Millhiser further argues that while “it should go without saying that a party that controls a minority of the seats in a state legislature should not ordinarily be allowed to shut down all business by fleeing the state . . . it should also go without saying that the party that controls a majority should not be allowed to pass election laws seeking to entrench that majority.” Essentially, it’s all right if it’s done for reasons that he deems important enough.

The hypocrisy in the media is matched only by that of national figures in the Democratic Party, such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. In Congress, Schumer is leading the charge to get rid of the filibuster, insisting — only a few months after having employed it frequently over six years in the minority — that it must be done away with lest the American experiment itself collapse. While arguing for unconstrained majoritarianism on the federal level, however, he is also set to meet with the on-the-lam Texas legislators.

The Senate filibuster, with its 60-vote threshold to override it, is a less powerful minority tool than denying quorum — and one with a long, bipartisan history.

With their embrace of Texas Democrats’ escapade, left-wing politicos have abandoned even the pretense of using principles rather than short-term political considerations to evaluate the merit of minority rights in government.

Books

Wisdom of Crowds

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Damir Marusic and Shadi Hamid invited me to join them on their podcast, Wisdom of Crowds. They are two idiosyncratic thinkers, who enjoy thinking out loud. Strangely, they wanted to talk about my book, My Father Left Me Ireland, which is over two years old at this point. This is the latest in a series of events and podcasts related to the book. I wonder if the book is suddenly cutting through because we’re no longer in the Trump era. Anyway, part one of our conversation is here, and we discuss the book as well as the yearning of young people for something our parents fear to give us: meaning and purpose. Part two is for subscribers only, and we get into questions about Islam, why it is sensible for Central European governments to resist Islamic immigration, and other questions around identity.

Politics & Policy

Dueling Texas CRT/Civics Bills Test Abbott, Patrick, and West

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas, Texas, May 4, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Reworking Texas H.B. 3979, the pathbreaking law barring protest civics and Critical Race Theory (CRT) from K-12 education, is near the top of the agenda for the special legislative session now underway in Austin. Democratic legislators fleeing Texas to break the quorum are grabbing national headlines, yet the lines dividing Texas conservatives may be just as important a story.

The Texas special session is considering two very different bills, each of which revises and expands H.B. 3979. One bill greatly improves and strengthens the original ban on protest civics and CRT. The other bill significantly weakens the pathbreaking Texas CRT/civics law, pulling it well to the left. Which bill will Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick support? I wish I could say the stronger and more conservative measure, but that is by no means clear. The test now faced by both Abbott and Patrick is complicated by the fact that two Republican candidates, Allen West and Don Huffines, are challenging Abbot for the governorship by running to his right.

We tend to think of Texas Republicans as a band of rock-ribbed conservatives, but matters are not so simple. Until recently, the Texas legislature was controlled by a coalition of Democrats allied with moderate Republicans. Texas conservatives often complain that their state’s Republican leaders fight too little and fold too quickly. That is precisely the case being made by West and Huffines in their challenge to Abbott.

At the other end of the Republican spectrum, we find the Texas Federation of Republican Women (TFRW). TFRW is closely aligned with iCivics, a leftist civics group that actually supports CRT (and whose staffers privately contribute exclusively to Democrats). TFRW has pushed to weaken H.B. 3979 by gutting its protections against protest civics. Reportedly, TFRW even called on Abbott to veto H.B. 3979, a shocking step for an ostensibly Republican group to take at a moment when conservatives across the country are uniting to take on CRT.

The first of the two CRT/civics bills being considered in the special session, H.B. 178, is offered by Representative Steve Toth, the original sponsor of H.B. 3979. Toth’s H.B. 178 fixes the technical problems with the original bill, then greatly strengthens it by adding transparency requirements. Those requirements give the anti-CRT provisions real teeth. Teachers will have to identify and post links to all of their teaching materials. That will force textbooks, hand-outs, and other material violating the anti-CRT provisions out into the open. It would also potentially subject teachers or administrators who mislead parents by withholding CRT materials from posting, to significant consequences. If you doubt that these transparency provisions are needed, recall that many teachers have promised to preach CRT to their students, even if that violates the law.

The other measure, S.B. 3, is vastly weaker and more troubling. Not only does S.B. 3 lack the transparency provisions essential to enforcing the anti-CRT law, it includes other provisions that would allow protest civics to sneak back into the classroom. Like the original Texas CRT/Civics law, S.B. 3 prevents schools from requiring extracurricular political protest and lobbying as part of coursework. Yet S.B. 3 creates a huge opening to infuse left-biased protest-civics lessons into the Texas curriculum. Students may not be given course credit for their extracurricular protests and lobbying activity, but under S.B. 3, they will very likely be pushed toward leftist political activity anyway during the school day. On top of that, an ambiguous “service” provision may create a loophole that authorizes at least some kinds of politicized after-school “service learning” with activist political groups.

It gets worse. S.B. 3 mandates course-work in “media literacy,” the new favorite of the leftist civics lobby. Supposedly, media-literacy curricula teach students to “identify propaganda.” The so-called media-literacy material I’ve seen, however, is itself something like propaganda for the Democratic Party’s view of “fake news.” Media-literacy curricula generally say little to nothing about the dangers of media bias — especially leftist bias. They also hold out mainstream media fact-checkers as paragons of accuracy. Typical media-literacy lessons also subtly direct students away from, say, conservative bloggers and toward mainstream-media sources instead. The so-called media-literacy provision of S.B. 3 alone would be a disaster for Texas schools.

S.B. 3 shows the unmistakable fingerprints of the TFRW and its leftist ally, iCivics. The troubling provisions in S.B. 3 all come out of earlier bills rejected by the legislature but supported by TFRW and iCivics.

You might think that nationally reputed conservatives such as Abbott and Patrick would favor the tough House bill over the weaker and left-tinged Senate offering, especially at a moment when conservatives everywhere have plunged into the battle to save K-12 education. Sadly, the opposite is likely the case. Patrick controls the Texas Senate, and it’s unlikely that S.B. 3 would have been introduced at all without buy-in from both Patrick and Abbott. TFRW has a great deal of influence with both Abbott and Patrick, and therein lies the challenge for Texas conservatives. Liberal-leaning Republican groups such as TFRW have a lot of influence, especially at the top, and this is what prompts candidates like West and Huffines to enter the fray.

The outcome of the contest between H.B. 178 — which adds real enforcement to the anti-CRT provisions of the new Texas law and keeps the bar on protest civics strong — and S.B. 3 — which not only weakens the protections against leftist indoctrination but even abets and advances such indoctrination — will tell us a lot about the strength of conservatism in Texas.

It would be instructive to see West and Huffines weigh in on the two bills. If West and Huffines endorse the tougher H.B. 178, but Abbott and Patrick deliver the lame and leftist S.B. 3 instead, the governor and lieutenant governor will have handed their rivals a powerful campaign issue, gift-wrapped and tied with a bow. If, on the other hand, all four men back H.B. 178, Abbott and Patrick will have proven that they do stand strong on what is arguably now the conservative base’s priority number one. In short, civics class is now in session. There will be a test.

Go Figure, China Isn’t Keeping Its Promises on Climate Change

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An aerial view shows a coal-burning power plant on the outskirts of Zhengzhou, China. (Stringer/Reuters)

Way back in 2017, I jotted a quick tweet, “if your climate plan is that I give up beef or my light SUV, but you’ve got no plan to deal with this over in China . . . I’m unpersuaded.”

The folks at Vox — the publication that launched with the slogan, “the smartest minds, the toughest questions”– took issue with that perspective, and wrote that their review of China’s policies “utterly destroy the conservative argument” and concluded, “China is waging an aggressive, multi-front campaign to clean up coal before eventually phasing it out . . . China is tackling climate

Education

The High Cost of ‘Racial Equity’ at UVA

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In this Legal Insurrection post, we read about the removal of offensive statues on the University of Virginia Campus. How much will the destruction cost? Approximately $400,000. $400,000!

Will the complainers do any better in their work at UVA now? Of course not. They will just find some new reason to bully the timorous administrators.

Health Care

Bioethicist: Impose Puberty Blocking over Parental Objection

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(Pornpak Khunatorn/Getty Images)

Transgender ideology has advanced so far that serious proposals in the most respected medical and bioethics journals are being made to push parents out of the way if they oppose their child’s transition.

The latest example comes to us from the Journal of Medical Ethics — not a fringe publication but one based at Oxford University and published by the British Medical Journal. The journal has published several articles favoring OPS — ongoing puberty suppression — for transgender children, even though there can be significant physical consequences, such as reduced bone density.

Why? Subjective inner turmoil matters more than objective medical harms. From “LGBT Testimony and the Limits of Trust“:

Psychological illness, like physical illness, might be life-threating. So prioritising physical over psychological health cannot be grounded in the former’s severity or permanence. Moreover, there is no logical nor empirical evidence suggests that physical suffering must be worse than psychological suffering. Blanket prioritisations of physical over psychological healthare conceptually and scientifically unfounded.

Hence:

OPS for non-binary patients seems warranted provided that, (1) patients understand the treatment and risks and (2) patients testimony that the benefits outweigh the costs. Patients, not physicians, have something to both lose and gain. Moreover, only patients have direct access to the subjective upsides.

That might well be true of such body-altering decisions in adults. But we are talking here about pre-pubescent children! They can’t get their ears pierced without parental permission because the law justly recognizes that they are not sufficiently mature to make that decision.

What about doctor objections? Child-patient desires rule!

Medical risks must be weighed against (largely psychological) benefits, yes. Physicians are well situated to educate patients about the former. Only patients have direct access to the latter. Thus, a clash between a patient’s and a physician’s cost/benefit analysis in itself implies that the latter understands the patient better than the patient does themselves. Given medicine’s history with LGBT patients, this is not only implausible, but arrogant and ethically suspect

Could the refusing doctor be punished for refusing to apply the intervention? The author doesn’t say, but there is enough advocacy in the professional literature against medical conscience rights that physician compulsion would seem the logical expectation.

And what about parents? Because some will approve OPS and others won’t, it would be wrong to allow parents to thwart fulfillment of their child’s internal desires when another gender-dysphoric child will be enabled to obtain it. In other words, if a doctor thinks the psychological risk is sufficiently serious, block that puberty regardless of what parents want for their child!

The aligning of the parental stars can thus determine whether adulthood begins with either, (1) a confidence inducing, gender affirming body or (2) a confidence-undermining body that intensifies gender dysphoria. Two non-binary teens desiring comparable treatments are like cases, hence justice demands like treatment. Guardian veto power over identify-affirming care thus results in injustice whenever such power means one trans child is denied the care that another receives.

This exemplifies the profound threat posed by the “equity” agenda. Equal outcomes trumps all, apparently. Back to the article:

This veto power also conflicts with the principles of non-maleficence, autonomy and beneficence. Autonomy is infringed because medical options are forever closed off to those who (through no choice nor fault) miss PS in adolescence. Frustrating a trans person’s desire to affirm identity is harmful, that is, in tension with nonmaleficence. Lastly, parental veto power over PS forever keeps many identity-affirming benefits out of reach, thus failing compliance with beneficence.

I’ll tell you what: Let’s produce equity by refusing all OPS, which is unethical human experimentation. (After all, the interventions used in puberty blocking are “off-label” uses of drugs approved for physical puberty pathologies.) In that way, children with gender dysphoria can receive the psychological help and compassionate support they need without the potential adverse consequences of OPS — for which there is actually “very low evidence” of benefit. And remember, some children with gender dysphoria regret transitioning, as 60 Minutes amply demonstrated, and may be stuck with the physical consequences of the “treatment” for the rest of their lives.

Besides, how would imposing OPS over parental objections be effectuated? It seems to me the only way to ensure that a child received OPS would be to remove the child from the home of the objecting parents or compel the parents to give the drugs/hormones under threat of criminal sanction.

Something approaching this has already happened in Canada, where a father has been jailed for contempt of court because he refused to call his child “he” or his “son.” Transgender ideology and equity advocacy both lead to profoundly authoritarian places.

And don’t think it won’t happen here. Discussions in the professional journals often precede imposition of radical ideas into public policy and medical ethics. That is why it is important to see what our betters in the ivory tower have planned for us so we can prepare our defenses.

The U.S. Vaccination Effort No Longer Has Any Low-Hanging Fruit

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Nursing student Erika Lohr vaccinates a patient as California opens up vaccine eligibility to any residents 16 years and older in Chula Vista, Calif., April 15, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

After chugging along, all the way to the end of June, the U.S. vaccination effort has slowed considerably in recent days. Just 437,000 shots were administered Wednesday, 694,000 Thursday, 621,000 Friday, 599,000 Saturday, and 586,000 shots were administered yesterday. As recently as July 1, the country administered more than a million shots in a day.

Late last week, White House coronavirus response coordinator  Jeffrey Zients said, “we know that most people who are not yet vaccinated still have to make up their mind. As such, each person in this phase will take longer to reach, but that makes them no less important.”

If

Politics & Policy

Fleeing the State Is for Losers

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Democrat Senator Carol Alvarado speaks to the media alongside other members of the Texas State Senate and Texas House of Representatives following a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House in Washington D.C., June 16, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives are planning to flee the state to deny a quorum so the Republicans who control the chamber can’t hold a vote on pending legislation about elections. There are 67 Democratic representatives, and if 51 flee, that will be sufficient to deny a quorum in the 150-seat House.

State legislators fleeing the state is one of the most tiresome and unseemly charades in American politics. It’s for losers, in both the actual and pejorative meaning of the word, and it should offend you whether you agree or disagree with the party that does it.

Legislators only ever flee the state when they know they’re going to lose because they’re in the minority. In other words, they know that the people have rejected them at the ballot box. With 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats in the Texas House, the Democrats know they are going to lose the vote on the pending election bill.

And no, the Republicans’ majority is not from gerrymandering. Eighty-three out of 150 is 55.33 percent of the seats. Republicans won 54.92 percent of the votes in Texas House races in 2020. Almost perfectly proportional.

All this is a bit rich coming from a party that at the national level seems to believe that legislative majorities, no matter how thin, should be able to do whatever they want. The 60-vote threshold for legislation in the U.S. Senate must be abolished, they say, but at the state level, it’s apparently fine to flee the state to prevent an elected majority from passing legislation.

Texas Democrats aren’t the first state legislative caucus to pull these shenanigans. In 2011, the 14 Democratic members of the 33-seat Wisconsin Senate fled to Illinois to prevent Republicans from passing the collective-bargaining reforms championed by Governor Scott Walker. After nearly a month of negotiation with the Democrats, they made clear they weren’t coming back, and Republican Senate leadership changed the bill to get around the parliamentary rules requiring a quorum. They passed the reforms without any Democrats in attendance. If the will of the people was ever in doubt, Wisconsin voters had a chance to recall Walker and some Republican senators. Republicans maintained control of the Senate, and Walker won his recall election by a larger margin than he won his first term. “1 Walker Beats 14 Runners,” the bumper stickers said.

Republicans, too, have fled their state before when they knew they were going to lose. Oregon Republicans have stopped legislative proceedings four times in the past two years by refusing to show up. They’ve done it to oppose cap-and-trade and COVID restrictions.

These tactics don’t come off well with voters, even ones who might be sympathetic to the policy positions. Conservatives are not fans of cap-and-trade, but coming off as crazy by not showing up doesn’t help the cause. As Nate Hochman wrote for National Review in February, “There is a reason that Oregonians — unlike voters in deep-blue states such as Massachusetts and Maryland — have been consistently reluctant to try any Republican alternative to our one-party government: The Oregon GOP is insane.”

Aside from the strategic considerations, there’s the more fundamental point: Legislators are representatives of the people. The people elect them to serve terms of a fixed length. They elect them knowing full well they won’t always be in the majority. That’s life. You win some, you lose some. You still have to show up to work.

Legislators who flee their states are failing to fulfill the duty the voters entrusted to them. Whether you agree with the policy position or not, it’s not an acceptable tactic for legislators to use. If you don’t want to show up for work, that’s fine: Resign. Step aside and allow a special election for voters to choose someone else to represent them.

The Texas Democrats are joining the Wisconsin Democrats, Oregon Republicans, and Washington Generals in the pantheon of losers. At least the Generals can be entertaining.

Education

A Homeschool Perspective on Critical Race Theory

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Opponents of Critical Race Theory protest outside of the Loudoun County School Board headquarters in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

I was homeschooled from kindergarten to 12th grade. Like other students, I learned about slavery, Jim Crow, and the myriad other wicked prejudices against black Americans.

I did not, however, receive an education under the ideological framework of critical race theory.

CRT’s proponents increasingly insist we must either teach CRT or ignore the history of racism entirely. My homeschool education, as with many Americans’ public-school educations before CRT became fashionable, underscores how this is an obviously false choice. One need not teach CRT in order to teach about racism. My parents figured that out.

As an exercise, thinking about CRT from a homeschool perspective also helps illuminate how inappropriate these lesson plans would be, no matter the environment. I tried to imagine the tenets of CRT being taught in my own home classroom. It’s almost unthinkable.

For instance, while I learned about the history of racism in this country, my mother, father, and online tutors did not turn around and ask me if, as a white person, I was ashamed of the supposed role I played in upholding and perpetuating past and present injustices.

I was never told that, as a white person, I was responsible for what had happened. I was never told that my “whiteness” made me a toxic person. In short, I was taught history, not collective guilt.

Of course, whether our formal teachers are our parents, online tutors, private-school educators, or public-school educators should not matter in this sense. It is not necessary — indeed it would be as absurd as the scenario above — to insist on teaching CRT and its accompanying ideologies in order to foster a proper discussion of historical racism in America and its lingering effects.

While news outlets such as the AP or the New York Times report that efforts against CRT in public schools amount to restrictions on any teaching about historical racism, my parents somehow managed to teach the latter without the former. They did not pretend that “all men are created equal” applied, in practice, in the 18thcentury to all men. They did not lead me to believe that even after the Emancipation Proclamation, every barrier black Americans faced was removed.

In my homeschool education, I learned about racism without my parents accusing me of being “born racist,” as a Manhattan teacher taught students.

I learned about racism without being taught that capitalism is a form of oppression, as a curriculum being considered in California would teach.

I learned about racism without being brainwashed into the notion that police exist not to serve and protect our communities, but to oppress non-white Americans. This narrative was actively pushed on Seattle second-graders.

And I learned about racism without my parents and online tutors arguing for neo-segregationist policies, which some public schools have implemented under the guise of “affinity groups.”

Indeed, an honest appraisal of our nation’s history does not require our schools to teach the doctrines of critical race theory. I, for one, am quite glad my parents recognized that fact.

College Syllabi Should Be Open to the Public

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

Sellers of all kinds of goods and services are required to provide accurate information to consumers. False advertising and deceptive labeling are not allowed.

But when it comes to education, it’s caveat emptor. Students, parents and taxpayers often find it difficult to discover exactly what a course contains because syllabi are treated by some colleges and universities as the intellectual property of the faculty members — they’re copyrighted material and thus not available under public-records requests.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson discusses this problem. When the Center tried to get syllabi for education courses taught at NC State, we ran into

Politics & Policy

Cuba and the ‘Democratic’ Socialists of America

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People gather in front of police during protests in Havana, Cuba, July 11, 2021. (Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters)

There’s this . . .

The New York Times:

Shouting “Freedom” and other anti-government slogans, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in cities around the country on Sunday to protest food and medicine shortages, in a remarkable eruption of discontent not seen in nearly 30 years.

Thousands of people marched through San Antonio de los Baños, southwest of Havana, with videos streaming live on Facebook for nearly an hour before they suddenly disappeared. As the afternoon wore on, other videos appeared from demonstrations elsewhere, including Palma Soriano, in the country’s southeast. Hundreds of people also gathered in Havana, where a heavy police presence preceded their arrival.

“The people are dying of hunger!” one woman shouted during a protest filmed in the province of Artemisa, in the island’s west. “Our children are dying of hunger!”…

And then there’s this from the International Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America:

DSA stands with the Cuban people and their Revolution in this moment of unrest. End the blockade.

As NeoLiberal observes, this is a cleverly worded tweet:

Normal people will see it and think they’re supporting the protests (which are not about the blockade).

They won’t realize that capital-R Revolution = the Cuban government, which calls protestors ‘counter-revolutionaries’.

On the other hand, for the DSA’s International Committee to retweet this from Kawsachun News is rather less subtle:

Cubans chant “I am Fidel!”, as thousands flood the streets in defense of the revolution.

It was also an interesting source to use. Kawsachun had earlier tweeted this:

“Viva Fidel!” The revolutionary people of Cuba fill the streets to protect their Revolution and sovereignty from imperialist attacks.

And this:

President Miguel Díaz-Canel in San Antonio de los Baños, Mayabeque, Cuba: There’s a group of counter-revolutionary, mercenary people paid by the U.S. government, paid indirectly through agencies of the North American government to assemble these types of demonstrations.

Later on (after the DSA retweet) Kawsachun repeated the “paid for” smear:

Cubans in Holguín respond to the call of President @DiazCanelB to take to the streets in defense of the Revolution as the U.S. government tries to provoke destabilization by utilizing paid agents on the ground.

From the Council on Foreign Relations:

On Friday, July 2, a delegation from the Democratic Socialists of America embraced the Venezuelan dictator, Nicolas Maduro. This was no rump group; a news report says the delegation included “the chairperson of the National Political Committee of the DSA, members of the International Committee, and members of the organization’s Political Formation, Foreign Policy and Bilateral Relations sections.”

Support for the Maduro dictatorship is not new for DSA. In 2016, the organization issued a statement of solidarity with the Maduro regime, and called on then-president Barack Obama to end all sanctions against it…

Back to NeoLiberal:

DSA types are always saying “We just mean Denmark!”, but when the chips are down they’re doing apologetics for Cuba, celebrating Venezuela’s government, etc. The authoritarian core comes out.

Doubtless the DSA’s representatives in Congress will be able to explain why this is just a misreading of their profoundly democratic ideology.

World

Then Again, Maybe ‘Freedom!’ Really Is an Anti-Government Slogan

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Demonstrators clash during protests in Havana, Cuba, July 11, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Quite a few folks on the right side of the political spectrum are objecting to this tweet and characterization from the New York Times:

First, the rallying cry “Freedom!” is definitely an anti–current-Cuban-government slogan, although the term anti-regime slogan would probably be more accurate. The protesting Cubans aren’t anarchists, opposed to any government at all. They’re opposed to this particular government, because it is oppressive and abusive and cannot even deliver basic services anymore.

Second . . . just about every government on earth takes steps that restrict the freedom of its citizens. Sometimes those steps are minor, sometimes those steps are significant. Very few government officials wish to maximize the freedom of the citizens they govern. Most want to restrict those freedoms in one form of another through bans, regulations, taxation, asset seizures, or criminalization of previously normal behavior — in the name of the greater good, or combating problems in society, or public health, or some abstract notions of building a better society. The cry of “Freedom!” is a demand that the government stop telling the governed what to do — which can be reasonably characterized as an anti-government slogan.

Third, if the staff of the New York Times collectively sees freedom as an inherently anti-government concept . . . isn’t it good that they’re telling us directly?

Law & the Courts

It’s Been a Record-Setting Year for Pro-Lifers So Far

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Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Earlier this month, pro-abortion research group the Guttmacher Institute released a policy analysis dubbing this year to date “The Worst Legislative Year Ever for U.S. Abortion Rights.” In the first half of 2021, states have passed 90 pro-life laws, a new record. The previous record was set in 2011, when 89 state-level pro-life bills were signed into law.

According to Guttmacher, 90 percent of the new pro-life laws this year have been enacted in states that the group deems “hostile” to abortion rights. On social media, Guttmacher has doubled down on this message, calling 2021 “the worst year for abortion rights and abortion access in U.S. History.”

This year’s legislative record at the state level is even more impressive than many observers realize. The 89 pro-life laws passed at the state level in 2011 were certainly a significant accomplishment for the pro-life movement, but it was also right after the Affordable Care Act had been enacted, and as a result, many of those laws were defensive in nature. For instance, some states passed laws protecting the conscience rights of health-care professionals, and others placed limits on taxpayer funding of abortion through government-subsidized insurance plans available on the state-based exchanges.

By contrast, most of the pro-life laws enacted this year represent substantive efforts to protect preborn children. Six states have enacted gestational age limits on abortion. Oklahoma and Texas have laws that would outlaw abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned and decisions about abortion policy return to the states. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem signed legislation that would protect preborn children who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome, and Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed a similar law to protect unborn children diagnosed with genetic abnormalities. Eight states have placed limits on the availability of chemical-abortion drugs, and five states have enacted laws to protect children born alive after an attempted abortion.

Many state legislatures meet only in the early part of the calendar year, so it is unlikely that this pace of pro-life legislation will continue through the rest of 2021. However, the success pro-lifers are enjoying at the state level certainly bodes well for the future. There are currently six justices on the Supreme Court who at some point have ruled in favor of laws protecting unborn children. While it is difficult to predict how the Court will rule on any specific pro-life law, the impressive number and variety of state pro-life laws offer the justices more opportunity to at some point uphold some of them, allowing pro-lifers to enact stronger legal protections for preborn children.

 

World

‘Bat Woman,’ Going to Crowded Restaurants as the Pandemic Spread Through Wuhan

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A woman wearing a mask walks past a quarantine notice about the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China, at an arrival hall of Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2020. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Perhaps the most intriguing detail in the Wall Street Journal’s profile of Dr. Linfa Wang, a professor in the emerging infectious diseases program at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, comes near the very end:

In early January, 2020, Dr. Wang was on one of his regular trips to Wuhan, attending meetings on bat coronavirus research. Covid-19 was already spreading in the city.

He used public transportation and took taxis. He went with Dr. Shi —  [Dr. Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, nicknamed ‘Bat Woman’] — and other friends to restaurants. “The best restaurants were crowded,” he said. “In January it was already very dangerous, but I didn’t see it that way.”

He flew back to Singapore on Jan. 18, five days before China locked down the city. He hasn’t been back since.

Some will see the description of Dr. Shi Zhengli behaving normally and attending restaurants as a sign that she was as oblivious to the growing viral threat as anyone else. Others will argue that any successful cover-up of any accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology would require the staff to continue their lives, as if nothing was wrong. Sudden changes to the WIV staff’s normal routines would indicate they knew going to crowded places carried a considerable risk – and that they knew more about the mysterious new virus than they were letting on.

Wang describes the city going about its daily life normally – even though evidence of an unprecedented threat was piling up throughout Wuhan and staring China’s national medical leadership right in the face.

By the first week of January, the number of infections had doubled in less than a week, from 27 to 59. By January 9, COVID-19 had claimed its first life; on January 10, the World Health Organization had issued a carefully-worded travel warning,  and according to Reuters, “hospital respiratory wards began reaching capacity by around January 12, and some people were being turned away.” Thailand reported its first case on January 13. On January 14, the head of China’s National Health Commission, Ma Xiaowei, held a secret teleconference with provincial health officials concluding the “situation is still severe and complex, the most severe challenge since SARS in 2003, and is likely to develop into a major public health event.” Also that day, the World Health Organization declared it has seen “limited” human-to-human transmission.

By January 15, the U.S. Embassy in China had issued its own travel warning about “an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, preliminarily identified to be caused by a novel coronavirus,” an infected traveler from Wuhan arrived in the state of Washington, and health authorities in Japan had identified that country’s first case. 

And apparently during this time, two top-tier virologists, who specialize in novel coronaviruses found in bats, were living in or visiting the epicenter of the outbreak, and going to crowded restaurants.

Dr. Wang emphasizes that the world may never definitively know the origin of COVID-19. Avril Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, made similar comments in late June.

If the pandemic’s origins really are going to be an eternal mystery, then perhaps we must conclude that the risk of another pandemic comes from a human being interacting with an infected animal in the wild – or animal smugglers, or consumption at a wet market – as well as the risk of accidents or human error in laboratories handling virulent contagious viruses. More than four million people are dead, either because someone had contact with an infected animal, or someone was involved in a lab accident, or both, someone had a lab accident that involved contact with an infected animal.

If the U.S. intelligence community punts and declares, “well, we will just never know,” that doesn’t mean we should just move on from what the Chinese government did once it knew it was dealing with a deadly, and very contagious, new virus.

Sports

How Rickey Got in the Game

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25. Rickey Henderson: 3,055: Henderson is baseball’s all-time leader in stolen bases, runs scored, and non-intentional walks. (Joe Giza/Reuters)

Alex Coffey of the New York Times has a fun read on J. J. Guinn, the scout who signed Rickey Henderson as well as Claudell Washington and Shooty Babitt. Guinn remains a friend and mentor to Henderson even today, over four decades later. Rickey notes that he grew up in a fatherless home, and it is not hard to see in his early career that he thrived more under managers who tried to fill that role for him (notably Billy Martin, who shared his hardscrabble Oakland upbringing) than under managers who just expected him to know how to “play the game the right way,” such as Lou Piniella.

The other piece that caught my eye was this:

Henderson was a stocky teenager with little interest in baseball. At the time, he had his sights set on playing football and becoming the next O.J. Simpson. Concerned about injury, Guinn and Henderson’s mother, Bobbie, had other plans. When the decision was made for Henderson to pursue a career in baseball, the man who would one day hold major league records with 2,295 runs, and 1,406 stolen bases, went to his room and cried. The decision went against the views of many of the people who had watched Henderson. Football coaches praised Henderson’s physique and lauded his speed. But in baseball, he found less reassurance. Some scouts were concerned with his arm, his crouched batting stance, and the fact that he batted right-handed but threw left-handed. Those scouts focused on Henderson’s flaws. Guinn focused on his strengths: Henderson’s speed, athleticism and lateral range. Where others saw impediments, Guinn saw possibility.

This, in a nutshell, is the problem that baseball has in recruiting young athletes — particularly African-American athletes — but also its opportunity. For a young man as physically gifted as Rickey Henderson, the path forward as a college and pro running back is straight: Speed and power and the ability to take a hit are all you need. You can be a big star at 18, and jump quickly to the pros. Baseball is a game of skills that are more complicated to project, and requires a certain amount of toiling in the obscurity of college or minor league ball. But if you make it, the risks of career-ending or life-changing injury are much lower, and the possibility to have a long career are much higher. O. J. was retired at 32, Jim Brown and Terrell Davis at 29, Barry Sanders and Earl Campbell at 30, LaDainian Tomlinson at 32, Eric Dickerson at 33. Rickey played until he was 44. He could probably still steal second today if you inserted him as a pinch runner. And, as it turned out, his apprenticeship was shorter than most; even after three seasons in the minor leagues, he was a major league regular at 20, an All-Star at 21.

But for an awful lot of young athletes, putting their faith in the slower and unsteadier path to the baseball big leagues is a tougher sell.

World

‘Fare Thee Well, Fare Thee Well’

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Protesters in Havana, Cuba, on July 11, 2021 (Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters)

In Impromptus today, I begin with friendship — there has been some buzz about it lately. According to a survey, friendships in America are in steep decline, especially among men. This is not a new topic, of course, and it is not exclusively American. You will remember Digby Anderson, the British writer who for years contributed to National Review. In 2001, he wrote a slim, wonderful book called “Losing Friends.” I reviewed it here, under the heading “A Love and a Virtue.” (Aristotle said that friendship was no less than the basis of society, and described friendship as both “a love” and “a virtue.”)

Are Reagan conservatives and classical liberals responsible for social decay in America? The fraying of communities and the diminution of friendships? You hear that charge from both Left and Right. They say that we promote a dog-eat-dog society, full of “toxic individualism.” The sum total of our philosophy is “You’re on your own.” This, of course, is bollocks (as Brits such as Digby would say). Anyway, I get into this in Impromptus.

Other topics include baseball and Zaila, the Wonder Girl — the 14-year-old who just won the National Spelling Bee and holds three Guinness world records. Again, my column is here.

After I wrote it, the news from Cuba broke. A report by Frances Robles in the New York Times began,

Shouting “Freedom” and other anti-government slogans, hundreds of Cubans took to the streets in cities around the country on Sunday to protest food and medicine shortages, in a remarkable eruption of discontent not seen in nearly 30 years.

I loved those first six words in particular. They are marvelously apt: “Shouting ‘Freedom’ and other anti-government slogans . . .”

My mind ran to the great Cuban dissidents (and if you would like to read a Twitter “thread” I wrote, go here). Let me call an abbreviated roll: Boitel, Valladares, Payá, Biscet, Antúnez, Fariñas, Roque, González Leiva, Sánchez, Pollán. I have been privileged to meet and interview many of them. The sacrifices they have made — almost indescribable.

In 2011, I spoke with Biscet — Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet — just after he was released from prison. (He had spent twelve years there.) Here is an excerpt from the relevant piece:

The Cuban people are “enslaved,” Biscet says, “but, here in Cuba, the slaves will revolt,” as they have done elsewhere. He mentions China, Iran, and Libya. And he describes a great challenge of the opposition: to shape a transition to democracy without a Tiananmen Square. Without a massacre by the rulers, who will not give up power sweetly.

Yes. Cuban rulers have a choice: Let the people go or mow them down. Think of how the Chinese Communists hung on in 1989. Think of how Maduro and the chavistas have hung on in recent years. Think of Daniel Ortega right now. Nothing in the record of Cuban Communism suggests that they will let the people go.

They have ruled for 62 years, the Cuban Communists have. The Chinese Communists: 72. The Kims, in North Korea: 73. The Assads, in Syria: 51. The Soviets had 74 years. In Cuba, will there be a 63rd year? Maybe not.

In 2003, Mark Falcoff, the excellent Latin Americanist, wrote a book called “Cuba: The Morning After — Confronting Castro’s Legacy.” I reviewed it here. Falcoff explained that the period following the regime’s downfall could be very, very bad. Yes, it could.

The title of Mark’s book reminded me of an old, loved spiritual, which I cited at the end of my review: “In that great gittin’-up morning, fare thee well, fare thee well.”

Education

Syllabi Should Be Public

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(Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images)

Sellers of all kinds of goods and services are required to provide accurate information to consumers. False advertising and deceptive labeling are not allowed.

But when it comes to education, it’s caveat emptor. Students, parents and taxpayers often find it difficult to discover exactly what a course contains because syllabi are treated by some colleges and universities as the intellectual property of the faculty members — they’re copyrighted material and thus not available under public-records requests.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson discusses this problem. When the Center tried to get syllabi for education courses taught at NC State, we ran into the “sorry, but the syllabi are copyrighted” blockade by the university.

Robinson argues that syllabi should be available to the public under the “fair use” exception in federal copyright law. She writes, “Public records requests from news and public policy organizations are very clearly included under the fair use interpretation. ‘Criticism, comment, news reporting’ and ‘nonprofit educational purposes’ are specifically cited as justifications for fair use.”

But fighting that legal battle would require considerable resources. State legislators could and should step in and declare that syllabi at the schools they oversee will be available to the public. Texas has passed such a law.

Universities can also adopt a policy of disclosure. Robinson points to the University of Florida: “The University of Florida provides a model for syllabus transparency. At UF, a universitywide policy requires that all syllabi be posted online in a single, easy-to-use directory of courses. Such a model has benefits for students, in addition to making the university more transparent. It enables students to accurately predict what will be covered in class, which helps them to plan their course loads and enroll for the content they want and need.”

This wouldn’t matter so much if it weren’t for the fact that many “progressive” educators have decided to smuggle propaganda into their classrooms. That shouldn’t be any more acceptable than including sawdust in hot dogs.