Politics & Policy

No to a Loan-Debt-Forgiveness/COVID-Relief Compromise

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I must dissent from my colleague Robert VerBruggen on his proposed COVID-relief bill “compromise” for the same reasons that I rejected David French and Jonah Goldberg’s idea for a “compromise” on Court-packing. Why should Republicans give away the farm in exchange for a promise from Democrats not to take a manifestly harmful and unpopular action that would almost certainly backfire?

Like VerBruggen, I would like to see a relief bill passed as soon as possible, but the truth of the matter is that Democrats appear unwilling to pass anything remotely reasonable until Joe Biden takes the oath of office. For political purposes, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer will not budge from their $2.2 trillion HEROES Act and have refused to even consider the Trump administration’s offer of a $1.8 trillion compromise bill. I don’t see the merit in preventing the implementation of a student-loan-forgiveness plan that can potentially be reversed in court by backing an irreversible spending bill that will bail out irresponsible, unsustainable pension plans put in place by Democratic legislatures in blue states while handing out tax breaks to wealthy residents of those same states.

Elections

How to Lose Georgia in One Easy Step

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The stakes in Georgia are obviously enormous. The races there will make the difference between a defanged Biden presidency at the outset (relying almost entirely on “pen and phone” governance), or unified Democratic control of the elected branches of government in Washington.

You’d think the forecast for Republicans in these races would be good, assuming that they can make the campaign about Biden and his agenda. The big question, though, is whether Perdue and Loeffler can turn out Trump voters in requisite numbers to overcome the Democratic advantage in the suburbs, a challenge in the best of circumstances and even more so with the state’s Republican Party on the verge of descending into a civil war over the legitimacy of Trump’s defeat.

It was with an eye to these Trump voters that Perdue and Loeffler called on Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to resign, even though it appears that his only offense is administering an election that Trump narrowly lost. The Perdue/Loeffler calculation was that this was a way to signal to Trump voters that they take election integrity seriously, without creating the downside political risks with suburban voters of repeating outlandish theories about how the election was hacked and stolen.

This wasn’t an admirable move, but politics isn’t bean bag and all that. The problem is, unless the conversation moves on, it may become increasingly difficult for Perdue and Loeffler to bridge the divide in the party. Here is a tweet from attorney Lin Wood, who is suing to stop the certification of the Georgia results, calling for Republican governor Brian Kemp to go to jail (along with Raffensperger):

If Republicans blow themselves up in Georgia and hand Joe Biden control of the Senate, it will be a reckless act of self-destruction that will impose a steep cost on the country for years.

Politics & Policy

Meet the New Biden Team, the Democratic Establishment

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Today the Biden campaign named seven figures to future White House senior staff positions. As mentioned in today’s Morning Jolt, congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana will be senior advisor to the President and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Jen O’Malley Dillon will be the deputy chief of staff. Her marketing firm’s clients include General Electric, Planned Parenthood, Humana, IBM, YouTube, Bank of America, and the National Football League. She will be deputy to Ron Klain, who previously “lobbied for an asbestos industry bailout package, an airline merger, mortgage regulations to help Fannie Mae and a drug-maker under congressional scrutiny for withholding life-saving drugs from dying patients, among other clients.” Klain also served as general counsel for an investment firm called “Revolution.”

Steve Ricchetti will be counselor to the president; he has represented a wide variety of America’s biggest companies: “After the Clintons left the White House, Ricchetti fully cashed out, building Ricchetti Inc. with his brother. Armed with a long rolodex, the brothers grabbed a large slice of corporate America as clients, including AT&T, General Motors, defense contractor United Technologies, the American Council of Life Insurers, and the American Bankers Association. But health care was always a large part of the business, with multiple drug companies, insurance associations, and hospital trade groups signing on.”

Dana Remus will also be counsel to the president. She previously clerked for U.S. Supreme Court associate justice Samuel Alito.

Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon will be chief of staff for Jill Biden. She is partner at the Chicago law firm of Winston & Strawn; the firm has represented pharmaceutical companies, Verizon, nursing-home company Omnicare, the New York Stock Exchange, and Microsoft.

Longtime Biden consultant Mike Donilon will be a senior advisor to the president; he argued the 2020 campaign was “really about character and values as opposed to issues and ideology.” His brother Tom, the former national-security adviser to Barack Obama, is the chairman of the BlackRock Investment Institute. His other brother Terry is the secretary for communications for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Annie Tomasini will be director of Oval Office operations. She previously was the senior director of state, local, and community relations at Harvard University, where she defended the university against accusations that it was only paying about half what it should under the city’s payment in lieu of taxes program.

Julie Rodriguez will be director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; she previously served as national political director and traveling chief of staff for then-Senator Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign.

I suspect corporate America looks at this team and feels a warm sense of recognition, gazing upon a lot of old friends. But you have to wonder how Bernie Sanders supporters feel about them.

Politics & Policy

Downsize the Presidency

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In Bloomberg Opinion, I argue that it’s time to push back against the increasing tendency of presidents to govern by decree: “Biden has spent more time in Congress than any president in U.S. history. It would be fitting if his time as president moved the country partway toward restoring the proper role of the first branch of the federal government.”

Politics & Policy

An Idea for COVID-Relief Compromise

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As I noted yesterday, some are urging Joe Biden to forgive student debt by executive order, which is both bad policy and legally questionable.

But it might also be a useful bargaining chip for the Democrats: If Republicans agree to a somewhat bigger chunk of COVID relief than they’ve offered thus far, breaking the logjam on that issue, Democrats should agree to rewrite the executive branch’s statutory authority to “compromise, waive, or release” student loans. Republicans would get a high-profile win by shutting down this option (though it might never have been exercised anyway), while Democrats would get more of their priorities on COVID relief.

Then again, I have a conflict of interest here. I think another round of COVID relief and killing off a potential student-debt “jubilee” are both wins.

Politics & Policy

‘The Failure of Black Lives Matter’

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I wrote today about how BLM came up with the dumbest, most destructive political slogan in a very long time, and how it cost the Democrats.

 

 

Politics & Policy

NBC News: Biden Doesn’t Want to Spend Much Time Investigating Trump

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at a carpenters union in Phoenix, Ariz., October 8, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

NBC News reports, “President-elect Joe Biden has privately told advisers that he doesn’t want his presidency to be consumed by investigations of his predecessor” and that Biden “has raised concerns that investigations would further divide a country he is trying to unite and risk making every day of his presidency about Trump.”

We can learn a lot from who is surprised by this and who is bothered or outraged by this.

If Donald Trump or any member of his family sees the inside of a courtroom after his presidency, the only way any criminal charges stick is if the prosecutor has absolutely no ties to the Biden administration or the Democratic Party. Trump will argue he’s the target of a political vendetta.

Any Biden administration Department of Justice is already hobbled by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ campaign-trail declaration that if she was elected president, the Justice Department “would have no choice and that they should” go forward with obstruction of justice charges against Trump once he’s out of office. (This prompted even CNN’s Don Lemon to ask, “Why is it okay for you to advocate for the Justice Department to prosecute somebody” but not Trump?)

No one should be all that surprised that Biden has other, higher priorities beyond investigating and prosecuting his predecessor. He’s been in this position before. As I wrote back in October:

…after Barack Obama became president, some Democrats wanted prosecutions of his predecessor and Bush administration officials for alleged “war crimes,” the CIA’s rendition programs, etc. Even before he was sworn in, President-elect Obama indicated he had no real interest in that: “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. . . . And part of my job is to make sure that, for example, at the C.I.A., you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.” Obama recognized that he could extract vengeance upon the preceding administration, or he could get his agenda passed, but not both. This outraged quite a few folks on the left, who had convinced themselves that the Bush administration policies ranked among the greatest crimes in human history.

If elected, Joe Biden will face a similar choice. He can set out to put the preceding administration behind bars — and watch Trump make the O. J. Simpson trial look quiet, obscure, and dignified — or he can focus on enacting the policies he wants passed by a Congress that will still probably be closely divided. But Biden can’t have both.

Way back in 2003, Joseph Wilson publicly fantasized about seeing “Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.” Lots of people in politics convince themselves that their opponents are not merely foolish or incompetent, but a gang of crooks who need to be locked up behind bars. They envision total comeuppance, as a jury convicts on all counts, and their political foes are taken away, handcuffed and scowling, like the end of a Law & Order episode. But political careers rarely end that way.

That Saturday Night Live sketch about voters who hate Trump so much that they don’t know what they will do without him was funny in part because it was true. “The only thing I’ve talked about for four years is Donald Trump.” “My entire personality is hating Donald Trump. If he’s gone, what am I supposed to do, focus on my kids again? No thanks.” After January 20, the country’s attention will turn to other problems — beyond the conversation with the Ukrainian president, and defiance of congressional subpoenas, and the emoluments clause, or conspiracy theories about Russia, or the sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service, or whether the payments to Stormy Daniels constituted a campaign-finance violation.

A president who was elected in large part because of his promise to move on from the endless circus of Trump has to, you know, actually move on from the endless circus of Trump.

World

Today in Unintended Consequences

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Having nuked the development of a U.S.-led Asia-Pacific trade bloc designed to counter the influence of Beijing, our so-called nationalists made room for the creation of a Beijing-led Asia-Pacific trade bloc that will counter the influence of the United States.

With nationalists like these, who needs enemies?

World

China versus Democracy

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A paramilitary policeman stands guard at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, in 2013. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, or thanks to Beijing’s increasingly intimidating, if not aggressive, behavior in recent years, one of the more dramatic shifts in global opinion has started a long-overdue reconsideration of the liberal world’s relationship to the People’s Republic of China. In addition to a raft of high-level policy statements from the Trump administration, including the 2017 National Security Strategy, the 2019 Department of Defense Indo-Pacific Strategy report, and the 2020 “United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China,” a number of independent reports have been tracking Beijing’s predatory and threatening policies, whether in economics, security, or civil society.  After decades of turning the other cheek to Beijing’s abuse of the free world’s open societies, all in order to maintain trade relations that themselves were turning increasingly one-sided, liberal states have begun the process of recalibrating their ties to China.

This is no easy task for America or other states, after nearly a half-century of engagement. How to reduce supply chain vulnerability without crashing current manufacturing models, how to support Taiwan and Hong Kong in the face of Beijing’s aggressive actions, whether to keep admitting hundreds of thousands of Chinese students to American universities, how to keep doing business with Chinese firms while defending rampant theft of intellectual property, the “to do” list goes on and on. The difficulty is a testament to just how thoroughly the post-Mao PRC intertwined itself with free economies and societies around the world, while at the same time resisting much, if not all, pressure to liberalize in turn. Despite decades of optimistic comments from Western leaders, including U.S. presidents, China under current Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping has become an even more repressive and insular state, committed to the Leninist control by the CCP, and steadfastly opposed to liberal notions of free speech and free association. The PRC’s techno-authoritarian surveillance state has taken the world’s leading technologies, many originated in Western research institutes and universities, and twisted them into a comprehensive network of social control. Western businesses, media, universities, and the like have all submitted to Beijing’s pressure, self-censuring and apologizing for remarks critical of the PRC.

The great question facing the free world is how to deal with the PRC in this new era of competition. One answer is provided in a new “handbook” for democracies, published this week by the Halifax International Security Forum (HFX) to coincide with its annual conference. The handbook, entitled “China Vs. Democracy: The Greatest Game,” is a primer on how the PRC threatens the open global society that is the source for most of its own wealth and power (full disclosure: I am the senior advisor for Asia at HFX, and was part of the team that produced the handbook). Divided into chapters that look at the CCP’s oppression inside China, influence campaigns against democracies, the battle over global economic domination, the race for technological supremacy, and the military competition that may determine war or peace, the handbook is one of the first comprehensive attempts to chart the broad China challenge.

As the handbook notes, this is not the competition, or tension, that the liberal world wanted or expected when it opened its doors to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and his reform plans back in the 1970s. Betting on China made sense during the Cold War and in light of what appeared to be legitimate reform inside China. The failure of Washington and its allies to conduct due diligence over the succeeding decades, questioning whether Beijing was living up to its promises and was becoming a cooperative nation upholding international norms, gave the CCP a free hand to build up its global power while eliminating any threats to its continued control.  By the end of the Obama administration, the severity of the challenge could no longer be ignored or explained away as the result of a China still attempting to find its way in the world.

Yet, it is in the hands of democracies to deal with the China challenge in a way that not only protects their interests, but also may one day help the people of China. As HFX president Peter Van Praagh, who initiated the project, notes in his introduction:

Working in concert, the world’s democracies have overwhelming advantages that China cannot meet. The challenge is no longer about trying to cooperate with a rising China governed by autocrats. The real China challenge for the world’s democracies is how to cooperate effectively with each other.

Indeed, that theme of the HFX China Handbook — democratic cooperation — is one increasingly echoed by other Western reports and studies on China. Despite the disruptions of 2020, from pandemic to elections, liberal societies and free states remain stronger and yes, more peaceful, than their authoritarian counterparts. Their politics may be messier and often inefficient, but they remain laboratories of innovation and magnets for those fleeing repressive systems. They remain more committed to equality and the long-term improvement of their governing mechanisms than states run by unelected oligarchs. More pertinently, democracies may find a renewed appreciation for the moral worth of their systems by working together to defend common interests, whether economic, social, or security, against a PRC that seeks to subvert liberal norms and make the world safe for autocracy.

Perhaps the most innovative part of the handbook is the “HFX China Principles,” a set of seven pledges to not be complicit in Beijing’s assault on democracy. The Principles include a pledge not to censor or self-censor criticism of China, not to punish those who critique the PRC, not to support Chinese businesses that participate in the oppression of the Chinese people, and not knowingly to patronize businesses that benefit from Chinese slave labor. Public pledges to adhere to the China Principles by governments, multinational corporations, universities, media companies, and ordinary citizens would be a beginning in right-sizing the world’s relations with the PRC, giving hope to those in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and bolstering democratic states in Asia, from the Philippines to Japan. As a form of thinking globally and acting locally, the Principles may give the free world the confidence to begin defending itself against the China challenge.

Woke Culture

What Censorship in 21st-Century America Looks Like

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Abigail Shrier has written an excellent book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. Shrier’s book, which I reviewed in a recent edition of National Review, is tactful, thoroughly researched, and fearlessly committed to the principle that “most teenagers are not in a good position to approve irreversible alterations to their bodies, particularly if they are suffering from trauma, OCD, depression or any of the other mental-health problems that are comorbid with expressions of dysphoria.”

In a sane world, such a thesis would be considered a statement of the obvious. But the world of publishing and social media are not sane worlds. Shrier’s work has faced various forms of censorship from her original publishing house, which retracted its offer for her book; Amazon, which restricted how the book could be advertised; then Target, which removed her book from its shelves “based on feedback we received,” though later reversed this decision after criticism.

Shrier emphasizes an important point. “I don’t believe that I’ve been harmed by these suppression efforts.” The real victim, she says, is the public. “A network of activists and their journalistic enablers have largely succeeded in suppressing a real discussion of the over-diagnosis of gender dysphoria among vulnerable girls . . . This is what censorship looks like in 21st century America. It isn’t the government sending police to your home. It’s Silicon Valley oligopolists implementing blackouts and appeasing social-justice mobs, while sending disfavored ideas down memory holes.”

National Review

National Review Seeks Submissions Editor

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.

NRO is seeking a Submissions Editor who will be responsible for managing the freelance submissions and commissions pipeline for National Review Online, in coordination with the Editor and Managing Editor of NRO, as well as line-editing articles for publication. Secondarily, the Submissions Editor may assist the Managing Editor in the normal course of his duties and stand in for the Managing Editor in his absence.

The ideal candidate has several years’ experience in journalism, along with writing and editing skills that are consistent with NR’s signature style, wit, good cheer, openness to debate, and intellectual gravity. A candidate should be a highly competent editor and possess a love for the written word, excellent judgment for news with an eye for identifying fallacious arguments, and an ability to maintain a tightly organized pipeline of submissions that originate from many different sources. A successful candidate will demonstrate excellent editing skills and news-judgment ability by taking NR’s copy-editing test and NR’s editorial-assignments test.

During the interview process, candidates will be evaluated in the areas of analysis, commitment to quality, decisiveness, and the ability to plan and schedule.

A candidate should sympathize with the broad-tent American political conservatism that has been championed and discussed in National Review for 65 years.

National Review’s offices are located in New York City, but candidates may choose to primarily telecommute.

Please email a cover letter and résumé to editorial.applications@nationalreview.com. Place “Submissions Editor” in the subject line.

Responsibilities:

Manage freelance submissions and commissioning process for NRO

  1. Conduct first read of freelance article submissions, recommend promising articles to the Editor and Managing Editor, and line-edit submissions as needed, while communicating with authors;
  2. Commission articles from freelancers in coordination with the Editor and Managing Editor;
  3. Become the primary contact point for selected think-tank and foundation partners for submissions and commissions;
  4. Oversee tracking process of the freelance pipeline;
  5. Manage, track, and report on monthly freelance budget;
  6. Coordinate monthly freelance compensation with the payroll department.

Edit articles for NRO

  1. Edit articles for content, argument, and style.

Assist the Managing Editor in his duties

  1. Be prepared to stand in for Managing Editor in the event of his absence;
  2. Participate in the daily editorial meeting to discuss upcoming pieces;
  3. Monitor events throughout the day for breaking news;
  4. Coordinate as necessary with content managers regarding social media, homepage curation, and similar topics;
  5. Attend broader editorial and internal meetings;
  6. Recommend topics for unsigned NR editorials.

Qualifications:

  • Several years of experience working in digital journalism;
  • Superior editorial judgment and editing abilities;
  • Experience using social media to find and promote stories;
  • Technologically adept, including familiarity with content-management systems (preferably WordPress);
  • Understand National Review’s unique mission, its history, and its position in the world of conservative commentary, and share its aims and principles;
  • Ability to work long days and weekends as required.
Culture

Harry Styles’s Curious Style

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Singer Harry Styles performs on NBC’s Today show in New York City, February 26, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Harry Styles has reportedly “made history” by being “the first male to cover Vogue magazine solo.” Styles wears a dress in the cover photo, which initially I thought might be him expressing his inner femininity, or boldly challenging traditional gender norms, but apparently, he just enjoys wearing them. “I’ve never thought too much about what it means — it just becomes this extended part of creating something,” he said. Styles’s stylist, on the other hand, has put a lot of thought into what it means, telling the magazine that the choice was “about taking traditionally feminine elements like the frills, heeled boots, sheer fabric, and the pearl earring, but then rephrasing them as masculine pieces set against the high-waisted tailored trousers and his tattoos.” So, the usual highly fashionable gender-bending, then.

Of course, when deployed in a humorous or self-consciously theatrical way, cross-dressing can indeed be a fun and interesting way of exploring the differences between the sexes. But when used seriously and self-importantly in order to further an ideology that would blur all distinctions between male and female, performance and reality, the effect is not only ugly but boring.

Elections

No, Joe Biden Did Not Only Improve in Four Major Swing-State Cities

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks about the current results of the election in Wilmington, Del., November 4, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It’s time to debunk another bogus claim. In looking for fraud or misconduct in an election, we sometimes assume that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” But that too often leads people to assume there must be fire when, on closer inspection, there is not even smoke. Disappointed Trump supporters looking to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 vote counts have spread an unfortunate profusion of viral claims since the election pointing to apparently suspicious or inexplicable patterns in the reported vote tallies. As I have previously noted here and here, however, many of these patterns have entirely rational explanations, or are framed in ways that are outright false or misleading. This is not a reason to ignore hard evidence of actual fraud or misconduct in the election. But patterns in the voting are, at most, smoke; and if there is nothing suspicious about the pattern, we should be all the more demanding of proof of fire.

Consider the latest viral claim, from Patrick Basham at Democracy Institute, Matt Vespa at Town Hall, Mike LaChance at Gateway Pundit, and amplified by sources such as Rassmussen Reports, quoting pollster Richard Baris:

How curious that, as Baris notes, “Trump won the largest non-white vote share for a Republican presidential candidate in 60 years. Biden underperformed Hillary Clinton in every major metro area around the country, save for Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta and Philadelphia.” Robert Barnes, the foremost election analyst, observes in these “big cities in swing states run by Democrats…the vote even exceeded the number of registered voters.” Trump’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were on target until, in the middle of the night, counting was arbitrarily halted. Miraculously, several hundred thousand votes – all for Biden – were mysteriously ‘found’; Trump’s real leads subsequently vanished. (Emphasis added).

The reader is left to believe that Joe Biden did unusually well in these four particular cities compared to 2016. These cities are all in key swing states that flipped narrowly to Biden, all traditionally provide a crucial source of votes to Democrats in their states, and Detroit, Atlanta, and Philadelphia in particular have extremely long-entrenched, notoriously corrupt one-party Democratic governments (Milwaukee may be run by Democrats, but it was only a decade ago that the county executive was Scott Walker). Those three are also, although this is never quite stated out loud, cities dominated by their African-American populations, and Milwaukee is almost 40 percent black. Now, the fact that these are heavily black cities should not blind us to the well-known and well-documented flaws of their governments, but there is certainly at least a whiff of racial appeal in efforts to convince white audiences that these particular cities must have stolen the election. In some quarters, that whiff is more like a reek.

The problem, if you look at the cities themselves, is that the facts do not fit the story. I took a look across the 36 largest U.S. cities outside of California and New York where Biden beat Trump by at least 10,000 votes, as measured by county-wide vote totals (admittedly, some cities cross county lines or have suburban voters within county lines, and Maricopa County, Ariz., has two large cities in a single county). I excluded California and New York only because they are still counting votes so slowly that it is not yet possible to fairly compare their vote totals to 2016. I also excluded four cities where Trump either won or lost by a tiny margin: Colorado Springs, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa. That leaves us with a comparison across the major American Democrat-voting cities. Is it true that Joe Biden underperformed Hillary Clinton in 32 out of 36, and overperformed in Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta, and Philadelphia? No, it is not. It is emphatically false:

Biden improved his margin of victory compared to Hillary in 31 out of 36 urban counties — and Philadelphia was one of the five in which he didn’t. In 29 of the cities, the Democratic margin of victory grew on a percentage basis. Of the twelve cities in which Biden overperformed Hillary by enough that his margin of victory grew by 10 percent or more (as a percentage of the 2016 electorate), only one (Atlanta) was in a swing state, and one other (Omaha) in a swing district. Biden’s improvements in Milwaukee and Detroit were distinctly subpar, and in Detroit, Trump improved his own share of the vote enough to be the first Republican to break 30 percent of the vote in Wayne County, Mich., in 32 years.

Yes, Biden had some really striking “metro area” improvements over Hillary in key states, but other than Atlanta, many of those came either in the surrounding suburbs (the election was really won in the suburbs, most of all around Philadelphia) or in counties such as Maricopa County, Ariz., (which contains both Phoenix and Mesa and was won by Trump four years ago) and Douglas County, Neb.,(which contains Omaha and swung one electoral vote). But those are not counties run by infamously corrupt Democratic local parties, and “voter fraud in the suburbs” is neither as sexy nor as plausible as fraud by the kinds of urban machines that gave us 100,000 fraudulent votes in Chicago in the 1982 Illinois governor’s race. Biden turned out tons of additional votes in Austin, Denver, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Portland, and Nashville, too, but none of those mattered to the outcome.

If you are still looking for proof that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election, nearly two weeks after Election Day, you will need to do better than this.

Elections

Gearing Up for a Stacey Abrams Gubernatorial Bid in 2022

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Stacey Abrams speaks to the crowd of supporters announcing they will wait till the morning for results of the mid-terms election at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. November 7, 2018. (REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant)

Stacey Abrams reportedly plans to run for governor of Georgia in 2022. Because she never conceded the race, some may joke she is running for reelection.

If Democrats win one or both of the Senate runoffs in January, expectations of an Abrams win in two years will skyrocket, and the argument that “Georgia is a blue state now!” will carry some weight. Regardless of the outcome, Abrams’s national fanbase will ensure she’ll face no serious competition for the nomination and be well-funded for the general election.

But without at least one win in the Senate runoffs, it will be fair to wonder if Abrams will turn into the 2022 version of Jaime Harrison, Amy McGrath, or Beto O’Rourke — a Democratic challenger in a red state that is adored by Democrats outside of her state, but whose chances are overestimated by a media that love to hype the chances of the next Great Southern Democratic Hope.

Abrams lost her gubernatorial race by 54,723 votes in 2018, or 1.4 percentage points. Georgia’s down-ticket races that year received much less discussion, in part because they were less competitive. Republican lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Geoff Duncan won, 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent, a margin of 123,172 votes. The Secretary of State race went to a runoff, and Brad Raffensperger won, 51.8 percent to 48.1 percent. Democrats did flip ten seats in the state House, but that only shifted the chamber to a 105-75 split, and Democrats flipped two seats in the state Senate, but that only changed it to a 35-21 split.

And the national political environment for Democrats in 2018 was really good for the party, perhaps near-ideal.

Right now, Biden leads by 14,172 votes out of almost 5 million cast, as the state completes a hand recount. That counts as a remarkable win, but it’s twenty-nine one-hundreths of a percentage point. That’s a thin reed for the “Georgia is a blue state now” argument, although it can be plausibly argued that the state is now more competitive. But overall, Georgia is still a pretty heavily Republican-leaning state.

This doesn’t guarantee that David Perdue or Kelly Loeffler will win reelection, or that governor Brian Kemp is guaranteed to win a second term in 2022. But Biden’s narrow win is likely to fool Democrats into thinking that Georgia is not a Republican-leaning state anymore.

Culture

‘What It Means to Be Human’

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Over at the Wall Street Journal, our friend Yuval Levin has a great review of a new book, What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics. The book is by O. Carter Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and director of the university’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

Snead is a current member of the bioethics advisory group that advises Pope Francis, and he served on the President’s Council on Bioethics under President George W. Bush, who created the council. He brings that expertise to this new book, which illuminates the ways in which our flawed anthropology — our wrongheaded ideas about what it means to be human — negatively affects our bioethics.

He examines this concept at great length, laying out the philosophical underpinnings of his case before applying his understanding of anthropology to key contentious issues in bioethics: abortion, assisted reproduction, and death-related topics such as assisted suicide.

Yuval’s review gives a good overview of what makes this book so useful and intriguing, even for those who disagree with Snead’s perspective, but I’ll add that the lengthy section on abortion alone is worth the price of admission. Pro-lifers dedicated especially to the abortion issue will find invaluable Snead’s detailed explanations of existing U.S. case law, not to mention his rigorous applications of anthropology and bioethics to critique and illuminate that case law.

It’s one thing to know where Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion cases went wrong as it pertains to the Constitution and America’s founding ideals. It’s another to understand at a deeper level how our regime of legal-abortion stems from and is bolstered by our society’s deeply mistaken notions of freedom, autonomy, and what we owe to each other.

Health Care

Moderna Vaccine Data Show Why Warp Speed Helped Pfizer

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Last week, President Trump sparred with Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company that reported positive results for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. After reporting early results from its vaccine trial, Pfizer’s communications team was quick to point out that it did not receive funding from the White House’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine-development program.

“Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine development and manufacturing costs have been entirely self-funded,” Pfizer spokeswoman Jerica Pitts said this week. “We decided to self-fund our efforts so we could move as fast as possible.”

True, but the federal government did agree to purchase 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at a price tag of nearly $2 billion if it proved to be effective. Pfizer should thank its lucky stars that it inked that deal, because the vaccine developed by Cambridge-based biotech firm Moderna appears to have two key advantages:

(1) It can be stored in regular refrigerators for up to 30 days, whereas the Pfizer candidate must be kept in industrial freezers at -70° C.

(2) It showed efficacy in preventing severe infections, which the Pfizer candidate has yet to demonstrate.

Until trials are completed and peer-reviewed, we won’t know which vaccine is superior. Other factors, such as the duration of efficacy and effects on different populations (age, medical background, etc.), are still unknown.

But by guaranteeing a massive purchase order, the U.S. government reduced the risk of competition to vaccine developers. That allowed Pfizer to develop its vaccine candidate irrespective of the possibility that it would be outdone by a different company, and it was the right decision.

Politics & Policy

Re: ‘Massachusetts May Legalize Abortion Through Entire Pregnancy’

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Massachusetts State House in Boston (Pixabay)

In response to Massachusetts May Legalize Abortion Through Entire Pregnancy

In his Corner post last week, Wesley Smith rightly expressed concern about the ROE Act in Massachusetts, which would effectively expand the right to an abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

Smith is correct that the ROE Act is similar to recent legislation passed in New York and Vermont, ensuring that there are no legal limits on when a woman may obtain an abortion. This past Thursday, the Massachusetts state house approved a budget bill including the ROE Act, and the state senate will be considering the legislation shortly.

But the ROE Act contains another troubling provision in addition to allowing abortion with no gestational limits: It would significantly weaken the state’s pro-life parental-involvement law. Currently, minors (girls under 18) in Massachusetts are required to receive consent from at least one parent before obtaining an abortion. The ROE Act would reduce the age of consent to 16; if the bill becomes law, 16- and 17-year-old girls could obtain abortions in Massachusetts without parental consent. Considering that a high percentage of abortions performed on minors are obtained by 16- and 17-year-olds, this should greatly concern pro-lifers.

Interestingly, in the past, Massachusetts has been a leader in terms of protecting minor girls and their unborn children. As early as 1974, the Massachusetts state legislature passed a pro-life parental-involvement law over a gubernatorial veto. Various legal challenges prevented this law from taking effect and during the 1970s, and the U.S. Supreme Court heard two separate cases involving parental-involvement legislation in Massachusetts. A revised parental-involvement law took effect in 1981, and Massachusetts became one of the first states after Roe v. Wade to require that minor girls receive parental consent before obtaining an abortion.

A 1986 study in the American Journal of Public Health found strong statistical evidence that this parental-involvement law reduced the abortion rate among minors in Massachusetts. The study did find that some Massachusetts minors obtained abortions in neighboring states after the law took effect, but the in-state decline clearly exceeded the out-of-state increase.

The study also noted a slight increase in the birth rate among minors shortly after the parental-involvement law took effect, likely because some girls who otherwise would have obtained abortions carried their pregnancies to term. When I testified against the ROE Act in June 2019, I used findings from this study to show that, since 1981, the Massachusetts parental-involvement law has protected tens of thousands of minor girls and their unborn children.

Parental-involvement laws do a great deal of good, both in Massachusetts and across the country. Currently, 37 states have these laws in effect, and at least 16 peer-reviewed studies suggest that these laws reduce the incidence of abortion among minors.

Furthermore, research shows that these laws improve public health in other ways. A 2003 study in the Journal of Health Economics found that parental-involvement laws reduce pregnancy rates among girls ages 15 to 17. A 2008 study in the Journal of Law Economics and Organization found that parental-involvement laws lower gonorrhea rates for females under 20. Finally, a 2012 study in Economic Inquiry found that parental-involvement laws reduce the incidence of suicides for females between the ages of 15 and 17.

There is a good chance that the Massachusetts state senate will pass the budget bill that includes the ROE Act and send the legislation to Republican governor Charlie Baker. While Baker supports legal abortion, he has also expressed misgivings about the ROE Act. During previous debates over the bill, he has indicated that he supports the status quo when it comes to abortion policy in Massachusetts. Additionally, Boston.com recently reported that Baker is unhappy that a significant policy initiative was included in the budget bill, suggesting that he may not support it. Bay State pro-lifers should strongly encourage him to use the line item veto to strike down the extreme and radical ROE Act.

Politics & Policy

Forgiving Student Debt Is (Still) a Dumb Idea

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Some on the left, perhaps most prominently senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, have encouraged Joe Biden to forgive loads of student debt via executive order. I’ve written numerous times about how bad of an idea this is, most extensively in a print piece last year, but here’s a brief overview.

Basically, the student-debt “crisis” is nowhere near as bad as some like to pretend: Most borrowers pay a small share of their income toward their loans, and borrowers who get into trouble can already have their loans delayed or forgiven through various programs. The folks this system neglects are not people with huge debt burdens — who tend to make high incomes and are exceedingly well-covered by existing forgiveness programs anyway — but those with smaller debts, particularly those who didn’t finish college.

Forgiving debt for everyone is a poorly targeted policy no matter how you look at it. It helps the wealthy more than the poor, it’s not fair to people who paid off their debts early, and it’s not a good way to stimulate the economy during COVID. (As the center-left economist Jason Furman points out, the forgiven debt would be taxed, which would cut into any immediate economic effect.)

There’s also the legal question of whether the executive branch can get away with this. The law does give the executive an astonishingly broad power to “compromise, waive, or release” student loans, and both a letter from the Harvard Legal Services Center and an article in the Buffalo Law Review defend such a move as legal. However, it would be a blatant abuse of the power the executive has been granted, and, as the law-review article explains, there are legitimate reasons why the courts might not be amused. For instance, federal law also commands agencies to “try to collect” the debts they’re owed, and courts generally assume that policymakers don’t “hide elephants in mouseholes” — i.e., they don’t write tiny, low-profile provisions into statutes that override vast swathes of policy.

Lastly, a word on the politics. The economy is in poor shape right now, with lesser-educated Americans having a particularly rough time. Shoveling tons of taxpayer money toward the college-educated would produce a major backlash, possibly — hopefully! — rivaling the Tea Party fervor a few years back.

Politics & Policy

Re: The Chump Effect

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Last week I marveled at James B. Meigs’s astute City Journal essay, “The Chump Effect.” At the time it was available only to subscribers of the print edition, which is well worth your attention. Now CJ has posted the essay online.

Education

A University Board That Wants to Do Less

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University boards are supposed to be the backstop that keeps the administration from running wild. Unfortunately, board members are often content to just enjoy the perks.  They’ve got better things to do than battle with the president and faculty.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors (BOG) has in the past fought some good fights, but now seems to be backsliding. So argues Jay Schalin in today’s Martin Center article. 

He writes that “it now appears that the pressure is taking a toll on the decision-making capacity of the board. Recent actions by the board altering governance procedures suggest the possibility that many of the members just want to get out of the line of fire and are willing to yield their rightful authority to do so. This may damage the system for many years to come.”

Here’s one example — the BOG has voted to give the system president more say in the selection of chancellors for the individual campuses. That’s a mistake, since we need more oversight in those important selections, not less. Furthermore, the BOG now has a rule against allowing any member to conduct his own investigation into the background of a candidate, even though such an investigation recently disclosed enough bad information to crush a candidacy.

Perhaps most telling of all, when the state legislature gave the BOG the authority to hire its own staffer to provide information not filtered through the office of the president, the BOG declined to exercise it.

Schalin concludes, “Sadly, the board is shrinking its own influence at a time when the state, more than ever, needs them to be assertive and stop the university system’s increasing politicization and overspending.”

Energy & Environment

After COVID-19: The Next Crackdown, or at Least a ‘Reset’ (Spoiler: Climate Change)

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People wear face masks at Piccadilly Circus in London, England, October 15, 2020. (John Sibley/Reuters)

COVID-19 can be a serious disease and it needs to be taken seriously. Recognizing that obvious fact is not the same as supporting the often heavy-handed and not infrequently self-defeating policies that many governments have adopted in response to it, a reaction defined more than anything else by the failure to recognize the trade-offs involved.

G. Patrick Lynch, writing in Law & Liberty last week:

Public health experts talk about “excess deaths,” which are essentially additional deaths in a place over a time period above what you would have predicted under normal conditions. Since the beginning of the year, the US has experienced about 300,000 excess deaths, which is a lot. The number directly attributable to Covid is “only” about 200,000. So Covid has killed 200,000, but another 100,000 Americans have died while these policies have been in place. Health officials widely point to higher rates of serious health problems that aren’t being treated because of fear associated with Covid. For example, the heart attack death rate has doubled since the pandemic began. Many of those other excess deaths might be attributable to our Covid policies, not the virus.

That’s a failure on both counts. We haven’t prevented 200,000 deaths from Covid, and our lockdowns and draconian approaches lasting for months have at the very least contributed to another 100,000. Individuals who cannot afford to do so are forgoing basic health services. Heart attacks, strokes, and many other significant health problems are occurring and not being treated because of fears related to the pandemic. And perhaps most dangerously, these extra deaths not directly attributable to Covid are occurring among younger Americans between 30 and 60 who are not at high risk of dying from the virus, but are foregoing treatment because of misplaced fear . . . .

Constructing public policy takes not only expertise, but a proper balance between risk and reward. Aaron Wildavsky’s work on this topic points out two reasons why public officials, in conjunction with citizens, must accept tradeoffs in the creation of safety policy. As Wildavsky argues, and the discussion of excess deaths clearly illustrates, seeking safety will inevitably increase danger in other areas…

The problem with our current regulatory environment, as Wildavsky sees it, is twofold: resilience is not valued, and regulators and policymakers seek what he calls “perfect safety.” Our policymakers today are rejecting resiliency, making us poorer, less socially stable, less well-educated, and more divided. The second problem is that our health experts also seek some sort of ideal or perfect safety when it comes to Covid mitigation. When policymakers compete in a race to the bottom for draconian measures that fight Covid outbreaks only with brute force, they are lauded as being proactive without careful consideration of the harm these policies inflict.

Quite.

There’s also something else to consider. In the course of a piece I wrote in March, I argued this:

To imagine that large swathes of America could be shut down by administrative order would, six months ago, have been no more than the stuff of prepper paranoia, and yet here we are. And powers that have been used once can be used again, perhaps not in the same way, and perhaps not to the same extent, but they will be used. After all, an “emergency” can be a conveniently flexible concept. Those, for example, who talk of a “climate emergency” will be paying close attention to the precedents that are now being set, as, doubtless, will be foes of the Second Amendment.

And some climate warriors, at least, have indeed been watching what’s happened with interest.

Here, for example, is Mariana Mazzucato, a professor in the economics of innovation and public value at University College London, and, amongst other achievements, someone who has been invited to join a special Vatican task force to advise the pope on economic policy matters, with special focus on problems created by COVID-19, an appointment I merely note without any comment (almost).

Mazzucato has an article in MarketWatch that is well worth reading in full, if only as a warning of where the unelected elect may be looking to take us. She, of course, is not to blame for the photo that accompanies it — a picture of a wildfire in California. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s worth noting that flames have made a regular appearance in millenarian writings, not least those promoted by, well, the Vatican for a long time now.

Some extracts:

Under a “climate lockdown,” governments would limit private-vehicle use, ban consumption of red meat, and impose extreme energy-saving measures, while fossil-fuel companies would have to stop drilling. To avoid such a scenario, we must overhaul our economic structures and do capitalism differently.

To be fair, Mazzucato claims that she wants to avoid such a scenario, but I wonder.

In any event, sorting out climate and related crises will require:

reorienting corporate governance, finance, policy, and energy systems toward a green economic transformation. To achieve this, three obstacles must be removed: business that is shareholder-driven instead of stakeholder-driven, finance that is used in inadequate and inappropriate ways, and government that is based on outdated economic thinking and faulty assumptions.

Corporate governance must now reflect stakeholders’ needs instead of shareholders’ whims. Building an inclusive, sustainable economy depends on productive cooperation among the public and private sectors and civil society. This means firms need to listen to trade unions and workers’ collectives, community groups, consumer advocates, and others.

Shareholders, the people who have provided the core finance for a business and, who (checks notes) own it, have “whims,” but these mistily defined stakeholders have needs.

Stakeholder capitalism is clearly having a moment, and, as we see from the World Economic Forum’s (“Davos”) effort to include it as central to its “great reset,” there are plenty of people prepared to use whatever crisis comes to hand (the WEF, a long-time advocate of stakeholder capitalism, has, rather greedily, recruited both climate change and COVID-19) to advance it.

But, whatever the crisis, the essence of stakeholder capitalism remains the same. As I noted back in August:

Stakeholder capitalism is a modish name for what is just another expression of corporatism, an old ideology with a sometimes sinister past that, because of the power it gives to the unelected and the unaccountable, will never fall far out of style. That, in this case, it involves playing around with other people’s money only adds to its sleazy appeal. . . .

Corporatism is a trickier challenge. It has taken different forms over the years — some more benign than others — but all of these forms are based on the belief that society should be organized by and for its principal interest groups — let’s call them “stakeholders” —  intermediated by, and ultimately subordinate to, the state. The individual doesn’t get a look-in, but to the managements of large corporations (the latter would count as one of those interest groups), it is an opportunity (and thus a temptation) as well as a threat. After all, much of the power that is being taken from shareholders will end up with those to whom they unwisely entrusted their funds. . . .

If stakeholder capitalism is an opportunity for corporate managements, it is even more so for others looking to set the country’s course. However heavy-handed big government may be, in a democracy it is accountable to the electorate, albeit often tenuously. By contrast, “socially responsible” corporations, working in conjunction with mysteriously selected representatives of arbitrarily defined stakeholders, and — if it decides to get involved — the government, can be used to exercise a great deal of power with little in the way of restraint. In the absence of the checks and balances provided by both democratic and constitutional control, such corporations can go where government might fear to tread. And, when they are sufficiently woke (or conformist), they probably will.

Health Care

Moderna COVID Vaccine Did Not Use Fetal Cells

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A health worker works with blood samples during a coronavirus vaccination study at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Fla., September 24, 2020. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Moderna has announced a vaccine for COVID that is 94.5 percent effective, developed in association with the NIH. This is a triumph for Operation Warp Speed and will redound to the benefit of President Trump’s legacy for anyone with a fair perspective. From the Washington Post story:

Moderna’s vaccine, co-developed with Fauci’s institute, is being tested in 30,000 people. Half received two doses of the vaccine, and half received a placebo. To test how well the vaccine works, physicians closely monitored cases of covid-19 to see whether they predominantly occurred in people who received the placebo group.

Of the 95 cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, 90 were in the group that received the placebo. There were 11 severe cases reported — all in people who received the placebo. With cases of covid-19 confined almost exclusively to trial participants receiving a placebo, that sends a strong signal that the vaccine is effective at thwarting the virus.

The data have not yet been published or peer reviewed, and the overall effectiveness of the vaccine may change as the study continues. But Fauci said the data on severe cases was “quite impressive” and effectively answers a question that has lingered: whether a vaccine measured by its success in preventing any case of covid-19 can prevent the most urgent cases, too.

Some pro-lifers declare that they will not accept a vaccine that uses fetal cell lines taken from aborted fetuses decades ago to culture the virus. Moderna’s new vaccine did not. It is an RNA product and is listed as “ethical” by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute (updated 11/11/20).

Politics & Policy

Goldwater, Nixon, and WFB

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Senator Barry Goldwater during an interview in 1974 (Library of Congress)

My Impromptus column today is headed “‘Macho, macho man,’ &c.” For some people — millions — Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro represent great manliness. They certainly embody what I call “coronavirus machismo.”

Early in the pandemic, Bolsonaro said, “The Brazilian needs to be studied. He doesn’t catch anything. You see a guy jumping into sewage, diving in, right? Nothing happens to him.”

Brazil has been brutally hit by the coronavirus.

Last week, Bolsonaro said, “I am sorry about the deaths,” but “we are all going to die someday” — and “we have to stop being a country of maricas.” (That last word is a derogatory term for homosexuals.)

What is manliness? What is manhood? The question has been thought about, and written about, for ages, including in 2006, when Professor Harvey Mansfield published his book Manliness. Fascinating, valuable study.

My column today also touches on President Trump’s post-election claims, the California senator-to-be, and the Masters tournament.

Here on the Corner, I’d like to relate a Buckley story — a Goldwater-Buckley story. It is prompted by a post that KDW had: “Waiting for Goldwater.” Kevin pointed out that Goldwater led a Republican delegation to see Nixon, as Watergate crested. It’s over, said Goldwater. Leave or be impeached and evicted.

Nixon left.

WFB told a story about Goldwater and Nixon, wording it in different ways, though the outline was always the same. It went something like this:

He (WFB) and Goldwater were sitting in an airport together. The Saturday Night Massacre had just been carried out. Reporters spotted Goldwater, asking, “Do you have confidence in President Nixon?” “Complete confidence,” answered Goldwater.

When the reporters left, Goldwater turned to Bill and said, “You know, if I had fallen into a coma some years ago and woken up to this mess, I’d think, ‘By God, Dick Nixon’s gone and gotten himself elected president.’”

Politics & Policy

Are Democrats Really That Pleased with Pelosi as Speaker?

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Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) responds to questions about the coronavirus pandemic and the presidential election at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2020. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

The Republican Party, particularly its contingent in the House of Representatives, has its share of problems. When they last held the majority in the chamber, they had an extraordinarily difficult time uniting around a replacement for Obamacare — and the version they passed couldn’t pass the Senate. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy is not particularly well-known; it’s hard for other Republican leaders to get much attention in the era of Trump. The new House class has a QAnon believer or two in it.

But at least Republicans gained a slew of seats this year — at least eight, perhaps as many as 13 seats. It is unlikely that any House Democrat will be selected for any Biden administration jobs, because the Democratic House majority cannot afford any vacancies. It’s hard to begrudge Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for saying, “The loss of the House majority is just extraordinarily upsetting to all of us,” because even though Democrats didn’t lose the majority, they came awfully close to the precipice.

And yet, as of this moment, there’s no serious talk among Democrats of a challenge to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This is bewildering. This entire year has been an endless, near-comical rebuke of the never-that-plausible notion of “Nancy Pelosi, Master Strategist.” From tearing up the State of the Union address, to calling on Biden to skip the debates, to the infamous hair-salon visit, to her effort to put abortion funding in a coronavirus-relief bill and then trying to put state- and local-tax deductions for high earners in a relief bill, calling for a police-reform bill that is “worthy of George Kirby’s name,” the embarrassingly patronizing photo-op wearing a kente cloth, to the televised interview meltdown where she called CNN’s Wolf Blitzer an apologist for the Republican position, to the inability to reach any deal on coronavirus-relief funding, the 80-year-old speaker has mostly generated embarrassing controversies for her party this year.

Molly Ball wrote a largely sympathetic biography of her and delicately put it, “I don’t think personal communication, at least politically, has been one of her strong suits . . . . The Democratic Party had sort of collectively decided that she was a liability. And everybody from the Obama apparatus to her own members in tough districts saw her as a burden.”

Yes, Pelosi knows where all the bodies are buried, is a prolific fundraiser, and all of the other traditional explanations for her hold on power. But since 2010, she’s provided Republicans with the perfect out-of-touch San Francisco liberal villain. And she’s two years older than Biden! Octogenarians are no more likely to change their flaws than septuagenarians. What you’ve gotten so far is what you’re likely to get in the future. And yet, apparently Democrats are okay with what they’re getting.

Again, the surprise is not that she’s the odds-on favorite to remain speaker; the surprise is that there are, so far, no serious rumblings of an effort to depose her and start fresh with a new speaker.

History

A Book for Our Times: Peter Wood’s 1620 Skewers 1619 Project

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(Lily Bowers/Reuters)

I can think of no book more deserving of a review in The New York Times—or less likely to receive one—than Peter Wood’s just-published 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project. More than a powerful refutation, Wood’s 1620 is a withering appraisal and deadpan skewering of the 1619 Project as a cultural phenomenon. That ill-starred journalistic project is the purest and most perfect example of woke. The cultural revolution of 2020 will always rightly be associated with the 1619 Project of The New York Times. Not for nothing did project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones cheerfully embrace the term “1619 riots.”

Many young Americans believe that slavery was a novelty in world history—an exclusively American innovation. That misapprehension is abetted by the 1619 Project. Wood thus begins with a quick tour of New World slavery prior to 1619. Among the indigenous peoples of the Americas, captive enemies were kept for their labor, for the sport of torture, and in a few cases for what Wood calls “almost industrial level” human sacrifice, not to mention cannibalism.

Long before 1619, the Spanish and Portuguese used slavery to extract forced labor from native peoples. Eventually, they abolished the enslavement of native Americans in favor of something closer to serf-like dependence. Certainly, the Spanish and Portuguese imported slaves from Africa (where slavery was also common), sometimes putting them in charge of indigenous slaves. Those African overseers often discharged their task with brutality. When a party of Spanish conquistadors out to subdue what is now Florida were shipwrecked, they themselves were enslaved by the indigenes. Most died in short order. Slavery was a world-wide human norm.

What, then, of the slaves brought to Virginia in August of 1619, an act which according to the Times, “inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years”? The slaves sold at Jamestown in 1619 were likely treated as indentured servants, and would thus have been freed after a number of years. One may eventually have become a plantation owner himself, a Virginia black man with African slaves of his own. This African in early Virginia renamed himself Anthony Johnson and successfully sued one of his white neighbors in a Virginia court. The evidence on the precise status of the Africans who disembarked at Jamestown in 1619 is limited and disputed, but in pointed contrast to The New York Times Wood calmly and fairly assesses the arguments on all sides.

Well, so what? What’s a bit of historic license between friends? Maybe chattel slavery actually began sometime after 1619, but the evidence is imperfect and the symbolism of the earlier date is powerful. By placing the origins of American slavery four hundred years before the present—well before America’s seeming founding in 1776—and by marking that anniversary at the commencement of a presidential campaign deemed by the Times to pivot around the incumbent’s racism, a bold argument could be made to the effect that the inauguration of slavery was America’s “true founding.” That would make American exceptionalism shameful rather than “great.”

Here, Wood’s argument moves to another level, exposing and probing the political motives and historical deceptions that would someday entangle the Times. The climax came only a few months after the text of Wood’s 1620 was completed. (Wood himself played a role in that denouement, as we’ll see below). Wood’s penetrating critique of 1619’s fast-and-loose relationship to truth effectively predicted the fiasco that developed just months after the text of 1620 was completed and sent to the printer.

As part of his review of the 1619 controversy as it stood through the summer of 2020, Wood gives us a portrait of 1619’s creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones. A woman who styles herself “the Beyoncé of journalism” acts the part of a diva, and more. Treated by the Times, according to Wood, as “exempt from ordinary forms of accountability,” Hannah-Jones didn’t deign to reply to even the most respectful and serious scholarly criticism of her project. She booked herself instead into speaking venues where she was greeted as hero, prophet, or genius. And of course, Hannah-Jones was showered with accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize. Rudely putting down critics, falsely denying that she’d said things she had demonstrably said, deleting tweets that showed her in a bad light, the behavior that eventually destroyed Hannah-Jones’s credibility was in evidence well before the final collapse. And it was all encouraged by the Times, which treated Hannah-Jones with kid gloves and ignored her critics until its hand was forced. Even when Times magazine editor Jake Silverstein finally answered a critical letter from twelve historians (not the first such letter), that letter’s text was never printed in the magazine.

Something larger is at stake here. To all appearances, Hannah-Jones is a grown-up “cry-bully.” She embodies the movement of campus snowflake culture into the “real world” (if the Times newsroom can be called that). In the old days, Hannah-Jones might have been dubbed a “spoiled child.” Pampered, self-important, lashing out in fury when challenged, she would appear to be a product of the modern double-standard.

It is a standard Wood dissects with some care. He quotes, for example, historian Nell Irvin Painter, who knowing full well that the 1619 Project was trafficking in falsehoods, nonetheless refused to sign a letter of scholarly protest. “I felt that if I signed on to that, I would be signing on to the white guy’s attack of something that has given a lot of black journalists and writers a chance to speak up in a really big way,” Painter said. “So I support the 1619 Project as a kind of cultural event.” Wood has no patience for this stance, rejecting it as condescending to black journalists, as if they require exemptions from standards of accuracy in order to speak up. White guilt and the consequent double standard are tailor-made to produce the campus cry-bully persona.

It all bit back on Hannah-Jones and the Times this fall, and Wood played a part in the drama. On September 17, after the text of 1620 had been completed and sent to the printer, Wood presented at the White House Conference on American History. (You can read the extended version of his remarks here.) President Trump’s remarks at that conference were directed in part against the distortions of the 1619 Project. Apparently, the prospect of the president turning the tables on the Times by making the 1619 Project into a campaign issue concerned Hannah-Jones. The next day (September 18), she appeared on CNN to deny that her project had presented 1619 as the true founding of America. Climbing down from the 1619 Project’s most famous claim might have been an effort to deny Trump a campaign issue, but it also exposed Hannah-Jones and the New York Times as acting in bad faith. How seriously could they have meant their bold historical claim if they could withdraw it so quickly and so lightly? The very next day (September 19), alerted by Hannah-Jones’s false denials, historian Phillip Magness exposed the stealth edits of the 1619 Project’s claim to be the story of America’s “true founding.” In light of this journalistic malfeasance, Wood helped to organize a letter signed by numerous scholars (myself included) calling on the Pulitzer Committee to withdraw the prize given to Hannah-Jones and The New York Times for the 1619 Project. That letter, published on October 6 at the website of Wood’s group, the National Association of Scholars, was widely discussed, including by a piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on October 7. Two days later, on October 9, Wall Street Journal editorial page alumnus, Bret Stephens, now an opinion columnist at The New York Times, published a devastating attack on the falsehoods, distortions, and irresponsible journalistic conduct surrounding the 1619 Project in the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times itself. Although the Times has offered a highly unsatisfactory response, deep damage had been done—and rightly so—to the journalistic credibility of Hannah-Jones, the 1619 Project, and The New York Times.

So Wood was a key player in the “fall” of the 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones, and the Times. Yet the struggle continues. The events of autumn notwithstanding, the 1619 Projects will still go out to the schools and will continue to serve as a rallying cry for the woke. Meanwhile, Peter Wood’s 1620 will stand as an essential statement for those who refuse to accept woke history and the culture it embodies. Wood’s takedown of the 1619 Project—both its substantive claims and its larger cultural ambitions—goes well beyond anything I can summarize here. His book will be contemplated by future historians as a record of the pushback against the cultural revolution of 2020. I cannot think of a more deserving institution to be on the receiving end of this pickaxe of a book than our erstwhile paper of record. Truly, Peter Wood’s 1620 is a book for our Times.

Religion

Thanks Be to God for Priestly Celibacy

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Priest Don Marco arrives to conduct Sunday mass alone in the Basilica of Santa Maria at Trastevere, as churches close to the faithful to avoid coronavirus, in Rome, Italy March 15, 2020. (Alberto Lingria/Reuters)

The combination of the ongoing clerical sexual-abuse scandal and a recent wedding of a former Catholic priest has made it popular to embrace throwing out the celibacy rule in the Catholic priesthood. But as Father Carter Griffin points out in the book Why Celibacy: Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest, celibacy does not cause scandals in the Church. Men not living celibacy or not living celibacy well does. A good father has no tolerance for the harming of children — and certainly does not do it himself.

Father Griffin writes:

Priests embrace celibacy as a radical choice to give themselves to God and neighbor in such a way that they are enabled to generate new spiritual life. Priests are celibate, in short, because their celibacy — when lived well — is a privileged way of embracing a fatherhood that transcends nature alone: it is a “supernatural” fatherhood in the order of grace.

He explains that the celibate commitment is positive and generates life. Seen this way, the priesthood can be

freed from its burden of functionalism and reaffirmed as a vocation that embraces the whole man in a paternal identity directed to the generation of new children in grace. For true renewal within the Church to take place, fatherhood must be liberated from a materialistic, “biologistic” oversimplification and once again upheld as the highest fulfillment of masculinity, ordered both to the procreation of life and to its fruition — both naturally and supernaturally.

Father Griffin shares the testimony of a former parishioner who is now a religious sister:

I just know that priestly celibacy has impacted my life in a profound way. The difference that priests have made in my life, I am convinced, could not have been made by married men, married priests, or even faithful women. There is something unique and irreplaceable about the role of a man entirely given over to God can play in a life. . . . My life is different because of priests who have given themselves over body and soul to the Lord and to the Church — or at least constantly strive to.

Spiritual fatherhood is critical. Do you see how many people are lost and suffering without any sense of meaning? I know in my life some of my best friends are priests, and the celibacy is the thing that makes them mutually generative relationships. We need priests to appreciate how critical their joyful celibacy is, and we need the world to value and nurture and be grateful for it.

The idea that celibacy is the cause of scandal is a lie. And you wish people well and mercy and understanding, but it is a tragedy when a priest leaves the priesthood. “You are a priest forever” is the call. It’s a good and holy one that many men commit to in freedom, and it bears tremendous fruit when they do. Take a little time this week to celebrate any priests in your life if you happen to know one or more. I thank God I know many, and I’ll stop writing and get on my knees in prayer for them now. Because they need it, and we — the Church and the world — need them.

U.S.

About Those ‘In This House’ Signs

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(Bing Guan/Reuters)

Walking around my sleepy, shoreline town in Connecticut, I routinely see Black Lives Matter signs outside the most opulent homes, whose residents are (I can attest) often white, over-educated, white-collar, impossibly snobbish, and perversely provincial. Next to the BLM sign — which reads “Silence is Violence” — might be a Biden/Harris 2020 campaign sign. And finally, a third sign, sometimes taped to a first-floor window but more often placed right in the center of the yard where everyone can see it, states very explicitly what the homeowners believed in, nay, fought for throughout the maddening era of Trump:

“IN THIS HOUSE, WE BELIEVE: BLACK LIVES MATTER / WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS / NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL / SCIENCE IS REAL / LOVE IS LOVE / KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING”

More of these signs had sprung up weeks before the election, and even after. Some are placed outside boutique clothing stores, while others dot the town green. In every instance I saw the sign in a residential neighborhood, the home hosting it was quite nice, sometimes with Range Rovers or BMWs parked in the driveway.  Through the windows, you could see people working remotely, in cushy home offices, safely quarantined from COVID and other stark realities.

The signs are my own daily reminder that the term “Orwellian” has become a go-to cliche to describe genteel progressivism in 2020. In George Orwell’s 1984, the ministries of the totalitarian Oceania display the Party’s slogans on the pyramid-shaped government buildings. “War is Peace,” claims the Ministry of Peace that engages in endless wars. The mendacious Ministry of Truth wants everyone to know, “Ignorance Is Strength.”

Rich progressives want others to know how superior they are, morally and intellectually. In practice, however, they undermine their most cherished slogans, like Orwell’s Ministries. Black lives matter! Never mind that they balk at the idea of building low-income public housing units in their own town. Science is real! Never mind that they believe in gender fluidity and various “isms” that defy the very real study of biology.

In the Biden era, how many more “In This House” signs will pepper the most affluent zip codes across the country?

Countless is my guess.

After four years of Trump, it seems like people who display the sign will want to protect the sense of superiority they cultivated when Orange Man was in office. The fact that over 70 million citizens voted for him confirms their long-standing suspicions about rural America, the South — MAGA country: it is brimming with backward, racist rubes. The rubes who follow a cult leader. If only they could code!

The “In This House” crowd will also want to forever signal their “radical chic,” to borrow Tom Wolfe’s phrase. At a certain point, when every house in the neighborhood has the traditional markers of suburban status — dazzling home renovations, big pool, big luxury SUV with bells and whistles, progeny with Ivy League degrees, and consulting jobs in New York — progressive sloganeering becomes the last best hope to outdo the next-door neighbor.

Media

Contra NPR on Contraception

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(Melissa King/Dreamstime)

I missed this article from ten days ago, but it seems misguided enough to deserve comment. The thesis is that Justice Barrett threatens the right to contraception that the Supreme Court invented in Griswold v. Connecticut — a line of argument I’ve already criticized in this space.

Julie Rovner writes: “[F]rom what Barrett has said and written about the Constitution, Northup says, ‘it’s clear she doesn’t believe it protects the right to personal liberty.’” Northup is the head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which of course has an interest in freaking people out about the possibility of losing access to contraception. Rovner does not explain what Barrett has “said and written about the Constitution” that backs Northup’s assessment, or quote anyone who disagrees. Obviously the Constitution protects personal liberty in many, many ways, and there is no reason at all to doubt that Justice Barrett grasps this point. Presumably what Northup means is that Barrett believes the Constitution places limits on a judge’s ability to protect liberty, for example by requiring them to cite a constitutional provision that is clearly on point.

Next Rovner brings up, as though it were a real possibility, the prospect the Court will not only allow legislatures to prohibit abortion by overturning Roe but effectively prohibit abortion itself. She writes that “the court could go a step further and recognize ‘fetal personhood’ — the idea that a fetus is a person with full constitutional rights from the moment of fertilization. That would create a constitutional bar to abortion, among other things, meaning even the most liberal states could not allow the procedure.” If Barrett adopts this position, she would be the first Supreme Court justice ever to do so.

Rovner then quotes an academic to claim that states “could effectively ban contraception by arguing that some contraceptives act as abortifacients.” Well, no, you couldn’t ban all forms of contraception by legislating against some of them. In the Hobby Lobby case Rovner mentions — which of course did not involve government prohibition of any type of contraception, but which she curiously believes “opened the door” to a sweeping prohibition — companies raised an objection to four of 18 methods.

After claiming that letting companies refuse to cover contraceptives their owners consider to be abortifacient is really pretty similar to banning all contraceptives, Rovner adds, “The court used a similar reasoning in a 2020 case exempting the Roman Catholic order Little Sisters of the Poor from even having to sign a paper that would officially exempt them from the ACA contraceptive mandate.” This is doubly mistaken. First, the Little Sisters of the Poor case didn’t turn on any distinction between types of contraception because, as Catholic nuns, they oppose all of them. Second, as Justice Kagan noted in the oral argument over the case, that’s not what was at issue: The nuns objected to a form that would authorize the use of their insurance network to provide contraceptive coverage.

Much of the public argument over abortifacient contraceptives papers over a tension that at least verges on a contradiction. Pro-lifers are held to be anti-scientific ignoramuses for thinking (like President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services!) that some contraceptives might ever operate to cause the death of human embryo rather than to prevent conception. At the same time we’re told that prohibiting the killing of human embryos would ban contraception. That this article tries to make both cases at once is yet another of its confusions.

Elections

‘Show Me the Evidence’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Jim discuss the president’s outrageous vote-fraud claims, the possibility of a Trump news network post-presidency, and the surprising Republican House gains. Listen below, or subscribe to this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Elections

The Changing Electoral Map

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Dan McLaughlin (here at NRO) and Ron Brownstein (in The Atlantic) have each just written about it. Brownstein quotes an anonymous Democratic strategist who says, “as Democrats, I don’t think we can count on Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and Michigan is drifting away too.”

That’s right. Each of those states gave a lower percentage of the vote to Republican presidential candidates than the nation as a whole did in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 elections; each of them gave a higher percentage of the vote than the nation as a whole in 2016 and 2020. Pennsylvania has now moved slightly in the Republicans’ favor in every election since 2004; Wisconsin has in every election since 2008. Florida seems to be getting more Republican in presidential voting, too.

None of those states seems out of contention for the Democrats in 2024. But if they win Florida, it will probably mean they had a majority of the Electoral College without it. If the Republican candidate is competitive nationally, he’ll take Pennsylvania.

Politics & Policy

The Joke’s on the Democrats

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“The joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the left has always dreamed of.”

This is a fascinating interview with Democratic data and polling guru David Shor.

Elections

A Year of Historic Firsts for GOP Women

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On the homepage, I take a look at the Republicans who have flipped Democratic House seats in 2020. All of them are minorities, women, or veterans (in many cases two out of the three).

A few historic firsts:

In Oklahoma City, Republican Stephanie Bice flipped a Democratic seat, becoming the first Iranian-American ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

In New Mexico, Republican Yvette Harrell flipped a Democratic district, becoming the first Cherokee woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

In Southern California, Republicans Young Kim and Michelle Steel flipped Democratic seats. A Korean-American woman had never been elected to the U.S. Congress until Steel, Kim, and Democrat Marilyn Strickland of Washington won this November.

More here. A spokesperson for Susan B. Anthony List tells me that all of the Republican women who flipped Democratic seats are pro-life.

Culture

Fifty Years Ago, Oregon Blew Up a Whale Carcass 

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Take four minutes and watch this old local news segment. I guarantee you won’t regret it:

 

Economy & Business

Don’t Tax Working from Home

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(BogdanVj/Getty Images)

A proposal to tax working from home has gotten some attention this week. You can find a description of and case for it on pp. 32-34 of this DeutscheBank report.

Here’s how it would work:

[T]he tax will only apply outside the times when the government advises people to work from home (of course, the self-employed and those on low incomes can be excluded). The tax itself will be paid by the employer if it does not provide a worker with a permanent desk. If it does, and the staff member chooses to work from home, the employee will pay the tax out of their salary for each day they work from home. This can be audited by coordinating with company travel and technology systems.

So, easy-peasy. Not an administrative nightmare at all.

Moving on, what’s the justification for this tax? It’s not at all clear. The report, admittedly short, hints at some possible justifications.

People who can work from home are well off, lucky, and can afford it. That may be true in the aggregate, but it doesn’t mean that working from home is a good proxy for being well-off or lucky.

The revenue raised could be spent on a lot of good things. Okay, but that’s an argument for any tax increase, not for a tax that singles out working from home.

People who work from home “are contributing less to the infrastructure of the economy whilst still receiving its benefits.” The author, Luke Templeman, is not clear about what he means by “infrastructure.” If it’s roads and bridges, for example, as the traditional usage would indicate, this is backward: People who work from home are using that infrastructure less than people who go to the office, while still paying nearly as much for its upkeep.

The report sometimes suggests that what is meant is something more like: They’re not sustaining economic activity such as restaurants in city centers, dry cleaners, and so forth. But this is also baffling. If you bring your lunch to the office instead of stepping out, should you also pay a higher tax? What if you launder your own shirts?

All in all, this tax seems like a bad idea.

Politics & Policy

The Congress After Next

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Sean Trende notes that even if Republicans use their powers over redistricting in restrained ways, new district lines and the reapportionment of seats among states would be enough to give them a majority of the House starting in 2023. If the midterm electorate favors the Republicans, as it usually does when a Democrat is in the White House, Republican candidates for the House will do even better.

Music

Alex, Celi, Et Al.

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Alex Webster in June 2012 (Jonas Rogowski / CC BY SA 3.0 / Wikimedia)

In my latest Music for a While, I utter a very strange sentence: “I’d like to give you about 25 seconds of ‘Frantic Disembowelment.’” When you listen to a podcast, of course, you can’t hear the quotation marks. “Frantic Disembowelment” is a song — a piece? — by Cannibal Corpse. This is a death-metal band, formed in Buffalo. “Frantic Disembowelment” comes from Cannibal Corpse’s album The Wretched Spawn.

The band’s bass player is Alex Webster — who, a couple of weeks ago, “followed” me on Twitter. (I followed him back.) I conveyed this information to a rocker friend of mine, asking, “Have I arrived?” I believe she was impressed.

In the new Music for a While, I also have a quartet of songs about the moon — two classical, two popular. On Halloween, we had a “blue moon,” a very rare event. This put me in mind of the Rodgers & Hart song (“Blue Moon”), and Dvořák (“Song to the Moon”), and so on and so forth. You could moon for several episodes of a music podcast.

Recently, I brought up Sergiu Celibidache, the Romanian conductor (1912–96). He was an odd and brilliant fellow. He did not like recordings: the making of them or the listening to them. He once said, “Listening to a recording is like kissing a photograph of Brigitte Bardot.” Evidently, he did not say “kissing.” But posterity has cleaned it up for him.

A reader wrote me to say, “Unfamiliar as I was with Sergiu Celibidache, I sought out his work, after you referred to him. Listening to the below clip, all I can say is, ‘My God, what genius.’”

What my correspondent had listened to was the ending — just the ending — of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, played by the Munich Philharmonic under Celibidache in 1983. And that’s how the podcast ends, too. Again, here.

“Celi” had genius, yes, as the greatest performers do. But Bruckner? A genius and a half. His Fourth, transcendent, is typical of him.

Health Care

Time to Recognize Data Uncertainty in COVID Debates

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As we rush to embrace an “obey the experts” technocracy in the fight against COVID, media and commentators often assume that the epidemiological data justifying proposed draconian policies — such as lockdowns — are clear. But that’s not true. And that should give our policymakers pause before attempting to impose policies that are likely, in some cases, to be popularly resisted.

This cogent point was made recently by the editor of a professional epidemiology journal. From, “Data Versus Truth in the Midst of a Pandemic,” by Jim Rohrer:

Uncounted scientific articles have been published about the pandemic. Missing from all this information and analysis is frank recognition of the uncertainty in the assumptions upon which data analysis and forecasts are based.

State mitigation strategies are based partly on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and partly on local politics. The effectiveness of different mitigation strategies is not strongly supported by population-based evidence, yet television news programs constantly bring out ‘experts’ who insist that if we only did this or that, pandemic deaths would have been avoided.

Rohrer points a finger at media outlets use of talking heads to opine about the pandemic who may be unqualified or too impacted by conditions on the ground to see the bigger picture:

Perhaps the most serious source of bias in the media is reliance on practicing clinicians as experts even if they lack any special expertise in population epidemiology. These experts typically are working in hospitals and they are over-burdened with acute COVID-19 cases. They see the most biased sample possible and this influences their opinions.

Rohrer ends with a call for recognizing uncertainties.

As researchers, we should be concerned with the false and misleading interpretations of the available data that fill the airwaves. Instead of freely admitting uncertainties about the effectiveness of government policies, we hear arguments that the national failure to follow certain policies has caused many deaths.

We do not know to what extent that assertion is true; we cannot say how much the harms of lockdowns counter the benefits. Let me suggest that responsible researchers will challenge the assertions based on weak data by saying we do not yet know how much effect different policies would have had in the US.

This paper may seem arcane, but it is crucial to our judging the wisdom of increasing calls for government-imposed and private-sector-enforced mandates, ranging from masks to the use of contact-tracing apps.

This much seems true: “The experts” need a little more humility in their policy prognostications. Perhaps more important, the media and social platforms need to be less censorious of heterodox opinions and policy advocacy about COVID. Otherwise, crucial democratic deliberation about the advisability of proposed policies will be shortchanged and trust eroded.

Elections

Exclusive: Perdue Campaign Highlights Progressive Calls for ‘Total Democratic Control’

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In a new campaign ad released this morning, the campaign for Republican senator David Perdue highlights top Democratic leaders describing the Senate runoff elections in Georgia as an opportunity to take total control of Congress and change the country.

“Now we take Georgia, then we change America,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) says in a clip from the video.

“To make sure that we don’t have a Republican Senate majority, that we win these races in Georgia, that we secure a Democratic Senate majority so that we don’t have to negotiate,” adds Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a socialist from New York.

The video also includes quotes from two Georgia Democrats. Stacey Abrams, the failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate: “When we change Georgia, we change the south. We change the south, we change America. . . . The blue wave is comprised of those who are documented and undocumented.”

“Change has come to Georgia,” says Jon Ossoff, the Democrat running to unseat Perdue. “Change is coming to America.”

According to the most up-to-date reporting of vote counts out of Georgia, Republican incumbent Perdue finished a little less than two points ahead of Ossoff in the November 3 election, at 49.7 percent. Because neither candidate reached 50 percent of the vote, both will head to a runoff on January 5 — one of two Senate races in Georgia that will determine which party controls the next Senate.

“No negotiation. Total Democratic control. That’s their goal,” the ad’s narrator states, before highlighting several key progressive policy priorities such as defunding the police, enacting the Green New Deal, packing the Supreme Court, making the District of Columbia a state, raising taxes, and eliminating private health insurance.

Film & TV

Math and Romance Meet

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Whimsical and profound are perhaps its best descriptors, and its cleverness will make you laugh out loud. I’m referring to Norton Juster’s 1963 book, The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics. Juster is also the author of another wonderful book, The Phantom Tollbooth, which, if you’ve never read it, deserves a spot on your list. (Yes, there is a 1970 movie of Phantom Tollbooth, but nothing can truly create those characters like your own imagination.)

Back to The Dot and the Line, though. The book was picked up by the inestimable Chuck Jones — of Bugs Bunny/Looney Toons fame — and he turned it into an animated short film. Narrated by English actor Robert Morley, the quirky story won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1965 and still charms viewers today. Simple, funny, and straightforward, this little short will delight you and maybe even give you a better appreciation for those concepts our math teachers tried so hard to make us remember.

Politics & Policy

The New Electoral Map

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Election workers sort through some of the thousands of mail-in ballots at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana, Calif., November 2, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

With most of the votes counted, we are edging closer to having results for most of the country for 2020, with the exception of a few extremely slow-counting states such as New York and California. And even challenges to the vote totals are unlikely to move the final results much in percentage terms. Among other things, that allows us to start classifying states by where they stand going into the next national election, in 2024. There’s a twist: between now and 2022, we will have final Census results that lead to the reapportionment of the House, which changes the number of electoral votes each state has. Right now, we have only 2019 population estimates. (New York in particular may have lost more population in 2020 than one would otherwise have expected pre-pandemic). Based on the 2019 estimates, here is how the map breaks down:

I’ve classified the states in two ways. One is by the 2020 margins. States decided by less than 2 points are in purple, as they are up for grabs again next time if the election is competitive (as most are, these days). States in the darker red or blue were decided by double-digit margins. Notice that the Democrats start with a base of safe blue states that is nearly double that of the Republican red. States that slid into this category after being closer in 2016 include Colorado, Virginia, and New Mexico. In the middle, we have states ranging from Michigan (Biden by 2.6 percent, as of the current count) to Maine (Biden by 8 percent). More than 70 percent of these electoral votes were won by Donald Trump this time around (including the big prizes of Texas, Florida, and Ohio). The second congressional districts of Maine (Trump by 6.7 percent) and Nebraska (Biden by 6.6 percent) are in this group as well, although their borders might be different in 2024, and it will not surprise me if there is a movement in Nebraska to eliminate district-based presidential voting. In between we have the purple states: North Carolina (Trump by 1.3 percent) and four states in which Biden’s current lead is below 1 percent. Those states will be the expected epicenter of the 2024 campaign. The jockeying for position will begin immediately: Georgia has two Senate runoffs on January 5, and joins Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arizona in having both a Senate and a gubernatorial race in 2022.

The other breakdown is regional. I’ve divided the regions roughly, with a handful of scattered blue states labeled as “Blue Islands.” Iowa may not be, strictly speaking, a Rust Belt state (it remains agricultural), but it remains part of that region politically, for now. Perhaps if it continues its red drift for another cycle we can begin to classify it more with Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas. Minnesota was one of the biggest Republican disappointments of 2020; after all the hype about continuing its shift to the right, neither the presidential nor Senate races were particularly close. The same was true of New Mexico. Nevada, by contrast, was almost as close as in 2016, although it is possible that was a temporary effect due to the pandemic’s effects on the hotel and casino unions in Las Vegas. The Sun Belt states are the fastest-growing, most important region of the country politically, although Republicans will either need to flip Nevada in 2024 (plus reclaim Arizona and Georgia) or pick off one of the Rust Belt trio of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. The mighty Midwest remains crucial to the GOP.