Woke Culture

The Insufferable Wokeness of Ben & Jerry’s


The makers of overpriced ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s U.K., have decided once again to lecture the British public on their political virtue. The multimillion-dollar company’s official Twitter account took aim at the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, in response to her promise to deter migrants from making the illegal and perilous boat journey across the English Channel.

“Hey @PritiPatel we think the real crisis is our lack of humanity for people fleeing war, climate change and torture,” the company tweeted. As well as: “PEOPLE CANNOT BE ILLEGAL.”

But the Home Office was having none of it. One source told BBC correspondent Chris Mason:

Priti [Patel] is working day and night to bring an end to these small boat crossings, which are facilitated by international criminal gangs and are of serious concern. If that means upsetting the social media team for a brand of overpriced junk food then so be it.


The End of Secularism


Just some recommended reading. Do yourself a favor and check out Tom Holland’s essay at Unherd, which looks at the striking symmetry between the leaders of Turkey and India in reclaiming the religious sites of their nations for religion. Modi vows to build a great temple at the Ram Janmabhoomi, and Erdogan has reclaimed the Hagia Sophia as a mosque. He asks whether the colonial import from Christendom of “secularism” has finally worn off.


Is Transgenderism a Wedge Issue?


There is an interesting piece in Politico by Gabby Orr about the disagreement in “Trumpworld” over the political viability of so-called “anti-transgender” policies. Research suggests that the topic of male trans-identified athletes in sports, in particular, is of considerable concern to conservative Democrats and independents. Of course, there is an even more controversial aspect to the transgender debate, as liberal commentators such as Joe Rogan have also noted. Orr reports:

Next week, [the American Principles Project] will debut two ads in battleground Michigan that accuse former Vice President Joe Biden, who has generally used his platform to promote protections for LGBTQ youth, of endorsing “gender change treatments for minors,” including surgery and hormone therapies for transgender youth. One of the ads, featuring former drag queen Kevin Whitt, warns that children “need time” to develop a stable sense of their gender. “As a young teen, I felt I should be a woman,” Whitt says. “Seventeen years later, I felt I should be a man again. Treatments to change the gender of a minor are very dangerous and irreversible.”

This reminds me of a similar tactic deployed by the U.K. conservative government prior to their landslide victory last December. The political Left is way ahead of the public on transgender issues. Just how much that translates into voting power remains to be seen.

Health Care

Smoking Pot Could Cause a Heart Attack

A woman lights a joint at a pro-pot demonstration in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (Dominick Reuter / Reuters)

The American Heart Association has warned marijuna smokers that they could be significantly endangering their health. From the Association’s statement:

Some studies have found that within an hour after cannabis  is smoked, THC may induce heart rhythm abnormalities, such as tachycardia, premature ventricular contractions, atrial fibrillation and ventricular arrythmias. Acutely, THC also appears to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, resulting in a higher heart rate, a greater demand for oxygen by the heart, higher blood pressure while laying down and dysfunction within the walls of the arteries…

Smoking and inhaling cannabis, regardless of THC content, has been associated with cardiomyopathy (heart muscle dysfunction), angina (chest pain), heart attacks, heart rhythm disturbances, sudden cardiac death and other serious cardiovascular conditions. In states where cannabis has been legalized, an increase in hospitalizations and emergency department visits for heart attacks has been observed.

I am not surprised. If smoking tobacco can cause heart issues, I have thought, why wouldn’t smoking a different plant do the same? Bingo:

Carbon monoxide intoxication from inhaled tobacco or cannabis has been associated with several heart problems, such as heart muscle disease, chest pain, heart attacks, heart rhythm disturbances and other serious conditions.

Taking pot by vaping is also dangerous.

In addition to the poisonous compounds in cannabis smoke, vaping cannabis may also result in serious health outcomes, especially when it is mixed with vitamin E acetate oils, which are linked to EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury), the potentially fatal illness that emerged among e-cigarette users last year.

The statement says that the same problems do not arise from taking CBD products, which is derived from industrial hemp and, of course, is not smoked. The warning also does not apply to pot that is ingested.

Marijuana clearly has medicinal benefits and should not be a Schedule 1 controlled substance — meaning highly addictive and no legitimate medical use — a designation that makes a liar of the law. But it is not benign. The question of its deleterious health impacts should be studied further and considered as the country debates whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use and allow pot to become our version of Soma.


The Higher Ed Ship Is Sinking; What to Do?

Students walk through the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 1, 2016. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

COVID has created a crisis in higher education. What can we do to use that to our advantage?

In today’s Martin Center article, Stephanie Brenzel, who teaches at the University of Toronto, offers her thoughts.

First, things are bad and getting worse if you believe in politically neutral liberal arts education. Her field is religious studies, and she offers this bouquet of job postings as evidence of its tilt:

  • A global liberation professor with expertise in “global theologies of liberation and de-colonial theory”
  • A Latin Patristics professor who can apply the insights of Augustine of Hippo to race, ethnic, and indigenous studies
  • An Asian religions professor working on “critical approaches to race, gender, sexuality, social hierarchies, and inequality, and power struggles and political movements.”

Things are bad. Is there any solution?

She starts by arguing that the ideas advanced in a recent Martin Center piece won’t work, among them looking to governing boards to clean up the mess.

Brenzel argues that reformers should “focus on supporting business endeavors that offer sidelined scholars a platform to teach and present their research. Of course, bringing the free marketplace to higher education is easier said than done. Companies like Udemy—which allow anyone to create, upload, and sell online courses — are not allowed to issue degrees.”

But that leads to another problem — accreditation, which is run by forces of the education establishment. But it’s possible to get around that, she argues, by focusing on high-school students, and turning to private junior colleges.

Brenzel concludes, “With the added pressures of COVID-19, the ship of higher education is sinking. Plugging a few holes as Pullmann and Maitra suggest won’t stop it from going down. It’s time to think about what lifeboats we need to deploy.”


Kamala Harris’s Former Press Secretary Is the Face of Twitter Censorship

(Illustration/Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

When CNN hired Sarah Isgur, a former Jeff Sessions spokeswoman and now staff writer at The Dispatch, last year to be a political editor at its Washington bureau, left-wing media types put on a full-court press to smear her professionalism. The CNN newsroom — which, last I looked, included former Obama official Jim Sciutto — was reportedly “demoralized” by her very presence. Conservatives, and it’s probably fair to say that Isgur is a pretty moderate one, aren’t welcome in mainstream journalism. We don’t need to go through all the numbers and polls to stress this point. Journalists have long jumped back and forth between Democratic Party politics and media gigs. The job is the same. The venue is different.

I bring this up because, as my former colleague Sean Davis points out, Nick Pacilio, Kamala Harris’s former press secretary, is now in charge of deciding announcing what the president of the United States can and can’t say on Twitter to his 85 million followers. Twitter has already removed debatable contentions by the president — or, contentions no more misleading than any number of Joe Biden allegations. The point of removing tweets, I assume, has more to do with being able to call  Trump a liar than worrying about his spreading misleading information.

But the optics are remarkably terrible for Twitter. It’s almost certainly true that whoever holds the job of senior communication manager at the social-media giant will be ideologically progressive like the company’s CEO. But could you imagine what the nightly reaction on CNN and MSNBC would be if Mike Pence’s former spokesperson was seen censoring Joe Biden’s tweets during a presidential election? I have no doubt Democrats would be calling for congressional hearings.

Correction: Twitter says Pacilio isn’t involved in the removal decisions himself. I have updated the post to reflect his role — though Pacilio’s definitive tweets give users no clue as to how the process plays out or who makes these decisions. I don’t think the optics are any better for Twitter, but I should have been more careful.

Politics & Policy

Your Suburb or Your Roads: Biden Will Do in One or the Other

Former Vice President Joe Biden meets with families who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act and delivers remarks on health care during a campaign stop in Lancaster, Pa. June 25, 2020. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

In the name of fighting what he calls “sprawl,” Joe Biden has promised to hold hostage $12 billion in Surface Transportation Block Grants to the states unless they agree to abolish suburban single-family zoning. This follows a strategy devised by Senator Cory Booker and House majority whip James Clyburn. Under the Biden plan, America’s suburbs must reject their way of life and opt for high-density, urban-style development instead — or suffer the consequences. By holding Surface Transportation Grants hostage, Biden will effectively turbo-charge the already draconian anti-suburban strategy embodied in the Obama–Biden administration’s massively overreaching AFFH (Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing) regulation. The result will be the end of America’s suburbs as we know them.

The Opportunity Solutions Project, a state-level think tank in Florida, has just issued a report by Chase Martin exploring some implications of Biden’s coercive housing strategy. The report is entitled, “America’s Neighborhoods under Attack: How the Biden Plan Threatens More Than $12 Billion In Transportation Funding for Already-Tapped States.”

Martin’s report provides important context for Biden’s anti-suburban plans. The report begins by explaining that Medicaid spending by states has more than tripled in the last two decades, growing from $184 billion in 2000 to more than $600 billion in 2018. That has crowded out state spending on education, public safety, and transportation. Federal Surface Transportation Block Grants are designed to help fill in the funding gaps. Yet this leaves cash-strapped states with little choice but to accept any conditions placed on the grants. The alternative is to see serious deterioration in state roads, along with massive job loss among the hundreds of thousands of workers nationally who build and repair roads, or provide supplies for that repair.

Martin then reviews the history of the use of federal transportation funding to coerce various state-level policies. Such actions are rare, but not unprecedented. In 1974, in the face of a nationwide fuel shortage, Congress and President Nixon demanded that states adopt a 55 miles per hour speed limit or face loss of federal transportation funding. The states complied. A year later, federal transportation funds were conditioned on the adoption of a requirement to wear motorcycle helmets. In 1984, President Reagan demanded that states adopt a drinking age of 21, and this conditioning was upheld by the Supreme Court in South Dakota v. Dole. In 1995, a Republican Congress forced President Clinton to undo both the de facto national speed limit and helmet law. As Martin points out, however, at least these requirements bore some relationship to transportation.

The use of transportation funding to coerce the elimination of single-family zoning, on the other hand, is an extraordinary and unprecedented case of federal overreach. Using transportation funding as a lever would appear to give the federal government almost unlimited power over states and localities. And as Martin points out, in the wake of the economic fallout from COVID-19, states are even less well-placed to resist federal coercion. Florida, for example, has lost billions of dollars in tourism and toll road revenues during the pandemic. Loss of federal road repair funding would be untenable at this point. (By the way, Martin’s report provides a helpful chart showing how many hundreds of millions — and sometimes billions — each state receives in federal transportation funding.)

What will actually happen once Biden and a Democratic Congress follow through on their promise to lever Surface Transportation Block Grants against suburban single-family zoning? We don’t know, since coercion on this scale, and of this type, is unprecedented. One possibility is that some states might simply reject the money in view of the strings attached. Again, however, given the financial hole the states are now in, that is hard to imagine. Another possibility is that a state might adopt the federal mandate wholesale by abolishing single-family zoning statewide. This is far from impossible. Oregon essentially abolished single-family zoning last year. California is debating similar measures right now.

The Booker–Clyburn bill that inspired Biden’s promise to fight “sprawl” by abolishing single-family zoning amends the law on Surface Transportation grants to say that, “A project under this section may not be carried out unless the community in which the project is located” has implemented a strategy to replace single-family zoning with a menu of pro-density measures. So maybe states will accept their Surface Transportation grants, while individual communities will exempt themselves from state road repairs. Yet what suburban community could afford to allow its road to go unrepaired, or leave itself cut off from newly constructed arteries?

One way or another, Biden’s unprecedented plan to use state road funding to compel the elimination of single-family zoning is going to harm Americans profoundly. Either suburban self-governance will become a thing of the past — while the suburbs themselves come to resemble the dense cities their residents chose to leave — or America’s cash-strapped states will lose billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs at a moment of economic crisis, while watching their roads deteriorate. Name your poison. It’s one or the other if Biden and the Democrats win.


‘Aren’t You Forgetting Something?’


This week on The Editors, Charlie stands in for Rich and is joined by Maddy Kearns and Jim Geraghty. They discuss Trump’s recent executive orders, the chaos in Chicago over the weekend, and upsetting rumors about the college football season. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.


Twenty Things that Caught My Eye: Special Needs Kids, Lebanon & More (August 11, 2020)



2. Washington Post Editorial Board: The world must not let China steamroll Hong Kong

 There can be no more illusions that China will keep its promise from the 1997 handover to allow “one-country, two-systems,” under which Hong Kong was assured that it could retain rule of law, free expression and the promise of full democracy. But the people of Hong Kong have shown, over and over again during the ordeal of recent years, that they cherish the values of a free people. The world must not abandon them or surrender to Beijing’s steamroller.

3. Christianity Today: 16 Beirut Ministries Respond to Lebanon Explosion 

4. HK diocese promotes ‘national identity’, security law in Catholic schools

 The new law criminalizes new categories of “secession,” “subversion,” “terrorism” and “collusion with foreign forces.” Anyone convicted under the law will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence. It was imposed on Hong Kong by the mainland legislature, bypassing Hong Kong’s own legislative process. As part of helping students understand the new law’s provisions, teachers are to “foster the correct values on [students’] national identity” and to respect Chinese national symbols including the flag and national anthem, the letter said.


6. Why a Generation of Girls is Fleeing Womanhood

What will this “upgrade” to transgender cost a girl? Only her name; her natural voice, which will be permanently altered even if she one day gets off testosterone; her breasts, with their erogenous capacity and ability to breastfeed; and perhaps her ability to bear children at all. These are lifelong sacrifices, doled out on an “informed consent” basis to girls too young to legally get tattoos. Shrier poignantly writes, “No adolescent should pay this high a price for having been, briefly, a follower.”

7. Andrew Walker: Grace in the Garden

Common humanity is our warrant as Christians to enter the public square. Our concern for addressing social ills originates from our shared creation by God. Natural law dictates the content of our engagement.

8. Arthur Rizer & Lars Trautman: Why ‘Enforcing’ the Law Is Not The Same As Justice

One of the silver linings to emerge from the current parade of criminal justice tragedies is a renewed focus on how we can reimagine public safety and law enforcement in this country. In this new vision, “law enforcement” should call to mind a practice, not a profession. Only then are we likely to have a system of public safety that understands the law is there to serve people rather than the other way around.

9. Michael R. Strain: Closed Schools Are a National Emergency

It is not helpful to demand that schools simply reopen. Instead, public officials at all levels — from school districts to state capitals to the federal government — need to provide schools with the resources, tools and ideas necessary to address the legitimate health concerns of teachers and parents.

10.  Richard Engel: Kids with special needs are not OK right now. Neither are their parents.

 Other families, doctors and advocates for children with disabilities say the disruption caused by COVID is reverberating throughout the entire special needs community. Doctors tell me children with autism are among the most affected. Their disorder seems almost custom-built to kick into high gear when everything they know suddenly turns upside down.

Continue reading “Twenty Things that Caught My Eye: Special Needs Kids, Lebanon & More (August 11, 2020)”

Politics & Policy

Kamala Harris Is Farther Left Than Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

Sen. Kamala Harris reaches out to Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Westerville, Ohio October 15, 2019. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

How extreme is Kamala Harris? Pretty extreme. There are various measures for these things, but according to Progressive Punch (“Leading with the Left”), Kamala Harris is the fourth farthest-left of any senator with a score of 96.76 percent out of 100 on “crucial votes,” despite moderating very slightly in the period when she was running for president. Elizabeth Warren is fifth, Kirsten Gillibrand is sixth, and Bernie Sanders is tenth. Here is a portion of the chart:


On Kamala Harris

Senator Kamala Harris is interviewed after the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. November 20, 2019. (Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters)

Joe Biden has named his 2020 running mate: authoritarianism.

American prosecutors wield awesome and terrible powers that lend themselves easily to abuse, and Senator Kamala Harris, formerly the attorney general of California, is an enthusiastic abuser of them.

Harris was a leader in the junta of Democratic state attorneys general that attempted to criminalize dissent in the matter of global warming, using her office’s investigatory powers to target and harass non-profit policy groups while she and her counterpart in New York attempted to shake down Exxon on phony fraud cases.

Until she was stopped by a federal court, Harris was laying subpoenas on organizations such as the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative-leaning group that is critical of Democratic global-warming proposals. She demanded private information that the organizations were not legally obliged to disclose, including financial information and donor lists, in order to be able to subject the supporters of right-leaning groups to legal and financial harassment. This was, as a federal judge confirmed, an obvious and unquestionable violation of the First Amendment.

It was also a serious abuse of power. Harris’s actions were coordinated with those of then attorney general Eric Schneiderman in New York, who argued — preposterously — that Exxon’s taking a different view of global warming was a form of securities fraud. This isn’t a conspiracy theory: They held a press conference and organized their effort into a committee, which they called AGs United for Clean Power.

This was not happening in a political vacuum. At approximately the same time, the IRS was being weaponized to harass and disadvantage right-leaning nonprofits and policy organizations, for example, leaking the confidential tax information of the National Organization for Marriage as an act of political retaliation, an offense for which the IRS was obliged to pay a settlement. (The IRS’s other abuses, as in the Lois Lerner matter, remain largely unpunished.) A lawyer with connections to Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo attempted to extort billions of dollars from Chevron in a mammoth racketeering project that involved falsifying evidence and bribing judges, a project that was cheered on by green activists such as musician Roger Waters and Democratic operatives such as former Cuomo aide Karen Hinton, both of whom had negotiated for themselves a percentage of the settlement. That went on until a federal judge intervened on RICO grounds. Democratic voices in the media were calling for the authorities to — this part is even less subtle —“arrest climate change deniers,” a project to which activists such as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. lent their voices.

And this was not idle talk: As with Harris’s abusive investigation in California, a legal pretext was offered, albeit a patently ridiculous one.

Harris’s self-serving prosecutorial abuses have been directed at political enemies, but they also put hundreds — maybe thousands — of people in jail or at risk of prosecution on wrongful grounds when it suited her agenda. As Lara Bazelon of the Loyola law school wrote in the New York Times:

Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.

Consider her record as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011. Ms. Harris was criticized in 2010 for withholding information about a police laboratory technician who had been accused of “intentionally sabotaging” her work and stealing drugs from the lab. After a memo surfaced showing that Ms. Harris’s deputies knew about the technician’s wrongdoing and recent conviction, but failed to alert defense lawyers, a judge condemned Ms. Harris’s indifference to the systemic violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.

Ms. Harris contested the ruling by arguing that the judge, whose husband was a defense attorney and had spoken publicly about the importance of disclosing evidence, had a conflict of interest. Ms. Harris lost. More than 600 cases handled by the corrupt technician were dismissed.

In the context of Harris’s political vendettas, that eagerness to engage in “systemic violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights” is particularly terrifying.

In choosing this corrupt prosecutor as his vice-presidential candidate, Joe Biden has made a serious error, one that highlights his already substantial deficiencies in judgment.

Politics & Policy

Kamala Harris Backs Publicly Funded Health Care for Illegal Immigrants

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake, Iowa, August 9, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

In May of 2019, Kamala Harris unequivocally told CNN’s Jake Tapper that she would make no distinction between American citizens and illegal immigrants on a broad array of measures. When Tapper referred to benefits for “people who are in this country illegally,” Harris replied: “Let me just be very clear about this. I am opposed to any policy that would deny in our country any human being from access to public safety, public education or public health, period.” Joe Biden’s position on the same matter has been murky: Like all of the other Democrats on stage he raised his hand when Savannah Guthrie asked, “Raise your hand if your government plan would provide coverage for undocumented immigrants.” His campaign later claimed that Biden meant only that undocumented immigrants could purchase health insurance via Obamacare. But Biden was specifically asked about Medicare and Medicaid last June, and he said, “Look, I think that anyone who is in a situation where they are in need of health care, regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented, we have an obligation to see that they are cared for.”

Harris’s campaign got off to a terrible start last January when she blithely said, also on CNN, that she would eliminate private health insurance, though she later walked back that position.

“The idea is that everyone gets access to medical care and you don’t have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through all the paperwork, all of the delay that may require,” Harris initially said. “Who of all us have not had that situation where you have to wait for approval and the doctor says, ‘I don’t know if your insurance company is going to cover this.’ Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.” She later clarified that by saying she was talking about eliminating bureaucracy and waste, not private health insurance, but as late as June 27 of last year, she was one of only two candidates at a Democratic debate who raised their hands when asked whether anyone would eliminate private health insurance. The next day she claimed she had misunderstood the question, which was “Many people watching at home have health insurance through their employer. Who here would abolish their health insurance in favor of a government-run plan?” Only Harris and Bernie Sanders raised their hands.

The Democratic Party position is usually slightly more nuanced: It involves not eliminating private health insurance directly but putting it out of business indirectly, so as to maintain plausible deniability with the aid of the media. First step: Set up a public option, or “Biden plan.” This would, of course, wipe out all private health insurers, as Joe Biden frankly admitted in his New York Times editorial board interview, because no private company would be able to compete with the federal system. Here was his exchange with Jeneen Interlandi of the Times:

JI: O.K. You can keep your doctors. What happens if employers curb their own offerings as the public option takes hold? There’s a lot of incentive ——

Bingo. They can automatically go get a public option.

JI: But they would lose their ——

Sure they would.

JI: An employer could take away, if someone likes their private insurance ——

No, no, here’s the deal. If you like your private insurance and your employer keeps it with you, you can keep it.

JI: But what happens if your employer cancels it?

If you can’t, you come on the Biden plan. You provide that option. You can get a gold plan where you do have nobody — you do not have to pay more than a $1,000 deductible. We significantly reduce drug prices, which, by the way, Republicans are looking to get done, O.K.? What you do is you provide that option. But if you like your plan, if you really like it, I don’t think we should come along and say, “You must give it up.”

JI: But if your employer cancels that plan, then you don’t get it, you don’t have that choice.

No, you don’t have the choice, but you had the choice to — that’s why — I’m not saying, I said, if you like your plan, you can keep it, assuming — I should add the obvious — if your employer doesn’t take it away from you. O.K.?

If you like your plan, you can keep it . . . unless it’s no longer available. Which it won’t be. But Democrats will blame the private insurers they drive out of business for going out of business.


Wait, Joe Biden Picked That Kamala Harris?

Senator Kamala Harris laughs during the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. November 20, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Kamala Harris? Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris?

Out of all of Biden’s options, he chose the rival whose presidential campaign is best remembered for her attack on him, contending he opposed busing? The rival who said the way he described his relationship with old segregationists was “hurtful”!

The woman who insisted on busing in a subsequent debate, “on that issue, we could not be more apart”? That Kamala Harris? The one who accused Biden of “revisionist history”?

The Kamala Harris who attacked his record of support for the Hyde Amendment, and suggested he had only changed his mind out of political expediency?

The same woman that shocked Biden’s friend Chris Dodd by showing “no remorse” months later?

This is the rival who said she believed women who accused Biden of touching them inappropriately!

The same Kamala Harris that “high-ranking Democratic Party officials and elected officials have expressed concerns about to the vetting committee in recent weeks”? That Kamala Harris?

Is there some other Kamala Harris out there? A different one than the one that Biden allies worried wouldn’t be loyal, would be “too ambitious and that she will be solely focused on becoming president herself”?

The woman who laughed at Biden when he said her gun-control proposals violated the Constitution?

DAVID MUIR: In recent days former Vice President Biden has said about executive orders, “Some really talented people are seeking the nomination. They said ‘I’m going to issue an executive order.'” Biden saying, “There’s no constitutional authority to issue that executive order when they say ‘I’m going to eliminate assault weapons,'” saying, “you can’t do it by executive order any more than Trump can do things when he says he can do it by executive order.”

HARRIS: Well, I mean, I would just say, hey, Joe, instead of saying, no, we can’t, let’s say yes, we can.


BIDEN: Let’s be constitutional. We’ve got a Constitution.

HARRIS: And yes, we can, because I’ll tell you something. The way that I think about this is, I’ve seen more autopsy photographs than I care to tell you. I have attended more police officer funerals than I care to tell you. I have hugged more mothers of homicide victims than I care to tell you.

And the idea that we would wait for this Congress, which has just done nothing, to act, is just — it is overlooking the fact that every day in America, our babies are going to school to have drills, elementary, middle and high school students, where they are learning about how they have to hide in a closet or crouch in a corner if there is a mass shooter roaming the hallways of their school.

As the sportscaster in Dodgeball says, “that’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for him.”


Kamala Harris’s Anti-Catholic Bigotry

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

Someone might want to remind Joe Biden, who’s just picked progressive California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, that his vice-president-to-be believes Catholics are unfit to serve in our nation’s courts. (Biden, of course, as I considered at length on the homepage today, has spent his entire political career invoking his Catholic faith.)

In late 2018, while evaluating the nomination of Brian Buescher to serve as a district judge in Nebraska, Harris posed a series of questions insinuating that his involvement in the Knights of Columbus — a charitable Catholic fraternal organization — disqualified him from serving on the bench. Here’s one of her written questions:

Since 1993, you have been a member of the Knights of Columbus, an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men. In 2016, Carl Anderson, leader of the Knights of Columbus, described abortion as “a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.” Mr. Anderson went on to say that “abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale.” Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization?

She went on to ask Buescher whether he was “aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed marriage equality when [he] joined the organization” and whether he had “ever, in any way, assisted with or contributed to advocacy against women’s reproductive rights.”

Harris’s colleague, Democratic senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, went a bit further, asking Buescher whether he intended to “end [his] membership with this organization to avoid any appearance of bias” — in other words, intimating that she would withhold her vote at least until he had left the Knights of Columbus.

These two Democrats were, in short, suggesting that belonging to a Catholic group with millions of members, which has been an important charity in the U.S. for more than a century, renders an individual unfit to serve as a judge.

More sinister even than that, Harris used Buescher’s membership in the Knights of Columbus as a pretext to insinuate that opposition to abortion, a core component of Catholic teaching on the dignity and value of human life, disqualifies an individual from the bench.

Buescher eventually was confirmed, and at the behest of Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, the Senate later voted unanimously to reaffirm the constitutional clause forbidding religious tests for public officeholders. But the fact remains that Harris was guilty of reprehensible anti-Catholic bigotry, and there’s no reason to believe her views have changed.

Law & the Courts

No, the Solicitor General Did Not Say AG Barr Had ‘Secret Information’ That Led to Flynn Dismissal

Attorney General William Barr testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/Reuters)

I just spent nearly four hours of my life that I can never get back listening to oral arguments in the Flynn case. At issue was D.C. Circuit federal appeals court’s en banc reconsideration — i.e., review by the full court, ten judges in this instance (one having recused) — of the ruling by a divided three-judge panel of the court, which issued a writ of mandamus ordering Judge Emmet Sullivan to grant the Justice Department’s dismissal of the case. (I wrote about the case over the weekend, here.)

In truth, the hearing (by teleconference) was quite interesting. For now, though, I just want to address a media account about it, because it goes to show why people have become skeptical of news reporting. In scanning some of the coverage, I noticed this loaded headline at CNBC: “Government lawyer suggests Attorney General Barr had secret reasons for dropping Flynn criminal case.”

No, that is not what the government lawyer said.

One of the major aspects in the case is a provision in Rule 48(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which requires the prosecutor to obtain “leave of court” in order to dismiss a criminal case. This provision is in tension with constitutional law, under which the decision to commence or persist in a prosecution is vested solely in the executive branch. So the core questions are: Does the “leave of court” requirement permit the judge to conduct some inquiry into the Justice Department’s reasons for dropping a case? And, if so, how much inquiry is tolerable before the court crosses the line, violating separation of powers by intruding on the executive’s discretion?

As you might imagine, there was a good deal of back-and-forth on this, particularly between the judges and Jeffrey Wall, the acting solicitor general, who argued the case for the Justice Department. This discussion shifted from (a) hypotheticals about how little the government could theoretically get away with disclosing about its reasoning, to (b) how much it had actually disclosed in the Flynn case. Wall made it clear that, whatever might in the abstract be the base level of required disclosure, the Justice Department had gone well above it in Flynn’s case. Here, Judge Sullivan was given a submission arguing that the case should not have been brought in the first place; it posited a legal theory that there was no crime, supported by factual disclosures that were, in turn, backed up by witness statements and other evidence.

As the discussion between Wall and the judges unfolded, a question arose about whether the prosecutor is obliged to tell the court all of its reasons for dropping a case, or if it is sufficient to impart just enough information to satisfy the court that the dismissal is not sought for an improper purpose. (The Justice Department argues that the court’s inquiry into improper purpose is limited to ensuring that the defendant agrees with the dismissal.) In explaining why there is no requirement to tell the court everything the prosecutor knows, Wall pointed out that very often the prosecutor will be aware of information from the investigation that might inform the decision to dismiss but that, for a host of good reasons, should not be disclosed.

In this vein, Wall added, it was entirely possible that Attorney General Barr might be aware of non-public information from the Flynn investigation and related investigations that should not be publicized, and that there would be no need to reveal it because the court had already been given more than enough information to be satisfied that the dismissal motion was proper.

In context, Wall seemed to be speaking theoretically, not based on personal knowledge of the investigations and what the attorney general knows about them. That’s not just the way I heard it; the judges plainly heard it the same way because there was no follow-up. It was a point worthy of making, but not one that called for probing.

Wall was not saying that Barr was in possession of or had relied on “secret information” that is being withheld from Judge Sullivan. Nor was he saying Barr had no such information, as it would be normal to have it. In fact, Wall did not seem to have the Flynn case in mind at all. He was in the position of the Justice Department’s lawyer looking out for the institutional interests of prosecutors. It is commonplace for prosecutors to be aware of non-public information that is not disclosed in relevant court proceedings — maybe it’s grand-jury material, maybe disclosure would compromise an informant, maybe revealing it would hurt investigators’ ability to conduct effective interviews of witnesses, etc.

None of this is similar. There are well-known rules of the road. Prosecutors must disclose exculpatory information. And there is a duty of candor toward the tribunal. If a prosecutor makes a statement that could be misleading if other information is not disclosed, then that information must be disclosed. If a judge asks a question, the prosecutor must either answer it or inform the judge that the government declines to answer it — the court must not be placed under a misimpression. But all that said, the prosecutor simply needs to show that his reasoning satisfied any legal requirement, not to disclose every fact that informed his reasoning.

All the acting solicitor general was saying is that there is no legal obligation to inform the court of everything the prosecutor knows. He was not signaling that there is some explosive secret information somehow bearing on the Flynn dismissal motion that has been withheld from Judge Sullivan.


Another Look at New York City in the Pandemic

New York City’s Central Park seen from the air ( Ingus Kruklitis/Getty Images)

Living as I do on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, next to the projects behind the Metropolitan Opera, I wanted to temper some of the sentiments expressed by the estimable Kyle Smith and VDH on the decline of New York.

To me, the Upper West Side is not quite as bad as it seems to Kyle. Maybe I’ve gotten used to it, but I don’t sense a “palpable” fear when going out to eat on Amsterdam or Columbus Ave.—and the outdoor dining is actually quite nice, even in the heat and humidity. Nor is there fear among the sunbathers at Sheep Meadow on Central Park’s west side, or in the parks along the Hudson.

New York is not dead. Go to Greenwich Village on a weekend, and the streets are filled with people at outdoor cafes and grabbing a drink along with their Cuomo chips. Many of the city’s restaurants, thank goodness, are surviving.

Neither has the city returned entirely to the dysfunction of the late ’60s and ’70s. During the looting and riots in late May it really did seem like a good idea to bring in federal troops to restore order, but the rioting died down relatively quickly, and there was no need for a federal response on the level of L.A.’s Rodney King riots. Seeing stores and restaurants with plywood on their windows was a shock, but that plywood has come down in most places and been repurposed for barriers for outdoor dining. There is currently nothing close to the persistent and violent Antifa presence that exists in Portland. At most, Black Lives Matter protesters will get on bicycles and ride around Manhattan in groups; annoying and stupid, but nothing New York’s finest can’t handle.

None of this is intended to discount the suffering New Yorkers experienced at the height of the pandemic, including the 23,500 who died and the additional tens of thousands who fell ill. The eerie emptiness of midtown and downtown Manhattan is staggering for anyone to behold. And of course, it would be better for the NYPD if they could focus on rising murders in certain precincts rather than chaperoning BLM protesters.

One day, however, the coronavirus mitigation efforts will end. Whether New York will fully recover is anyone’s guess, but in the meantime, I feel compelled to report that, in my day-to-day experience, the city is not yet in the midst of the apocalypse.

NR Webathon

You Want Sanity? We Got Sanity

National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. on Firing Line

We prefer our Marx to be of the Groucho and Chico persuasion, and though they were a source of confusion about the contractual validity of a sanity clause, there is no confusion — say so many of the donors to our ongoing Cancel-Culture webathon — about the fact that NR is worth their financial support because it indeed is an oasis of sanity in this maelstrom of ideology and madness and Leftism amok-running. Some examples:

  • John affords us a generous $200 and this sentiment: “NR has been a safe harbor of sanity for decades. During these times of reckless stupidity, we need NR more than ever. Thank you all for your thoughtful and intelligent articles and commentaries.” It’s us who need to do the thanking, and we do. And yeah — we find your assessment to be spot-on, John.
  • Ditto from Christopher, who spots us 50 bucks and says what we all know to be true: “National Review is nearly the only sanity out there. After my morning (leftist) local paper, NR online is the first place I go. Keep up the great work.” You keep passing the ammo and we’ll keep the guns ablaze. Thanks, Christopher.
  • Jacob drops $500 into the till and says it short and sweet: “Nowhere else is there such a high concentration of great thinker-writers.” I like that job description, and yeah, it fits a goodly amount of my colleagues — who are in the fight because of your selflessness. Thanks Jacob.
  • Alex is good for a $100 contribution and specific praise: “Thanks to Rich (our voice), Jim (our funny bone), MBD (our conscience), Maddy K. (our common sense), Charlie (our trigger finger), and so many others. You’ve helped me make better sense of the world. I don’t have much, but I hope this helps you keep up the fight.” It sure does. Many many thanks, Alex.
  • Now Matthew, who sends $100, is my first pick for foxhole companion: “I wish I could meet these bastards in the street but I am too old for that now. And my better angels tell me Mr. Cooke is right — duke it out with ideas and words. You folks have both in truths the NR expresses every single day.” Never too old Matthew, but thanks terribly for the kind words and kind deed.
  • Joseph, source of a $50 contribution, is actually fighting: “Currently deployed and National Review gives me hope I’ll still recognize our country when we return home. Keep fighting the good fight.” We do because you do. Typing with one hand and saluting with the other, Joseph!
  • Let’s end with this from the once-parched Richard, donor of a C Note: “Reading your articles is like a drink of fresh water in a drought. You are a good part of my moral compass.” Well, well, well, we are here to serve. Drink up! And thanks so much, Richard!

Sane journalism was a rarity to start with — after the intense madness of 2020, it might as well be on the Endangered Species List. But sane, meaningful, conservative journalism — one that is a bold and powerful two-by-four upside the head of Leftist elites and the 1619 brigadiers who detest the More-Perfecting Union of the Declaration and Constitution — is the DNA and vital organs and gray matter of NR. This magazine and website deserve to persist in the fight, because without it . . . well, do you picture the world being be a worse place sans NR? If you think so, and if you’re like Richard, who quenches his intellectual thirst at the NR Bar, then buy a round. Your generosity will keep the joint open and jumping. Minus that, well . . . let’s not think about the darkness.

So: How much to give? The answer is what your wallet and means dictate. But be assured of this: There is no contribution too small or too large — and never one that is not deeply appreciated by all here. Help us to stay in the fight, to preserve that rare source of conservative sanity, through your generous donation of $10 or $20 or $50 or $100. What the heck: Think about $250 or $500 or $1,000, and if more is possible, you’ll get no complaints here! Whatever you can donate, do so here. To give by check, make one payable to “National Review” and mail it to National Review, ATTN: Summer 2020 Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036.

One last thing: Morrie Ryskind was one of the screenwriters for A Night at the Opera, famous for its “sanity clause” line and dozens more. He was also one of the founding editors of National Review. Morrie was a Hollywood lefty-turned-conservative who befriended a young Bill Buckley when he was launching this journal. He was an avowed foe of that other Marx, the one named Karl. Many believe he was also blackballed because he appeared as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. That would make Ryskind an original victim of the cancel culture. Your contribution would be a nice bit of payback for that.


Reportedly, the Biden Pick Is In


“The pick is in!” Now-commissioner Roger Goodell will stride out upon the stage and announce that with the first pick in the 2020 Democratic running-mate draft, Joe Biden’s campaign selects . . . okay, wait, that’s not really how it works.

For cable-news and political junkies, this is one of the most dramatic moments of the cycle. Likely one Democrat among Kamala Harris, Susan Rice, Karen Bass, Tammy Duckworth, or Gretchen Whitmer has just been given an excellent chance of becoming the 47th president of the United States — and obviously the first woman to become commander in chief. For the others, there’s likely a promise of strong consideration for some other key position in Biden’s cabinet.

But looking back at recent history, some of the figures on the short list don’t join the cabinet and end up not playing much of a role in the party’s future. Chris Christie never formally joined the Trump administration; reportedly, Jared Kushner played a role in that decision. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana made the short list for Obama, but didn’t seek reelection in 2010 and lost a bid to return to the Senate in 2016. Oklahoma governor Frank Keating was considered a top contender in 2000, but never joined the Bush administration. And in 1992, Bill Clinton’s finalists included “Senators Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, John D. Rockefeller 4th of West Virginia, Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania, Bob Graham of Florida and Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana.”

In the sales competition in Glengarry Glen Ross, “first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. . . . Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is, you’re fired.” Biden’s selection gets to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, several others will probably get some sort of position in the executive branch . . . and some others may well get obscurity.


The Pick Matters


While we wait to hear the name of Joe Biden’s running mate, I just want to reiterate the point.

Biden’s basement-style campaign means that every word he says in public, and every decision he makes has more weight. It’s the exact opposite of Trump’s 2016 approach, in which a motormouth campaign that seemed to be streaming 24/7 on cable news made everything he said weightless.

It’s an important choice. You can’t see a video of Biden these days without thinking: “His veep pick really matters!” One poll shows that more than half the public believes Biden will not serve the full length of his first term.

And I think this means it’s impossible to make a “correct” pick. Someone who has too large a profile will look too much like a president-in-waiting and overshadow Biden. Someone without a large profile, or too far to his left, will make Biden look like he’s taking the risk of marooning the country with a president who doesn’t have legitimacy.

The pick matters so much because Biden’s age, energy level, and health matters.

Law & the Courts

When Should the Government Dissolve Nonprofits?

National Rifle Association executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 26, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

At Lawfare, Alan Z. Rozenshtein argues that the National Rifle Association should be reformed, not dissolved. But as he notes, there are serious allegations of financial impropriety against the organization’s leadership — and in such cases, the state of New York (where the NRA is registered) grants its attorney general wide discretion to seek dissolution rather than other remedies, such as replacing the board or placing the organization into receivership.

As a result, his argument rests on norms, not laws:

The law under which [the state attorney general] is operating is immensely broad, and permits the attorney general to seek to dissolve a nonprofit if it “has exceeded the authority conferred upon it by law, or has violated any provision of law whereby it has forfeited its charter, or carried on, conducted or transacted its business in a persistently fraudulent or illegal manner, or by the abuse of its powers contrary to public policy of the state has become liable to be dissolved.”

But the very breadth of the law is what underscores the need for the norm — which is, after all, an unwritten rule of conduct for government officials — of prosecutorial discretion. As written, the statute permits the attorney general to seek dissolution any time a nonprofit’s leaders engage in serious fraud. But seeking such a radical remedy every time that occurs would clearly go beyond what the legislature intended, and what good public policy countenances. The breadth of the law only makes sense if paired with discretion on the part of those who enforce it.

I’m not sure the breadth of the law makes sense at all. If there’s one thing that the past five years or so have taught us, it’s that mere norms erode in the face of political incentives. The only thing that matters is what the law actually allows officials to do. New York and other states should spell out more specific criteria for when a nonprofit must be dissolved rather than reformed.


Closed Schools Are a National Emergency — Where Is the Audacity?

Supporters of the Cherokee County School District’s decision to reopen schools outside the district’s headquarters in Canton, Ga., August 11, 2020. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

Closed schools are a national emergency that will damage an entire generation of children. Many districts seem to be defaulting to a plan of waiting for a vaccine before reopening schools. This represents a tragic lack of urgency and creative thinking.

Where is the audacity? Restaurants can figure out outdoor dining. Why can’t schools manage outdoor learning? In my latest Bloomberg column, I offer some ideas to keep kids in classrooms while also addressing the legitimate health concerns held by many teachers and parents:

Classes should be held outdoors wherever possible. Football, baseball and soccer fields can be converted to outdoor classrooms; for many weeks, students and teachers wouldn’t need to spend much time indoors. Tents can keep children dry if it is raining. Heat lamps can keep them warm during a fall chill. Restaurants have figured out how to do this. Schools can, too.

Children should be kept in small, assigned groups, and groups should mingle as little as possible. If local officials decide that all students can’t attend in person five days a week to keep density low, the school week should be extended, and some classes should be held on weekends and evenings. And districts that go virtual this fall should begin planning immediately to keep schools open in the summer of 2021 to make up for lost classroom instruction.

High school students are more equipped to benefit from virtual learning than 1st graders. So if some schools must be closed, then close the high schools, keep the K-8 schools open, and use the high-school buildings for socially distanced elementary- and middle-school students. Better yet, districts should keep all schools open and work with local officials to commandeer public parks for outdoor instruction — or even vacant shopping malls for socially distanced indoor instruction — during the week.

There is an implicit assumption in many states that the school year needs to begin in late August or early September, as previously scheduled, or not at all. But state officials could directly link the goals of reducing the virus’s spread and reopening schools, telling their residents that once the spread reaches a specified low level, schools will reopen. This would encourage greater use of masks and social distancing measures. And if a state hits its target in, say, mid-October, why not begin the school year then? The choice shouldn’t be to open on September 3 or not at all.

Check out my column for my full argument. Your comments, as always, are very welcome.

Politics & Policy

Introducing the Philadelphia Statement on Free Speech


The Philadelphia Statement on free speech and civil discourse makes its public debut today. The Philadelphia Statement counters social-media mobs, cancel culture, and campus-speech policing by clearly articulating and affirming the principles of free speech and the need for civil discourse. By collecting signatories, supporters of the Philadelphia Statement hope to start a movement that will restore and strengthen the culture of free expression in America.

You can read the Philadelphia Statement here. If you agree, you can become a signatory of the Philadelphia Statement at the same link. I am one of the initial signatories, as is NR’s Kevin Williamson. You can read the list of initial signatories here.

Two of the initial signatories, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, and Pete Peterson, dean at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, have a thoughtful op-ed about the Philadelphia Statement out today.

White House

Executive Overreach: The Difference between Trump and Obama


That’s the subject of my new Bloomberg Opinion column. I leave it to the reader to judge which president looks worse based on the difference.


A Real Race in Michigan?


Is the presidential race in Michigan close or a Biden blowout? The polls point in opposite directions.

The most recent poll, conducted July 26 to August 6 by YouGov for the University of Wisconsin, shows Biden leading Trump 47 percent to 43 percent among registered voters. A July 24-26 poll of likely voters by the Democratic pollster Change Research also found Biden leading by just four points. 

On the other hand, a CNN poll showed Biden up 12 points in mid-July, and a late July poll conducted by EPIC-MRA showed Biden up 11 points.

One possible sign that the Biden campaign believes the race is actually close in Michigan: The state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, found herself in recent weeks back on Biden’s VP shortlist.


One Professor Pushes Back against Duke’s ‘Anti-Racism’ Crusade


Back in June, the president of Duke University decreed that the institution needed to fully embrace anti-racism. Today the Martin Center publishes an open letter by emeritus professor John Staddon in response to it. He is troubled by the assumptions behind the anti-racism crusade and the actions it will entail.

Here is Staddon’s conclusion:

Sir, you repeatedly propose ‘transformative action’ and end by saying that ‘These actions are only a starting point.’ I hope that nothing happens until some of the questions I have raised are satisfactorily answered. In no case should faculty and students be forced to undergo training that seems to resemble not education but Uighur-style re-education.

Read the whole thing.


‘The Heaviest Burden’

Arthur Ashe waves to the crowd at the National Tennis Center in New York in 1992. (Ray Stubblebine / Reuters)

Today, I have an Impromptus column for you, touching on a variety of subjects, as is the column’s job. Yesterday, I had a piece on Ondrej Kolar, a district mayor in Prague. He has gone through a terrible ordeal, which required police protection, and two weeks in hiding. If you would like to hear my podcast with him, go here.

Kolar is an inspiring figure: a politician who stands up for freedom and democracy, even in the face of the direst personal threats.

Impromptus today begins with that old devil race. I speak a bit about the capitalization of “white” and “black.” (I think this is a bad and corrosive habit.) And I note an incident in Leelanau County, Mich., where I once spent some time.

A member of the Road Commission there said, “Well, this whole thing is because of them n*****s in Detroit.” By “this whole thing,” he meant the pandemic and the need to wear masks, I think.

Later, speaking to Interlochen Public Radio, he said, “A n***** is a n***** is a n*****. That’s not a person whatsoever.”

Forget the sentiment for a minute. What do you think of the asterisks? Namby-pamby? Too softening? Does that word have a greater impact — is its ugliness more amply revealed — without asterisks?

Let’s try it again: “A nigger is a nigger is a nigger,” said the road commissioner. “That’s not a person whatsoever.”

It seems to me that, in the last several years, racists have crawled out of the woodwork. They always exist, of course, but they are either in the woodwork or not. I prefer them in the woodwork, if I have to have them at all.

Yesterday, after I wrote my column, I had a memory of long ago. Arthur Ashe was dying of AIDS. This was in the early 1990s. And he told an interviewer that being black was harder than having AIDS.

I was brought up short by this remark. Ashe was a celebrity, a star, a revered athlete. An American hero. Was being black so hard as that — even for him? By his own testimony: yes.

Googling around, I have found an excerpt from his autobiography. I will paste.

I had spent more than an hour talking in my office at home with a reporter for People magazine. Her editor had sent her to do a story about me and how I was coping with AIDS. The reporter’s questions had been probing and yet respectful of my right to privacy. Now, our interview over, I was escorting her to the door. As she slipped on her coat, she fell silent. I could see that she was groping for the right words to express her sympathy for me before she left.

“Mr. Ashe, I guess this must be the heaviest burden you have ever had to bear, isn’t it?” she asked finally.

I thought for a moment, but only a moment. “No, it isn’t. It’s a burden, all right. But AIDS isn’t the heaviest burden I have had to bear.”

“Is there something worse? Your heart attack?”

I didn’t want to detain her, but I let the door close with both of us still inside.

“You’re not going to believe this,” I said to her, “but being black is the greatest burden I’ve had to bear.”

“You can’t mean that.”

“No question about it. Race has always been my biggest burden. Having to live as a minority in America. Even now it continues to feel like an extra weight tied around me.”

I can still recall the surprise and perhaps even the hurt on her face. I may even have surprised myself, because I simply had never thought of comparing the two conditions before. However, I stand by my remark. Race is for me a more onerous burden than AIDS. My disease is the result of biological factors over which we, thus far, have had no control. Racism, however, is entirely made by people, and therefore it hurts and inconveniences infinitely more.

National Review

Conrad Black on Vacation


To his loyal readers: Conrad Black will be on vacation and will not be filing his usual column. Never fear; Mr. Black will return with his astute commentary after two fortnights.


A Movie for Our Isolation Pandemic

People wear protective face masks inside a movie theater during its reopening after the Thai government eased coronavirus isolation measures in Bangkok, Thailand, June 1, 2020. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Over at the Catholic Herald’s Chapter House blog, where I write a couple of times a month, I have a new column on the classic ’90s romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping. I somehow managed never to see the movie until just last week, when I discovered that, in addition to being one of the very best romantic comedies of the last few decades, many of its themes are just what we need to hear during this strange cultural moment in which we find ourselves.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak confined most of us to our homes and largely removed us from our tangible communities, we were suffering from an isolation pandemic in this country. Here’s part of how I put it in the piece:

Technological advances such as FaceTime and Zoom have been godsends, to be sure, but we all know that a video call can never replace a housewarming party, a first date at a movie or a dine-in restaurant, a real Thanksgiving dinner, a chance for grandparents to watch their grandchildren open presents under the tree. Social distancing, though a necessity in some circumstances, doesn’t come without significant suffering and costs.

We are social creatures, and though they hadn’t received nearly enough attention, social scientists had been telling us long before the coronavirus outbreak that we’re in the grips of an isolation pandemic, a cultural crisis of loneliness. It’s little surprise that the last few months of lockdowns have brought about spikes in the number of Americans reporting anxiety and depression, certainly due at least in part to increased isolation.

Which brings us back to lonely Lucy. Along with giving us more well-rounded characters than the modern rom-com typically delivers, While You Were Sleeping reminds us in our age of isolation that we are all better off when we’re knit into communities and places where we belong—even when those communities force us to accept other people’s idiosyncrasies, even when living closely with them requires patience and selflessness, even when it’s difficult and often painful to be dependent on others and have them depend on us.

If you’ve managed to miss out on this classic like I had, make some time on a socially distanced evening at home to fix that.

Politics & Policy

The Allegedly Indispensable Michigan Governor


A New York Times article talks about Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer as a potential Joe Biden running mate, and uses part of this quote from a Democratic activist in the headline:

“In talking to some of my friends who work in infectious disease, they think she’s done an incredible job, as do I,” said Julie Campbell-Bode, a Democratic activist from Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb. “Selfishly, we need her here. There is plenty of time for her to climb those mountains and I’m sure she will.”

A high compliment to be sure, but . . . I wonder how Garlin Gilchrist feels reading that. He’s the lieutenant governor of Michigan who would take over if Whitmer resigned to become vice president . . . and apparently, some Whitmer fans are just not convinced he could fill her shoes.

Politics & Policy

Cuomo’s Deadly Mistake Was Likely Even Worse Than First Reported

Governor Andrew Cuomo wears a mask as he arrives to speak during a daily coronavirus briefing in New York, July 13, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Yesterday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed an executive order forcing nursing homes in his state to accept patients who tested positive for the coronavirus in March, informed reporters there was no need for an independent inquiry into his deadly mistake because no one can be deemed reliable enough to investigate him.

“There is no such thing as a person who is trusted by all Democrats and Republicans. That person doesn’t exist. The Department of Health — those are just numbers. They report our numbers. You can see you what you want in the numbers, but the numbers are the numbers,” Cuomo explained.

Well, using this preposterous logic, no politician could ever be investigated for wrongdoing in the United States. Fortunately, the Associated Press released its own investigation today into the Cuomo scandal and found that it was likely New York had significantly undercounted the deaths resulting from the governor’s mishandling of the elderly at the height of the coronavirus outbreak.

Numbers, it turns out, aren’t always numbers. Unlike other states with major outbreaks, New York’s fatality numbers only include residents who died on nursing-home property, and not the thousands of patients who caught the disease in homes but were transported and ultimately died elsewhere. While the state estimates that around 6,600 perished in nursing homes, the Associated Press puts the real number closer to 11,000 — more than the total fatality count in any state other than New Jersey.

It might even be worse. The Associated Press — which should be praised as one of the only major outlets pursuing this story — has been denied access to New York’s nursing-home death data despite filing public records request three months ago. You might remember all the conspiracy theories that liberal pundits were spreading about Florida’s “manipulated” numbers in May. Here we are in August, and Cuomo, the governor who couldn’t flatten the curve, is now also stonewalling and hiding his state’s death toll.


Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Lebanon & More (August 10, 2020)


1. Nigerian singer sentenced to death for blasphemy in Kano state

2. Beirut explosion: video of church altar’s survival brings hope

3.  A federal inmate died from COVID-19 in April, but his family still has no idea where his body is

4. Katherine Baker: A Pandemic Observed

In our fear of death we simply do not want to think about what happens after our loved ones die. But we must. We seem to be willing, in our understandable terror, to trade away many essential things: basic freedoms, our public life and public institutions for the promise of greater safety from sickness and death, but when that sickness and death come anyway (as it must), what will we do when we find we have made the world worse than it otherwise might have been? If we trade the beauty and order of our society for safety, not only will we find we have lost our dear ones anyway, we will sit and mourn them in a desolate land of our own making.

5. Wall Street Journal: China Sanctions 11 Americans Over U.S. Moves Against Hong Kong

China’s Foreign Ministry, which announced the sanctions, didn’t offer details on what they would entail. The move appears to be largely symbolic and restrained, as most of those listed had been targeted by Beijing before.

“In response to the erroneous actions of the U.S., China has decided to impose sanctions today on those individuals who behaved badly on Hong Kong-related issues,” said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian during Monday’s daily press briefing.

6. The Wall Street Journal: Hong Kong Publisher Jimmy Lai Arrested Under New National-Security Law

So far, Mr. Lai’s is the most significant arrest made under the new national-security law. He is a towering figure in Hong Kong, and his newspaper was a thorn in the side of the city’s pro-Beijing leadership during the months of massive peaceful protests and violent clashes with police that rocked Hong Kong last year.

7. Michael Rubin: The State Department has a Turkey problem

Continue reading “Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Lebanon & More (August 10, 2020)”


Did the DACA Ruling Bury Constitutionalism?

DACA recipients celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., June 18, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In response to Do Americans Even Care If There’s a Constitution?

In reacting to President Trump’s recent executive orders, Jim Geraghty asks “Do Americans Even Care If There’s a Constitution?” He reluctantly suggests that the answer is “no.”

This didn’t happen all at once — Woodrow Wilson was probably the first notable to explicitly express the progressive frustration with the Constitution’s system of limited powers. Decades of preposterous Supreme Court rulings, such as Roe, Obergefell, and Bostock, have made plain the Left’s contempt for constitutional governance. And to Jim’s question, “Did the education system fail them so thoroughly that they can’t even begin to grasp why concentrated government power would be a bad thing?” the answer, of course, is yes; Exhibit A is Ezra Klein (a college graduate, mind you) burbling that “the Constitution is not a clear document. Written 100 years ago, when America had thirteen states and very different problems, it rarely speaks directly to the questions we ask it.”

Obama’s pen-and-phone activity, most notably his administration’s decree unilaterally rewriting immigration law by creating the DACA amnesty (and attempting to create the even larger DAPA), is very much in this vein. But the Left’s contempt for both the actual Constitution and the very idea of constitutionalism has, in recent decades, been matched by a vigorous defense of it on the Right. Sometimes this has bled into fetishization of the document, but more important has been the Right’s defense of a political culture of constitutionalism, as Yuval Levin and Adam White noted over the weekend.

So the real question is whether the Right has given up on constitutionalism. Unlike with Obama, Trump’s Caesarist impulses have mostly been talk. But these recent orders, however modest their scope, have been rationalized as necessary responses to congressional inaction — thus presenting an Obama-style usurpation of the legislative power.

But, Levin and White note, “so far, most Republicans in Congress seem reticent to say so.”

This wavering commitment to constitutionalism on the Right isn’t just a matter of rooting for your own team; it’s clearly a response to the Supreme Court’s DACA ruling in June. The president campaigned on repealing Obama’s illegal DACA decree “on Day One,” though it took sustained pressure from conservatives to get the administration to finally do it on Day 228.

Three years of fierce lawfare followed, as the Left turned to the courts to defend its policy gains, however illegitimately acquired. But conservatives were confident that, eventually, they would succeed in the rescission of a policy memo that was unmoored in law.

So when the Supreme Court proclaimed that this illegal program had to continue because the administration hadn’t jumped through the right hoops — hoops the prior administration ignored entirely in concocting it in the first place — something broke on the Right. Many in the administration, in Congress, and among the citizenry simply concluded that this is now the only way it’s possible to govern, and that fastidious avoidance of pen-and-phone governance by Republicans would represent unilateral disarmament. Even if the administration makes another go at rescission of DACA (assuming there’s a second term) and this time leaves no pretext for our weather-vane chief justice to latch onto, the damage may be irreversible. If these are the new rules, we play by them or surrender.

I wish this weren’t so. And maybe it’s not permanent; maybe we can wade back across the Rubicon. But I fear that those of us insisting on adherence to constitutional governance are like the aging Roman Emperor Claudius, as channeled by Robert Graves, who hatches a plan for his son Britannicus to restore the Republic. The young man is appalled, and answers his father: “I don’t believe in the Republic. No one believes in the Republic anymore. No one does except you. You’re old, Father, and out of touch.”

Are we constitutionalists equally out of touch?

The Economy

‘Stakeholder Capitalism’: Roundtable for One

Statue of George Washington overlooking Wall Street in Manhattan, January 20, 2016 (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Last year the Business Roundtable issued a grand-sounding ‘Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation’, which basically rejected the quaint idea that a company’s primary duty was to its owners (the shareholders) and replaced it with a commitment to ‘stakeholder capitalism’.

Stakeholder capitalism? In essence it’s an expression of corporatism, an idea with a distinctly mixed intellectual and political history, but which, very broadly, means that the running of the country is, to a greater or lesser extent, the business of large interest groups, all, of course, subordinated to the state, an organizing principle that leaves little room for the individual.

Turn to the ‘Statement’, which is signed by a large number of CEOs, quite a few of them prominent, and we find this:

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.

A list of stakeholders then follows including customers, suppliers, employees, and “the communities in which we work.”

Good deeds too are promised, including, inevitably, embracing “sustainable practices across our businesses.”

Last on the list of those to be looked after are shareholders, although their role in providing “the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate” is acknowledged.  Thanks for the money!

Back in February, George Shultz, Michael Boskin, John Cogan and John Taylor, writing in Real Clear Markets, took aim.

Here’s an extract:

The BRT has scrapped its longstanding view (since 1997) that “the paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders…The interests of other stakeholders are relevant as a derivative of the duty to stockholders.”  In its place, the BRT stipulates that U.S. companies should consider the interests of numerous stakeholders – including employees, customers, and communities in which the company operates, along with shareholders when making corporate decisions. Underlying the Roundtable’s new view is its belief that companies have a social responsibility that transcends their role as producers of goods and services in a freely competitive economy.

The Business Roundtable’s examination of the conduct of U.S. corporations is welcome, but wrong-headed. The organization consists of highly respected leaders both within and outside of the business community. Their collective views carry a large weight in public policy deliberations in Washington D.C.

But we believe the BRT’s new statement of corporate purposes that places shareholders as an “also ran” alongside other stakeholders, especially an ill-defined group of “communities,” is misguided.  The statement lends credence to an incorrect view of the way American businesses operate in today’s economy; it fundamentally misunderstands the role that business plays in a free market economy; and it fails to consider the practical, real world, adverse consequences of demoting shareholders’ interests.

“Misunderstands” is too kind a word. The BRT knows exactly what it is doing.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s Matt Levine has also long been skeptical about the BRT statement, but from a different angle:

My view was that these CEOs didn’t really mean that they would give up power, that they would add further constraints on their decisions, that they would refrain from doing things that they wanted to do because those things would be bad for workers or communities or whatever. Instead, I figured that the CEOs just meant that they would increase their power, that they would eliminate constraints on their decisions, that they would do more things that they wanted to do, even if those things were not what shareholders wanted, by saying “oh well they’re good for some other stakeholders.” You could imagine a CEO who answered to shareholders and workers and communities, and therefore was more restricted in what she could do; you could also imagine a CEO who said that she answered to all those different constituencies, but decided herself which one to prioritize at any time, and did whatever she wanted. I figured the latter was more likely. I wrote: “The managers and the board, in this version of the corporation, are the only ones representing all of the constituencies, so they are the only ones qualified to evaluate their own performance.”


I was too generous to the CEOs! I shouldn’t have said “and the board.”

Levine has now come across a study that involved contacting the companies whose CEOs signed the BRT statement and asking “who was the highest-level decision maker to approve the decision”:

Of the 48 companies that responded, only one said the decision was approved by the board of directors. The other 47 indicated that the decision to sign the statement, supposedly adopting a major change in corporate purpose, was not approved by the board of directors. …


The researchers asked:

What can explain a CEO’s decision to join the Business Roundtable statement without board approval? Even “imperial” CEOs tend to push major decisions through the board rather than disregard it. … The most plausible explanation for the lack of board approval is that CEOs didn’t regard the statement as a commitment to make a major change in how their companies treat stakeholders.

To which Levine adds:

They’re probably right, but my own preference is to assume that a CEO who signed the Business Roundtable statement is particularly likely to be an imperial CEO, that she is particularly likely to be a CEO who does not want to have to listen to or consult with shareholders, because that is actually what the Business Roundtable statement is about. If you assume the signing CEOs are the ones who don’t want to listen to shareholders, it’s not so surprising that they don’t bother consulting their directors either.

Economy & Business

Fiddling with the Fed

Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The more I read defenses of the Democrats’ idea for changing the Federal Reserve’s mandate to require it to seek increased racial equality (which I wrote about here), the more it seems like they’re skipping a step in thinking it through.

Take Narayana Kocherlakota’s endorsement of the idea. A former Fed governor, he argues that Fed policy would have been better for everyone over the last few decades, and especially the last decade, if it had put weight on reducing the unemployment rate among blacks. It would have then pursued a looser policy than it did. Unemployment would have been lower across the board; and while inflation would have been higher, that would have been fine since it has been so low.

Let’s assume that Kocherlakota is right to think a looser policy would have been better. (I do, in fact, agree with him on this point.) The missing step is: Why do we think that adding a new statutory mandate to reduce racial inequality would have led to this better policy? The Fed during much of the last decade believed that if unemployment fell too low, inflation would start to rise in a dangerous way. The Fed would then have to tighten to stop it from climbing, even at the risk of causing a recession, and most people of all races would then be worse off.

The point is not that the Fed was correct in this assessment. It was clearly mistaken about how low unemployment could fall while inflation stayed low. The point, rather, is that it is not clear how a new congressional mandate to fight racial inequality would have changed that assessment. Here’s how Biden’s advisers reportedly imagine this would have worked:

Black workers have seen higher unemployment rates than other races for decades. So Biden’s camp says it’s wrong to consider a 5% jobless rate as “maximum employment,” as some did at the Fed in 2015, a time when the jobless rate for African-Americans remained at 9.4%.

Again, the Fed was wrong to think that 95 percent overall employment and 90.6 percent black employment was as good as the economy could do without higher inflation. Given that belief, however, it concluded that slowly tapping the brakes was the right thing to do. Why wouldn’t a 2015 Fed operating under the racial-equality mandate have just said, “Minimizing black unemployment over the long run requires us to start raising interest rates so as to keep inflation under control”?

A cynical way of putting this is that as long as the Fed has three statutory goals, it can always justify anything it does as a way of optimizing among them — and adding a fourth goal (racial equality) will only add to its freedom rather than constrain it. A more Fed-sympathetic way of putting it is that if the institution’s mental model of the economy is off, that’s what primarily needs changing.


A Correction on Marx


In my recent piece on reading Marx, I quote from a letter in the Marx–Engels correspondence which I characterize as Engels chastising Marx for his anti-Semitism. The letter is indeed from the Marx–Engels correspondence, but it is not a letter to Marx. The intended addressee is, apparently, unknown. I thank the reader who brought this to my attention and regret the error.

Politics & Policy

Trouble with the Curve

Tantolunden park in Stockholm, Sweden, May 30, 2020 ( TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery/Reuters)

Unherd — a British website featuring independent thinkers on the left and right – has a good interview with Anders Tegnell, the epidemiologist who has led the pandemic response in Sweden. Sweden is one of the few western democracies that did not impose a strict de jure lockdown to deal with COVID-19, though as Tegnell notes, the government did encourage, and get, a lot of voluntary social distancing from the Swedish people.

I supported a temporary lockdown during the late March–early April timeframe here in the United States, but otherwise I think Tegnell’s basic approach to the disease is the correct one, and I’m concerned that governors across the country may be abandoning it in light of the recent surge in infections in some regions.

The great difficulty with pandemics is getting a firm grip on the characteristics of the disease. Unfortunately, medical experts cannot simply study a virus and draw good conclusions about its severity, its preferred vectors of transmission, or the demographics that may be either particularly susceptible or relatively immune to its effects. That information can only be gained by observing how the virus actually works in a population, and the fog of pandemic war makes drawing firm conclusions very difficult.

Even after living with COVID-19 for half a year, there are only four things I believe we can say with high confidence about the disease: It’s highly contagious, it’s much less severe than we originally feared, only the very elderly are at serious risk, and those who have been infected and have recovered acquire an immunity that removes them from the pool of targets for the disease.

In dealing with a pandemic, the right goal is to reduce the total human harm over the life of the pandemic. That includes serious illness and death inflicted by the disease itself, but also harm from other illnesses that would have been treated but for restrictions imposed by the pandemic, as well as the secondary but very real human deprivations that occur when the normal patterns of life are disrupted.

The ripple effects of an epidemic are alienation, abuse, poverty, and mental illness. Those effects tend to cascade over time, and they have the potential to be greater than the immediate health consequences of the disease.

That is the reason there is such value in getting through the epidemic as quickly as possible. It’s the only way to minimize both the immediate and secondary damage. In the absence of a safe and effective vaccine, the disease has to spread enough, and create enough natural immunity across all the regions of the country, that infection becomes uncommon, deaths are reduced, and people feel free to work, learn, travel, and socialize on normal terms.

Epidemics obey Farr’s curve. Once a contagious virus has seeded sufficiently in an area — and that had happened in parts of the United States by at least January and probably before — then in the absence of artificial controls infections will spike rapidly and then just as rapidly subside as those who are most likely to get and spread the disease are removed from the target population.

Fortunately, there is evidence that the necessary level of immunity is reached at levels far lower than a majority of the population. Sweden seems to have reached that point.

We can not repeal Farr’s curve, and it is not desirable to flatten it beyond what is necessary to protect the vulnerable demographics and preserve hospital capacity.

That means we should quarantine the sick, take every possible step to keep the virus away from where senior citizens live or congregate, and manage our ICU capacity to prepare for surges in need. We should continue the search for and use of therapeutics to reduce further the severity of the disease. We should strongly encourage protocols, such as hand washing, and yes, wearing masks, which hold some promise for moderating the epidemic without actually prohibiting social interaction.

Other than that, we should keep society as open as possible, relying mostly on the good sense of the people to flatten sufficiently the upside of the epidemic curve.

As an economics professor of mine was fond of saying, “The crew of the Titanic stopped doing dishes when the ship hit the iceberg.” Populations change their behavior when an emergency like a pandemic hits. They learn to balance the danger presented by the disease in light of their individual and family circumstances. Not everyone makes the best judgments of course, but over time people and organizations learn how to reduce risk and slow the spread of the disease while continuing to go about some semblance of normal life.

As that adjustment occurs, government lockdowns become less necessary to flatten the curve. Since lockdowns cause cascading damage the longer they are in place, and especially if they are re-imposed after having been lifted, the balance of harm therefore weighs more and more against them over time.

Four months ago, I predicted the “rolling series of epidemics” we are now witnessing around the country. It is concerning to see infections going up in different regions, but as long as fatalities remain low, and hospitals have sufficient capacity to care for the sick, the fact that the disease is progressing through the less vulnerable parts of the population is a sign of progress, not failure. It means that more areas are moving closer to the end of the pandemic.

The only other possible policy is what Tegnell calls “eradication,” which means isolating the country, and locking down people within it, to the extent necessary to snuff out incidence of the disease. As Tegler notes, that has been the approach in New Zealand. So far it’s worked there, and more power to the Kiwis. But they are going to have to remain very isolated until a vaccine is developed, and the economic devastation from that is already great and will continue to grow.

More to the point, New Zealand has a small, homogeneous, and compliant population. It’s also an island country that can easily regulate or prevent entry. The United States is none of those things, and it’s simply not feasible to believe that the American people as a whole will be willing to submit to the kind of restrictions for the length of time that would be necessary to eradicate the disease here, even if we were willing to accept the secondary harm that would cause.

We have tools at our disposal to deal with COVID-19 that we did not have five months ago: better therapies, more stockpiled capacity, a population that is more aware of how to balance risk, and the knowledge that most people are not at serious risk should they become infected. All of that has increased our margin of safety. We should push that margin to the limit if necessary. The faster we can afford to allow the curve to go up, the quicker it will go down, and the less harm of all kinds it will cause over the life of the pandemic.

Economy & Business

What Makes a Car American?

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade is unveiled during Oscar week in Los Angeles, Calif., February 4, 2020. (Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters)

As the automotive industry continues to globalize, some are wondering, “What is an American car?” Dmitri Solzhenitsyn recently wrote a piece making the case for why we should buy from Cadillac — the luxury arm of General Motors — concluding, “In any case, as American consumers, we surely have the right to make the aesthetic — perhaps irrational — decision to voluntarily purchase the fruits of American design, ingenuity, and labor, whether they be those of Cadillac, Tesla, or Chevy.” In response, Kevin Williamson cast doubt upon the status of most any car as being American, as supply chains make them the product of a dozen or more nations. My view is that it matters not where the vehicle’s parts were sourced or in which plant it was assembled; an American car earns its distinction by what it aspires to be.

To be “American” properly understood, one of three qualities must be fulfilled — preferably two simultaneously. First, the vehicle should truly rip — embarrassing cars at twice its pricepoint in a straight line. Second, driving it should be like sitting on a couch attached to clouds connected via cumulus coilovers, wafting drivers effortlessly from Arizona to Vermont in the span of a day (if they are so inclined). Third, it should provide more elevation than God’s, more storage than a semi, and more towing capacity than your sorry fishing boat will ever need.

If at all possible, the vehicle must be too garish for the pearl-clutching British sensibility, too wide for Italian and Japanese through-fares, and too crudely engineered to leave a German engineer’s Auto-CAD program.

The upcoming C8 Corvette is an American car for the first requirement, and it goes whole hog. Boasting a twin-turbo V8 which produces around 700 horsepower, the C8 tears a hole in space with a 2.7 second 0–60 MPH time. For comparison, the Ford GT, Ferrari F8 Tributo, and Lamborghinio Huracan Evo clock in two tenths of a second slower for — at a minimum — thrice the price. (Other cars in this category are the Tesla Model S (any vehicle with a setting of “Ludicrous Speed” is automatically American: the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, and, for a historic example, the custom Shelby Mustang in Bill Cosby’s stand-up special 200 M.P.H.)

Will the C8, being a GM product, have horrid build quality, at least one major recall, and many wrecks as individuals who that morning drove a Chevy Traverse to the track find out what acceleration feels like as they hit the tire wall on a hairpin turn deploying the airbags straight into their noses? Yes, almost certainly. However, it is an American tradition to attempt the seemingly ill-advised or dangerous; to be told something shouldn’t be done due to propriety falls upon deaf ears. From George III onward, we have been a people who often tell nags where to shove it; generally to our — and the world’s — benefit.

The Toyota Avalon fits nicely as an example of requirement two. It is a massive corporate sedan with soft suspension, buttery leather seats, and all the comforts of home for a reasonable price. Like the Buicks and Lincolns of yesteryear, the Avalon moves nowhere quickly, but it hardly needs to. It will carry you and your family across thousands of miles in this fine country with nary a complaint or sore rump. Its understated elegance speaks of a Protestant work ethic and self-effacement not seen in today’s aggressively hideous and “sporty” Cadillacs, BMWs, and Mercedes.

Should you want a nasty, American combination of speed and comfort, the Mercury Marauder — derived from the Mercury Grand Marquis/Ford Crown Vic land yachts — has both the plush accoutrements of an executive sedan and 300 H.P. stealthily residing under the hood.

Kevin Williamson wrote a few years back about vehicles fitting requirement three: trucks and the Sport Utility Vehicle. Once thought dead, these vehicles are resurgent. But not all are created equal. Once the realm of V8 Chevy Suburbans and Jeep Cherokees, the segment has been infiltrated by four-cylinder horror shows such as the Chevy Trax, Ford Escape, and the *shudder* Nissan Juke. An American SUV or truck should make Tesla Y drivers apoplectic with revulsion, and should be able to depart a Texas interstate through the ditch onto the frontage road instead of using the paved exit and pull a camper from a Wisconsin side yard to the Grand Canyon with ease. Current examples are the Toyota Land Cruiser, RAM 1500, and Ford F-150. Anything British (Land or Range Rover) must heed the Australian proverb: “If you want to go into the bush, you take a Land Rover, but if you want to come back, you take a Toyota Land Cruiser.” American cars are reliable because we’ve been the comeback kings since Valley Forge through Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor.

In short, to be American the vehicle must exemplify all that we are. Our cars, like us, are slightly flawed and occasionally bizarre, but filled with vigor and chutzpah to show up those who look down their noses at us and our exceptional way of being. Though the badges may be foreign, investors diverse, and the parts crossing borders many times, the American car lives as long as there are Americans to recognize them for their freedom-loving virtues. God bless America, God bless the American automobile.

Politics & Policy

The Complications of That Payroll-Tax Cut


Jim Tankersley explains how it could end up being a lot smaller than advertised:

The uncertainty raises a host of questions for companies and workers, including a cascade of intricate tax questions, according to a recent analysis published by Joe Bishop-Henchman of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. (For example: If workers owe less payroll tax, they would owe slightly more income tax; would employers change, on the fly and in the middle of the year, how much income tax they withhold?) He concluded that most companies were unlikely to take any risks.

“Without detailed answers to some of these questions,” Mr. Bishop-Henchman wrote, “employers might just steer clear of all of it by continuing to do what they’ve always done, blunting the desired economic impact of reducing taxes.”


The Swedish Convergence


Richard Milne in the FT:

Sweden is no longer the outlier it used to be on coronavirus. It no longer has the least restrictive approach to the pandemic in Europe and it has lost its briefly held status as the country with the highest number of deaths per capita after its number of Covid-19 cases decreased over the summer. Its economy has suffered less than the European average in recent months, but at least as much and possibly more than its Nordic neighbours.