Fiscal Policy

Congress Is Blowing Its Deadline for COVID Relief

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A man who lost his job leaves an Arkansas Workforce Center after filing for unemployment amid the spread of the coronavirus in Fayetteville, Ark., April 6, 2020. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

On Wednesday I had a piece that started this way:

You can give House Democrats credit for one thing: When they realized that another COVID-19 relief bill would be necessary, they got right on it. Their HEROES Act — I won’t bore you with the full name — has been passed and sitting on the shelf for a couple of months now. Senate Republicans, by contrast, just unveiled their HEALS Act proposal this week, as the previous round of unemployment relief approached its end-of-July expiration date.

Thus, we’re in for another one of those confusing bursts of last-minute legislative chaos, in which major provisions change constantly as the House, the Senate, and the White House try to whip up something they can all agree on. More than likely, we’ll find out too late about a bunch of drafting errors and unintended loopholes, but that’s Washington for you.

I was too optimistic. Instead of passing a rush job or even just temporarily extending the status quo while working out the next step, Congress is blowing the deadline. Reports The Hill:

Enhanced unemployment benefits are set to expire as congressional negotiators are deadlocked over a coronavirus relief deal.

The additional $600 a week in unemployment insurance that Congress provided in late March will sunset on Friday at midnight, dealing a significant financial blow to millions of jobless Americans amid a weakening labor market.

Lawmakers had hoped the deadline, which was known for months, would result in the kind of eleventh-hour agreement that was once commonplace in Washington. But in a sign of how far apart negotiators are, the Senate left town for the week on Thursday, ensuring Congress will careen over the looming unemployment cliff.

And while the GOP Senate waited until the last possible second to get moving, the Democrats rejected a lengthy extension of the $600-per-week unemployment boost, per Politico:

[White House chief of staff Mark] Meadows made an offer to extend enhanced unemployment at $600 per week for four months as a stand-alone bill. This is a new offer from the White House, and further than Republicans have gone thus far. It’s an extension of current law — something the GOP has railed against. Pelosi and Schumer rejected the offer, and countered with extending enhanced unemployment insurance at the same rate — $600 per week — through the first quarter of 2021.

Bang-up job, everyone!

Politics & Policy

Remembering Herman Cain

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Herman Cain, the pizza magnate and talk-radio host who sought the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, died Thursday of COVID-19 at the age of 74.

David Von Drehle has a nice appreciation of Cain at the Washington Post.

Cain’s 2012 campaign staffer Ellen Carmichael remembers her boss in this Twitter thread: 

https://twitter.com/ellencarmichael/status/1288841949131284480

Matt Lewis shares a story Cain recounted of growing up under segregation: 

In 2011, I spent some time with Cain for a story about his presidential campaign, which you can read here.

Politics & Policy

In God We Trust

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(traveler1116/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

On July 30, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the law P. L. 84-140, which made “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto. The motto had appeared on coins since the Civil War era, but now it would also be printed on paper currency.

Critics grumbled about the new motto stamped on their dollar bills. To them, the law was an unholy marriage between church and state. Eisenhower was raised religious and baptized as a Presbyterian in adulthood; his baptism took place one year into his first presidential term. He was devout, undoubtedly, though any sober-minded person would conclude that he never acted like a zealot.

In fact, his decision to make “In God We Trust” our national motto had nothing to do with forcing his own flavor of Christianity upon the citizens of the United States. Rather, it was to foster a sense of spirituality and transcendence that had been lost after the carnage of World War II and the dropping of the atomic bombs.

On Flag Day in 1954, Eisenhower delivered a speech addressing the new phrase he had added lawfully to the Pledge to the Flag. The phrase was: “Under God”.

Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.

In 2020, there are political tribes and vocal ideological minorities such as Black Lives Matter and the illiberal Catholic Integralists who want to force their ethics onto their fellow citizens in a despotic fashion. Eisenhower’s spiritual wisdom offers a timely viewpoint that resists this grotesque ‘tyranny of the minority’.

It was also wisdom shared by the great pamphleteer and patriot Thomas Paine. Writing in the Age of Reason, Paine articulates a sentiment similar to Eisenhower’s:

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. . . . I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy. . . . I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

Economics

ESG on a Tear, But No Boohoo (Maybe)

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A sign for BlackRock at their building in New York City (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The attempt to legislate for society via shareholder resolution rather than old-fashioned elections trundles on.

A week or so back, S&P Global reported that BlackRock, the world’s largest asset-management company, and, these days, one of the most prominent advocates of “socially responsible” investing (SRI), had been voting the shares that it controls in the way that it has been promising:

BlackRock Inc. voted against dozens of management recommendations during the 2020 shareholder proxy season after finding that those companies were not making enough progress on climate issues.

In a report released July 14, the world’s largest asset manager said it had identified 244 companies . . . that “are making insufficient progress integrating climate risk into their business models or disclosures.”

Nearly 80% of those companies were placed “on watch,” a classification that BlackRock uses to tell those management teams that they have 12 to 18 months to meet its climate expectations or risk facing voting action next year. For the remaining 53 companies, BlackRock took several material actions against management including siding with shareholders on their proposals, voting against board members and raising governance concerns. The companies that BlackRock took voting action against during the 2020 proxy season came from a mix of industries, though energy dominated that cohort with 37 companies, according to the report. BlackRock also voted against proposals at seven utility companies, four industrials companies, four materials companies and one financial firm.

“A wide variety of investors, including BlackRock, have expressed their concerns about the investment risks of insufficient climate risk management,” the company wrote. “In 2020, we took voting action against those companies where we found corporate leadership unresponsive to investors’ concerns about climate risk or assessed their disclosures to be insufficient given the importance to investors of detailed information on climate risk and the transition to a low-carbon economy.”…

With $6.467 trillion in assets under management, BlackRock is one of the largest shareholders at most publicly traded companies in the U.S. As a result, BlackRock has faced pressure from climate activists for years to use its position to introduce sweeping changes at its portfolio companies. Fink’s January letter sent a clear message that climate, as well as other environmental, social and governance issues, would be paramount in BlackRock’s stewardship going forward.

“Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects,” Fink wrote. “In the near future — and sooner than most anticipate — there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

A “defining factor.” Really? It’s not necessary to be a climate ‘denier’ (FWIW, I’m a ‘lukewarmer’), to think that statement might owe as much to ideology as to science.

In one sense, albeit a self-fulfilling sense, Fink is right, however. If enough investors convince themselves that they should not be putting money into assets deemed to be responsible for climate change, then (1) whether they are right or wrong about climate change, or, (2) perhaps even more importantly, whether or not changing corporate behavior in the manner that they want will make any material difference to the way that the climate changes, their unwillingness to invest will still depress the value of those assets now deemed to be unacceptable.

Bloomberg Green (sic):

The Mt Arthur coal mine in Australia is one of the world’s best. It’s got plenty of reserves and the low-cost supplies produced there are easily shipped to Southeast Asia, where there’s insatiable appetite for the fuel.

Yet owner BHP Group has a problem: It’s struggling to find a buyer willing to pay the right price.

The world’s biggest mining company’s unsuccessful effort over the past year to offload the asset highlights the predicament producers are in. To bow to mounting investor pressure to exit the most polluting fuel, BHP may need to sell a profitable mine for much less than it believes it’s worth. . . .

Coal-asset values have collapsed quickly. Rio Tinto Group sold its last coal mines for almost $4 billion just two years ago amid strong interest from big miners and private equity groups. Now rivals BHP and Anglo American Plc risk paying the price of waiting too long.

“We could have exited a few years back, and we probably would have got a better price, but we’ve also made good cash flows from what are good assets,” Anglo American Chief Executive Officer Mark Cutifani said. “How we exit is more important to me, in terms of stakeholders and reputation, than getting an absolute number on the bottom line.”

It appears that “stakeholders and reputation” matter more, at least where this is concerned, than the bottom line.

That sounds like a comment from a CEO who has forgotten who owns his company and for whom, therefore, he works, at least in theory. That would be the shareholders.

Meanwhile, there’s been some embarrassment in that what is probably the most important subset of SRI, so-called ESG investing, where investors look at how companies shape up against certain somewhat variably defined environmental (‘E’), social (‘S’) and governance (‘G’) criteria.

The Financial Times:

Just weeks before Boohoo was hit with fresh allegations about poor working practices in factories that make its clothes, MSCI gave the UK fast-fashion retailer a clean bill of health.

The rating and index provider reiterated Boohoo’s double A rating — its second-highest ranking — while highlighting how it scored far above the industry average on supply-chain labour standards in a June update of the online retailer’s environmental, social and governance ranking.

That exceptional rating — which placed Boohoo among the top 15 per cent of its peers based on ESG metrics — as well as the decision by so-called sustainable funds to invest in the retailer has come under fire in recent weeks after the Sunday Times claimed garment workers at a Leicester factory making clothes for one of Boohoo’s brands were paid below the minimum wage and suffered poor working conditions.

Boohoo has since announced an independent review of its UK supply chain, said it had not uncovered “evidence of suppliers paying workers £3.50 per hour”, and alleged there were inaccuracies in the investigative reporting. . . .

Several asset managers pointed to Boohoo’s good ESG ratings, both from MSCI and others, as a factor in their investment decision even if some say they also carry out their own analysis.

The influence of ESG rating providers has grown significantly in recent years in tandem with an explosion in demand for sustainable investing, as groups from large pension funds to retail investors look for investment products that do good as well as generate returns.

We will have to see what (if anything) the review turns up, but this, from the London Times, wasn’t reassuring:

Investors who bought Boohoo shares because of its high ethical ratings missed a “clear red flag” that should have alerted them to problems in its supply chain, a leading City broker says.

In a highly critical research note, Liberum said some of the fast-fashion group’s institutional investors should have queried limited disclosures on the sources of its cut-price clothing.

The company has won a loyal following among ethically minded shareholders, thanks to rankings on environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards. . . .

There are a lot of questions that can be asked about ESG, ranging from issues of fiduciary duty, to the fees charged on some ESG products, to the logic of bundling E, S and, the relatively uncontroversial G together, both from the point of view of performance (there is some evidence that suggests G adds to performance, while E and S detract) and logic. What’s more, sometimes the dictates of E and S can pull in opposite directions. The relative weighting attached to the E and the S can also lead to very different results. There can even be disagreement on how to score within a single category.

The Irish Times:

“MSCI gave Tesla a near-perfect score for environment, due to its emphasis on the low carbon produced and its clean technology,” notes the SCM report, “whilst FTSE gave it a ‘zero’ on environment as it only rates the emissions from its factories [something that in fact is heavily related to Tesla’s disclosure policies]”.

All this has produced rich pickings for the ESG ratings agencies. They are just part of the profitably flourishing eco-system that SRI has generated. They have, of course, a vested interest in seeing that market grow.

Not that they have to worry about that for now.

The Financial Times:

More than 360 new ESG-focused funds were launched by asset managers across Europe last year alone according to data provider Morningstar. Investors have piled into sustainable funds, which pulled in a record-breaking €120bn in Europe last year — 2.5 times the amount in 2018.

Immigration

DACA Drags On

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DACA supporters outside the White House, September 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

DACA is shaping up to be like the Spanish-American War tax or Jim Geraghty’s USDA Agency of Invasive Species — an almost unkillable absurdity.

Since the first days of this administration, I’ve been trying to hold the president to his unequivocal promise to terminate the unlawful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program “on Day One.” The White House was afraid to follow through, but eventually, on Day 228, DHS rescinded (with a wind-down period) the Obama-era memo that granted work permits to roughly three-quarters of a million illegal immigrants who came here before age 16.

What no one anticipated at the time were the lengths to which our lawless courts would go to keep DACA in place; my colleague Andrew Arthur includes a DACA timeline in a piece today. The Supreme Court ruled 5–4 last month (guess who was number five) that DACA — a program pulled out of thin air, with no basis in statute or regulation — could only be rescinded by jumping through the hoops of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which is supposed to be for promulgating and changing formal regulations, not ephemeral (not to mention illegal) policy directives.

This week, the administration finally responded to the absurd SCOTUS ruling with a plan for coming up with a rescission order that won’t give John Roberts any pretext for continuing to delay the termination of the program. In the meantime, the new DHS directive allows DACA to continue, though with no new applications, with a renewable duration of only one year from the current two years, and ending the practice of granting “advance parole” to DACAs (which facilitates the conversion of DACA’s amnesty-lite to the amnesty-premium of a green card). In addition, DHS has proposed charging a fee for DACA renewals; currently there is no fee for DACA itself, only for the work permit and fingerprinting. This would raise the total cost of renewing DACA from $495 to $765 (which is still only about half of what it actually costs to process the package of DACA applications, meaning the rest is poached from fees paid by legal immigrants).

Some immigration hawks were disappointed that DHS isn’t just pulling the plug on DACA immediately. The Heritage Foundation, for instance, said that “conservatives are right to be disappointed that DACA continues to live on.” But as the OG Squeaky Wheel for ending DACA, I actually think the administration is approaching this the only way it can. Since any new rescission order will receive a judicial colonoscopy, DHS needs to make sure to polish its every emanation and penumbra. None of that should be necessary for the simple rescission of a memo, but that’s the hand that’s been dealt.

Even if the new belt-and-suspenders rescission memo is issued before January 20, if Biden wins, his DHS secretary (Ilhan Omar may be looking for a job!) will simply rescind the rescission — and, needless to say, the #Resistance judiciary won’t hold a Democratic administration to the same bogus APA standard as they have Trump.

Of course, Congress could rouse itself to do some legislating and give the DACAs green cards (something the president has supported, with conditions, for years), but I’m not holding my breath.

Adoption
Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye Today: Family Heartache, Anti-Semitism in Brooklyn, Finding Beauty in Creation & More (July 30, 2020)

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1. Lord have mercy on this heartbroken family  — the heroic birth mother and heroic adoptive parents and all who love them.

2.

3.

4.

5. People: Tx. Pastor Killed by Car While Helping Stranded Motorist: He ‘Gave His Life’ So ‘Others May Live’

6. NBC New York: ‘My Son Is Gone:’ Heartache, Tears at Funeral of 1-Year-Old Killed in NYC Shooting

7. Chuck Donovan & Donna Harrison: COVID-19 Has Given Abortion Providers a Terrifying Opportunity, And They’re Acting Fast

With a stroke of his pen, a single federal judge in Maryland has struck down a longstanding health regulation from the Food and Drug Administration that was designed to provide women with a modicum of contact with a member of the medical profession.

In a giant leap backward for humankind, Judge Theodore Chuang imposed a new policy, initially limited to the era of COVID-19, that allows abortion facilities to operate essentially as pill mills.

8. BBC News: Mexico Supreme Court rejects state’s bid to decriminalise abortion

9. George W. Bush at John Lewis’s funeral

10. R.I.P.

https://twitter.com/dandarling/status/1288927147663523840?s=11

11. Walter Russell Mead: “There are still liberals in the Arab world, and some of them are secular, but nobody thinks they will drive policy for the foreseeable future.

12.

13. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Cardinal Sean O’Malley & Archbishop Jose H. Gomez: Catholic Schools Are Worth Saving

Catholic schools are worth saving not only for the proven results in serving children from low-income, working-class and middle-income families, but because of the impact our schools have on American society as a whole.

Continue reading “Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye Today: Family Heartache, Anti-Semitism in Brooklyn, Finding Beauty in Creation & More (July 30, 2020)”

Elections

Congressional Republicans Sound Off on Trump’s Election-Delay Tweet

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President Trump’s tweet floating the postponement of the November general election — something that has never happened and something only Congress has the constitutional authority to do — prompted a backlash from a congressional GOP caucus that’s usually reluctant to criticize him.

Texas congressman Will Hurd: “We are not an authoritarian government.”

Nebraska senator Ben Sasse: “The President should not sow distrust, and state governments should safeguard the ballot box whether the votes are cast this fall by mail or in person.”

Iowa senator Chuck Grassley: “All these things are pretty well set and have been going on for decades. And so we’re a country based on the rule of law so nobody’s going to change anything until we change the law.”

Missouri senator Roy Blunt: “The United States held elections during the Civil War, the 1918 pandemic, and World War II. There is no justification for changing the date of the upcoming November elections.”

More comments from Senate Republicans in this thread: 

Elections

Hey, Guys, That ‘Letter of the Law’ Thing Matters

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A voter drops ballots for the March 3 Super Tuesday primary into a mobile voting mail box in Laguna Woods, Calif., February 24, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

USA Today turns over some op-ed space to David Rothkopf, host of Deep State Radio, who declares that “the threat posed by Trump’s musing about illegally delaying the election must be seen not in terms of the letter of the law but of Trump’s intent, of his situation and of his history.”

That letter of the law thing matters, though. For starters, the U.S. legal code declares, “The Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November, in every even numbered year, is established as the day for the election, in each of the States and Territories of the United States, of Representatives and Delegates to the Congress commencing on the 3d day of January next thereafter.” Changing that would require an act of Congress. Article II of the U.S. Constitution explicitly states:

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

Without a congressional act, voting will occur in all 50 states on November 3, come hell or high water. Period. Full stop. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect 200 dollars.

The USA Today op-ed includes the headline, “Take Trump seriously. Laws and the Constitution haven’t stopped him yet.” What on earth are they talking about? As of April 2019, the administration had lost in federal court at least 70 times. Just recently, the Trump administration lost cases on DACA and on access to his personal financial records.

Rothkoph warns that “complacency about the seriousness of the threat posed by the president’s tweet was exactly the wrong one.”

If Trump wanted to postpone the election, how would he do so? He cannot simply declare Election Day rescheduled via Twitter. The federal government has very little say in how elections are run in the United States. Elections are conducted locally, usually administered by county or city officials or clerks.

The president can’t unilaterally alter anything about the voting process. The people running the polls don’t answer to him! (And just who would enforce this presidential edict?)

The person in charge of a state’s elections varies from state to state. Twenty-four states have an elected secretary of state whose duties include administering elections, nine states have a board or a commission that oversees elections, seven use a combination of a chief election official and a board or commission, five states have a chief election official appointed by the governor, and two have the lieutenant governor as the chief election official. Those figures are accountable to the citizens of their states; they don’t answer to the U.S. president.

The entire op-ed amounts to a contention that yes, the president has no authority to do this, but people should be frightened by the president’s suggestion anyway.

Isn’t everybody frightened enough these days?

Culture

Mask-Wearing and the Common Good

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A couple wearing face masks walk by a wall with graffiti after health authorities reversed reopening following the increase in cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in San Jose, Costa Rica, July 13, 2020. (Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters)

Much fuss has been made in recent months about the question of facial coverings, and it isn’t worth recounting in detail what has been said on all sides of the subject. To my mind, the perspectives at either extreme (the hyper-partisan, unflinchingly pro- and anti-mask perspectives) are obviously wrong and not worth responding to.

But the debate over whether, when, and why we ought to cover our faces, in the hopes that doing so will at least mitigate the risk of transmitting or contracting coronavirus — and the related question of mask-wearing policies — is a helpful occasion to revisit how we talk about the common good in a policy context.

There are plenty of understandable reasons why one might dislike wearing a mask or facial covering, and to those objections, the best response is some form of an appeal to the needs of those who are more at risk. A younger person, for instance, might have relatively little reason to worry about his own health if he chooses not to wear a mask in the grocery store, and it places a certain limit on his autonomy that he is required to do so. But the policy demanding that he wear a mask isn’t primarily aimed at his own good; it is aimed rather at the good of those more at risk than he is — the elderly, the immunocompromised, etc.

It’s a simple enough idea. Even those of us who are less at risk from this disease assume the burden of mask-wearing to protect those among us who stand to lose their lives. To most people, this seems like a relatively innocuous and comprehensible notion. Our actions affect those around us, even if they first and foremost have to do with ourselves, our bodies, and our own choices.

Though Americans of all political stripes have by and large embraced masking policies, there’s an aggressively pro-masking contingent on the Left, composed primarily of the sorts of progressives who likely have been glowering at you for sitting several feet away from a couple friends in your backyard or for failing to wear a mask while walking from the grocery store to your car.

By and large, these are the same progressives who loudly defend legal elective abortion — what they call “the right to choose” — relying heavily on euphemistic slogans such as “my body, my choice.” Utterly forgotten is the second body, that of the unborn human being, which must be mutilated and discarded to accommodate the wishes of the first.

If we can understand the importance of mask-wearing policies that impose on some of us for the good of the whole — policies that infringe on some aspects of our individual autonomy so as to prevent harm to others — surely we can understand a policy that curbs autonomy at the point where it involves taking another human being’s life.

World

A Respectable Nation

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During a Senate committee hearing today, California’s Dianne Feinstein said the following:

We hold China as a potential trading partner, as a country that has pulled tens of millions of people out of poverty in a short period of time, and as a country growing into a respectable nation amongst other nations. I deeply believe that.

Does she read the news?

The American and German consumer and Western trade policy have pulled tens of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. And the very unrespectable actions of their state threaten to plunge them back into it.

Elections

The Real Challenge of Voting By Mail

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With characteristic temerity, President Trump took to Twitter Thursday morning to vent about voting by mail.

 

It’s worth beginning with what’s true: There will surely be far more voting by mail this fall than we have seen before in a national election in America. That’s because election day will come amid a pandemic, and long lines at crowded polling places won’t be safe. We have already seen in primary elections in many states that many voters (of both parties) prefer to vote by mail. Some states are making special arrangements for this—changing laws, investing in technology, and the like. Others aren’t. But all will see much more voting by mail.

We have also seen that voting by mail can slow the counting of votes. Particularly in close races, this sometimes makes it impossible to declare a result on election night. Occasionally, as some primary races have shown us this year, it can take days or even weeks. But the fact that results take longer does not mean those results are tainted. The work of counting mail-in votes, and especially of verifying signatures and resolving disputes, can take time, but this is precisely the work of assuring that results are legitimate and reliable.

It’s essential that public officials help the American public understand this in advance of the fall election, to help voters see that the fact that results may not be available within hours doesn’t mean the results aren’t reliable. In other words, public officials need to be conveying precisely the opposite of the message the president delivered in his tweet. They need to convey that message because it is the truth: There simply is no pattern of elevated fraud with mail-in-voting.

Voting by mail—whether by absentee ballots (which must be requested by voters) or various universal vote-by-mail systems (where all voters receive ballots by mail)—has been pretty common in this century: In both the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 congressional elections, about a quarter of all votes were cast by mail, with more than 30 million Americans voting that way in each case. Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—run their elections primarily by mail. And neither in those five states nor in studies looking at absentee and mail-in voting in other states is there any discernible pattern of elevated fraud. As with in-person voting, there are some known instances of fraud involving mail-in ballots of course. But no one has found any broader pattern of such fraud.

There may be solid, civic reasons to dislike voting by mail in normal times. But in a year when voting in person will be unsafe for many Americans, mail-in voting offers a vital alternative, and it is crucial to help voters see that there are not in fact reasons to think that it enables fraud.

Nor, by the way, is there a clear reason to think that mail-in balloting would advantage Democrats, as Republicans seem implicitly to assume. That view seems well out of date at best. Evidence and analysis in this century suggests that mail-in balloting advantages the two parties roughly evenly, and that it is of particular help to older voters, who tend these days to vote Republican.

As for delaying the election, it is as usual a little hard to say just what the president had in mind in his tweet. Waiting until the pandemic threat passes certainly isn’t an option. And even a more modest delay simply wouldn’t be up to him. The Constitution, in Article II, section I, says that “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress” and that “The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

And the Congress has determined just that. As the law (at 3 USC 1) puts it:

The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.

The law further states, at 3 USC 7, that:

The electors of President and Vice President of each State shall meet and give their votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December next following their appointment at such place in each State as the legislature of such State shall direct.

And it states (at 3 USC 5) that as long as a state certifies its results at least six days before that meeting of the electors, that result “shall be conclusive.”

There is no role for the president in any of this, and his view regarding whether the election should happen on schedule is as irrelevant as mine or (unless you’re a member of Congress) yours.

Should Congress consider delaying the election, then? I don’t think it should. The kinds of challenges that will confront election administrators in this pandemic year don’t lend themselves to being resolved in short order, so that there isn’t really any advantage to be gained by Congress delaying the election a little.

But there may well be a way for Congress to help the election go more smoothly in those later two parts of the code I just cited above. The problem mail-in voting can create, especially in jurisdictions that aren’t used to so much of it, isn’t about fraud but about delays in counting and verifying results. So what may need to be adjusted is not the date of the election but the Electoral College deadlines that follow it.

I made a case for a reform like this (with Kevin Johnson of the Election Reformers Network) earlier this month in the Washington Post. As things now stand, election day is November 3, states need to finalize their results by December 8 to avoid their being challenged in Congress, and then members of the Electoral College are to meet on December 14. Congress certifies the results on January 6, and the winner is inaugurated January 20. That means that there are 78 days between the election and the inauguration, but states have only 35 of those days to finalize their results. As we’ve seen in some primaries this year, that simply may not be enough time in some contested states.

So rather than changing the election date, Congress should act to push back—just for this year—the date by which states have to finalize results and the date on which the electors meet. Pushing those back by two or three weeks could give contested states a lot more breathing room to deal with the actual challenges involved in mail-in voting while the election, certification, and inauguration would all go on as scheduled.

Making such a change would only requite a very simple tweak—a couple of sentences of legislative language. If it were done now, before anyone votes, it wouldn’t advantage one party over the other, so it might have a shot even in this polarized Congress. And if things don’t go smoothly on election day, it could make a big difference and help avoid a crisis of legitimacy. Some states would need to alter their own laws to make uses of the extra time, or to petition a state judge to extend the time for counting. But giving them the option would be a big help. If Congress is looking to avert an election mess, such a change would be much more constructive

But whatever lessons might be drawn from the problems the president gestures toward in his tweet, one more point must be made: The president is obviously not trying to be constructive. His tweet is a cynical, manipulative effort to undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of the coming election, as he has worked to undermine public confidence in all of our institutions since the moment he entered the race for the presidency five years ago. If he has concerns about election fraud, he should make his case at some length, offer evidence, and propose to congress some steps that might be taken to address his worries. But that his not his goal here. He is operating not as our president but as a kind of a tribune, channeling frustration and mistrust. It is bad enough to do this as an outsider in a time of alienation and cynicism. It is far worse to do this as President of the United States. It’s a failure of responsibility, and a travesty of leadership.

NR Webathon

A Third of the Way There, Make No Mistake: We Will Take Aqaba

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From left: Anthony Quinn, Peter O’Toole, and Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia (Columbia Pictures/via IMDb)

It’s a pity if you haven’t yet seen the magnificent Lawrence of Arabia. Since it’s based on fact, you’ll forgive my spoiling the plot, central to which is the World War I account (with dollops of artistic license) of the taking of the Turkish-held Red Sea port of Aqaba. To take it by water seemed impossible; to take it by land — which would require a (surviving!) force attacking after a prolonged and brutal desert journey — was, well, nuts. But that is how it happened: A small band of clansmen, led by the determined British officer, endured the Arabian Desert (“God’s Anvil”) and took the port from the rear.

It could be done. The far can be fetched.

Why the cartoonish history lesson? Well, it has to do with our current webathon, now a week old, and facing an additional long, 17 summer-dog-days to endure before we reach (we hope, we pray) our goal of $250,000 — each and every buck sorely needed during this pitched battle against the ascendant foes of Western civilization and the enemies of the principles on which this very Republic is founded.

Lawrence’s small force grew as he plodded on through the brutal journey. So has ours: As of 1 p.m. today, 908 fellow conservatives — maybe even some from atop a camel — have closed ranks with NR to help wage this critical battle (the total donated so far is a speck over $80,300). This keyboard to God’s Ears: Would that another 908, and then another, and then half that again too, sign up over the next two-plus weeks to sustain conservatism’s central voice of sanity and straight-shooting as we stand athwart the cancelers and tell them where they can put their progressive sanctimony.

Since our last update a few days back, many have seen fit to contribute, and a few have offered comments that we always find inspiring. Maybe you will too:

  • Barbara spots us a Fifty and compliments galore: “Thanks NR! One of my favorite things about NR is finding two articles representing very different viewpoints on the same topic on the same day. Keep up the vital work!” It is vital, but it’s kept up thanks to your kindness.
  • Jim also tenders $50 and a speck of gloom: “In the words of Andrew McCarthy, ‘Some days, it just feels like we are doomed.’ We need NR to be there to help us during these times.” We’re here Jim 24/7, never flagging. Do not despair!
  • Todd sends $50 and something else just this side of a marriage proposal: “To say that I love National Review and that is a much-needed lifeline to me in this insane time in our country is an understatement. I pray that all of you at National Review will continue on your mission to give citizens an objective analysis about politics and our nation. William Buckley would certainly be proud of what he has built. God bless you all!” Back at you, and yeah, we do think Bill would approve.
  • Another General Grant arrives, this from David, who maybe just watched Zulu: “Keep it up NR. You are the last defense.” Bayonets are fixed. Front ranks, Fire! Thanks for the ammo David.
  • Jake plops $100 on us and gushes with tributes: “Keep up the incredible work! I don’t know what I’d do without NR, both for the entertainment it provides and the way it arms us to deal with this nonsense that y’all so tirelessly fight against. Anything that Madeleine Kearns or Kevin Williamson writes is must-read material for me too.” Jake, we’re thrilled to find you in the foxhole with us.
  • Paul sends $100 and finds it’s high time: “Can’t watch from the sidelines any more. This is in my streets, it’s at my office, it’s at my kids’ schools. . . . Cancel the madness.” That’s our objective. Great to have you at the barricades.
  • Michael’s $10 has a value, but his comment is incalculable: “I apologize that I cannot donate more. I read NR every day. I recently learned that this magazine/site is a multigenerational staple for my family. I have been reading it for the past year or so. My parents read it. As did my grandparents. Your articles are well-written and well-researched. I trust what I’m reading on your site. You have no idea how rare and valuable that is these days (or perhaps you do).” No apologies needed Mike. The family that NR’s together . . .

Dig Mike’s sentiment: Your articles are well-written and well-researched. I trust what I’m reading on your site. You have no idea how rare and valuable that is these days (or perhaps you do). Yeah, we do. Which is why we can make this appeal with a good conscience. The truth that’s unspun; commentary that’s educated; analysis that’s convincing; principles that are unmovable: That’s what NR is about. Bill Buckley created this entity 65 years ago with the goal of staring down the elite, the culture mavens, the way-the-other-side-of-center news dispensers, the even-farther-left sanctimonious academics. On our behalf, on yours, especially on the principles we share, and even more especially on these United States of America, we refuse their demands to shut up. And Paul hits the nail square on the head: You can’t watch any longer from the sidelines. So please do support NR, right now. Whether your contribution is $10 or $100 or $1,000 or more, no amount is too small, no amount too big. The aid is truly needed (fact is, we need at least double our objective of $250,000). Donate here. To show your support by check, that thrills us too: Make it payable to “National Review” and mail it to National Review, ATTN: Summer 2020 Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036. In advance of your generosity, thanks so much. It means the world to us.

Politics & Policy

Things about Which I Have Been Wrong

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Note to self: When offering a hostage to Fate, never bet on things not getting dumber than they already are.

Joe Biden, based only on the voices of the choir of goblins in his head, charges that Donald Trump is going to try to use the coronavirus epidemic as an excuse to try to delay the election — or even to cancel it.

“Mark my words,” Biden said, “I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held.” Your words have been marked, Mr. Biden.

Joe Biden is still a ridiculous crank, and it still is the case that there was no reason at the time to credit Biden’s prediction, but, now, here’s Trump being Trump, limboing right under whatever the lowest bar of the day happens to be. I should have known better.

Politics & Policy

The Systemic Racism Canard’s Consequences

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A worker takes a break while cleaning up a basketball court at Glasgow Middle School, a Fairfax County Public School, during deadline day for families and teachers countywide to decide between teaching/learning from home or in the classroom due to the coronavirus, in Falls Church, Va., July 15, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Over several decades “racial disparity” has subtly morphed into “racism” and “discrimination.” The process has accelerated in the months following the killing of George Floyd.

As noted, equating racial disparities with racism or discrimination has potentially dangerous ramifications for public policy; a misdiagnosed problem sometimes leads to unintended consequences, including consequences that may be as bad as the alleged problem itself.

One example is school discipline. Black and Hispanic students have markedly higher suspension and expulsion rates than whites and Asians. The Obama administration determined that these disparities needed to be remedied. Rather than address the possibility that the higher rates of suspensions and expulsions weren’t due to systemic racism but to the fact that blacks and Hispanics engaged in misconduct meriting such discipline at a higher rate than whites and Asians (e.g., in 2015, 12.6 percent of blacks engaged in a physical fight on school property versus 5.6 percent of white students), the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education and the Civil-Rights Division of the Department of Justice issued a guidance that, among other things, triggered federal investigations of schools whose suspension/expulsion rates differed materially by race. Such investigations can be extremely expensive and time-consuming for schools. So, quite magically, the year after the guidance was issued, the suspension/expulsion disparities disappeared; i.e., black and Hispanic students who engaged in behavior that previously would’ve resulted in suspension or expulsion remained in class.

For anyone with a grain of common sense, the results were predictable. Teachers who testified on the matter before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported classrooms out of control, even teachers being severely beaten. There also was a marked increase in the number of students who reported being bullied and a significant decrease in the number of students who felt safe on school grounds (resulting in an increase in the number of students who reported not attending school at least once in the preceding 30 days due to fear of violence). Vandalism, graffiti, and disruptive classroom behaviors rose as well. Overall academic performance declined when schools banned out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. Those disproportionately affected by the chaos were black students who wished to learn.

The “systemic racism” canard is a prescription for public-policy disasters in areas ranging from criminal justice to education to economic policy. Unfortunately, it’s a rhetorically powerful and politically useful tool. So media, academia, politicians, and woke corporations will continue to repeat it to the detriment of minorities in particular, and America as a whole.

Law & the Courts

COVID, Protests, and Crime

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A new report from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice discusses the key trends. Among them are that property crime fell as the country locked down; commercial burglaries spiked for a week in late May coinciding with the George Floyd protests; overall violent-crime rates didn’t change much early in the pandemic, but robberies rose markedly from March to June; and “rates of homicide, aggravated assault, and gun assault began to increase significantly in late May.”

On that last one, the authors write that “multiple factors likely explain these trends, including diminished police legitimacy in the wake of Floyd’s killing.”

Politics & Policy

NPR Remains Journalistically Incompetent

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If you would like an example of how it is that our political discourse gets dumber by the day, tune in to NPR. This morning, Morning Edition host David Greene interviewed Senator James Lankford (R., Okla.) about unemployment benefits. The interview was a fiasco, and you can listen to this exercise in incompetence in full here.

Greene opens in the conventional way, with a soundbite from a woman called Kate who has lost her job working in a theater in California. (NPR knows its audience.) She offers the familiar tale of woe of the kind one always hears in these circumstances. Greene offers his sympathy, but he also makes it clear that he does not understand the actual facts of the case.

Greene claims that the federal government is lowering unemployment benefits from a payment of $600 a week to a payment of $200 a week. He then demands of Senator Lankford: “What makes you think that somebody like Kate can get by on $200 a week?” At which point, one would be tempted to throw the radio across the room in frustration, if the radio were not attached to an automobile.

With a sigh in his voice, Senator Lankford dutifully does his best to explain the actual facts to the NPR audience; i.e., that people in Kate’s position are not being asked to get by on $200 a week but on $200 a week on top of their regular unemployment benefits. Under normal circumstances, the senator explains, unemployment benefits cover about 70 percent of lost income; because of the extra payments authorized as part of the coronavirus response, some people are receiving up to 150 percent of their lost income, i.e., they are making more from unemployment payments than they made from working. Others are making about what they made working. The idea of the current proposal is to get unemployment back to something like 70 percent of lost wages for most people.

Greene’s response: “But this is a pandemic!”

Indeed, it is.

But why would a pandemic necessitate paying an unemployed person 150 percent of his lost wages rather than the usual payment of 70 percent or so? If there is something specific about the epidemic that makes that a necessary or prudent policy, David Greene isn’t saying.

Is pandemic unemployment a special kind of unemployment? Greene, of course, offers no explanation, because his brand of journalism is based on substituting moral posturing for understanding and on substituting emotional spectacle for doing one’s basic homework. It is shoddy stuff. But NPR too frequently traffics in this kind of thing, for instance with its utterly fictitious account of the plague of “exploding bullets” in the hands of criminals.

Greene follows up his display of ignorance with a non sequitur. Citing a Washington Post report, he notes that Oklahoma’s unemployment benefits are administered through an ancient, out-of-date computer system. Oklahoma’s system does indeed appear to be a goat rodeo, but that has very little to do with the federal- supplement formula. And James Lankford is a U.S. senator, not the governor of Oklahoma. He has approximately squat to do with the administration of state-run unemployment benefits in Oklahoma or anywhere else.

But he knows a lot more about it than the guy interviewing him does. (It is nice, for a change, for a Republican elected official to be the calm and well-informed person in the conversation.) Senator Lankford, who sounds like an Oxford don in comparison with Greene’s Beavis antics, explains, “It’s a COBOL system from 1985, actually . . . .” According to Lankford, the limitations of this system and the general scarcity of competent COBOL programmers makes it far easier to work in terms of weekly dollars rather than percentages of income. That’s an interesting thing to do. He has to explain this to Greene twice.

But here’s a Muppet News Flash for NPR: There are a great many conservative Republicans who believe that state agencies are not generally well run! They have been making a point of talking about that for a long, long time now. Flinging “but bureaucracies cannot be trusted to efficiently perform the tasks delegated to them!” at Senator Lankford is like trying to convince Grover Norquist that a tax cut is an idea worth considering. He’ll meet you more than halfway.

Greene’s performance is an example of the “often wrong, seldom in doubt” school of journalism. It is one more example of why so many people do not trust the news media, and why the news media so often does not deserve that trust.

Science & Tech

Is New York Reaching Herd Immunity?

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A couple herd-immunity studies have come out recently that are worth thinking about. The “herd immunity” threshold, of course, is the percentage of the population that needs to be infected before a virus starts naturally petering out.

The idea here is that when a disease infects people in a population, it works as a sort of “targeted vaccine,” hitting the people who are most susceptible to infection and/or have the most social contacts. If these people are the first to become immune, the virus slows down much more quickly than it would if the same number of people were, say, vaccinated at random.

Many epidemiological models don’t consider this dynamic, and when it’s added, the herd-immunity threshold can be far lower than you’d otherwise expect. These studies seem tentative at this point, but they would explain how a place as dense as New York has managed to keep the virus under control for so long.

One study suggests that “the hardest-hit areas, such as NYC, are close to the persistent heterogeneity herd immunity threshold following the first wave of the epidemic, thereby limiting the spread of infection to other regions during a potential second wave of the epidemic.” Another says the threshold could be as low as 10 to 20 percent, though that seems too low.

It’s great news if the worst-case scenario isn’t as bad as we thought, though getting the entire country to herd immunity still doesn’t sound pleasant.

Health Care

Lockdown Suicides on the Rise

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(kieferpix/Getty Images)

According to the CDC, over 147,000 people have died from COVID-19 or COVID-related causes in the United States. The number is slowly climbing, and perhaps the worst of this pandemic is yet to come. But another death toll — equally alarming, a tally with no end in sight — continues to rise as well.

CDC director Robert Redfield participated in a Buck Institute webinar on July 14. While discussing the possibility of schools reopening this fall, he also argued that young people’s mental health has been disproportionately affected by strict lockdowns.

“There has been another cost that we’ve seen, particularly in high schools.We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID,” Redfield said.

Redfield does not cite any recent data from the CDC. The latest are from 2018, when 48,290 Americans took their own lives. However, state reports — as compiled by the American Medical Association — lend credibility to his argument. In addition to the lockdowns, opioid abuse and underlying mental-health problems such as anxiety that existed long before COVID-19 play a huge role in locally reported suicides.

According to the American Medical Association, “More than 35 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder in counties and other areas within the state.”

“The AMA is greatly concerned by an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid-related mortality — particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs,” the report stated.

In Albany, Ga., Doughtery County coroner Michael Fowler claimed that suicides have increased during the pandemic. With 11 or 12 suicides in 2020 so far — the county’s typical average for an entire year — the number is likely to increase between now and January. Other coroners around Georgia haven’t yet seen a spike in their respective counties.

Georgia social worker Diana Glass, however, has witnessed more individuals behaving desperately due to unemployment and socially isolating lockdowns. “We have a behavioral-health crisis center and we have certainly seen an increase in the number of individuals that are in a crisis situation,” Glass said.

She continued, “Unemployment, if you look at it throughout history, is associated with an increase in suicide deaths and substance abuse, overdose-type deaths.”

The pandemic will surely pass at some point — when, though, is anyone’s guess. But in the wake of lockdowns and economic disaster, and with the possibility of a second wave in the fall, the mental-health crisis seems primed to intensify, with far-reaching consequences.

The Economy

Two Points about the GDP Numbers

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(1) You’ll see a lot of reports that second-quarter GDP fell 33 percent, but this isn’t really true. Specifically, this is an “annualized” number; it means that if GDP kept falling at its second-quarter rate of decline for an entire year, we’d end up down by about a third. This type of number is sometimes useful, but it’s profoundly unhelpful when we’re talking about the economic damage of deliberate, temporary lockdown measures.

Actual second-quarter GDP is about 10 percent below first-quarter GDP, $17.2 trillion vs. $19 trillion (in 2012 dollars) — which is bad enough, considering the pandemic somewhat reduced first-quarter GDP too, from $19.3 trillion in the last quarter of 2019.

(2) Apparently the stock market fell on this news, but it really shouldn’t have been surprising. Even in late March and early April, this was roughly the GDP hit that financial gurus projected. Goldman Sachs predicted a 34 percent annualized GDP decline in the second quarter; Morgan Stanley said 38 percent; JPMorgan said 40 percent.

These folks also predicted a strong recovery in the third quarter. Let’s hope they were right about that, in light of the second wave in much of the country.

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump’s Weak, Self-Defeating Call for Delaying the Election

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., September 26, 2016. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Donald Trump went and kicked the beehive again this morning on Twitter, and it was even worse than usual:

Now, we can stipulate that voting is going to be a mess this year, and Trump is right that some states are clearly not prepared for the volume of mail-in ballots they will receive:

In fact, it was not so long ago that New York governor Andrew Cuomo, among others, delayed primary elections, and liberals and progressives were furious that the Supreme Court enforced the existing laws for scheduling Wisconsin’s primary election. But it’s one thing to point out the problems with the voting system, and another to drop a 1-2 punch of wild attacks on the legitimacy of the election (the way Democrats so often do) and then floating an unserious but scary-sounding trial balloon about delaying the election. (For good measure, Trump undermined his own campaign’s prior attacks on Joe Biden for claiming that Trump would try to delay the election.) This is bad for the legitimacy of our democratic system: The rules are the rules, you play by them and if you lose, you accept it. The fact that Democrats are incapable of doing this is all the more reason why Republicans have a responsibility to stand up for the constitutional democratic system, or nobody will.

The election won’t be delayed; Trump has no legal power to do this, and House Democrats have no reason to accommodate him by changing the law. Even Trump is likely aware of this. Begging for something he has no power to do and no leverage to demand just makes him look weak. It is also a glaring statement of no-confidence in his own ability to compete in the election.

Why do this now? One theory is that he is just trying to distract from a bad GDP report this morning, but that’s not a defense. It also makes no sense. Everybody knows the economy has taken a hit from the coronavirus, and in fact, polls show that voters still have a lot more faith in Trump on the economy than they do in his handling of the virus. In other words: Bad economic news by itself does not really even hurt him much right now, politically. Convincing wavering voters that Trump is a menace to democratic elections has a lot more potential to hurt him. The instant defenses of Trump from fans in the vein of “he’s just doing this to keep the Left busy flailing at him” ignore, as they so often do, the fact that the electorate consists of a lot more than just Trump’s base and the Left.

The other theory is that Trump needs to build conspiratorial excuses in the (not certain, but likely) event that he loses — the same instinct that has members of his team going after Dr. Fauci. If Trump has visions of running again in 2024, or anointing a family member or ally, or generally remaining relevant and powerful within the party, he cannot be perceived as a loser even if he loses, badly. He is not going to persuade the general electorate in 2024 that he was robbed, but what if he doesn’t need to? If the goal is simply to ensure that the Republican Party is never able to move on from Trump, and is trapped in a self-defeating cycle of relitigating 2020, then it makes sense to do things that actively harm his reelection prospects now, in order to save face for more Trump later. This is essentially the strategy that candidates such as Roy Moore and Kris Kobach have pursued at the state level following defeats.

If I were, say, a Republican senator running for re-election right now, I’d be furious. One lesson of past campaigns is that the head of the ticket is supposed to play all the way to the whistle to keep the bottom from dropping out of down-ticket turnout. Bob Dole, for all his flaws as a national candidate, understood that and ran himself into the ground the closing weeks of 1996, doing nothing to save his own failing ticket but salvaging Republican control of Congress. If Trump is already focused in July on making excuses for losing, that is a very bad omen for Republicans in November.

Politics & Policy

Senator Mike Lee Joins CEI to Discuss the Awful Jones Act

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Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Today at noon EST, the Competitive Enterprise Institute will host Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) to discuss what is quite possibly the worst law in America. We hope you can join us.

The century-old Jones Act restricts domestic-ocean transport in order to raise the price of domestic shipping sky-high. Supporters think it is a policy of “American First,” but it is really a policy of “America Last.” It favors America’s foreign competitors by punishing domestic trade, it has ruined the U.S. oceangoing shipbuilding industry, and it has been militarily obsolete for decades. As I explain today over on the homepage, it has been particularly costly to America’s energy sector. Senator Lee has proposed important reforms of the Jones Act. But he is waging a lonely struggle in yet another area where special-interest groups flood Congress with lobbyists and nobody lobbies for the public. It is crucial to raise the public’s understanding of how this law hurts them every day.

Senator Lee will be joining CEI president Kent Lassman and me to discuss the law, the need for reform, and why reform has proven so difficult. You can register here. The announcement is here.

Culture

Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye Today: China & NBA, Flannery O’Connor & More (July 29, 2020)

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2.

3. ESPN investigation finds coaches at NBA China academies complained of player abuse, lack of schooling

4. Fr Joseph Aymanathil, the anti-COVID-19 ‘warrior priest’ is dead

Raymond Baptist, president of Kolkata Catholic Renewal Services, told AsiaNews that Fr Aymanathil had been serving the poor since the beginning of COVID-19. When the city was locked down, Fr AC regularly visited the slums, especially the children who lived there. He handed out food packages to families in various Kolkata slums.

Baptist said that he worked with Fr A. C Joseph for over 20 years, noting that he was following exactly in Mother Teresa’s footsteps on the same Kolkata streets

5. Italy: Controversial verdict may force legalization of assisted suicide

A court in the Tuscan province of Massa-Carrara ruled July 27 to acquit Mina Welby and Marco Cappato for helping Davide Trentini commit suicide in April 2017 at Dignitas, a physician-assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland.

6. This New Orleans couple had a boy they were trying to adopt taken away, and a state agency is under fire

The couple watched as the toddler they’d hoped to call their son headed on a one-way flight for New York, to live with relatives he barely knew – which included an older brother.

“He is a trusting, loving child. And now this experience of deep betrayal by people he trusts,” Courtney Landry said in despair as she recounted the departure. “To him, it might as well have been our choice to leave him at the airport. He doesn’t know.”

For the Landrys, the July 2 transfer marked a wrenching coda to a bitter child welfare and adoption case that challenged the state’s overarching focus on placing children with kin. 

7. This nun aims to get Ghana’s children off the streets, and into school

Sr. Anthonia said that passion to restore dignity among young people who have made mistakes in life inspires her apostolate.

“The work at Rays of Hope for me is not just work but rather it is a ministry and a call. Ordinarily, when you look at it with human eyes, you might not want anything to do with it,” she said.

8. I was within 90 minutes of execution for a crime I didn’t commit 

Continue reading “Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye Today: China & NBA, Flannery O’Connor & More (July 29, 2020)”

World

The Latest Research on Beijing’s Concentration-Camp Lies

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A Uighur demonstrator wears a mask at a protest in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 1, 2019. (Huseyin Aldemir / Reuters)

In the most comprehensive accounting of Beijing’s Xinjiang-related disinformation efforts to date, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, a Washington-based NGO, launched a report yesterday on how the Chinese Communist Party has worked to stall international action on its actions in the autonomous region, which a growing chorus of observers describes as a genocide.

Since 2017, Beijing has operated a network of detention facilities in China’s far West, interning what researchers say is upwards of one million Uighur Muslims. In addition to the camps, which Chinese officials describe as political “re-education” facilities, many perform forced labor for companies that sell materials to multinational corporations. The detainees are, according to reports, tortured, subjected to forced sterilizations, and, in some cases, killed. The situation in Xinjiang represents one of this century’s most widespread mass atrocities, and the CCP is covering it up.

When reports about the camps started to emerge a couple of years ago, Beijing neglected to comment on them. Eventually, though, it had to address the allegations, denying them for the first time in 2018. Starting later in the year, though, the CPP acknowledged the camps’ existence for the first time, arguing for their necessity as part of a campaign to root out terrorism and extremist activity in Xinjiang. Of course, the truth is that the detention drive is indiscriminate, sweeping up ordinary people. The evolution of this narrative has dovetailed with an increasing use of state propaganda instruments to push it. The name of the UHRP report, “’The Happiest Muslims in the World,’” comes from the CCP’s assertions that Uighurs are happy people who enjoy dancing — in other words, that Beijing has brought much-needed economic development, not egregious human-rights abuses.

Although Chinese diplomats in the West have in recent weeks further discredited their narrative, these missteps are only the most visible part of a highly sophisticated propaganda machine that has to a significant extent shielded Beijing from an international response. The emerging public awareness of the Xinjiang concentration camps can be credited to the painstaking work of dogged journalists and Uighurs who have risked great danger to speak out. The report discusses how family members of activist Uighurs who have fled are weaponized for blackmail and propaganda purposes.

In recent years, General Secretary Xi Jinping has worked to consolidate entities previously directed by the state under the CCP’s United Front Work Department, an agency that works to bolster the Party’s influence inside China and abroad. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, China reporter for Axios, noted during the panel discussion launching the UHRP report Tuesday that “in 2017 the party ate the state,” and that “what we are seeing in Xinjiang is really part of a larger pathology” as Xi consolidates his control over the Chinese party-state. Quoting CCP officials in Xinjiang, the report describes how Beijing views the Uighur mass-internment drive as part of an ideological struggle. This entails an element of influencing international perceptions of the situation in Xinjiang:

Since launching its narrative about its mass detentions in the XUAR in 2018, CCP officials and media have deployed accusations of “fake news” while defending the camp system both domestically and internationally, dismissing criticism as an anti-China conspiracy. Additionally, the Chinese government has invited diplomats, journalists, and scholars to visit East Turkistan, staging a select few internment camps to appear to be voluntary education centers. The Chinese government claims that its methods have eradicated separatism and religious extremism in the region, despite the lack of credible evidence to prove that there was ever substantial extremism in the XUAR.

The upshot is that the range of instruments and methods employed by Beijing to spread disinformation have swayed journalists and governments to accept its claims. According to the report, foreign journalists and government officials have been shown some of the facilities on tightly-controlled tours since 2019, leading some to come away with the conclusion that the camps are more-or-less benign. The authors discuss how officials remove watchtowers and razor wire ahead of these visits to make the camps appear less menacing. And in addition to cultivating Beijing-friendly reporters around the globe, officials will place op-eds in foreign newspapers to promote the narrative. CCP officials have denied the Xinjiang human-rights abuses in articles published by the Jakarta Post and other outlets.

This manifests itself in diplomatic support for the mass-detention program. When a group of 22 countries at the U.N. Human Rights Council condemned it, China responded with a letter backed by 50 countries defending Beijing’s actions. During the UHRP panel discussion, Freedom House’s Sarah Cook described how the disinformation campaign was designed to give cover to governments supportive of Beijing’s actions. Even in authoritarian Gulf States, such as Bahrain and Qatar, some officials have spoken out about Xinjiang, but they are quickly silenced, failing to move the needle on government policy. Support for the Xinjiang camps also correlates strongly with participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s massive infrastructure project stretching across the Eurasian landmass.

The CCP’s Xinjiang narrative has virtually never been accepted in Western democracies, except by some fringe voices. Softer condemnations have grown louder, and the U.S. government recently imposed sanctions targeting the officials involved in the most egregious abuses. But to neutralize the disinformation campaign described in the report, these governments should make it impossible for China’s partners to deny that a genocide is in motion, actively combating Beijing’s disinformation about Xinjiang and placing the issue at the top of the agenda. It hasn’t been there in the past.

Politics & Policy

The Trumpism That Will Continue past 2020, No Matter Who Wins in November

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President Donald Trump talks to reporters on the South Lawn at the White House, July 27, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Watching some of the exchanges in the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing, featuring chief executives Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Sundar Pichai of Google, I realized that no matter how the November election shakes out, the underlying dynamic is not likely to change in the coming year.

No matter what happens, many Republicans will be angry because they suspect Big Tech companies suppress conservative voices, and many Democrats will be angry because they suspect Big Tech companies don’t do enough to suppress conservative voices. Both sides will wonder if these companies are getting too big and powerful and simply have too much authority to set the terms of public discourse. No matter how the election turns out, Americans will not begin 2021 with the attitude, “You tech giants are doing a great job, just keep doing what you’re doing.”

There are other aspects of the Trump agenda, or at least the Trump-ian attitude, that are likely to continue to be political factors in the years ahead, even if Joe Biden wins by a large margin this year.

No matter who wins in November, the American electorate is likely to be more skeptical and suspicious of China from here on out. A year ago, Biden sounded like the most pro-China voice among all the Democratic candidates. Now Biden runs ads insisting he would be tougher on China than Trump is.

Support for free trade in general might be increasing, but it is difficult to envision a scenario where Americans want greater economic ties with China.

A President Biden would no doubt seek to pass legislation to change the American immigration system. But defunding or abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement isn’t going to happen, nor is decriminalizing crossing the U.S. border — and if the Biden administration did push for those changes, Democrats would face a furious pushback in the 2022 midterms. Biden probably wouldn’t do much to create additional border fencing, but he felt the need to promise to “invest in better technology coupled with privacy protections at the border, both at and between ports of entry, including cameras, sensors, large-scale x-ray machines, and fixed towers.”

And while populism as a political force can be nebulous, it is hard to believe that a Biden election would suddenly restore public faith in society’s leaders. Populism in its most basic form of believing in “the rot at the top” — that we in the general public are poorly served by elites who are selfish, corrupt, irresponsible, and who abuse their power — is likely to continue as a factor in American politics.

Trump was carried along in 2016 by some salient and often under-discussed issues and attitudes. As his first term winds up, those issues are not really resolved, and haven’t gone away. A Biden presidency might find itself facing a congressional opposition that offers a version of Trumpism without Trump.

Media

Fox News vs. Trump

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The president gets mad at the network when it runs a poll that finds him behind Biden, just like every other media organization’s poll, and when it occasionally lets critics of him have their say. But the real harm the network is doing to his reelection campaign is that it’s reinforcing his worst tendencies.

White House

Entropy in the Executive

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Michael Brendan Dougherty writes that “Trump has faced an unprecedented wave of insubordination by his own White House staff, and he has often met that with an unthinkable, unleaderly passivity.” The worst example of these tendencies came in Syria, when Trump said we were withdrawing and his underlings effectively overruled him. Dougherty goes on to warn that a Biden presidency could operate similarly.

I think that the characterization of the problem is slightly but importantly off, and in a way that underestimates how Trump-specific it is. It’s natural to talk about the dysfunction in the administration as a matter of “insubordination”: I’ve done it myself. But when Trump himself habitually acts as though his words are idle, is it so wrong for his employees to follow that lead? He has been known to express unhappiness at their performance. Has he done so based on their treating what could be interpreted as statements of policy as jokes or trial balloons instead? If they do gamely attempt to start acting on his remarks and tweets, how sure can they be that he won’t reverse course and disavow them?

Biden would have difficulty in exerting his will over the executive branch, as all presidents do. Perhaps he would cede power and responsibility to his vice president, or to others. It seems unlikely that he would settle into the current president’s frequent role as a kind of outside commentator on his own administration.

Education

States Are Working to Expand School Choice during the Pandemic

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Governor Henry McMaster (R., S.C.) looks on at a rally in Columbia, S.C., June 25, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As I wrote on the homepage earlier this week, Republican senators Tim Scott (S.C.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) are proposing to reallocate 10 percent of the CARES Act’s education funding so that states can award one-time grants to scholarship organizations, offsetting costs for families who need help funding private-school tuition or homeschooling. The same legislation would create a permanent federal tax-credit scholarship program, capped at $5 billion a year, giving federal taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar credit for any money they donate to scholarship organizations.

It’s worth noting that several states are also working to expand and fund school choice during the COVID-19 outbreak, recognizing that families and schools are facing significant economic setbacks as a result of the recession, as well as the uncertainty of whether, when, and how those school will reopen.

In South Carolina, for instance, Republican governor Henry McMaster has just announced a grant program — funded by the $48 million that the state received in CARES Act relief money — called Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE), which will offer 5,000 one-time grants of up to $6,500 for low-income students who attend private or independent schools. The first 2,500 of the grants will be first-come first-served, and the rest will be given out through a lottery system.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, Republican governor Kevin Stitt has outlined a plan to use CARES Act block-grant funding to expand and create school-choice programs. First, he allocated $8 million to the state education department and another $1 million to a large technical school in the state so it could offer some students free tuition. The rest of the funding will be divvied up between $10 million for a fund for low-income students attending private schools; $8 million to a program that offers stipends to low-income students for “curriculum content, technology or tutoring services”; and $12 million to a state initiative that will enable more students to access digital-education content.

In Pennsylvania, legislators are mulling an even more expansive school-choice proposal that would create education scholarship accounts, using CARES Act funding to offer low-income families $1,000 per child, on a first-come first-served basis, to be spent on approved expenses such as tuition costs, tutoring, and online class. After November 16, any school-age child in the state would be permitted to apply, regardless of family income level.

This last proposal bears a resemblance to the education savings account programs in five states: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee. These programs provide qualifying students with government-funded savings accounts that can be used to cover the costs of private-school tuition, online learning, tutoring, community college, and higher education.

States would be wise to consider creating similar school-choice programs, not only to help address the negative effects of the pandemic on families and schools but also to enable students to continue choosing the education that is best for them even when the pandemic is over.

Education

Fond Farewell to Ken Marcus

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This is Ken Marcus’s last week as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. It’s an amicable departure, so far as I know, and certainly he’ll be missed. He has undone many of the worst Obama policies regarding — to give just one set of examples — all manner of race-based decision-making, such as encouraging aggressive use of racial and ethnic preferences in school admissions and setting indefensible disparate-impact limits on school discipline. Earlier this year, I summarized some of the Trump administration’s progress here. Farewell, Mr. Marcus, and well done!

Politics & Policy

Biden vs. Small Business

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The candidate’s “racial equity plan” sounds like a nightmare for small businesses. Hans Bader explains that it

contains radical changes to America’s employment laws that have little to do with race. Under his plan, even the tiniest employers with only one or two employees will face unlimited liability in lawsuits, for things like discrimination, or harassment committed by an employee. It would also make confusing changes to the legal definition of sexual harassment that could lead to small businesses being liable for trivial acts by an employee. These small employers would also be liable for attorneys fees that could dwarf what they end up paying workers who sue them.

 

Politics & Policy

Debunking the TikTok Competition Canard

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The TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone while on the U.S. flag, November 8, 2019. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

As members of Congress grill major tech executives this afternoon, TikTok and its boosters are using the focus on the tech industry’s anti-competitive practices to say that the app, which has faced scrutiny for its privacy practices, is good for competition. Kevin Mayer, the company’s CEO, made the point in a post on the company’s website today, writing that “TikTok brought successful competition to the marketplace.” He also announced the launch of a Transparency and Accountability Center that would let researchers scrutinize the app’s content moderation practices and the code behind its algorithms.

Will that appease anyone concerned about TikTok’s potential security risk? Probably not. But one important constituency already buys the argument. Tech journalists at some of the country’s most influential media outlets have for weeks argued that the app is no different from its multinational social media competitors. While government officials and privacy experts have warned that China’s invasive data-privacy practices and TikTok’s lack of transparency represent a problem, some writers regularly compare it to U.S.-based companies, concluding that the risk posed by TikTok does not seem much worse than the failings of its competitors. The latest column making this point, by the New York Times’ Kevin Roose, goes a step further, asking, “Instead of banning TikTok, or forcing ByteDance to sell it to Americans, why not make an example of it by turning it into the most transparent, privacy-protecting, ethically governed tech platform in existence?”

The piece centers on this call to regulate TikTok alongside the other Big Tech companies, but he broached the topic of competition in a conversation with a colleague about his Monday column. “It’s Facebook’s only real competitor, and the creative culture on the app would be a shame to lose,” Roose said.

That all might be true, but it needs to be balanced against other concerns, such as ByteDance’s cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party to cover up the mass internment of Uighur Muslims on Douyin, the version of TikTok that it offers in China. While ByteDance is not a state-owned enterprise, it does still operate as any Chinese company is obliged to these days. Since 2017 it has had an internal party committee, and CCP members at the company participate in sessions where they study Xi Jinping’s speeches and other facets of party ideology. Even conceding the point that other social-media companies should face more stringent regulation, new data-privacy standards will not change ByteDance’s allegiance to Beijing. As Roose admits, TikTok’s handling of user data is opaque at best — something that, due to ByteDance’s CCP ties, might not change too much, even with Mayer’s transparency assurances.

The column also warns that moving against TikTok could harm American democracy:

And since banning every Chinese-owned tech company from operating in America wouldn’t be possible without erecting our own version of China’s Great Firewall — a drastic step that would raise concerns about censorship and authoritarian control — we need to figure out a way for Chinese apps and American democracy to coexist.

While this does not exactly reprise the canard that a TikTok ban would be xenophobic, which has been advanced by some of his counterparts at other publications, the notion that such a move could constitute authoritarianism lacks any sort of support. Last spring, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States forced the Chinese owners of Grindr, the gay-dating app, to sell to their controlling stake in the company over data privacy concerns. No doubt, the user privacy concerns implicated by Grindr were more sensitive than the risk posed by TikTok, but the comparison with Grindr is only to show that the U.S. government’s emergency economic powers here can be wielded legitimately. Foreign agents are already required to register with the government, and the principle that individuals and entities with close ties to foreign powers should be treated differently is not new. Subjecting them to a different set of rules is not the same as censorship.

In this sense, the debate about TikTok should not “really be a debate about how all of the big tech companies that entertain, inform and influence billions of people should operate,” as Roose writes. The app’s owner is a Chinese company beholden to the CCP’s dictates, and this consideration should come first. Don’t take it from me. Here’s Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, responding to a reporter’s question about the conversation about Banning TikTok:

With regard to TikTok, the U.S. Senators’ smears are just baseless. The Chinese government always asks Chinese companies to comply with laws and regulations when conducting economic cooperation with foreign countries. We urge certain people in the U.S. to take a fair and unbiased view on this matter, stop using state power to oppress Chinese companies, and do things conducive to China–U.S. relations instead of going the other way.

As long as Beijing views TikTok as a Chinese company, this debate remains one primarily about national security, not competition or regulating U.S.-based tech giants.

Politics & Policy

The Republican Party Is Not for Burning

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It’s not enough that Donald Trump lose reelection, say some Republicans and former Republicans. His party has to lose big, too, to exorcise his spirit from it. My new Bloomberg Opinion column says the tactical argument for burning down the Republican Party is based on a mistaken premise.

[I]t’s not at all clear that the Republican Party can be burned down or Trumpism extinguished.

Let’s say that the November elections lead to Republicans losing the White House, 20 House seats, 12 Senate seats and five governorships: a result considerably worse for the Republicans than most observers expect. That would leave them with roughly the same amount of power they had in 2009, after George W. Bush’s disastrous second term. Eight years later, they had a majority of everything. . . .

Politics & Policy

Zombie Reagan for Congress!

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I enjoyed Peter Spiliakos’s piece on the perils of “Zombie Reaganism,” but I would caution him against judging the appeal of tax cuts and the like by looking primarily at presidential-election results. Spiliakos writes:

For the average American, Reaganism largely solved this problem at the federal level by indexing income-tax rates to inflation and by multiple rounds of tax cuts. During and shortly after this, Republican presidents won three straight presidential elections with wide pluralities of the popular vote (they have done so once — narrowly — in the last 32 years). Thus, tax cuts became part of the mythology of this supposedly golden age of Republican politics: They enabled the GOP to win elections and they supercharged the economy.

This is true. But it’s also true that two years after the GOP’s series of presidential blowouts came to an end, Republicans swept Congress and have controlled it for most of the time since. Since 1994, the GOP has won majorities in the House of Representatives in ten of the 13 elections, and majorities in the Senate in eight of the 13 (with a tie in 2000). If the GOP has been in thrall to the Reagan agenda since 1980, it has not performed too badly on that platform in the years since Reagan left office — especially when one considers that it is Congress, and not the executive branch, that is in charge of the purse strings.

Politics & Policy

Opening Negotiations

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David Gelernter makes a persuasive case for raising the voting age to 21. I hope somebody is working on the column arguing for 40.

Education

Day Care Fine, School Not Fine

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COVID Skeptic Alex Berenson shares an email from the South Pasadena Unified School District that outlines plans to do all-remote learning for students, but provides an 8 a.m.4 p.m. extended day-care program that would cost $180 per week per child.

Day care is fine, but school isn’t? What precisely is the basis for this safety judgment?

This is the sort of arrangement that makes the school re-opening debate seem like class warfare in which teachers are asserting that they are not like lower-caste “essential workers” but more like white-collar ones who ought to be allowed to work from home and avoid all danger.

Science & Tech

COVID Tech Spotlight: Potential UV-Light Breakthrough

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A robot made by Argentine company UV-Robotics uses UV light to detect germs and sanitize in a bus in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 30, 2020. (Agustin Marcarian/Reuters)

When airborne droplets laden with COVID-19 were exposed to a specific wavelength of ultraviolet light, more than 99.9 percent of the viral particles were killed, according to new research at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The researchers, led by scientist David Brenner, recently published a paper discussing the effect potentially human-safe far-UVC rays have on the coronavirus family. “Based on our results,” writes Brenner, “continuous airborne disinfection with far-UVC light at the current regulatory limit could greatly reduce the level of airborne virus in indoor environments occupied by people.”

If this ultraviolet light is safe for human exposure, it could add another low-cost method of virus mitigation to our toolkit. How would such technology be applied to reduce the spread of COVID-19? Brenner continues: “Because it’s [likely] safe to use in occupied spaces like hospitals, buses, planes, trains, train stations, schools, restaurants, offices, theaters, gyms, and anywhere that people gather indoors, far-UVC light could be used in combination with other measures, like wearing face masks and washing hands, to limit the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses.”

Unfortunately, there are caveats and unknowns. For instance, to kill 99 percent of the virus, it needs to be exposed to the light for at least 25 minutes. However, killing 90 percent of the virus takes eight minutes. The trouble is in finishing off the last ten percent of the virus.

But how long would such lights need to make a coronavirus-laden sneeze impotent? After all, while the virus can be transmitted on surfaces, the more dangerous pathway are the airborne and newly emitted viral droplets. And the time frame of when the virus is killed is important, not just the end percentage.

There are also some lingering concerns that human exposure to far-UVC 222nm may not be entirely safe. “The Sterilray disinfectant source (222 nm) conventionally used to sterilize equipment and work surfaces was assessed for tolerability in human skin found potential dangers of exposure to 222 nm wavelengths when looking to see if UV lights could be used as an alternative to antiseptic use in medical facilities,” according to a 2015 study. It should be noted that this study was specifically looking at neutralizing bacteria on the hands of the test subjects, not viruses. Dr. Brenner and his team have yet to address the 2015 study’s findings, so it is unknown what the ultraviolet requirements between bacterial and viral destruction might be and what that difference means for public health.

This, then, is potentially good news tempered by the relatively slow time to kill and the possible medical side effects. To hear more about Dr. Brenner’s research, the challenges it faces, and the potential impact this technology could have, please see this TED talk interview.

World

‘The Alternative Explanation, a Lab Escape, Is Far More Plausible.’

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Jamie Metzl has an enormously important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today.

If the virus jumped to humans through a series of human-animal encounters in the wild or in wet markets, as Beijing has claimed, we would likely have seen evidence of people being infected elsewhere in China before the Wuhan outbreak. We have not.

The alternative explanation, a lab escape, is far more plausible. We know the Wuhan Institute of Virology was using controversial “gain of function” techniques to make viruses more virulent for research purposes. A confidential 2018 State Department cable released this month highlighting the lab’s alarming safety record should heighten our concern.

Suggesting that an outbreak of a deadly bat coronavirus coincidentally occurred near the only level 4 virology institute in all of China — which happened to be studying the closest known relative of that exact virus — strains credulity.

Metzl notes that the Chinese government is attempting to avoid any serious investigation, with president Xi Jinping contending that investigations into the origin should be delayed until after the pandemic is contained. Metzl argues that an international investigation must include full access to all of the scientists, biological samples, laboratory records, and other materials, and that “denying that access should be considered an admission of guilt by Beijing.”

You may not have heard of Jamie Metzl, but he’s not just some schmo. He’s got the kind of sterling résumé that glows in the U.S. foreign-policy world — “deputy staff director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Senator Joe Biden, senior coordinator for International Public Information at the Department of State, and director for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs on the White House National Security Council.” What’s more, he frequently writes about genetics and bioengineering. In 2004, Metzl ran for Congress as a Democrat.

We don’t know with absolute certainty that this pandemic started with some sort of accident at a lab in Wuhan. But the non-lab explanation most frequently cited since the outbreak, that the virus can be traced back to some animal consumed at the Huanan Seafood Market, is now inoperable. Not even the Chinese government is contending the outbreak started there anymore, raising the question of why certain American journalists are still echoing an exculpatory explanation that not even Beijing believes is plausible anymore.

Elections

Mandateless Joe Biden

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Joe Biden may well be the next president of the United States, and if that scenario comes to pass, it will because he was in the right place at the right time, and met two minimally difficult criteria. He won the Democratic primary because he wasn’t Bernie Sanders, and he will have won the general election because he wasn’t Donald Trump.

Biden recently contended his virtual campaign is reaching people. “All this stuff about hiding in the basement? Well, over 340 million people have watched what we’ve done like this on television.” (According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. population is 330 million.)

Judging from the polls, Biden’s minimalist approach is working. But one has to wonder just what a president-elect does after winning due to voter exhaustion with the other guy. Biden’s policy proposals are barely getting much attention in the pandemic and protest-driven news cycle.

Biden is ahead, in part, because pro-Trump Democrats have left the party and he’s good enough for everyone who remained, as well as for the white-collar suburbanites who joined the party during the Trump years. Biden leads among Bernie Sanders voters, 87 percent to 4 percent, and among Elizabeth Warren voters, 96 percent to zero. Biden is the blank-enough slate that just about every Democrat can unify behind as an alternate to the incumbent.

But the Democratic Party includes a wide range of views, from Joe Manchin and Collin Peterson on one side to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders on the other. Biden can’t please everyone, and if and when he starts governing, he’s going to start making decisions that disappoint one faction. It is easy to envision a moment in early 2021 when the new president encounters resistance in his party, and Biden argues the American people elected him to enact a particular agenda. That dissenting Democratic faction will have the strong counterargument: “No, you were elected because you weren’t Donald Trump.”

Education

Grading Must Go?

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In today’s Martin Center article, Duke University professor John Staddon looks at the movement to abolish grades.

The centuries-old idea of grading was simple: “That some kids are brighter than others, that these differences are reflected (not perfectly: some backward kids work hard, some bright kids are idle!) in their grades, and that grades serve both to inform and motivate students.” But our education experts (one prof who wrote a piece for the New York Times in particular) now know better.

Staddon continues:

Things are very different now. The reality of human difference — difference in every aspect from height, weight, and beauty to intelligence and industriousness — has become a huge problem for America. Many people simply can’t accept it. A big problem with grades is that they make these differences impossible to ignore. Hence, pressure to make them taboo.

Cancel the fact of human differences and the “progressive” project of turning America into Animal Farm goes so much quicker.

Staddon identifies three erroneous ideas that may doom grading:

  • The belief that all are equally talented
  • The hegemony of “feelings:” even momentary unhappiness must be avoided
  • Bad science, which says that ”aversive control” is ineffective

He concludes:

No doubt tests, examinations, and grading systems could be improved. But in fact the trend has been to go to pass-fail or eliminate grading entirely. The result may well be the ignorance we see displayed by young BLM protesters who attempt to pull down statues of Abraham Lincoln and other emancipators. We need not less grading but more, more open posting of grades, and not easier exams but tougher ones.

Politics & Policy

The Karen Bass Boomlet

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The odds are still stacked against her being tapped as Joe Biden’s running mate, but California congresswoman Karen Bass certainly has the widest and most interesting range of public supporters — from George Will and Jim Clyburn to Markos Moulitsas and a group of Bernie Sanders delegates.

Will and Clyburn see Bass as a stabilizing force, but why are left-wing activists rallying behind the congresswoman? Look to her comment to The Atlantic: She ‘cannot envision’ ever running for president, even if she was vice president,” Bill Scher writes at Real Clear Politics. “If Biden is going to choose a fellow pragmatist, the left would greatly prefer the choice be someone who won’t seize the inside track for the next presidential primary contest, which could be as soon as 2024.”

Biden says he will reveal his VP pick next week.