U.S.

Oh Good, Willie Brown Has Career Advice for Kamala Harris

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Right now, Kamala Harris is on the verge of what could be a life-altering and historic moment. Some people in Joe Biden’s circle think his running-mate options are down to Harris and Susan Rice. As many have noted, with Biden’s current lead in the national polls and the swing states — and the widespread expectation that Biden would not finish his first term — Biden may well be selecting the 47th President of the United States. Few people whose presidential campaign ended before the first primary end up with such a fortuitous turn of events.

And then former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown takes to the pages of his hometown newspaper to declare, “If Joe Biden offers the vice presidential slot to Sen. Kamala Harris, my advice to her would be to politely decline. . . . Basically, no one takes the vice president seriously after election day.”

Almost every political junkie has heard the stories of Harris’ affair with Brown back in the 1990s, and how he appointed her to two state boards during their relationship. By itself, that’s unlikely to determine Biden’s running-mate selection or the 2020 presidential election. But Harris would no doubt prefer if Willie Brown simply disappeared for the next few months — or maybe forever — rather than intermittently popping up in public and weighing in on her career choices, and in the process, reminding the world of their special relationship when she was in her 30s and he was in his 60s and married.

It says quite a bit about Brown that he doesn’t have the sense to simply shut up on the topic of Kamala Harris, and writes these columns as if he’s just another retired mayor writing about just another California senator.

Economics

Does Reopening Change Behavior More Than Locking Down Does?

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It’s been a while since I checked in on the emerging genre of “lockdown studies,” but Edward Glaeser and some coauthors have an interesting new one today.

First, the paper finds that Americans overwhelmingly changed their behavior — measured here through restaurant visits — before official lockdown measures went into effect. The policies did have a marginal impact on top of what was already happening, but most of the decline in economic activity happened simply because people got scared and stayed home. (They are not the first to find this, of course.)

But by contrast, when states reopened, many of us jumped at the chance to go out again. This effect is clearest in a chart based on Yelp data:

By the time lockdowns went into effect, restaurant reservations were already nearly nonexistent. But within a few weeks after reopening, they’d regained more than half their original volume.

As the authors write, two different things are probably going on here. First, while lockdowns had little impact right when they went into effect — because no one was going out anyway — the explosion of activity at the end of lockdown suggests they did have an impact later. (That is, some of the increase would have happened earlier if the restaurants had been legally allowed to seat guests.) And second, some people probably took the very act of reopening as a signal that it was safe to go out again.

History

Bernard Bailyn, R.I.P.

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It is an old chestnut of historical debate, whether and to what extent individuals influence history. Certainly they influence the teaching of history. The death of Bernard Bailyn represents the passing of a cohort of scholars — Edmund Morgan and Douglass Adair were among the others — who revolutionized the teaching of the American founding in the Fifties and Sixties. They did it by taking the ideas of the revolutionary generation seriously, overthrowing the previous paradigm of progressive historians who saw American patriots as motivated by their investments and their balance sheets. Bailyn’s seminal contribution was The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, which says it all: Men think, and sometimes they follow where their thoughts lead. The work of him and his peers kept this quadrant of history safe from the storms of theory that battered the other humanities in the Seventies and later. Those scholars are dead, and even their students are emeritus. Now it looks as if popular interest in the Founding must protect it from the newest wave of leftist disdain.

A special note for NR: Dan Oliver, longtime employee/director/friend of the magazine, took one of Bailyn’s classes when he was a Harvard undergrad. When the topic was Andrew Oliver, the Massachusetts colonial official and Loyalist whose life was upended by the Revolution, Bailyn paused in his lecture to announce that one of Oliver’s descendants was with them in class today. In later years Dan was able to convert his youthful embarrassment into a dining-out anecdote.

R.I.P.

World

Arrests in Hong Kong

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Tycoon and Apple Daily Newspaper owner Jimmy Lai protests before he is taken away by a police officer outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, December 11, 2014. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong democracy activist and the publisher of Apple Daily, has been arrested under the new national-security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong. The arrest featured a massive raid featuring hundreds of police. He’s not the only prominent person arrested today. So were his two sons. And so was Agnes Chow, another renowned activist. These arrests highlight that democratic political speech is subjected to the law, not just “rioting” or demonstration.

Apple Daily, for its part, is bravely vowing to be even more fearless and urging its journalists and subscribers to stick to their posts, and “endure” to the end.

Meanwhile, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China continue to deteriorate. China is sanctioning several human-rights organizations as a response to President Trump’s signing of the Hong Kong Act, which sanctioned eleven Chinese officials.

China and the U.S. both have many more cards to play. Though I think the U.S. has the most devastating one. Serious restrictions on buying property in the U.S. or matriculating at a U.S. college imposed on all members of the Chinese Communist Party would really put a strain on things internally in China. Many elite party members use the U.S. as a place to stash money and assets.

NR Webathon

The Time Has Come to Get Off the Sidelines

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

In the initial days of NR’s ongoing Summer webathon, Paul C. donated $100 and explained why, bluntly: “Can’t watch from the sidelines anymore. This is in my streets, it’s at my office, it’s at my kids schools. . . . Cancel the madness.” At the forefront of conservative efforts to push back against this crazed leftist moment, of canceling everything from statues to our Founding, of corrupting our schools and our businesses and our culture and our language and the sciences, of bringing chaos to our streets, stands National Review. Most definitely not on the sidelines.

Of course, you can watch from there. Or, like Paul, you can join the fight through your selfless support. We have passed the halfway point to our webathon goal of $250,000, but we have to admit that getting there within a week will be a doozie of a challenge. We also have to admit this: With your $25 or $2,500, we can make it — and as ever, “we” means NR and you, together.

Maybe you can take some inspiration from these good folk, among many who saw fit to donate and also append a comment to their generosity.

  • Richard sends $200 and shares memories: “I started reading NR as a young engineer at a nuclear power plant in 1984. NR was one of the few voices of reason during those days of anti-nuclear hysteria. Today we have other hysterias to deal with and NR does it best. Thanks for all you do and God bless you all.” He has blessed us, with friends such as you! Thanks, Richard.
  • Kristi contributes $100 and makes us think well of her wise Old Man: “When I was in high school my father made me read 1984, Animal Farm, and The Gulag Archipelago. Now I know why. My neighbors are afraid to put political-party campaign signs on their lawns due to woke violence. Knowledge is power. Keep fighting.” God bless dad and you too for this generosity.
  • Peter send a whopping $1,000 and proposes staying the course while praising our newest effort: “I really like NR’s new Capital Matters section! Capitalism and Freedom will save us.” They will, as long as good people such as yourself ride to the sound of the gunfire. Cannot thank you enough.
  • Lori forks over a Fifty and reveals her prayer life: “I thank God for National Review. You champion true freedom in an era of cultural and political intimidation. Your content is always intelligent and well-written.” You are an answer to our prayers. Thanks, Lori.
  • Another $50 comes from Bruce, who is motivated in part by the harsh reality of the American media: “Thank you so much for your incredible journalism in these chaotic times. I really needed your ability to report the truth since there are few resources left.” A sad state of affairs, but we are proud to be a rare source of reliable wisdom. Which only happens because of people such as you Bruce. Thanks.
  • Another Bruce doubles that, and with his $100 comes this note: “To assist in standing athwart, here is my two-cents worth: I share/post NRO articles every day on FB. So far the censoring minions of that outlet have not encumbered your articles. I know because I have a few reliable mates who respond back about my offerings of your offerings. All in the positive, btw. Oh, watched three Bill Buckley interviews on CSPAN. He was a pickle.” Gherkin or Dill? Many thanks!
  • Anders spots us $20 and a salute: “NR and the NR+ community are keeping me sane in crazy times and give me hope that there is intelligent life out there.” Love keeping you sane, amigo. Many thanks.
  • Michael donates $100 and shows he is allergic to nuts: “When a face of the Dems says a statue of Father Damien is a symbol of ‘white supremacy,’ you know they’ve become unhinged. Time to cancel the Dems.”

Maybe Michael — we are determined to punch back at the Marxists, whatever sheep’s clothing they chose to wear. But we can’t do this alone: One of our founding editors, the great James Burnham, put his finger on it where he described our battle as “the protracted conflict.”

What’s your role in all this? Well, you can’t be on guard non-stop — but NR can. That’s why we are here. But we remain here only courtesy of the generosity of our readers. Hence the occasional webathon. It bids you to join. If you’ve yet to donate to it to NR’s other appeals over the past couple of years, and if you have been crashing on the NR sofa for all that time, well, now is when you need to help out, to do your share. To get off the sidelines. Minus the support of selfless friends, the doors would have closed long ago. And they need to be wide open now, this year, next year, next decade, and beyond. Help us to stay in the fight through your generous donation, of $10, or $20 or $50 or $100 — can you do that? Is $250 or $500 or $1,000 or more possible? If so, will you please donate? Do that here. To show your support by check, if such is your preference, 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 for your support.

Immigration

Going after the Employers of Illegal Aliens

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A Tyson Foods pork processing plant, temporarily closed due to an outbreak of the coronavirus, in Waterloo, Iowa, April 29, 2020. (Brenna Norman/Reuters)

One year ago, ICE raided multiple chicken plants in Mississippi, arresting hundreds of illegal aliens. Dozens of them have been convicted of various federal crimes, such as identity theft and document fraud.

But what about their employers? Simply arresting a bunch of illegals, and leaving it at that, is both unjust and ineffective. Unjust because it lets the other participant in the criminal transaction off the hook, and ineffective because employers can just hire another batch of illegal aliens and essentially write off the disruption as a cost of doing business.

That’s why it was so encouraging that ICE has just announced the first indictments against managers at some of the Mississippi chicken plants. Four people at two of the plants have been charged with a variety of crimes, including harboring illegal aliens, wire fraud, identity theft, and more. All four could potentially spend the rest of their lives in prison.

The reason it took a year to see these indictments (more of which will be forthcoming, I hope) is that, while knowingly employing illegal aliens is illegal, it’s hard to prove because of the word “knowingly.” It takes a long time to build a case that can stick, because there’s a lot of nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say-no-more in the hiring of illegals, providing legal deniability to the companies that employ them. Tysons was acquitted in a 2003 case because, while the lower-level managers were indisputably guilty, top corporate management had enough buffers between it and the button men in the field that it was able to beat the rap.

But by arresting and charging the illegals themselves, prosecutors gain leverage, and are able to offer leniency if the illegal workers rat out their managers. It’s similar to going after a narcotics organization — you want to get the dealers off the street, of course, but you also want to work your way up the chain. We’ll have to see whether this week’s indictments lead to charges against more senior management as well.

We saw this process at work at the Agriprocessors beef plant in Iowa, which was raided by ICE in 2008. Prior to that, state and federal regulators had persistent reports of abuses — related not only to immigration but also to wages, safety, animal cruelty, etc. — but never had enough evidence to act. Only when the ICE raid arrested nearly 400 illegal aliens, about 300 of whom ended up sentenced on felony charges, did the evidence start pouring in. Much of the management was charged with a variety of crimes, including harboring illegal aliens, child labor, ID theft, document fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, and more. Sholom Rubashkin, son of the owner and the plant’s day-to-day boss, was sentenced to 27 years in prison (though, appallingly, a bipartisan push in Congress persuaded President Trump to commute his sentence after serving only about eight years).

There’s also a bureaucratic reason for the relative lack of effective worksite enforcement. As its name suggests, ICE has two divisions, roughly corresponding to immigration and customs. The first is Enforcement and Removal Operations, which detains and deports illegal aliens. The other is Homeland Security Investigations, which focuses on customs matters, such as counterfeit Gucci handbags and smuggling of exotic animals. Unfortunately, HSI is also in charge of worksite immigration enforcement, in which it has little interest. In fact, the Gucci handbag crowd wrote to then Secretary Nielsen in 2018 asking to be separated from ICE and freed of icky immigration responsibilities. So it’s essential that the bureaucratic structure itself be modified to reflect a commitment to worksite enforcement.

But even a few criminal convictions serve as an example. The fact that HR managers are facing decades in prison is sure to be featured prominently in HR newsletters, seminars, training materials, and the like. And, in fact, some meatpackers have taken steps to distance themselves from illegal labor. For example, Tysons (perhaps motivated by its close call in 2003) has been investing heavily in automation.

Other meatpackers have opted to continue labor-intensive operations but sourced legal labor elsewhere, specifically from federally funded refugee-resettlement contractors — including Catholic Charities, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — that direct desperate Congolese, Burmese, and Somalis into their factories. That’s why Big Meat, which wouldn’t at first blush seem to be an obvious stakeholder in refugee policy, has objected to Trump administration reductions in resettlement.

The single most important step in ensuring that legal status becomes a broadly accepted labor standard (like child labor rules, for instance) is mandatory E-Verify, backed by routine audits and stiff penalties for non-compliance. Backsliding is always possible (as we’ve seen with the lamentable history of worksite immigration enforcement), but the more routinized and embedded it becomes, the harder it will be for some future administration to give the green light to employers to return to hiring illegal aliens.

Sports

College Football: Going, Going, Gone?

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Back on July 15, I wrote:

USA Today calculates that college football generates at least $4.1 billion in fiscal-year revenue for the athletics departments at the 50-plus public schools in the Power Five conferences, or an average of more than $78 million per school. Most of these schools budgeted for the coming year with the expectation that that money would be there. Now, much or all of it won’t be.

Schools with top football programs have already lost the television revenue from out-of conference games and all of the revenue from ticket sales, luxury boxes, parking fees, etc. Now, they might be losing all of their expected revenue.

Dan Patrick — the sports journalism icon, not the lieutenant governor of Texas — reports from his sources that “the Big 10 and Pac 12 will cancel their football seasons tomorrow. . . . The ACC and the Big 12 are on the fence. . . . And the SEC is trying to get teams to join them for a season.”

Politics & Policy

Do Americans Even Care If There’s a Constitution?

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Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer at the start of his first re-election campaign rally in several months in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., June 20, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Yuval Levin and Adam J. White covered almost all that needs to be said about the most recent Trump executive orders, the spiritual descendants of Barack Obama’s declaring “I have a pen and a phone” and deciding to enact the DACA and DAPA programs without congressional concurrence, authorization, or action.

The only thing I would add is that the general enthusiasm for Trump’s moves from his grassroots fans, and the general enthusiasm for Obama’s moves from his grassroots fans, demonstrates that most people in politics see no value in separation of powers, and cannot get their heads around why the federal government should have separated powers. They cannot comprehend why a government that invests far-reaching powers in the executive could possibly turn out badly for them.

Back in 2014, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and the 14 other members of the “Full Employment Caucus” in Congress introduced not legislation but “drafted executive orders” that they wanted the president to sign. Frustrated by being in the legislative minority, they started dreaming up new ways for the executive branch to change the laws and regulations. She declared, “We’ll give President Obama a number of executive orders that he can sign with pride and strength, in fact, I think that should be our number one agenda, that’s write up these executive orders, draft them, of course, and ask the president to stand with us.” As the meme goes, that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works. If you want to serve in the executive branch, then leave the legislative branch.

The first thing all U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives do is take an oath declaring, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” And then they advocate government actions that ignore the separation of powers in the Constitution. Two consecutive presidents have concluded, “if Congress won’t act, I will,” and blithely ignored the fact that this is more or less why we fought a revolution against the British.

Do Americans even want a Constitution? Did the education system fail them so thoroughly that they can’t even begin to grasp why concentrated government power would be a bad thing?

Politics & Policy

Some Myths about Cancel Culture

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And how the Cato Institute has just disproven them: my latest Bloomberg Opinion column.

Politics & Policy

Sasse: Trump’s ‘Executive Lawmaking Is Unconstitutional Slop’

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Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse weighed in on the executive actions taken by President Trump over the weekend because of Congress’s stalemate over another COVID economic-relief bill: 

The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop. President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law. Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the American people acting through their members of Congress.

On the homepage, Yuval Levin and Adam White make the case that although Trump’s orders may not violate the letter of any specific law, they are still “constitutionally dangerous”:

As real relief, these measures are precarious and weak. But as exertions of executive authority, the latter two memoranda in particular are constitutionally dangerous. That is not to say that a judge would necessarily throw them out; they are substantively weak because they are written to avoid expressly violating any law. And if the Constitution is just a law as well, then there are surely justifications that the administration’s lawyers could offer for both memos that might satisfy the federal courts.

But if the Constitution is more than a law, if it establishes a system of government with a particular character, then there could hardly be any question that a presidential action explicitly setting out to change federal policy regarding both spending and taxing, and to do so precisely because Congress has declined to take these steps, violates that character. 

Elections

The Liberal Voters Biden Doesn’t Want

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Former vice president Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., July 28, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In the Wall Street Journal, two leaders of political-advocacy group Democrats for Life have an article called “The Democrats Biden Doesn’t Want,” pointing out that, although they’re liberal, their pro-life views have caused the Democratic Party to reject them.

“According to Gallup, roughly 1 in 3 Democrats consider themselves pro-life, but Mr. Biden has made no outreach to us,” write executive director Kristen Day and board member Xavier Bisits. “In fact, top Democrats have gone out of their way to make it clear that we are no longer welcome in the party.”

This is far from the first time that such a complaint has arisen from pro-life Democrats this year alone. At a townhall in late January, Day confronted former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, asking, “Do you want the support of . . . pro-life Democratic voters? There are about 21 million of us. And if so, would you support more-moderate platform language in the Democratic Party to ensure that the party of diversity, of inclusion, really does include everybody?”

Buttigieg offered a lengthy, equivocating reply, but the gist of his response was, essentially, “Take a hike.”

Shortly thereafter, asked about whether there was room for pro-life Democrats in his vision of the party, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders declared that “being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat.”

When Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar told Meghan McCain on The View that “there are pro-life Democrats, and they are part of our party,” and argued that Democrats “need to build a big tent [and] bring people in instead of shutting them out,” she faced extensive criticism from the left. And Klobuchar’s concession was, of course, mere rhetoric; on abortion policy she is nearly as liberal as her competitors, gesturing only vaguely at the possibility of limiting some abortions in the last three months of pregnancy.

Day and Bisits, then, have a point. Biden, the party’s presumptive nominee, has shown little interest in appealing to pro-lifers, despite having spent decades touting his Catholic roots and calling himself anti-abortion. Instead of moderating on the issue to reach centrists, he has moved further to the left in response to pressure from progressives.

Last summer, he renounced his decades of support for the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal Medicaid spending from directly reimbursing for elective abortions. His latest overture in the culture war was vowing to require all religious employers, including Catholic nuns, to be complicit in funding abortion-inducing emergency contraceptives for employees.

Day and Bisits have a point when they write, “America’s 21 million pro-life Democrats face a choice between staying home, risking four more years of Donald Trump’s destructive agenda, and voting for Joe Biden, a candidate who snubs us and our values. We would love to vote for Mr. Biden, but if he wants our vote, he will have to earn it. And if he can’t earn it, he should at least ask for it.”

World

Mr. Amis Responds

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The writer Kingsley Amis on William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line in 1970 (Hoover Institution via YouTube)

Today on the homepage, I have a piece called “An Ordeal in Prague.” What ordeal is that? Ondrej Kolar, a district mayor in the city, presided over the removal of a monument to a Soviet marshal. Then all hell broke loose. Kolar required round-the-clock police protection, and he was even moved into hiding for a while. Czech security officials detected threats to his life from the Russian government. Also from Czechs, in sympathy with that government.

This is a horrible story, and emblematic of the drama of Europe today (and in other periods, too).

On Friday, I had an Impromptus column that was unusually — blunt, and tart. Some liked it, some didn’t (as is always the case). There was mail saying, in essence, “Way to go, man! I like Jay unleashed.” There was also a note from a longtime reader and correspondent who told me he had just turned 83. At the end of his note, he said this: “. . . your Impromptus column was not up to your own high standards of writing. My opinion, only.”

I thought of Kingsley Amis, though I value the correspondent I have quoted, and appreciated his note. David Pryce-Jones told me the following story many years ago.

One day, Amis was lunching at one of the clubs in London. A woman came by and said, “Mr. Amis, I have just read your latest book.” Brightening, Amis said, “Yes?” The lady continued, “I’m an admirer of yours, but I must say that your new book is not up to your usual high standard.”

Now, Amis was basically the quickest, wittiest man in the world. His verbal skills were unsurpassed. He could have answered in a thousand ways. What happened?

Gripping the table, veins bulging, he said, “F*** you!”

In that Friday column of mine, I had a section on freedom versus fairness, or “fairness.” In any political contest between freedom and fairness, bet on fairness. Bet it all.

A reader of ours sent me a quotation from Sallust, the Roman historian and politician. What you could say at book length — and many have — Sallust disposed of in a couple of simple sentences: “Only a few prefer liberty. The majority seek nothing more than fair masters.”

Education

UNC Insists on ‘Equity’ Rather Than Equality

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The buzzword this year in higher education is “equity.” What the people who use it mean is that the treatment of underrepresented minorities must result in equal outcomes for each group. It’s not good enough that all students, no matter their supposed group, have equal chances to succeed. The results must be equalized, and that’s going to require a lot of new programs.

At the University of North Carolina, the “equity” crowd is in complete control. In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at the ways it is pushing the system for better policies than in the bad old days.

For one thing, UNC is said to have a terrible history of racism and oppression that students need to learn about. Only then, apparently, can all students feel included. The Board has established an “equity task force” to oversee the necessary changes.

Part of the problem, as they see it, is in the student pipeline. Some groups have higher high-school graduation rates than others, and that affects the college population. UNC will try to figure out how to remedy that.

The task force is also going to have sessions devoted to listening to students to find out what they regard as uninclusive.

For many years, UNC was in the grip of the Diversity Mania, but now it’s in the grip of the Equity Mania.

National Security & Defense

General Brent Scowcroft, 1925–2020

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Brent Scowcroft on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 1, 2007 (Jim Young/Reuters)

General Brent Scowcroft, who served as national-security adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, died this week at the age of 95. Quiet and unassuming, but ruthlessly effective in accomplishing his goals, Scowcroft was a key figure in many of the international crises and presidential decisions that shaped the world we live in today, for better or worse.

This is from my 2015 NR review of an authoritative biography by Bartholomew Sparrow (The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security):

[After Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait], the administration resolved early on that the risks of inaction vastly outweighed the risks of action. It defined a simple goal — the humiliating unconditional withdrawal of the Iraqi army from Kuwait — and pursued it with single-minded purpose. Scowcroft coordinated the overall strategy, congressional outreach, and messaging. He was wary of Baker’s efforts to resolve the crisis diplomatically. An ambiguous conclusion was out of the question. Absent the specter of superpower confrontation, the end of the Cold War might revive regional wars of territorial conquest — by far the greatest source of bloodshed in human history. Saddam’s defeat had to be unambiguous, pour encourager les autres.

The Bush administration’s single most virtuosic performance, and most lasting legacy, was undoubtedly the brilliant liquidation of the Soviet empire and the reunification of Germany within a significantly strengthened NATO — all without firing a shot. The achievement showed the Bush team at its best: Scowcroft’s expertise in strategic nuclear forces allowed Bush to preserve American deterrence while diminishing the Russian threat; Baker was perhaps the best negotiator (with Kissinger and Dean Acheson) ever to serve as secretary of state, and he was also a master at the art of communicating to multiple audiences; and Bush had just the right experience and temperament to impart overall guidance while building trust with foreign leaders.

In these areas and more, the Bush administration pursued maximalist, transformative goals with the right mix of power and political support (both at home and abroad) to see the process through to fruition. In coordinating these efforts, Scowcroft proved himself a model fixer and counselor.

The one thing Scowcroft was not, however, is what the title of this biography suggests he was: a strategist. The Bush-Scowcroft penchant for “prudence” often amounted to an intelligent and historically informed version of Barack Obama’s “Don’t do stupid stuff,” and hardly brought us closer to a grand strategy for the post–Cold War era. . . .

It’s possible to disagree with Scowcroft and the presidents he served. But it’s impossible to deny the diligence and intelligence with which George H. W. Bush’s foreign-policy team pursued its goals, the number of things large and small that it got right, and the number of mistakes avoided. Scowcroft was an essential piece in an administration that accomplished something we haven’t seen since: They gave people the general impression that they knew what they were doing, and that the world was safer in their hands.

Read the rest here.

The Economy

What’s an ‘American’ Car?

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Workers assemble Jeep Compass and Patriot vehicles at the Chrysler Belvidere Assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill., February 2, 2012. (Frank Polich/Reuters)

I’m not too sure about Dmitri’s ode to American cars, because I am not too sure what is an American car. In what sense should a Jeep Compass manufactured in Mexico be thought of as American while a Mercedes GLE made in Alabama isn’t?

The answer cannot be corporate ownership: Both companies have shareholders all over the world; the Alabama-made Mercedes is sold by a company based in Stuttgart; Jeeps are manufactured by an Amsterdam-based company run by Italians with its main financial office in London.

About 65 percent of the components of a Toyota Tundra pickup (made in San Antonio) are of North American origin; fewer than half the contents of a Chevy Silverado (sometimes made in Canada) are. Etc.

Culture

Twelve Things that Caught My Eye Today: Preparing for a Post-Roe World & More (August 7, 2020)

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1. Emma Green: The Anti-Abortion-Rights Movement Prepares to Build a Post-Roe World

Bachelder agreed to financially back an SBA List test program in Georgia called PLAN—the Pregnancy and Life Assistance Network—that would compile and publicize resources already available to women dealing with unplanned pregnancies, modeled after a version of the program in Northern Virginia. In theory, it’s an ambitious effort to find common ground between hard-core anti-abortion-rights activists and people who want to help pregnant women but may not be convinced that abortion should be completely banned.

2. The Jewish Case Against Abortion

Whatever few differences there are between Jewish morality and Christian morality, the issue of abortion is not one of them. That is why the NCJW statement is a great distortion of both Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, those Jews and those Christians who endorse abortion have been overly influenced by a secularist culture that is in principle hostile to the morality taught by both these great, often overlapping, traditions. On questions like abortion and euthanasia, it is what the late Pope John Paul II called a “culture of death.” 

3. Kristen Day & Xavier Bisits: The Democrats Biden Doesn’t Want

The Democrats of 2020 will barely give a thought to policies that make it easier for women to choose life, such as government-funded hospital care for women giving birth, or palliative care for infants with prenatal diagnoses. Such policies, previously central to Democratic values, violate the core tenet that “abortion is normal.”

4. BBC: Beirut Explosion

What’s really noticeable as you walk the streets here is that every second person seems to have a broom in their hand. There are clear-up teams everywhere, but it’s pretty low tech: tiny teams of people with pans and brushes to clean up an entire city’s devastation.

5. Michael Gerson: Covid-19 threatens to overwhelm the developing world

Across Africa, health systems are already fragile. Covid-19 is like a battering ram against a paper wall. In crowded slums, the exhortation to socially distance is a cruel joke. And most African countries are already dealing with an assortment of deadly infectious diseases that are infinitely complicated by the addition of a new one.

6. Steven D. Mosher: Catholicism a Casualty of China’s New Cultural Revolution

It is not merely that the CCP is suspicious of, or even hostile to, religious faith in China, although it is certainly both. Rather, it is the case that the party conceives of itself as a secular religion and is determined to impose that religion on the people of China by deploying all of the considerable resources that a hi-tech, one-party dictatorship has at its disposal. This is the environment in which Catholic bishops, priests and laity are forced to operate in today’s China. It is an environment of constant propaganda, surveillance and intrusion by hostile agents of the state. 

7. Stephen P. White: Waiting for the McCarrick Report

The longer the McCarrick report is delayed, the longer the open wound of distrust between the flock and the shepherds will fester.

This distrust, by the way, is damaging to the faithful and to the Church as a whole. It is also damaging to those whose names have been tainted by their proximity to McCarrick – men who, if they are innocent of wrongdoing, deserve to have their names cleared.

8. Crux: Pope says fighting clerical abuse fosters deeper respect for life

“Fighting abuse [means] fostering and empowering communities so that they are capable of keeping watch and announcing that all life deserves to be respected and valued, especially that of the most defenseless who do not have the resources to make their voice heard,” Francis wrote.

9. We need to talk about what school closures mean for kids with disabilities

For a lot of families of kids with disabilities, virtual learning this spring “meant nothing,” Maria Hernandez, executive director of the nonprofit VELA, which helps parents in the Austin, Texas, area navigate special education for their kids, told Vox. “It meant one phone call; it meant one packet.”

And now, parents worry about a fall with more of the same uncertainty over whether schools will be able to provide from a distance the resources their kids need. At the same time, some students with disabilities also have underlying conditions and complex medical needs that make the physical reopening of schools a frightening prospect.

10. Fr. Wilson D. Miscamble: Mayor Pete at Notre Dame

The Buttigieg appointment illustrates that the university’s leadership has embraced a defective understanding of Notre Dame’s Catholic mission. Anyone can see that the Church suffers from significant challenges in restoring trust after the failure to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and a properly constructed course on “trust,” taught by someone with convictions in line with the Catholic faith, could do much good. But that is not what Our Lady’s university has chosen to do.

11. Susan Codone: Public Theology Isn’t Just for Academics

When I was given an opportunity to speak directly to the church culture that silenced me, I unearthed a deeply held personal theology of trauma—that my relationship with God rests upon his grace alone, and that he redemptively rescues and restores me from suffering I’ve experienced by the abuse of power.

12. The Washington Post: He asked to play a piano at a store. His performance went viral, and the owner gave him his first piano. 

 

Elections

Will Joe Biden Put Down the Rosary Beads and Respond?

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Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., June 1, 2020. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The presumptive Democrat nominee, former senator, and, so says Politico, “devout Catholic [who] has recited Scripture on the 2020 campaign trail and is known to carry rosary beads in his pocket,” has been challenged by CatholicVote to do something that should come easily to any devout Catholic, indeed to devout non-Catholics: “publicly condemn the disturbing attacks on Catholic saints, symbols, churches, statues, and beliefs that lately have become commonplace, even from within his own party.”

That’s from a statement put out this week by the . . .  devout . . . Catholic organization (its agenda is pro-life, traditional marriage, religious freedom, subsidiarity, and pro-1776). Despite its origin and its confrontational political nature, the statement makes a fair request of someone who seeks to be president, especially at a time when there are plentiful public (albeit largely media-ignored!) acts of desecration and destruction targeting Things Catholic. More from CatholicVote president Brian Burch:

Catholic churches across America are literally burning, and Joe Biden has said nothing. Leading members of the Democratic Party have fueled a climate of hate against Catholics, and these attacks have now led to acts of vandalism and violence. These attacks on the Church raise serious questions about the commitment of Joe Biden, a self-professed Catholic, to stand up to the rising climate of anti-Catholicism across the country.

Burch had better watch himself: Back in 2005, when Biden was contemplating another presidential bid, and was faced with the Devout Question, he told a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter, “The next Republican that tells me I’m not religious, I’m going to shove my rosary beads down their throat.”

But will he clear his own to condemn the spate of church burnings and vandalizations, or the desecrations, among others, of Marian statues in Massachusetts and Saint Junipero Serra statues in California, or the vandalizing of churches? And then there are those political attacks, such as AOC’s demand for the removal of the Capitol statue of the sainted “leper priest,” Fr. Damien of Molokai, and attacks on federal judicial nominees such as Brian Buescher, who was a threat to the Republic because he was a member (hold the Tootsie Rolls!) of the Knights of Columbus.

That particular stunt (there were others, including one against Judge Amy Coney Barrett) was led by Kamala Harris (at the time taken to the woodshed by Kathryn Jean Lopez), now said to be Biden’s likely choice as a ticket mate. So let’s not count on any anti-anti-Catholic statement from Biden (currently preoccupied with untangling his comments about black diversity). But do count on CatholicVote’s commencing, next week, an ad campaign hitting Biden for his silence.

At some point there was no bait to take: There could have been some decent electoral upside for Biden to shore up and polish those flimsy devout credentials. Political blessings and inoculations would have been had if he had condemned this (condemnable) spate of ugliness directed. He could have stuck to the acts of violence, and ignored criticizing his partisan comrades, and still have scored points. You can imagine a Biden statement, evolving into yarns about some old nun who said Little Joe was her favorite student, and the time as an altar boy that he dropped a candle, all of it ending with a threat to punch the lights out of anyone who might try to spray-paint a statue at his parish. But now Biden has afforded his political foes an opportunity to caste him as afraid to defend his own faith against vandals and hoodlums. Which, it seems, he is. Well, I for one will be devout in following this story.

Regulatory Policy

Regulatory Overreach Ahead?

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An eagle tops the Federal Reserve building facade in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Dodd–Frank bill passed in 2010 in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, in which the major commercial and investment banks were ground zero. The banks were the major lenders and mortgage originators in the housing crisis; their balance sheets were riddled with the toxic assets; they were each other’s counter parties in a slew of transactions; and the capital holes on their balance sheets were the source of the financial system’s misery. Policy prescriptions (TARP, and the Fed’s endeavors) were largely driven by the need to plug those banks’ capital holes. Post-crisis legislative efforts were allegedly driven by the need to better regulate those entities (the final result was not exactly on target).

The COVID market swoon of March was pandemic-driven, and it’s harder to find a culprit to blame for that. That said, there are increasing calls for some Fed or policy response to deal with so-called “non-bank lenders.” Whether it is hedge funds, money market funds, or non-bank lenders (mortgage servicers), there are a host of non-traditional financial actors who are clearly becoming targets for increased regulation. As is almost always the case, the various bumps and bruises that took place in March involving the different categories of financial actor listed above have no relation to one another, yet are now being all stirred together into one (unhelpful) conversation.

I expect the Fed to be the ultimate arbiter as to where the problems may be (or not) in shadow finance, and I expect the Fed will conclude that non-traditional liquidity providers are an important part of our financial ecosystem. That said, our financial system is leveraged, it always has been, and it always will be. Therefore, in moments of peak distress, we will see what we saw in March again — the exacerbation of distress — no matter what any regulator says or does.

Elections

The Most Likely Path to a GOP Senate Majority

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On the homepage, I take a look at the GOP’s most realistic path to retaining the Senate majority in November:

  1. Gain Alabama.
  2. Lose Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona.
  3. Hold Maine and all other competitive races. 

Susan Collins is down four points in public polls, but private GOP polling shows her up. And fresh public polls released this week show Republicans leading in Montana and Iowa.

Fiscal Policy

COVID-Relief Talks March On, Slowly

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Last week I wrote a piece and a blog post about the effort to extend COVID relief. A $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, but Senate Republicans waited until the last minute to introduce a proposal, and there was a $2 trillion gap between that proposal and the bill the House Democrats had passed.

A week later, the two sides are still slowly working their way to a compromise, as CNBC reports:

On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that during a Thursday night meeting she offered to cut her desired aid price tag by $1 trillion if Republicans increased the size of their plan by $1 trillion. The Trump administration declined, she said.

Pelosi added that she could cut back spending by making some programs expire earlier than originally proposed. House Democrats passed a roughly $3 trillion relief package in May, and Republicans last week proposed a bill that costs about $1 trillion.

Neither House nor Senate Democrats would accept legislation that puts “south of $2 trillion” into the pandemic response, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday. Entering Pelosi’s office, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said boosting the cost of the GOP plan by $1 trillion is a “non-starter,” making it unclear where the sides could find common ground.

After the more than three-hour meeting Thursday night, Pelosi, Schumer, Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows painted a dismal picture of aid talks that have accomplished little over a week and a half.

Yikes. I noted in my original piece that a $2 trillion gap might be difficult to close, but I wasn’t expecting things to drag on this long with key aid provisions expired.

Trade

More Trump Tariffs

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President Trump has slapped tariffs on Canadian aluminum, citing its alleged dangers to national security. It’s a decision with a lot of downsides.

Canada has already promised retaliation.

The tariffs will harm American companies that use aluminum (including Whirlpool, which we have separate tariffs to help!).

It’s not a great time for higher taxes.

The tariffs undermine the administration’s supposedly great triumph in renegotiating NAFTA. Much of the benefit of that deal, according to the economic projections the administration cited, came from reducing uncertainty. Trump had been the source of that uncertainty, and the newly relabled USMCA has obviously not ended it.

The national-security pretext is, of course, absurd.

The tariffs make it even less likely that we would be able to lead an international response to Chinese trade abuses (not that the administration seems especially interested in doing so).

These tariffs will, of course, have benefits too. Previous steel and aluminum tariffs have been estimated to cost about $900,000 per job saved.

Law & the Courts

DC Circuit Rules McGahn Must Honor House Subpoena . . . but Not Necessarily Answer House’s Questions

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Then-White House Counsel Don McGahn listens before the Senate Judiciary Committee, September 27, 2018. (Win McNamee/Pool via Reuters)

They say bad facts make bad law. But here is a case of bad law making bad facts.

The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in a rare ruling by the full court, held 7–2 that former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn must honor a House subpoena issued in connection with the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry.

Nevertheless, this does not decide the issue that is actually important: What questions must McGahn answer?

Some readers may recall that I flagged this issue last November. That’s when an Obama-appointed D.C. district court judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson, issued a tendentious, occasionally incoherent 120-page decision holding that McGahn must honor the subpoena issued by the Judiciary Committee chaired by Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), the Trump-impeachment crusader. Obviously, the Committee wants to question McGahn about some of the episodes outlined in Volume II of the Mueller Report, which outlines the prosecutors’ obstruction investigation.

For all the overwrought media coverage about how Judge Jackson had ordered that McGahn “must testify to Congress,” her opinion actually held only that McGahn must physically show up in the Capitol Hill hearing room — he couldn’t just blow off the subpoena. But McGahn was one of the president’s top advisers, the counsel who provided him with legal guidance; consequently, demands that he testify raised profound executive privilege and attorney-client privilege issues. In the litigation the parties sidestepped this essential aspect of the case, and Judge Jackson did not decide it.

The Trump Justice Department, like the Obama Justice Department before it (when fending off a House investigation of the Fast and Furious scandal), took the position that the court should stay out of this dispute between the political branches. The Constitution gives those branches, particularly Congress, their own arsenals for battling over access to executive information.

Earlier this year, a three-judge D.C. Circuit panel reversed Jackson, deciding in the Justice Department’s favor. It was a divided ruling, however, along partisan lines: two Republican-appointed judges in the majority, the Democratic-appointed judge dissenting. In March, the Circuit granted rehearing en banc (i.e., by all eleven Circuit judges not in senior status). This made for a near certainty that the panel would be reversed. Not only does the Circuit skew heavily Democratic (7-4 Democratic to Republican appointees); two of the judges (Neomi Rao and Gregory Katsas) are Trump appointees who worked in the administration and would recuse themselves.

The only possibility, it seemed, that the panel ruling could be upheld hinged on the Supreme Court. The justices were due, by the end of their term, to decide Trump v. Mazars, involving the same congressional committee’s attempt to enforce a subpoena seeking the president’s financial records from his accountant. There are salient differences, of course — in Mazars, the committee was seeking the president’s personal information from a non-government third-party, while McGahn involves presidential information from a former executive official. Still, if the Supreme Court had ruled in the president’s favor — if, in effect, it had said that the judiciary should stay out of such political-branch disputes) — the Trump Justice Department would be well-positioned to urge the D.C. Circuit that, a fortiori, McGahn was immune in light of the significant privilege issues.

As I outlined last month, the Court’s 7–2 ruling decided Mazars in the Judiciary Committee’s favor but, alas, did so in a maddening way.

The justices would not say the courts should butt out, and thereby encouraged this and future Congresses to issue fusillades of subpoenas to executive officials. Yet Chief Justice John Roberts’s hand-wringing majority opinion stressed that the president has vital interests in confidentiality that both Congress and courts must weigh in determining whether Congress’s oversight demands are really necessary and sufficiently narrow in scope.

In other words, it was a prescription for endless delay while the lower courts pore over these subpoenas under the justice’s elusive guidance . . . meaning if the interbranch conflicts are to be settled in less than a year or three, Congress and the Justice Department will have to negotiate . . . which is what they would and should have been doing anyway (and what they were doing for over two centuries before Mazars formally intruded the courts into the mix).

Mazars made today’s D.C. Circuit ruling inevitable . . . and an inevitable waste of time.

Thanks to these unhelpful decisions, we now know that, if Nadler forces the issue (he will), McGahn will have to physically show up in the Judiciary Committee hearing room. There, he will refuse to answer questions because the administration will have invoked executive and attorney-client privilege.

There will follow indignant speeches by Committee Democrats that Trump and McGahn are obstructing the House’s impeachment inquiry (you didn’t think that was over, did you?), and that the White House already waved privilege by letting McGahn be interviewed by Mueller. Committee Republicans will counter with indignant speeches about how Nadler is Captain Ahab in an endless quest for the great white impeachment whale, and that by permitting McGahn to cooperate with a special counsel of the executive branch, the White House did not wave privilege for purposes of congressional or judicial proceedings.

The recriminations will be aired in the district court, whose decision will be reviewed by the D.C. Circuit, whose panel will be reviewed by the court en banc, whose maze of opinions along party lines will end up back at the Supreme Court — which will no doubt provide additional, er, clarity.

By then, either Trump will be on his farewell tour or Biden will be wrapping up his first term, and no one will remember whether Democrats wanted to grill Don McGahn or just reclaim their time.

Culture

TikTok and Rough Sex

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Women have taken to sharing images and videos on TikTok of their cuts and bruises endured during so-called “rough sex.” No doubt we have, among other things, the mainstreaming of sexual violence via PornHub to thank for this. Writing about the phenomenon for Ireland’s Independent, Emer O’Hanlon describes how “many men seem to consider rough sex such a common part of a normal sexual experience that they no longer feel it’s something for which they even need to ask consent.”

In a new TikTok challenge, women are even sharing post-coital videos of their bruised and cut limbs, in an attempt to emulate the recent Netflix kidnap-porn film, 365 Days. These aren’t small wounds – sometimes bruises are larger than the women’s handspans, as well as cuts that definitely go beyond surface level. One such video went viral across social media last week, and has been viewed more than 33 million times with nearly six million likes.

Culture

Where Is John Milius When You Need Him?

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(Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

In the 1980s, during the height of the Cold War, there were a few patriotic creatives kicking around Hollywood, surprisingly enough. One of them was screenwriter and director John Milius. An outspoken conservative, man’s man, and writer’s writer, Milius was the genius behind Red Dawn — an NR favorite — and Conan the Barbarian.

Some other movies made during this time were overtly patriotic and anti-Communist, Rocky IV chief among them. The villain in this sequel, a genetically engineered Russian named Ivan Drago, kills legendary Apollo Creed in the first act. Rocky Balboa vows to avenge his friend’s death by taking the fight to the motherland and defeating Drago, a stand-in for the Soviet Union.

Sadly, today’s Hollywood is far from patriotic. Among other things, it lacks figures as stubbornly pro-American, or anti-Communist, as Milius. Today’s Hollywood is borderline anti-American, as major studios are content to be cowed into censorship by their business partners in Beijing and in the Chinese Communist Party.

On Wednesday, the left-of-center organization PEN America released a telling report on Hollywood’s relationship with the CCP, which is “creating a climate of self-censorship” in domestic studios.

“These concessions to the power of the Chinese market have happened mostly quietly, with little attention and, often, little debate. Steadily, a new set of mores has taken hold in Hollywood, one in which appeasing Chinese government investors and gatekeepers has simply become a way of doing business,” the report says.

It goes on, “We have developed this report on Beijing’s influence over Hollywood because we believe this influence cannot be ethically decoupled from the Chinese government’s practices of suppressing freedom of expression at home.”

Additionally, the report calls for more transparency in Hollywood’s dealing with government censors in China. The likelihood of this phenomenon increasing in the next few decades is high, if not guaranteed. Hollywood’s tentpole franchises sometimes make hundreds of millions more in the Chinese box office than domestically, and The Walt Disney Company has also opened a theme park in Shanghai.

As the Chinese box office continues to grow, and as the relationship between Hollywood and Beijing becomes even more lopsided, the pressures on Hollywood studios to accede to CCP censorship will only increase. Self-censorship will presumably only worsen. That is why we must have this conversation now, before acquiescence to Beijing’s censorship becomes even further normalized for Hollywood filmmakers.

It’s too bad John Milius has fizzled out at 76. Clint Eastwood is a longtime conservative who still makes excellent movies, even at 90. But when he goes, an era will go down with him, too. Gone is the decade when at least some — as opposed to barely any — filmmakers and producers had a bit of chutzpah, telling stories, however hokey or tacky, that took the high road against soul-crushing, Communist regimes. Hollywood will always need a Milius — or an Eastwood, for that matter. Anyone who’ll stand up for what’s right. Anyone who won’t sacrifice principles for paychecks and theme parks.

Politics & Policy

Nebraska and Colorado Mull New Abortion Restrictions

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Earlier this week, proponents of a new pro-life bill in the Nebraska legislature overcame the filibuster to proceed to the next stage of debate. Legislative bill 814 would ban dilation and evacuation abortions, in which an unborn child is dismembered and removed from the womb in pieces.

Almost all second-trimester abortions performed in the U.S. use the D&E method, though sometimes the unborn child receives a lethal injection prior to dismemberment and removal, and sometimes vacuum suction is used instead of or in addition to tools used for dismemberment. The Nebraska bill would prohibit only D&E abortions performed on living fetuses and with the use of forceps rather than suction.

Like nearly all pro-life legislation, the bill would punish abortionists but would prevent women who obtained abortions from being charged.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, pro-lifers are preparing for a November vote on a ballot initiative that would prohibit abortions after 22 weeks’ gestation unless a physician deemed it necessary to save the mother’s life. There are currently no gestational restrictions on abortion in Colorado.

This effort is the fourth in Colorado to enact pro-life policy via ballot initiative over the last decade. In 2008 and 2010, there were ballot initiatives to define all unborn human beings as “persons” under state law; both measures failed by a margin of about 45 percent. In 2014, pro-lifers made a similar effort to define unborn children as “persons,” this time via an amendment to the state constitution. That effort failed by a 30-point margin.

If either measure in Nebraska or Colorado were to take effect, they would almost certainly face an immediate challenge from abortion proponents, who insist that U.S. jurisprudence requires that women have access to unlimited abortion on demand.

U.S.

21st Century Press Releases

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From my inbox:

Hi Kevin​​​​​​,

I hope you’re staying well! To promote The Satanic Temple’s (TST’s) religious abortion ritual, TST is raffling a free abortion in its campaign to advance religious reproductive rights. The abortion can be medical or surgical and is transferable upon request. Please see the press release below. Press kit attached. Please let me know if you’d like to schedule an interview. Thank you!

Warmest regards,
Molly

“Warmest regards,” indeed.

Law & the Courts

Faithless Electors and Constitutional Fidelity

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Did the Supreme Court get the faithless-electors case wrong? “The originalist evidence that the states cannot influence or control the electors is overwhelming,” writes Mike Rappaport.

Update: Reader PJM writes:

If Michael Rappaport thinks the originalist evidence for his view is overwhelming, he would have done well to include some of that overwhelming evidence in his piece.  The evidence he provides is extremely weak and little more than conclusory statements.
He rebuts Kagan’s Soviet election analogy, which I agree is weak, but he completely ignores her first example, which deals with voting by proxy.  That’s a far better comparison, directly analogous to the voting of bound electors.  Proxies and other agents without discretion certainly “vote” and use “ballots.”
That Hamilton envisioned electors with independence also doesn’t add much.  No one argues that independent electors aren’t an option, and that may even have been viewed as the likely way it would work.  That’s far from a compelling case that the constitution commands it.
Finally, he doesn’t even begin to address Thomas’s 10th amendment argument, just (again in conclusory fashion) calling it misapplied in this case.
Do you think he made a strong case, or were you just highlighting a different take?

The truth is that I was focused on several other Supreme Court cases at the time this decision came out, and so haven’t read the opinions. As a matter of first impression I thought Rappaport made a strong case, but so does PJM.

Elections

Are This Year’s Party Conventions Even Conventions Anymore?

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Then GOP nominee Donald Trump celebrates with his family as balloons fall at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Are this year’s political conventions still even “conventions,” with no delegates in attendance, no gathering of a crowd in an arena, no balloon drop or any of the other traditional associated pomp and hoopla?

Joe Biden won’t even be traveling to appear before Democrats. Republicans are currently planning for “a ‘central hub’ in another metro area that officials so far have declined to make public.”

Politico reveals that the Democratic “convention” — which is just ten days away — will feature John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, both Obamas and of course, both Bidens. Bill Clinton will appear, in what some will interpret as a downplaying of his #MeToo issues. Hillary Clinton is scheduled to speak; I wonder if the president will notice, and perhaps share an observation or two about her via Twitter.

But without a crowd… are the convention nights going to feel like an endless series of responses to the State of the Union?

The editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argued that political conventions should end entirely. But if you’re a member of the party, an elected official in the party, a reporter covering national politics, or an activist, the conventions are basically Disneyland. It’s the one time every four years that just about every major figure in a political party is in one place at the same time.

For local businesses, conventions are a bonanza, from the huge influx of delegates, alternate delegates, just about every major elected official in the party (in normal cycles; 2016 was a little different for the GOP), and tens of thousands of members of the media.

Increasingly, host cities welcome a lot of out-of-town cops, helping the locals keep everything secure. For donors and party officials, it’s four days of networking and four nights of partying. For political junkies, it’s Disneyland with every local university, think tank, activist group, and faction hosting open events. For protesters, it’s a moment to rally, beat their drums, and march around with their giant paper-mache heads.

Political history gets made at conventions — think of “Read my lips, no new taxes,” Pat Buchanan’s “cultural war” speech in 1992, Barack Obama’s star-making speech in Boston in 2004, Sarah Palin’s debut in 2008.

This year may be so different that we won’t get anything like those moments. And so if the lone remaining purpose of the convention is the decent audience that comes from appearing on all networks in prime time in late summer . . . is a prime-time speaking slot as valuable as it used to be?

Politics & Policy

On the Trump Administration’s Case Against WeChat

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The messenger app WeChat is seen among U.S. and China flags in this illustration picture taken August 7, 2020. (Florence Lo/Illustration via Reuters)

President Trump last night issued executive orders that would effectively ban TikTok and WeChat, two Chinese apps, from the United States in 45 days. It remains to be seen how stringently such a ban would be enforced (and what it would actually entail), and given TikTok’s ongoing acquisition talks with Microsoft, it’s even possible that the popular video-sharing app survives without triggering the measure.

Much of the discussion over the past several weeks has focused on TikTok, which has drawn scrutiny for data-privacy practices that critics say are vulnerable to requests from the Chinese government. But careful observers of the Trump administration’s messaging have noted that WeChat, too, has been in the sights of White House officials. There probably should have been more coverage about the messaging app before last night’s move: Whereas TikTok is a popular social-media app and perhaps a fad, WeChat is a rare platform that crosses over the Great Firewall, connecting families, businesses, and all manner of daily interactions. It has staying power as a fixture of daily life in China and in Chinese communities abroad.

That’s also why going after WeChat will be inherently messier than banning TikTok. Any discussion of such a measure needs to acknowledge two important facts: WeChat is arguably a more malignant vector of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in the world than is TikTok. At the same time, a ban has the potential to create difficulties for members of the Chinese diaspora abroad with family still in the country — and these are exactly the people that U.S. policy should empower. The administration can easily argue that WeChat is a worthy target, but the question of what exactly to do about it is more complicated.

The WeChat executive order lays out an argument focusing on the app’s data collection, which “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information” and allows the CCP “a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.” That explanation is a good start. Over the past few months, there has also been some useful reporting and analysis of the app’s CCP connections that bolsters the administration’s case.

The Australian had an interesting story last week about the way that Chinese Communist Party propagandists use the China-based app to maintain influence with members of the Chinese diaspora abroad, calling it “Mr Xi’s most powerful weapon.” From the article:

Highly sophisticated monitoring functions make it a cornerstone of the Chinese govern­ment’s social-credit system that, according to China’s State Council, will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

Together with the broadcast of state-sanctioned TV programs into thousands of Chinese-Australian homes, WeChat provides a unfiltered stream of CCP propaganda to the global diaspora.

This corroborates a finding by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in June in a report about the United Front Work Department, a foreign influence arm of the CCP:

Several overseas Chinese-language media outlets are owned or controlled by the UFWD through China News Service, including Qiaobao (侨报) in the US and Australia’s Pacific Media Group (大洋传 媒集团). At least 26 WeChat accounts run by nine Chinese media outlets are in fact registered to a subsidiary of China News Service. The accounts operate in all Five Eyes countries, the European Union, Russia, Japan and Brazil. They include accounts registered to Qiaobao and Pacific Media Group, indicating that they may all belong to companies supervised by the UFWD. Many of the accounts appear to have tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of followers.

There’s also clear evidence showing that WeChat closely surveils images and files shared by users outside of China to train its censorship algorithms within the country. Here’s an analysis from the University of Toronto from earlier this year:

WeChat users outside of China may think that WeChat’s political censorship and surveillance system does not affect them. However, in new research we show that files and images shared by WeChat users with accounts outside of China are subject to political surveillance, and this content is used to train and build up the censorship system that WeChat uses to censor China-registered users. Our technical methods can only tell us if files and images shared on WeChat are under surveillance. We don’t know yet if chat message text is under similar surveillance. In the meantime, users should be aware that this is a possibility.

The administration would help its case by being more forthcoming about the precise nature of WeChat’s involvement in disinformation and surveillance in the United States, expanding on the argument in the executive order. In the coming days, it will need to forcefully argue that the security threat posed by WeChat — surveillance, disinformation, or both — overrides the important link that the app gives many people to China.

National Review

Inside the August 24, 2020, Issue of National Review

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The August 24, 2020 issue of National Review is printed and in the mail, but of more immediate importance, it is also available right now, here on NRO. The great news: Anyone who has an NRPLUS membership will avoid the paywall (the limit: three monthly freebies) and read in toto the entire issue. That’s something you will most definitely want to do, given its powerful contents. Such as: Kevin Williamson’s cover essay profile of the endurance of Karl Marx, Andrew McCarthy’s informed analysis of William Barr’s performance as attorney general, Brian Garner’s new grammar column on “nonwords” (he ain’t a fan), Jay Nordlinger’s profile of the late Polish conductor, Krzysztof Penderecki, and, with another SCOTUS term in the rear-view mirror, the joint take by Carrie Severino and Frank Scaturro on how the conservative legal movement is faring.

Oh yes, this too: With polls showing him trailing in most states and on all issues, you’ll want to read the Rich Lowry / Ramesh Ponnuru troubling critique of Donald Trump’s reelection chances. Why at this point you wouldn’t have an NRPLUS membership may befuddle some, but we are firm believers in it being better late than never. Subscribe here.

Politics & Policy

What is ‘Credential Inflation’ and How Do We Stop It?

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A student wears a protective mask, following the recommended precautions as students prepare for Spring Break and an extended period of online classes due to the coronavirus outbreak at Syracuse University in New York, March 13, 2020. (Maranie Staab/Reuters)

It used to be the case in America that very few employers would screen out applicants just because they didn’t have “proper” educational credentials. That has changed dramatically over the last 60 years. Now, huge numbers of jobs are blocked off to those who don’t have a college degree to their name.

In today’s Martin Center article, Andrew Gillen of Texas Public Policy Foundation explains what has happened.

Gillen argues that credential inflation is driven by two factors:

“The first driver is upskilling, which is when the nature of a job changes to require more education. For example, drafting did not traditionally require a college degree, but as computers and complex architectural software have become more prevalent, the skills needed by drafters have expanded, so it is not surprising or objectionable that these jobs increasingly require college degrees.

“But the other driver of credential inflation is a mismatch in the supply of and the demand for educated workers. The New York Federal Reserve Bank estimates that 34 percent of all college graduates are underemployed, meaning they are overqualified (in terms of educational credentials) for their current job. With so many graduates floating around, employers use a degree as a screening device even if the job in question doesn’t require knowledge that one might learn in college.”

Due to credential inflation, Americans are impelled to get costly education degrees even though the work they’ll do calls for nothing more than basic trainability. So they have to waste time and money on formal education they seldom have an interest in and the nation wastes resources on a hugely overgrown high education sector.

Gillen thinks that employers, especially governmental employers, should revise their hiring criteria.

It would also be very helpful if the feds removed the legal minefield, created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Griggs v. Duke Power in 1971, around testing of job applicants for their skills.

He also argues that the credential inflation problem would be reduced in a tight labor market so that employers can’t be so fussy about credentials. Gillen writes, “While it may not feel like it, as we emerge from our pandemic-induced job coma, less than a year ago, the job market was the tightest in my lifetime. Everyone has an easier time finding a job under these conditions—even those with a criminal record. And the difficulty employers have in filling positions also provides an incentive to reverse credential inflation for jobs where it is not really necessary. For example, a 2019 survey of employers of temporary workers found that 50 percent were reducing education requirements.”

Media

In These Uncertain Times, Please Spare a Thought for Struggling Instagram Influencers

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It’s easy to go nuts reading the New York Times and marveling at the contradictions in its coverage, and it’s probably not worth dwelling on at length. But Joe Simonson is right: Taylor Lorenz’s profile of Instagram “influencers” who are continuing to throw parties during the pandemic because, in their words, they “can’t put our entire lives on hold for a year and not make any money” is written with a jarring sympathy that would never be extended to, say, small businesses, church groups, or New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities.

Some of these quotes are just galling:

“It’s a level of accountability they have to have on themselves,” said Michael Gruen, a founder of TalentX, a management firm that represents many TikTokers. “It’s tough to tell 18-year-olds who live in L.A. away from their parents not to go out for two years.”

Really? Really? Because it is not that difficult to find human beings who are enduring a much tougher burden than not being able to go to parties. Ask anyone working in a hospital! Ask anyone who’s lost a loved one or suffered serious health problems from the virus! Ask any working parent! Ask any senior citizen being told to stay away from everyone!

And the era of “not going out” has been in effect for about five months, not two years!

Last month the Times noted, “when Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia relaxed restrictions on businesses in late April as testing lagged and infections rose, the talk in public health circles was of that state’s embrace of human sacrifice.”

Suddenly, the Paper of Record is noting without any discernable judgment, “influencers say the parties are a necessary outlet in a time of extreme social isolation.”

Politics & Policy

Cooties and Conscience

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At the close of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016 (Rick Wilking / Reuters)

In Impromptus today, I have some thoughts on Joe Biden and race, Beverly Sills and philanthropy, and other issues.

Wait, Beverly Sills and philanthropy? Yes, I talked to the great soprano about this one day, some years ago. She raised $100 million for the March of Dimes. That was a lot of money back then. (Sills had two severely handicapped children.) She also raised money for the arts. And she defended this kind of philanthropy, eloquently.

(You may wonder why I included this subject in Impromptus. The late Doris Buffett — sister of Warren — said she did not give to “the SOBs”: symphonies, operas, and ballets.)

Mainly, however, my column is about the Republican Party. One emblem of it is Bill Hagerty, the Tennessean who won his state’s Senate primary yesterday. He was a friend of Mitt Romney, going back to the 1980s, when they both worked in finance. When Hagerty announced for the Senate, Romney immediately wrote him a check. Hagerty returned the check, considering it toxic.

In GOP-land today, Romney has cooties.

Hagerty proceeded to bad-mouth his old friend on the campaign trail (“indistinguishable from Barack Obama,” etc.). While renouncing Romney, he clutched Diamond & Silk close. The Trump family, too.

I am singling out Bill Hagerty, but he is utterly typical. There are conservatives who think that the GOP needs a thorough drubbing, chastening, and rebuilding. I can understand them.

My own view is this: People ought to vote their conscience in the House and Senate races before them. In all races, really. (You may remember that “vote your conscience” was an incendiary phrase at the 2016 Republican convention.)

Okay, enough politics, for this little Corner post. I have done a Q&A podcast with David Normoyle, here. David is an old friend of mine and an exceptional person. He is a golf historian, who has carved out a fascinating career for himself. He is married to Dottie Pepper, the LPGA great. Recently, David took a 40-day car trip across America — COVID, polarized America. He chronicled his journey every night, in missives to an e-mail list. In our podcast, David and I talk golf and life.

Finally, some music — another podcast, a Music for a While, celebrating music for four hands. Or two pianos. In any case, duets. Have a listen, here.

And hit ’em straight.

P.S. I just got an e-mail in response to Impromptus today. I adore its opening sentence — its opening two sentences: “Why not vote Libertarian, Jay? I mean, aside from the fact we’re nuts and we don’t win.”

The Economy

Today’s Capital Note

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Over at Capital Matters today, the latest Capital Note is up (yes, this is a belated post). Today, we discuss, among other topics, the prospects for employment (not good), trouble at CalPERS and trouble in Weimar Germany.

Law & the Courts

Government Misconduct Frees Cliven Bundy

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Federal Protective Service officers gather outside the federal courthouse as jury selection begins for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and co-defendant Ryan Payne, in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 30, 2017. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/Reuters)

Politically charged prosecutions — even ones that are thoroughly justified — often end badly for the justice system. So it appears with the federal prosecutions of Cliven Bundy and his sons. The government blew its case against Bundy’s sons by overcharging them, resulting in a jury acquittal in 2016. Today, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Bundy’s own federal indictment (as well as that of several of his co-defendants) on the grounds that the government had waited until the middle of trial to disclose information that would have helped Bundy’s case, in violation of Brady v. Maryland. The misconduct was so severe and prejudicial to the Bundy clan’s case that the court barred the government from bringing the same charges again. The opinion was written by Jay Bybee, a George W. Bush appointee, but joined by judges appointed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

The Bundy indictment charged extortion, threats to federal officers, and a variety of related crimes due to the armed standoff around the Bundy ranch arising from a longstanding dispute over unpaid grazing fees claimed by the Bureau of Land Management. The trial court rejected the Bundy clan’s self-defense theory, but, as the court wrote, “A central pillar of the government’s case was the allegation that the defendants recruited armed followers by intentionally deceiving those followers into believing that the Bundys feared for their lives because government snipers surrounded their ranch,” a charge that was touted in the government’s opening statement to the jury.

The Bundys asked for video shot by a camera they said the FBI had trained on them; the government called it a “fantastical fishing expedition,” but the camera’s existence and its live feed to the BLM command center was confirmed four days into the trial. The resulting hearing disclosed as well federal patrols “armed with AR-15 rifles” around the compound. The trial court gave the prosecution the benefit of the doubt that withholding this information was a good-faith decision, but several days later, more FBI interviews (form 302s) were disclosed discussing agents in full tactical gear watching the compound and the insertion of agents the FBI itself described as “snipers.” This only came to light after the trial judge had excluded evidence based on the government’s repeated insistence that there were no snipers. The Ninth Circuit summarized why withholding this evidence was so harmful to the Bundys’ ability to present a defense:

The defendants claim that the Bundys feared they were surrounded by heavily armed snipers. Keeping the defense from gathering as much evidence as possible to show that there was a reasonable basis to fear that snipers surrounded the property was itself harmful. Moreover, the Felix 302 actually refers to the BLM agent in the overwatch position as a “sniper.” Indeed, the Felix 302 uses both “tactical over watch position” and “sniper” to refer to the same agent. This was tangible documentation showing that the government’s own officials understood agents in overwatch positions to be equivalent to “snipers.” Even if the defendants had some other evidence of agents taking “overwatch” positions around the Bundy property, the Felix 302 supported their theory in ways that [documents provided earlier] did not. The Felix 302, therefore, adds credibility to the Bundys’ claims that they feared the presence of “snipers” and it should have been disclosed prior to trial. In sum, like the evidence regarding the camera, these documents could have helped the defense show that the defendants genuinely feared the presence of snipers—contradicting the allegations that the defendants intentionally lied about being surrounded by snipers to inflame supporters.

In the Ninth Circuit’s view, it was “preposterous and reckless” for the government to withhold this evidence:

Of particular concern is the government’s handling of evidence related to the presence of snipers. This was a hot-button issue. The term is evocative, rhetorically charged, and would have been a dog whistle for summoning members of private militias in ways that screaming “surveillance cameras!” would not. The government said the Bundys’ claim of “snipers” was “false” and “deceitful,” yet the government’s own documents referred to its agents as “snipers.” The government disputed the relevance of this information, fixating on the question of whether the officers in the “overwatch” were technically “snipers.” The district court had to remind the government that these were questions for the jury.

The failure to produce evidence regarding “snipers” was particularly troubling for the district court because, during the Tier 3 trial of other co-defendants, the district court prohibited testimony regarding the presence of snipers, based on the government’s assurances that there were no snipers involved in the impound operation. The district court even removed a testifying defendant from the stand in that trial because the defendant kept stating that snipers were present. The district court was understandably exasperated when evidence came to light in this trial, showing that the government referred to its agents as “snipers.”

In short, the government had to know the import that any evidence regarding snipers, or agents who looked and functioned like snipers, would have in this case. Nevertheless, it withheld a slate of information bolstering the claim that the defendants could have had a reasonable basis for believing there were snipers in the area.

The court also found that the government improperly made “a conscious choice” to withhold a series of “threat assessments” that had downgraded earlier concerns about the threat posed by Bundy, which the defense could have used to challenge the necessity for a “militarized” response. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the trial judge had acted reasonably by dismissing the case rather than just ordering a new trial, given the “need to impose a sanction that will serve to deter future prosecutions from engaging in the same misconduct as occurred here”:

We note the government’s failure to acknowledge and confess any wrongdoing during the course of this case—especially as to material misrepresentations to the district court about the presence of snipers. Rather than accepting responsibility, the government blamed the defense for not requesting more specific information. Even in its motion for reconsideration, the government continued to maintain that it never had an obligation to turn these documents over and that any omission on the government’s part was the fault of the defendants for not doing a better job of showing why this information was relevant. Only on appeal has the government admitted that it should have turned these documents over.

The Bundys are no heroes; even the narrative of them as poster boys for genuinely legitimate problems with federal land management is complicated by the factual history of their own disputes with the BLM, and the same is true of efforts to paint them as innocent victims of an over-aggressive FBI. So it often is with individual criminal cases, many of which have facts that complicate their use in national political narratives. But the political drive to get the Bundys led the prosecution to some very sharp practices that ended up destroying the government’s case. That should stand as a lesson in political prosecutions of all stripes.

Fiscal Policy

Stimulus: The Next Moves?

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Secretary Mnuchin is saying that the various parties involved are looking to come to an agreement by the end of this week, with a goal to pass the bill early next week. He has not made clear where this optimism comes from and has admitted they are not close to a deal. Speaker Pelosi also indicated they were aiming for such, and she said, “we will have a deal.” The Republicans have, apparently, agreed to an extension of the eviction moratorium through the end of the year, and to some form of unemployment insurance closer to the Democrats’ version. The two sides are negotiating with written forms of offers and counteroffers, an indication of seriousness in moving forward. Senator Schumer indicated the Democrats have made concessions, too, but no one has leaked what those concessions may have been.

I feel confident that the $600 weekly extension of federal unemployment benefit support is coming, because President Trump has said he supports it, and if the White House and Dems want it, the Senate GOP’s objections are not going to matter

Monetary Policy

A New Approach from the Fed?

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If you read about the Fed announcing results of an extensive policy review soon, please note that this was a project that long pre-dates COVID. It is my opinion that the project was embarked upon to find a rationalization for targeting “average inflation” rather than the current approach. Defining the inflation target as “an average over a period of time of 2 percent” vs. “the 2 percent level” allows the Fed to “run hot” at given times (i.e. run over 2 percent without violating its 2 percent target). Of course, the inflation rate is now below the Fed’s target, so it has no need (even within its existing) stated policy objectives to let its foot off the gas. However, preemptively stating its objective is “an average of 2 percent” would prepare the market for monetary policy to stay accommodative even when inflation escalates. I expect this review soon, and I expect to not be surprised by its findings.

Does it matter?  Does it add to future inflation risks? To reiterate an argument I have made before about the 2020s . . . I am not convinced the Fed can create any inflation, regardless of the level it states is its objective.

Elections

Marco Rubio Advances Crucial Election-Support Ideas

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at a press conference about the ongoing relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., September 26, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

In a Medium piece on Thursday, Florida Senator Marco Rubio drew attention to the challenges of administering a national election in 2020. These include not only the continuing threat of foreign interference but also the unique challenges of voting in the middle of a pandemic.

“We cannot escape the pandemic-induced reality of increased mail-in voting,” Rubio notes, “and the logistical challenges associated with it will be difficult for some states to resolve in the next couple of months. This will almost certainly lead to confusion, uncertainty, and perhaps chaos on election night.”

There is no perfect way to prevent such chaos, but there are ways to prepare the public for it so that it doesn’t leave people thinking the election results are illegitimate because counting votes takes longer. And Rubio also proposes four kinds of steps that policymakers could take to be of further help:

First, we must clearly signal to foreign adversaries that meddling in our elections will be met with a commensurately harsh response. Congress should immediately pass and President Trump should sign my bipartisan Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act.

Second, we should give states the flexibility to provide local election officials additional time to count each and every vote by moving the federal safe harbor deadline for states from December 8 to January 1, an idea first proposed by Kevin Johnson and Yuval Levin. I introduced a bill to do exactly that, and urge my colleagues to join me in giving states more time to collect, verify, and count votes without fear of having the results challenged in Congress.

Third, the federal government should continue to provide funding and expertise to states, especially those that do not have established or efficient mail-in ballot systems in place. Funding to support enhanced health and safety measures may also be necessary.

Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that there are also subversive elements within our own country. The chaos of a contested election creates cover for everyone from radical anarchists like Antifa to white ethno-nationalists seeking to foment a second civil war. We must give them no quarter, as they look to undermine our country — albeit for different reasons — just like regimes based in Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran.

I’m not an impartial observer, since he attributes it to me and Kevin Johnson, but I do think the second of Rubio’s proposals is crucially important. Giving the states more time to count—without changing the date of the election—would be a vital step, as he suggests. The bill he has just introduced to do this is short and simple, and could make a real difference if the presidential race is close in key states. It doesn’t give either party an advantage, and so should appeal to both. And Congress should even consider tucking it into the pandemic relief bill now being negotiated.

Election-day chaos is a real danger this year. But preparation could make all the difference, and it’s great to see Rubio leading the charge to prepare.