Film & TV

Do Certain Critics Now Reflexively Dislike Apolitical Works?

American actor Marlon Brando gestures at a table while American actor Robert Duvall sits behind him in a still from the film, The Godfather. (Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)

A few episodes ago on The Editors podcast, I recommended the Paramount Plus limited series The Offer, a dramatization of producer Al Ruddy’s experience of making the 1972 film The Godfather with Francis Ford Coppola. In Ruddy’s account of events, just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and he and his team constantly had to put out metaphorical fires and improvise solutions for every kind of conceivable problem. A few listeners have written in and said they’ve enjoyed it.

Chock full of, “Hey, it’s that guy!” character actors playing against type, the series almost parallels a heist film. You’ve got the mastermind — Ruddy, played by Miles Teller, and one by one, he assembles his crew of misfits: right-hand woman Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple), author Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo), director Coppola (Dan Fogler, who usually plays larger-than-life comedic characters and shows exceptional range here) and eventually, the eccentric but ingenious Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers). All if this is under the eye of Paramount boss Robert Evans, played by Matthew Goode, as a jovial, fast-talking, always-moving king of Hollywood. If Goode’s performance were any bigger, he would be Austin Powers. Burn Gorman, whom you know as the odd-looking sinister henchman from a bunch of your favorite films, plays the manic and mercurial CEO Charles Bluhdorn, and Colin Hanks, and who looks and sounds more and more like his father with each passing year, is the skeptical executive Barry Lapidus.

This is another case where, at least by the measuring stick of the website Rotten Tomatoes, the tastes of the critics and the tastes of the general public diverge rather sharply: Roughly 57 percent of critics liked it, while 95 percent of viewers who registered their opinion with the site liked it.

Now, perhaps that audience response is self-selecting, as those disinclined to like it wouldn’t watch. But if that was the case, then every movie and show on Rotten Tomatoes would have a similar sterling score.

And when I started looking for reviews of The Offer, it seemed like the ones I found hated it.

Rolling Stone called it “a total waste of time.” The Hollywood Reporter shrugged, saying, “It’s a whole lot of trivia and very little substance.” IndieWire sneered it was “a soulless, vapid piece of Content™ that’s about as far removed from ‘art’ as professionally produced television can get.” The AVClub went with the predictable declaration that it “sleeps with the fishes.”

A lot of the reviews seemed almost angry at the series for existing at all. Maybe it’s because they love The Godfather and its sequel so much — there was only one sequel, right? Right? — that they think the films will be harmed by the show.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if some critics were irritated that this fairly big-budget, big-cast, prestige TV offering wasn’t serving them one clear modern message — or “The Message™” as the sardonic YouTuber Critical Drinker calls it.

There are a few scenes that demonstrate how badly women were treated in Hollywood back then. (Boy, good thing that’s all fixed, right?) And the New York mob’s attitudes toward African Americans are as awful as you would suspect. But those are lines and scenes here and there, by no means the series’ central theme or message.

By and large, the message of The Offer is that sometimes it takes a bunch of impassioned oddballs to make a masterpiece. Ruddy and his team are quintessential underdogs — insufficiently experienced, insufficiently well-connected, scraping by on a minimal budget — and, as the story tells it, continually doubted, undermined, opposed, and underestimated. But they believe they’ve got the pieces of a spectacular movie in their hands, and they doggedly keep finding new ways to push the creation process forward.

The Offer isn’t perfect. It doesn’t stick the landing; the last episode or two run low on momentum; as the film gets closer to completion, the stakes feel lower.

But looking at the numerous scathing or near-scathing reviews, I’m left wondering . . . do today’s reviewers not merely reflexively dislike any work that could be construed as conservative, or do they instinctively dislike any work that is apolitical? Is it that, because The Offer doesn’t have much to say about the environment, race relations, gay rights, Donald Trump, or any other 2022 cause célèbre that certain reviewers just couldn’t find anything interesting in it?

The Offer is a really fun series that allows you to escape all of the political and cultural controversies of the modern day . . . and I think some critics really disliked it for being that.


Learned Hands

(Natalia Shabasheva / Getty Images)

Today’s Impromptus is headed “God and country, &c.” I talk about Christian nationalism, America First — some old things that are new again. In a post last week, I had a note on cursive: the apparent demise of. On that, I’d like to publish some mail.

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

. . . One of my most ardent causes is the revival of cursive. A little research has convinced me that the learning of cursive at an early age has extreme benefits. I recommend studies that identify significant advantages to medical and law students who eschew the laptop in favor of the legal pad and such.

In any event, I encourage all of my friends with young children to have them learn cursive before printing. It has many motor skills and cognitive advantages. I look always for young people who are willing to be correspondents and engage in cursive exchanges.

Finally, I find it possible, nay, simple, to avail oneself of the speed of light while communicating with a pen. I prefer to compose and correspond by hand; at my library desk, I prefer a dip pen and inkwell. However, we needn’t rely on the USPS . . . When I feel the need of speed, I simply scan a handwritten note and e-mail it to the intended. The recipient has my handwritten communication as quickly as e-mail!

Dang, that’s inspired.

Another missive:

Hi, Jay!

. . . As proud Gen Xers, my wife and I have taught our children cursive even though their schools don’t. As I explained to my son, at a minimum, you have to be able to sign your name on documents and checks. More importantly, almost no one else your age will be able to read cursive, so it’s like a secret code.

Heh. That’s inspired, too.


Dear Jay,

. . . There was a time when a person’s signature was an item of identification. . . . As a personal-income-tax preparer, I can tell you that there is now a signature that is common to young men and women under the age of 30. It resembles the trace of a muddy milk cow’s swishing tail on a barn wall. This signature bears no resemblance to any sequence of letters. It identifies nothing save its author’s inability to write.

Cursive may not be at the top of my list. There are many things whose revival I hope for. But the revival of cursive — that would be kind of neat, and it would add some drops to the reservoir of beauty in the world.

Woke Culture

A Strong Dissent on ‘Allyship’


One of the many ways the Left manipulates language to help achieve its goals is the concept of “allyship.” This is extolled as virtuous behavior for whites and entails blindly supporting any and every action of black activists. On the other hand, should a black individual work with whites, Asians, or people who just don’t fit into racial boxes to achieve mutually advantageous goals, that individual is not seen as doing anything praiseworthy. On the contrary, he’ll be denounced as a “race traitor” or some even more derogatory term.

Professor Erec Smith reflects here on the double standard involved. He writes, “Whenever a person of color does not express the right sentiments, he or she is automatically deemed inauthentic, an Uncle Tom, a dupe suffering from internalized racism. Conservative blacks like Tim Scott and Clarence Thomas know this all too well, but so do left-leaning blacks like John McWhorter, Van Jones, and yours truly. It seems that if a black person sticks so much as a toe over the line circumscribing the realm of ‘wokeness,’ he or she will automatically attract the label infamously attributed to Larry Elder during his political campaign: ‘the black face of white supremacy.'”

The Left doesn’t care to engage in debate generally and especially hates to debate people like Professor Smith who think on their own and disagree with many “progressive” tenets.

Politics & Policy

Oregon’s Experiment with Drug Decriminalization Failed by Its Own Standards

(Jeng_Niamwhan/iStock/Getty Images)

In a November 2020 referendum, Oregon voters approved a reform that downgraded the punishment for possession of any and every drug to a civil citation. Today, the Oregonian reported that this experiment with hard-drug decriminalization has failed to deliver on one of its central promises: that treatment would take the place of criminalization. The Oregonian article, titled “Oregon’s drug decriminalization effort sends less than 1% of people to treatment,” reports:

Two years after Oregon residents voted to decriminalize hard drugs and dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars to treatment, few people have requested the services and the state has been slow to channel the funds.

When voters passed the state’s pioneering Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act in 2020, the emphasis was on treatment as much as on decriminalizing possession of personal-use amounts of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs.

But Oregon still has among the highest addiction rates in the country. Fatal overdoses have increased almost 20% over the previous year, with over a thousand dead. Over half of addiction treatment programs in the state lack capacity to meet demand because they don’t have enough staffing and funding, according to testimony before lawmakers. . . . Of 16,000 people who accessed services in the first year of decriminalization, only 0.85% entered treatment, the [Oregon Health Authority] said. A total of 60% received “harm reduction” like syringe exchanges and overdose medications. An additional 15% got help with housing needs and 12% obtained peer support.

The operating premise of the decriminalization effort was that governments should treat addiction as a disease rather than a crime. In a January New York Times guest essay lauding the Oregon experiment, titled “Treating Addiction as a Crime Doesn’t Work. What Oregon Is Doing Just Might,” drug-policy writer Maia Szalavitz argued:

By decriminalizing personal-use drug possession, Oregon has become the first state to acknowledge that it is impossible to treat addiction as a disease and a crime simultaneously. This kind of model is urgently needed in the United States, where street fentanyl is the leading cause of death among people ages 18 to 45, and where sending people to jail for using drugs has failed to prevent the worst addiction and overdose crisis in American history. . . . Criminalization supercharges addiction stigma, and stigma is one of the biggest obstacles to recovery. Stigma is such a major roadblock that most organizations working to combat addiction have large initiatives focused on addressing it.

“To reduce stigma and combat the addiction crisis, drug policy must be liberated from the idea that without criminal penalties, no one would ever quit drugs,” Szalavitz continued. “Because far from spurring recovery, arrest, incarceration and having a criminal record can exacerbate drug problems.”

Well, fine. I’m on the record as being skeptical, but the exceptional thing about the “laboratories of democracy” theory of federalism is that state governments can experiment with a variety of different approaches to public policy. When they go right, those experiments serve as a model that other states can emulate; when they go wrong, they don’t drag the rest of the country down with them. Judging by the standard set by the advocates of hard-drug decriminalization, Oregon’s most recent experiment has gone disastrously wrong.


Oregon Governor’s Race Too Close to Call

Oregon gubernatorial candidates Christine Drazan (left) and Tina Kotek (Campaign images via Facebook)

I’ve been following the Oregon governor’s race very closely — partially because it’s my home state, but also because it’s a traditionally blue state where Republicans have a very real shot at flipping the governor’s mansion red for the first time since 1987, when the Oregon’s last GOP governor left office. The race is now rated a “toss-up” by both the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and the Cook Political Report. (Both analysts downgraded the race from “Lean Democrat” in the last month and a half.) 

Frustratingly, there’s been very little public polling available on the race — the most recent survey on FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregator is from mid-August. The polling that is available shows Christine Drazan, the Republican, virtually tied with Tina Kotek, the Democrat, in the low 30s. Betsy Johnson, the unusually viable and well-funded Democrat-turned-independent — whose candidacy is often cited as one of the main reasons that Republicans have a real shot in 2022 — tends to trail ten points or so behind in the high teens or low 20s.

But there has been more recent local commentary on the race that can provide a glimpse into just how close things really are. Last week’s piece from the Portland-based KGW, titled “Oregon governor’s race could be a toss-up, experts say,” cites a number of political analysts discussing why “the race for governor is looking closer than ever.” One factor, as I mentioned above, is Johnson’s third-party bid — the conventional wisdom is that the former Democrat’s candidacy will hurt Democrats more than Republicans. (“There’s a frustration among Democrats about Betsy Johnson’s presence in there because they feel like she takes votes away from both of them but could potentially take more votes away from Tina Kotek,” Jessica Taylor of the Cook Political Report told KGW.) I think that’s probably more true than not, but I also wouldn’t neglect the possibility that aspects of Johnson’s candidacy could peel votes away from Republicans, too. Johnson has made crime a centerpiece of her campaign and has pulled lucrative endorsements from major police unions and dozens of district attorneys. Particularly in a blue state like Oregon, public safety is one of the GOP’s main pitches to voters, and Drazan has stressed the issue throughout her campaign. (Both Johnson and Drazan have pledged to work to repeal the state’s decriminalization of all drugs, which voters approved in a referendum in November 2020, despite the fact that Oregon has some of the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse in the nation.) It’s possible that Johnson’s tough-on-crime campaign could dull the potency of Drazan’s candidacy.

Another sign of the race’s competitiveness is the infusion of large amounts of money into the state from national organizations affiliated with both major parties. Earlier this month, the Democratic Governors Association dumped another $1.25 million into Kotek’s campaign, bringing the total donations from the group to $3.1 million. Around the same time, the Republican Governors Association sent another $1 million to Drazan, bringing the total donations from the group up to nearly $2.6 million. As of September 19, the Oregonian reported, “Kotek has reported raising a total of $10.5 million since January 2021 and Drazan has reported raising a total of $9.3 million, according to state records.” That puts 2022 spending on track to break Oregon records: “The top trio of candidates in the 2022 race for Oregon governor have combined to raise over $30 million by mid-September, putting them on a path to smash the $40 million mark for a governor’s race set four years ago,” Oregon Capital Insider reported.

All signs point to a nail-biter in Oregon this November. Here’s hoping voters make the right decision.

Film & TV

Is Rings of Power Moving Too Fast or Too Slowly?

Robert Aramayo and Morfydd Clark in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. (Amazon Studios)

In response to <em>Rings of Power</em> Falters in Latest Episode

Jack thinks the fourth episode of Rings of Power was “boring” and too slow-paced. I had no similar problem. Taken apart from the question of fidelity to the books, I found this episode to be engaging, and think the pacing of storytelling is fine. The series compresses events that unfold over many centuries in Tolkien’s timeline; those events are necessarily a bit rushed for television, but I appreciate the time taken to build dramatic tension and introduce a bunch of new characters (as well as characters such as Gil-galad, Durin, and Celebrimbor who are known to readers but not the non-book-reading audience, and who frankly are not that fleshed-out on the page). Moreover, the pacing is undoubtedly designed to allow time to extend the series over multiple seasons; there are few worse mistakes in television than blowing through the key elements of your plot too quickly and having to tack on unnecessary events to manufacture drama.

I’m also less concerned than Jack about the depiction of Elrond, who after all is presented in the books as a loremaster and a diplomat, not a commanding personality.

As with my critique of the first two episodes, my chief concern is that the series will diverge too far from the essential elements of Tolkien’s mythos. Gil-galad’s explanation to Elrond of why the elves need mithril to avoid “fading” reeked of midichlorians, although the fading of the elves is a major theme of Tolkien – they are presented as at the height of their power when they first embark from Valinor, with the light of the Two Trees in their eyes, and steadily diminish thereafter, being held off from decay by the rings wielded by Elrond and Galadriel. I suppose the series is attempting to frame the fear of fading as a major motivation for the forging of the Three Rings by Celebrimbor.

The bigger game is the Downfall of Númenor. There are three essential elements to the Downfall of Númenor that advance Tolkien’s broader theological and philosophical outlook while advancing the plot that results in the War of the Last Alliance and, in the longer term, the entire history of the Third Age that culminates in the story of the Lord of the Rings. The first and most important is that Númenor is destroyed when its leaders rebel against mortality itself, attempting to sail to Valinor to conquer the Blessed Realm and, they believe, claim eternal life on earth. This brings down the wrath of Eru Ilúvatar, the name Tolkien gives to Almighty God.

The truly great evils throughout Tolkien are rebellions against the divine design: Morgoth seeking to rise to the level of Ilúvatar, and to create his own races of being (the Orcs); men seeking eternal life against the strict Ban that was placed on their sailing into the West; the Sons of Fëanor swearing an oath to Ilúvatar to claim the Silmarils. If the Downfall is presented in these terms, while the elves contribute to Sauron’s power and corruption in their own effort to avoid fading, then the parallel sins will fit in Tolkien’s vision.

But thus far, we have been given none of the conditions in Númenor that give rise to the challenge to the ban: a mighty and haughty king and his approaching death, and his desperation to extend his life. The other two essential elements are that the attack on the Ban is the result of the honey-tongued advice of Sauron (who as a result loses forever his capacity to assume a form appealing to men), and that the remnant of the Númenoreans is led by Elendil because his people reject the king’s blasphemy. This sets up the unfailing enmity between Sauron and the heirs of Elendil in Middle-Earth. I will judge the series in good part by whether it remains faithful to these core pillars of Tolkien’s creation.

Film & TV

Rings of Power Falters in Latest Episode

Morfydd Clark in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. (Amazon Studios)

Thus far, my general assessment of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been one of cautious optimism and patience. Having initially seen no violations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s vision so egregious as to warrant rejecting the show, I was willing to see how its story unfolded. And episodes three and four had improved enough to indicate a long-term vision of possible interest.

This week’s episode has cast that all into doubt for me. Yes, there were hints of potentially engaging storylines to come. As Númenor, heeding Galadriel’s counsel, prepares for war in Middle-earth, the wily Pharazon, as well as the far-seeing King Tar-Palantir, both provide warnings of how this well-intentioned effort may spell long-term trouble for the great island of men. And the explicit revelation by elven king Gil-Galad that the light of the elves is fading in Middle-earth, requiring extreme action (securing vast quantities of mithril), sets the stage for the primary motivation of elves in the Second Age: to preserve beauty and prevent decay. This motive will eventually lead elf-smith Celebrimbor to create rings of power. (Notably — given the show’s title! — absent from the show so far.) These could be the seeds of compelling stories down the line. (The treatment of mithril as some kind of mythical cure-all is a bit of a stretch, although one of the elven rings of power is made of mithril, so perhaps that is where this idea is heading.)

But that is all they are for now: seeds. In the meantime, we are trapped in a show that, in this episode, became something I did not exactly expect for the series: boring. Little else happened this week. Illustrative of this are the scenes set in Númenor. After the show established the place as such a fascinating setting, the story struggles to leave it; I inadvertently shared in the same labored process of the Númenorean characters to depart the place, but in my case, because the story’s insistence on lingering there had begun to tire me of the island.

The other stories in this episode falter as well. The relationship between the elves and the dwarves, centered around the importance of mithril to each, may become compelling later on. But for now, it seems largely to consist in journeys back and forth between the elf city Lindon and the dwarf city Khazad-dum undertaken by Elrond, who has yet to assert himself as much of anything. The plight of the men in the Southlands seems a haphazardly constructed pathway toward the sort of orc siege of a redoubt of men that we have seen before. And the harfoots mostly experience more enigmas surrounding the Stranger, who now has some ominous trackers, clad in white, on his trail. That’s . . . pretty much it.

This far in, I’m obviously sticking to at least the first season of Rings of Power. And there are still enough episodes left in this season for all these disparate threads to come together and for the show to make good on its various intimations. It is easy to hate something like Rings of Power, which is why I have indulged and even forgiven some of its faults and looked for the good in it up to this point. And I won’t regret having done so even if I turn out to have been mistaken. But the show is beginning to test my optimism — and my patience.

Lawfare Runs Amok in the Latest Civil Lawsuits against DeSantis and Trump

Left: Florida governor Ron DeSantis speaks after the primary election for the midterms in Tampa, Fla., August 24, 2022. Right: Former president Donald Trump speaks at the North Carolina GOP convention dinner in Greenville, N.C., June 5, 2021. (Octavio Jones, Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The essential quality of “lawfare” is the use of the legal system to impose costs on political enemies. Often, the process itself is the punishment, with the ultimate success of an investigation, lawsuit, or prosecution being beside the point. When civil lawsuits are involved, major warning signs of abusive lawfare include the assertion of technical violations of law without any proof of loss or harm to any particular person; lawsuits brought by people with no standing to sue because they have suffered no personal injury; requests for relief far broader than what the allegations justify; assertions of legal violations that

Politics & Policy

University of Vermont Fails to Confront Antisemitism on Campus

Campus of the University of Vermont (University of Vermont/Facebook)

Many well-meaning progressives have voiced their concerns about the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism, often rightly so. Irrespective of the merits of the claims being made, far too often, charges of antisemitism have been used as a cudgel to silence those who are critical of the Jewish State’s policies. Those concerned about informal censorship regimes, conservatives chief among them, should be wary of this trend.

However, there are times when the difference between legitimate criticism and actual prejudice is revealed. One such example has emerged in the Green Mountain State.

The University of Vermont (UVM) is currently experiencing a spate of antisemitic incidents. The students committing these blatant acts of bigotry may have been initially motivated by their sanctimonious opposition to the “occupation” of the Palestinian territories. Irrespective of what is motivating them, this sentiment has clearly entered the realm of outright xenophobia.

For example, UVM students were recently seen throwing rocks at the Jewish student-life center on campus. When asked to cease their vile behavior, one of the perpetrators asked the person beseeching their goodwill, “Are you Jewish?”

There’s no way that this can be construed as anything other than explicit antisemitism. Yet the school refuses to acknowledge what’s happening.

Rather than denouncing and combating antisemitism on campus, Suresh Garimella, the university’s president, has rejected any criticism of his leadership as “an uninformed narrative.” While Garimella did say in a statement about the contoversy that “there is no doubt that antisemitism exists in the world and, despite our best efforts, in our community,” he called out those supposedly guilty of “exploitation of fear and divisiveness” who are “advancing false claims that UVM failed to respond to complaints of antisemitic behavior” for creating “confusion and a sense of insecurity for the entire community.” This statement is an affront to the Jewish community at UVM and a shunting of the administration’s basic institutional responsibility.

Imagine if any other religious, ethnic, or cultural group had experienced this sort of physical violence. The university‘s response would undoubtedly be swift and decisive, as it should be. But alas, in 2022, Jew-hatred, along with contempt for anyone who is less educated or is conservative-leaning, is the only socially acceptable form of intolerance in liberal circles. Until that changes, UVM and the rest of academia, a bastion of progressivism, will continue to be a hostile environment for the People of the Book.


A Columnist’s Progress

(artisteer / iStock / Getty Images)

Steve Chapman is my latest guest on Q&A: here. More on him in a minute. Here is my latest music podcast, my latest Music for a While. I play some September songs. (We have a week left in this month, so why not?) These songs are classical, popular — and in between.

Also, here is a post called “Whacks and bangs.” Really? Yes — it’s about timpani playing.

Steve Chapman was a columnist for over 40 years, mainly associated with the Chicago Tribune. He retired a few weeks ago. How does he feel? Do his fingers itch to write? Not so far. Mainly, he is enjoying a break away from the news.

Tom Sowell retired from column writing after the 2016 election. He told me it wasn’t that he was tired of writing; it was that he didn’t want to read the news anymore, which you have to do in column writing. He found it dispiriting, the news.

Anyone can understand.

Steve Chapman has lived in Chicago for a long while, but he was born and raised in Texas and still feels like a Texan. Hasn’t lived there since he was 18. But you never lose it, as he says. He spent his first ten years in Midland and then the next eight in Austin. When in high school, he subscribed to National Review.

Who didn’t, right?

He went to Harvard, where he studied American history. Among his professors were Bernard Bailyn, Jack Rakove, and David Herbert Donald. Those are big names in the writing of American history.

But Chapman’s favorite course was on the Russian Revolution, and it was taught by his favorite professor: Richard Pipes. One can understand.

Chapman did not plan on going into journalism. He planned on going into politics. He was president of the Republican club. One night, he was talking with a friend about the Harvard Crimson, complaining about how left-wing it was. She said, “Well, why don’t you try out for the paper and do something about it?” He said, “They’d never take me.” But they did.

There was a young columnist for the Washington Post, George F. Will, and Chapman loved him. “He combined a knowledge of history, a gift for turning a phrase, and a wit that nobody else had ever demonstrated to me. He made columns into an art form.” Chapman bought the Post on the days when Will’s column appeared.

Then there was William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review, of course. Chapman wrote to WFB, as one did. WFB wrote him back, as he did. WFB gave him a book to review — which Steve did. WFB and NR paid Steve $60 for the review. It was the first payment he ever received for something he had written.

He thought of framing the check and hanging it on a wall. But he needed the money . . .

In our podcast, Steve Chapman and I talk about various issues related to the media. He is a wonderful conversationalist, as he is a wonderful writer, and, again, our Q&A is here.

Politics & Policy

Against a Matthew McConaughey Presidential Run

Matthew McConaughey, a native of Uvalde, Texas, speaks to reporters about the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the titular tyrant is thrice offered the crown of Rome. Yet each time the crown was offered to him, “he put it by with the back of his hand, thus, and then the people fell a-shouting.”

Caesar at least had the circumspection to feign modesty. As the modern presidency grows in political power and cultural weight, it has acquired Caesarian pretenses. (That some people seem favorably disposed to this trend does not help.) And the crown of the presidency is being offered promiscuously — albeit provisionally, hypothetically, for now — these days. The latest would-be recipient: actor Matthew McConaughey. Asked recently about running in 2024, McConaughey said:

Yeah, I’ll consider it in the future, I’d be arrogant not to. Absolutely, I would consider it. . . . If I got into any form of politics, I’d be remiss not to also go in as an artist and a storyteller; help put a narrative together. You’re the CEO of a state and a nation, a lot of compartmentalization and choices to be made. They scare me but I’m not afraid of ’em.

It is, in fact, the height of arrogance here for McConaughey to believe that his consideration of this choice is not merely warranted, but demanded. He added, “If that happened to me, I would be pulled into it. If I’m living right, which I’m trying to, we get pulled into things . . . it’s inevitable. I didn’t choose it, it chose me.”

It sounds like, for McConaughey, a presidential run would be in his stars, not in himself. This is not true; the choice for him to do so would be his own. It is fair to say, however, that such a choice would be made amid the institutional decay and political centralization that, taken together, have convinced politicians (and politics-adjacent figures) that the presidency is the only political office worth holding. Modern media, responding to similar incentives and the additional one that a central political figure is a convenient focus and a reliable source of drama, encourage further civic debilitation. Now, any two-bit political attention seeker with an outsized ego and a circle of yes-men considers a run for president.

Modern presidential aspirants, moreover, tend to share a warped conception of politics. There is a sense of the presidency as a powerful, totemic office, alone capable of such miraculous feats as uniting a divided country and healing a tortured national soul. But the very grandiosity inherent in such a presumption serves only to magnify national division. The consequence of high aspirations is low results; disappointment curdles into resentment, and bitterness at the obstacle that remains in the form of those who, rationally exercising their political rights, do not go along. Everyone is made worse off.

The republic faces many headwinds, though we should still believe it salvagable. It is discouraging enough to see what has become of the presidency. But to think also of the potential power of celebrity to wash over what remains of our political institutions is to despair. That McConaughey thinks of himself as a viable presidential contender exemplifies both injurious trends. He could do the nation a favor by ceasing any such pretensions.

It is not likely that, in the unlikely (though not impossible) event that McConaughey became president, he would become some kind of Caesar. But the civic attrition he would invite by even launching a campaign would render America just a little more susceptible to further political decay. At the end of such a trajectory, a real Caesar might be there waiting for us. And that would not be alright, alright, alright.

The Kremlin’s Very Russian Partial Mobilization

Left: Vladimir Putin speaks in Moscow in 2020. Right: Russian police officers detain a person during an unsanctioned rally after opposition activists called for street protests against the mobilization of reservists ordered by President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, Russia, September 21, 2022.

When Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization earlier this week, there were widespread doubts — including from me — that inducting thousands of untrained or barely trained, unmotivated men into the Russian army would do much to turn the tide in Ukraine. These doubts are now being validated.

The Kremlin has publicly announced that it will call up as many as 300,000 men. It has said that these men will be reservists, soldiers who have already completed their national service and have moved on to civilian life. But there are numerous reports that entirely untrained men are being drafted into the

Law & the Courts

Crime Explosion: Restating the Obvious

NYPD detectives process the scene of a deadly stabbing in Queens, N.Y., July 2, 2022. (Lloyd Mitchell/Reuters)

The record increases in crime many jurisdictions are experiencing are likely to persist for the foreseeable future. That’s partly because a significant percentage of all crimes is committed by a tiny fraction of the population who will continue to reoffend unless incapacitated by imprisonment. And imprisonment is unfashionable among ‘woke’ prosecutors who seek minimal, if any, bail for those arrested, as well as among some judges who impose relatively light sentences even for violent crimes: Michael Palacios, last seen on video wreaking havoc with an axe in a New York City McDonald’s, was released without bail; Darrell Brooks, charged with homicide for mowing down scores of people in last year’s Waukesha Christmas parade, was out on bail at the time of the incident and had previously been arrested multiple times. The list goes on.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that recidivism rates in the U.S. are staggering. Over a nine-year period, 83 percent of released prisoners are rearrested. Studies show factors such as family formation, education, and employment can reduce rearrest rates, but only in the margins. Incarceration remains by far the most effective tool for crime reduction. As Matthew DeLisi noted in his 2013 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (emphasis in the original, citations omitted):

The greatly expanded use of incarceration since 1980 is among the best explanations for the dramatic declines in crime from its peak in 1993 to 2011. There is compelling evidence that prison is the only sanction that reduces criminal offending because of incapacitation. A large-scale analysis of over 100,000 offenders from seven birth cohorts found that the offending behavior of criminals is assumed to remain the same throughout their active careers, and is only reduced when offenders cease offending after repeated confinement. Declines in offending reflect the proportion that have ceased offending, and do not reflect intrinsic reduction in the predilection towards offending. Put another way, prison wears down offenders to the point where they ultimately desist from crime — they do not necessarily transform their antisocial mindset.

The purpose of imprisonment is not just deterrence and punishment. Prosecutors too often ignore that it’s also about incapacitation.


The Dow Drops Below 30,000

A screen charts the Dow Jones Industrial Average during the trading day on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York City, January 24, 2022. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average had a bad morning today and lost nearly 700 points, putting it below 30,000 for the first time in almost two years.

Between the Fed’s monetary policy and continued concerns over inflation, traders could send stocks into a bear market. If the Dow closes below 29,439.72, it would be the first such instance since the Covid recession.

Treasury-bond yields also rose to their highest levels in more than ten years. The news of continuing interest-rate increases from the Fed encouraged other central banks to raise rates as well.

Goldman Sachs reduced its year-end outlook for the S&P 500 by 16 percent yesterday. “Based on our client discussions, a majority of equity investors have adopted the view that a hard landing scenario is inevitable and their focus is on the timing, magnitude and duration of a potential recession and investment strategies for that outlook,” analysts said.

The facts continue to fit the story of a stagflationary spiral. But the president apparently believes the economy is doing just fine. Reality will catch up eventually.


State Department Extends Visa to at Least One Iranian Guard Corps Member

Outside the State Department Building in Washington, D.C. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The State Department defended its decision to issue visas to at least one member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York this month.

While members of Congress and human-rights advocates have pointed to Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi’s involvement in the mass killings of political prisoners as a reason for the U.S. to deny him a visa, the Biden administration allowed a delegation led by him to visit New York this week to attend the U.N. meetings. Underappreciated is the fact that the State Department seems to also have issued a visa to a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Ali Sadriniya, who joined Raisi’s delegation, according to pictures taken of the group.

Normally, Sadriniya would have been prohibited from receiving a U.S. visa. Since the IRGC is an officially designated foreign terrorist organization, its members are banned from entering the U.S. Asked for a comment, the State Department said that it doesn’t discuss visa records because they are confidential under U.S. law. A spokesperson told National Review that “national security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications,” and that applicants undergo “extensive security screening.”

The State Department also defended its visa practices under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, a decades-old arrangement that prohibits the hosts of U.N. facilities from barring foreign governments’ access to them. “As host nation of the U.N., the United States is generally obligated under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement to facilitate travel to the U.N. headquarters district by representatives of U.N. member states,” the spokesperson said. “We take our obligations under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement seriously.”

While the U.S. is bound by that agreement, there are still questions about the proper way to enforce it, and State has more jurisdiction than the Biden administration is acknowledging, said Gabriel Noronha, a former government official who worked on Iran policy at the State Department. “When the State Department lets Iranian terrorists into New York City, they take their supposed obligations to the U.N. more seriously than their actual constitutional obligations to protect the security of U.S. citizens,” Noronha told NR.

He added that Sadriniya is likely not the only IRGC member to have been granted a visa for this week’s U.N. event: “The Iranian delegation likely includes around 100 IRGC members — from security to intelligence operatives.”


Re: So Why Did You Attend?


In response to So Why Did You Attend?

I’m adding my own point of reference to Judd’s comment on UVA students who hate the very existence of the college they chose to attend. I’m reminded of the near-riot during game seven of the 1934 World Series, when Detroit Tigers fans — upset at a hard slide into third base by Cardinals star Joe Medwick in a blowout game — showered Medwick with all manner of garbage, including soda bottles, seat cushions, rotten fruit and vegetables and, by some accounts, automobile parts. Medwick was ordered removed from the game for his own safety; asked after the game about the shower of garbage, his response was, “I knew why they threw them. What I don’t understand is why they brought them to the ballpark in the first place.”


Joe Biden Is Wrong about Catholic Teaching on Abortion

President Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting with governors while discussing reproductive health care, following the Supreme Court ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization abortion case overturning Roe v Wade at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 1, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

This week, President Joe Biden said the following about a proposal by Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) for a nationwide abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, per the Washington Post:

“Think about what these guys are talking about,” Biden told a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York this week. “No exceptions — rape, incest — no exceptions, regardless of age,” he said of the proposed ban. “I happen to be a practicing Roman Catholic,” he added. “My church doesn’t even make that argument now.”

As the Post politely notes, “contrary to Biden’s comment, [Graham] said exceptions could be made ‘in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.’”

This is hardly the biggest whopper in Biden’s remarks, though. Biden, a practicing Catholic, apparently does not understand the Church’s own view on this matter. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clarifying:

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.

From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.

This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.

Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law. . . .

Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.

The Catechism adds that “the inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.” Quoting another Church document, it continues (citations omitted):

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”

“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . .

As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”

Biden, it seems, could use the same refresher that Joe Scarborough needed, and that Joseph Capizzi, professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America provided in our pages:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.” The Didache, written by Jewish Christians just decades after Jesus’s death, condemned abortion and infanticide. The communities organizing themselves around Christ shared the conviction that life is sacred at every stage of development. That conviction has remained constant over two millennia.

There are, unfortunately, many such misconceptions circulating about what Catholics believe. Which is why Capizzi is part (and so am I) of a new effort, centered on CUA’s Institute for Human Ecology (IHE), to clarify and reinvigorate Catholic life in the public square. As Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, IHE’s director of strategy, notes in the Wall Street Journal, “in a misguided attempt to reconcile Catholicism with modernity, many American Catholics have begun to embrace progressive ideologies that Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles calls ‘profoundly atheistic.’” Alas, some of them even promote abortion, perhaps inspired by the example of politicians such as Biden.

As Picciotti-Bayer notes, however, Biden-esque milquetoastery is not the only threat to a viable, vibrant Catholicism in American public life. There are also those who call themselves, variously, “integralists,” “common-good constitutionalists,” or “postliberals,” and:

Their central contention is that contemporary American culture is actively corrosive to Catholic teaching, practice and virtue. Some even reject our nation’s founding principles. In practice, they take advantage of widespread economic anxiety to play up the valuable tradition of Catholic critiques of market-worship, while ignoring Catholic teaching on exchange, the danger of socialism and the importance of subsidiarity. Such thinkers want our laws to reflect their own controversial understanding of Catholic teaching, which apparently seeks to create a powerful state that superintends people’s lives.

Both of these alternatives are flawed. We need something better, “a framework for faith in public life that rejects both secularism and sectarianism,” one that draws from the Catholic intellectual tradition to support an active role for Catholics in American civic life. You can learn more about it here.


Democratic Candidate for Oregon Governor Tries to Rewrite Her Record on School Closures

Tina Kotek speaks during Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 25, 2016. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Tina Kotek, the Democratic candidate for Oregon governor, is facing an unusually tight race in what is generally a reliably blue state. According to polling, she is neck-and-neck with her Republican opponent, Christine Drazan, and analysts have repeatedly downgraded Kotek’s odds in the race — both the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and the Cook Political Report now rate it as a toss-up. 

Part of the reason for the closeness of the race is that Kate Brown, the outgoing Democratic governor and a close ally of Kotek — who served as the speaker of the Oregon House before announcing her bid for governor — is the least popular governor in the country. And that unpopularity has at least something to do with the abysmal state of Oregon’s schools, which were worsened by the state’s unusually draconian pandemic lockdowns. (A June poll found “that only 16.6% of likely voters in the Beaver State believe the state’s schools are on the ‘right track,’” the Washington Times reported at the time. “Another 55.5% said they were heading in the ‘wrong direction’ and the remaining 28.1% were either unsure or refused to answer the question.”)

The effects of the school lockdowns in Oregon are only just now becoming evident. Yesterday, the Oregonian reported:

Oregon students’ reading, writing and math skills plummeted due to pandemic-induced disruptions to schooling, and students who were already trailing far behind grade level experienced the most harm, somber Oregon Department of Education officials announced.

The staggering blows to students’ academic skills, as measured by the first reliable statewide test scores since spring 2019, could take years to repair and may in some cases never be made up for, they acknowledged.

Of course, Kotek, as one of the top-ranking Democrats in the state, bears significant responsibility for these numbers. Amid the close race — and Oregonians’ overwhelming dissatisfaction with their schools — the former Oregon House speaker is trying to rewrite the story. In response to the Oregonian‘s report, Kotek tweeted:

Well, yes. Those numbers are unacceptable. But they are, in no small part, Kotek’s fault. As the leader of the Oregon House, Kotek — a close ally of the powerful teachers’ unions in the state — repeatedly led votes along party lines to block Republican-led efforts to reopen the state’s schools. And when pressed by Willamette Week early this year, she declined to condemn — unlike other top Democrats — the re-closure of many of Portland’s public schools that sent one-third of the city’s high-school students back to virtual learning. “Everybody is trying to do what is best for students,” she told the publication.

When called out for her hypocrisy by Drazan yesterday, Kotek responded:

Of course, she didn’t specify what exactly about Drazan’s attack was “false.” And she can’t: Kotek’s record on the issue is unambiguous. When faced with a choice between her friends in the teachers’ unions and the well-being of Oregon’s children, she chose the former. Now, she has to answer for that choice to voters. Reap, meet sow.

Energy & Environment

The Heat Is On: Bjorn Lomborg on the Summer’s Record Temperatures


The summer of 2022 was one of record temperatures across the world. Bjorn Lomborg acknowledges that climate change is here, it’s real, and humans are largely responsible for it. He also says that it is survivable and manageable. In brief, climate change is not the extinction-level disaster it is often characterized as being. Lomborg also discusses practical ways of lowering our carbon footprint and emissions, pointing out why “carbon free by 2050” probably isn’t achievable and why we shouldn’t make radical changes to our economies and lifestyles to try to achieve it.

Recorded on August 18, 2022.


West Coast Share of Ocean Imports at 40-Year Low

Ships and shipping containers at the port of Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., January 30, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Most U.S. imports come from Asia, so the West Coast is the most logical destination. But more businesses have been opting for lengthier routes to the East and Gulf Coasts instead to avoid the West Coast’s inefficiency and congestion.

West Coast ports only accounted for 45 percent of all U.S. imports in August, which is the lowest level since the early 1980s, according to FreightWaves’ Greg Miller. West Coast ports handled 54 percent of U.S. imports in February 2021.

Imports overall still remain high, Miller writes. An 11.5 percent year-over-year decline of imports arriving on the West Coast was accompanied by a 12 percent year-over-year increase in imports arriving on the East and Gulf Coasts. “Import gains were driven by Savannah, Georgia (up 20.4% y/y), Houston (up 12.7%), Norfolk, Virginia (up 11.4%), and New York/New Jersey (up 10.5%),” he writes. The Port of Los Angeles saw a 17 percent year-over-year decline.

That means the massive line of ships waiting to unload at Los Angeles is no more. But roughly the same number of ships are waiting offshore, spread out over multiple ports:

Including all three coasts, there was a peak of just over 150 container ships waiting off North America in January — mostly off the West Coast — and a similar number in late July, this time mostly off the East and Gulf coasts. . . .

Savannah was down from its peak but still had the largest queue, with 29 ships waiting. Houston has not improved, with 23 container vessels still offshore. The other recent hot spot — New York/New Jersey — was down to 13 ships on Thursday morning; it had recently been in the 20s. Meanwhile, the queue off Virginia — composed of ships waiting to get into Norfolk or Baltimore — had worsened and was up to 13 ships.

There were only six ships waiting off Los Angeles/Long Beach, the lowest numbers since Oct. 22, 2020. Altogether, only 22% of waiting vessels were off the West Coast on Thursday morning, highlighting the extent shipping lines have shifted to the other coasts.

Shippers have increasingly good reasons to avoid California. Aside from the labor disputes that could result in a strike at any moment on the entire West Coast, the state is phasing out diesel trucks, banning one of the most common trucking business models, and failing at basic law enforcement around rail lines. Meanwhile, East and Gulf Coast ports, not bogged down by environmental laws like California’s, have been expanding their facilities to accommodate more freight.

Markets are finding a way around California’s bad policies to ensure Americans continue to have access to products. That’s good news — but it’s still no excuse for California’s errors.


So Why Did You Attend?

University of Virginia campus lawn. (garytog/Getty Images)

Caroline Downey’s story on the home page is a must-read. The opening and accompanying photos capture the campus zeitgeist, the religion of implacable resentment. In the article, Caroline details a campaign to block the nomination of UVA alumnus Bert Ellis to the school’s Board of Visitors. In part, it involves a dust-up with a student who displayed a “F*** UVA” sign on her door. There’s more to the story, and you should read it, but this anecdote merits close study:

When the student answered her door, Ellis asked her why she felt the need to use obscenity to denigrate the college in violation of the contract she signed.

“Because this university was founded by a slave owner who raped his slaves and stole this land from the Mannikin Indians to build this university for rich white guys with slave labor,” she said, according to Ellis. She then slammed the door in his face.

The obvious critique here dovetails with a popular meme often deployed to invalidate similar critiques as smug and superficial. “We should improve society somewhat,” a peasant says. A modern dude pops out of a well to say, quite pleased, “Yet you participate in society. Curious!”

But it really is mystifying, how one can square the view that an institution is irredeemably sinful with one’s willing attendance there. The better pop-culture reference for this pervasive attitude might be this:

Law & the Courts

No, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Health Was Not a Secret That Could Have Changed History

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Washington, D.C., January 12, 2016 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Over in Politico, Michael Schaffer reads Dinners With Ruth, NPR reporter Nina Totenberg’s memoir of her four-decades-long friendship with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and asks whether Totenberg was keeping a secret that could have changed history:

Maybe she could have broadcast just the things that would have been clear to a dispassionate observer, albeit hard for a devoted friend to accept: that Ginsburg was a desperately sick woman, that her family and friends were engaged in what amounted to an unacknowledged death watch — a report that would have lent flesh-and-blood immediacy to the bland statements from the court’s press office. . . .

There’s a chance that a blunt story about Ginsburg’s decline might have changed the trajectory that led to the end of Americans’ right to abortion. As competitors’ sensationalist stories focused on Ginsburg’s health, activists might have gotten GOP senators (many of them locked in tight elections) on the record promising to not fill the seat until after the voters had a say in the November presidential election. The lurid coverage would surely have undercut the element of surprise that enabled Mitch McConnell to move almost immediately to muscle through a replacement.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg began the year 2020 aged 86, and everyone knew her history of cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries, artery stent, and multiple falls. Her death should have been unsurprising.

GOP senators were not going to go on the record promising to not fill the seat until after the voters had had a say in the November presidential election. They would have effectively been telling their conservative supporters, “There’s really not much reason to vote for me.” The Constitution put no restrictions upon when a president could nominate a justice, or when the Senate could vote to confirm or reject that justice.

When Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020, Republicans knew they had the chance to establish a solid majority of Supreme Court justices who saw the Constitution and the law the way they did. Nothing was going to stop them; there was nothing the media, Senate Democrats, or liberal activists could have done to change that. Amy Coney Barrett is not on the Supreme Court because Mitch McConnell had the “element of surprise” or because the Left didn’t try hard enough to prevent her confirmation.

Schaffer is on more solid ground when he points out how Totenberg’s indisputably warm and genuine friendship with Ginsburg complicated how fairly she could cover the Supreme Court:

If Totenberg were an architect or a history professor or an airline pilot or an actuary, the emotional blind spots would be her business. But she’s a reporter, a very influential one. Which means that those of us who have relied on her reporting but didn’t experience the heartwarming calls or the gossip-filled evenings are within our rights to apply a certain selfish cost-benefit analysis: What exactly do we get out of her friendships? Totenberg says that intimacy with justices and public officials made her a more thoughtful reporter and a better person. I’ll buy it. Yet even if you don’t think any amount of scary Ginsburg-health reporting could have deterred Mitch McConnell in 2020, it’s hard to come away from this book and not think the bonds also cost her something — and us, too.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a reporter’s being friends with a source. (Friends suggest story ideas all the time!) But once a story involves a friend, that reporter should bend over backwards to make sure the friendship isn’t skewing how he perceives the matter. Maybe your friend’s version of events isn’t quite reliable, or displays that friend’s own actions under the best possible light. This is when a reporter should be most careful.

And if your beat is the Supreme Court, just about every story you write or report on will involve the justice who is your friend. Kelly McBride, chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute, wrote in NPR in September 2020 that the public radio network should have disclosed Totenberg’s friendship with RBG much sooner. That rebuke was moot after the justice passed.

Governor Ducey Rejects Grievance-onomics

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey speaks with attendees at the end-of-year board meeting for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Phoenix, Ariz., June 17, 2021. (Gage Skidmore)

“I’m a conservative. I’m just not angry about it.” —Bill Lee, governor of Tennessee

In a speech at the Reagan Library on Tuesday, Arizona governor Doug Ducey observed that it’s harder to answer the question “What does the Republican Party stand for?” today than it was during Reagan’s presidency. “We have to figure out where Republicans — and conservatism — are going to go and how we best govern,” Ducey said.

Toward that end, Ducey suggests looking at some of the lessons of the Reagan era, encourages a focus on public-policy solutions to real challenges facing Americans, and argues for prioritizing policy


Today in Capital Matters: China


Douglas Carr writes about Xi Jinping’s mismanagement of China’s economy:

Between 1953 and 1978, a quarter-century when Mao and Maoists were in charge, real Chinese growth averaged 4.4 percent, well below other developing Asian economies. (Note the dramatic drop during the period of the Great Leap Forward, perhaps the perfect example of Maoist economic policy.) Deng and his chosen successors averaged 6.9 percent growth from 1979 to 2012, while Xi has attained 4.2 percent since 2013 and is expected to average 3 percent or less going forward with dramatic working-age population shrinkage.

Xi is following the wrong path for China, reverting to centralized state control and social leveling, somewhat more typical of Mao (although it would be a mistake to think of Xi’s economic policies as a full reversion to Maoism) than Deng’s liberation of a private sector and belief that “to get rich is glorious.”

Read the whole thing here.


Lessons on Higher Ed from Britain


The U.S. isn’t the only country that has overexpanded its higher-education sector. The same thing has happened in Britain, as Douglas Carswell, a former member of Parliament and now the president of an American think tank, observes in today’s Martin Center article.

During Tony Blair’s time as prime minister, the U.K. embraced the notion that higher education was for everyone, and attendance began a rapid climb. After all, if college was good for some people, shouldn’t we encourage everyone to go?

Carswell writes, “UK universities have become a big business, and their business model has been to borrow to expand. In order to accommodate the 2.6 million students now in higher education, there has been a sustained building boom around university campuses over the past couple of decades, with lots of gleaming new buildings.”

The boom was financed with loads of debt. Sound familiar?

Carswell continues:

In order to maximise revenues, many UK universities have resorted to trying to attract ever larger numbers of overseas students, whom they can charge with higher fees. For some overseas students, paying those fees, almost irrespective of the quality of the education they get, is a price worth paying as a means of migration. American universities have seen a dramatic increase in overseas student numbers for similar reasons.

Just as here, universities in the U.K. began to focus more on bringing in the money than on quality education. Masses of students got degrees with decreasing value.

Carswell concludes, “Many British universities have become state-subsidised degree factories, churning out mediocre credentials that do little to equip students for what comes next. Perhaps it would be no bad thing if the number of students enrolling in universities fell, in America as well as in Britain.”

In both countries, government should have left higher education alone.

Politics & Policy

‘Is Stacey Abrams Really a Political Star?’


I wrote about Stacey Abrams for Politico today:

…Abrams has been widely celebrated in the years since her 2018 run, which she lost. Like former President Donald Trump, though, she managed to spin away her defeat to the satisfaction of her supporters and allies as a result of nefarious forces beyond her control.

The narrative about her has been that, unbowed and undefeated, she’s fighting a righteous battle against the voter suppression that denied her her rightful victory the first time around, and — as a charismatic figure of unbounded talent — she’s heading for bigger and better things than narrow defeats in statewide elections.

As it happens, she may be headed for an even less narrow defeat in exactly the same statewide election. Come November, she may look more like Beto O’Rourke than Barack Obama.

Film & TV

Andor Succeeds Where Kenobi Failed

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in Andor (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

The prolonged drought of lifeless Disney-era Star Wars shows seems like it may finally be lifting. What started as the show no one asked for when it was first announced back in 2018, Andor has already dramatically surpassed all of its made-for-TV predecessors through a combination of production quality, purposeful storytelling, and high-caliber acting.

Throughout the first three episodes thus far released, it is abundantly clear that the show’s creator, Tony Gilroy, has set out with the objective of telling a compelling story first, and he does much of it through nonverbal means (a hallmark of good cinema). Andor displays the confidence to take its time setting up character motives and exploring the new worlds it creates without throwing in a Wookie or a lightsaber every few minutes for fear of losing its viewers.

Moreover, the show does not feel the need to make each episode its own self-contained subplot — a shortfall The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and to a lesser extent, Kenobi, suffered from. Each of these felt the urgent pressure to introduce a problem, climax, and resolution to audiences, all within each 30- or 40-minute entry.

The main character would learn of a dire predicament, travel to another planet, meet someone with information, fight off a new group of one-dimensional rapscallions to retrieve a MacGuffin, and conclude, analyzing the hard-won information that will point him toward his next adventure. Although each show had an overarching plot, the formulaic episode structure became painfully evident by the second or third collective season.

While Kenobi provided a stronger cohesive narrative than Mando or Boba Fett, it fell short on a more primitive level: It failed to justify its existence. A show conceived from the beginning as a cash grab employing fan-favorite Ewan McGregor one more time, while still constrained by the reality of what we know of the characters from A New Hope, it had zero room to create the stakes necessary for what studio execs were determined to bill as “the rematch of the century.” It set its expectations too high, failed to match them, and then blamed the “toxic” fan base for its abysmal ratings.

By contrast, Andor understands from the outset that it needs to earn its viewership. The entirety of the first three episodes takes place on planets we’ve never seen, with characters we’ve never met, within political societies we’ve never experienced. Save for the occasional blaster shot, vague references to the distant Empire, and, of course, the titular character Cassian Andor himself (who we were introduced to in Rogue One), you might forget at points that you are watching a Star Wars show at all. Despite this — and its slow start — the show continues to command the viewer’s attention.


For me, this is the hallmark of what great Star Wars cinema should be. Andor understands that it doesn’t deserve an audience simply by virtue of the franchise whose name it bears. This humility will serve it well even as the show progresses and it inevitably shifts toward the more familiar faces and settings that we know — from the trailers — will come.

Andor is being hailed as a more “adult” show — dark and gritty. Rightfully so. The themes are somber, and the tone is rarely comedic. While I think the thematic shift bears much of the responsibility for the new audience label, the reason it succeeds is much deeper than the fact that it offers weightier subject matter. Fundamentally, it is more engaging because it takes itself more seriously as an art form. The characters have depth, the motives are complex, and the motifs are new and unexplored territory for this franchise. Andor shows, rather than tells, a story that is worth watching.

A common means of dismissing otherwise substantive criticism of Star Wars movies and shows is to claim that they are “made for kids,” but I believe this assertion betrays a lack of appreciation for what made the franchise what it is in the first place. Star Wars is what it is today because the characters are frail, flesh and blood that we can’t help but cheer for, and the story intrigues and delights.

If the Star Wars universe is going to continue its attempt to expand into the Unknown Regions, it should learn from Andor to tell a good story first. Only then will we witness the firepower of a fully armed and operational Star Wars franchise.

This is the way.

Russia’s Nuclear Blackmail: Thinking through the Unthinkable

A Russian Yars ICBM system drives during the Victory Day Parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 24, 2020. (Host photo agency/Iliya Pitalev via Reuters)

No American — not the hawks nor the doves; not the NatCons nor the Neocons nor the Neoliberal interventionists — wants to get into a nuclear exchange with Russia over Ukraine.

That shouldn’t need to be said. Unfortunately, the state of our political discourse and the understandable alarm that the events in Eastern Europe have elicited call for this simple truth to be stated.

Whatever one’s priors or foreign-policy school of thought, most Americans would agree with two complementary goals in Ukraine:

A) The United States does not want to see Russia’s murderous and imperialist aggression against its neighbor be rewarded, especially if


A Win for a Professor’s First Amendment Rights


In 2019, the University of North Texas (UNT) terminated the employment of Nathaniel Hiers, a math professor, because he wrote a joke about microaggressions on a chalkboard in the faculty lounge. (Poking fun at leftist obsessions is disallowed!)

Hiers, ably assisted by the legal team at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), sued the university. It should have been obvious that it was a slam-dunk case for Hiers, since the precedents are perfectly clear, but the university decided to defend against the suit.

That was a bad call. The university has just settled, agreeing to pay Hiers $165,000 in damages and legal fees. Here is the release from ADF.

This case ought to make the law even clearer to university zealots: You can’t punish faculty members because of their views. If only the damages had to be paid by the responsible officials (maybe someone in the Texas legislature will draft a bill to take care of that). As it is, the UNT bigwigs accomplished their goal of ridding themselves of a non-woke math professor at no personal cost.


The Most American Band?


In response to The Most American Band

Dan says it’s CCR, but I think Grand Funk Railroad would have something to say about that.


The Power of Boring


In response to The Triumph of the Boring Democrats

Jim puts his finger on one of the most interesting contrasts in this year’s Senate races:

The outlook could change, but at least for now, a bunch of blah, not-so-high-profile Democratic incumbents who once looked potentially vulnerable look like relatively comfortable favorites. In other words, the boring Democrats are doing just fine.

You know who’s flopping? A lot of the well-known, well-funded superstar challengers on the Democratic side.

The power of boring is something that Harry Reid’s Democratic Party understood much better than Chuck Schumer’s Democratic Party. As I wrote after Reid’s death last year:

Under Reid, it would have been unthinkable to let a sure loser like Amy McGrath suck up national media attention and $80 million in fundraising challenging Mitch McConnell. A weak and scandal-tinged candidate like Cal Cunningham wouldn’t have been the nominee in a competitive state. A nationwide slogan as obviously self-destructive as “defund the police” would have been disavowed immediately and explicitly by every candidate. Senate Democrats rarely made mistakes like those under Reid’s leadership.

They nominated boring, inoffensive candidates — such as Mark Begich, Joe Donnelly, Bill Nelson, Heidi Heitkamp, Mark Pryor, Mark Udall, and Jeanne Shaheen — and let them run campaigns suited to their strengths in their states. They turned out their base and won independents (Politics 101). And it’s not like they were a bunch of moderates, either. They voted in lockstep with President Obama when they arrived in Washington.

Virginia is a great example. It’s a state with a Republican governor and a very competitive state legislature that sends two Democrats, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, to the Senate. One of their biggest selling points is that Virginia voters know they will never turn on the news or read the paper and find a headline about Warner or Kaine. They’re two of the most boring politicians on earth. And they’re not moderates, either; they consistently vote in lockstep with Democrats on everything from abortion to spending.

It has become commonplace for progressives to complain that the Senate is inherently unfair to Democrats, even though they had filibuster-proof majorities under Reid not that long ago. Instead of complaining, they should recruit better candidates — and understand that better often means boring.

There’s a lesson there for Republicans, too.


Tlaib vs. Dimon


This is the first time I’ve ever felt the urge to applaud Jamie Dimon. But when he’s right, he’s right.


Florida Sends a Message to Venezuelan Asylum-Seekers

Venezuelan migrants are seen at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Mass., September 14, 2022. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette/Handout via Reuters )

The 48 Venezuelans whom the governor of Florida assembled a team to fly from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard had crossed the southern border without authorization and turned themselves in to border officials. Many if not all may intend to apply for asylum in the United States, like thousands of other refugees from the Maduro dictatorship in recent years. The application process for asylum takes months and must begin either at the border or on the U.S. side of it. They went to the border.

Some of them say that a woman who identified herself as “Perla” explained to them an offer of housing and educational and employment opportunities and that it entailed their being flown to Boston or Washington, D.C. They signed an agreement. They were flown to neither city.

Some of them have filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida, two of its officials, and its department of transportation. They allege that the Florida operation lied to them on several counts. It gave them, for example, a brochure that, designed to look like an official publication of the state of Massachusetts (and featuring the wrong state flag), included information on a suite of refugee benefits that didn’t apply to them.

Whatever the merits or weaknesses of their lawsuit, the Florida operation is wrong in two ways. The first is that it spends money on an expenditure not stipulated in Florida’s budget, which earmarks $12 million “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.” Texas isn’t Florida.

Under the definition provided in the U.S. Code, all of the 48 Venezuelans are unauthorized aliens, however, if they have not yet been granted permanent residency status or eligibility for employment. That would not mean that they’re in the country illegally. Their case brings to light that the Florida budget provides for the removal of refugees from anywhere — including Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba — who are lawfully seeking asylum in the United States.

Miami-Dade County is a magnet for Venezuelans who have fled the Chávez and Maduro regime. More than 11 percent of the population of Doral, a Miami suburb, are estimated to have been born in Venezuela. Whether intended or not, the message that the government of Florida has sent to their relatives who might be thinking about joining them is “Don’t.” (Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population of Miami-Dade declined 1.4 percent from April 2020 to July 2021, and the county government acknowledges a labor shortage.)

The second way in which the Florida operation is wrong is moral. The governor of Florida denies that it misled the migrants. Whether or not it met some minimum legal standard of not lying, it withheld from them information about its purpose. If its objective had been to help migrants in another state relocate to and settle in yet another state (but not Florida), organizers would have called and coordinated with officials in Massachusetts or elsewhere. They didn’t.

Here’s what Perla would have said to the Venezuelan migrants if the operation had been transparent:

We’ll fly you for free to Martha’s Vineyard, an island resort in Massachusetts. We haven’t told anyone there that you’ll be coming. We don’t know what you’ll encounter there, but we have reason to think you’ll be accommodated. You’ll probably find conditions there to be acceptable, no worse than those at the migrant center here in San Antonio.

We are not with the U.S. government or with the state of Massachusetts. We’re with the state of Florida, specifically with the office of its governor, who may run for president.

We’re concerned about the U.S. southern border in Texas and Arizona. The U.S. Border Patrol is overwhelmed by the surge of migrants showing up there. We want to discourage any more from coming. Many who disagree with us live up north. We want you to show up on their doorstep to make them experience something of the financial and logistical burden that people like you more often impose on American citizens in the southwest.

That’s our interest in this endeavor. Deal?


Trade Deficit Declines in Q2


Sure, the GDP numbers are negative, inflation is high, and the unemployment rate is predicted to go up as the Fed raises interest rates, but the trade deficit is coming down. Protectionists of all parties can rejoice:

The U.S. current account deficit narrowed sharply in the second quarter amid a surge in goods exports, data showed on Thursday.

The Commerce Department said that the current account deficit, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country, contracted 11.1% to $251.1 billion last quarter.

The current account gap represented 4.0% of gross domestic product, down from 4.6% in the January-March quarter. The deficit peaked at 6.3% of GDP in the fourth quarter of 2005.

It’s the largest quarterly current-account-deficit decline since Q1 of 2009, during the Great Recession. The current-account deficit hovered around $100 billion from 2010 through 2020, then it more than doubled during the pandemic.

The pandemic economy was not a happy time, and it saw a soaring trade deficit. The Great Recession economy was not a happy time, and it saw a declining trade deficit. Now that the Fed is raising interest rates to quell inflation, import growth is slowing as demand eases, while the high price of oil is inflating the value of American energy exports, which has combined to reduce the trade deficit. Is that inherently good news?

This should serve as a reminder to everyone that the trade deficit is not an indicator of economic health or sickness. It’s a number that’s useful for accounting and not much else. A decline in the trade deficit is not necessarily a good thing, and an increase in the trade deficit is not necessarily a bad thing. Targeting it with economic policy is a fool’s errand.


A Fact Worth Repeating

(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

In a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday, Phil Gramm and John Early expose a weakness in the way that some politicians and pundits interpret Census Bureau data to talk about the child poverty rate. The weakness is this: No matter how much money the government pours into refundable child tax credits, the consequences won’t show up in the Census Bureau’s numbers measuring child poverty. That’s because the agency, when assembling data on poverty, doesn’t include transfers in their data on household incomes.

Gramm and Early explain:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer assured us in July 2021 that expanding the child tax credit would “cut the nation’s child poverty rate in half.” Shortly thereafter, President Biden proclaimed that the expanded credit would “cut child poverty in half this year.” …

As we pointed out on these pages, the Democrats’ rosy promise wouldn’t be recorded in the official Census Bureau poverty numbers, because the income numbers used to calculate the official poverty rates don’t count refundable tax credits as income to the recipients. No matter how much money the government pours into any of these tax credits, it will never raise the official income measure given the way the census defines income.

This is not unique to the measurement of child poverty:

The Census Bureau fails to count two-thirds of all government transfer payments to households in the income numbers it uses to calculate not only poverty levels but also income inequality and income growth. In addition to not counting refundable tax credits, which are paid by checks from the U.S. Treasury, the official Census Bureau measure doesn’t count food stamps, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, rent subsidies, energy subsidies and health-insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. In total, benefits provided in more than 100 other federal, state and local transfer payments aren’t counted by the Census Bureau as income to the recipients.

This is why it matters:

If the Census Bureau had included the missing $1.9 trillion in transfer payments, child poverty would have been only 3.2% in 2017, compared with the official rate of 17.5%. Government transfer payments that were distributed in 2017 had already cut child poverty by 82%….

Last year, the official census numbers for 2020 failed the laugh test. They showed that household income was down by 2.9% and the poverty rate was up by 1 percentage point in a year when federal transfer payments expanded by 36%. For the first time ever, the Census Bureau included the supplemental estimate in the same release as the official number, showing that income had actually risen by 4% and the poverty rate had fallen from 11.8% to 9.1%. Had it counted all the transfer payments, the poverty rate would have been about 2%.

By the way, this measurement convention isn’t unique to the Census Bureau. I have pointed out many times that using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) measurement of the prevalence of paid leave in America paints a picture that’s utterly incomplete. I once wrote for the Acton Institute:

First, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 percent of workers have access to a paid leave program (an increase from 13 percent in two years). However, this number is highly misleading since it severely underestimate the actual number of workers that benefit from leave due to BLS’s peculiar survey methods which require paid leave to exist separately from “sick leave, vacation, personal leave or short-term disability leave that is available to the employee.” Proper accounting using several government surveys about worker benefits reveals that a majority of workers have access to paid family leave benefits and three out of four who take leave in a given year get full or partial pay.

The way the Census and BLS measure these things is not convenient. For instance, I would prefer for the Census to report both strict income and tax and transfer data. However, the agencies themselves are transparent about the choices they make. The problem is with the people who use these raw numbers to advocate for more child-poverty subsidies or a federal paid-leave program without acknowledging the measurement caveat.

Gramm, Early, and Robert Ekelund have a new book out that looks at how measurement choices affect the debate over inequality.

The Triumph of the Boring Democrats

(Left to Right) Senators Mark Kelly, Michael Bennet, and Maggie Hassan. (Mandel Ngan, Anna Moneymaker & Shawn Thew/Reuters)

The future is still unwritten, and we don’t know how the midterms will shake out. But if you follow David Byler’s reasonable theory that turnout in the midterm primaries is a good indicator of each party’s energy and interest in voting, 2022 is on pace to be a modestly good year for Republicans — not quite as good a year as 2010 or 2014, but a year of gains that should give them at least a small House majority and a decent shot at winning control of the Senate.

Considering the near-apocalyptic outlook for Democrats earlier this year, progressives may crow

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: ESG


Russ Greene of Stand Together writes about how ESG functions as a tax:

We can only truly understand ESG, therefore, if we look at the bigger picture. And there we see that ESG functions as “an effective carbon tax on the consumers in places like the United States and Europe” whose revenue ends up “going to places like Russia.” That’s according to Goldman Sachs’ top commodity strategist, Jeff Currie.

Let’s unpack Currie’s two points. The first point is that ESG functions as a de facto tax on politically unfavorable sectors: not just oil and gas, but mining, steel, shipping, and more. ESG raises the cost of capital for these politically unfriendly sectors by an estimated 15 percentage points. This means it’s harder for people working in the “old economy” to access loans and investment. For example, a dairy farmer may have a harder time getting a loan due to happening to work in an ESG-unfavorable industry.

The second point is that the ESG “tax” is paid by Western citizens to foreign nations such as Russia. While the narrative around ESG spread by Michael Bloomberg and others holds that it’s simply “investing 101,” that’s hard to square with what Larry Fink has stated: that public companies’ decreased investment in oil and gas has created “the biggest capital market arbitrage.” When ESG pressures decrease public-company investment in politically unfavored opportunities, the opportunities don’t disappear. Instead, they’re largely captured by other actors less committed to ESG.

David Bahnsen talks to Sheila Weinberg of Truth in Accounting about government accountability. Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Appeals Court Thoroughly Rebukes Federal Judge in Ruling on Mar-a-Lago Files

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Delaware, Ohio, April 23, 2022. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)

The Eleventh Circuit federal appeals court has granted the Justice Department’s requests that it be permitted to (a) withhold approximately 100 documents bearing classification markings from a special-master review, and (b) continue to use those documents in the ongoing criminal investigation of former president Donald Trump’s suspected felony mishandling of national-defense secrets.

The 29-page ruling, issued Wednesday night, is a thoroughgoing rebuke of Florida federal district judge Aileen Cannon, who directed that all of the approximately 11,000 documents and 1,800 other items seized by the FBI from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, including the classified documents, be included in a special-master review.

Judge Cannon,


The Most American Band

A group portrait of Creedence Clearwater Revival at Heathrow Airport, London, England, April 7, 1970 (Michael Putland/Getty Images)

I recently watched the new Creedence Clearwater Revival documentary on Netflix (narrated lightly by Jeff Bridges), which is a cross between a rise-of-the-band story, contemporary interview footage from their first European tour, and a full concert film of the band’s first show in the U.K., a twelve-song set at the Royal Albert Hall on April 14, 1970. Like the band it follows, the documentary is basic and straightforward but powerful in capturing Creedence at the very height of its creative and commercial success.

Maybe Creedence wasn’t the greatest of all American bands. That’s a whole debate to itself, and even aside from questions of taste, much depends on which genres you include, whether you count bands fronted by a dominating solo artist, and how much you value factors such as longevity, innovation, live performances, artistic influence, and commercial appeal. Certainly, they are on the very short list of bands without whom one cannot have the argument.

But they are, I would submit, the most American band. No other band so thoroughly integrated the sounds of white music and black music; of rock, blues, and country; of San Francisco with the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, and Detroit. With good reason, Creedence is regarded as the most foundational band in the “roots rock” genre we associate with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Seger, and John Mellencamp (other key progenitors included the Animals and the Band). Some of the other contenders for “greatest American band” were distinctly American: the Beach Boys embodied the sound of Southern California in the Space Age in a way that could only have been American, the Grateful Dead drew on all manner of streams of American music and folk tradition, and, of course, the entire African-American musical scenes of Motown and Stax were uniquely American. But nobody sounded as American in so many simultaneously different ways, yet drawing them into a cohesive sound, as Creedence. E pluribus unum.

The documentary captures some important realities about the band and its explosive overnight success after a decade of struggle. We hear John Fogerty, in a surprisingly soft-speaking voice as a 24-year-old, describe how he wrote “Proud Mary” the day he got his discharge from the Army — military service that caused the band to miss the “Summer of Love” in their home city of San Francisco, seemingly dooming them to miss a golden opportunity but actually preparing them for their great success. We see Fogerty’s Deep South musical influences contrasted with his total firsthand unfamiliarity with the region. We see the contrast between Creedence’s set at Woodstock and their TV appearance the night before on the decidedly un-countercultural Andy Williams Show.

We are reminded that this band did not so much play rock n’ roll as work rock n’ roll. In their live show before a staid crowd in the Royal Albert Hall, drummer Doug Clifford drives the band relentlessly forward, and bassist Stu Cook wears the expression of a man working a lathe rather than making entertainment. We hear them describe beforehand the pressure they put upon themselves for this show. Only when they reached their closing song, “Keep On Chooglin’,” do we see people get up and dance and the band break out of their tightly wound set to jam at length. John Fogerty does not even speak to the crowd until just before that song. It’s all business, played with manic intensity. The band is just four young men and their instruments, no staging, Fogerty (in leather pants and his trademark flannel shirt) unable to wander far from the cord plugged into his amp. It’s England’s most prestigious venue, but they may as well be playing in a garage.

Nobody ever had a run quite like Creedence, which released six platinum-selling albums in 31 months between May 1968 and December 1970, including three albums in 1969 alone — a year in which they outsold the Beatles. We are reminded that the news of the Beatles breaking up hit the British papers just days before Creedence’s show, escalating the sense that the band (three members of which turned 25 in 1970) was there to try to claim the title of the world’s biggest band. The documentary leaves off with the close of the show rather than dwell on the swift and bitter collapse of the band over the next two years. Like Brigadoon, Creedence was gone almost as quickly as it arrived, leaving little trace besides its timeless body of work from 1968-72 and Centerfield, John Fogerty’s 1985 comeback album.

Ultimately, the documentary is worth watching for the show, which is played in full with no interruption. The sound is fantastic, and the band had such a wealth of hits that they could leave gems such as “Down on the Corner” out and batter the audience with the likes of “Travelin’ Band” (as explosive an opening as any song in rock), “Born on the Bayou,” “Green River,” and “Fortunate Son.” These songs are so familiar to any rock listener — and Fogerty had such a gift for writing songs that sounded as if they’d always existed — that it is hard to hear them with fresh ears, especially because the band played them live almost exactly as they were on the record. It is nonetheless a revelation to see what a primal force this music was when played when it was new, by young men full of ambition and energy and palpable desperation to impress.

Economy & Business

Biden’s Gas Problem

(Larry Downing/Reuters)

The New York Times reported this morning that the average price of a gallon of gasoline nosed upward for the first time in a hundred days — by seven-tenths of a copper-plated Lincoln visage.

My first inclination was to shout “Yes!” and thrill at the arrested descent of fuel prices because of how harmful it will be for the Biden administration. The second was to mutter a shamefaced “Ah, nuts.” 

We’ve all been there. What’s bad for the other side is good for us, or so the political binary would suggest. But higher gas prices are borne by us all, with increased manufacturing and shipping costs resulting in scarcity and elevated consumer value — thus higher prices — nothing to be celebrated.

Isabella Simonetti writes for the Times:

The national average gas price rose seven-tenths of one cent to $3.68 a gallon on Wednesday, according to AAA. That was down from $3.90 a month ago but up from $3.19 at the same time last year. Gas prices peaked at just above $5 a gallon in June.

The price of gasoline at the pump is primarily determined by global oil prices. West Texas Intermediate crude oil, the U.S. benchmark, rose above $120 per barrel in mid-June and has since tumbled to about $86 on worries about a recession’s denting demand and signs of increased supply coming to market.

While gas prices in the United States remain higher than they were for several years before the recent spike, the drop below $4 a gallon in August was seen as a political win for Mr. Biden, who has been under pressure to tame stubbornly high inflation and has released oil from strategic reserves, urged oil-producing countries to pump more crude and chided energy companies for what he considered profiteering.

Phil Klein pointed out that the price of gasoline is one of the only things keeping inflation in check for the top-line inflation numbers. Food and sundry goods continue their march up the Rockies, and the energy sector has been camouflaging their ascent these last few months. The Biden administration will have to throw every incentive at the issue to avoid what appears to be an inescapable uptick in inflation for the coming months — election months — with fuel rates plateauing and possibly increasing. 

It’s reasonable to claim that both Biden and I are cheering for lower gas prices, though for divergent reasons. He cheers because deflation may be the difference between a Democratic Senate and the specter of a Cocaine Mitch ascendancy, while I do so because I’m a magnanimous gentleman (and the wife’s Insight is at an eighth of a tank, and I don’t think I can put off filling it up much longer).