Law & the Courts

Josh Hawley’s Litmus Test

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The Republican senator from Missouri says that he will vote for only those Supreme Court nominees who go on record saying that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. Three thoughts:

1) It is in principle appropriate to ask nominees such questions, expect answers, and evaluate their nominations on the basis of them (as I argued way back when in NR, to the dismay of then-senator Jeff Sessions). And it’s worth challenging the distorted view of relations between the political branches and the judiciary that insists otherwise.

2) It may not always be possible to get a nominee who explicitly opposed Roe on the Supreme Court. I doubt it would have been possible to confirm Justice Kavanaugh in 2018, for example, if he had said Roe was mistaken. It might not have been possible to confirm an on-the-record anti-Roe Justice Thomas in 1991, either.

3) A justice who had been on record against Roe would not be a lock to vote to overturn it, because of the force of precedent. Chief Justice John Roberts might well believe that Roe was wrongly decided as an original matter, just as he believes that Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was wrongly decided. But he voted to strike down abortion restrictions this year anyway, on the stated ground that precedent had to stand.

NR Webathon

Join the NR Band of Brothers and Sisters

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

If you’re curious as to what my colleague Alexandra DeSanctis looks like, pick up the dictionary and find “tenacious” — her picture should be there. She is an excellent reporter, a champion of innocent life, and a great advocate of this institution. I encourage all to read her webathon appeal that takes on that big liberal political hack who has made a mockery of veracity — yes, gubernatorial poster-hawker Andrew Cuomo.

Along with Rich Lowry’s appeal (We Won’t Be Canceled), what we have so far on Day Five of our effort is a terrific one-two punch explaining just why it is in your interest to find it in your heart, your checking account, or between the couch cushions the means to support National Review in our Summer 2020-webathon. You can donate here.

Between now and August 16, we are hoping to raise a minimum to $250,000 to help keep NR at fighting strength throughout this raging fight against the leftist/Marxist/anarchist/media-ideologue cabal that yearns to destroy the America of 1776 and reframe this nation as founded in 1619. Since the kick-off, 492 kindly readers have donated $42,598.00 for that purpose. We are thrilled by such an outpouring but praying for many more to join the NR Band of Brothers and Sisters, in a spirit of non-despairing camaraderie as we work to repulse the, well . . . the repulsive. Because that’s a fair description to place on those who would crush unalienable rights and who would cancel the giants of our nation’s — and indeed the world’s — history, who would rewrite the unrivaled account of the ever-more perfect Union that is a blessing of liberty, liberty that has benefited few since Creation’s dawn.

These 492 souls seek your fellowship. Some has told us why they have given, or why they have not only given but also slapped a back or hurled an invective. We share some examples:

** Laurence sent $50 our way and fixed bayonet: “I am an American patriot as my father was who served this country during a world war. God bless this great nation.” God bless you, too. And Dad, too.

** Howard added a zero to that — his $500 came with a review: “Victor Davis Hanson, McCarthy, and Political Beats — best podcast on the net — all solid gold!!” The NR podcasts are important means of our standing athwart, and they only happen because of your kind of generosity, Howard.

** Meg drops $200 into the tip jar as she utters some serious words: “Cancel the bullsh**! And, maybe do an issue that features the amazing conservatives running for Congress this year. I can’t keep up with the number of impressive candidates! Veterans. Pissed-off journalists. Black women. Black men. Former cops. Just good plain old conservatives who have had it! The talent pool is deep and wide: We need to nurture it!” Good advice, as deeply appreciated as your selfless help.

** George’s C Note accompanies an obvious sentiment that deserves stating: “There has never been a more important time for independent sober conservative perspectives in the public square.” Amen, George, because it is and will always be the truth that sets us free. God bless!

** Julia finds 20 bucks and explains why it is now in our possession: “I am pleased to make this small contribution to your cause. Thank you for continuing to offer such a variety of viewpoints with such a high quality of writing. Kevin Williamson and Victor D. Hanson would be worth the price of admission by themselves, but then you discover so many other fine journalists like Kyle Smith, etc., and it’s a pleasure to be a subscriber. Well done.” You, though, Julia, are medium rare. Thanks so much.

** Kathryn finds General Grant and orders him to hold the fort: “Stand your ground against the woke mob! I’m already a print and online subscriber, but I would give even more money if I could. Let’s hope other conservatives finally show they have had enough and step up.” A few hundred Kathryns and we will outflank the enemy — on the right of course. Thanks ever so much.

** Jerome makes us happy with his $100 gift and mistakenly believes he is late to the party: “I should have been reading NR years ago. But better late than never. In this difficult time, it appears to be one of the few periodicals that’s kept its senses.” We’ve got a lock on sanity, Jerome. Thanks so much

** Anne sends $2,000 — yes, TWO THOUSAND! — and if that wasn’t enough, she added these kind words: “Reading NRO helps me maintain my sanity and perspective. It’s a beacon in the current darkness that is affecting this great country of ours. Thank you for your courage to speak the truth.” Anne, we must insist: We’re the ones who are thankful.

We’re thankful that there are those who rightly see NR as a vital institution, one that merits aid above and beyond subscription payments because we are determined to aggressively counter the current crazed attack on Western civilization and the American project, and because we are intent on enduring in order stop more such attacks that the coming years and decades will no doubt witness. James Burnham nailed it when he declared that ours was a “protracted conflict.”

There is nothing run-of-the-mill happening right now, so we are hopeful that readers — whether they can contribute in the fashion of Anne, or the gift is akin to the Widow’s Mite — will be motivated to donate to NR’s Summer Webathon. Again, this effort’s goal — which is nowhere near our true need — is $250,000. There’s quite a ways to go, but we are confident we will arrive, one generous reader by one generous reader. Those who agree that their time has come to lend aid should contribute to our webathon here. Those who would rather send a check should make it payable to “National Review” and mail it to National Review, ATTN: Summer 2020 Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036. You do such with our deep thanks.

Sports

Should We Expect Lower-Scoring Baseball in 2020?

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It’s hazardous to generalize from a largely lower-scoring Opening Day in baseball (3.88 runs/game compared to 4.83 last season), not least because Opening Days should be lower-scoring: Every team is starting its best healthy starting pitcher on the same day. Still, given that hitting is timing and the chief enemies of pitching are fatigue and injuries, it is reasonable to wonder whether the very long layoff since last season means that we will see pitchers get the upper hand in the sprint down the stretch.

We’ve never had a season start in July before, but we do have one vaguely similar situation to compare: the strike-interrupted 1981 season, when there was no baseball between June 11 and August 10. A two-month layoff in mid-season is the closest we can use to simulate the effects of such a late start. Was scoring down? I looked on a team-by-team and league-by-league basis at scoring, comparing first-half scoring both to second-half scoring and specifically to scoring in August, and the answer is . . . things mostly went on as before:

To summarize: In the American League, scoring was the same in the second half as the first half (4.10 runs per game), and slightly higher than that in August (4.17 runs per game). In the National League, scoring was down a bit in the second half (from 3.97 to 3.90 runs per game), but also up in August (4.00 runs per game). There were teams that fell off sharply, such as the Reds and Rangers, but also teams that were up, such as the Indians, Royals, and Astros. The season’s best hitter was Mike Schmidt; Schmidt was batting .284/.381/.582 when the strike hit but went wild on his return, hitting .356/.495/.719, with 17 home runs and 50 RBI in 50 games. He was not rusty. And neither, it seems, was the average major-league hitter.

Culture

Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today: Hagia Sophia, Dems & Abortion, Rosary Doc & More (July 24, 2020)

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The Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 10, 2020. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

1. Catholic News Agency: Churches burned, people beheaded in Mozambique’s escalating extremist violence

Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Mozambique’s Pemba diocese has been an outspoken advocate for the needs of the more than 200,000 people who have been displaced by the violent insurgency. 

In June there were reports that insurgents had beheaded 15 people in a week. Yet the bishop said that the crisis in Mozambique has largely been met with “indifference” from the rest of the world. 

2. Elyssa Koren: UN Human Rights Council Exploits COVID-19 Pandemic to Support Funding for Abortion

The U.N. Human Rights Council advanced the resolution July 17 under  the topic of ending discrimination against women and girls. It made the radical claim that “sexual and reproductive health services,” including “safe abortion,” are an “essential health service” in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

3.  ‘Isolation for her was a death sentence,’ overdose deaths worsen in WNY

“She needed to be with people. She knew that isolation for her was a death sentence. And isolation truly was her death sentence and so last monday she overdosed and died,” said Sandra Robinson, speaking of her late daughter.

4. Washington Times: Federal prison had 75% coronavirus infection rate

5.  Why you shouldn’t dismiss Mike Pompeo’s report on human rights

Contrary to the fears of Mr. Pompeo’s critics, the report does a service by synthesizing the founding documents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with its Bill of Rights—with the re-founding texts of Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction and the global human rights revolution of the 20th century centered on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Throughout it links freedom and equality, refusing to decouple them as many culture warriors do.

6. Heather Mac Donald: Freedom to Deface

Mayor Bill de Blasio has cancelled a graffiti-eradication program targeted at cleaning private buildings. He is thus deliberately sending New York City back to its worst days of crime and squalor.

The symbolic significance of this cancellation is as large as its practical effect.

7. Reuters: Greek church bells toll for Hagia Sophia, PM calls Turkey a ‘troublemaker’

In a message marking Greece’s 46th anniversary of the restoration of democracy on Friday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Turkey a ‘troublemaker’, and the Hagia Sophia conversion an ‘affront to civilisation of the 21st century’.

“What is unfolding in Constantinople today is not a demonstration of strength, but proof of weakness,” Mitsotakis said. 

8. The New York Times: Christian Abortion Critics Urge Dems to Change Platform

“We call upon you to recognize the inviolable human dignity of the child, before and after birth,” the group wrote in its letter to the Democratic platform committee, shared in advance with The Associated Press. “We urge you to reject a litmus test on pro-life people of faith seeking office in the Democratic Party.”

9. Former Wednesday’s Child Advocates for Adoption

Continue reading “Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today: Hagia Sophia, Dems & Abortion, Rosary Doc & More (July 24, 2020)”

The Economy

A Receding ‘V’

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Via Bloomberg’s Maeve Sheehey and Steve Matthews, writing yesterday, more evidence that what recovery we have had is already faltering.

From restaurant dining to air travel and now to filings for unemployment benefits, a growing body of evidence indicates America’s rebound from the pandemic is stalling days before hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of federal aid is set to expire.

Take a look at the evidence Sheehey and Matthews have put together and it’s hard to disagree.

One of the arguments for avoiding too drastic a cut to the $600 a week UI supplement now being paid by the feds (although just for a little bit longer) is that one of the most effective ways of boosting aggregate demand, at least in the short term, is by weighting help towards those who would otherwise be under intense economic pressure.

Sheehey and Matthews blame the slowdown on “the worsening pandemic” to which the answer is yes, but only in part. While COVID-19 is at the root of our problems, the operation of the lockdowns in a way that appeared to take little account of the fact that the economic risk attached to them grew exponentially the longer they were maintained ought to have shifted the risk/reward calculations surrounding them much more than it did. The idea that the economy would be switched off and then on was never really credible, and the longer the switch was in the off position the more incredible that argument became.

Sheehey and Matthews maintain:

Until a vaccine or effective treatment for Covid-19 is available, the world’s largest economy will at best post tepid, uneven growth and, at worst, endure an extended period of malaise or even a depression.

That’s an unsurprising claim, but waiting around for a vaccine or effective treatment is not an effective strategy. Nor is the institutionalization of (recurring?) lockdown regimes that appear to be that strategy’s corollary.

We will not be able to judge the success of the very different Swedish approach for quite some while (whether there or not there is a ‘second wave’ will be, I suspect, the crucial element in that verdict) and Sweden’s approach may not fit countries with very different cultural and political traditions.

Nevertheless, if we are to avoid an economic catastrophe, some way has to be found of ‘living with’ this pandemic considerably more intelligently than we have managed up to now.

Politics & Policy

Unskew 2020

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., July 14, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Despite the lack of faith people had in Biden at the start of the election cycle, he’s led the Democrats nationally almost since the start of the primaries, and he’s led Trump significantly almost the entire time.

If you believe the polls.

As I write, polls are showing Biden opening up double-digit leads in some of the states that Trump swung to his column in 2016, and Biden even leading a bit in states like Florida. Trump isn’t just behind at this point, he’s way behind.

If you believe the polls.

I’m inclined to believe them. I happen to think that the 2016 outcome and the 2016 polls were close enough. All polling includes a margin of error, and Trump’s surprise victory was within the margins of what was possible.

But there is one pollster who really is betting that the polls are bad. And I think he’s set to become the leading voice of dissent in the data game of 2020. I’m talking about Robert Cahaly of The Trafalgar Group.

Trafalgar has its own theories and methods and they sometimes get the goods. Cahaly’s group was almost alone in predicting a Trump win in Pennsylvania in 2016. And he called the Florida races right in 2018.

Cahaly’s methods lean into the idea of “shy Tory” or rather, “shy Trumper” voters. He devises measures of the way “social desirability bias” warps the results of poll respondents. If members of some demographic group overwhelmingly believe that they’d lose face, or face consequences, for admitting their support for Trump, they’ll just tell the stranger on the other end that they don’t support him. Cahaly believes white women and black men may particularly understate their support for Donald Trump. And his read on the 2016 election is that Trump did worse than is realized with traditional Republicans, but better than is known among independents. In other words, his theory is that pollsters are talking to the wrong people and believing them too easily.

Tom Bevan discusses Cahaly’s work over at RealClearPolitics. And Cahaly did a fascinating interview with The American Conservative last month.

I’m still skeptical, but his theory of herd-like incompetence among pollsters does have a certain appeal and explanatory power.

Politics & Policy

Minor Compliments for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler

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Mayor Ted Wheeler wears a protective mask and googles during a protest in Portland, Ore., July 22, 2020. (Jonathan Maus/Bikeportland via Reuters)

On his first day of work, Portland, Ore. mayor Ted Wheeler rode his bike to the office. It was a bold, symbolic move for a city mayor, but fairly predictable in a town such as Portland, parts of which look and feel like CHOP all the time: a seedy college campus, overrun and occupied by pale, homeless anarchists with penchants for funky haircuts, NPR, and Chuck Palahniuk’s fiction.

However, I can imagine young progressives from other parts of the country were titillated at the prospect of a mayor biking into such an environment. How hip! Here, finally, was a radical man of the State — our State, not the evil, fascist one — who shares our Millennial outlook on climate change. Not only did he believe that to cycle is to save the world, he acted on it, too.

My first very minor compliment to Ted Wheeler is that he biked to work aware of the possible and ultimately realized risks of doing so: He broke his ribs in a 2017 bicycle accident.

Wednesday night’s symbolic move was a different story, however. The PR stunt — like President Trump’s Bible brandishing in early June — backfired.

A true man-in-the-arena stud, Wheeler rushed into the throng of protesters and rioters gathering in front of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. He stood alongside the progressive masses in solidarity, pumping a black power fist and rallying his supporters.

“I want to thank the thousands of you who have come out to oppose the Trump administration’s occupation of this city,” he said. “We’re on the front line here in Portland.”

But his little wartime speech didn’t draw the response he had hoped for. In fact, there were hecklers in the crowd, booing the beloved mayor.

Later on, Wheeler got closer to the courthouse, where federal agents had set up a line of defense between the building and the mob. Several Portland citizens were asking him hardball questions when the tear-gas canisters started flying.

Good thing Wheeler came prepared — with a private-security team, of course, and his own safety googles. But apparently, it was the sort of protective eyewear one gets in a high-school chemistry lab, worthless against the gas variety used by federal agents. Wheeler emerged from the confrontation tear-eyed, flushed, and sweaty.

To worsen matters, the protesters and rioters then turned on him. As Wheeler was escorted back to the mayoral office, they screamed in his face, thrashing at the security guards. The revolution seems to be eating its own — right on schedule.

So my second very minor compliment to Ted Wheeler is: At least he took some risk by directly facing the effects of his woeful, incompetent, and dangerous leadership as the mayor of Portland. He’s a man with skin in the game — to a certain extent — though no less idiotic.

Other mayors around the country, perhaps Lori Lightfoot and Bill de Blasio, could learn a thing or two from him. They too ought to take some risk and step out into the neighborhoods that have long suffered under progressive leadership.

World

The Risks of China’s Three Gorges Dam’s Flooding

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The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River discharges water to lower the water level in the reservoir following heavy rainfall and floods in a few regions, Yichang, Hubei province, China July 17, 2020. (China Daily/Reuters)

China has been suffering through record rains the past weeks, leading to the worst flooding in the country in decades. There is little relief in sight, and the Yangtze River is now above flood level, according to China’s Ministry of Water Resources. A few days ago, officials admitted that certain “peripheral” structures of the massive Three Gorges Dam deformed due to the building water pressure. Stunning pictures of water being released to relieve pressure are raising the specter of whether the entire dam could fail (some good photos here). Some online satellite photos purporting to show the buckling of the dam, however, should be viewed with skepticism.

Still, the damage that has already occurred from the record deluge is significant, with numerous cities upriver from the dam already flooded. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Some 40 million people in more than two dozen provinces have been affected by the flooding as of July 12, causing more than 80 billion yuan ($11.5 billion) of direct damage to the economy, according to China’s Ministry of Emergency Management. Around 28,000 homes have collapsed, while millions have been displaced and at least 141 people have been declared dead or missing in the floods.

All that would be dwarfed if the Three Gorges Dam failed. The dam was built from 1994 to 2006, at a cost of $31 billion and displacing 1.4 million people for its construction, precisely to lessen the risk of devastating flooding along the Yangtze, a perennial problem in China since ancient times. The river’s basin accounts for nearly half of China’s agricultural output, and it runs through major cities, such as Wuhan, with 10 million people.

Chinese authorities have already evacuated 38 million people downriver. The dam can hold back waters to a level of 175 meters above sea level; according to the Bureau of Hydrology of the Chanjiang (Yangtze) Water Resources Commission, the latest (Friday) height at the dam was 158.85 meters, down from 164 meters on Tuesday. Yet more rain is predicted, and if smaller, older dams upriver from Three Gorges overflow or fail, then the pressure on the main dam could quickly overwhelm either its capacity or even its structural integrity.

While an outright failure of the dam may not be the primary danger, nonetheless its geopolitical consequences are staggering to contemplate. It would be a black swan of epic proportions, China’s Chernobyl moment. A tsunami-like wave from a breach in the Three Gorges Dam could wipe out millions of acres of farmland right before the autumn harvest, possibly leading to famine-like conditions. As it is also the world’s largest hydroelectric power station, a failure would lead to huge power outages. Low-lying cities of millions along the Yangtze’s banks cities could become uninhabitable and the death toll could be staggering.

China’s heartland manufacturing and inland shipping along the Yangtze, which empties out into the East China Sea at Shanghai, would be significantly affected by downriver flooding, potentially leading to major economic disruption inside China and around the world. The political impact could be enough to destabilize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in the same way that Chernobyl was the nail in the coffin of the Soviet Communist Party. Public anger, already stoked by the draconian state response to the coronavirus pandemic that started in Wuhan, could boil over, even if many understand that the rains are an act of nature.

Given the social and political implications of the current flooding, and the specter of a Three Gorges breach, it may not be a complete coincidence that Beijing last week announced its second-largest purchase of U.S. corn ever, to the tune of 1.365 million tons, along with 320,000 tons of winter and spring wheat. From a political perspective, the dam’s failure would be the gravest crisis faced by CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, comparable to the Katrina hurricane that so tarnished George W. Bush’s reputation. Unlike the weakened post-Chernobyl USSR, however, a destabilized CCP could well become a more dangerous one, looking to divert public anger towards “enemies” such as Taiwan, Japan, and the United States.

That Xi has not visited the dam or seemingly made it a public priority may mean that he’s been assured by Chinese engineers and hydrologists that the dam can withstand the current deluge. A long-overdue rebalancing in U.S.–China relations is taking place, and a hard-edged policy of reciprocity is entirely proper in dealing with Beijing’s endemic predatory and abusive behavior. However, for humanitarian, economic, and geopolitical reasons, the world should obviously hope the Three Gorges Dam holds. 2020 has already been enough of an annus terribilis.

Politics & Policy

Pompeo and Human Rights, Ctd.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks at the State Department in Washington, D.C., December 19, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

David Kramer, who served in the State Department under George W. Bush, assails Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent speech on human rights as well as the human-rights report that was the occasion for it. (It’s the same report my Bloomberg Opinion column discusses, much more positively.) Kramer makes two charges, and has half a point.

First, he accuses the report of trying to “to downgrade the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, dismissing them as ‘divisive social and political controversies in the United States’ and suggesting that they are, in fact, not ‘unalienable rights.’” Here’s the actual passage in question that Kramer is distorting:

In divisive social and political controversies in the United States — abortion, affirmative action, same-sex marriage — it is common for both sides to couch their claims in terms of basic rights. Indeed, it is a testament to the deep roots in the American spirit of our founding ideas about unalienable rights that our political debates continue to revolve around the concepts of individual freedom and human equality, even as we disagree — sometimes deeply — on the proper interpretation and just application of these principles.

The increase in rights claims, in some ways overdue and just, has given rise to excesses of its own. Not all government forbearance or intervention that benefits some or even all citizens is for that reason a right, and not every right that democratic majorities choose to enact is therefore unalienable.

The report does not, as you can see, make any claim about whether abortion is an unalienable right. If it had denied it — if it had instead claimed that abortion is the infringement of an unalienable right, as I believe it should have done — it would not have been “downgrad[ing] the rights of women.” It would have been denying that killing vulnerable members of the human species are among those rights.

A later passage of the report suggests that the proliferation of rights in various international treaties and declarations is a mistake: “Transforming every worthy political preference into a claim of human rights inevitably dilutes the authority of human rights.” Kramer swipes: “As if legalizing same-sex marriage somehow compounded the plight of political prisoners rotting in Iranian, Egyptian, Chinese, or North Korean jails.” That’s not the claim. The claim is closer to the idea that proclaiming same-sex marriage an unalienable human right on par with religious and political freedom would undermine our ability to stand up for those basic freedoms. Maybe that idea is mistaken, but jeering at a different idea that uses some of the same words isn’t a refutation.

Second, Kramer faults Pompeo for his omissions. Pompeo, in his view, should have taken some time to denounce his boss for being corrupt, divisive, and abusive; repudiated the administration’s foreign policy; and apologized for his own treatment of journalists and congressional subpoenas. Part of this critique seems to me to be right. The administration has not been a great champion of human rights, as I note in my own column; Pompeo’s sniping at Mary Louise Kelly was a low point of his tenure (and an episode on which Joel Gehrke’s profile sheds some light). But if your point is that moral integrity requires that Pompeo and everyone else in the administration resign and maybe commit ritual suicide, then you should just say that instead of pretending that you disapprove of the way they’re doing their job.

Markets

Thunberg Donates 100,000 Pounds to Criminalize ‘Ecocide’

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Climate-change activist Greta Thunberg attends a Fridays for Future protest in Turin, Italy, December 13, 2019. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has become the world’s most famous anti–global-warming campaigner, was just awarded a one million pound environmental prize. She has announced that 100,000 pounds of that money will be donated to the radical environmentalist organization Stop Ecocide. From the Ecologist story:

Thunberg said that her foundation will “as quickly as possible donate all the prize money . . . to support organizations and projects that are fighting for a sustainable world, defending nature and supporting people already facing the worst impacts of the climate- and ecological crisis — particularly those living in the Global South.

“The first two donations of €100,000 will go to the SOS Amazonia campaign led by Fridays For Future Brazil to tackle Covid-19 in the Amazon, and to the Stop Ecocide Foundation to support their work to make ecocide an international crime.”

Stop Ecocide seeks to make “ecocide” the “fifth international crime against peace” –equivalent to profound evils of genocide, crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, now punishable at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Ecocide would not be a crime of intent, but based on the impact of human enterprise on the environment — even if it did not hurt a single human being. Here is the definition:

Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.

Note that “peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants” is a decidedly elastic term that isn’t limited to human beings but could also include everything from insects, mice, bears and other beasts of the field, and potentially, plant life. Moreover, the diminishment of “peaceful enjoyment” wouldn’t require actual pollution, but could include displacement, loss of forage, etc.

The very concept has the explicit intention of criminalizing large-scale free-market enterprise, as the Stop Ecocide website explains:

THE BEAUTY OF THIS: Corporate success depends on public and investor confidence. No CEO or financier wants to be seen in the same way as a war criminal. A law of ECOCIDE on the horizon will therefore signal the end of corporate immunity -– and begin to redirect business and finance away from harmful practices.

Just as the “nature rights” movement intends to chill crucial activities such as mining, oil extraction, forestry, and large-scale farming, by allowing anyone to sue to prevent nature’s “rights” from being infringed, ecocide would punish these enterprises as a crime. In this sense, it is even more profoundly subversive.

Perhaps even more perniciously, threatening large corporations with the loss of “corporate immunity” would bring industrialization to a screeching halt as it also trapped the world’s destitute populations in their misery by chilling efforts to upgrade economies by extracting natural resources.

Media

Access Journalism and the Woke Mob

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(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

There are a number of real threats to journalistic integrity afoot today. A big one is that powerful people will use their value as news sources to dictate what a newspaper can print or a TV network can air.

“Access journalism” is hardly a new phenomenon. It can be particularly pernicious in the worlds of sports and music journalism, where critical columns, harsh reviews, or insufficient airplay can get journalists frozen out of locker rooms and denied interviews with popular musicians. Sports leagues that provide the bulk of ESPN’s content have massive leverage to dictate coverage. Politicians can use this, too, dispensing interviews to friendly outlets and booting critical ones from foreign junkets or the White House briefing room. We know that the New York Times will respond quickly when a Democratic presidential campaign demands changes to articles it has printed.

These tactics tend, however, to be somewhat narrowly focused: Your access to me depends on how you cover me. What is newer and more ominous is reporters’ citing pressure from sources as leverage over a newspaper’s entire business: who it hires, how it frames the news, even what op-eds it publishes. Even worse is the apparent assumption that this is a legitimate thing for journalists to consider in what they write and publish.

During last month’s controversy over the Times daring to publish an op-ed by Republican senator Tom Cotton, the Times reported: “Three Times journalists, who declined to be identified by name, said they had informed their editors that sources told them they would no longer provide them with information because of the Op-Ed.” This week, a letter signed by 300 Wall Street Journal reporters demanded multiple changes to the op-ed page, including objections to publishing specific people and effectively demanding the muffling of particular points of view, especially articles questioning the premises of critics of the police as systemically racist. The op-ed page fired back with a defiant refusal to be ‘canceled’ by its own co-workers. There’s a lot going on in the letter, but particularly alarming is the front-and-center reappearance of the access-journalism argument: “Some of us have been told by sources that they won’t talk to use because they don’t trust that the WSJ is independent of the editorial page; many of us have heard sources and readers complain about the paper’s ‘bias’ as a result of what they’ve read in Opinion.”

A journalist who takes the integrity of the profession seriously ought to be able to explain that distinction to sources. Of course, the biases and punch-pulling inherent in access journalism can never entirely be eliminated from journalism in the real world, but the real issue with the WSJ and Times news journalists seems to be that they do not even see why it is bad or dangerous to let sources dictate what your newspaper publishes. If you see your job as speaking power to truth, you are in the wrong business.

World

A Surge in Anti-Unionism

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In 2014, 55 percent of Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom. But then came the Brexit referendum, in which most Scots voted to remain in the E.U., and then coronavirus, in which public perception favored the Scottish government’s handling of the pandemic to that of Westminster. Current polling from June and July indicates a clear majority, 54 percent, for independence north of the border. Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, tweeted:

I welcome [the prime minister] to Scotland today. One of the key arguments for independence is the ability of Scotland to take our own decisions, rather than having our future decided by politicians we didn’t vote for, taking us down a path we haven’t chosen. His presence highlights that.

Boris Johnson has his work cut out. The case against the union may be more rhetorical than rational, but we do not live in a rational age.

National Review

Inside the August 10, 2020, Issue of National Review

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The new August 10, 2020, issue of National Review is off the printing presses and on its way to thousands of mailboxes here and abroad — but for those who have NRPLUS subscriptions, the issue, in its entirety, is available for reading immediately. Curious as to what lies between the covers? You’d be right to be, so we’re offering a few glimpses and suggestions as to the impressive contents. We suggest you consider Christopher Caldwell’s cover essay, “The Prophet of Anti-Racism,” about Ibram X. Kendi, the best-selling author who says it’s racist to disagree with his strategy of fighting discrimination with discrimination. Elsewhere in the issue, there is Victor Davis Hanson’s review of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, Nina Shea’s report on Red China’s efforts to suppress Christian churches, and Ramesh Ponnuru’s critique of the Chief Justice and his emphasis on safeguarding the High Court’s prestige. And maybe wander into the Books, Arts & Manners section to check out Alex Trembath’s review of two new books that call out climate alarmists, and the acclaimed playwright David Mamet’s lockdown reflection on a few old books.

If you are not an NRPLUS subscriber and want to read all these pieces, and the other gems that accompany them in the new issue, well — once you’ve read three, you’ll have hit your monthly freebie limit. That applies not only to magazine content, but so much more exclusive material that NR publishes. The solution is an NRPLUS subscription, which you — admit it — have been planning on getting. Do that right now, right here.

Politics & Policy

Baseball, Hot Dogs, and BLM

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All the Yankees and Nationals on the field took a knee before the game last night, after listening to a voice-of-god social-justice oration from Morgan Freeman and holding a long black cloth together. This quasi-religious ceremony — ridiculously solemn, with no evident dissenters — was another indication that BLM is being made into part of the American civil religion:

Sports

Sixteen Teams Enter, One Leaves

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Yesterday’s announcement that Major League Baseball would let 16 of its 30 teams into the postseason is a fitting symbol of the madness of 2020, complete with the fact that one normally does not decide on the playoff system literally on the morning the regular season starts. It is hard to blame the owners for being thrown back on their heels, or for concluding that a 60-game regular season is so short that the doors to the postseason should be widened, for reasons of both money and the credibility of the season. It is, however, a tacit admission that the regular season is the least meaningful one ever played, even compared with the 1981 and 1892 split seasons or the abruptly war-terminated 1918 season. Baseball is not hockey, college basketball, or horse racing: The proving ground of the long regular season is an essential part of its charm. The agreement between the owners and the union provides for “eight best-of-three Wild Card Series preceding the Division Series,” which at least preserves the superior value of winning one’s division, but at the cost of devolving the wild cards into a bunch of ridiculous sudden-death crapshoots — plus, the six second-place teams each get an automatic berth:

With 16 teams headed to October, the second-place teams in each division will now make the postseason automatically, and the seventh and eighth teams in each league will be chosen from the best records remaining. In the expanded postseason, the wild-card round will feature best-of-3 series instead of one-game playoffs. The higher seeded team will host all three games, which will cut down on travel. This will make the postseason substantially longer, with as many as 65 postseason games this year. The first round will be best-of-3, followed by best-of-5 and best-of-7 rounds in the LCS and World Series.

Any baseball is better than no baseball; this may be the best lemonade to be made from these particular lemons. The aftertaste will still be a bit sour, though.

The Economy

Coronavirus Case Growth in Sun Belt Weighing on Employment

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Weekly unemployment claims rose to 1.4 million in the week ending July 11 — the first increase since March. The worse-than-expected jobs numbers appear to be the result of increased COVID cases in the new southern hotspots of Texas, Arizona, and Florida.

The below graphs from Goldman Sachs Research use mobility data from Google and workplace-activity data from HR firm Homebase. Of late, the Sun Belt has seen significantly lower activity than the rest of the country — reversing the trend from before June.

1. Workplace Activity Has Declined in the Sun Belt and Slowed in Other States Since June. Data available on request.
Source: Goldman Sachs

The good news is that the labor market is recovering nationally. The bad news is that the recovery is stalling due to new outbreaks of the virus: Goldman researchers expect employment to be roughly flat in July. It looks like the recovery will be “U-shaped” — we’ll reach pre-pandemic levels of output and employment in a reasonable amount of time, but the interim period will be volatile, with intermittent reductions and pick-ups in economic activity.

Politics & Policy

My Dear Wormwood, on the Matter of ‘Racists’ and ‘Debate’

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Congratulations on your continued efforts to educate the patient on the flexibility and efficacy of the term “racist.” He appears, quite clearly, to appreciate that its use instantly confers upon him the status of the aggrieved (and, thus, the morally superior) in any debate. Indeed, where properly used, the term forecloses debate altogether, for his opponent will fear “cancellation.” A wonderful tool to advance radical or ridiculous propositions that otherwise could not survive even minimal scrutiny!

The patient may, from time to time, question the term’s effectiveness and utility. He may even briefly consider engaging his opponent (or even the Enemy) in substantive debate.

Do not despair. Simply explain that unlike other overused pejoratives, the potency of “racist” is relatively undiminished by promiscuous use.  On the contrary, once applied, its stain remains nearly indelible, thereby relieving the patient of any need to engage someone so plainly contemptible.

If necessary, gently remind the patient how effective shutting down debate has been throughout history. (Remember 1917? No, you are too young. Trust me, it was glorious.) In so doing, however, take care that he does not view his actions as similar to those of other patients from past — shall we say, challenging — eras. This may produce in him a sense of shame or guilt, two utterly useless qualities. Assure him that debate is unnecessary because all right-thinking people (of which he is one) know the issue is settled, and he is, after all, on the side of progress, as were all of our most celebrated patients throughout history.

In my next letter, dear nephew, I shall endeavor to instruct on the proper use of the felicitous term, “social justice.”

(Apologies to Mr. Lewis.)

NR Webathon

Buckley and Cancel . . . the Webathon Is Off and Running

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.

We launch this drive to raise $250,000 wondering: With all this Soviet-style history-rewriting and retouching and eradicating — all this canceling — amok-running, what would Bill Buckley be saying? Doing? The man whose near-last book was Cancel Your Own Go**am Subscription would surely be instructing (full-throated) the Millennial Marxists of 2020 to do something along the title’s line (albeit not related to an NR subscription!). Cancel Your Own Go**am Sedition? Groan!

Bill tussled with the progressive great-grandparents of the Screeching Woke back (seven decades!) when he was writing his first book, God and Man at Yale. That came just a few years before he launched NR. That he knew was to be a long-term project, because the task of yelling Stop! while Standing Athwart History was never going to be a passing fancy or a temporary gig. As James Burnham — the ex-Communist who helped Bill found National Review, and who well knew the vicious nature of the ideologues that are behind both yesterday’s and today’s madness — said, this was to be a “protracted conflict.”

Truer words were never spoken. And so we find that in the thick of this current culture war stands NR as a beacon of truth, of honesty, of determination to call bull-doodie on the Left (American and Beijing brands), especially when it masquerades under the guise of confronting “systemic racism,” when it lies about the nature and past of this More Perfect Union, when it declares e pluribus unum a motto of hate. Here stands NR, increasingly unto itself, as the once-reliable (agreed — barely!) sources for information — many now under the lash of acne’d newsroom Jacobins — have all but disappeared, or turned into full-blown house organs for the Leftist Project.

As the saying goes: Now, more than ever . . . what? Now more than ever our country and our principles need National Review. Our webathon commenced with a rousing appeal from Rich Lowry. That has met with immediate generosity from hundreds, many who also share sentiments with the boodle. Such as:

Eric sends $50 and a vow: “Please keep up the fine work and great journalism. Your articles are important counterpoints to the progressive insanity of the unhinged left. I will continue to contribute each month, as I’m able.” Dude! You are so inspiring. Thanks kindly.

Kay spots us a C Note and this assessment: “Thank you for incisive, sophisticated, thoughtful writing. Underlying the National Review project is The Good and The True. An oasis of intelligence and openness.” We do this because we have supporters like you alongside us. Thanks.

Flannery drops $100 in the collection plate, along with something else that is priceless: “One hundred bucks, tremendous gratitude and a rosary every day is my contribution from here in Jackson Heights, New York City!” We poor banished children of Eve love you for this. Love you!

From north of the border comes Sinclair’s $200, attending an international wish: “I’m Canadian and I read National Review daily. I want its voice to stay steady and strong, and be stronger than ever when my kids grow up, so that they can hear ideas deeper than the narrow, bland, and conformist dogma regurgitated by most of the media.” We stand on guard for thee good friend. Thanks.

Alan gives it ($100) and gets it: “We are in a long haul to restore the appreciation for American values to much of American society. Thank you National Review for being the vanguard of the movement to preserve the knowledge of American greatness from the clutches of lies and distortion. Also, I believe you should be proud to be the owner of likely the most civil, intelligent debate on politics in the world, going on in your comments sections. Thank you for your work!” It’s us who thank you, Alan.

There’s plenty more such examples coming at us hourly, daily. The support comes from selfless people (like you!) who are intelligent (again, like you!) and imbued with common sense (hat trick!) who make no bones about these facts: that National Review is a conservative institution, dependent on the support of friends, and that it simply must survive in order to wage hand-to-hand combat with those who seek nothing less than the destruction of America as we know it and love it. It’s this simple: We can only stand athwart as long as you stand alongside. Our goal is $250,000. Right now, it is far past the horizon. But we are confident that we will get there. Those who do indeed wish to help and accompany NR on this journey should contribute to our webathon here. Anyone who would rather send a check should make it payable to “National Review” and mail it to National Review, ATTN: Summer 2020 Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036.  We cannot thank you enough.

World

Chinese Ambassador Confronted with Uighur Footage on Camera

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Earlier this week, the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom sat down for an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr. Things did not go well for Ambassador Liu Xiaoming, who was, to amend a phrase of Irving Kristol’s, mugged by reality during the interview. Marr presented him with drone footage of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province being blindfolded, handcuffed, and forced onto trains. Watching the ambassador’s panic-stricken attempts to recover in real time from this unexpected confrontation, one can’t help but remember Mike Tyson’s famous observation that “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Kudos to Marr for hitting the CCP right between the eyes.

Fiscal Policy

Stimulus 4.0

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It is clear to me now that Senator McConnell’s strategy of waiting until the last second to take up the fourth stimulus bill was quite purposeful, and that if discussions had begun four-plus weeks ago, it would still have taken until this point to get passed, yet we would have had four weeks of both the House Democrats and the White House adding to it, making it much larger than (as McConnell knows) anything that the Senate would accept.

The “fiscal cliff” is now here, specifically as far as concerns the $600/week of federal supplements to unemployment insurance, and so a deal will get done, but McConnell is confident that a trillion or two (I can’t believe I just wrote that) will be left out that otherwise would be there.

My predictions after more conversations with Capitol Hill sources and friends:

(1) The unemployment benefit will get extended but phased down, and with income restrictions (Secretary Mnuchin is floating a 70 percent level, so ~$400/week vs. current $600)

(2) There will not be a payroll-tax cut, but there will be conditional corporate-tax credits that the White House will hold out as a victory (particularly, an extension of immediate expensing for R&D, Capex, etc.)

(3) There will be a “second bite of the apple” from PPP for small businesses

(4) And significantly for those who desperately believe businesses need to get their employees back to work and school opened, there will be a liability-protection plan.

Politics & Policy

Are Substack Letters Cancel-Proof?

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About the trend toward independent email newsletters, David Brooks writes:

The first good thing about Substack is there’s no canceling. A young, talented heterodox thinker doesn’t have to worry that less talented conformists in his or her organization will use ideology as an outlet for their resentments.

I wish I had Brooks’s confidence.

In reality, people who are building large enterprises on Substack are making a very big bet that the newsletter platform will somehow prove immune to the pressure campaigns that have been so successfully deployed against Twitter, Facebook, Patreon, etc., and even against website-hosting companies.

If the New York Times Company cannot bring itself to stand up for the values of free exchange and intellectual openness — and it plainly cannot — then why should we be confident that a technology company will?

Perhaps Substack will stand tall on this. But that is conjecture. It may be wishful thinking.

Impromptus

Time, Music, and Other Phenomena

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In Ocean Beach, Calif., on May 6, 2020 (Mike Blake / Reuters)

Impromptus today begins with the pandemic. What about it? Well, the fact that it is a pandemic — a global plague, an everywhere plague. Very, very rarely does the world face exactly the same problem at the same time. We might as well have been attacked by great swarms of extraterrestrials.

Has the experience served to unite the world, in significant ways? LOL.

Okay: How about the plague in one country, ours? Has it brought us together? Again, those sad initials . . .

Additional topics in Impromptus include Liz Cheney; the capitalization of “black” and “white”; WFB; Bill Bradley; Ghislaine Maxwell; Saddam Hussein; John Lewis; the VOA; Stephen Miller; Woodrow Wilson; and Henry Purcell. The items are brief. If you don’t like one, another will be along shortly.

Instead of publishing mail — properly publishing mail — I would like simply to mention a couple of notes. Signing up to receive Impromptus by e-mail, a man said, “I’ve been an NR subscriber since I was in the 10th grade — in 1966.”

That’s good goin’.

I had a beautiful note from a college student. He spoke of “the humble yet proud love of America I often associate with the America of my youth.”

Time is an incredible phenomenon, topsy-turvy.

I cherish the memory of a conversation between a four-year-old and a friend of mine. The little boy exclaimed, “Today is the best day of my whole life.”

The latest episode of my Music for a While is here. In this episode, I have some French organ music; some American organ music; Grieg; Lead Belly; Mozart; and others. I also read a letter, which I will paste below.

I’m a jerk for doing it, because the letter is complimentary of me. But the tribute is mainly to music. So . . .

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

I am 74 years old and a recent listener-subscriber to your podcast. I am writing simply to thank you for making my long walks happier, and even at times instructive.

This Covid-19 business has forced me to stay at home more, which I actually enjoy. But there are times when I need to get out of the house and walk, even in this Texas heat. That is when I tune in to your podcast, and then the day becomes fuller and richer.

So, thank you. I enjoy the music you select and hearing your voice and words of introduction. Thank you for helping me get through this difficult time.

All the best . . .

In honor of this listener, I play a superb recording of the Dubois Toccata in G — a joyful jolt. And that is the name of the new episode: “A Joyful Jolt.” Again, here.

Politics & Policy

The Campaign to Rewrite American History

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Our many intellectuals who despise private property, free enterprise, limited government, and individual liberty believe that their project of fastening us with omnipotent government won’t work unless they get most Americans to revile our history. They’re probably correct about that.

And thus they have been waging a campaign to make it seem as though that history is one of endless horror. In today’s Martin Center article, Sumantra Maitra reviews a book that turns over the rock on this — The War on History by Jarrett Stepman.

Maitra says:

Stepman writes that the attacks on the Founders typically start with Jefferson and that once Jefferson falls anywhere, there won’t be any stopping. The attacks also have a distinct pattern, ‘with the emphasis now on what the Founders didn’t do (abolish slavery) rather than what they did (build the foundations for the freest country in human history).’ If that seems far-fetched, recall that the majority of these decisions are essentially elite-driven to appease a very vocal minority. The majority opinion is increasingly irrelevant.

Leftist writers find fault in American leaders who used to be hailed as “men of the people” who expanded the role of government, such as Teddy Roosevelt.

Maitra sums up:

The book is light on policy but does a good job in predicting and highlighting what is coming, and what might be one possible future unless this long march to reshape society and history is stopped. How that can be stopped is a contentious idea, with liberals arguing that this still falls under a battle of ideas, while some conservatives are increasingly warming up to economic and legislative measures.

No doubt this is a book worth reading.

Culture

Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today: Margaret Sanger, ISIS & More (July 23, 2020)

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1. Serrin Foster & Damian Geminder: Erasing Margaret Sanger from Planned Parenthood doesn’t change abortion’s eugenic logic

While Sanger’s name may be removed from public spaces, her legacy of destruction and dehumanization remains. Millions of children of color and poor children who were priceless are gone forever: nameless, unloved and buried in medical waste. Scrubbing Sanger’s name from an abortion clinic does nothing to improve—much less save—the lives of children who are maimed and killed or the women who have been sold the lie that they and their unplanned pregnancies are a problem to be solved.

2. Our Children Were Killed by Islamic State members. They must face trial. 

The U.S. government should send a more powerful message: It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are. If you harm American citizens, you will not escape. You will be hunted down. And when you are caught, you will face the full power of American law.

3. Francis X. Maier: Liars Go to Hell

4.

5. Institute for Family Studies: Six Lessons on Staying Married from Couples Who’ve Struggled and Made It

One woman, married 43 years, put it best as she described the legacy of intact marriages in her family, including her own: 

In the end, the staying together was better, best, and gratifying—and smart. It is not about happiness. There is a lot of comfort, love, and satisfaction, though, and yes there is happiness, but that is not the end all, be all. Whatever hell we thought we were going through was worth it. We can breathe, we are still together, we feel like warriors, we wear badges. With honor. We are married.

6. Caleb Lyman: Poll: Americans Don’t Want Government Telling Christian Schools Who They Can Hire 

Continue reading “Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today: Margaret Sanger, ISIS & More (July 23, 2020)”

International

Lebanon Hyperinflates

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An empty highway in Beirut, Lebanon, as the country is set to extend a countrywide lockdown by two weeks to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, March 26, 2020. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

Yesterday will go down as a dark day in Lebanon’s history. That is when Lebanon was entered into the Hanke-Krus World Hyperinflation Table. When I measured Lebanon’s inflation rate yesterday, it was a sizzling 52.6 percent per month. That was the 30th consecutive day in which Lebanon’s monthly inflation rate exceeded 50 percent. So, on July 22, 2020, Lebanon entered the record books with the dubious distinction of recording the world’s 62nd episode of hyperinflation — the only episode to ever occur in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. Now there are two ongoing hyperinflations: Lebanon’s, where the annual inflation rate is 462 percent, and Venezuela’s, where the annual rate soars at 2,219 percent.

Just how has Lebanon found itself in such an inglorious position? For years, the Lebanese government, the central bank (Banque du Liban), and savers played a game. The government spent more than it collected in taxes and financed its resulting deficits by paying sky-high interest rates on the debt it issued. The central bank bought some of the debt and kept the official pound-U.S. dollar exchange rate pegged at 1,500. The peg was designed so that those who purchased the government’s debt would have confidence that it would retain its purchasing power in U.S. dollar terms when it matured. Banks offered relatively “high” interest rates to depositors and were also part of the game. For a surprisingly long period of time, the money poured in from domestic savers, the Lebanese diaspora, and other foreign investors. They were all chasing yield and blind to the nature of the game.

Eventually, though, it became apparent that the government’s mountain of debt had become so large that the dollar-denominated portion could not be repaid in full. It also became clear that the government could not even repay the Lebanese pound-denominated portion in full unless the pound was officially devalued. At that point, the government faced an investors’ strike and was forced to default on a maturing foreign bond on March 9. The default triggered a sharp depreciation of the pound in the black market and a surge in inflation.

The game was over. Confidence in the pound’s peg vanished. All those yield chasers were running for the exits, and as they did, the pound collapsed in the black market.

Indeed, since January, the pound has shed 82 percent of its value against the greenback in the black market. As for the official exchange rate, the Lebanese can forget it. Their savings are frozen in Lebanon’s banks. The banks have no dollars to exchange and have imposed capital controls (read: strict withdrawal limits) to avoid collapse. Not a pretty picture.

What can be done to end Lebanon’s currency crisis? Lebanon should do exactly what I did in 1997 in Bulgaria, where I was president Petar Stoyanov’s chief adviser. A hyperinflation was raging at 242 percent per month. I designed a currency board system, which the Bulgarian government proposed to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF accepted the proposal immediately and a currency board was installed on July 1, 1997. Inflation was crushed and stability was established from one day to the next.

A currency board is a monetary institution (or a set of laws that govern a central bank) that issues a domestic currency that is freely convertible at an absolutely fixed exchange rate with a foreign anchor currency. Therefore, under a currency board arrangement, there are no capital controls. The domestic currency, which is issued by a currency board, is backed 100 percent with anchor currency reserves. So, with a currency board, the local currency is simply a clone of its anchor currency.

For over 170 years, currency boards have had a perfect record of establishing and maintaining currency confidence. In total, there have been over 70. Today, the largest and most notable currency board is Hong Kong’s.

Lebanon would be a perfect place to install a currency board. A Lebanese currency board would establish confidence and stability immediately. And while stability might not be everything, everything is nothing without stability.

The Economy

The Unemployment-Benefit Question

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(iStock/Getty Images Plus)

The supply-siders at the Committee to Unleash Prosperity write in their daily email:

Even Michael Strain of the once-free market-oriented American Enterprise Institute told the NYT he doesn’t think cutting the $600 a week benefits on top of normal UI payments makes sense: “That’s a lot of income to just withdraw from the economy really suddenly,” he opined.  “Right now there’s no question that the positive economic effects of those payments are outweighing the negative economic effects.” By this warped logic we should start paying unemployed workers $6,000 a week and we will really have a rip-roaring recovery.

I think the CUP may be misunderstanding Strain, who is my colleague at AEI and Bloomberg Opinion, and sometime collaborator at NR. Strain’s view, which seems right to me, is that sustaining the current level of unemployment benefits for too long would hinder a robust recovery. He wants benefits to be scaled back. Hence his recent article, “How Congress can scale back unemployment benefits.” His quote in the Times concerned going immediately from $600 in extra unemployment benefits to zero this summer.

Now if one believes that anyone who supports a dollar of unemployment benefits may as well support $6,000 a week, then Strain’s logic is off. He ought to support either infinitely high benefits or no benefits. Notice, though, that the Coalition isn’t pushing for the abolition of unemployment benefits, just the immediate end of the COVID-19-related supplement to them, so it’s open to the same objection. They were once free-market-oriented!

It’s not a persuasive objection. Strain’s preferred alternative of a gradual reduction that responds to economic conditions seems to me superior to an immediate $600/week drop. But even if I am (and he is) wrong about that, there are competing considerations to balance and their relative force will vary depending on the level of the benefits. Someone who is on record saying that $600/week is too high is not logically committed to going to $6,000.

Sports

Baseball Is Back, Sorta

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Chicago White Sox center fielder Adam Engel (15) sits in the stands with teammates during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago, Ill., June 22, 2020. (Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

I’m grateful, I guess. Though managing life during this crisis has made us so busy that it’s hard to imagine sitting down and following sports the way we normally do.

Baseball will have a 60-game season. The designated hitter has been smuggled into the National League, a move I think is a disaster. And there’s still talk of an expanded playoff system with a selection show?

As part of the 16-team expanded playoff proposal, the No. 1, 2, 3 seeds in each league— the Division winners— would pick their opponents among the other 5 teams, with a selection show.

— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 23, 2020

There’s something appropriate about making the Eastern, Central, and Western Divisions play each other across leagues, in a mirror of the travel constraints that are imposed on most of the rest of us.

But if it were me, I’d have taken the opportunity to institute more differences and separation between the two leagues, and a quicker and less-complicated playoff race. Overall, the new rules feel like they all run in the opposite direction of where I’d want the game to go.

Politics & Policy

‘In Defense of Liz Cheney’

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I wrote today at Politico about the ambush of Liz Cheney at a House GOP meeting this week:

This episode is much more telling about Cheney’s internal GOP critics than Cheney.

She rightly refuses to play by the dumb rule insisted on by MAGA and Never-Trump Republicans from their respective parts of the spectrum, that the only two options are to submit to the president totally or to oppose him totally, with no honorable space in between.

Cheney is a Republican and a member of leadership, which imposes its obligations, but she hasn’t checked her mind or conscience at the door.

She has deeply held views on foreign policy and doesn’t hide them, even when they depart from those of the president.

She has also been a consistent voice for taking the pandemic seriously and wearing masks and has defended Anthony Fauci. Can anyone doubt that if Trump had taken her tack, he’d be in a stronger position today? That the president felt compelled to hold a Covid briefing again on Tuesday and strike a more sober tone implicitly concedes as much.

But some of Cheney’s colleagues are upset with her rather than the president.

Politics & Policy

The Paranoid Style Gets More Paranoid

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You don’t have to support how the feds are going about protecting the courthouse in Portland to think that the prevalent belief on the center-left that it’s a preview of an attempt to steal the election is absolutely bonkers.

Here’s former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe:

And Jon Heilemann the other day:

 

And this morning:

 

Culture

The Redskins Have Taken the Only Safe Course . . .

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. . . and will play without a name this coming season.

Law & the Courts

Portland Mayor Observes Mayhem up Close, Says Nothing to See Here

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This thread is worth scrolling through to the end:

 

Portland’s mayor showed up at the federal courthouse last night to make his case that the feds are out of control, and was abused by the mob throughout. Almost immediately, someone threw broken glass and other objects at his feet. Something is thrown at him when he is complaining about the feds using tear gas, and he stands there and watches rioters try to tear down the security fence and throw objects and point lasers at the officers he says are the problem.

He was eventually escorted back to safety:

 

It’s hard to believe that at the end of the night, no matter what he says publicly, he wasn’t thinking, “Damn, those people are crazy.”

Culture

The ‘Systemic Racism’ Canard

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A man yells at a line of police officers in New York, July 15, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The claim that America’s awash in systemic racism is made and repeated as unassailable fact. It’s repeated casually, as if everyone concedes its veracity.

The term is ubiquitous in news and social media. Politicians invoke it daily, if not hourly. Corporations spend upwards of $10,000 an hour for lessons on how to eliminate their own purported systemic, institutional racism. Lately, it seems as if schools and colleges are devoted to teaching little else.

It’s now axiomatic that systemic, structural, or institutional racism accounts for almost all disparities between the races, whether in educational achievement, employment rates, income gaps, crime rates, or health. Individual behavior, family structure, perverse governmental policies, and culture have little or nothing to do with such disparities, and to contend otherwise is itself a manifestation of systemic racism — a convenient and politically expedient canard.

The allegation of pervasive systemic racism, as that term is used by politicians, media, academics, and woke mobs, is not merely false — it’s a lie. Almost everyone knows it but few are willing to say it for fear of being labeled racist, getting canceled, and/or becoming unemployed. So the lie persists, grows, and metastasizes.

In reality, a massive, multi-billion-dollar apparatus exists to identify and eliminate systemic, structural, institutional, and individual discrimination. That apparatus has existed for more than half a century and continues to expand. It consists of, inter alia, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Education, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the FBI, state civil-rights commissions, local human-rights commissions, state attorneys general, and tens of thousands of investigators, enforcement and compliance officers, local prosecutors, and private attorneys who enforce a sprawling framework of civil-rights and equal-opportunity laws. These laws include, but are not limited to, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Sections 1981, 1982, and 1983 of the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1871, the 14th Amendment, the 15th Amendment, the Fair Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, and thousands of state and local equal-opportunity and anti-discrimination laws. This mammoth regime doesn’t even include the tens of thousands of human-resource officers and diversity and inclusion personnel who guard against systemic/structural racism within their respective institutions.

Indeed, in large part because of this massive framework, there is considerable systemic racism, but going in the direction opposite what is conventionally claimed.

For more than half a century, college-admissions offices have discriminated against whites in favor of blacks. More recently, the discrimination has expanded in favor of Hispanics and to disfavor Asians.

The discrimination is pervasive and profound. At some schools, black applicants are up to 500 times more likely to be admitted than similarly situated white comparators. A similar dynamic prevails in the workplace. Corporations and law firms compete furiously to get and to retain black and Hispanic employees whose objective qualifications are lower than those of whites and Asians. Employers go through exhaustive gymnastics to avoid disciplining or discharging underperforming minority employees.

The regnant claim that blacks are disproportionately killed by cops also is false. Blacks are actually underrepresented in police shootings based on black overrepresentation in crime. For example, while blacks are twice as likely as whites to be shot by cops, blacks are nearly seven times more likely than whites to commit murder.

Blacks are disproportionately killed by other blacks. Consider, for example, data from the FBI Uniform Crime report. In 2018, 2,925 blacks were murdered. Where the identities of the victims and murderers were immediately known, 2,600 blacks killed other blacks. In 2019, 13 unarmed blacks were fatally shot by cops.

“Racial disparity” has morphed almost imperceptibly into racism. That’s a significant — and from a public-policy perspective, dangerous — cheat. In 2018, 1,354,313 men were incarcerated in state and federal prisons. In contrast, only 110,845 women were incarcerated. If racial disparities are proof of systemic racism, then the disparity in incarceration rates must be proof of systemic sexism in the penal system. So for purposes of “equity,” more than a million male prisoners should be released.

Whenever you hear the terms systemic/structural/institutional racism, white privilege, implicit bias, disparity, equity, intersectionality, and anti-racism, there’s a fair probability that imbecility, mendacity, and mischief will follow. And, invariably, political opportunism.

Media

Life, Liberty & Levin on AFFH & Suburbs

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I will be the guest on Mark Levin’s one-hour interview show on FOX News, Life, Liberty & Levin. The show airs this coming Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. I’ll be talking about AFFH, the suburbs, and how those issues will play into the presidential campaign.

Culture

New Study Demonstrates Effectiveness of Pro-Life Laws Worldwide

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(Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images)

This week, The Lancet Global Health released an interesting study on the incidence of unintended pregnancy and abortion worldwide, analyzing data from 166 countries between 1990 and 2019. The study contrasted the situation in countries with different income groups and in different geographic regions and analyzed cross-country data on both abortion rates and unintended pregnancies. As a result, the study offers cross-country data on the percentage of unintended pregnancies carried to term.

The finding most interesting to pro-lifers is that in every time range studied, legal protections for preborn children reduced the likelihood that an unintended pregnancy would be aborted. For instance, between 2015 and 2019, in countries where abortion was mostly legal, 70 percent of women with unintended pregnancies chose abortion. During the same time period, only 50 percent of women with unintended pregnancies chose abortion if they lived in a country that offered preborn children some legal protection, illustrating that pro-life laws reduce the incidence of abortion.

This research on the resolution of unintended pregnancies is an important methodological feature of this particular study. Many studies on the incidence of abortion worldwide simply compare abortion rates across various countries, and they often report that the legal status of abortion in a given country has little effect on the country’s abortion rate. But the problem with many of these studies is that most of the countries with legal restrictions on abortion are located in South America, Africa, and the Middle East, where countries tend to have higher poverty rates, higher unintended-pregnancy rates, and a high incidence of other social pathologies, all of which may increase the demand for abortion.

It is worth noting that four of the authors of this Lancet study are affiliated with the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute. Unsurprisingly, Guttmacher is spinning the findings to attack pro-life laws and advocate increased spending on contraception programs, noting that abortions still happen in countries where it is legally restricted and arguing that increased access to contraceptives is responsible for the worldwide decline in unintended-pregnancy rates. However, no one argues that pro-life laws prevent all abortions, and increased professional and economic opportunities for women are also playing an important role in the lower rate of unintended pregnancy. What’s more, some studies analyzing fertility rates across countries have found that availability of contraception has little effect on unintended-pregnancy rates.

Guttmacher also points out that in countries where abortion is legally restricted there has been an increase in the percentage of unintended pregnancies that are aborted. However, there has been a similar trend in countries where abortion is legal, and some countries that limit abortion have liberalized their abortion laws in some ways. Indeed, between 1997 and 2017, more than 30 countries have liberalized their abortion laws, while only three countries have strengthened their legal protections for unborn children. Nowhere is this mentioned in the analysis.

Overall, there is a substantial body of research showing that the incidence of abortion is affected by its legal status. For instance, abortion rates increased significantly in the United States after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision: Between 1973 and 1980, the U.S. abortion rate increased by nearly 80 percent. Furthermore, a 2004 study in the Journal of Law and Economics analyzed changes in abortion policy in Eastern European countries after the fall of communism and found that countries that liberalized their abortion laws saw abortion rates increase, while countries that protected the preborn saw a decrease in the incidence of abortion. This new Lancet study provides further evidence that efforts to provide legal protection for the preborn continue to be worthwhile strategy for pro-lifers around the world.

Elections

Joe Biden’s New Stutter Defense

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Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden during a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., June 30, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

One of the depressing features of the current election is the mounting evidence that the two major-party candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, are not just deficient men to start with, but — with Trump just turned 74 and Biden turning 78 in November — that neither man is as mentally sharp as he once was. If you watch video of them talking today and video of them talking 30 years ago when they were in their forties, the contrast is striking. Both were already full of blarney and blather back then, but at least it was not so obviously halting and disjointed. We’ve reached the point now where Trump is bragging about passing a cognitive test for dementia and challenging Biden to do the same. Have our expectations for American leadership really gotten this low? At least Kanye West, who seems to be having something of a manic episode in public, can sometimes get from one end of a sentence to the other without getting lost along the way.

Each man has his own issues. In Biden’s case, one of the things that is really noticeable lately is how often he stumbles verbally even in taped advertisements shot and paid for by his campaign. The defense newly raised in 2019-20 for this is to point out that Biden overcame a youthful stutter in the early 1950s, and that this still infects his speech patterns today. Here’s the thing, though: Nobody had to make this argument for Biden when he ran for the Senate in 1972, or when he ran for president in 1988 and 2008, or when he chaired the Clarence Thomas–Anita Hill hearings in 1990, or when he ran for vice president and debated Sarah Palin in 2008 and Paul Ryan in 2012. The Biden we saw throughout those years was a gaffe machine, in part for having a reputation for running his mouth far faster than his brain could keep up with. His penchant for never-ending opening statements at Senate hearings was legendary. He prevailed over Ryan in debate entirely by the force of his verbal ability to shout over Ryan’s answers, cutting him off whenever he called Biden out on anything. In the 2020 debates, Biden repeatedly cut off his own answers to comply with time limits and avoid interruptions. Biden was always hard to fact-check because of his ability to generate newly-minted fabrications on the fly at high velocity, many of which were new to the listener, such as this notorious fusillade of inventions about his intellect and academic attainments:

Biden just is not the same man anymore. True, the Trump team seems to be unwisely going overboard to lower expectations for Biden in advance of the fall debates, knowing full well that their own man is not exactly Demosthenes. But you can’t watch Biden today and fail to notice the decline — which seems to extend to the decline in his ability to master a stutter he suppressed 60 years ago.

Trump, at least, has one thing going for him: If he ever left the job (voluntarily or otherwise), he’d be replaced with the reassuring, experienced presence of Mike Pence. Biden will face a challenge in selecting a running mate of whom anyone but the most hardened partisans and zealots could say the same.

White House

Trump Ends AFFH

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President Donald Trump delivers a speech following a tour of Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wis., June 25, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

I am pleased to report that President Trump and Secretary Carson have together put an end to the Obama-Biden administration’s wildly radical Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. President Trump has delivered on this issue in a way that will preserve American liberty in general, and the freedom and self-government of America’s suburbs in particular.

There was simply no basis in the Fair Housing Act of 1968 for Obama-Biden’s vast AFFH project in social engineering. Since the passage of FHA, the idea of “affirmatively furthering fair housing” has been written into law, but even those later laws authorize nothing like the Obama-Biden overreach. It is a sign of the malady that besets our government that a statement originally intended to call forth vigilance against housing discrimination (“affirmatively furthering fair housing”) has been larded over with meanings it never contained: economic integration, hyper-dense “transit oriented development,” hostility to automobiles in the name of global warming, regional (rather than local) governance, and more.

Duly authorized by President Trump, Secretary Carson has swiftly taken steps to root out Obama’s radical rule, along with the bogus accretions that have developed over decades around the idea of “affirmatively furthering fair housing.” Many bemoan a so-called ratchet effect, in which government grows ever larger—or perhaps plateaus—but never gets smaller. Let this be an example to the public and to future presidents that the ratchet effect can be fought.

The partisan “mainstream” press and leftist housing activists are going to scream bloody murder when they see Obama’s AFFH go down. No doubt there will be lawsuits as well. But President Trump and Secretary Carson have done everything that can be done to return the obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing” to where it belongs, given existing statutes. That is a tremendous accomplishment. The Obama-Biden administration’s most radical measure has at last been stripped away. Don’t let them tell you it was only carrying out the law. Obama’s AFFH was actually only carrying out the wishes of radical-left housing activists under guise of the law. Now the charade is over.

Don’t doubt that all of that will change should Biden win this November. That would spell the return of the old AFFH, with turbo-charging. In fact, if the Dems take congress as well as the presidency the most radically anti-suburban aspects of AFFH will likely all be written into law. That means the new anti-suburban regime will only be undone if the Republicans retake both congress and the presidency down the road.

The very existence of suburbs as we know them is now at issue. I’ve made that case at book length, in extended articles, and in a brief column summarizing the stakes for the suburbs in this election. The Democrats don’t want to talk about what is actually in Obama’s AFFH. It isn’t about preventing housing discrimination. Obama-Biden’s AFFH is about telling Americans where—and how—to live.

The battle lines are sharply drawn. This is set to be a major issue in the election. What’s needed now is a presidential speech explaining what Obama-Biden’s AFFH really did, why it was right to end it, and what will happen to the suburbs if Joe Biden brings his AFFH back. With this act of ending Biden’s AFFH, the toothpaste is out of the tube. Soon enough, I suspect, the policy battle over this issue will be well and truly joined.

World

It Looks Like the Czech Republic Might Get a Second Amendment

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A man fires a handgun along a mountain range in Buckeye, Ariz., January 20, 2013. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

Well, sort of.

Following the Velvet Revolution, the newly formed Czech Republic passed a law legalizing the purchase of a firearm for citizens without criminal records. Although the former Czechoslovakia had a rich history of firearm production, under fascism and Communism personal ownership was largely forbidden.

Once the Czechs joined the European Union in 2004, the nation was bound to the EU’s stringent rules governing gun ownership. After the Charlie Hebdo terror attack in 2015, the first inclination of the EU was to make it even more difficult for citizens to defend themselves. The resulting European Firearms Directive placed new constraints — including an effective ban on most semi-automatic rifles — on member states, which were all expected to comply by 2019.

The only country to challenge the edict was the Czech Republic. And last year, it lost a case before the European Court of Justice. But ever since the European Firearms Directive passed, conservatives have been attempting to add the right to bear arms as one of the “fundamental human rights and freedoms.” It now looks like it may happen.

A few years ago, the amendment passed through the lower house of the Czech parliament but was stopped in the upper house. The proposed language read as so: “The right to defend one’s own life or the life of another person with a weapon is guaranteed under the conditions laid down by law.”

Since then, the center-right Civic Democratic Party has won a majority in the Czech Senate. And this week, the Czech government unexpectedly announced it would endorse the plan to add the language. The amendment now needs a 60 percent supermajority in both chambers to become — somewhat appropriately — only the second amendment to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

Former president of the Czech Police — and the most vocal champion of the bill — Martin Červíček, says that it’s meant to counter the “disarmament tendencies” of the European Union. Which sounds like a worthwhile cause.

Of course, the Czechs have shown strong liberal tendencies. Other than Switzerland, which recently capitulated and passed EU–style gun restrictions, the nation is home to perhaps the most vibrant gun culture on the continent. Since 1999, the number of firearms in civilian hands been steadily rising. At the same time, the Czech Republic remains one of the safest countries in the world, with Prague one of the safest cities in Europe.

One of the unique things about the United States is that we take — or at least claim to strive to take — our Constitution both literally and seriously. I’m certainly no expert on the inner workings of the Czech political system. I have no clue if the amendment will pass. But even if it does, it seems that the change would be more aspirational than revolutionary. “Given the importance of the right to life, which is the most basic right, because without life other human rights cannot be fulfilled,” the literature proposing the change states, “the proposal considers it appropriate to symbolically elevate this right to the constitutional level.”

In any event, the fact that the Czechs are attempting, with some success, to make the philosophical and political case for self-defense and gun ownership is certainly good news.

World

Nord Stream 2 Sanctions Won’t Endanger Transatlantic Cooperation on China

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a joint video press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the end of the European summit in Brussels, Belgium July 21, 2020. (John Thys/Pool via Reuters)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in London yesterday to meet with British officials about cooperation on China policy. In recent weeks, the U.K. has grown more hawkish on its responses to recent moves by Beijing, taking a series of actions that indicate a marked departure from the “Golden Era” of Sino–British relations. British public opinion toward Beijing has soured, too: The FT reports that a recent poll found that 83 percent of respondents distrust China. In this sense, the special relationship seems poised to play a significant role in leading the West’s response to China going forward, and likeminded countries will follow.

However, there remains a significant caveat to the trend of Western countries approaching China with more skepticism. While Australia and Canada, which have faced Chinese influence campaigns and hostage diplomacy, respectively, have already had a rude awakening about Beijing, German chancellor Angela Merkel seems reluctant to act on Chinese human rights abuses and the country’s coronavirus-era assertiveness. Contrast that with other Western European countries: Italy has followed the U.K.’s lead in cracking down on Huawei, and on Monday, France criticized the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of the Uighurs, to name some recent moves. Merkel’s Germany, though, has not budged on China, neglecting to speak out about the Hong Kong security law and recent evidence on the Uighur concentration camps.

These differences raise an important question: Can the U.S. and its allies craft a united response to Beijing’s actions? An article on Pompeo’s London visit considers a few sticking points. From the Nikkei Asian Review:

American policy toward Europe may prove self-defeating on this front. The U.S. State Department signaled last week that it is willing to impose sanctions on individuals and companies investing in the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

If Washington imposes sanctions on a German company, “you’re impacting … German jobs potentially, and you turn what could be a purely international political matter into something where the German government now has to deal with things on the domestic front, too,” said Brian O’Toole, a former U.S. Treasury Department official who worked with sanctions. “So it makes the German government angrier.”

Washington is also at odds with France over taxes and trade, recently slapping 25% tariffs on many French goods in response to a digital tax imposed by Paris that would hit American tech giants.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Germany is forcing a rethink of the U.S.-European deterrence posture toward Russia. Washington argues that Russia is a lesser threat than China, but many in Europe worry more about the threat right next door.

These concerns would make sense if the European countries that have grown more skeptical of China’s intentions were acting based on U.S. pressure alone. This seems unlikely — most of the tougher measures enacted by these governments coincide with notable shifts in public opinion and growing awareness of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence operations on the continent, especially in light of the overreach by Chinese diplomats in the early days of the pandemic.

The new sanctions on entities involved in the Nord Stream 2 project will undoubtedly cause some additional friction with Germany, but perhaps not much more friction than was caused by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord and the Paris Agreement, and the president’s comments on Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. But it’s doubtful that the Nord Stream spat would be the deciding factor in Germany’s failure to stand up to China.

Germany’s continued reluctance to act on China’s transgressions results more from a deeply held hypothesis about trade and political liberalization than anything else. German economy minister Peter Altmeier recently told a Politico Europe reporter, “I have always been convinced and I still believe that change can be achieved through trade.” This perspective has entrenched itself at the highest levels of Merkel’s government, but German MPs, including prominent members of her party, have called for a stronger response. If Germany fails to implement an adequate China policy, the blame rests with Merkel, not the sanctions.

International

The Coming EU/U.S. Trade War (Again)

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and EU Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini (third from left) arrive for a photo together before a U.S.-E.U. Energy Council Meeting at the European Union’s European External Action Service in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters)

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Rochelle Toplensky warns that EU/U.S. trade tensions may soon be on the rise again:

It can be easy to grow complacent about a small but steady drip, but if it continues for too long, at some point the dam gives way.

The European Union is intensifying its long-running crackdown on U.S. tech giants. That increases the risk that an uneasy trans-Atlantic tax truce could soon come to an end. Investors may be wise to brace for a hit.

Toplensky notes that “European officials insist their actions are distinct, law-based efforts that aren’t part of a coordinated attack on U.S. tech,” but:

From across the pond, however, these efforts—enacted by many different officials, departments and even countries throughout Europe—tend to blur together into what looks like a concerted campaign against a successful U.S. industry. And there is some evidence to support that perspective.

Late last year, the new European Commission outlined two primary priorities for the next five years—green and digital. It has revived industrial policy to level the corporate playing field, particularly with China, and help European companies to compete globally. Margrethe Vestager, the tough antitrust enforcer from the last commission, was reappointed to an expanded role and is seeking new powers and regulations that could delve deep into tech platforms’ business models.

To describe Vestager as a “tough antitrust enforcer” is too kind. In reality, she is a tough mercantilist, looking to reinforce the EU’s long-floundering attempts to plan its way to parity with U.S. tech, an effort that has been going on for a long, long time.

Who can forget the launch in 2000 of the EU’s Lisbon strategy?

The Union has today set itself a new strategic goal for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

That strategy ended up, as it was always going to do, in failure, thus the harder line taken by Vestager against American companies that have had the effrontery to do well, a strategy that also included attacking Ireland for setting its taxes too low (“unfair competition”) in a successful attempt to attract investment from the likes of Apple. The latter line of attack has just suffered a major setback in the European Court of Justice. The verdict can be appealed, however, and, given the influence of both the tax cartel and the EU’s mercantilists, could well be.

Toplensky:

Losing the tax cases is unlikely to stop the commission’s efforts. It might instead revive efforts to create an EU-wide DST, particularly if the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development fails in its efforts to reform digital tax by the end of the year.

U.S. politicians from both political parties support retaliatory tariffs against Europe. The USTR seemed to de-escalate earlier this month when it said it would apply a 25% levy on French goods from January if Paris applied its 3% DST, much less than the 100% tariff Washington threatened last December. Investors in French luxury companies shrugged off the announcement, maybe relieved at the lower rate or possibly counting on their Chinese customers to carry them through. Car makers and industrial companies might be less sanguine.

Meanwhile I couldn’t help noticing this tiny detail in the EU’s stimulus package (via Bloomberg, my emphasis added):

In order to defray the cost of the program, the bloc will increase the amount of revenue it can collect. A new tax on non-recycled plastic waste will be introduced next year, and the European Commission is preparing proposals on a digital tax and a carbon border adjustment mechanism that would take effect in 2023.

Trouble ahead, I reckon.

Woke Culture

Why Are We Even Contemplating Canceling Aristotle?

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Aristotle statue located at Stageira of Greece (birthplace of the philosopher) (PanosKarapanagiotis/ Getty Images)

There is a good piece hidden in philosopher Agnes Callard’s recent article for the New York Times about cancel culture. Unfortunately, that piece is lost in the framing device. Professor Callard makes a very good point that there is a distinction between “messaging” speech that brings with it political context and motivation and “literal” speech that allows for genuine inquiry and debate. It’s a distinction too often blurred by people of ill-will. Yet the framing device she uses concerns the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. In using that device, she does Aristotle, and her audience, a disservice.

Professor Callard relates her distinction between the forms of speech to the question, “Should we cancel Aristotle?” because of his views on slavery. She opines, rightly, that Aristotle’s views should be taken as literal speech, something that we can debate without the baggage of the 19th-century struggles to abolish the institution and the use that slavers made of Aristotle’s and other ancient defenders of slavery. Therefore, she suggests, there is no need to remove Aristotle from his position of prominence in academia and dealing with his ideas is an example of what we really mean by free speech — the practice of free inquiry.

Yet I suspect even this argument concedes too much. Professor Callard concentrates on Aristotle as a political and ethical philosopher. Yet he was so much more than that. Here is a list of his works, broken down into four categories (and excluding the works that are generally agreed to be “Pseudo-Aristotle,” works by another mistakenly attributed to him over the centuries.)

On logic and metaphysics: Categories, De Interpretatione, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics, Sophistici Elenchi, Metaphysics.

On Nature, Life, and Mind: Physics, De Caelo, De Generatione et Corruptione, Meteorlogica (unless that’s now been moved entirely into the pseudo-file), Historia Animalium (and all the other animalia works), De Anima, Parva Naturalia (itself a collection of separate works).

On Art: Rhetoric, Poetics.

Only then, finally, on Ethics and Politics: Eudemian Ethics, Nicomachean Ethics, probably the Magna Moralia, Athenaion Politeia (although likely not him, sadly), and the Politics.

Aristotle was far more than just a political and ethical philosopher. His work on logic and metaphysics was foundational to philosophical thought. Even the word “metaphysics” itself originally meant the works of Aristotle to be studied after his Physics. The Prior Analytics was the basis of logic until the early 20th century. His work on scientific understanding and animal biology are at the root of the scientific method and the life sciences. His works on art fundamentally influenced the development of theater, novels, and even the cinema (and we can only speculate on what influence the lost work on comedy would have had).

If all of Aristotle’s works on politics and ethics had been lost, this contribution would still have been enough for him to be regarded as a giant in the fields of logical philosophy, metaphysics, natural science, and aesthetics.

So why, then, would we even contemplate canceling Aristotle? Cancelation, after all, is total. There’d be no exception for the Poetics if cancelation occurred. Cancel culture, I argue, is part of a current American attack on what the Chinese revolutionaries called the Four Olds — old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas (I talk more about the terrible Chinese experience in my new book, The Socialist Temptation, released next Tuesday by Regnery.) Given his importance to Western civilization, Aristotle should be a prime target for the cultural revolutionaries.

In essence, Professor Callard has given what we might term a “vertical” argument for allowing Aristotle his place: His ethical arguments can be divorced from current ethical debates and therefore allow him his place in ethics. Yet we can see from, for instance, the attacks on the statue of medieval French king St. Louis IX in the city named after him that this argument is irrelevant. St. Louis devoted much of his life to social justice, yet also inspired the Nazis to persecute Jews, just as Aristotle inspired defenses of slavery. The purported argument against St. Louis is a “horizontal” argument — Louis’s awful treatment of Semitic peoples invalidates his work for the poor that led to his canonization and the city being named after him.

A horizontal argument requires a horizontal defense. Aristotle’s discussion of slavery, however unenlightened it may have been (and there are actually scholarly debates about that), should in no way affect our view of his logic or metaphysics or aesthetics or even his other political views. Aristotle must not be canceled because he enlightened all of us. St. Louis must not be canceled because he worked hard against the standards of the time to aid the poor, humiliating himself in so doing.

Yet, I fear, the arguments for cancelation are only purported arguments. America is a land of equality, liberty, and tradition. Cancel culture is taking aim fair and square at America’s liberal tradition in the name of, as I say in my book, a radical equality that is no equality at all. Anyone whose work underpins America’s liberal tradition is up for cancelation. That’s why we must defend Aristotle not because he was a man of his time whom we can view as an alien, but precisely because of his continuing contributions to our way of thought.