White House

Ramping Down the Speculation about the President’s Physical Health

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In the New York Times, Maggie Haberman writes, “President Trump faced new questions about his health on Sunday, after videos emerged of him gingerly walking down a ramp at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and having trouble bringing a glass of water to his mouth during a speech there.” Haberman notes the president’s abrupt visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in November and the sparse details of the his most recent physical.

Trump jumped onto Twitter to insist, “the ramp that I descended after my West Point Commencement speech was very long & steep, had no handrail and, most importantly, was very slippery. The last thing I was going to do is “fall” for the Fake News to have fun with. Final ten feet I ran down to level ground. Momentum!”

Whatever one thinks of Trump’s steps down the ramp or handling of the water glass, it is worth keeping in mind that this is a White House that leaks like a sieve. In addition to the nearly daily revelations in newspapers and magazines driven by leaks from White House staffers, we’ve seen tell-all books by Trump staffers Cliff Sims, Omarosa Manigault Newman, “Anonymous,” and soon, John Bolton. We’ve seen extensive looks at the Trump administration from Bob Woodward, Michael Lewis, the two infamous books by Michael Wolff, Ronald Kessler*, and our old friend Tim Alberta, all quoting inside sources who had no problem sharing anecdotes that are unflattering to the president.

If the president has a serious health problem, how long do you think this crew could keep that a secret?  Are we to believe that in a White House where seemingly everything else leaks, this administration has managed to cover up some serious physical ailment that is affecting the president?

Is it possible that the president has some sort of serious health impairment that intermittently manifests in the form of visible difficulty walking on stairs or an incline or handling objects, and that not a single person who is aware of this or witnessed this has leaked it to anyone in the press? Sure. Is it likely? No.

Then again . . . side effects of hydroxychloroquine can include a spinning sensation, muscle weakness, uncontrolled movement, loss of balance or coordination, and unusual thoughts or behavior.

*Kessler complains he doesn’t belong on this list because his book praises the president and declares “he will be seen as one of the greatest presidents.” The point is that Kessler, like the other authors, talked to sources in the White House for his book for months and did not run across any account or source suggesting the president has secret health problems.

Culture

The First Rule of Twitter

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Zero Hedge, the notorious financial blog, got its Twitter account back over the weekend. Earlier this year, Twitter suspended the account after it published a post speculating that the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory. The pseudonymous authors, who collectively go by “Durden,” shared the personal information of the Chinese scientist they claimed was behind the release (intentional or otherwise) of SARS-CoV-2. At the time, Twitter claimed that the post violated its “rules against abuse and harassment.”

Twitter now says it banned the “deeply conspiratorial, anti-establishment and pessimistic” (CNN’s characterization) blog by mistake. Whoops. Accidents happen, but usually they’re ameliorated in fewer than four months. If I were a Zero Hedge author, I might suspect that the Chinese government played a role in my suspension, either through coordinated flagging of my account or, even more alarmingly, by contacting Twitter directly.

Alas, I’m not a Zero Hedge author. Whatever happened, the reinstatement of Zero Hedge is a victory for free speech. You don’t have to buy into the conspiracy theories to enjoy reading them.

Economy & Business

Windy City Struggle Session

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The Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C., May 1, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Harald Uhlig, a University of Chicago economist, was terminated from his role as a consultant to the Chicago Fed and placed on leave from his editorial position at the Journal of Political Economy. His transgression? A tweet voicing opposition to defunding the police. The Black Lives Matter movement, said Uhlig, “just torpedoed itself, with its full-fledged support of #defundthepolice.” “We need more police, we need to pay them more, we need to train them better,” he added.

Uhlig cited “policy reform proposals” by the Democratic Party as an alternative to defunding. For an overview of the controversy, see David Harsanyi’s column.

We’ve seen many such firings in recent weeks, most prominently at the New York Times and other media outfits. But, to my knowledge, Uhlig is the first public employee to be terminated for commenting on the current protests. The longstanding legal measure of whether a public employer can terminate an employee for expressing an opinion is called the Pickering Connick test. Attorney David Hudson summarizes it as follows:

Public employees must clear two hurdles in order to state a cognizable First Amendment claim alleging they have been discharged for the content of their speech:

  • They must show their speech addresses a matter of public concern.
  • They must show their free-speech interests outweigh their employer’s efficiency interests.

An employee’s comments on matters unrelated to political or social issues (e.g., a criticism of a workplace policy) are not protected. However, if the employee was fired for comments on political issues, as Uhlig was, his employer must prove that the speech sufficiently interfered with workplace operations as to outweigh the employee’s First Amendment rights.

I suppose there’s a case to be made that Uhlig’s comments would undermine the ever-important credibility of the Fed. In any event, Uhlig does not seem eager to pursue litigation. He told the Wall Street Journal that “Termination of my contract is their prerogative.” Nor would he likely prevail in court. University of Colorado law professor Helen Norton told the ABA journal “that courts increasingly defer to government’s efforts to control its employees’ speech — both on duty and off duty — to protect its own expression.”

In general, I’d prefer that Fed officials and affiliates make no comments at all on matters unrelated to the central bank’s dual mandate of maximum employment and stable prices. The more monetary policymakers expound on politics — and even on economic issues not directly related to the conduct of monetary policy — the less independent they appear from political influence.

For his part, Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic said that the “Atlanta Fed stands by those fighting for equality in every form.” And in his FOMC statement last week, Chairman Jay Powell highlighted the economic difficulties of ethnic minorities due to the coronavirus. As I argued last week, these musings erode central-bank independence.

Economy & Business

Hoodwinked

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The shortest bear market in history has turned into an unprecedented rally. Unperturbed by a surge in unemployment and plummeting demand, investors are piling into stocks. The S&P 500 Index is only 10 percent off its February peak, even after the massive sell-off last Thursday.

Puzzled observers have chalked it up to day traders’ driving up valuations. In the first quarter, as the coronavirus locked Americans indoors, retail-brokerage platform Robinhood added 3 million new accounts. With the baseball season indefinitely postponed, stock-trading is becoming America’s favorite pastime.

A Barclay’s research note put a wrench in that narrative on Friday. If day traders were driving the rally, you’d expect their preferred stocks to be among the best performers over the past three months. But Barclay’s analysts found that the stocks with the largest number of Robinhood holders have underperformed the market since mid-March. “This analysis is not properly causal, but to us it is compelling evidence that the rally has not been driven by retail enthusiasm at brokers like Robinhood,” the researchers noted.

Others disagree. A Goldman Sachs note found that day traders’ choice stocks have outperformed:

The narrative of Main Street weakness vs. Wall Street asset inflation is misleading. A portfolio of stocks popular among retail investors (GSXURFAV) has surged by 61% since the bear market trough compared with a gain of 45% for both hedge fund (GSTHHVIP) and mutual fund (GSTHMFOW) favorites and a 36% rise in the S&P 500.

Neither of these reports is definitive. Barclay’s looks at the number of buyers but not at volume. Perhaps the dumbest dumb money at Robinhood is going into bad stocks while the smartest dumb money is going into good stocks. On the other hand, Goldman’s note does not attempt to draw a causal link between retail activity and valuations at all, but simply notes that stocks popular among Robinhood users have done well.

In any event, a 200 percent increase in retail activity has coincided with a rally in the flashy tech names preferred by day traders. Even before the pandemic, basement-dwelling traders were thought to be moving markets. The Reddit forum r/wallstreetbets (henceforth r/WSB) landed a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story in early February. The modus operandi of r/WSB is to pile into call options in their stock du jour — usually a tech name arbitrarily chosen by one of the forum’s regular posters. Because options sellers tend to buy the underlying stock to hedge their exposure, r/WSB posters believe that they can artificially move asset prices up. If enough guys on Reddit buy Tesla calls, options brokers have to buy Tesla, the thinking goes. Viola. Never mind that institutional investors would have an incentive to sell these overvalued equities:

Benn Eifert, chief investment officer at QVR Advisors, was initially skeptical that the money behind these online message boards could sway anything. He changed his mind. “At least from the dealers”—the middlemen—“they’ll tell you in big tech names, flows are substantial, and it’s moving things,” he says. Smaller stocks are even more sensitive to sudden bursts of attention.

Who knows? We’ll get a more methodical study someday. With multiples surging to levels not seen since the dot-com bubble, one assumes that dumb money has to be involved somehow, especially now that pesky brokerage commissions have been cut to zero. I still find it hard to believe that guys in their basements can move trillion-dollar markets, but I find many things hard to believe.

Elections

Trump’s Unforced Errors

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My latest Bloomberg Opinion column is on how President Trump is undermining his own reelection bid:

Congressional Republicans have a lot of ideas on how Trump could improve his standing. Most of them amount to wishing the president were an entirely different person: less impulsive, less attracted to nutty conspiracy theories, less voluble. But Trump is also making three mistakes that are within his power to change.

World

Beijing Blames the Salmon for the Latest Coronavirus Outbreak

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A man looks at prawns displayed at the seafood section of a supermarket following new cases of coronavirus infections in Beijing, China, June 15, 2020. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

The Chinese government is locking down neighborhoods again in response to an outbreak in Beijing — 36 cases — and many Chinese seem to believe that the virus is being spread through salmon:

Salmon has been taken off the shelves in supermarkets and grocery delivery platforms across major Chinese cities, while top experts are warning people not to consume the omega-3 rich seafood. The boycott came after the chairman of a major fruit and vegetable market called Xinfadi, the site of nearly 100 newly-detected infections, said that the virus was traced to the chopping board used by a seller of imported salmon.

Zeng Guang, a senior expert with the National Health Commission, said in an interview with state media on Sunday that “we have yet to find out whether human beings transmitted the virus to salmon, or salmon contracted the virus first.” He warned Beijing residents not to eat raw salmon or purchase imported seafood for the time being.

Infrequently cleaned cutting boards are definitely a potential risk for food-borne illnesses, but with the exception of norovirus, those illnesses are more often from bacteria, not viruses — salmonella, E. Coli, listeria. Any time a knife leaves a groove in a cutting board, it creates a spot where bacteria can hide. A regularly cleaned cutting board should be safe . . . but who knows how frequently the cutting boards in Chinese wholesale markets are cleaned?

Back in April, the World Health Organization published a study that concluded that the risk of catching coronavirus from eating a fish was negligible:

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can infect aquatic food animals (e.g. finfish, crustaceans, molluscs, amphibians) and therefore these animals do not play an epidemiological role in spreading COVID-19 to humans. Aquatic food animals and their products, like any other surface, may potentially become contaminated with SARS-CoV-2, especially when handled by people who are infected with the virus. Nevertheless, with proper food handling and sanitation, the likelihood of contamination of aquatic animals or their products with SARS-CoV-2 should be negligible…

No data are available regarding the survival of the virus on the surfaces of seafood. Nevertheless, with proper food handling and sanitation, the likelihood of contamination of aquatic animals and their products with SARS-CoV-2 should be negligible. Even if fish or fish products become contaminated with droplets from an infected handler, coronaviruses are thermolabile and do not withstand normal cooking temperatures (>70 °C). Hence, these animals and their products are safe to eat as long as they are prepared and served under standard hygiene and food safety measures.

Is it possible that whoever was cutting the salmon at that board transferred the virus to the fish, and that whoever subsequently handled the fish or ate it (perhaps raw?) contracted the virus? Sure. But that person infected with the virus also probably interacted with other people at the market, which is much more likely to spread the virus. The salmon was probably not the transmission vector.

Politics & Policy

Using Data to Help Students Make Better College Decisions

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Should I attend the most selective college I can get into? Should I attend the least costly? The one with the best football team? The one with the best party scene? Students have often made their college choices on such poor reasons. Data analysis is now helping them to make better decisions.

In today’s Martin Center article, Abigail Burrola of the Show-Me Institute in Missouri looks at the ways high schools are starting to use data to help guide students and show them and their families new information sources.

She writes, “One district in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is capitalizing on data to support students as they choose a college. College counseling there includes software that combines student information with data from past graduates and how they performed at a specific college. College counselors can show soon-to-be graduates where students like themselves have succeeded and where they would be more likely to earn a degree.”

That sounds like a very positive development. Let’s hope it spreads.

Burrola also notes that the Department of Education (in one of its few useful activities) is making college data more accessible for students. And this could continue to improve. She concludes, “As the same families who can access data-rich school report cards see their children enter high school in the coming years, the expectation from families may build pressure to improve college-level scorecards. That could make data analysis the key to helping students succeed in college.”

Politics & Policy

Statistics on Officer-Involved Shootings Do Not End the Debate about Bias in Policing

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Demonstrators hold up signs during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Washington, D.C., June 6, 2020. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Almost every argument I have seen against the idea that there is a systemic problem with policing and racial bias in this country cites statistics on police shootings and crime rates by race.

But the limitations of the shooting statistics become palpable — like a man’s neck — when we reflect that they are blind to the very case we are all talking about: George Floyd was not shot. Nor was Eric Garner.

As for crime rates by race: There is at least some evidence of biased policing that withstands mention of them. The Ferguson report presented such evidence, as I wrote at the time, and the only ways around that evidence were speculative rather than being supported by evidence themselves. (Not all of the report’s evidence was of this type; other details were susceptible to challenges based on crime rates by race.)

Perhaps you find it counterintuitive that police, on the whole, would be biased as to lesser uses of force but unbiased as to shootings. I find it all too intuitive, in much the way that you might yell more at a person if you expected to get punished for hitting him.

I don’t want to make too much of all that, either the report itself (and any similar evidence) or my intuitions. One should refrain from drawing sweeping national conclusions based on handfuls of local detail. But equally one should not trivialize the concerns of one’s fellow citizens by citing evidence that does not allay those concerns. I do not believe that large numbers of police officers are roaming the country hoping to shoot black and other minority suspects. But if the worry is more general and more subtle — about racially disparate policing decisions, perhaps made without full conscious awareness* of bias — then it has not been adequately addressed. (*Another line of argument I’ve seen is that racism can only be conscious, but I find this naive. We all have motives and desires of which we are not fully aware, even though we would all rightly bridle at someone’s denouncing us for them as if we had been.)

A further thing to keep in mind is that the concerns are not limited to radical activists. Republican senator Tim Scott believes that Capitol Police have racially profiled him. Theodore R. Johnson sounded similar notes on our homepage this week, in a piece that I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read if you haven’t. We should want to listen to such voices with an open mind because we should want to listen to them with an open mind. We should also consider that if we don’t, but instead meet their concerns with answers that are no answers, we will have less standing to resist the truly radical and quasi-insurrectionary aspects of the current upheaval.

Elections

Ezekiel Emanuel Warns Trump Could Rush Vaccine as ‘October Surprise’

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(Schott AG/Reuters)

In a co-authored New York Times opinion piece, Ezekiel Emanuel warns that the president may announce the successful development of a COVID vaccine as an “October surprise” to win the election in November. From, “Could Trump Turn a Vaccine into a Campaign Stunt:”

An emergency authorization would allow Mr. Trump to hold his news conference and declare victory. But like President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” proclamation, it has the potential to be a travesty. Millions of vaccines could be distributed without proof that the vaccine can prevent disease or transmission.

What is the saying these days, a charge “based on no direct evidence”? Good grief.

This point is worth noting. Emanuel is affiliated with the Biden campaign on its Public Health Advisory Committee, surely a relevant factor in judging the sagacity of Emanuel’s accusations.

So, I checked to see if that was disclosed, either in the piece itself or Emanuel’s column identifier. Of course not! This is, after all, the New York Times, which has made clear that when it comes to Trump, the usual journalistic ethics no longer apply.

Culture

Is Black Lives Matter an Idea or an Organization?

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(Joshua S. Kelly/USA Today Sports/Reuters)

Jack Fowler’s piece on the Black Lives Matter movement gets to one of the challenges for conservatives and the mainstream center-left in dealing with “Black Lives Matter”: Is it primarily an idea, or primarily an organization? This is common issue in dealing with left-wing protest movements, much as we saw with the “Women’s March.” In classic motte-and-bailey style, the marketing is aimed at a minimally controversial, broad proposition: that the police should value the lives of black Americans. And this is how it is understood by a great many of the people who use the movement’s slogan and hashtags.

But the actual organization is something else entirely: a leftist radical group with a much wider agenda and more ambitious aims, which uses the goodwill of the slogan to raise money and gain platforms. As with the Women’s March, those aims, and the rhetoric of people associated with the organization, include anti-Israel and frankly anti-Semitic messages and goals. Indeed, the first organizational platform promoted by BLM and its affiliated groups in 2016 “contained a vicious bigoted slur against the Jewish state, which the document’s foreign policy section accused of perpetrating ‘genocide’ against Palestinians. (The platform also labeled Israel an ‘apartheid state’ and joined with the BDS movement in calling for the total academic, cultural, and economic boycott of the country — a demand made for no other state),” provoking a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League. For Republican politicians, of course, this creates a bind: Refuse to say “Black Lives Matter,” and you’ll be accused of racism; repeat the slogan, and you are endorsing a sinister radical-left organization. Even Democratic Party leaders warned their own party privately in 2015 against associating with the group, although that resolve is mostly in shambles today.

Buyer beware.

Culture

Black Lives Matter: A Thing of the Left Anchored on a Cop-Hate Strategy

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At a Black Lives Matter march in Seattle, Wash., June 12, 2020 (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

Back in 2016 my pal Anne Sorock of Frontier Lab (now the Frontier Center, on whose board I sit) conducted a study of Black Lives Matter activists titled “The Privileged and the Oppressed,” a deep-dive market-research investigation into how BLM was (is) at its essence conduit for what she called “Progressives’ latest narrative.” At the time of its release I wrote about the report in the hopes of alerting conservatives as to what was at stake with this organization, as to its tactics and goals, as to how it was to be a tool for the broader Left, as to what it would vilify as it sought its objective. It all bears repeating.

As to it being the edge of the Left’s wedge: Anne’s research concluded that BLM was a unique and powerful means — and most definitely not a fleeting opportunity — for a phalanx of causes to achieve political and cultural success. From the report’s introduction:

Black Lives Matter as a movement represents the hopes and dreams of leftist organizers who shared with us that, until now, they had never felt such a sense of hope and excitement that their goal – as one operative put it, “total social upheaval,” and “systemic change” – could be realized in their lifetime. From veteran agitators like the Weather Underground’s Bill Ayers to a new crop of social-media-wielding female and LGBTQ leaders, Black Lives Matter is encapsulating the hopes and dreams of multiple generations of progressives in a way, they say, no movement has before.

The three female founders of the movement have made it clear, and the message has seeded itself as far down the chain as the operatives we spoke with, that Black Lives Matter is the vessel through which all progressive causes can flow. LGBTQ, illegal immigration, abortion, and countless other causes are simmering just beneath the public face of the focus on police violence. Even police violence flows neatly, according to Black Lives Matter, into economic violence – wage issues, workers rights . . . The panoply of leftist groups come together under this banner.

Cop Hate is critical and central to BLM’s strategy, because by vilifying the police, by portraying individual officers and departments in general as racist, despite clear evidence refuting “systemic” charges, it will achieve the objective of harming the principle of the rule of law. That is vital. And when that happens, the Left will strike and strike hard, and in many places, strike with impunity. Also from the report’s introduction:

Black Lives Matter presents an alternative view of the American story, rooted in Marxism and one that thrives on encouraging division. Many have criticized its avoidance of facts about bias in policing — facts that would directly counter the Black Lives Matter narrative. Nevertheless, it has captured the nation’s attention through its use of social-media and cameras but also by recruiting the young Americans who will fi ll the streets with their presence and engage the public’s interest with their fervor.

If Black Lives Matter succeeds, it will have reengineered the minds of America to view our system, our history, and our future, through the lens of division and hate. In its dishonest weakening of public trust in the police officer, the representative of law and order and equality before the law, Black Lives Matter weakens the very foundations of our country.

To counter this advance, marketers of freedom must understand why they are losing mindshare to the left’s Black Lives Matter ideology if they are to effectively counter their messages and rebuild demand for our principles.

The beauty, if you will, of BLM’s Cop Hate strategy is that it gives protestors actual foes, living and breathing, precincts, fat, juicy targets, as opposed to faceless programs or inert principles:

The police, as representatives of the state, must be messaged as exemplifying the Black Lives Matter framing by being themselves oppressive and racist.

Focusing vitriol against law enforcement officers is way to translate a political ideology (Marxism) into a tangible enemy that adherents can picture, encounter, and target. By seeking out stories of potential (founded and unfounded) injustices perpetrated by police and encouraging mass outrage in reaction to them, BLM is able to channel the emotion their message fosters against an enemy people can see. . . .

Nevertheless, Black Lives Matter has captured the nation’s attention by arguing that a systemic problem exists in the use of deadly force in a disproportionate way against Black Americans. The message continues to resonate and be repeated, despite factual challenges.

Nearly every Black Lives Matter activist we spoke with, including the operatives responsible for crafting and selling-in the message of the movement, stressed that this was about a systemic problem in society – racism built into the fabric of the nation. But perhaps even more important, by proving to the American public that police violence exists, BLM is able to then jump to the conclusion that other types of “violence” against the community do as well: “economic violence,” for example, as low wages in the Black community signify.

Key to BLM’s strategy is suppressing free speech and dissent, by means of force and intimidation if necessary. And so it has come to pass that if you stand on the sidewalk to oppose a protest, you will get a concrete shake bounced off your head, (the assailant will not be charged) and a tweet of repute will result in a pink slip. The Orwellian media — a force multiplier for BLM’s messaging — seems not to notice the suppression of free-speech rights. Heck, they don’t see riots and fires before their cameras. From the report (again, keep in mind it was written in 2016):

The Black Lives Matter movement is wholly against dissent and freedom of speech and their success rests upon the silencing of dissent, but they are savvy enough to accomplish this through other means than solely legal. First, Black Lives Matter has created an atmosphere where forces more emotionally compelling than “truth-seeking” encourage fealty through the threatened stigma of being an outsider, and discourage diversity of opinion. Through our research, we found that both the Activists and the Allies were united by the fear of being ostracized from the left’s cultural community and clung to the community they were provided by publicly supporting Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter frequently uses shows of force – either by seeking them from university administrators or through aggressive demonstrations – to silence dissent, as well. Activists recounted to us that they found it appropriate to ask administrators to step in and stop perceived “hate speech,” although they considered themselves to be supporters of free speech. Finally, by portraying criticism of their cause as an attempt to stifle their speech, they in effect demand freedom from criticism.

Somewhere through the flames, Saul Alinsky is smiling.

Here in sum are the report’s major findings:

• Black Lives Matter’s core message is built upon, depends upon, and has as its ultimate goal, the larger retelling of the American story as one of oppression and racism.
• The police, as representatives of the state, must be framed as exemplifying the Black Lives Matter framing by being themselves oppressive and racist.
• Black Lives Matter frames their cause as one against a systemic problem and necessarily utterly rejects the “one bad apple” counterargument
• BLM relies upon the elevation and equating of other underprivileged groups to a status “just as oppressed” as Black America in order to build a narrative of an America divided into the “Oppressed and the Privileged.” For this reason causes such as undocumented workers, LGBTQ, and women’s reproductive rights, are recruited and welcomed into the “Allies” category of supporters.
• Supporters of BLM, for the most part, have moved on from desiring to silence dissent through amending free-speech laws; instead, Black Lives Matter (1) pressures authorities to do it for them, (2) creates an atmosphere of intimidation through threats of violence and shows of force, and (3) incorporates a culture of self-censorship in which those with “privilege” have a lesser voice than the oppressed.
• While social-media and cameras are utilized uniquely and effectively to communicate with and recruit new supporters, it is the framework of organizing learned from past attempts and overarching magna-narrative that in reality gives Black Lives Matter its edge.
• There are three distinct segments of supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, each with their own emotional pathways to a deeply felt connection: Activists, Allies, and Operatives. These mental maps explain current reasons for support as well as provide strategic pathways for weakening that same support.
• Common across all segments is the emotion of fear of being ostracized from the left’s cultural community.
• The specificity of the cause – injustice toward the Black community – is both central to its appeal and also a window into an Achilles-heel weakness of the movement’s core positioning.
• The movement is at a critical juncture in its lifecycle, with maximum cultural influence but having failed to transition this influence into policy impact.

Could it be that transition has happened? It is way past the time for conservatives to seriously familiarize themselves with the mindset and strategies of BLM, the aspects of its organizers, and the appeal to its allies, and to strategize scenarios. The what-ifs are upon us. And it is way past time for people of all political persuasions — especially those who have spent the past four years in a lather over Donald Trump’s Twitter madness while BLM and its OWS and Antifa co-conspirators were hiding and plotting in plain sight — to acknowledge what is terribly afoot here, to not play into the rhetoric and tactics (cancel culture), to risk the opprobrium and slurs of an avowedly Leftist movement intent on the destruction of America as a nation of those principles established by our Constitution.

Again, read the report, found here. And accept the truth: BLM has as much if not more to do with Petrograd as it does with Selma.

U.S.

‘The Row Rowling Hath Wraught’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Michael discuss this moment of cultural riot we’re in, what we should do about Confederate statues and symbols, and how to view the developing situation in Portland. Listen below or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

White House

Dueling Falsehoods on the Economy

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President Trump, a few days ago: “I built the greatest economy in the World, the best the U.S. has ever had. I am doing it again!”

His opponents at the Lincoln Project: “Obama built it. You broke it. Biden will fix it.”

What’s closer to the truth, though it wouldn’t work well as a political slogan: Generations of Americans built it. The virus broke it. Presidents have very limited influence over it.

Culture

Re: Re: Re: The Disturbing Campaign against Tucker Carlson

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Tucker Carlson speaks at a Business Insider conference in New York, N.Y., November 30, 2017. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Rich writes: “You could subject a lot of prime-time hosts on other networks to such fine-grained interrogation and they’d be found wanting, yet for some reason there’s no campaign to get compliant advertisers to ruin their TV careers, and no mobs show up at their homes.”

There are plenty of valid criticisms to make of Tucker Carlson as a practitioner of the forensic arts. But if Tucker had always behaved with perfect intellectual probity and had treated his opponents and their arguments with absolutely perfect charity, the same people would be trying to destroy him, using the same tactics and the same arguments, for the same two reasons: The minor reason is that they think that this will help them to hold political power, and the major reason is that they enjoy hurting people and will take any opportunity to do so.

To be clear: They do not desire to hurt people because they hate them — they hate them because they desire to hurt people. What we call “cancel culture” is very little more than free-floating sadism in search of a target. Nobody gets up in the morning hating Justine Sacco or some obscure data analyst nobody’s ever heard of. Sadists get up in the morning wanting to hurt people as a form of recreation, and they find targets, and construct reasons to hate those targets, retrofitting the moral justification onto the sadism, because sadism with self-righteousness is much more enjoyable than sadism on its own — it’s bacon and eggs. These are people who don’t get enough of a kick out of pulling the wings off of flies but who don’t have the stomach to torture stray cats or cannibalize hitchhikers or whatever it is that more ambitious sadists did before there was Twitter.

Economy & Business

Unemployment and Social Security

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Should the unemployed be allowed to borrow against their future Social Security benefits? Chris Pope writes:

Sylvain Catherine, Max Miller, and Natasha Sarin of the University of Pennsylvania have demonstrated that as little as a 1 percent reduction in individuals’ future social security incomes could fund an increase in benefits more generous than the CARES Act bonus. This implicit endorsement of a Biggs-Rauh-like proposal landed Sarin, who is an advisor to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in political hot water.  But it should not have because by mitigating the moral hazard of unnecessarily leading people out of the labor market, the proposal would allow more generous benefits to be provided with fewer associated strings, conditions, and negative side effects. It could also be provided federally – circumventing dysfunctions resulting from the administration of state unemployment insurance.

This proposal is similar to the one to let parents of new children use their benefits to finance leave from work. Some conservatives and libertarians have criticized that family-leave proposal, and I’ve defended it. I wonder whether this idea, if it took off, would attract as much of the same kind of criticism.

A big part of the argument from the critics has been that the federal government shouldn’t get involved in family leave at all, even in the form of adding flexibility to an existing program. It would be “a new entitlement.” While I don’t think that argument is very persuasive, it wouldn’t apply in the case of unemployment benefits, which are already provided by governments.

Politics & Policy

Is Trump a ‘Cultural Relic’?

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Three of the top reporters for the New York Times say that the president is putting himself in dangerous political territory.

Whether it is suggesting shooting protesters or siccing dogs on them, pre-emptively defending the Confederate names of military installations or arguing that his supporters “love the black people,” Mr. Trump increasingly sounds like a cultural relic, detached from not just the left-leaning protesters in the streets but also the country’s political middle and even some Republican allies and his own military leaders.

The Times reporters might be right about this. Some of Trump’s lowest political moments came when he waded into, or started, racially charged controversies. His worst polling against Hillary Clinton after clinching the nomination came not after the Access Hollywood tape, but after his attacks on Khizr Khan and Judge Curiel. As president, some of his highest disapproval numbers came after Charlottesville.

But Trump isn’t quite as out of step with the public as his opponents think. Only about a third of Americans think that Confederate statues should be taken down, for example. If Democrats give the impression that they think that everyone on the other side of that argument is a racist, or a “cultural relic,” they’ll be making a mistake. It would not be the first time Trump’s opponents have overplayed their hands.

P.S. The reporters also, I think, are wrong to accuse Trump of a falsehood about defunding the police and 911 calls. He seems to me to be saying that calling for police help won’t do any good if there are no police, which is obviously correct.

Politics & Policy

Another Police-Funding Poll

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A new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds that 64 percent of Americans, when asked what they think of “the movement to ‘defund the police,’” say they oppose it. Opposition hardly declines when respondents are given the option of “reducing the budget of the police department in your community, even if that means fewer police officers, if the money is shifted to programs related to mental health, housing, and education.” Sixty percent oppose that idea, too. But a majority of black Americans and Democrats give an affirmative answer to both questions, which suggests that this issue could become a problem for Democrats.

Health Care

Maybe Protests and Outdoor Crowds Won’t Significantly Spread the Coronavirus after All

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Demonstrators raise their fists as they take a knee for 8 minutes 46 seconds, the length of time George Floyd was held down with a knee on his neck by a Minneapolis police officer, during a protest against racial inequality in Boston, Mass., June 7, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Way back on February 27, President Trump discussed the coronavirus and said, “It’s going to disappear.  One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.  And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better.  It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”

The virus has not disappeared yet. After more than 116,000 deaths, the United States is still finding about 20,000 new cases per day, and about 900 Americans are dying of the virus each day.

But some viral outbreaks in the past have died out surprisingly quickly, including the first SARS virus. The World Health Organization a global alert for a severe form of pneumonia of unknown origin in persons from China, Vietnam, and Hong Kong in March 2003, the virus peaked by May, no cases of person-to-person transmission were reported after June, and by July, the World Health Organization declared the threat had passed.

Epidemiologists generally credit “case detection, isolation, quarantine, along with contact tracing, broke the chain of transmission.” But many health researchers were surprised at just how quickly and thoroughly SARS disappeared. It is unlikely that random mutation would lead to a virus becoming much less virulent, much less contagious, or both.

Something surprising is going on with the current coronavirus outbreak as well. As noted earlier this week, the May 23 Lake of the Ozarks crowded pool gathering did not, as far as local health authorities can tell, lead to a new outbreak. As of this morning, there is one confirmed case of one infected resident infecting another. Videos of the gathering showed lots of people, not wearing masks, standing close together — precisely the situation that epidemiologists worried about the most. And yet, it appears the virus didn’t spread much at that event.

We are now 14 days past May 29. Four days after George Floyd’s death, protests had spread to many cities in the United States, with quite a few demonstrators gathering in crowds and not practicing social distancing. (Many, but not all, wore masks.) So far, a handful of protesters, police officers, and National Guardsmen at the protesters have tested positive, but we haven’t seen an overwhelming wave of infections. (Or at least a wave of symptomatic infections. As noted below, “the overall rate of asymptomatic infection is likely at least 30 percent and could be as high as 40 percent to 45 percent.”)

Maybe it’s just luck, or the fact that these gatherings are outdoors, or the heat, or that a sufficient number of protesters are wearing masks. And we could still see a significant surge of reported cases among protesters and police and National Guardsmen in the coming days; the protests, demonstrations, marches and violence continued well past May 29.

But one could argue that if there was a significant spreading event at a protest before June 7, we would have seen some signs of it by now. “The median incubation period from infection with SARS-CoV-2 to onset of symptoms is approximately 5 days, and 97.5 percent of symptomatic people infected with SARS-CoV-2 will exhibit symptoms by 11.5 days.”

Public-health authorities still want those who participated in protests to get themselves tested. Protesters just can’t know for certain who around them might have the virus, whether their mask is sufficiently protective, or whether the shouting or singing by protesters will increase the odds of transmission.

But so far, it does not appear that the early protests significantly spread the coronavirus — or if protesters did catch the coronavirus, most of them are asymptomatic and do not even realize they have it.

Politics & Policy

Commies ‘R’ Us

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A monument to Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in the village of Kazinka in Stavropol, Russia, February 20, 2020. (Eduard Korniyenko/Reuters)

It was Karl Marx who famously claimed that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Happily, he was right, at least in terms of the lives and afterlives of Communist revolutionaries. His ideas, as operationalized by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and others have heaped untold misery upon millions during the last hundred years. In the 21st century, however, their public remembrance is hilarious. 

One statue that has not received much attention in the current political climate is the one of Vladimir Lenin in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. To attribute its presence in such a prominent public space to the left-leaning nature of the Seattle citizenry would be unfair, because the statue is in fact private property. “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them,” Lenin once said. It seems that no one is buying. The Fremont Fine Arts Foundry holds this particular statue in trust for its owners, the Carpenter family, as they continue to look for someone, anyone, who will take this sculpture off their hands — for the right price. Lenin’s likeness owes its presence in this particular public space to market forces, sitting as it does in the palm of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, waiting to be whisked away by the highest bidder. Capitalism’s ironic dance on the graves of its enemies never fails to amuse. 

Sometimes it is their literal graves upon which this dance is performed. Entry to the burial place of Marx in London’s Highgate Cemetery will cost the socialist pilgrim four pounds sterling (about $5.40). The powers that be at Highgate have hit back at criticism for charging entry by pointing out that Marx himself purchased a lot in the private cemetery for the equivalent of about $5 in today’s currency, preferring it to the publicly funded, state-owned alternative. If this isn’t “heightening the contradictions,” to use Lenin’s phrase, I don’t know what is. It’s almost too good to be true. 

Furthermore, in 2014, the Communist Party candidate for the mayoralty of Novosibirsk, in Russia, defeated the incumbent and indicated he was open to the idea of erecting a publicly funded statue of Stalin. After a write-in referendum on where to erect the statue, the Russian Defense Ministry vetoed the proposed location, citing renovation plans and Stalin’s “controversial role in history.” Mayor Anatoly Lokot’s solution was to allow the Stalinists to put up their statue — on private property, at their party headquarters. No room for Stalin outside the free-market in this municipally Communist Russian town. 

According to the Moscow Times, selling Soviet souvenirs on online marketplaces like eBay can yield profits of 300 to 500 percent. Items from secondhand stores in the former Eastern Bloc are usually bought locally and sold online, mostly to Americans, the very people who were supposed to be “buried,” according to Nikita Krushchev, by the superior economic model of socialism. 

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down these statues” is an understandable response to the presence of these things in public. But it’s much more fun to watch them being bought and sold at an agreed-upon price. 

Politics & Policy

Hulks, Bodies, and Others

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Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura speaks to the media in St. Paul on November 4, 2002. (Eric Miller / Reuters)

My Impromptus today begins with a discussion of manliness, which is a question that keeps coming up, especially on the right: What is manliness, or manhood? What is a real man? Is there a difference between machismo and manliness? Do you buy the “alpha”/“beta” stuff? Etc., etc.

One could write a book, and Harvey Mansfield, superbly, has. (Actually, the best book about manhood is the Bible, but that’s another post or two . . .)

Over my column is an absolutely delightful photo of Hulk Hogan (with a young female fan, imitating his flexing). Above this here Corner post is a photo of another pro wrestler, Jesse “The Body” Ventura — who, in 1998, got elected governor of Minnesota. He was a precursor of Trump — a harbinger of the explosive populist politics to come.

Remember that Trump mixed it up in professional wrestling. Here he is at WrestleMania in 2007. He would ride something like this act all the way to the White House — one of the most incredible stories in American history.

Let me give you a memory of 1999, please, when Governor George W. Bush of Texas was starting his run for president. I interviewed his foreign-policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, late of the Bush administration, which is to say, the administration that would become known as the “Bush 41” administration. I questioned her about the governor’s foreign-policy credentials. He was a neophyte, right? Rice countered that he was the governor of a border state. “So is Jesse Ventura,” I cracked. She narrowed her eyes, memorably, and said, “You know what I mean.”

Before I leave, I must say a further word about Hulk — Hulk Hogan. For a while, he was a neighbor of my friend — and National Review’s friend — Martha Apgar, about whom I wrote here. She said that Hulk was a wonderful neighbor, a peach of a guy. FWIW.

Culture

When All You Have Is a Hammer

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Max Berger — a “Political Organizer for Social Democracy,” according to his Twitter page, and former aide to Elizabeth Warren’s failed presidential campaign, where he served as “director for progressive partnerships” — is determined to believe, against all odds, that President Trump is a cloaked, but nevertheless quite passionate, white supremacist.

Yesterday afternoon, Max hit upon what he determined was further confirmation of this unfalsifiable belief, when he discovered that the Trump campaign is selling infant onesies emblazoned with the words “Baby Lives Matter.”

To most of us, this slogan is an obvious effort to point out that abortion ends human lives — though the attempt is a bit clumsy and arguably a rather unnecessary way to capitalize on our current moment of social unrest.

But to Max, this hateful onesie is . . . an effort to secretly communicate the infamous “14 Words” of the white-supremacist slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

It takes quite a mind to concoct that bizarre leap, not to mention one either entirely unaware of or determined not to acknowledge the fundamental premise of the anti-abortion movement: that a baby’s life is unjustly ended in every abortion procedure. To ignore — or perhaps be ignorant of — the belief that gives meaning to the slogan is absurd enough.

To twist a very obvious point into an alleged homage to white supremacy is idiotic almost beyond belief, especially given that most abortion opponents object to the fact that the procedure ends the lives of children of all races — and that white supremacists have in fact historically been highly supportive of abortion because that burden tends to fall disproportionately on racial minorities.

But when all you have is a hammer . . .

U.S.

Re: Re: The Disturbing Campaign against Tucker Carlson

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In response to Re: The Disturbing Campaign against Tucker Carlson

Jason, those are fair points. But I wonder how much cable TV you watch. You could subject a lot of prime-time hosts on other networks to such fine-grained interrogation and they’d be found wanting, yet for some reason there’s no campaign to get compliant advertisers to ruin their TV careers, and no mobs show up at their homes.

Probably not this time or the next, but if unchecked, this kind of thing will eventually come for us at NR, and I’m sure there will be some concerned observer out there who will say, “Oh, that’s really too bad, but they said X, Y, or Z.”

Culture

New Poll Shows Small Gains in Pro-Life Sentiment

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Pro-life demonstrators outside the Supreme Court during the March for Life in 2011. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

This week, CBS News released a poll that surveyed more than 1,300 Americans from late May to early June and included some questions about abortion policy. The results contains good news for pro-lifers, indicating that 55 percent of respondents think that abortion should either “not be permitted” or be “available, but under limits.”

This represents a one-point gain on this question compared with last year’s CBS News poll. Meanwhile, the poll found that 63 percent of Americans think the U.S. Supreme Court should keep the Roe v. Wade decision “as is,” a four-point drop from last year.

This survey is particularly noteworthy because it is the first nationwide survey on public opinion about abortion to be conducted since the coronavirus pandemic. It was difficult to predict how the coronavirus might affect opinions on life issues, but pro-lifers had some reasons to be concerned.

For instance, the spike in the unemployment rate has led to widespread economic suffering, and there exists evidence that women tend to seek abortions as the result of economic pressures. Also, disruptive societal events often affect the religiosity of Americans, another factor that is strongly correlated with abortion attitudes. Indeed, the Millennial generation, which came of age in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, tends to be less religious than other generations.

Given these considerations, pro-lifers should be relieved that this CBS News poll indicates a gain in pro-life sentiment. Even so, there remain reasons for concern. Although this poll found that pro-life views enjoyed a modest gain, there some evidence that the incidence of abortion may have increased, at least in some places, since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Some abortion clinics and abortion funds, for instance, have reported an increase in the demand for abortion. Recent data from Florida indicate that the number of abortions performed in the state this year to date is approximately 3.5 percent higher than it was at this time last year. Pro-lifers need to increase our support for pregnancy-help centers, which offer practical assistance to alleviate the hardships that cause many women to seek abortions. During this time of disruption, there remain plenty of ways for pro-lifers to build a culture of life.

Health Care

How Long Did It Take for the Coronavirus to ‘Go around the Planet’?

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A woman has her blood taken by Northwell Health medical workers for a coronavirus antibody test at the First Baptist Cathedral of Westbury in Westbury, N.Y., May 13, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said SARS-CoV-2 surprised him with “how rapidly it just took over the planet. . . . This took about a month to go around the world.”

Certainly between January 1 and January 31, the coronavirus changed from the subject of vague reports about a strange flu in Wuhan to an official World Health Organization “public health emergency of international concern,” with cases in 19 countries.

But when did the virus start going around the world? France has determined that a man who had not traveled out of the country caught it in December. In Washington state, two Snohomish County residents who have positive serology tests potentially linked to COVID-like illnesses dating back to December. Last week, ABC News offered more anecdotal evidence from satellite photography suggesting that residents of Wuhan knew some sort of serious health problem was brewing in October; one interpretation of the data suggests hospital visits started increasing as early as August 2019. Separately, an American couple described a Chinese cruise company rushing to get them out of Wuhan on November 1.

So this virus certainly commanded the world’s attention in a one-month span . . . but how likely is it that this virus spread around the world for two, three, or maybe even four months before the world realized the scale of the threat?

Medical researchers are trying to get a sense of just how many people catch the virus and remain asymptomatic — that is, they get it and remain contagious but suffer no symptoms. A recent study concluded that “the overall rate of asymptomatic infection is likely at least 30 percent and could be as high as 40 percent to 45 percent.” We can be frustrated that governments and doctors couldn’t mitigate the spread of this virus earlier, but it is really difficult for medical authorities to detect and contain infections when the patients themselves don’t realize that they’re infected.

Culture

How Much Longer Will MLK’s Statue Stand?

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In 1957, Ebony magazine invited Martin Luther King, Jr. — then a civil-rights upstart known for leading the Montgomery Bus Boycotts — to write a monthly advice column. King agreed. In 1958, a young reader asked him the following question:

My problem is different from the ones most people have. I am a boy, but I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don’t want my parents to know about me. What can I do? Is there any place where I can go for help?

The King of our popular imagination may have told the boy that there was nothing wrong with his feelings, that his inclinations were part of the human experience, that anyone who told him otherwise was on the Wrong Side of History. But for all the popular hagiographies, King was a real person, and answered as any Christian minister in 1957 would:

Your problem is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired. Your reasons for adopting this habit have now been consciously suppressed or unconsciously repressed. Therefore, it is necessary to deal with this problem by getting back to some of the experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit. In order to do this I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit. You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.

How long before our new Jacobins tear down King’s statue?

Education

More Good Advice for College Students

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For many young Americans, college costs far too much and delivers way too little — too little of what those students really want. Hence the phenomenon of thirtysomethings living at home playing video games while their student-loan debt mounts up.

It’s easy to make a bad choice. But a recent book will help students avoid bad choices: Choosing College: How to Make Better Decisions Throughout Your Life by Michael B. Horn and Bob Moesta. In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson writes about it.

Why do students so often choose schools and majors that end up doing them no good? Robinson writes:

Horn and Moesta say that one reason for the disconnect is that students’ reasons for choosing a college are actually ‘more complicated’ than just improving their employment opportunities. Unlike many college boosters, they also realize that for many people, college doesn’t work and for other people, college ends up not paying off. That understanding helps the authors give more realistic advice.

Students need this book, but education leaders also need it. Horn and Moesta argue that institutions of higher education are often organized to do the job that pleases faculty and administrators rather than the job that will satisfy their students. Some schools have already made the necessary changes and the authors discuss them.

Robinson sums up:

Both students and university leaders have a lot to learn from this book. Asking ‘why’ is the first step.

U.S.

On Name Changing and Statue Toppling

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People gather to protest for the removal of a statue of Confederate General John B. Gordon at the Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., June 9, 2020. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

General David Petraeus wrote an impassioned article in the Atlantic this week about the need to change the names of military bases that for over a century have been named after Confederate generals and to recalibrate iconic remembrances such as statues commemorating Robert E. Lee at West Point — points of reference he reminds us that have been central in his own experience and career.

His relevant points were twofold and ostensibly rational: Commanders such as Bragg and Benning (Petraeus proposes the renaming of other eponymous bases as well) were not especially effective commanders worthy of such majestic base commemoration. In some cases, as Petraeus notes, they were not even highly regarded by their peers. No one, certainly, would wish to defend the worldview of a Braxton Bragg. And, as Petraeus put it, as “traitors” they fought for an ignoble cause that perpetuated slavery. (Of course, the logic of renaming should then apply to the northern California community of Fort Bragg, also named after the unattractive Braxton Bragg — an idea to which some in the Democratic California legislature failed to win over the town’s mayor in 2015).

I think Petraeus is in many ways correct about his anguish. Yet, the bases were named not so much to glorify overt racists as for a variety of more mundane, insidious reasons in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — from concessions to local southerners where many of these bases were to be located, to obtain bipartisan congressional support for their funding, and to address the need in the decades-long and bitter aftermath of the Civil War to promote “healing” between the still hostile former opponents.

We should note that not all Confederates were quite the same in terms of our current moral reexaminations. General Longstreet differed from, say, a General Nathan Bedford Forrest, not necessarily on the basis of their undeniable respective competency or even clear culpability in perpetuating the war, but on their quite different efforts at postwar outreach and healing. But then again such assessments would be to assume that we are all mortals and not deities.

Again, is this moment really the proper time to begin renaming bases and removing statues? We are in a middle of a national frenzy and chaos, in which such major decisions won’t always be done systematically and carefully to heal rather than further to inflame the country. I have long questioned in print the deification of Robert E. Lee, but after 150 years I think we can wait a few more months for introspection and discussion before damning him from memory. This week Christopher Columbus was toppled — with the predictable response, why not some of those statues in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection? That idea has next only fueled further iconoclasm, which has quickly progressed to why not the slave-owning Washington and Jefferson and their eponymous D.C. landmark monuments, though perhaps cranes and woke engineers rather than mere ropes and hammers will be needed to topple an obelisk or crash a dome, purported testaments to slavery. Who is to say that one slave owner is any different from another, given mortal sin allows no compensation or calibration, no allowance for, or distinction of, a Jefferson from a Forrest?

In particular, on all fronts, military, educational, and governmental, if we are to engage in iconoclasm, Trotskyization, damnatio memoriae, and cancel culture, then we need some common standard to weigh good against bad, to calibrate modern versus long-distant moralities, and to be sure that replacement names meet these new exalted criteria. Recently our university community received an official letter from an administrator quoting the inspirational “loving refrain” of Ms. Assata Shakur, a terrorist and convicted murderer of a policeman and fugitive from justice residing in Cuba. There were no public repercussions for such an endorsement.

In terms of 19th- and early 20th-century racism, it would be hard to match the deleterious efforts of President Woodrow Wilson to poison race relations. He resisted integration in the armed forces, as well as the civil service, and thus set back those efforts for decades. Harry Truman did what Wilson might have done more than three decades earlier.

In 2015 the Atlantic itself ran an essay detailing the extent to which Wilson systematically institutionalized race-based prejudice. In some sense, he put back race relations far more as commander in chief than did the 19th-century overtly racist Confederate rebels who were defeated and their cause repudiated. Yet, Wilson remains a progressive icon as a prime mover of the League of Nations and author of the Fourteen Points. As president he was no rebel general, but in an all-powerful position to enact needed racial change. He also was the beneficiary of the moral evolution of some 50 years since the Civil War. But most perniciously, his racism was pseudoscientific, based on bankrupt progressive ideas of genetic purity and thus often exempt from liberal criticism of the age.

Leland Stanford in many ways went well beyond the racist orthodoxy of the late 19th century in his demonization of Asians, without whose labor his railroad empire and fortune that funded present-day Stanford University would have evaporated. So to what degree might we now in our time of self-introspection rectify the past by quickly renaming Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, of which Petraeus himself is a distinguished Ph.D. graduate, and thereby end our own compliance in perpetuating the wages of racism that now manifest in the streets? And after Princeton, why not rapidly Stanford and perhaps with dispatch Yale as well?

I remember not too long ago, in the furor of the Iraq War and the raging anger over the surge, at a time when the commander in chief was also unfairly labeled a racist, a Nazi and a traitor, that General Petraeus himself was subject to the sudden furor of contemporary resistance. The New York Times dropped its policies of avoiding ad hominem ads to print a full-page Moveon.org smear of “General Betrayus,” even as Senator Hillary Clinton in her fury to abort the surge and leave Iraq, in her congressional cross-examination of Petraeus, essentially and falsely accused him of lying under oath. As many of us wrote at the time, the nation was gripped by a sort of collective madness, to which Clinton herself contributed, by demonizing a heroic and gifted general tasked with carrying out an unpopular policy of a then widely ridiculed and disparaged president.

By all means let us reexamine the names of all military installations, the statues of all our supposed heroes, and extend such scrutiny to all institutions of government and higher learning, public and private, given that the latter depend on the taxpayer for massive tax exemptions on their endowments.

But let us wait until the fires in the streets, the occupations, the defacements, the looting, and the violence have dissipated, if only not to reward the bullhorn rather than the majority vote of elected or representative bodies. Let us make sure that the logic of our efforts is systemic and applicable in general rather than ad hoc and of the moment. And finally let us wonder why those who wish such prompt action had not spoken out earlier, in calmer times, a year, a decade, a generation ago, when the present histories of our counterfeit icons had been long well known, but at a time when the pushback to such independent and principled lone voices would have earned far different professional consequences than is true of this week.

Culture

Re: The Disturbing Campaign against Tucker Carlson

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Tucker Carlson (File photo: Gage Skidmore)

In response to The Disturbing Campaign against Tucker Carlson

Agreed, Rich, let’s oppose the attempted deplatforming. Let’s have debates instead.

But if we want to talk about “disturbing,” I would also nominate this set of remarks from Carlson:

The message from our leaders on the right, as on the left, was unambiguous. Don’t complain, you deserve what’s happening to you. No one jumped . . . more forcefully or seemed angrier at an America than former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Quote, “Tonight I turned on the news and I’m heartbroken,” Haley wrote. “It’s important to understand that the death of George Floyd was personal and painful for many. In order to heal, it needs to be personal and painful for everyone.”

But, wait a second. You may be wondering, how am I, quote, “personally responsible” for the behavior of a Minneapolis police officer? I’ve never even been to Minneapolis, you may think to yourself, and why is some politician telling me I’m required to be upset about it?

Those are all good questions. Nikki Haley did not answer those questions. Explaining is not her strong suit; that would require thinking. What Nikki Haley does best is moral blackmail.

Notice the misstatement of Haley’s view — she did not say that we were all personally responsible for what happened to Floyd. She said that what happened should be personal and painful to everyone. Ramesh made this point last week. For my part, I’d say that if my fellow citizen’s rights are violated — which would appear to be what happened to George Floyd, even if we set aside all racial questions — then this should bother me personally. The rights and liberties of my countrymen are my concern. They should, in fact, be any American patriot or nationalist’s concern. It does not take much thinking to understand this, or to see that Haley did not assert the foolish thing to which Carlson replied.

(Nor, of course, does referring all claims of disparate impact back to crime rates by race, or looking exclusively at the frequency with which officers use lethal force against suspects of different races, neutralize all arguments that there is sometimes racial bias in policing. The Ferguson report, among other things, makes this clear. And the falsity of the popular narrative concerning Michael Brown doesn’t change a thing as far as that goes.)

Or here’s Carlson on Mitt Romney’s participation in a Black Lives Matter march:

Mitt just wants to make sure that Americans understand, get it through their thick heads, that Black lives matter. As if Americans didn’t know that.

But accusing your entire country of racism turns out to be a pretty small price for someone like Mitt Romney. What Romney’s really worried about, what all the finance moguls funding this movement are worried about, is that someone somewhere will ask the obvious questions. How much have you, Mitt Romney, personally made, how rich have you become by sending jobs overseas — working-class jobs — by charging obscene interest rates, and by otherwise harming poor and Black communities economically?

This is not very good thinking either. Rather it is an ad hominem fallacy in the form of a piece of unsubstantiated speculation about Romney’s motives.

Nor do I see where Romney ever accused the entire country of racism.

What Carlson said is, in other words, a dodge. But it’s not just a dodge. It serves to suppress consideration of the questions in dispute by whipping up an emotional reaction to an unrelated issue. The apparent tactic is to anathematize people’s — as far as I can tell — sincere political beliefs and arguments, and to do so in fallacious or speculative ways yoked to mass upheavals and counter-upheavals. So we might also consider it an imitation of illiberal progressive rhetoric and tactics. It is a specimen of rhetorical thuggery.

Sometimes that comes of defensiveness, of the feeling that one has been targeted. So we should remember that Carlson’s home address was posted online, after which a group of protesters vandalized his home and threatened him and his family. (“Tucker Carlson, we will fight. We know where you sleep at night.”) The word for that is “reprehensible.”

But Mitt Romney was not part of that incipient mob. Nor was Nikki Haley. Nor were millions of Americans who have sincere concerns, right or wrong, about racism and police brutality.

Many people in history have been personally targeted and yet managed to keep their intellectual integrity and their liberality. Leftists cannot cancel those imperatives.

Culture

Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Nursing Homes, Religious Freedom & More (June 11, 2020)

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1. Baltimore Sun: Maryland significantly underreports total coronavirus cases and deaths at nursing homes

2. CNN: Nursing homes receive defective equipment

3. COVID-19 Nursing Home Data

4. Kansas City Star: Why didn’t she leave? No bed available for 84% of KC domestic violence hotline callers

5. Jeanne Mancini: Missouri Planned Parenthood Prioritizes Agenda Over Women’s Health Politicizing Health and Safety Hurts Women

The state’s legally mandated inspection found numerous medical and safety issues that Planned Parenthood refused to address, even when given the opportunity.

The clinic did not comply with a state law requiring an obstetric examination 72 hours before any abortion to ensure that having an abortion would be safe for the woman. In multiple cases, the clinic failed to provide Missouri officials with adequate documentation about failed abortions, and at least once mislabeled a failed abortion.

Planned Parenthood administrators also failed to turn over required documentation showing they were in compliance with Missouri’s informed consent law.

And more from Jeanne Mancini here, in conversation I had with her, John McCormack, and Alexandra DeSanctis: Are We Really About Protecting Human Life or Not?

6. PBS NewsHour: Americans with disabilities need more support during pandemic, say advocates

Danny Woodburn, actor and disability rights advocate: “…there’s policy being looked at now that is a bit scary to people with disabilities, that determinations are being made like who gets a ventilator based on, you know, physical and cognitive ability, how the virus might have been affecting them and whether or not they get to keep a ventilator.”

7. Michael J. New: Is Coronavirus Increasing Abortion Rates?:

An April CBSNews.com article found that some abortion facilities were seeing an increase in the number of women seeking abortions. The story reported that one abortion facility in Granite City, Illinois, indicated that their “show rate” for women who made abortion appointments increased from 50% to 85%. Also, a May ABCNews.com article found that many “abortion funds,” which use private donations to subsidize abortions, were seeing an increase in calls.”

8. Daniel Philpott: Ignore the optics. Trump’s executive order could jump-start the cause of global religious freedom:

Continue reading “Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Nursing Homes, Religious Freedom & More (June 11, 2020)”

White House

An Afterthought on Lafayette Square

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The administration’s defenders have put a lot of emphasis on Attorney General Barr’s statement that the operation to clear the protesters was approved well before Trump’s photo op and was meant to expand a security perimeter. I’m happy to assume the truth of this, and that there were sufficient reasons for the decision. But it doesn’t establish that the clearing of the protesters, precisely when it happened, with the particular means that were used, was okay. Or that it was unrelated to the photo op. Barr’s statement is not specific enough to neutralize the criticisms.

This might sound like a debater’s point when put thus abstractly, but imagine how things could have gone down instead. You let the protesters finish the day as long as they are not injuring people, destroying property, or about to do either. You use the least dangerous and painful means that seem likely to achieve the goal. You do it, if possible, slowly and gently and late at night, when the crowd is thinner and people want to go home anyway. You walk over the next morning, not 15 minutes afterward. You ask General Milley not to wear his combat fatigues. You don’t wave a Bible around.

We’d be in a different world.

Elections

Fighting the Last War on Trump and Polls

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Michael Brendan Dougherty asks, “Is there a reluctance to acknowledge that Donald Trump is a serious underdog for reelection?” It depends whom you ask, of course: Most liberal or progressive Trump critics are pretty stridently certain by now that Joe Biden will win in November. But there is unquestionably, even in some liberal quarters, a lingering kind of post-traumatic reaction to the fact that Trump won in 2016 after most everyone expected him to lose. The good news is that we should all have learned some humility along the way about how precisely polls could predict the state-by-state outcomes. Not so regarding national polls: In the national popular vote, Hillary Clinton’s approximately two-point margin over Trump was in line with the polls. We should also have some humility about how certain we could be in declaring a likely winner when the race was close. In fact, even retrospective analysis of 2016 remains much-contested, given the likelihood that exit polls may still have understated the proportion of non-college-educated voters in the 2016 electorate. Moreover, the wild events of 2020 should caution us that it may yet be early to try to accurately model what the fall electorate will look like, and how it will react to these two candidates.

What concerns me, however, is when humility turns into surrender. It’s one thing to say “the polls got some things wrong in 2016,” and another to treat Trump as possessing some sort of special immunity from polls, such that no evidence could possibly convince people that he is losing. At some point, throwing up your hands and declaring all poll data useless smacks of denial.

PC Culture

Then, They Came for the Abolitionists 

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A statue of Matthias Baldwin was attacked in Philadelphia:

You can read a little more about him here:

Among Baldwin’s philanthropies was education for black children. His abolitionist sympathies led to a Southern boycott of his engines shortly before the American Civil War.

Health Care

Peter Singer Endorses Medical Discrimination Against Elderly in COVID Crisis

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A nurse tests a patient for the coronavirus disease at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Australia, May 12, 2020. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

The utilitarian bioethicist Peter Singer does not believe that human life has intrinsic value based simply on being human. Rather, he endorses a “quality of life” ethic in which some of us have greater value than others.

Such discriminatory thinking leads to immoral viewpoints. Thus, Singer is best known for his support of infanticide because, in his view, babies — not yet being self-aware — aren’t “persons.” He also denigrates the moral worth of cognitively disabled people. For example, he has said that people diagnosed as persistently unconscious should have been used as subjects in experiments instead of chimpanzees in the development of the hepatitis vaccine.

It is thus no surprise that Singer endorsed Italy’s age-based discrimination against the elderly during the COVID crisis. Wait a minute! Isn’t COVID more dangerous to the elderly than the young? Yes, and that’s precisely the point of supporting age-based discrimination based on a bioethics system known as disability adjusted life year (DALY). From, “Is Age Discrimination Acceptable?”(my emphasis):

For the past 30 years, the World Health Organization has set its priorities by assessing the impact of illnesses on what it calls “the global burden of disease.” The idea is to learn which diseases cause the most harm, and target them, where that is feasible and cost-effective.

While some diseases are more likely to kill children, others, like COVID-19, pose the greatest risk to older people, and still others are equally likely to kill people at any age. The WHO uses a tool called the “disability-adjusted life year” (DALY) to measure the years of life lost by premature death and the years of life lived in less than full health. The more DALYs a disease causes to be lost, the greater its global burden.

In the DALY approach, the worth of the individual gets lost because the DALY judges populations. It doesn’t just include years of life lost, but adds into the equation years of lost health or vitality. In other words, whether you are dead, disabled, or elderly, it is basically the same in judging costs and benefits. In such a system, the elderly or disabled receive less attention than the young and able-bodied because saving their lives would lead to more people living in ill health or disabilities, and hence, impose a greater burden on society for less of a utilitarian return.

Singer justifies this approach by claiming that medicine isn’t really about saving lives:

We should not be misled by talk of “saving lives.” What medical treatment does, if successful, is prolong lives.

Denigrating attitudes like this explain orders in New York and elsewhere that required elderly patients infected with COVID to be placed in nursing homes, exposing the most vulnerable to infection and death. And we know the terrible toll that caused!

If one believes in the equal, objective value of all human life, that was an abomination. But if one accepts the invidious DALY mindset, such orders made perfect sense because it left acute care hospitals freer to help those with better utilitarian scores.

This is why health-care rationing based on approaches such as the DALY (or QALY, quality adjusted life year) are immoral. These fancy bioethical terms are veneers that obscure blatant medical discrimination that violates every core principle of universal human rights.

Culture

The Disturbing Campaign against Tucker Carlson

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This item on companies that advertise on Tucker Carlson’s show is a disturbing read — just scroll through the updates to see what I mean. Every company contacted followed up to say it would stop advertising. This isn’t merely private companies deciding on their own where to advertise; it is companies buckling to a pressure campaign that seeks to silence an unwelcome voice in the public debate.

 

 

Culture

The Latest Celebrity Video . . .

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. . . makes me yearn for the collective rendition of “Imagine” that actors and actresses performed during the height of the coronavirus lockdowns:

Elections

‘A Presidency Is a Terrible Thing to Waste’

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It’s been a little hard to keep track of the president’s ludicrous tweets lately, but the Buffalo protestor one was memorable. I wrote about the toll this kind of stuff is taking on his presidency in Politico today.

National Review

Shocked and Awed Gratitude

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(Pixabay)

Our flash webathon ran from Friday to Monday, and it can be defined in small part as an undertaking of moving goalposts: The initial ambitious (so we figured) objective of $50,000 soon became — in the face of immediate reader outpouring — $100,000, then $125,000, then $150,000. The tally: From the website, over $160,000 was donated by 1,622 generous people. More has come and is coming by mail. To call this undertaking a success would be an understatement.

Inside the virtual offices, we are not slapping backs and blathering look-what-we-done self-congratulations. This is not about us raising money — this is about you, our kindly friends and supporters, rallying to give, to make sure this cause that is NR — this ever-more-important voice of conservative sanity — remains vigorous in the face of relentless and coordinated leftist assaults on the foundations of our Republic. Our enemies, and they are that, have raised the Jolly Roger and have fired the cannons, while our institutions hoist white flags. Meanwhile, National Review is speeding to the sound of the gunfire, guns ablaze. If there are torpedoes, well, damn them.

None of it is done without you. Mates! We should neither be shocked nor awed by the depth of selflessness, the amount of aid provided, the numbers of NR readers and subscribers who stepped up (as they have, time and again, in response to past appeals) to commit to an institution lacking a moral claim on the contents of anyone’s wallet. But we all know what is at stake here and now. We all know this is no passing fancy of leftist recklessness. Outnumbered and unafraid, we all know that this may indeed be our St. Crispin’s Day. We thank those who, through their generosity, have joined this band of brothers and sisters, to fight and to inspire. There is no restricted admission period for becoming part of our ranks, so if you’d still wish to help NR, donate here, and know our appreciation is deep and heartfelt. God bless all.

Elections

Two-Dimensional Chess

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Is there a reluctance to acknowledge that Donald Trump is a serious underdog for reelection?

Back in 2012, the number-cruncher Nate Silver’s career took off like a rocket ship because he was explaining the polls, which showed that Barack Obama was very likely to win, and which states he was likely to win. And Silver called them all correctly. It was a story New York Times readers wanted to read, as it predicted an outcome happy for them, and reassured them they were more numerate and trusting of trustworthy authorities than the people who were “unskewing” the polls.

In 2016, the polls reflected the reality of a close election in which Hillary Clinton had a persistent but tiny lead among the populace as a whole. Trump’s win was within their margins of predictions. But, the general expectation set by the media was that Trump would surely lose.

The Economist’s current election model shows that the likeliest type of result for 2020 is a strong win for Joe Biden.


This comes after the pile-up of evidence that Joe Biden is performing much better than Hillary Clinton among constituencies that swing and that that broke for Trump in 2016: elderly voters, voters who hate both parties. (There’s some debate about whether Joe Biden is better at motivating black voters than Hillary Clinton, or whether Donald Trump is doing better in 2020 with them than in 2016.)

Trump is an underdog. He was very unpopular in 2016 as well — in fact, slightly less popular overall than the loser Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden is not this unpopular.

PC Culture

A Majority of One

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Glenn C. Loury, a professor of social sciences at Brown University, penned a response — a dissent really — to a “Dear Colleague” letter written by the president of Brown and joined by almost the entirety of the senior administrators. That letter was about the death of George Floyd and the resulting wave of civil protest.

It’s a blistering critique of the emptiness of virtue signaling.

Who cares what some paper-pushing apparatchik thinks? It’s all a bit creepy and unsettling. Why must this university’s senior administration declare, on behalf of the institution as a whole and with one voice, that they unanimously — without any subtle differences of emphasis or nuance — interpret contentious current events through a single lens?

City Journal kindly republished it. And it’s a reminder that you’re not alone, and that gadflys and contrarians are still out there, even as the public square is defaced by a hysterical conformism, which is what iconoclastic movements always turn out to be.

If you don’t know Glenn Loury, his reflections on current events are often hosted by my friends at Bloggingheads.tv