Health Care

Exceptional Asininity

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(Photo illustration: Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

If you feel like you haven’t been exposed to enough stupidity today and would like to remedy that, the New York Times is here to deliver.

“Big pharma is fooling us,” reads the New York Times headline. “Heroic work went into the development of the coronavirus vaccines. But that doesn’t mean this industry deserves your affection.” The essay is by Stephen Buranyi, and it contains some absolute gems:

The turpitude of the pharmaceutical industry is so commonplace that it has become part of the cultural wallpaper. The screenwriters of the 1993 movie “The Fugitive” knew they could find a perfectly plausible villain to menace Harrison Ford in a faceless drug company out to cover up its malfeasance. (The film was a hit.) In John le Carré’s 2001 novel “The Constant Gardner,” [sic] a British diplomat uncovering a pharma giant testing dangerous drugs on poor Africans is similarly easily to swallow: Its plotline echoes a real case involving Pfizer in Nigeria. (The company has denied any wrongdoing and settled out of court the suit brought by the families of children who died during the testing.)

And yet, since the pharmaceutical industry stepped in with the vaccines, generations worth of ill will appears to be melting away. Last year, Gallup polling had the pharmaceutical industry ranked the most disliked in America, below both big oil and big government. By this September — even before the vaccines arrived — the industry’s approval rating was already improving.

So, the worry here is that people may be responding more strongly to a real-world vaccine against a real-world plague than they are to . . . fictitious events in movies and novels.

Okey-dokey.

Amitabh Chandra of the Harvard Business School raises one obvious multiple-choice question in response: “Let’s think about the argument in this article: A virus causes over $16 trillion to damage to the U.S., through lost lives and lost economic activity. The government pays $10 billion and we get two vaccines with 95 percent effectiveness in nine months. This was: 1.) a really good deal; 2.) a handout to big pharma.”

The issue of “affection” raised in the headline is interesting. One of the things that is genuinely great — and, ultimately, humane — about the free-market system is that it doesn’t matter very much how buyers and sellers feel about one another. If I need to fill up the car and the price is right, does it really matter if I feel any “affection” for 7-Eleven, or do I just give them the money and get my gasoline and go? (I do feel some affection for 7-Eleven, a former employer of mine, many years ago. I also kind of hate 7-Eleven, because they are a very bad neighbor.) Even the companies people tend to have affectionate feelings about — Apple, Porsche, Armani, whatever — mostly work for money, not love. That’s how it should be. Adam Smith had that one right.

We need not be under any illusions about the pharmaceutical business to believe, as many of us do, that Pfizer et al. are much more likely to be of some use in an epidemic than are op-ed moralists at the New York Times.

Media

Mark Shields Steps Back

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Today will be Mark Shields’s last time as a regular commentator on The PBS NewsHour. David Brooks has written a nice appreciation of Shields for the New York Times. I don’t know Shields half as well as Brooks does, but I can confirm that he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I’ve occasionally been a substitute panelist on shows with him over the years: on CNN’s Capital Gang in the old days, and the NewsHour more recently. He always made me feel right at home, and was kind even when sharply disagreeing (which, as I recall, we did a fair amount during the live coverage of Justice Alito’s confirmation hearings).

Shields was a hit on the lecture circuit because he is such a pro at mixing jokes, anecdotes, and insights. Once I was with some other pundit types who were marveling at how audiences loved him. One mentioned speaking at a conference where Shields had maneuvered to go last. It was only while watching him that the other speaker realized Shields had done it out of mercy.

Law & the Courts

Gun Groups Take Concealed Carry to the Supreme Court

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The United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2020. (Will Dunham/Reuters)

New York State doesn’t recognize a right to carry a handgun in public. To get a concealed-carry permit, applicants must show they have an unusually strong need for self-defense, not just a normal and healthy desire to keep themselves safe. The state also bans the open carry of handguns entirely. There’s a “circuit split” among the nation’s courts as to whether such strict restrictions are kosher.

The New York State Pistol and Rifle Association and the National Rifle Association are asking the Supreme Court to step in. And now would be a good time for the Court to better enforce the Second Amendment, a project it began with Heller and McDonald more than a decade ago.

I’ll have more to say about this case if the Court takes it, but here are a few things I’m interested in when it comes to gun-carrying and the Second Amendment.

Most important is the core question of whether the right to “bear arms” includes a right to carry weapons in public. Since the previous Supreme Court cases, some academics have purported to find strong evidence that, instead, the term overwhelmingly referred to military-related activity in Founding-era writings. I find their methods unimpressive — here’s a good demonstration of the problem with counting a term’s uses and pretending that’s the same as defining the term, and here’s a more positive take on the method that also discusses its limits. Further, their conclusion flies in the face of several direct analogues to the Second Amendment, including state declarations of rights. These provisions protected the right of the people to bear arms “for the defense of themselves and the state,” “for the defense of the state” (which would be redundant if “bear arms” inherently referred to the defense of the state), and even “for the purpose of killing game.” But I’m curious what the Court and especially its conservatives will make of this new evidence.

There’s also the question of how states may restrict how arms are carried. Bans on concealed carry, as opposed to open carry, have a long history in this country, and Heller explicitly noted that history. Yet while concealed carry was once considered unmanly and dishonest, now it’s considered polite and wise, because it avoids announcing to everyone you come across that you’re a scary gun person who packs.

So, in keeping with history, should the Court say that open carry is a right but concealed carry is not? Or should it allow states to regulate the manner in which guns are carried, but not to ban gun-carrying entirely?

Politics & Policy

‘What’s Up, Doc?’

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Jill Biden answers press questions after a conversation about school reopening in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak during a Biden presidential campaign appearance at the Jeffers Pond Elementary School in Prior Lake, Minn., September 9, 2020. (Nicole Neri/Reuters)

Today on The Editors, the illustrious Rich Lowry is joined by the eminent Charles C. W. Cooke and the distinguished Jim Geraghty to discuss Jill Biden’s claim to the title of “Doctor,” arguments over the COVID vaccine, and much more. Listen below, or subscribe to this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

World

More Evidence of Xinjiang Atrocities — and More CCP Lies

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A woman wearing a mask with a Uyghur flag takes part in a rally during China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit in Berlin, Germany September 1, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Reuters)

“The smiling faces of all of Xinjiang’s ethnic groups are the most powerful response to America’s lies and rumours,” wrote the Chinese foreign ministry in a faxed response to the BBC, when it submitted questions for its latest exposé on Uyghur forced labor.

That was, of course, another Chinese Communist Party lie. The report, which sheds more light on the CCP’s slave labor operation in the Xinjiang region, relies on documents dug up by Adrian Zenz. The German China researcher — and persistent target of CCP disinformation — has once again found compelling evidence that further colors our understanding of the Xinjiang genocide, this time proving that the Chinese authorities have forced well over half a million people into the region’s cotton industry.

Zenz’s work demonstrates that this has been accomplished by a door-to-door campaign, where CCP cadres force Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the region into cotton-harvesting and -processing activities. Much of this is connected to the region’s brutal concentration camps.

Clearly, the sheer scale of these abuses makes this an issue of international concern. But there’s another global implication to this research: Some 20 percent of the world’s cotton is harvested in Xinjiang, which puts some renowned brands just downstream of the CCP’s depravities.

Or, as Zenz put it in a WSJ op-ed this week:

Based on my findings, it must be assumed that all Xinjiang cotton is contaminated by forced labor. In addition to the limited U.S. ban, governments around the world should consider a total ban on all products made with the region’s cotton.

So are these bans forthcoming?

The Trump administration has taken steps toward implementing such a measure. In addition to blacklisting companies and sanctioning officials involved in Beijing’s human-rights abuses in the region, the Trump administration has issued Withhold Release Orders — measures that restrict the import of certain goods — on parts of Xinjiang’s cotton economy. Most notably, it cracked down on imports from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which plays a significant role in the Xinjiang cotton economy. The administration has yet to put in place a blanket ban on Xinjiang cotton, though it has reportedly considered one.

One bill awaiting a vote in the Senate would effectively do just that. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act creates a presumption under U.S. law that goods from the Xinjiang region were produced using forced labor. The burden would be on companies to prove that that’s not the case — which is why a number of multinational firms, such as Apple and Coca-Cola, have reportedly lobbied to water down provisions of the legislation.

By any measure, and even without a complete ban on Xinjiang cotton imports, the U.S. leads the world in its response to the crisis. No other country has enacted similar measures specifically targeting CCP forced labor, much less enacted sanctions against officials responsible for it.

Fortunately, it seems that Zenz’s latest research, like his previous reports, has made waves. This week the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning and calling for sanctions targeting those responsible for Uyghur forced labor. And the U.K. government said that companies have a responsibility to ensure that their supply chains are not tainted by forced labor.

While awareness of the genocide and other related human-rights atrocities taking place in Xinjiang has risen, and although governments have warmed to some promising measures recently, there’s still so much more to be done.

Politics & Policy

Children Still Shouldn’t Be Given Puberty Blockers

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Earlier this month, the English High Court ruled in a landmark case that under-16s were not able to give informed consent to “experimental” and “life-changing” puberty-blocking drugs, which transgender activists and lobby groups claim are essential. (You can read more about the case and the courageous young woman who brought it before the court here.)

Needless to say, not everyone was happy with the decision. Zinnia Jones, a male transgender activist, tweeted that since puberty itself causes “permanent changes,” “an inability to offer informed consent or understand the long-term consequences is actually an argument for putting every single cis and trans person on puberty blockers until they acquire that ability.”

Setting aside Jones’s false equivalence of tampering with a child’s sexual development and leaving it alone, if the ability to offer informed consent is a faculty that only adults possess, then how on earth would keeping a child in a state of artificial prepubescence lend him this requisite maturity?

The mind boggles.

For how best to respond to such pathological nonsense, take a leaf out of Megyn Kelly’s book:

A Year Later, Impeachment Did House Democrats No Favors

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President Donald J. Trump walks on to the field before the first half of the Army-Navy football game at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y., Dec 12, 2020. (Danny Wild/USA TODAY Sports)

One year ago today, Donald Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives. The outcome was foreordained: Nobody thought at the time that there were 20 Republican senators who would vote to convict. We can argue forever about whether the Senate should have removed Trump and how 2020 and the election would have been different with Mike Pence in charge, but as I argued here and here, with no clear-cut criminal offense, the voters evenly divided, and a presidential election impending, it was entirely in line with the design and history of our system for the Senate to acquit and

Politics & Policy

Medical Ethicist: Elderly Shouldn’t Get Vaccines First Because They’re Too White

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As if we needed another reason to lose faith in the expert class, here is a medical ethicist in the New York Times discussing the CDC’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine:

Harald Schmidt, an expert in ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said that it is reasonable to put essential workers ahead of older adults, given their risks, and that they are disproportionately minorities. “Older populations are whiter,” Dr. Schmidt said. “Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”

This is what happens when “science” and the racial identitarianism of the modern intellectual Left collide. “Historically,” says the Times, the committees tasked with deciding this sort of thing relied on “scientific evidence to inform its decisions.” Nowadays, members are “weighing social justice concerns as well.” It would be merely obscene if ethics professors were theorizing about saving — or, rather, not saving — lives based on race. How long before half-baked social science is being used by technocrats in positions of power and influence to ration medical care? You know who else is a “medical ethicist” at the University of Pennsylvania? Ezekiel Emanuel, a Biden adviser on medical issues, who believes human beings are bits of GDP that have no real purpose once they hit a creaky 75 (with an exception made, no doubt, for the 78-year-old president-elect). Emanuel and Schmidt, in fact, co-authored a textbook titled, “Rationing and Resource Allocation in Healthcare.”

The CDC data, by the way, show it would save the most American lives to prioritize Americans over the age of 65 rather than essential workers. Emanuel might object because people are approaching the end of their usefulness. Schmidt might dissent because they may skew too white.

Politics & Policy

Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Require Consent before Sharing Pornography Online

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(Catherine Benson/Reuters)

Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) have introduced legislation to require websites that host pornography to establish safeguards aimed at protecting Americans from sexual exploitation.

The “Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act” applies to any platform that ‘‘hosts and makes available to the general public pornographic images.” It defines pornography as it is currently understood under law: “any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture . . . of sexually explicit conduct.”

The bill follows on the heels of recent reporting from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who published a feature piece two weeks ago telling the stories of children who were raped or sexually abused and had videos of that abuse uploaded to the Internet pornography site Pornhub. The website initially maintained that it was not responsible for any such content but eventually reversed course and enacted several substantial policy changes aimed at greater online safety.

According to the sponsors of this new legislation, it is in no way designed or intended to modify existing law under the Communications Decency Act, Section 230. Under the legislation, platforms hosting pornography must require users who upload videos to the site to verify their identity and to upload consent forms signed by every individual in the video.

The bill would create a private right of action against individuals who upload pornographic images without the consent of featured individuals. It also requires that platforms share information on their sites with instructions for individuals to request the removal of a video they were featured in without having consented to it being uploaded. If the bill were enacted, sites would be required to remove flagged videos in two hours or less and to staff a 24-hour hotline for removal requests. It would mandate the use of software to prevent removed videos from being re-uploaded.

Finally, the bill prohibits sites from allowing pornographic videos to be downloaded, a further safeguard against the spread of content featuring individuals who did not consent to having that material made public. Violations of the law would be enforced by the the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Justice would be asked to manage a database of individuals who have indicated they do not consent to sharing their pornographic material online.

“A decent society has an obligation to fight sexual exploitation and human trafficking,” Sasse said in a statement announcing the bill. Sasse has spent much of the last year urging the Department of Justice to investigate Pornhub and its parent company MindGeek for monetizing illegal content.

“For years, Pornhub and its parent company Mindgeek monetized rape, abuse, and child exploitation,” Sasse added. “While these suit-wearing traffickers got rich, their victims have lived with the pain and fear. That has to end now. Our bill is aimed squarely at the monsters who profit from rape. Washington ought to be able to come together to combat human trafficking and make this right.”

“The posting of intimate photos and videos without participants’ consent is a massive invasion of privacy that drives shame, humiliation, and potentially suicide,” Merkley said in a statement. “While some online platforms have recently announced steps to change some practices, much more needs to be done. We must ensure that not another single life of a child, man, or woman is destroyed by these sites.”

Politics & Policy

Hold These Truths with Dan Crenshaw

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I recently appeared on the congressman’s podcast to talk about Internet regulations, reforming Section 230 (I am opposed), and Big Tech — if you’re into that sort of thing.

Media

Yesterday at NR, for Matt Yglesias

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Matt Yglesias, formerly of Vox, says that “Nature is healing” because our critic-at-large, Kyle Smith, wrote an entertainingly scathing review of Jill Biden’s dissertation. Fair enough. I might even have chuckled — I like a little bit of good-natured ribbing — but he didn’t stop there.

Yglesias goes on: “I was wondering whether mainstream conservatives [sic] elites still believe in the Paul Ryan welfare state rollback agenda or if they’re prepared to abandon it forever, but the closest thing to a policy article on National Review is a Michael Brendan Dougherty piece about how snow days are good.”

Snow days are good, and you should read that piece, but I wonder whether it was laziness or deceptiveness that resulted in Yglesias’s error. At tweet time, there were articles on the homepage from Robert VerBruggen on the COVID relief bill, Alexandra DeSanctis on Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s pain-capable abortion bill, and an interview with the outgoing Education secretary courtesy of Frederick Hess. Other policy-oriented hits from yesterday include this on the Export-Import Bank, Ramesh Ponnuru on Trump’s economic record, and a Jim Geraghty post about Sweden’s approach to COVID.

Of course, I’m not sure why I feel so defensive. National Review doesn’t claim to be a p0licy-only journal, and we publish a lot of great stuff that’s not meant to scream “WONK!” in the reader’s face the way that everything at Yglesias’s old stomping grounds is. In any case, I’m sure we’ll swoop in to defend Yglesias when the Jacobins at Vox come for him again, which they will. Such is the burden of being a serious publication with a meaningful allegiance to its principles.

Culture

Shultz Et Al.

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Former secretaries of state George P. Shultz and Madeleine Albright testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 29, 2015. (Gary Cameron / Reuters)

“If I could choose one American to whom I would entrust the nation’s fate in a crisis,” wrote Henry Kissinger in 1982, “it would be George Shultz.” I lead my Impromptus column today with Shultz — who has just turned 100.

I go on to discuss threats to public officials — physical threats, I mean. There is a sickness in our country, quite apart from the coronavirus.

Some worthies have died in recent days (of various causes). I touch on a few of them: Chuck Yeager, Rafer Johnson, and Paolo Rossi.

I touch on Vikram Seth, too. The BBC has made a TV series out of Seth’s 1993 novel, A Suitable Boy. The series is airing now. In 1999, I wrote a piece about the author for NR: “Seth, Rhymes with ‘Great’.” I borrowed a line from Schumann, who used it about Chopin: “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius.”

Speaking of music, here is the latest episode of my music podcast, Music for a While. It starts with a Scarlatti sonata, played by Myra Hess. It ends with “The Way You Look Tonight” (Kern), done up by Art Tatum. There is ample material in between.

Yesterday, I did a Q&A podcast with Tim Alberta, here. Tim is the chief political correspondent of Politico (formerly of National Review). He has done some of the best reporting and writing of the post-election period (as of the pre-election period, to be sure). We talk, in particular, about our home state, Michigan.

Care for a little mail?

Mr. Nordlinger,

I read your article about the meaning of conservatism a few days ago. I am reading an extremely interesting book by A. N. Wilson called “The Victorians.” I just now came across the following sentence:

“Uganda was in a state of near civil war, with Muslims, Catholics and Protestants all at odds, and the pagans, devotees of witchcraft, hashish or bhang and polygamy, representing the forces of conservatism.”

Having read a number of Wilson’s books, I think maybe he is being ironic?

One mo’:

Jay,

Just now reading your article about Brad Raffensperger and “honor in the Republican Party.”

I read a story a few years ago (about a boxer) and there was a line: “Honor is not a temporary trait.” That is one that has stuck with me.

Another favorite (that I share with my grown kids): “Life is hard — get a helmet!”

Heh, yes — maybe two, to have a spare.

National Review

Inside the December 31, 2020, Issue of National Review

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The December 31, 2020, issue of National Review — the 24th and final fortnightly of a most dramatic year — is ready and available to all NRPLUS members (become one here and even . . . now), and on its way to thousands of mailboxes across the fruited plains. Including, as is NR’s annual custom, one of the wonderful Christmas stories written by the late Aloїse Buckley Heath, the issue cover presents the eagle of the Great Seal of the United States swapping out its olive branch for a marijuana leaf — an apt symbol to depict the duet of articles on the “promise and peril” of weed’s legalization: One, by Kevin D. Williamson, looks at how congressional Republicans are out of step with voters (including GOP voters) on the issue of legalization, while the other, by Robert VerBruggen, argues for a war-on-drugs rollback done very carefully.

Elsewhere in the issue, Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru jointly critique President Trump’s post-election conduct, Andrew C. McCarthy analyzes a succession of courts showing aversion to election-overturning, Jimmy Quinn reports on his travels with departing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh reflect on President Trump’s foreign-policy triumphs in dealing with Iran. There’s plenty more between the covers, all of it capped on the final page, where Dan Foster’s “Happy Warrior” renders a third-degree burn to doctoring à la Jill Biden.

We leave you where this issue and every issue begins: The line atop the front cover, which this time displays a warm and heartfelt message: Merry Christmas!

Monetary Policy

The Swiss Franc and Vietnamese Dong — the Odd Couple

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A Swiss flag in front of the Swiss National Bank in Bern, Switzerland, May 2, 2019 (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The U.S. Treasury is required to issue a semi-annual report in which it fingers so-called “currency manipulators.” On Wednesday, it issued its most recent report. Switzerland and Vietnam were both nailed as currency manipulators. Talk about an odd couple. Perhaps the world’s greatest currency, the Swissie, and the pathetic Vietnamese dong. Indeed, the little dong isn’t even fully convertible. Never mind.

The absurdity of putting the Swiss franc and the dong in the same basket brings back memories of May 1, 2002. That’s when I appeared before the Senate Banking Committee, along with then-Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, to testify on exchange rates and the Treasury’s “Report on Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States.” I was highly critical of both the entire concept and the particular methods used to label a country as a currency manipulator. I indicated that the U.S. Treasury’s report was little more than an invitation for political mischief that would interfere with free trade. In short, I thought, and think, that the entire semi-annual currency-manipulator ritual is rubbish and should be trashed. The Swissie-dong odd couple certainly suggests that I am on to something.

Moving beyond the report, allow me to make a few remarks about the great Swissie. The inconvertible dong requires no further elaboration. During the 19th century, the Swiss franc, which was introduced in 1850, was a relatively “normal” currency, with alternating periods of strength and weakness. Since World War I, however, the franc has experienced a strong trend of nominal and real appreciation against the British pound, U.S. dollar, and major continental currencies. Indeed, in their authoritative book, Swiss Monetary History since the Early 19th Century, Ernst Baltensperger and Peter Kugler concluded that the trend rate of the real, inflation-adjusted Swiss franc appreciation against the world’s international currency, the U.S. dollar, has been nearly one percent per year during the post-WWI era.

The Swiss franc’s unprecedented display of power shows up in spades when foreigners consider investing in assets denominated in the Swissie. With data going back to 1900, the Credit Suisse Global Investment Returns Yearbook shows that all foreigners would have received a Swiss franc real return pop on their investments. For example, an American with a U.S. dollar base would have, on average since 1900, received about a 75-basis-point real-return bump because of the Swissie’s strength against the greenback.

I wonder if all this Swiss franc strength has anything to do with the 1,040 tonnes of gold that the Swiss back the franc with? That’s not only a lot of gold, but on a per capita basis, puts the Swiss on top of the world by a country mile.

Economics

Am I Lowballing Upward Mobility?

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Much of the criticism of my book, The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It), has come from those on both the left and populist right who think I am not concerned enough about inequality — see this, for example, from former labor secretary Robert Reich, who argues for the psychological importance of inequality — and that I am too quick to argue that the United States is still characterized by economic mobility.

So I’d like to highlight a critique from the other side. In a thoughtful article just published by The Independent Review, the economist William J. Luther writes this:

If anything, Strain concedes too much to the naysayers. Consider his discussion on relative income mobility. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, Strain shows that 36.1 percent of those raised in the bottom quintile find themselves there today (p. 83). “I am paid to have strong opinions about these sorts of statistics,” he writes, “but honestly I don’t know what to make of them. On the one hand, arguing that one-third of children raised in the bottom remain there when they reach their prime earning years makes America seem like a class society. On the other hand, arguing that two-thirds of children raised in the bottom escape that position as adults makes America seem quite upwardly mobile” (p. 84).

Really? If family income was determined by pure chance, one would expect 20 percent of those raised in the bottom quintile to land up there as adults. In a pure class system, it would be 100 percent. America is much, much closer to a random distribution than it is to a pure class system. And, surely, some portion of the outcomes observed today is the result of hereditary traits that played a role in the outcomes observed in the past. That only 36.1 percent of those raised in the bottom quintile remain in the bottom quintile as adults despite these hereditary traits suggests that America is incredibly mobile.

Check out my book — Amazon is still able to have it to you before Christmas! — to see if you agree with me, Dr. Luther, the Left, or the populist Right.

Education

A Prof’s Farewell to Teaching

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Professor Tom Bertonneau (who never insisted on being called “doctor”) has recently retired from his long teaching career. In today’s Martin Center article, he reflects on today’s college students (and in a subsequent piece will turn his attention to the faculty).

Bertonneau laments the decline of higher education generally and finds that most of the students are just not serious about learning. He quotes a conversation with a faculty colleague: “I’m tired,” she said, “of writing the same comments and criticisms over and over on student assignments.” He continues, “She meant not only that succeeding cohorts of freshmen bring with them ad seriatim the scribal incompetency that public secondary education appears to foster, but that the same students, either during the semester or in one course after another, reveal themselves as unable to internalize basic corrections.”

Corrections? Most students don’t care if their writing is correct or not.

Worse, however, is the widespread political mindset among them. Bertonneau writes, “Students have adapted, in some cases eagerly, to the pernicious ethos of denunciation that prevails under ‘wokeness’ on every college campus. Inculcated in the theories of universal racism and a malicious patriarchy, their adolescent narcissism inflated by constant baseless praise and the exuberant celebration of their non-existent moral perspicacity, students are ready to be ‘triggered.’”

Trying to teach under these circumstances was excruciating.

In January, we’ll run the second part of Bertonneau’s not-so-fond look back at teaching.

Culture

Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: A Plea to Joe Biden for the Persecuted & More (December 17, 2020)

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1. Timothy Dolan and Toufic Baaklini: Remember the Persecuted at Christmas

We hope President-elect Biden will build on the accomplishments of the Trump administration, namely its assistance to genocide survivors and priority on international religious freedom as a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. At the same time, Mr. Biden should correct the Trump administration’s shortcomings, particularly its failure to confront Turkey meaningfully.

As for America’s Christian citizens, we must never become complacent in the face of adversity. We must roll up our sleeves, organize, and advocate for persecuted members of the body of Christ.

2. NPR: As Hospitals Fear Being Overwhelmed By COVID-19, Do The Disabled Get The Same Access?

That emergency room doctor would be the first at the hospital to raise a question that would shadow decisions about McSweeney’s care over nearly three weeks at the hospital: Why does a woman with significant and complex disabilities have a legal order that requires the hospital to take all measures to save her life?

McSweeney was 45 when she died on May 10. Her death would raise another question, one that people with disabilities and the elderly have worried about since the start of the coronavirus pandemic: Are they denied care when it gets scarce — like drugs or treatment, including ventilators — that might save their lives?

It’s common that doctors often see someone with multiple disabilities, like McSweeney, one way and the person’s friends, family and caregivers see her another.

Researchers call this the “disability paradox” — the large gap between how a person with a disability rates the quality of their life and what a doctor would rate it.

A “vast majority” of doctors say people with a significant disability have a worse quality of life, according to a recent poll by Dr. Lisa Iezzoni, a Harvard Medical School professor and physician who studies health care disparities for people with disabilities.

3. Catholic News Agency: As abducted Catholic priest is freed, congregation prays for kidnappers’ conversion

The Congregation of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy expressed gratitude to all who joined in praying for the priest’s release.

“We call on the government at all levels to invest more in securing the lives and properties of citizens as well as provide job opportunities and the enabling environment so that our teaming youths will be meaningfully engaged,” Ajacro said.

The priest’s kidnapping came a week after the U.S. government designated Nigeria as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” along with other countries including China and Saudi Arabia.

4. New York Times: Vaccination Campaign at Nursing Homes Faces Obstacles and Confusion

Some residents and staff are balking at taking the vaccine. Short-staffed facilities are concerned about workers calling in sick with side effects, straining resources just as some frail residents are likely to experience fever and fatigue from the shot. Most nursing home employees work in shifts; will it be possible to vaccinate everyone over the course of just a few visits from CVS and Walgreens?

“Given the pace of this rollout, I am very concerned that nursing facilities won’t have the time or capacity to really explain the vaccine to residents and their families,” said Nicole Howell, a state-funded ombudsman in California whose office works with 29,000 long-term care residents.

5. Crux: Texas archbishop: ‘Conversion of heart’ needed on death penalty

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio is the latest bishop calling for the Trump Administration to stop carrying out federal executions before the presidential term ends.

“It’s tragic because the death penalty is not the answer to the horrible things that these people have committed. It shows how we are not evolving as people who in facing difficulties we help each other to build up as members of society,” García-Siller told Crux.

The ninth and tenth federal executions of the year were last week. Both were controversial, with eleventh hour calls to halt the executions. There are three more scheduled before President Donald Trump leaves office in January.

6. Fr. Raymond J. de Souza: Lack of clean water in First Nations communities should come as no surprise

Indigenous-Canadians on reserves are not free to make arrangements for their properties, which they do not own in the way that other Canadians own their homes. So it becomes a government project or, actually, a multi-government project, with the local reserve bureaucracy working with bureaucrats in Ottawa. What could possibly go wrong?

After a suitable acknowledgement of customary pieties, the Post’s editorial gingerly suggested that “better mechanisms to allow band members to hold their leaders accountable” and “comprehensive land reform” might offer better solutions.

Local democracy and property rights, in other words. It has been known to work. Millions of Canadians in rural areas rely upon them to get clean water every day.

7.

8. Politico: EU states can ban kosher and halal ritual slaughter, court rules

Religious groups immediately condemned the ruling, with European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor labelling it “a heavy blow to Jewish life in Europe” in a statement.

“The right to practice our faith and customs … has been severely undermined by this decision,” Kantor said.

“We plan to pursue every legal recourse to right this wrong,” added Yohan Benizri, the President of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organisations.

9. Asra Q. Nomani & Norma Margulies: Nation’s No. 1 High School and Poised To Pick Students Based On Race, Not Achievement

…The Jefferson fiasco underscores how activist school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers, staff, and alumni from California to Massachusetts are conspiring to irresponsibly and recklessly overhaul school policies, education standards, and curriculum this year. For example, they’re canceling grades in San Diego, replacing merit-based admissions with lotteries in San Francisco’s Lowell High School and the Boston Latin School, and renaming schools in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Falls Church, Virginia; and Washington, D.C.

…school leaders and activists made the majority-Asian students at Jefferson out to be problematic. That student demographic became the scapegoats, called “toxic,” “racist,” and test-prepped in “pay-to-play” schemes by the activists, school board members, and even the school superintendent. The education secretary even once compared test preparation to illegal “performance-enhancement drugs.”

By July, according to the results from FOIA findings, the Jefferson principal, superintendent, school board member, and student were knee-deep in task-force meetings that were exploring eliminating the school’s merit-based test. On the late afternoon of August 7, a Virginia Department of Education official on the task force, Michael Bolling, sent an email to the Jefferson principal, Bonitatibus, saying he wanted to “applaud your commitment to increasing the diversity at TJHSST and openness to considering adjustments to testing and potentially a lottery.

10.

Continue reading “Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: A Plea to Joe Biden for the Persecuted & More (December 17, 2020)”

Culture

Missing Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens in 2010. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

After falling into an Internet rabbit hole this week, I learned by happenstance that it was the anniversary of the 2011 death of Christopher Hitchens. I was sort of surprised that he passed away almost a decade ago. Though it also reminded me how much our political discourse has changed.

As a young-ish writer, I met Hitchens briefly a handful of times; most memorably at a “shoot, drink, and smoke” event in Colorado. Hitch hadn’t been keen on the order of things, and got a vigorous head start on the second leg of the event, but nevertheless turned in an impressive performance shooting down clay pigeons. After learning that my family had fled Communism, Hitchens offered his fully formed thoughts — peppered with proper Magyar pronunciations — on self-determination and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. I had, probably unwisely, planned to pick a fight, but missed my chance to tell him my folks hadn’t actually defected until 1968 — or, around the same time he, according to his good friend Martin Amis, had been rationalizing Stalin and the Soviet cause. (Hitchens denied all of it, incidentally, and the famous friendship went on, unaffected.)

Anyway, a few hours later, Hitchens walked up to a podium in the middle of a field in rural Eastern plains of Colorado, placed two drinks in front him, lit a cigarette, and delivered an acerbic, highly entertaining, occasionally profane, rhetorical assault on petty Nanny State authoritarians such as Michael Bloomberg to a receptive crowd of middle-aged social conservatives. Every time I encountered him, the company was different — Evangelicals, D.C. Libertarians, or buttoned-up Bush-era neocons — but he was the same.

That doesn’t mean he played to the crowd. Hitchens was on Bill Maher’s HBO show when he flipped off a liberal audience for its “frivolous” habit of laughing at every inane George W. Bush joke and on Fox News when he defended saying, “If you gave [Jerry] Falwell an enema he could be buried in a matchbox.” When Hitchens, disheveled and cantankerous, asked the hopelessly outmatched Ron Reagan Jr., “do you know nothing about the subject at all?” — he was talking about the Iraq War — it was a KO. And I’m not even sure he was right on the substance.

Hitchens, who had made his American television debut on Firing Line, was fun to watch, but I think much better to read, even when I disagreed with him — which was quite often. His essays on figures such as Waugh, Koestler, Wodehouse, and J. G. Ballard — many of them collected in the book, Arguable are a joy. “No One Left to Lie To” (on Clintons) and “The Trial of Henry Kissinger” are brutal takedowns. His writings on atheism — the topic that made him most famous — were to me the least compelling and least contrarian of his work. Arguing over the existence of God, claiming that religion is a unique generator of “evil,” might be profitable, but it was quite safe and tedious, even in aughts. Making a liberal case for war against Islamists or arguing that women “aren’t funny” in a glossy magazine are the real blasphemies.

Matthew Yglesias once claimed that Hitchens would be “the leading pro-Trump columnist in America.” This, I suspect, is just projection from someone who lives in a hot-take culture. There’s a big difference between a counterfeit contrarianism that exists to generate clicks and genuine heterodox views. I suspect Hitchens would have abhorred Trump personally, but also defended him when he thought it was called for — which is to say he would have taken what he saw as intellectually honest positions. But really, of course, we don’t know, which is why I was a fan.

Hitchens was probably one of our last “celebrity intellectuals.” His approach, even more than the positions he took, would seem anachronistic in today’s stultified, PC-ridden, compartmentalized media environment where audiences are coddled. That’s a shame.

World

Checking In on Sweden’s Approach to the Pandemic . . .

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A person wearing a protective mask collects coronavirus self tests from people in cars at a testing site in Malmo, Sweden, November 27, 2020. (TT News Agency/Johan Nilsson via Reuters)

When you write about the coronavirus pandemic, and your sense is that the seriousness and severity of the pandemic is being underestimated in certain corners of the U.S., you inevitably are greeted by a cavalcade of “but what about Sweden?” responses. Back in September, I noted that this Scandinavian nation has caught the imagination of quite a few voices on the right, with a belief that somehow Sweden cracked the code and figured out just the right approach to the pandemic. The widespread perception in some circles on the right is that Sweden enacted few restrictions on citizens’ lives, kept the caseload low, minimized the damage to the nation’s economy, and achieved herd immunity.

None of these assertions are exactly accurate; some are less accurate than others. The Swedes enacted quite a few restrictions on daily life, the country’s case load and number of deaths were pretty high compared to their neighbors, and their economy is doing only slightly better than most European countries.

Last September, I wrote: “Perhaps if the situation in other European countries and the U.S. gets worse in autumn, Sweden will have something of the last laugh.” Alas, Sweden hasn’t had a good autumn and early winter, with cases and new deaths rising again. Right now Sweden ranks 28th in the world in cases per million people, and 24th in the world in coronavirus deaths per million people.

Now, the king of Sweden has declared his country’s approach to the pandemic is a failure:

“I believe we have failed,” the king said in an excerpt from the programme broadcast by SVT on Wednesday. The full show airs on Dec. 21.

“We have had a large number of deaths and that is terrible. That is something that brings us all suffering.”

Sweden has registered more than 7,800 deaths, a much higher per capita rate than its Nordic neighbours but lower than in Britain, Italy, Spain or France, which have all opted for lockdowns.

Many Swedes have lost faith in their country’s approach to the pandemic. Somehow, I suspect Americans who spent 2020 insisting Sweden had the right answers will avert their eyes from the latest developments. Or maybe they’ll insist the king of Sweden just doesn’t know what’s good for his people.

Politics & Policy

A Bold Pro-Life Move for a Democrat

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaks during a news conference in N.Y., October 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Last week, Hawaii representative Tulsi Gabbard introduced not one but two substantial pieces of pro-life legislation. One measure from the Democratic congresswoman is intended “to protect pain-capable unborn children.” The legislative text is not yet available, but it is likely along the lines of similar legislation introduced in the past, which prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation based on research suggesting that unborn children can feel pain at that stage of pregnancy.

The second piece of legislation would “ensure a health care practitioner exercises the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.” That bill text also has yet to be made public, but it will almost certainly follow earlier forms of born-alive legislation. For the past two years, the Senate has held a vote on Senator Ben Sasse’s Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which requires physicians to treat newborns who survive an abortion the same way they’d treat any other newborn delivered at the same gestational age.

Adding insult to injury, Gabbard is also sponsoring a measure to define sex as “determined on the basis of biological sex as determined at birth by a physician,” as it applies to Title IX and athletics, a controversial question among progressives, who increasingly believe that biological males should be permitted to compete with girls and women if they identify as female.

As the pro-life group Democrats for Life has pointed out, Gabbard has voted against pain-capable abortion restrictions three times during her congressional tenure. However, during the Democratic presidential primary, Gabbard was the only candidate to espouse support for any restrictions on abortion.

In an interview with Dave Rubin last fall, Gabbard said she views abortion in a “libertarian” way but believes that it should not be permitted during the last three months of pregnancy unless the mother was at severe risk. “I think that there should be some restrictions though,” she said. When Rubin asked if she had a “cutoff point,” Gabbard replied: “I think the third trimester. Unless a woman’s life or severe health consequences is at risk, then there shouldn’t be an abortion in the third trimester.”

Perhaps Gabbard has reflected on abortion and slowly changed her mind on the matter, or, put more precisely, perhaps she’s returned to her roots — when Gabbard first became involved in politics in the Hawaii state legislature, she said she was pro-life but later said her deployment in Iraq changed her view.

Or perhaps now that she’s decided not to remain in Congress at least for the time being, she feels free to remove herself from the Democratic Party’s lockstep with the pro-abortion movement and the abortion industry. Either way, Gabbard’s pro-life legislation from across the aisle is more than welcome, and it reflects where most Americans, and most Democrats, are on the matter of regulating abortion.

Politics & Policy

‘The Wrong Way to Fight the Death Penalty’

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. . . is the title of my latest Bloomberg Opinion column, which faults activists against the death penalty for, among other things, too often ignoring murder victims:

A Christian activist against capital punishment recently wrote an op-ed for Religion News Service, for example, that mentioned three death-row prisoners and none of their victims. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein issued a statement lamenting that Joe Biden will become president too late to save four prisoners from execution. It said nothing about their victims or their crimes. A call to mercy should not be based on indifference to justice.

Trade

Political Pandering to Hide Incompetence: Ex-Im Edition

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Rep. Kevin Cramer speaks at the 2018 North Dakota Republican Party Convention (Dan Koeck/Reuters)

You know that something doesn’t smell quite right when politicians and political appointees write a fluff piece about how great they are doing but fail to give any concrete examples and only repeat tired and debunked talking points. That what North Dakota senator Kevin Cramer and outgoing Export-Import Bank chair Kimberly Reed have done today in The Hill.

In the piece, they do what Reed has been doing for about a year: remind us that when Ex-Im was reauthorized in December 2019, the agency was given a mandate to focus on fighting China. See:

The reauthorization legislation also tasked EXIM with an important new mission: developing a “Program on China and Transformational Exports.” The effort aims to neutralize export credit or other subsidies provided by China or by other covered countries and to advance the comparative leadership of the United States with respect to China across 10 transformational export categories. The law charges the agency with a goal of reserving no less than 20 percent of its total financing authority — $27 billion out of $135 billion — for support of U.S. exports made pursuant to the program.

However, any goal-oriented individual (or institution) would know that regurgitating the statutory language that Congress handed to you in the reauthorization bill is quite different from actually doing something. Reed and Cramer seem to assume we wouldn’t notice the difference. Tellingly, the piece includes no examples of what Reed, as the head of ExIm, has actually done to fulfill that mandate. Why? Because she’s not done much at all, as I explained back in September.

Beyond the repetition, the timing for this propaganda is quite unfortunate. Just two days earlier Brendan Bordelon at National Journal produced a detailed report called “Is the EXIM Bank’s push to thwart Chinese tech smoke and mirrors?” Read it, and you will see that there’s little evidence of a coherent strategy in anything that the ExIm chairman has said or done, and she certainly has no results to show for it. 

For instance, Bordelon notes that it is all well and fine to say ExIm will finance lots of projects in these “10 key industries of the future,” but the reality is that “with few exceptions, U.S. exports of these technologies simply don’t exist—and where they do, they’re mostly governed by export controls so strict that ExIm will be precluded from financing them.”

In fact, when he talked to David Trulio, a former Pentagon official who took over the China program in May, and Stephen Renna, the chief banking officer at ExIm, they couldn’t point to more than 5 projects in the China “pipeline” in very, very early stages of development (meaning who knows if they will even see the light of day) in spite of Trulio saying that ExIm has talked to “over 1,100 exporters, stakeholder associations, and other practitioners.”

Further, Bordelon writes:

Martijn Rasser, an expert in China and emerging technologies at the Center for a New American Security, said export controls on products like semiconductors, coupled with the lack of notable export markets for U.S.-made products in industries like AI, quantum computing, or financial technologies, has him confused about the bank’s ultimate goal.

“Unless EXIM can give some specific examples of the types of deals that they’re pursuing, it’s hard to even wrap your head around what the hurdles could be,” Rasser said.

It echoes my own work that shows that when it comes to its China startegy, ExIm is all talk and little action. What comes through in the Bordelon piece is that ExIm is actually not designed to do all this in the first place so we shouldn’t be surprised. That explains why all that the agency has been doing in the nearly one year since reauthorization is the same stuff it’s been doing for decades: serving its old friends in a very narrow range of industries. (here, here, and here.)

There is one area where ExIm has been very active, as reported by the National Journal piece.  The bank has apparently been doing everything it can, through its outgoing political appointees, to cut itself off from being accountable to other agencies. For instance, according to Bordelon’s reporting, ExIm reformed guidelines for so-called “tied aid (which is a traditionally defensive subsidy against the subsidies of other countries) so it can become a slush fund available for ExIm to spend absent a policy justification and without supervision from Treasury. This is one of several examples.

Is anyone in Congress paying attention? This is not just wrong. It defies the purpose set by those who believe the government, and ExIm in particular, could be used to fight China effectively (I don’t) should pay particular attention. I hope they will see through the ExIm rhetoric which, if it continues this way, won’t deliver the results that the government and taxpayers apparently want. All this will have done is make Exim more bloated and unaccountable and many this country look a little more like China.

Education

Another Word about Those Education Doctorates

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On the homepage, Kyle Smith nails the truth in denigrating the doctoral degree held by Jill Biden. Her dissertation isn’t remotely close to the sort of work that doctoral candidates are usually expected to produce.

But programs offering educational doctorates don’t exist to shape scholars who will contribute to knowledge. They exist because they are cash cows for universities, selling easy degrees to people who want to have that “doctor” appellation, but even more because such “advanced” degrees usually mean automatic pay increases. Supposedly, institutional status is raised by having another faculty member with a terminal degree and most schools have rules that make them pay up.

This is another dreary aspect of America’s credential mania.  Lots of people who don’t have college credentials are shut out from applying for work they could do simply because they don’t have the “required” college degree. (Actual learning is entirely irrelevant.) On the other hand, getting a credential can mean a raise for people who are already doing a crummy job and won’t do it any better. The latter mostly prevails where there is no way of measuring performance, like teaching in government schools.

World

The Fate of Giulio Regeni

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A man holds a placard during a vigil in Rome on January 25, 2017, to commemorate Giulio Regeni, who was murdered by Egyptian agents exactly a year before. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters)

I was asked to survey the world and answer the question “How fares freedom?” I have done so, here. We are in an age of the strongman. Anti-democratic forces are riding high. But everywhere, there are people who resist these forces, and they are amazing.

At the end of my piece, I make two points, of an elementary nature — but sometimes these are the most important points. First: Democrats have to be in alliance with one another, even as anti-democrats are. Anti-democrats are very good at allying with one another. Think of the dictatorships that keep the regime in Venezuela afloat: those of Cuba, Russia, China, and Iran. Democrats and liberals are stronger when they band together.

The second point: Liberal-democratic values have to be argued for, year after year, generation after generation. People may think this is unnecessary. Isn’t the desirability of liberal democracy self-evident? No. Old people tend to forget, and new people are born. There can be no resting on laurels, as events prove.

In my piece, I mention many names, of autocrats, yes, but also of democrats and dissidents — and simple victims. Here is a paragraph from my section on Egypt:

The country has some 60,000 political prisoners. People are tortured to death, routinely. Sometimes their names make the news: Shady Habash, a young filmmaker; Giulio Regeni, an Italian doctoral student; Mustafa Kassem, a U.S. citizen who had returned to Egypt to see his family.

Here on the Corner, I’d like to note a report from the Wall Street Journal, published on Monday. It concerns the case of Giulio Regeni, and what Italian investigators have found. The story is clear, gruesome as it is.

Just before 8 p.m., he was abducted at his local metro stop and taken to a nearby police station. He was blindfolded and driven across the Nile to the offices of the NSA, inside the grounds of Egypt’s Interior Ministry.

“NSA” stands for “National Security Agency” — in Egypt, something very different from the National Security Agency of the United States.

There, in Office N. 13 of a four-story villa — a room typically reserved for the interrogation of foreign nationals — he was tortured for days, according to the account of a witness, a 15-year veteran of the NSA.

“In the room there were metal chains used to tie people up. The upper half of his body was naked, and there were signs of torture. He was speaking in his language, he was delirious,” the former NSA officer told Italian investigators, according to a transcript of his testimony. “He was very, very thin. He was handcuffed to the floor.”

What about Regeni’s family?

The Italian Embassy was informed of Mr. Regeni’s disappearance hours after it happened. Five days later, on Jan. 30, his parents flew to Cairo in a desperate bid to find him. At the time, Mr. Regeni was still alive. The Egyptian government made no official comment on the disappearance. At the time, the NSA firmly denied that Egyptian security forces were in any way involved in Mr. Regeni’s disappearance, according to Italian officials.

A little more:

The NSA witness said Mr. Regeni died in the agency’s custody. The cause of death was a violent blow to the back of Mr. Regeni’s neck in the 24 hours before or after the evening of Feb. 1, according to an autopsy carried out in Italy. His body was found on Feb. 3, dumped behind a wall on the side of a dusty highway on the outskirts of Cairo.

Did the Egyptian government make any statement at all?

In the months that followed, Egyptian authorities offered varying explanations for Mr. Regeni’s death, telling Italian officials that he may have been killed in a car accident, or that he died after attending a sex party.

Yup — that’s how they do it, the world over. Names and faces are different, but tactics are remarkably similar.

Anyway, my survey, once more, is here. It is not entirely dark. There are streaks of light. May these streaks increase, blotting out the darkness that must be beaten back, constantly.

The Washington Post Insists Buttigieg Is Right: Airports Are Romantic

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Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be secretary of transportation, reacts to his nomination during a news conference in Wilmington, Del., December 16, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Washington Post op-ed page chose to run a column by Lisa Bonos — who writes about dating and relationships for the newspaper’s features department — declaring, “Pete Buttigieg is right. Airports are romantic.”

Maybe you find airports romantic, maybe you don’t. If you’re with the person you love, just about any place on earth can be romantic, even the Department of Motor Vehicles. Most of the time, airports are crowded, stressful, annoying, with a cacophony of announcements, and you always seem to end up behind somebody attempting to litigate a hostile takeover of United Airlines through the gate agent because

Economy & Business

Underrating Trump’s Economic Record

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President Trump addresses supporters on the airport tarmac in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2020. (Joshua Robert/Reuters)

John Harwood, writing for CNN’s website, says that “Trump will leave office in January with a historically bad record on the economy. . . . Alone among the 13 presidents since World War Two, Trump will exit the White House with fewer Americans employed than when he started. He will have overseen punier growth in economic output than any of the previous 12 presidents.”

I have two-and-a-half disagreements which lead me to a more positive assessment of Trump’s economic record than Harwood’s.

First, Harwood underestimates the breadth of income gains during the last few years. He writes, “The President can also cite a higher-than-average 3.32% annual gain in real per capita disposable income. But that average conceals the extent of those gains that flowed to the affluent, who benefited disproportionately from his tax cuts.”

I am not sure how Harwood got that exact figure, but it’s in the ballpark of what the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows. The most recent numbers we have on median household income are from before the pandemic. But they show growth of 3.4 percent per year in inflation-adjusted income for people in the middle of the income spectrum during the first three years of Trump’s term.

Second, Harwood notes that stocks have risen faster under Trump than they did under Obama but dismisses these gains because they “have largely been driven by rock-bottom interest rates.” Yet interest rates were higher during most of Trump’s presidency than they were during most of Obama’s.

Third, Harwood counts all COVID-related economic trends against Trump, reasoning that presidents have to respond to catastrophes and that Trump’s response has been “bungled.” Including 2020 in a review of economic statistics under Trump is a defensible choice: Every president’s record reflects circumstances beyond his control. But it’s also reasonable to note that anyone would have presided over severe economic turmoil this year.

Most voters appear not to have held the economy’s plunge earlier this year against the president. According to AP VoteCast, most voters thought the economy was doing badly — but also trusted Trump, rather than Joe Biden, on handling it. Perhaps there is some sense in the public’s implicit parceling out of responsibility.

Religion

Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye Today: Nigerian Schoolboys & Boko Haram & More

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1. Time: Boko Haram Says It Abducted Students From School in Nigeria Where 330 Remain Missing

Rebels from the Boko Haram extremist group claimed responsibility Tuesday for abducting hundreds of boys from a school in Nigeria’s northern Katsina State last week in one of the largest such attacks in years, raising fears of a growing wave of violence in the region.

More than 330 students remain missing from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara after gunmen with assault rifles attacked their school Friday night, although scores of others managed to escape.

2. Adrian Zenz: Coercion in Xinjiang’s Cotton Fields

The U.S. government recently banned all cotton and related products from a state-owned paramilitary entity in Xinjiang on forced-labor grounds, but the true extent of this injustice runs much deeper. Xinjiang’s entire cotton production is tainted with coercion.

Xinjiang’s forced-labor system grew exponentially during the time when regional authorities also built “vocational training camps” in which as many as 1.8 million people have been imprisoned. Each year, Xinjiang municipalities inquire with cotton producers about their labor needs. Chinese officials then descend on local villages to conscript the workers. Government reports abound with “success stories” of officials who visit homes until family members “agree” to work, a process that involves “transformed thinking.”

3. Uighur exploitation in China slammed as ‘modern day slavery’

An estimated 570,000 workers from three Uighur regions were mobilized to cotton picking operations in 2018, the report found, citing online government documents.

The transfers took place under the Chinese government’s “coercive” labor training scheme that involves “military-style management.”

“It is impossible to define where coercion ends and where local consent may begin,” wrote Adrian Zenz, the researcher who found the documents.

Major fashion brands, including Nike, Adidas, Gap and others have come under fire by rights groups for using cotton-sourced from China. The Xinjiang region produces over 20% of the world’s cotton — making it a major player in global textile supply chains.

4. How the Chinese Communist Party Robs Children of Their Religious Faith

While entire religious communities have been persecuted in China because of their religious and spiritual beliefs, children have suffered tenfold.

The government has separated children from their parents and has threatened to beat the children if the parents do not renounce their faith. Government authorities have even threatened parents of adopted children that they will forcibly take away those children, return them to their original families, or put them up for adoption again if the family does not give up its beliefs.

In addition, in keeping with the 2018 Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs in China, local authorities have interpreted the regulation to ban attendance for all children at churches and other houses of worship, as well as to prohibit children from attending any religious activities, such as religious summer camps, or religious instruction, such as Sunday school.

5. George Weigel: On cages and evangelization in China

Just before Thanksgiving, the Vatican initiated a meeting between Pope Francis and a group of NBA players and their union representatives, evidently to discuss issues of justice in the United States. Has any similar outreach been made to Chinese Catholic human rights activists – or even to the redoubtable Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and another courageous defender of religious freedom throughout China? No.

Like Catholicism-vs.-communism in east central Europe during the Cold War, Catholicism-vs.-communism in China is, ultimately, a zero-sum game. There is no middle ground of accommodation where everyone lives happily ever after. Someone is going to win, and someone is going to lose. The Ostpolitik of the Vatican in the 1960s and 1970s never grasped this; John Paul II did, and the self-liberation of Poland and other Warsaw Pact countries followed in 1989.

6. Natan Sharansky: Why Jimmy Lai and Hong Kong’s democracy advocates need Biden’s public support right now

China today is behaving just as the Soviet Union did. The authorities in Beijing who are calling the shots in Hong Kong would clearly like to crush Lai and other activists arrested in recent weeks. But China’s leaders are patient — they are essentially running a phantom international referendum, checking to see what they can get away with as they increase repression, gauging how much it might hurt China in the West.

Here’s something on which Americans on the left and right can agree: Lai must be kept safe and Hong Kong must be free. Why not start the new Congress with a joint resolution demanding the preservation of Hong Kong’s liberties and confirming that how China treats Hong Kong will determine how Congress reacts to Chinese trade and diplomatic initiatives?

7. Science: COVID-19 is 10 times deadlier for people with Down syndrome, raising calls for early vaccination 

8. Grazie Pozo Christie: Xavier Becerra’s radical pro-abortion position makes him a poor choice to head HHS

Just what is so wrong with Mr. Becerra? Well, his radical position on abortion, for starters.  

Unlike most Americans who support common sense limits on abortion and try to balance the mother’s freedom of choice with her child’s right to live, Mr. Becerra is aggressively pro-abortion. He’s been that way since the start of his political career. From voting against requiring parental notification when a minor girl is trafficked across state lines to procure an abortion to voting in favor of both gruesome late-term partial birth abortion and discriminatory sex-selective abortions, he has come through 100 percent for the abortion lobby. His rating from NARAL and Planned Parenthood? A-plus.  

Mr. Becerra’s support for abortion right up to the moment of birth and his support for aborting baby girls simply because they are girls is shocking to the hospitable Latino culture. The fact that he would side with older men trafficking pregnant girls across state lines and against her parents, her natural protectors, is also shocking. 

9.

10. Crux: Church urges Scotland to not continue ‘home abortions’ after pandemic

The Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office, an agency of the bishops’ conference, has asked Catholics to participate in the consultation, with several “points of consideration” to address.

The office notes that women experiencing a crisis pregnancy “should be given face-to-face counselling with an appropriately qualified healthcare professional,” and adds that allowing women to have abortions at home jeopardizes the ability to receive “important information on all available options for those experiencing a crisis pregnancy, including details of organizations which can offer support to both mother and baby.”

“These arrangements risk affording insufficient time for counselling during the consultation, resulting in a failure to explore the potential physical and psychological impact of abortion on women in both the short and long term,” the office adds.

Continue reading “Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye Today: Nigerian Schoolboys & Boko Haram & More”

Elections

There Wasn’t Much Ticket-Splitting in 2020

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“I don’t get it,” President Trump said at a recent White House meeting, according to Politico. “All these other Republicans, all over the country, they all win their races. And I’m the only guy that loses?”

The premise of the president’s question was wrong. Senate Republican candidates and Trump ran within a few points of each other in most states, and there was only one state in the country where a Republican Senate candidate won and Trump lost (Maine). As for the House? David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report points out that there was a pretty even split between the number of Biden/House GOP congressional districts and Trump/House Democrat districts — and the number of split districts in 2020 likely marked an all-time low:

The fact that Republicans picked up House seats even while Trump lost reelection has been confusing to Trump and some of his supporters, but the reason that happened is simple. In 2018, House GOP candidates trailed nationwide to House Democratic candidates by 8.4 percentage points; Republicans lost their majority and ended up with 199 seats. In 2020, House GOP candidates only trailed House Democratic candidates nationwide by 3.1 points, and they’ll hold 211 to 213 House seats in the next Congress.

The 2020 performance of House Republicans greatly beat expectations, but that performance is consistent with an election in which President Trump lost the national popular vote by 4.3 points.

In 2012, when Mitt Romney lost the national popular vote by 3.9 points, there was actually more ticket-splitting: House Republicans lost the national popular vote by 1.2 points and still held a majority with 233 seats.

Media

Zoomer Problems, Catholic Answers

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Jeffrey Toobin, staff writer at The New Yorker, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 26, 2019. (Al Drago/Reuters)

The New York Times checks in on Jeffrey Toobin, the New Yorker reporter who covered the Supreme Court until he made a career-fatal mistake on Zoom. Not knowing which tabs were open, he was caught — in the memorable phrase of Kevin Williamson — badgering the witness, and his colleagues witnessed the badger.

His former colleague Malcolm Gladwell expresses himself on the matter this way:

I read the Condé Nast news release, and I was puzzled because I couldn’t find any intellectual justification for what they were doing. They just assumed he had done something terrible, but never told us what the terrible thing was. And my only feeling — the only way I could explain it — was that Condé Nast had taken an unexpected turn toward traditional Catholic teaching.” (Mr. Gladwell then took out his Bible and read to a reporter an allegory from Genesis 38 in which God strikes down a man for succumbing to the sin of self-gratification.)

I find this odd, and endearing. Is Gladwell implying that the only companies which would protect their employees from a colleague exposing himself and abusing himself in front of them are those that have turned toward traditional Catholic teaching? If so, I imagine that we’re going to see a great demand for Catholic retail stores, repair shops, and salons.

Elections

The President in Planned Parenthood’s Pocket

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(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Newsweek reports that executives from Planned Parenthood are expecting to see the incoming presidential administration immediately enact all of the abortion organization’s policy preferences.

And why shouldn’t they? Planned Parenthood Action, the group’s political-action arm, shelled out $45 million in support of Democratic candidates this election cycle, topping its previous records for campaign spending. Receiving the seal of approval from abortion providers and activist groups such as Planned Parenthood is now an essential step in running for office as a Democrat. Woe betide the Democrat who eschews abortion on demand and finds himself tagged with the dreaded label “anti-choice.”

According to Newsweek, Planned Parenthood is now “working closely with the Biden-Harris transition team to ensure they’re ‘ready to hit the ground running day one.’”

“The first thing we would like to see would be an executive order on day one, within the first 100 days, that demonstrates the administration’s commitment to sexual and reproductive health care,” Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson told the outlet in an interview.

Jacqueline Ayers, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of government relations and public policy, told Newsweek that the Biden administration should use the federal budget “to indicate how this administration would prioritize these programs that have been woefully underfunded for a long time.” Ayers is referring to programs that would direct federal funding to Planned Parenthood, among other abortion providers.

Though the abortion giant still receives close to half a billion dollars annually from the federal government, the Trump administration managed to remove all abortion providers from the Title X family planning program, costing Planned Parenthood about $40 million. That decision is almost sure to be reversed under the incoming administration, as is President Trump’s expansion of the Mexico City policy, which ensures that taxpayer money doesn’t fund abortion overseas.

Johnson told Newsweek that her work with Biden’s transition team has been mostly focused on staff appointments in the White House, administration, and federal agencies. “Planned Parenthood and its allies have identified and recommended nearly 200 people for key positions,” Newsweek reports.

“We know that personnel is policy,” Johnson said. “So we’re making sure that those positions are filled with sexual and reproductive health champions.”

It’s a neat little game they have going. Planned Parenthood spends millions targeting pro-life candidates and helping Democrats get elected, then Democrats turn around and staff up with pro-abortion ideologues who will funnel federal money right back into Planned Parenthood’s pocket.

Law & the Courts

Senate Confirms Amy Coney Barrett’s Replacement on Federal Appeals Court

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Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett attends her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, October 12, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/Reuters Pool)

On Tuesday night, the U.S. Senate confirmed Thomas Kirsch as a judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kirsch, who had been serving as a U.S. attorney in Indiana, will fill the seat vacated by Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett. The Senate confirmation vote was 51–44, and the only Democrats who voted “yes” were Arizona senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly and West Virginia senator Joe Manchin.

Kirsch is the 54th appeals court judge nominated by President Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. Nearly half of those judges were confirmed after the 2018 midterm elections in which Senate Republicans expanded their majority by two seats. Those 54 judges now account for 30 percent of all appeals court judges.

During President Obama’s two terms in office, he appointed a total of 55 appeals court judges

World

Eton College’s Thought Police Have Won — For Now

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Pupils watch as Prince Charles visits to open the Bekynton Field Development building at Eton College, Windsor, England, June 9, 2015. (Steve Parsons/Reuters Pool)

Earlier this month I wrote about a scandal that had broken out at England’s most illustrious private school, Eton College. A teacher named Will Knowland had been fired for “questioning radical feminist orthodoxy” during a lesson set aside for discussing controversial topics.

As I outlined in the piece, the whole affair reeks of totalitarianism, right down to the moving of goalposts with a view to jury-rigging disciplinary processes.

These “processes” have now concluded, and Mr. Knowland’s dismissal has been upheld. He declared himself “disappointed, but not surprised” when asked about the foreordained result of his appeal by the British press yesterday. The truth is that he never stood a chance at getting a fair hearing within the disciplinary infrastructure of the school. The woke inquisitors were already inside the walls and ensconced.

This incident has been a case study of how the woke tidal wave washing over the modern world goes about destroying the lives of individuals: Obvious caricatures of evil are avoided so as to slip past the moral sensibilities of the public. There are no Kalashnikovs or bombing raids; nothing that would allow for an unmediated perception of iniquity on the part of the average citizen.

I’ve reached for this quotation from C. S. Lewis before, but I can’t resist quoting it again (as President Reagan was fond of doing) given how perfectly it encapsulates the present trajectory of the West:

The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint . . . it is conceived and ordered; moved, seconded, carried and minuted in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

Will Knowland still has options open to him for seeking legal redress. I hope he avails himself of them all. But in the meantime, it looks as if this new ideology of intersectional grievance has claimed the livelihood of another good and humane person.

Politics & Policy

Arkansas Lawmakers Sponsor Bill to Prohibit Nearly All Abortions

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A pro-life demonstrator outside the Supreme Court during the the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Two Republican lawmakers in Arkansas have put forward the “Unborn Child Protection Act,” a bill that would prohibit most abortions from the moment of conception. State senator Jason Rapert and state representative Mary Bentley are cosponsoring the legislation.

According to the draft text of the bill, all abortions would be disallowed “except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.” The legislation defines a medical emergency as a situation in which a pregnant woman’s “life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.”

The law explicitly states that it does not authorize the charging of any woman who has obtained or attempted to obtain an abortion. Instead, it charges anyone who provides an abortion with a felony, punishable with a fine of up to $100,000 or up to ten years’ imprisonment.

“The State of Arkansas urgently pleads with the United States Supreme Court to do the right thing, as they did in one of their greatest cases, Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned a fifty-eight year-old precedent of the United States, and reverse, cancel, overturn, and annul Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” the draft bill text states, adding that the law is intended “to ensure that abortion in Arkansas is abolished and [to] protect the lives of unborn children.”

Since the bill was just introduced last month and has yet to undergo any revisions, committee hearings, or votes, its contours could well be altered over the course of the coming legislative session. Meanwhile, as is always the case with abortion restrictions, even if this legislation passes and is signed into law, it is certain to face a challenge from abortion providers and abortion-rights groups. Considering current abortion jurisprudence, courts almost certainly will side against Arkansas, at least until the status quo shaped by Roe and subsequent cases has changed.

Elections

How Republicans Flipped Four House Seats in California

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At Bloomberg, Greg Giroux breaks out the presidential vote in each of the four congressional districts where Republicans picked up a seat. It turns out that Biden won three of the four districts by double digits:

[Young] Kim, who lost a close race to [Gil] Cisneros in 2018, won by 1.2 percentage points as Biden carried the 39th by 10 points. [Michelle] Steel prevailed by 2.2 points, as Biden won the 48th by 1.5 points. […]

In the 21st District, a low-income Hispanic-majority area in California’s Central Valley, ex-Rep. David Valadao (R) defeated first-term Rep. TJ Cox (D) by less than a point in a rematch of their 2018 contest, even as Biden won the district by 11 points. […]

Republicans also kept control of the 25th District, a historically Republican area of northern Los Angeles County and southeastern Ventura County that’s drifted Democratic in presidential elections. Rep. Mike Garcia (R) won by 333 votes over state Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D) even as Biden carried the district by 10 points.

The field of Republican candidates who flipped House seats nationwide was quite diverse

Mike Garcia is a former Navy fighter pilot whose father immigrated from Mexico. David Valadao is the son of Portuguese immigrants. Young Kim and Michelle Steel are both Korean American, and a Korean-American woman had never been elected to Congress before this year.

Politics & Policy

The President Should Sign the Bill Outlawing Female Genital Mutilation

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President Trump in Washington, D.C., November 29, 2020 (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

A rare worthwhile bipartisan bill has passed Congress that will outlaw female genital mutilation as a matter of federal law. From HR 6100, The STOP FGM Act of 2020”:

“(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), whoever, in any circumstance described in subsection (d), knowingly—

“(1) performs, attempts to perform, or conspires to perform female genital mutilation on another person who has not attained the age of 18 years;

“(2) being the parent, guardian, or caretaker of a person who has not attained the age of 18 years facilitates or consents to the female genital mutilation of such person; or

“(3) transports a person who has not attained the age of 18 years for the purpose of the performance of female genital mutilation on such person,

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

A word about religious freedom and FGM. The bill provides:

It shall not be a defense to a prosecution under this section that female genital mutilation is required as a matter of religion, custom, tradition, ritual, or standard practice.

That is right and good.

I am a strong defender of religious freedom and the free exercise thereof. But the right is not absolute. The Smith case (which I oppose and hope the SCOTUS will overturn) stripped protection for religious freedom when laws are of general application — as is this bill. In other words, the bill does not single out a particular faith or group in the prohibition.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act — the law that protected Hobby Lobby, as just one example — would also not apply. The RFRA permits laws that stifle religious actions if there is a compelling state interest in so doing

That designation certainly applies to a law that prohibits the mutilation of minor girls, which, I should note, is not required by the Koran or any holy book of which I am aware and is done for the express purpose of suppressing the victim’s normal sexual functions. FGM is a direct attack on the equal intrinsic dignity of females and hence, an assault on the human exceptionalism philosophy of our societies.

I anticipate that the “intactivists,” that is, zealots who want to outlaw male infant circumcision, will say that their cause is the same as prohibiting FGM. It is not. First, circumcision is a specific religious requirement of Judaism that brings the infant into the faith, and is also strongly promoted for religious reasons in Islam. Second, it does not destroy sexual function, nor is that the purpose of the procedure. Third, it is not undertaken as a means of oppression. Finally, medical associations believe that the decision to circumcise — regardless of religious issues — should be up to the parents as there is a modest hygienic benefit attained by the procedure.

So, no. FGM is not the same as circumcision in the harm caused, its ultimate purpose, or the religious nature of the undertaking.

President Trump should sign the bill with alacrity.

Elections

Biden Deletes Tweet Mocking Buttigieg

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Yesterday, President-elect Joe Biden announced his nomination of former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg to serve as secretary of transportation. The announcement hailed Buttigieg as a “barrier-breaking public servant” and the “first openly gay major presidential candidate in American history.”

Sometime before that announcement, the Biden team deleted a Biden tweet and Biden campaign video in which Buttigieg was mocked for installing “decorative brick” and “colorful lights” in South Bend.

Elections

Stop the Steal Takes Another Preposterous Turn

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In Virginia, Republican state senator and gubernatorial candidate Amanda Chase has a communique for President-elect Joe Biden: “The American people aren’t fools. We know you cheated to win and we’ll never accept these results. Fair elections we can accept but cheating to win; never. It’s not over yet. So thankful President Trump has a backbone and refuses to concede. President Trump should declare martial law as recommended by General Flynn.” Unfortunately, this self-evidently preposterous and unpatriotic idea is not limited to Virginia. In North Carolina, state senator Bob Steinburg endorsed a similar plan to invoke the Insurrection Act and suspend habeas corpus. “They think we’re just bunch of boobs out here in the hinterland. Well, these boobs are waking up,” explained Steinburg.

Most people don’t believe their fellow Americans to be fools or, worse, “boobs.” Chase and Steinburg on the other hand have not only revealed themselves to be both, but also betrayed their lack of faith in their respective constituencies — whom they deem gullible and manipulable enough to reward this dangerous rhetoric — and the American people, whom they seek to strip of their fundamental rights because they didn’t elect the candidate Chase and Steinburg would have preferred. If their appalling yet frivolous remedy to a nonexistent problem is not enough to convince you that these two belong nowhere near the levers of power in this country, perhaps their galling elitism will do the trick.

Politics & Policy

Andrew Cuomo Continues His Assault on the First Amendment

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If he had his way, New York governor Andrew Cuomo would do to the Constitution what he’s already done to the elderly of his state. This week, he signed a bill banning the sale of “hate symbols” such as the Confederate flag, swastikas, and “white supremacist” imagery on state property. Of course, neither Cuomo nor the state legislature is empowered to decide what constitutes “hate symbols,” much less selectively ban them — even if New Yorkers had any interested in selling these symbols on state property, which doesn’t seem to be the case. But all of this is just virtue-signaling, as the kids say: a way to get people who still believe in liberal values to sound like they’re defending ugly things like the Confederate flag rather than a neutral principle.

Then again, perhaps there’s familial confusion over the issue of speech rights among the Cuomos. You may remember Chris, who earned his law degree at Fordham, informing his followers that “hate speech is excluded from protection” in the Constitution. (It isn’t.) Now Andrew Cuomo, who earned his law degree at Albany Law School, argued that his ban would “safeguard New Yorkers from the fear-installing effects of these abhorrent symbols,” as if his bailiwick or anyone’s else’s in government is to protect you from seeing things you don’t like. If it were, nursing-home residents would be throwing copies of Cuomo’s book American Crisis into a raging bonfire.

“This country faces a pervasive, growing attitude of intolerance and hate — what I have referred to in the body politic as an American cancer,” Emmy-award winning Cuomo, quoting himself, says in his approval message. This is a wholly paranoid — or crassly cynical — view of American life, but also irrelevant. There is no “hate” exception to the Constitution just as there is no coronavirus exception.

Cuomo, whose great tolerance once led him to say that conservatives weren’t welcome in New York, was recently rebuffed by the Supreme Court for targeting the free religious expression of New York’s orthodox Catholics and Jews with his COVID diktats (the governor called the Supreme Court’s decision “irrelevant.”) Cuomo is a perfect illustration of why the state should never be empowered to adjudicate the limits of free expression. It is not difficult to imagine what an aspiring authoritarian like Cuomo, who regularly smears his political opponents as hatemongers, would do with such power.

Politics & Policy

But Trump!

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the first presidential campaign debate with President Donald Trump in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

If you write anything critical about the incoming Biden administration, the usual ninnies on Twitter will respond, “Where were you when Trump did X?” — never mind if you criticized the Trump administration plenty of times.

Joe Biden promised that he and his transition team would “abide by the highest ethical standards, act solely in furtherance of the public interest, and base all policy and personnel decisions on merit, free from individual conflicts of interest.” (For now, let’s put aside the ongoing investigation into Hunter Biden for tax evasion, money laundering, and shady foreign associates.)

The post-Trump standard is being set, right now, by the decisions Joe Biden makes, and how Senate Democrats respond to those decisions.

Is it okay for the next secretary of defense to be a member of the board of directors of a major defense contractor such as Raytheon Technologies? Apparently so. And if there’s broad agreement on that, fine. Time in the private sector can show a future secretary of defense an aspect of assembling the arsenal of democracy that other jobs might not. But if Lloyd Austin gets confirmed, I don’t want to hear any further complaints about a figure with ties to a defense contractor running the Pentagon in a future Republican administration.

Is it okay for the next secretary of state to have founded a consulting firm that promises corporate clients a bridge from “the Situation Room to the Board Room” that refuses to disclose its clients? Because that’s what Tony Blinken did. If that’s acceptable, then fine, just keep in mind some future GOP secretary of state nominee may have similar connections, and be similarly disinclined to disclose his financial ties.

Is it okay for the White House chief of staff to have been a lobbyist for major corporations such as Time Warner, US Airways, the Coalition for Asbestos Resolution (a group of asbestos producers), Imclone Systems (a biopharmaceutical company), Imperial Bioresources, Fannie Mae, the Free Trade Lumber Council, Meade Instruments, FastShip, and DHL Holdings? If so, fine. Just recognize that some future Republican president may have a chief of staff with similar extensive and lucrative ties to corporate America, and there shouldn’t be any complaints about a potential conflict of interest if Democrats shrug at Klain’s old ties.

I’m fine with a strict standard that keeps corporate lobbyists and consultants from stepping into government jobs where they will influence or control federal policy, on the basis that a revolving door between the heights of the private sector and the heights of government represents a potential conflict of interest. And I’m fine with a loose standard that deems experience in the private sector useful and trusts government officials to recuse themselves from decisions where their past professional connections create a conflict of interest.

But I just want one standard, consistently applied, across all administrations. If it’s wrong for a Republican administration, it’s wrong for a Democratic administration. And if it’s ethically acceptable for a Democratic administration, it’s ethically acceptable for a GOP one, too. There’s no “the guys on my side have the right to make a good living” exception.

World

Waste and More Waste, Food Must Be Served

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Once coronavirus-lockdown rules are imposed, there’s no limit to how insane and unchangeable they can be. In California, outdoor dining is prohibited while next door a movie company can run a full outdoor-catering operation.

In much of Europe, you can’t serve alcohol in a pub unless it’s ordered “with a substantial meal.” A big problem is that many people who want to drink ignore the meal, leading to huge food waste.

A Dublin pub told its customers they could donate the price of its least expensive €9.00 ($11) meal to a homeless charity instead of having it served to them. But local police have nixed the plan, saying the food must be served.

Ronan Flood, the owner of Oscars Bar, says the regulation is insane. Last Friday night, he had 380 customers and only eight of them actually wanted to eat their meal.  “(People) have eaten in another restaurant and they were coming to us just for drinks,” he says. “Perfectly good food was left untouched and went into the bin.”