Law & the Courts

Overturning Roe v. Wade Would Repair a Supreme Injustice

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Abortion supporters and pro-life advocates demonstrate on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Washington, D.C., January 24, 2011. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Last night, the Supreme Court denied the request by Texas abortion clinics for emergency relief against the Texas Heartbeat Act. Even though the Left’s hysteria machine was immediately cranked to eleven, we have no idea what this means for the future of Roe v Wade. Hillary Clinton, and a number of others, falsely claimed that the Court had “gutted” Roe v. Wade “in middle of the night” when, in fact, the Court stressed that it did “not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claims” or the “constitutionality” of Texas’s law.

The histrionics are expected. For nearly 50 years, abortion advocates have been able to circumvent any consequential political debate over one of the most contentious and divisive issues in America life. Because of the breathtaking act of judicial supremacy, abortion advocates — many of the same people who refuse to accept the veracity of Citizens United or Heller, cases that reenforced rights explicitly laid out in the Constitution — simply claimed that the issue had been decided in perpetuity. Seven justices in 1973 had concocted an inalienable right from the ether.

There is a good possibility that initial political implications of the Court overturning Roe — which, I am skeptical will happen — would be detrimental for Republicans. Indeed, I’ve noticed that many people on social media — so perhaps this is not indicative of the larger American public, though I fear it is — seem to be under the impression that overturning Roe means the end of abortion. It’s unlikely much would change on the ground. Polls find that most Americans believe abortion should be legal. But most also believe in limitations. Some states, the ones that already have few clinics, would likely pass twelve- or 20-week bans or enact stricter enforcement of late-term-abortion bans, while others would surely adopt the Democrats’ preferred position: no restrictions whatsoever. Elizabeth Warren, ranting about the Court last night, demanded that Congress pass its own version Roe v. Wade. I’d opposed to such a law because of its barbaric nature, but whatever the outcome, laws, not judges, should govern abortion.

Roe stripped Americans of the ability to find any compromise on the issue. It stripped them of the ability to construct laws that accounted for evolving technological or scientific understanding. It stripped them of any real debate. Democrats are happy to throw individual rights to the vagaries of “democracy.” Why not abortion — a procedure that isn’t even hinted at anywhere in the Constitution?

Politics & Policy

There’s Still Unspent COVID-Relief Money

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United States Capitol Building (rarrarorro/Getty Images)

In Phil’s cheery piece this morning on our long-term, slow-moving entitlement disaster, he says, “Right now, instead of grappling with fiscal reality, Democrats are rushing to enact an additional $4.1 trillion in new spending (a portion of it, it should be noted, with Republicans’ blessing).”

The new spending is troubling enough, but it’s worse than that: We haven’t even spent all the old spending yet.

According to the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget’s COVID Money Tracker, about $1.4 trillion that Congress has already allocated for COVID relief has not actually been disbursed. That includes money from the CARES Act, the very first COVID-relief bill signed by then-President Trump in March 2020.

It may seem quaint to say it these days, but $1.4 trillion is still a lot of money. We don’t know the full economic impact of the money that has already been spent, and there’s still so much more to go. Social Security’s sorry state is just another argument against new spending.

The economic effects of government spending only take place once the spending actually happens. As anyone who has ever been owed money knows, a promise to get paid is not the same as getting paid.

There’s a lag between policy creation and policy implementation (called “inside lag”) and between policy implementation and economic effect (called “outside lag”). A year and half after passage of the CARES Act, we’re still in the inside-lag period on some parts of it. We’ll still be in the outside-lag period for years to come.

It’s one of the strongest arguments against stimulus programs: Even if you calibrate the amount of stimulus perfectly to counteract an economic downturn, it still has to be implemented, and that implementation takes lots of time. By the time it’s all implemented, the crisis may well be over.

We seem to have reached that point with the pandemic recession. Congress’s time and effort would be much better spent ensuring that Social Security and Medicare will continue to exist. But they’ve still got a few election cycles to play with until benefits will have to be cut, so don’t get your hopes up.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Approval Craters to 36 Percent among Independents, NPR Poll Finds

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President Joe Biden reacts as he speaks about Hurricane Henri and the evacuation of Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, August 22, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

President Biden’s approval rating has cratered to 36 percent among independents after his disastrous handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to a new NPR/PBS/Marist poll.

Overall, the poll found that Biden’s approval is just 43 percent, with 51 percent disapproving. That is a staggering net swing of 13 points since July, when the same poll found a plurality of Americans approved of the job he was doing, 49 percent to 44 percent.

But it’s among independents where Biden has significantly lost ground, with 55 percent disapproving. Specifically, 71 percent of independents disapprove of Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

In the recent political era, with Americans much more divided into strict partisan camps, we are not used to seeing such dramatic swings in presidential approval ratings, especially when it comes to foreign policy, which tends to get tuned out. That’s what makes what’s happened to Biden over the course of a few weeks that much more stunning.

Politics & Policy

Tens of Billions of Dollars in Hospital and Nursing Home Aid Remain Unspent

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The west side of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

Early last month, we learned that the federal rental assistance program had used just 10 percent of the $46 billion that Congress had allocated to it. This week brings an appropriate sequel:

Tens of billions of dollars designated by Congress to help hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care providers stave off financial hardship in the coronavirus pandemic are sitting unused because the Biden administration has not released the money.

As many hospitals bulge again with covid-19 patients, a wide swath of the health-care industry is exasperated that federal health officials have not made available any more of the aid since President Biden took office. About $44 billion from a Provider Relief Fund created last year remains unspent, along with $8.5 billion Congress allotted in March for medical care in rural areas.

Last month I wrote, “Congress loves to throw money at a problem and ignore questions of whether the Byzantine federal bureaucracy and patchwork of programs and systems can actually allocate the appropriated money fast enough to address the problem.”

Our federal government is asked to do a lot by the citizenry — more than it can reasonably handle. In the past month, we’ve learned that the State Department’s e-mail for evacuations from Afghanistan started bouncing back to senders because it was full. The U.S. government still does not have a certain count of how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan, nor how many U.S. green card holders. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction detailed hundreds of cases of waste, fraud, and abuse in the U.S. government’s expenditures in that country.

Keeping track of where the money goes is hard work. Putting together another giant spending bill is easy, and it allows members of Congress to boast that they did something – even if the money never gets to where it was intended to go.

Politics & Policy

Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye: Afghan Evacuees, Veterans’ Suicide Hotline, Death of Music in Afghanistan

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Afghans are escorted to a bus taking them to a refugee processing center upon arrival at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, August 24, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

1.  

2. Josh Rogin: The U.S. government left its own journalists behind in Afghanistan

The RFE/RL journalists and their families made several independent trips to the airport, often spending long days and nights waiting just outside the gates, but never managed to get inside, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly told me during an interview. And now, they are stranded.

“You would have expected that the United States government, which helped create the space for journalism and civil society in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, would have tried to do more over the last several weeks to assist journalists who made a decision that it was best for them to leave the country,” Fly said. “But they consistently failed to do that.”

3. Crux: What comes next for the 5,000 Afghans evacuated to Italy?

At the moment, Forti said the main entity offering emergency support to Italy’s Afghan refugees is the Italian government, which he said is currently evaluating whether to allow direct involvement of other institutions, including those run by the Catholic Church, “given the great solidarity and willingness that is coming from individuals and associations.”

Forti said the Italian Ministry of the Interior is exploring ways to enhance its welcome system in light of the emergency arrival of so many, because while some things can be made up as they go along, “precise rules and uniform paths to integration are needed throughout the national territory.”

4. 

5. Washington Examiner: Veterans Affairs suicide hotline received more than 35,000 calls during Afghanistan evacuation

The VA is starting a new awareness campaign for the month of September, which is Suicide Prevention Month.

The campaign urges veterans to reach out, hear others’ stories, be prepared, find resources, and spread the word in an effort to “act now” so they can “prevent Veteran suicide later.”

6. Naomi Schaefer Riley: Foster Kids Need Their Own Advocates

A new document released by a group called Family Integrity and Justice Works, whose founders include recent employees of the federal Children’s Bureau, recommends turning “child advocates” into “family advocates.” And the leaders of the UpEnd Movement, which seeks to abolish foster care entirely, say that CASAs should reflect on how they are “contributing to … the oversurveiling of families.” Instead, their role should be “getting kids to be with their families whenever possible.”

But if you spend any time in family court, it is obvious that the voice of the family is being heard. For years, the mandate of child welfare agencies has been family preservation and family reunification at (almost) all costs. What’s missing from the proceedings is the voice of the child, who is often too young to know what his or her best interests are or too traumatized to be able to explain them.

Continue reading “Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye: Afghan Evacuees, Veterans’ Suicide Hotline, Death of Music in Afghanistan”

National Security & Defense

A Strong Rebuke of Progressive Defense-Cuts Proponents

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A Navy EA-18G aircraft assigned to Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., takes off during a U.S. Air Force Weapons School integration exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., June 2, 2021. (William R. Lewis/USAF)

The House Armed Services Committee just approved a $23.9 billion addition to the U.S. defense budget on top of the $715 billion President Joe Biden had requested, bucking his lowball request and progressives who had called for defense-spending cuts.

The committee’s approval of the measure doesn’t come as much of a surprise, since Republicans have been united against Biden’s low request, which slightly cut defense spending in real terms, and a few Democrats have expressed similar skepticism. “The bipartisan adoption of my amendment sends a clear signal: the President’s budget submission was wholly inadequate to keep pace with a rising China and a re-emerging Russia,” said Representative Mike Rogers, the committee’s top Republican and author of the amendment.

But the debate about the budget was illuminating nonetheless, demonstrating that congressional progressives don’t have nearly enough sway to get their way on defense issues. At least 14 of the committee’s Democrats supported the amendment, according to Politico.

Representative Ro Khanna, one of the panel’s sole progressive voices, panned the proposal during the debate that preceded today’s vote.

“My question is simple: If we are getting out of Afghanistan and we have money, why are we spending this 23.9 billion on increasing defense as opposed to, for example, giving the money to all our veterans who served in Afghanistan for 20 years?” said the California Democrat. “Why wouldn’t that be a better use of the money? Or, my Republican colleagues who’ve spoken eloquently about our obligation to our Afghan allies and to Afghan refugees, why not spend the money on resettling them, or helping with their evacuation?”

Khanna expressed frustration that unified Democratic control of government wouldn’t yield defense-spending cuts.

“If we don’t stand up now to make sure that we are not increasing the defense budget beyond what Trump wants, what good is it to control both chambers and the presidency?”

Ahead of the markup, Representatives Mark Pocan and Barbara Lee, co-chairs of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus, mounted a last bid push to dissuade their colleagues on Armed Services from boosting the defense budget, arguing that the end of the war in Afghanistan marked an opportunity to cut defense spending.

“America spends more on its military than the next 11 largest defense-spending nations combined. This will remain true if the President’s budget request were enacted, and the ratio will only increase under the Senate’s proposal,” they and 25 of their colleagues wrote in a letter to House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith on August 30.

Smith voted against the Rogers amendment, but 14 of his Democratic colleagues supported it, just as all but one of the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee did in July.

In the end, they joined with Republicans to reject a hackneyed talking point that fails to find any basis in America’s security needs. Their vote was a powerful rebuke of the defense cuts caucus’s — and the president’s — position.

World

What Did France Know That We Didn’t?

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An interesting piece in the Financial Times:

In May — three months before the fall of Kabul to the Taliban — France began evacuating Afghans working for its embassy and other French organisations, along with their families.

Officials said 623 people were flown to France in the weeks before the Afghan army collapsed and the Islamist militant group seized power. These evacuations came in addition to the 800 Afghans and relatives who had worked with the French armed forces and had already been moved after Paris ended military operations in Afghanistan in 2014. France also repeatedly told its citizens to leave.

At the time, the French decision prompted remonstrations from NGOs and from some of France’s European allies. They were concerned about this apparent abandonment of Afghanistan and accused the French of being unduly pessimistic about the security impact of President Joe Biden’s announcement of a full US military withdrawal by September . . .

When the French were able to take a more dispassionate view and draw the obvious conclusions about the consequences of the US withdrawal, the Americans were blinded by their long association with the Afghan armed forces, their $1tn-plus investment in the country, and by the cumbersome nature of their own intelligence systems.

Film & TV

Fox News Wins 94 to 6 against All Competitors — Combined

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Psst, cable-news executives. I’ve got a tip for you. There are a lot of takers for right-of-center viewpoints. Fox News Channel (FNC) just scored 94 of the top 100 live telecasts on all of cable TV in August. Fox’s average prime-time audience (2.5 million) is roughly double MSNBC’s (1.229 million) and triple CNN’s (819,000). In “the demo” (viewers under 55), the metric around which the TV advertising industry is based, FNC is administering a similar beating to its competitors: 394,000 viewers for FNC, 191,000 for CNN, 163,000 for MSNBC. Thirteen of the top 14 cable-news shows were on FNC, which swept the top five cable-news shows in viewership (and the same five were tops in the demo also):

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight averaged 3.302 million viewers;

2.  The Five, 3.106 million;

3. Hannity, 3 million;

4. The Ingraham Angle, 2.394 million; and

5.  Special Report with Bret Baier, 2.186 million.

Meanwhile, CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time show saw its lowest ratings since February of 2020. I wonder why. Any other institution that was getting beaten 94 to 6 would rethink its strategy and shake things up, maybe even try to learn from the industry leader. But CNN and MSNBC won’t.

Traffic-Ticket Quotas and the Rule of Law

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(Marcos Assis/Getty Images)

There was an interesting long piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 24 about ticket quotas in Virginia traffic enforcement. It highlights some of the oddities in traffic enforcement that we don’t often think about.

The Times-Dispatch obtained an email sent to Virginia State Police for a certain area of the state that said troopers should write a minimum of five tickets per day, or “one every two hours.” They quote directly from the email:

It appears . . . that many of you are not aware that we have returned to normal enforcement activity. 4, 5 or 10 tickets for a week of

Religion

Harvard University’s New Chaplain President Rejects Religion, Embraces Leftism

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Branded merchandise is displayed for sale outside Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., June 18, 2018. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

It is increasingly hard to believe that when Harvard University began its operations in 1636 (as Harvard College), it was essentially (though not officially) Puritan in character, in student body, and in instruction — unsurprising, given the social milieu of its founding and founders. We’ve indeed come a long way since then. Recently, the chaplains of Harvard University, some 40 in number, elected Greg Epstein as their president. Epstein, the author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, is the humanist chaplain of Harvard, which means, as NPR politely puts it, he “represents the fast-growing number of Americans who do not associate themselves with a religious group, sometimes referred to as nones, as in no affiliation, a group that now rivals white evangelicals and Catholics in size.”

For what it’s worth, Christian bodies at Harvard have downplayed the significance of this development, claiming that the role is merely administrative, representing the chaplains to the university president, and that he has a record of working with all denominations. At any rate, in his NPR interview, Epstein claims to be an atheist, and to reject conscious religious identification, though not cooperation. His vision for the role suggests he seeks a kind of collaboration between nonreligious and religious — of a certain type:

Non-Religious people like me – atheists, agnostics, humanists, secular people, however you want to call us – we are allies for and of progressive and moderate religious people in the United States and across the world. You know, people who consider themselves deeply religious but want to work to advance science, want to work for public health in an evidence-based manner, want to work for democracy and representation for all in equity and equality – those are my friends and allies, and I’ll fight with them to the death.

The way Epstein describes his position, it seems not so much that he’s rejected religion, but rather chosen political leftism as his new faith — which just so happens to be the dominant creed of Harvard and of many elite institutions. Perhaps Harvard has not changed so much over the past few centuries after all.

Law & the Courts

More One-Side-of-the-Ledger Thinking from the ACLU

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Parents walk their children on the first day of school, amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, at West Tampa Elementary School in Tampa, Fla., August 10, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

The ACLU is suing South Carolina for leaving the question of masking in schools up to parents. Per the organization:

Disability rights groups and parents of children with disabilities filed a federal lawsuit today challenging a South Carolina law that bans school districts from imposing mask mandates in schools. The parents and disability rights groups represent students whose disability, including underlying health conditions, makes them particularly susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19, and argue that the ban on mask mandates effectively excludes these students from public schools, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

More:

“Prohibiting schools from taking reasonable steps to protect the health of their students forces parents to make an impossible choice: their child’s education or their child’s health,” said Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program. “This is a disability rights issue. Students with health conditions or disabilities that make them vulnerable to COVID have a right to attend school without endangering their health or safety. Schools who have children with these conditions have legal obligations under federal disability rights laws.”

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities, deny them equal access to their education, or segregate them unnecessarily, and they are obligated to provide reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures in order to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their public education.

I don’t think the statutory case for the applicability of the ADA or Section 504 is strong. But, assume for a moment that it were. Why would it run in only one direction?

The case for, say, keeping peanuts out of schools is obvious: The presence of peanuts can kill certain children, whereas the absence of peanuts is a mere inconvenience to everyone else.

With masks, though, it’s more complicated than that. Some people with disabilities may indeed be hurt by the lack of a mask mandate. But others may be hurt by the presence of one. And one cannot accomodate one of those people without affecting the other.

On its website, the CDC acknowledges that any “person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, for reasons related to the disability” should be “exempt from the requirement to wear a mask.” Well, what happens when that disabled person meets the other disabled person who needs everybody to be wearing one? If “public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities, deny them equal access to their education, or segregate them unnecessarily,” that presumably works in both directions? And if it does, why would we automatically assume that the onus is in favor of, rather than against, a mandate?

Politics & Policy

When It Comes to Abortion, Democrats Are Terrified of ‘Democracy’

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Pro-choice activists assemble in downtown Memphis, Tenn., May 21, 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

There’s a deep irony to be found in current left-wing complaints that the Supreme Court having a say on abortion is “not democracy” when it was the Supreme Court that unilaterally legalized abortion nationwide in the first place in Roe v. Wade. But it’s easy to understand why.

Your position on the morality of  abortion shouldn’t be dictated by its popularity. Yet, as a political matter, it’s worth pointing out that public opinion doesn’t align with the Democratic Party’s position. Since 1973, when the Court concocted an inalienable right to rid yourself of inconvenient offspring, Gallup has found that the number of Americans who believe abortion should be legal “under any circumstance” has fluctuated between 22–34 percent. This is the stance of the contemporary Democratic Party; legal abortion from conception to crowning.

The media love to combine the percentage of those who believe abortion should be legal “always” and “in some circumstances.” But why? As of today, Gallup also finds that 67 percent of American believe abortion should be either completely banned (19 percent) or in place with limitations (48 percent). Obviously, the latter can mean an array of things. But the heartbeat bills, like the one in Texas, allow for abortion in “in some circumstances.” As does, obviously, the 20-week ban that House Republicans supported a few years ago.

Abortion plays out like most partisan issues these days. Some polls, like this wildly misleading push-poll from USA Today/Ipsos, tell us one thing. This Hill-Harris poll, which found 55 percent of registered voters thought heartbeat bills were either “too lenient” (21 percent) or “just right” (34 percent), tells us another. In Texas, the heartbeat law certainly isn’t usurping the will of the people, with a majority of the state supporting banning abortions after six weeks — including 46 percent of women — as opposed to 45 percent who want to keep it legal.

Of course, the more science learns about the unborn and the earlier technology can keep babies viable outside the womb, the more untenable the pro-choice position will become. If abortion advocates truly believed they would prevail in a “democracy,” they wouldn’t need Roe and they wouldn’t be terrified about the prospects of its demise.

Politics & Policy

Why Many Democrats Will Figure Out a Way to Blame the GOP for Afghanistan

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President Joe Biden gives a statement about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 24, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Let’s say you regularly interact with connected pairs of people you like and don’t like – say, a sister you love and a brother-in-law who gets on your nerves. Or one close friend, and a friend-of-a-friend who always struck you as a jerk. Or a manager you like and your manager’s assistant who strikes you as an unctuous, insufferable, duplicitous suck-up.

The human mind likes consistency and predictability. Many of us instinctively recoil when something happens that challenges our moral sense of things – whether it’s someone we think highly of disappointing us, or that classic Clickhole headline, “Heartbreak: The Worst Person You Know Just Made a Great Point.” We want the world to make sense. We are challenged when we see a person we like making a bad and harmful decision, and people we dislike making a good and helpful decision. It’s a painful signal that we don’t understand them or the world as clearly as we thought we did.

So when the sister does something stupid that bothers us, we’ll think through a way to conclude it’s really the brother-in-law’s fault. The close friend who disappoints us must have been steered in that direction by the jerk. The manager who makes a terrible decision must have been led astray by the terrible assistant. Consciously and subconsciously, we’re inclined to find a way to transfer blame from the people we like to the people we don’t like.

Anybody with eyes can see that the way President Biden has handled the withdrawal from Afghanistan is a disaster. One of the world’s most brutal and malevolent factions is back in power, the humanitarian crisis is off the scale, a country’s worth of women are back into oppression, we’ve lost a massive portion of our intelligence capabilities on the ground, al-Qaeda leaders are coming back out in public, Islamists around the world are thrilled, the Haqqani Network now runs Kabul, God knows how many American citizens and green card holders are stuck behind Taliban lines, our allies are furious, and Russia and China are laughing so hard they’re peeing themselves. Geopolitically, militarily, socially and morally, this is a humiliating defeat.

For any good Democrat – or Biden fan of any stripe — this is embarrassing, even mortifying. The guy who was supposed to replace Donald Trump and restore order is just bringing a different kind of chaos. Meghan McCain said yesterday, “I once thought I truly knew Joe Biden and he helped me through pain and grief, for which I am grateful. This man on tv giving this speech, I do not recognize this man. God help our country. God help the Americans we have abandoned.”

But for Democrats and Biden fans, acknowledging that he completely fumbled one of the biggest decisions of his presidency would mean acknowledging that their high opinion of Biden was wrong, and that Biden’s critics were right about him, at least in some ways. So some people’s brains go on an emergency mission of rewriting what they perceive — reimagining that what we’ve witnessed over these past two weeks was a well-executed Biden policy that was hindered by Trump’s deal (a factor, no doubt, but not a justification for Biden’s decisions and actions), the collapse of the Afghan army and government (which Biden assured us wouldn’t happen, and that came after we removed their air support) and by Americans who ignored warnings to leave (that ran contrary to Biden’s expressions of faith in the Afghan army).

In the end, a loyal Democrat can’t allow themselves to believe that Joe Biden led his country to a disaster, and that he isn’t the wise, empathetic, trustworthy statesmen that they spent 2020 praising. Because if loyal Democrats could be so wrong about that… what else could they be wrong about?

Thus, in the minds of many Democrats, the villain of the story must be conservatives, and the lesson of all of this must be that conservatives are bad.

 

World

Washington Post: My, That Declassified Report on COVID-19’s Origins Is ‘Sparse’

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Medical workers in protective suits inspect a CT scan image at a hospital in Xiaogan, Hubei Province, China, February 20, 2020. (China Daily/Reuters)

I’m glad that the Washington Post editorial board has not forgotten about the questions about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and declared that “the need for a full and credible investigation into how the pandemic began — and how to prevent the next one — has never been greater.” After noting that the declassified version of the intelligence community’s report was “sparse,” the editors wrote:

President Biden noted last week that China continues to withhold information. “The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them,” he pledged. But how? Ultimately, China holds the key. However, Mr. Biden should offer to support and facilitate the work toward a full-fledged pandemic investigatory commission being undertaken by the privately funded Covid Commission Planning Group under Philip Zelikow, who was executive director of the highly regarded 9/11 Commission. Such a panel would be uniquely capable of looking both back at what happened and forward to what might.

But it is abundantly clear that the Chinese government has no intention of ever cooperating with an independent international or outside investigation. If Philip Zelikow wants to emulate the 9/11 Commission, fine, but it’s fair to wonder just what that commission will be able to find that the U.S. intelligence community could not.

And if a 90-day review by the intelligence community didn’t bring any new information to the public — and didn’t confirm, deny, or even acknowledge previous leaks attributed to the U.S. intelligence committee — it is fair to wonder how eager the U.S. government is to give the public a full and detailed accounting of COVID-19’s origins.

Biden’s statement after reading the intelligence community’s review declared, “We must have a full and transparent accounting of this global tragedy. Nothing less is acceptable.” Back on May 27, White House press secretary Jen Psaki elaborated:

Back in March, the President asked his intelligence community to do an assessment — an internal assessment, which you all know happens all the time and he is presented often — often in PDBs what those assessments look like.  That’s what they did.  It was presented to him a couple of weeks ago. In that PD- — or, following that PDB, he made clear — he asked them to see if we could declassify that information, make it available to the public.  They came back just this week with what they would propose to be a public statement.

And yet, the declassified intelligence community report is one and a quarter pages, and offers nothing the public did not already know.

Health Care

More Evidence That Lockdowns Have Increased Childhood Obesity

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(adrian825/Getty Images)

I’ve written before about how our response to the coronavirus has encouraged inactivity, thus leading to a weight gain that, among other things, makes one both likelier to get and to suffer badly from COVID-19, and how even children haven’t been spared from this dynamic. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association adds more evidence:

Youths gained more weight during the COVID-19 pandemic than before the pandemic (Table). The greatest change in the distance from the median BMI for age occurred among 5- through 11-year-olds with an increased BMI of 1.57, compared with 0.91 among 12- through 15-year-olds and 0.48 among 16- through 17-year-olds. Adjusting for height, this translates to a mean gain among 5- through 11-year-olds of 2.30 kg (95% CI, 2.24-2.36 kg) more during the pandemic than during the reference period, 2.31 kg (95% CI, 2.20-2.44 kg) more among 12- through 15-year-olds, and 1.03 kg (95% CI, 0.85-1.20 kg) more among 16- through 17-year-olds. Overweight or obesity increased among 5- through 11-year-olds from 36.2% to 45.7% during the pandemic, an absolute increase of 8.7% and relative increase of 23.8% compared with the reference period (Table). The absolute increase in overweight or obesity was 5.2% among 12- through 15-year-olds (relative increase, 13.4%) and 3.1% (relative increase, 8.3%) among 16- through 17-year-olds. Most of the increase among youths aged 5 through 11 years and 12 through 15 years was due to an increase in obesity.

In the classic manner of scientific studies, there is some dry understatement here:

Research should monitor whether the observed weight gain persists and what long-term health consequences may emerge. Intervention efforts to address COVID-19 related weight gain may be needed.

The “long-term health consequences” of weight gain are well-known. As for “intervention efforts,” how about, as a start, we get kids back, as quickly as possible, to normal sports and outdoor play. Their long-term health, and that of our nation, depends on it.

Health Care

The Opposite of Wisdom on Display in Response to Texas Abortion Law

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I pretty much retired from media outrage a long time ago — it’s better for everyone’s health. And it’s been a long time since we pretended Dan Rather was objective.

But, still — goodness. If you seriously can say such a thing, you should have never gotten away with pretending . . .

It’s one thing when a young fella on MSNBC compares pro-lifers to the Taliban — probably to be expected. But a senior newsman? Again, not a surprise, but we should expect better from our elders.

Politics & Policy

Commit to Actually Helping Pregnant Women in Texas and Beyond

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A patient from Texas holds a sonogram that she received in Shreveport, La., February 13, 2020. (Lila Engelbrecht/Reuters)

It was ghoulish to read about Texas abortion clinics working through 11:59 last night to get as many babies aborted before the new heartbeat bill went into law. That’s what abortion is — the killing of an unborn baby. We can all agree that we want to help women. We don’t help women when we lie about what abortion is. I watch day after day as women get ushered in the doors of abortion clinics — information about alternatives is treated as a danger. Lying about abortion being health care is a poison in our nation.

Meanwhile, women will still get pregnant when they weren’t planning to. Who will help them have their babies? Here are a few options below. We should all be finding ways to support them in Texas and our own backyards.

Houston Coalition for Life — multiple locations, including a bus outside of the Houston Planned Parenthood. (That PP has been frequently referred to as a “mega-center.”)

Birth Choice in Dallas

Human Coalition

Houston Pregnancy Help Centers — multiple locations

Update: A few more places worthy of support in the Lone Star State:

Thrive — multiple locations, in Dallas and Irving

Fort Worth Pregnancy Center

Viola’s House — a maternity home for homeless teens

 

Health Care

Florida Judge Makes Inconvenient Student-Masking Data Disappear

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( igoriss/Getty Images)

In the COVID era of debate, appeals to authority have gone viral. I recently mentioned one example: Politifact rated “false” the claim that student-masking “lacks a well-grounded scientific justification.” One might assume that Politifact cited data showing that masks on students slow viral spread, improve health outcomes, and have minimal effect on learning and socialization. Nope! All it could do was appeal to the authority of the CDC and like-minded researchers who offered such ringing endorsements as, “Mechanistically, it is a little hard to believe masking would not have some effect.”

Last week, as part of his ruling against Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s mask-optional policy, a state judge engaged in perhaps the most egregious appeal to authority I have seen so far. By way of background, the governor’s order banning mask mandates had cited “a Brown University study [that] analyzed COVID-19 data for schools in Florida and found no correlation with mask mandates.” That is indeed what the study found. Keep that in mind.

The Brown University study’s lead author Emily Oster and her co-authors did include several disclaimers in their paper about the limitations of observational studies — e.g., “we cannot make strong causal claims,” “we [could] not control for community mitigation practices,” and so on. That’s all fine. Everyone agrees that a randomized controlled trial would be more definitive, but for now this is the best we have.

The authors went too far, however, when they suggested in their summary that students should wear masks anyway:

We would emphasize that in general this [other] literature suggests in-person school can be operated safely with appropriate mitigation, which typically includes universal masking. It would be premature to draw any alternative conclusions about this question based on this preliminary data.

This implicit endorsement of masking may or may not be justified based on other evidence, but it indisputably does not follow from the data analysis in their paper. The authors’ remarks here are analogous to “dicta” in a judicial opinion — side observations that are not part of the actual holding.

Now back to that Florida judge. In his decision, he uses the authors’ dicta not merely to cast doubt on their findings, but to deny that their findings even exist! He delivered his opinion orally, so the text is choppy, but here is the relevant part:

This study doesn’t say masking is not effective. In fact, it recommends universal masking. . . . [DeSantis] said that [the Brown report] had analyzed Covid data and found no correlation with mask mandates. If that’s true, why did the Brown report recommend that universal masking was still the way to go?

Now I don’t say that the governor has time enough to read a report that’s that thick, but his advisors do. So the statement in the executive order is just incorrect. That study does not find “no correlation” with mask mandates.

Remember, “no correlation” is exactly what the study found. However, this judge believes that appeals to authority are so powerful that they can make data disappear. Because the authors added some side comments about how they still favor masking, the judge literally cannot believe that their data analysis tends to support the opposite position. In this legal proceeding, the word of the authorities trumps actual evidence.

The danger here is underappreciated. Prior to COVID, there had been a movement to “democratize” science in the sense that data and code-sharing should be the norm, and that working papers could receive informal peer review from just about anyone on the Internet. The point was to avoid having a priestly class that could make unquestioned pronouncements about The Science. Now the priestly class is back with a vengeance. People who disagree with the public-health establishment are widely censored, “but the CDC says . . .” has become a mic-dropping argument, and judges are so enamored with expert authority that they cannot even comprehend the existence of contrary data.

Impromptus

Stories of Our Time

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Ned Rorem (Screenshot via Youtube)

Impromptus today begins with a story from the University of Georgia — a story of our time. A professor, Irwin Bernstein, came out of retirement to teach a couple of classes. He is 88. He had one rule: Students had to wear masks; if they did not, he would not teach. (Professor Bernstein has diabetes and other health problems.) One young woman refused to comply. So he simply walked out of class — retired again. Before he left, he told his students that he had been willing to risk his life for his country while serving in the Air Force, but was not willing to risk it to teach a class with an unmasked student during a pandemic.

In this story, many issues arise — issues that are being hotly debated today: political, medical, social, and moral. What are our individual rights? What are our obligations as citizens? What about the Golden Rule? Does it come into play? (I think of Professor Harold Hill: “Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock, and the Golden Rule!” Ah, Americanism, in arguably the Great American Musical.) (I did argue that, in a piece, long ago. Which I cannot find via Google.)

Elsewhere in Impromptus, I discuss a Cuban dissident, Islamist terrorism, January 6, Josephine Baker, golf, baseball, and more. (Josephine Baker will be re-interred in the Pantheon, the first entertainer to be so honored.) (Not bad, as I say in my column, for a St. Louis girl, the granddaughter of slaves.)

After I wrote my column, there was some news out of Georgia — some COVID news, or pandemic-war news: “Anti-vaxxers shut down vaccination event, harass state health workers.” (Article here.) This is now commonplace. Health workers and election workers alike face terrible harassment, sometimes violence. There ought to be a general national stand against this.

At the end of today’s Impromptus is music: a note on Leontyne Price, and her singing of a Ned Rorem song: “Ferry Me Across the Water.” (This sets a poem of Christina Rossetti, which is about death, as the title indicates.) The song is simple, lulling, and, by its conclusion, moving. A marvelous little number.

“I attended 13 Price recitals,” I once said to Price herself. She answered, with an almost coquettish air, “So few?” I pleaded that I’d gotten a late start. As I say in my column, she always included American composers on her recital programs around the world. It was important to her. Mainly, she sang her personal friends, who sometimes wrote for her directly: Barber, Rorem, and Hoiby.

I interviewed Rorem back in 2002 (and you can find excerpts from our conversation here). Today, he is 97, about to turn 98. Leontyne Price is 94.

“The performer is more important than the composer in the mind of the general public,” Rorem told me, “and the performer almost always performs music of the past.” The public “has no notion of what it is we composers do,” he continued. “We’re a despised minority. Actually, we’re not even that, because we don’t even exist, and to be despised, you have to exist.”

That is a very tough statement — I have quoted it many times — and there is truth in it. Still, songs such as “Ferry Me Across the Water” will be sung long, long after Ned Rorem is gone. These little gems add sparkle or consolation to life.

Again, those interested in today’s Impromptus should go here.

Education

Leftist Ideology Pervades Even in the ‘Reddest’ State Universities

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Higher education in America has been so thoroughly taken over by people intent on pushing their leftist beliefs that even in a state as conservative as Oklahoma, the universities are full of faculty and administrators who are intent on doing so.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jonathan Small of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs writes about the deplorable state of affairs at Oklahoma University.

Among the examples Small gives is a recent “workshop” for faculty members. He writes, “Take the faculty workshop dubbed ‘Anti-Racist Rhetoric and Pedagogies,’ where a workshop leader vowed to ‘call them out’ if students engage in forbidden speech. And what is forbidden speech in her classroom? She doesn’t say, but it is a fair guess that anything this professor dislikes could be banned. Instead of that faculty workshop, the university needs one to teach faculty members that under the Constitution, they cannot silence or threaten students based on the content of their speech.”

How did such a thing get approved? Evidently, those in control of the university don’t fear any repercussions from the politicians and taxpayers who actually pay for it.

Faculty members who dare to express non-leftist views may be purged. Small gives us the case of Brian McCall, “a well-respected professor in the OU College of Law. McCall is a devoted Christian who expressed his belief in traditional Catholic teachings about the family in off-campus writings. He never brought that subject up in class. Nevertheless, then-dean of the College of Law Joseph Harroz punished McCall for his beliefs, stripping him of two administrative posts. Harroz made it plain that unapproved points of view were not to be tolerated among tomorrow’s budding lawyers.”

Small calls upon the non-leftist politicians who are in control in the state to show some backbone, cutting appropriations and demanding transparency.

Energy & Environment

‘Climate Risk,’ the Fed, and AOC

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Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C. (crbellette/Getty Images)

The Fed should not have a climate policy, but it’s 2021, and so the central bank has been edging towards having one.

CNBC (from March):

The Federal Reserve has taken another step forward in efforts to ensure that the financial system is protected against climate risks.

As the central bank turns its attention increasingly toward the matter, the Fed has created a Financial Stability Climate Committee and a Supervision Climate Committee.

The panels will focus on “the potential for complex interactions across the financial system,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said in remarks Tuesday.

“Climate change and the transition to a sustainable economy also pose risks to the stability of the broader financial system. So a second core pillar of our framework seeks to address the macrofinancial risks of climate change,” Brainard added.

The Supervision Climate Committee will focus on identifying risks and putting together a program to address them. The Financial Stability Climate Committee will address “macroprudential risks” for how climate could pose systemic risks to the institutions the Fed supervises.

The argument that the Fed has to get involved because of “risk” is almost entirely bogus, for the reasons neatly summarized for Project Syndicate by John Cochrane:

In the United States, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of the Treasury are gearing up to incorporate climate policy into US financial regulation, following even more audacious steps in Europe. The justification is that “climate risk” poses a danger to the financial system. But that statement is absurd. Financial regulation is being used to smuggle in climate policies that otherwise would be rejected as unpopular or ineffective…

Such an event lies outside any climate science. Hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and fires have never come close to causing systemic financial crises, and there is no scientifically validated possibility that their frequency and severity will change so drastically to alter this fact in the next ten years…

To be sure, it is not impossible that some terrible climate-related event in the next ten years can provoke a systemic run, though nothing in current science or economics describes such an event. But if that is the fear, the only logical way to protect the financial system is by dramatically raising the amount of equity capital, which protects the financial system against any kind of risk. Risk measurement and technocratic regulation of climate investments, by definition, cannot protect against unknown unknowns or un-modeled “tipping points.”…

I described the notion of risk (in this context) as almost entirely bogus, because I can see how some companies, primarily in the fossil-fuel sector, could perhaps come under pressure from new climate regulations, and if they come under pressure that might, in turn, affect some banks with exposure to them.

Cochrane, I suspect, would not be convinced:

What about “transition risks” and “stranded assets?” Won’t oil and coal companies lose value in the shift to low-carbon energy? Indeed they will. But everyone already knows that. Oil and gas companies will lose more value only if the transition comes faster than expected. And legacy fossil-fuel assets are not funded by short-term debt, as mortgages were in 2008, so losses by their stockholders and bondholders do not imperil the financial system. “Financial stability” does not mean that no investor ever loses money.

He adds:

If one is worried about the financial risks associated with the energy transition, new astronomically-valued darlings such as Tesla are the danger. The biggest financial danger is a green bubble, fueled as previous booms by government subsidies and central-bank encouragement. Today’s high-fliers are vulnerable to changing political whims and new and better technologies. If regulatory credits dry up or if hydrogen fuel cells displace batteries, Tesla is in trouble. Yet our regulators wish only to encourage investors to pile on.

Ouch.

To be fair, for a long time, Powell appeared to have reservations about taking the Fed into the climate wars, and probably still does.

CNBC:

For his part, Powell has indicated that climate change is not central to the Fed’s mission but is nonetheless important.

“It’s really very early days of trying to understand what this all means. It clearly can have longer-term implications for our economy, our financial system and the people who we all serve,” Powell said. “It’s early days, but we feel like we have the responsibility to start the process of understanding” the risk.

This reticence may have landed him in trouble with AOC and other progressives in congress.

CNN:

Progressive Democrats, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are calling on President Joe Biden to give the Federal Reserve a sweeping makeover by replacing Jerome Powell as chairman.

“We urge President Biden to reimagine a Federal Reserve focused on eliminating climate risk and advancing racial and economic justice,” the lawmakers said in a statement Tuesday morning.

In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, the statement was issued Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Mondaire Jones of New York and Chuy Garcia of Illinois, all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

In their statement, Powell’s critics noted that:

The Federal Reserve received a D- rating for its approach to climate risk policies from Positive Money’s Global Central Bank Scorecard, placing it at the bottom of the G20 Central Banks.

There is no better endorsement for Powell than the fact that he has disappointed Positive Money. That AOC and her cohort regard that coterie of scolds as an authoritative source is, in its own way, revealing.

Check out its website and the Positive Money report entitled The Tragedy of Growth (my emphasis added) :

To protect wellbeing and avoid ecological disaster we must abandon GDP growth and transform our economic system…

Widespread acknowledgment of the limitations of GDP as an indicator of progress is a positive step, but insufficient to achieve human wellbeing and environmental sustainability. Calls for more ‘green’ or ‘inclusive’ growth fail to address the negative consequences of growth. This report has shown that continuous GDP growth consistently fails to deliver enhanced life satisfaction, alleviation of poverty, or environmental protection.

Just remember that the next time you hear AOC touting the prosperity that will be built by the Green New Deal.

World

Can Biden Reassure Ukraine?

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy takes part in the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, Ukraine, August 24, 2021. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

President Joe Biden is poised to attempt a high-wire balancing act in his meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky tomorrow.

The meeting will be Biden’s first with one of his foreign counterparts since the end of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and its marks Zelensky’s first visit to the White House, though the Ukrainian leader has been requesting a sit down with the president since taking office in 2019 during the Trump administration.

No doubt, the Biden administration is hoping for a smooth visit that demonstrates U.S. resolve to stand with a partner against Russian aggression. Following the debacle in Afghanistan, which featured strident criticism from the very allies that Biden courted, he needs such a success. And he needs to show the world that U.S. commitments mean something, after he spent weeks shifting blame for the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan to the Afghan defense forces (most recently this afternoon).

On the one hand, demonstrating a broad U.S. commitment shouldn’t be too difficult, as the Biden administration has generally continued U.S. support for the Ukrainian government amid Russia’s ongoing hybrid war in the country’s Eastern region of Donbas. In fact, administration officials are touting a new $60 million military-assistance package to the country, which comes amid a Russian military buildup on the border.

But Biden’s decision to waive mandatory U.S. sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has cast a pall over U.S.–Ukraine relations, putting his commitment to Ukraine’s security and anti-kleptocracy work in doubt. On top of that, Zelensky, like other U.S. partners, might see the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of a general tendency toward retrenchment.

“So the White House is going to want to reassure Ukraine and Ukraine is going to want to be reassured,” John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to the country and director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, told me this afternoon. Although Zelensky vociferously opposes Nord Stream 2, and the Biden administration’s decision to waive sanctions on the pipeline project, and is likely to express that in his first White House meeting, Biden’s “inclination to push back or punch back on Nord Stream 2 “I think will be restrained” out of a desire not to escalate the dispute with Zelensky in the aftermath of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

So the dispute isn’t likely to play out in the open, as it did this past spring, when Biden waived the pipeline sanctions without notifying the Ukrainian government in advance, generating some bruising headlines and congressional outrage. There are even some bright spots, as the U.S. announced new COVID-vaccine shipments to Ukraine last week, ahead of tomorrow’s meeting.

But their meeting won’t resolve the pipeline issue, especially as members of Congress promise to fight the administration on Nord Stream 2.

In addition to that, the particular details of the new military-assistance package raise questions about Biden’s commitment, making his work more difficult.

In June, Politico reported that the White House had frozen a $100 million military-aid package to Ukraine that had been arranged as Russian forces amassed at the country’s border this spring; it had been put on hold ahead of Biden’s June 16 summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The administration’s announcement of the new $60 million package doesn’t hurt, but it raises the question of where the proposal for a larger assistance package went.

Washington’s inability to successfully complete its evacuation Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul sent a signal to U.S. adversaries. So, too, do vague assurances to support Ukraine, when the administration simultaneously freezes military-aid packages, greenlights Russian pipelines, and courts Moscow for its participation in “strategic stability” talks.

World

Biden’s Bizarre ‘Yemen’ Counterfactual

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan during a speech in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, D,C., August 31, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

President Biden repeated a strange talking point on Afghanistan during his address today marking the completion of the U.S. military withdrawal. He urged Americans to entertain a hypothetical:

If we’d been attacked on September 11, 2001, from Yemen instead of Afghanistan, would we have ever gone to war in Afghanistan, even though the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the year 2001?

Well, no. In all likelihood, we’d be in our 20th year of military engagement in Yemen instead. That is, to entertain an added counterfactual, had Yemen also been run at the time by a fanatic group of medieval LARPers unwilling to hand over a very-fledgling AQAP, instead of by President Saleh.

Biden continued, elaborating:

I believe the honest answer is no. That’s because we had no vital interest in Afghanistan other than to prevent an attack on America’s homeland and our friends, and that’s true today.

That’s like arguing against the OBL kill-shot (which, by the way, Biden did) by asking those in the room to ask themselves: “If 9/11 had been engineered by a collective of insurance salesmen from Minsk, would we even be in Abbottabad?”

No. We’d be hunting down anyone with a briefcase in Belarus. The origin of the threat probably wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, change our resolve to eliminate it. Biden is trying to underscore how the U.S. has no inherent interest in Afghanistan or the Taliban, absent the intrusion of history. But intrude it did. There were convincing cases to be made for dramatically reducing, even eliminating, our footprint in Afghanistan. This is not one of them.

Sports

When Pigs Fly

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Flying Pig Marathon Starting Line (Courtesy of the Flying Pig Marathon)

In his otherwise-excellent Tuesday newsletter this morning, Kevin Williamson excerpts a bit of “news” about Ohio that I assume is meant to be unflattering. He quotes the kicker from a Cincinnati Enquirer story about how the “flying pig” became a symbol of the city (my hometown). That kicker includes a revealing detail: that two women sported flying pigs as lower-back tattoos.

I fear that readers will come away from Kevin’s presentation with an incomplete understanding of Ohio generally, and Cincinnati specifically. As I mentioned, the excerpted article is about how the flying pig became so ubiquitous as a city symbol. It seemed to have started with a 1988 sculpture by British artist Andrew Leicester, who topped a 1988, city-bicentennial installation of four smokestacks (a callback to Cincinnati’s river history) with four winged pigs. But, according to the Enquirer, this sculpture drew from the city’s past, symbolizing “Cincinnati’s pork processing history – and the pigs’ ascent into heaven.” Cincinnati was indeed once a major pork-processing center — along with the more-regal nickname “the Queen City,” it has also been known as “Porkopolis” — though, as the Enquirer notes, this was a somewhat sordid occupation at the time, even if Cincinnatians have embraced this legacy now.

At any rate, though there are also other pig statues scattered through the Cincinnati area, arguably the major contributor to the flying pig’s Cincinnati ubiquity is the Flying Pig Marathon, the city’s flagship race, which also includes other races on the same weekend, such as a half-marathon run the same day. The name was suggested as a joke but then actually used when the race began in 1999. Flying Pig executive director Iris Simpson Bush (to whom those two ladies proudly showed off their tattoos) credits the out-there yet uniquely Cincinnatian symbol with the enduring popularity of the race and of its associated gear. I can attest to this personally. In addition to being from Cincinnati, I won the 2018 Flying Pig Half-Marathon:

The Flying Pig is not only an enjoyable race thoroughly committed to its pig theme but also a credit to Cincinnati and to Ohio at large. It is not something to be embarrassed about. Usually, it’s the first Sunday in May. But for COVID-related reasons, it is being held on Halloween this year. There’s still time to sign up, and discover whether you, too, can fly.

World

Rat-Paddling

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan during a speech at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 31, 2021. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

President Biden is on the radio boasting that we have far exceeded — doubled, even — the number of people that the experts, unnamed, predicted we could get out of Afghanistan.

Hurrah.

That is a strange boast, but a very Biden boast: When we turn tail and run, nobody in the world does it quite like us!

Surrendering to the Taliban (and let’s call it what it is) is a political decision, and it may very well be the right one: The Obama administration wanted out, the Trump administration wanted out, and the Biden administration wanted out. The Taliban didn’t want out, and so all they had to do was to endure and to wait for us to give them their victory.

But the headlong and chaotic retreat from Afghanistan was unnecessary, and it is the result of elevating the political above other considerations. Presumably, American forces could have held any position we chose in Afghanistan for whatever time was necessary. We certainly could have held practically any position necessary long enough to complete the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies in an orderly and less panicky fashion.

So, even Biden’s boast about how competently we run away from a fight is a little rotten.

I have been watching politics for a long time, and I have observed a many rats rat-paddling away from many sinking ships. That is what rats do: It is an aspect of ratness.

But I cannot think of a rat rat-paddling away who squeaked quite so self-importantly about it.

World

More Taliban Reprisal Killings

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Taliban forces patrol near the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, a day after U.S troops withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 31, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

From the president on down, U.S. officials have staked the success of their Afghanistan withdrawal strategy on the premise that they can convince the Taliban to live up to commitments they have made in public and private on letting people leave the country, human rights, and other thorny issues.

The Biden administration’s approach has long sounded credulous to just about anyone without a vested interest in spinning President Biden’s chaotic withdrawal effort as a strategic triumph, and a new BBC report suggests that the worst is yet to come, with reprisal killings against Afghan government officials and U.S. allies accelerating:

Several sources confirmed that Taliban fighters last week executed two senior police officials – Haji Mullah Achakzai, the security director of Badghis province, and Ghulam Sakhi Akbari, security director of Farah province. Video footage showed Mr Achakzai was kneeling, blindfolded, with his hands tied behind his back before he was shot . . .

The BBC was not able to independently confirm the killings, and the Taliban have repeatedly denied committing any revenge killings. But the group was widely thought to be behind a spate of assassinations after signing a peace deal with the US in 2020, and there are mounting reports they have been searching for targets since taking power two weeks ago.

Amnesty International reported earlier this month that Taliban fighters massacred nine ethnic Hazara men after taking control of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province in July. And Human Rights Watch reported that Taliban fighters were conducting searches in Kandahar province as they swept the country and detaining anyone suspected of working with the government, reportedly killing some detainees.

Politics & Policy

‘Shattered Promises’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Alexandra, and Jim discuss Biden’s disgraceful Afghanistan exit, how COVID has turned into a completely partisan issue, and U.S. intel’s useless COVID-origins report. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Media

The Revealing Left-Wing Freak-Out over WaPo’s Fair Coverage of Dana Loesch

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National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor, Md. 2018 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Progressive bias in elite media is nothing new — one of the cheeky unofficial slogans for George H. W. Bush’s reelection bid, displayed on GOP pins and bumper stickers throughout the 1992 campaign, was “Annoy The Press: Re-elect Bush.” But legacy heavyweights such as the New York Times and the Washington Post used to make at least a nominal effort to maintain some kind of nonpartisan image. Their reporting had a liberal slant, to be sure, but it was a slant — they weren’t producing propaganda.

Today, these towering institutions of American journalism have been reduced to providing glorified partisan bottle-service for overeducated progressives. The reason the last five years were so lucrative for major newspapers such as the New York Times is that they built a new business model around feeding left-wing readers exactly what they want to hear: a neurotic cocktail of perpetual outrage (“Can you believe what Ron Desantis is doing now?”) political affirmations (“Here’s why Democrats are right about everything, and Republicans are all conspiratorial nutjob rubes”) and outright partisan activism (“debunking Trump’s conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden’s laptop — or Tom Cotton’s conspiracy theories about the lab-leak origins of coronavirus — or Chris Rufo’s conspiracy theories about critical race theory — or . . .”), injected directly into the veins of the well-to-do suburbanites who happily fork over their monthly subscription money for the trouble.

The downside of this business model is that any divergence from the party line is shrilly denounced. Like clockwork, every article in the mainstream media that dares to say something positive about a conservative is treated as an outrageous scandal. The latest example of this was the eye-popping reaction to yesterday’s favorable Washington Post profile of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, which made the fatal mistake of actually treating Loesch as a normal human being rather than a murderous sociopath. This, of course, was an unforgivable sin — “just the latest instance in 2021 of the mainstream media trying to rehabilitate and normalize right wing extremists,” in the words of popular progressive blog The Palmer Report.

That’s what preceded Loesch’s name trending nationwide on Twitter for hours, as the credentialed denizens of the chattering class attempted to outdo one another in displays of pained incredulity. “What the hell?,” tweeted musician and left-wing commentator Charles Johnson, summing up the conventional wisdom. “Dana Loesch is a first class monster. This is today’s exhibit in the ongoing broken shitshow that is US media.” The profile, Media Matters researcher Cydney Hargis informed her followers, was “just lazy journalism. . . . Loesch has made a career out of exploiting fear and promoting firearms as a means of self-protection.”

Promoting firearms as a means of protection — imagine that! The Washington Post should really know better.

Any suggestion that Loesch isn’t a “racist white supremacist” who “epitomizes the gun lobby’s embrace of dangerous far-right extremists,” as she was described by anti-gun activist Shannon Watts yesterday, is simply beyond the pale for the Post’s rabidly partisan reader base. Maybe Manuel Roig-Franzia, the author of the ill-fated piece in question, forgot that small fact. Maybe he was “spending the entire research process mentally undressing both Shannon Watts and Dana Loesch, which is — to put it mildly — not a helpful way to write an article on this subject,” as RawStory reporter Matthew Chapman alleged. Maybe Loesch’s “agent/publicist also reps someone WaPo may actually want, so they had to agree to do this filthy deed in order to score the bigger ‘get,’” as was speculated by NeverTrump pundit Cheri Jacobus.

Or maybe — just maybe — Mr. Roig-Franzia was actually doing journalism. In that case, he must have missed the memo: Outlets like the Washington Post just don’t do that kind of stuff anymore. Someone should let him know.

World

U.N.’s Toothless Taliban Resolution Earns U.S. Praise

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield holds a news conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York, March 1, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

When the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution pressing the Taliban to keep its commitments to allow Afghans and foreign nationalists to leave Afghanistan, it omitted a proposal to make part of Kabul into a “safe zone” that likely would’ve been secured by peacekeepers or troops from member states.

According to France 24, the version of the resolution that ultimately won a vote had been watered down after objections to criticism of the Taliban from Russia and China — which both voted to abstain on the measure. Although the two countries didn’t vote for the resolution, they could have voted to veto the proposal.

“We took into account some of the concerns that both the Chinese and the Russians raised in the draft resolution that was eventually approved,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., following the vote. She also praised the Security Council’s “decisive action” to hold the Taliban accountable to its pledges on the evacuation, humanitarian access, human rights, and counterterrorism.

But the adopted resolution falls fall short of what some countries had wanted in a tougher version. French president Emmanuel Macron initially floated the idea of a safe zone in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, saying that the U.K. and Germany would also support the proposal.

“What we have proposed, and what we plan to bring to the U.N. Security Council along with Britain and Germany is a solution that we have used before in other operations, which would involve creating a zone allowing people to arrive at that airport,” Macron told TF1, a French TV network, according to Reuters.

But the measure adopted yesterday only said it expects the Taliban to ensure “the safe, secure, and orderly departure from Afghanistan of Afghans and all foreign nationals,” per its public commitments. Although Taliban spokesmen have claimed that the Islamist group’s forces would allow Afghans and foreign nationals to leave the country, reports from the past month indicate that they’ve blocked many from accessing Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan yesterday means that no U.S. or allied service members remain in Afghanistan — but American citizens and permanent residents, in addition to Afghans at risk, are stranded there.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that “under 200 and likely closer to 100” American citizens remain in the country. The number of U.S. legal permanent residents remaining is unclear.

Meanwhile, Thomas-Greenfield celebrated the passage of the toothless resolution on the Taliban.

“Today, the Security Council spoke clearly on the situation in Afghanistan,” she said at yesterday’s press conference.

“The Security Council expects the Taliban to live up to its commitment to facilitate safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan today, as well as going forward,” she added.

The administration says the resolution is part of its longer game here. During his speech yesterday, Blinken said the resolution “[laid] the groundwork to hold the Taliban accountable if they renege.” But with over 100 U.S. citizens and an untold number of green-card holders and Afghans at risk of Taliban reprisals trapped, it’s unclear what the Biden administration is waiting for.

The truth is that enacting Macron’s safe-zone proposal would have been a reassuring step, and it might well have allowed the evacuation to continue following the end of the U.S. presence in Kabul. But Biden could have coordinated such an effort with America’s allies. He chose not to.

Culture

On England’s Landscapes and Imagination

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I just wrote about the way my wife and I searched out Donegal for transcendence. Every Internet columnist should get their indulgent summer column, should they not?

But John Milbank has written a gorgeous essay on English landscapes and their effect on English psychology for Plough magazine.

Devon is indeed the epitome of England, with its twining dells and bosomy hills like the domes of sunken temples, dedicated to buried cults of earthiness. Edged by an exotic southern coast that intimates the Mediterranean, by a wilder coast to the north that always presages storm, smuggling, pirates, and disaster. And concealing in the middle the shorn-off mountains of the moorlands, whose lack of height only reveals their more sublime antiquity. Wraiths wander through the random stones that could be equally the work of giants, ancestors, or nature. The unidentifiable howling among them might likewise be the voice of the enraged abandoned gods, ever scouring the night skies for victims, or of canine vengeance upon Royalist squires, whose cleaving to tradition did not really excuse the swerve of their spurred jollity into unmentionable wickedness.

Yes, the dark side. Everywhere present because everywhere domesticated. On the Saxon shore, the sea beasts and the dark elves were held at bay by the warmth of the mead hall and lordly generosity. On the Celtic marches the intoxication of the high hills and the cauldrons of inspiration were viewed but warily. The fairies were miniaturized in a gesture of further pastoral concentration. At grass and dandelion level they could safely enshrine the grandeurs of Rome, while at the human level the entire Christian story was rather seen as an occasioning of further field-mirth, dotings, and gatherings, always in due season. The complications of transcendence and the anxiety of salvation were rerouted back through the processional lanes, the beaten bounds, the magical rogations, and the harvest-homings, in pagan loyalty to the religion of the Incarnation.

Elections

Virginia Polls Suggest Gubernatorial Race Might Be Tightening

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Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe speaks at the North America’s Building Trades Unions 2019 legislative conference in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Two new polls of the Virginia gubernatorial election suggest that the race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin might be tightening. McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia, thus far has held a commanding lead in most of the limited polling of the race.

The first poll out today, from Monmouth University, found that McAuliffe leads Virginia businessman Youngkin by just five points, 47 percent to 42 percent. The second poll, conducted by the right-leaning Trafalgar Group, found a much narrower lead, with McAuliffe ahead of Youngkin by just .3 percent.

The Monmouth poll is especially interesting, as it found that Youngkin has a substantial lead over McAuliffe among Independent voters, with 44 percent support to McAuliffe’s 38 percent. As is to be expected, the Democrat has a comfortable advantage among voters in Northern Virginia and the areas around Virginia’s few big cities, while Youngkin is about 30 points ahead in the western portion of the state.

Despite his general advantage, Monmouth’s summary of the poll points out that, in some regions, McAuliffe is running behind where current governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, was when he successfully ran for office in 2017.

The Trafalgar poll, meanwhile, surveyed more than 1,000 likely general-election voters and found the narrowest margin of any survey thus far in the campaign, with less than a point’s difference between McAuliffe and Youngkin. As Trafalgar’s chief pollster Robert Cahaly pointed out on Twitter, the group’s polling ahead of the Virginia Democratic primary earlier this year came closest to accurately predicting the results.

Virginia has been trending blue over the past several election cycles, giving McAuliffe a built-in advantage. But historically, the state also has tended to lean in the opposite direction of the party in the White House in gubernatorial elections, which come just one year after presidential elections, which given Biden’s plummeting approval rating might be giving Youngkin a little boost.

National Security & Defense

Pentagon Shifts Blame for Failure to Prepare for ISIS-K Bombing, say British Officials

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British Royal Marine Commandos and U.S. Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit work at an Evacuation Control Center (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/First Lieutenant Mark Andries/Handout via Reuters)

With the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, an unseemly blame game surrounding last week’s attack outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport has begun.

According to Tory MPs and U.K. government officials, the Pentagon is attempting to point a finger at the U.K., alleging that British troops kept the airport’s Abbey Gate open for U.K. citizens, slowing efforts to clear the area.

They’re disputing the details of a recent Politico report, which detailed the Pentagon’s preparations ahead of the August 26 suicide-bomb attack. According to the piece, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had warned top commanders of an imminent “mass casualty event,” and the Pentagon crafted a plan to clear Abbey Gate on Thursday afternoon.

But according to Politico’s reporting, which is based on notes from the Defense Department’s discussions on the matter, defense officials kept the area open longer to allow U.K. forces to continue their evacuation, which London accelerated ahead of Washington’s August 31 deadline. The attack perpetrated later that day by an ISIS affiliate killed 13 U.S. service members, two U.K. citizens, and over 150 Afghans.

British officials, however, dispute that framing of events, telling the Guardian that the move to keep Abbey Gate open was a “joint decision” and that both sides acknowledged the inherent risks of doing so.

A U.K. government official also told LBC, “The U.S. is having to explain the total mess that has been the evacuation. There’s clearly some hard briefing going on.”

In addition to the British government, members of Parliament are pushing back against the apparent leak to Politico.

“President Biden was responsible for those decisions which, I believe, were critical in the course of the events that we’ve seen unfolding,” Iain Duncan Smith, a Conservative MP, told LBC.

“I do think now to attempt to try and brief against the UK on the suicide bombing is reprehensible really, because, you know, if the American government or the American military were very serious about shutting the gates, they would have shut the gates,” he continued.

LBC noted that another Tory MP, Tobias Ellwood, called the dispute “an unhelpful blame game” that has resulted from the U.S.-U.K. effort reaching a “low ebb.”

As the situation in Afghanistan started to deteriorate earlier this month, reports described troubled coordination between Washington and London. Most prominent among these was that Biden had failed to return a call to British prime minister Boris Johnson for 36 hours, finally calling him on August 17, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Johnson reportedly pushed back against remarks that Biden had made about the situation in Afghanistan, warning the president against squandering the “gains made in Afghanistan.”

Then, the following day, the House of Commons voted to hold Biden in contempt and condemn the “dishonor” of his handling of the withdrawal. During that debate, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat called Biden’s attempts to disparage Afghan allies of the NATO mission in the country “shameful” in a speech that later went viral. Tugendhat spoke for many of his colleagues.

Although the fundamentals of the U.S.–U.K. relationship remain strong, there’s no pretending that the Afghan-withdrawal debacle didn’t severely strain bilateral ties.

“I think this idea that it was down to the idea that the British were begging them to keep them open, I think is a little bit mean-spirited on them and probably wrong,” Duncan Smith also told LBC about the Politico report.

Not only did the Biden administration, in its efforts to respond to a Taliban takeover it should’ve anticipated, fail to adequately coordinate with U.S. allies; officials are now using strategic leaks to place blame on their British counterparts for the botched response to a heinous terrorist attack.

Health Care

Hey, Remember Biden’s ‘I’m Going to Shut Down the Virus’ Pledge?

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House at a celebration of Independence Day in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The United States has administered more than 369 million shots to its citizens, and more than 173 million Americans are fully vaccinated — in the sense of having received two shots of Pfizer or Moderna, not necessarily boosters — and 204 million Americans have at least one dose. Almost 62 percent of all Americans have at least one dose, 72 percent of those age 12 or older, 74 percent of those age 18 and older, and almost 92 percent of senior citizens.

If someone had told you back in January, when only a tiny fraction of Americans had access to the vaccine, “by September, almost 75 percent of all American adults will be at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19,” most people probably would have seen it as a huge accomplishment and a sign that the pandemic was nearly over.

It doesn’t feel like that, does it? The fight against the pandemic is not going great on all fronts. The seven-day average for daily new cases is past 158,000. More than 100,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase of 22 percent in the past two weeks; the daily average number of COVID-19 deaths has nearly doubled in the past two weeks to 1,348.

Is this driven almost entirely by the unvaccinated? Sure. They’re the ones ending up in the hospital and filling up ICU wards, and they’re the ones who are dying. But the rest of us cannot get back to normal, either. In sixteen states, school districts have temporarily returned to “distance learning” because of outbreaks in their communities or their schools. Large conventions, festivals, and concerts are being canceled because organizers deem them too risky.

Nine months after vaccinations began, many of us thought the pandemic would be well behind us. Instead, Oregon is requiring the fully vaccinated to wear masks outdoors.

Keep those updated percentages in mind when you see references to mid-July polls indicating 67 percent of Americans are vaccinated. Anti-vaxxers are a small percentage of the population; in that mid-July poll, only 14 percent of the population said they were definitely not getting vaccinated, even if it was required by their jobs.

The Delta variant pushed the herd immunity threshold much, much higher. Vaccinating everyone who wants to get vaccinated clearly isn’t going to be enough. Keep in mind, until the FDA approves a vaccine for kids, another 50 million Americans can’t get vaccinated.

Unless the government is willing to send armed teams, door to door, across the country to forcibly vaccinate people, we’re never going to reach 100 percent vaccination of those who are eligible.

The messaging from the CDC and the Biden administration is that we can only get back to normal when the people who have sworn a million times that they refuse to get vaccinated give up and get vaccinated. But clearly, they are unlikely to change their minds. Assurances from public health officials didn’t change their minds. Watching many of their friends and relatives get vaccinated did not change them minds. Public service announcements and commercials didn’t change their minds. Hearing about those skeptical of the vaccine dying from COVID-19 didn’t change their minds. Prizes and lotteries didn’t entice them. The fact that more than 656,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 has not convinced them. (The daily rate has gone up a bit in recent days, so maybe the full FDA approval of Pfizer really did change some minds.)

“We just have to wait until they change their minds” is not a feasible strategy. Almost 75 percent of American adults did what they were supposed to do. We’re about to enter either the nineteenth or twenty-first month of this pandemic, depending upon whether you count from the national shutdown in March 2020 or the first cases in January 2020.

Ten months ago, then-candidate Joe Biden declared, “I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus.”

It’s almost the end of August, and Biden has been in office for 222 days. The country’s not quite shut down, and neither is the economy — but neither are quite 100 percent back to normal, either. And the virus isn’t shut down, either.

Biden doesn’t know how to “shut down the virus” any more than he knows how to safely and honorably withdraw from Afghanistan.

U.S.

Douthat on Afghanistan

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U.S. Marines and Norwegian coalition forces assist with security at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 20, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sergeant Victor Mancilla/Handout via Reuters)

Ross Douthat has a very smart column on our defeat and the debacle in Afghanistan. Namely, that what we saw this week shows us the depth of incompetence and corruption in the institutions that had taken on such an extremely difficult and ultimately unachievable mission.

If after 20 years of effort and $2,000,000,000,000, the theocratic alternative to liberalism actually takes over a country faster than in its initial conquest, that’s a sign that our moral achievements were outweighed by the moral costs of corruption, incompetence and drone campaigns.

Or the argument that a permanent mission in Afghanistan would could come to resemble in some way our long-term presence in Germany or South Korea — a delusional historical analogy before the collapse of the Kabul government and a completely ludicrous one now.

All these arguments are connected to a set of moods that flourished after 9/11: a mix of cable-news-encouraged overconfidence in American military capacities, naïve World War II nostalgia and crusading humanitarianism in its liberal and neoconservative forms. Like most Americans, I shared in those moods once; after so many years of failure, I cannot imagine indulging in them now. But it’s clear from the past few weeks that they retain an intense subterranean appeal in the American elite, waiting only for the right circumstances to resurface.

Thus you have generals and grand strategists who presided over quagmire, folly and defeat fanning out across the television networks and opinion pages to champion another 20 years in Afghanistan. You have the return of the media’s liberal hawks and centrist Pentagon stenographers, unchastened by their own credulous contributions to the retreat of American power over the past 20 years.

I think Douthat overstates the case in one area. The Afghan government we built up did fall to the theocratic alternative “faster” than the one the Soviets built, if you judge it by the time we left. However, the government we nurtured — and in many cases, basically paid for and manned ourselves — did field an army that fought the Taliban for more than half a decade, and sustained incredible casualties in that time.

On a recent Editors’ podcast, Rich Lowry asked me what I would do differently. I said that it was hard to answer without knowing when I’m starting. I think the fiasco we saw in our mad exit is primarily the fault of the Pentagon’s leadership which never seriously planned for a withdrawal even after the United States had agreed to do it, believing that policy reviews after the election would lead to a new settlement. It wasn’t long after Biden came into office that his team discovered this reality, saw the logistical challenge of withdrawing, and moved the date from May to September. This gap gave more time for the Afghan national government to dissolve, and time for the Taliban to advance on Kabul. Secondarily the failure belongs to the Biden administration. Biden should have come in with even more skepticism of our top brass, and acted more aggressively to fix this broken withdrawal plan.

In my view, our fatal error was in not pushing for a negotiated end to hostilities between the Taliban and an interim Afghan government when the Taliban was at its weakest: during the middle of the Bush administration, or in the middle of Barack Obama’s surge. Our strategy of trying to build up “national” institutions in a tribal society, while de facto excluding the largest ethno-linguistic group from participation, was doomed to fail. And instead, Trump was negotiating with the Taliban years after the Taliban had demonstrated that they would eventually defeat whatever Afghan government and security forces we left behind.

This defeat and disaster implicates four presidencies, and “the blob” of foreign-policy conventional wisdom. But it also implicates a culture of elite impunity and ineptitude in our military — one that has spread from so many other institutions — in which men over E-6 are rarely held accountable for their failures, and properly disgraced.

Sports

Bishop Sycamore and Confidence Tricks in Sports

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ESPN logo and building are shown in down town Los Angeles, California (Mike Blake/Reuters)

There’s a crazy story out right now about how ESPN was duped into putting a fake high-school football team on national TV. The school calls itself Bishop Sycamore, and they played IMG Academy, an actual high-school football powerhouse, on Sunday. “Played” might be too strong a word — they got routed 58–0, and IMG was letting up for most of the second half.

Bishop Sycamore claims to be an online school in Columbus, Ohio, but “there’s no address on the website, and the ‘About Us’ and ‘Staff’ pages on the site are blank,” according to the Columbus Dispatch. The school was not registered with the Ohio High School Athletic Association. It didn’t have the Division I talent it claimed to have, and some of the players were as old as 20 and had played junior-college games.

There’s a long history of confidence tricks in sports. Plenty of athletes have lied about their age or qualifications to compete at a higher level, especially in the days before national media. It seems in this particular instance, there was a nasty underside of whoever runs the Bishop Sycamore operation lying and taking advantage of young people. But many other confidence tricks are just fun bits of sports lore that make for good storytelling later on.

One such case is that of NASCAR “driver” L. W. Wright. He entered the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega and claimed sponsorship from country-music stars Merle Haggard and T. G. Sheppard. He claimed to be an experienced driver and got almost $40,000 from a Nashville businessman to fund his team. He bought a car for around $20,000 from actual driver Sterling Marlin and called his team Music City Racing. He paid for his NASCAR license and access passes and qualified 36th in the 40-car field. He completed just 13 of the 188 laps before his engine gave out, and he finished 39th.

And then, he was never seen again. Haggard and Sheppard didn’t know who he was and learned of their supposed sponsorship from the newspaper. Wright, if that was even his real name, had never been in a NASCAR race at any level before. All the checks he wrote were bad. And despite a criminal investigation and multiple private investigations launched to bring him to justice, he has never been found or seen since the end of that Talladega race in 1982.

You can read more about it here or here, and NASCAR did a documentary-style video on YouTube here.

U.S.

21 Things That Caught My Eye Today: Ida, Afghanistan, Children & More

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1.  

2. New York Times: At Birth, She Already Had a Case File. At 7 Years Old, She Was Dead

She was just a little girl, 7 years old, and alone.

. . .

It appeared that, under her pink mask, she had a bruise under one eye. Mr. Slade realized that to get to the store, she must have crossed a busy four-lane intersection of East 138th Street by herself. He thought about the police precinct nearby, and considered walking her there. No. Better not to interfere in other people’s business.

Days later, the girl, Julissia Batties, would be found dead in her apartment around the corner from the bodega, beaten to death. Her short life, in its final months, played out like that walk to the bodega — in plain sight and in danger at the same time.

3. 

4.  Buzzfeed News: UN Peacekeepers Fathered Dozens of Children In Haiti. The Women They Exploited Are Trying To Get Child Support

Dominic Antonio Cortez’s tawny skin and the 2-inch-high nest of curls on his head stood out in stark contrast to the darker complexion and buzz cuts of the other boys in the neighborhood. At school, he said, classmates whispered about him behind his back and taunted him to his face, disparagingly calling him “Little Minustah,” after the name of the UN’s mission to Haiti: MINUSTAH.

“The teachers don’t like me,” he said. “Other children don’t want me in the school.”

The 9-year-old said he prefers to be at home, where he sleeps on a thin mattress he shares with his two siblings in the living room and often goes to bed with an empty stomach.

In a fit of anger, Dominic recently accused his mother, Becheline Appoliner, of preventing him from finding his father, and threatened to harm himself. The boy says he wants to be a UN peacekeeper when he grows up.

5. The Washington Post Magazine: The Mystery of 9/11 and Dementia

6. New York Times: On Death Row in Texas, a Last Request: A Prayer and ‘Human Contact’

Rev. Moore, the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, has been visiting Mr. Ramirez in prison for more than four years, driving 300 miles northwest to the Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston, where Mr. Ramirez has been on death row for more than a decade.

. . .

Now, the men are planning one last meeting, in the death chamber where the state of Texas plans to execute Mr. Ramirez by lethal injection on Sept. 8. And Mr. Ramirez is asking for something unusual: He wants Mr. Moore to lay hands on him at the moment of his death.

. . .

On Aug. 10, Mr. Ramirez filed a federal lawsuit against prison officials for denying his request. The suit claims that the state’s refusal to allow Rev. Moore to lay hands on him burdens his free exercise of religion at the exact moment “when most Christians believe they will either ascend to heaven or descend to hell — in other words, when religious instruction and practice is most needed.”

7. Stephen Eide: Turning the Page on Mental Health

In June 2021, Eric Adams told City & State, “My administration will increase the number of inpatient psychiatric beds.” To make good on that commitment, New York’s likely next mayor must bring pressure to bear not only on state and federal partners but also on nonprofits. General hospitals run by nonprofit health systems, such as New York Presbyterian, remain important providers of inpatient care. But their commitment has been wavering, as shown by a 2017 Independent Budget Office report and protests over the planned closure of Allen Hospital in Inwood. Presuming he wins the mayor’s office in November, Adams should make clear to local health systems that the city needs their continued commitment to inpatient psychiatric care.

8.

9. Alejandro Bermudez: 5 things you need to know about Christians in Afghanistan now

“It is impossible to live openly as a Christian in Afghanistan,” concluded the Open Doors report. “Leaving Islam is considered shameful, and Christian converts face dire consequences if their new faith is discovered. Either they have to flee the country or they will be killed.”

. . .

Already last week Christian media reported Afghan Christians were being killed on the spot after identifying as Christian. Reports from Afghan civilians near airport gates said the Taliban was searching the crowds to find Christians.

10. Reuters: Wedding certificate and cell phone: How a U.S. veteran’s wife fled Afghanistan

Unknown numbers of U.S.-affiliated families fearing Taliban retribution have been split up in the chaotic scramble for flights before the U.S. evacuation operation ends by Tuesday, said people involved in ad hoc networks racing to help extricate at-risk Afghans.

With U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration prioritizing U.S. passport and green card holders, many streaming to the airport through Taliban checkpoints with Afghan families have faced an agonizing choice: leave relatives behind or risk their own lives by staying, these people said.

11. Abigail Shrier: Should Public Schools be Allowed to Deceive Parents?

A “gender support plan” isn’t merely a secret held between child and teacher, which might be bad enough. This is no private student confession, the silent whisperings of a troubled teenage heart. A Gender Support Plan, or any similar scheme, effects a schoolwide conspiracy to create a secret name and gender identity specifically withheld from parents. I’ve talked to a mom whose middle school daughter slept in the boys’ bunk on the school overnight before she learned her daughter’s school had, for more than a year, called her by a different name and openly referred to her as a boy.

Teachers and activists who support this policy typically make two arguments in its favor. The first is that the very fact that a teen would want to keep her new gender identity a secret from parents is proof that home is an “unsafe” place for her; that is, her parents, if they knew, would abuse her. The second is that this gender declaration is a deeply held and personal decision of the child’s. The school, in this scenario, is merely a polite bystander—at most, a kindly chaperone. It’s not the school’s job to ask mom and dad for their approval.

The first is absurd; the second, dishonest.

. . .

This is where the most critical cultural battle will be fought. Not with reckless doctors, for whom lawsuits are coming. Not even with the therapists—in many cases, a luxury, parents can walk away from. It will be fought with America’s activist teachers. Will we allow the activists among them unaccountable access to the next generation of America’s children

12.

13.  The Daily Signal: Judge Denies Mom Custody of Son Because She’s Unvaccinated

For seven years, Firlit shared custody of her child with her ex-husband, the mother’s attorney, Annette Fernholz, told the Chicago Sun-Times. Firlit’s ex-husband did not ask the judge to consider Firlit’s vaccination status, and the judge’s decision surprised even the father’s attorney.

“The father did not even bring this issue before the court,” Fernholz told The Washington Post. “So it’s the judge on his own and making this decision that you can’t see your child until you’re vaccinated.”

14. Fox News: Australia to end ‘covid zero’ policy: ‘Not a sustainable way to live’

The government will drop most restrictions once 80% of adults are vaccinated, which the government believes could happen by the end of the year, The Economist reported. Any further action would occur only after hospitals reached a point at which they could no longer cope with new cases, but will otherwise handle what they can. 

15. Arthur Chrenkoff: No Liberty? No Problem. Australia’s Crazy Covid response

A powerful coalition of those with the most to lose and those who have not lost anything is driving the official “zero Covid” fantasy. The media has piled on, helping the government to terrify the population. The Fauci Syndrome is strong in Australia, too: health experts and bureaucrats have tasted unprecedented fame, power, and influence, and continue to be among the main drivers of the most ridiculous restrictions. The ever-growing section of society directly or indirectly dependent on taxpayers for its livelihood has been well care for during Covid-related upheavals. Those most at risk of death or serious complications remain strongly supportive of government “protecting” them from the virus. And the so-called laptop class also hasn’t had a bad pandemic, with many enjoying being able to work from home.

This leaves a minority of Australians driven to despair by isolation, lockdowns, travel restrictions, and the disappearance of their livelihoods.

16. John McWhorter: The Neoracists

Third Wave Antiracism is losing innocent people jobs. It is coloring, detouring, and sometimes strangling academic inquiry. It forces us to render a great deal of our public discussion of urgent issues in doubletalk any 10-year-old can see through. It forces us to start teaching our actual 10-year-olds, in order to hold them off from spoiling the show in that way, to believe in sophistry in the name of enlightenment. On that, the Third Wave Antiracism guru Ibram X. Kendi has written a book on how to raise antiracist children called Antiracist Baby. You couldn’t imagine it better: Are we in a Christopher Guest movie? This and so much else is a sign that Third Wave Antiracism forces us to pretend that performance art is politics. It forces us to spend endless amounts of time listening to nonsense presented as wisdom, and pretend to like it.

17. Naomi Schaefer Riley: ‘Baby, Unplugged’ review

[Journalist Sophie Brickman] acknowledges that working parents—really, most parents—must occasionally make use of screens. But she doesn’t allow herself (the book’s subtitle is “One Mother’s Search for Balance, Reason, and Sanity in the Digital Age”) or any of her parent-readers to give up on the task of setting screen limits simply because they are stuck in an apartment or house all day with small, needy children.

18. Andrea Picciotti-Bayer: This New Book Clarifies Today’s Muddled View of What It Means to Be a Woman

This term the Supreme Court is set to take another look at its abortion jurisprudence. Scholars like Bachiochi have filed an amicus brief with the court explaining that easy access to abortion has not rendered women freer or more equal. Instead, as she explains in The Rights of Women, “it has distorted the shared responsibilities that adhere in male-female sexual relationships, promoted a view of childbearing as one consumer choice among many, and has greatly contributed to the dim view of caregiving ever since.” 

Whether the Court overrules Roe and its progeny or significantly pulls back on its off-the-rails abortion jurisprudence, one thing is clear: Young women today have the tools to reclaim a lost vision of the rights of women. Society desperately needs this to happen.

19. Catholic church in New Orleans is emergency shelter during Hurricane Ida

“They called me and asked if we could put up everybody in some place, and I said, ‘of course,’” Father Palermo said. “We talked about several buildings and we decided the church was the easiest place to get into because we had two Masses earlier today and would still be a little cool. We have water, blankets and bathrooms.”

20. 

21. Michele McAloon: A Christian Response to a Defeat

War and conflict are as old as mankind; so is defeat. But defeat does not mean defeated. The Old and New Testaments and the lives of the saints are full of examples of loss and renewal. Moses found hope in 40 years of wandering through the desert, without the reward of entering the Promised Land. St. Paul ultimately found victory in chains. He knew that the real victory only comes by rejoicing in hope, being patient during tribulations, and remaining constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12) Saints and sinners throughout the ages have willfully chosen to rise from defeat by turning a painful past into a hopeful future through faith and service to something greater than themselves.

Ironically, our renewal as a nation, church, or community of believers may come from an example of service being set even now, in the shadow of hardship and loss, by our U.S. military community. Service members and their families, a people without extraordinary financial means or material resources, who have been most affected by America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are still serving, sacrificing, and asking: What more can we do to help?

As Afghan refugees begin resettlement into U.S. government-sponsored detention centers in Germany, legions of military families and veterans are volunteering as translators and workers. I’ve seen them the past few days at the Ramstein Air Base – a response that can only be described as awe-inspiring.

The simple act of a military family member buying a diaper for an Afghan baby whose father may have contributed to the violence targeted against their own loved one is a defining moment for our nation. Serving and sacrificing even more, instead of succumbing to resentment, has become a source of healing. Service and giving to others are a simple reflex for those who have chosen to serve. Americans really need to reflect deeply upon this humble example.

For Christians defeat is always just around the corner. Christian life is a battle against sin, temptation, and despair. Our true strength comes from the simple, yet so hard to live, commands of loving God and neighbor. A less violent future may lie in the hearts of men and women willing to organize their lives as God has commanded.

On a Friday, several centuries ago, in the Middle East, on a desert hill called Calvary, defeat and death seemed absolute. Three days later when the sun crept over the horizon it shone upon an empty tomb – the most profound victory in human history. Defeat can only be tempered by love and with the knowledge that His victory is ours, now and forever.

Education

Virginia Supreme Court Reinstates Christian Public-School Teacher

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Gym teacher Tanner Cross testifies before the school board in Loudoun County, Va., May 25, 2021. (WSLS10/via YouTube)

Earlier this month, I covered a recent decision by the school board in Loudoun County, Va., which enacted a permissive gender-identity policy. The new rules permit students to use restrooms and locker rooms, as well as compete in sports, on the basis of the gender with which they identify rather than their biological sex.

In the debate leading up to the policy’s enactment, a Loudoun County physical-education teacher, Tanner Cross, was suspended from his job at Leesburg Elementary School after publicly disagreeing with aspects of the policy.

The new rules require teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns rather than the pronoun reflecting a student’s sex, without requiring students to offer “any substantiating evidence” of their gender identity. Teachers would not be punished for what are deemed “inadvertent slips” — using a student’s given name or biological pronoun occasionally, by accident — but “intentionally and persistently” doing so would be considered a violation.

At a school-board meeting before the policy was made official, Cross stated that his Christian faith precluded him from deferring to a student’s preferred pronouns, because doing so would constitute a lie about the reality of the child’s identity. After being suspended for sharing this view, Cross sued Loudoun County Public Schools, alleging that the district had violated his free-speech rights.

In a decision yesterday, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed with Cross, upholding an earlier ruling from Virginia circuit-court judge James E. Plowman, who halted the LCPS suspension against Cross. Plowman rejected the school district’s argument that Cross’s suspension was in response not to his remarks but to the disruption Cross’s comments had created and ruled that the district had violated his First Amendment rights.

Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Cross in his lawsuit, said in a statement after the Virginia Supreme Court ruling that “teachers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false, nor should they be silenced for commenting at a public meeting.”

In the wake of the ruling on behalf of Cross, ADF has expanded its lawsuit against LCPS to include challenges from multiple faculty members in the district, because, as Langhofer put it, LCPS “is now requiring all teachers and students to deny truths about what it means to be male and female and compelling them to call students by their chosen pronouns or face punishment.”

World

U.S. State Department to Green-Card Holders Still in Afghanistan: ‘Keep a Low Profile’

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A member of Taliban forces stands guard as Afghan men take pictures of a vehicle from which rockets were fired, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 30, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Unfortunately, my reader who is trying to get his company’s former employees out of Afghanistan has no good news to report.

This is the message that the U.S. State Department is sending to green-card holders who are still stranded in Afghanistan:

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul suspended operations on August 31, 2021.  While the U.S. government has withdrawn its personnel from Kabul, we will continue to assist U.S. citizens and their families in Afghanistan from Doha, Qatar.  We will also continue our efforts to help Lawful Permanent Residents, as well as the many Afghans who have stood with us over the years, who are seeking to leave Afghanistan.

Our commitment to the people of Afghanistan is enduring.  We will continue to press for an orderly transition of power to an inclusive government with broad support, especially women and minorities.  We will use every diplomatic, economic, political, and assistance tool at our disposal to uphold the basic rights of all Afghans; support continued humanitarian access to the country; and ensure the Taliban honors its commitments.

U.S. citizens and their family members still in country should:

to receive security updates and ensure you can be located in an emergency.

  • Review your personal security plans.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and local security developments at all times.
  • Keep a low profile.
  • Notify a trusted person of your travel and movement plans.
  • Make contingency plans to leave when it is safe to do so that do not rely on U.S. government assistance.
  • Monitor local media.
  • Please review, “What the Department of State Can and Can’t Do in a Crisis.”

Resources for U.S. citizens and their families in Afghanistan:

For information on Special Immigrant Visas see:  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/special-immg-visa-afghans-employed-us-gov.html

With automated replies like these, how could any U.S. green-card holder feel safe?

For background on this reader and his efforts, see hereherehereherehere, and here.

International

Lebanon’s Politicians, the Masters of Disaster — Exhibit No. 1: Artificial Fuel Shortages

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People wait in cars to get fuel at a gas station in Zalka, Lebanon, August 20, 2021. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

When President Biden and Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett met at the White House on August 26, the dangers posed by the crisis in Lebanon were at the top of their agenda. Specifically, they discussed the fuel shortages that are destabilizing Lebanon along with various U.S.- and Israeli-backed solutions that might negate Hezbollah’s most recent justifications for the importation of Iranian fuel to alleviate the shortages.

For months, Lebanon has been suffering from brutal fuel “shortages.” Lebanese wait hours to fill their tanks. Electricity is only sporadically supplied because diesel fuel for generators is as scarce as hen’s teeth. But, as the governor of Lebanon’s central bank, Riad Salameh, recently confirmed, Lebanon is currently importing three times more fuel than what is being consumed in Lebanon. What explains this paradox? Where is the missing fuel?

The political elites in Lebanon, who in some ways operate much like a criminal syndicate, have created a system of fuel subsidies and price controls that has made them rich, but has bankrupted Lebanon and left it short of fuel. Here’s how the system works.

A subsidy program allows fuel importers with the right political connections to acquire $100 worth of fuel for around $50. (Until a few days ago, they were able to import $100 worth of fuel at a subsidized cost of about $30.) The subsidy of $50 is siphoned out of the dwindling foreign-exchange reserves at Lebanon’s central bank, Banque du Liban.

The second element in the fuel scheme is price controls. The imported fuel is supposed to be sold at a controlled price slightly above the subsidized import cost of $50. With the market value of the fuel at $100, the arbitrage profit is around $50, a margin that is just too good to pass up. Indeed, with a gross margin of that size, there is plenty of surplus to pay bribes and cover the transport costs imposed by the smugglers who deliver the fuel to Syria where it is sold for market prices of something in excess of $100. Not a bad racket for those in the syndicate.

But, alas, it leaves the Lebanese short of fuel. Indeed, their subsidized fuel is in Syria. It also leaves the Banque du Liban short of scarce foreign exchange. The Banque’s foreign reserves are in the pockets of the fuel importers, smugglers, and everyone they have had to bribe along the way.

If President Biden and Prime Minister Bennett were really interested in solving Lebanon’s fuel crisis, they should stop fretting about Iranian oil and get a handle on the real sources of the problem. The solution is clear. The masters of disaster — Lebanon’s political elites — should stop subsidizing Lebanon’s fuel imports and imposing price controls on fuel.

Steve H. Hanke is a professor of applied economics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is a senior fellow and the director of the Troubled Currencies Project at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. Patrick Mardini is the founder and president of the Lebanon Institute for Market Studies in Tripoli, Lebanon.

World

Kabuki Vetting of Afghans

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Evacuees wait to board a C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 23, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sergeant Isaiah Campbell/Handout via Reuters)

We’ve heard a lot about how the Afghans evacuated from Kabul are being thoroughly vetted in third countries, often while held at American bases, before being let into the U.S. Politico, for instance, writes that:

A senior administration official said Afghans “undergo robust security” that includes “biometric and biographic security screenings conducted by our intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals who are working quite literally around the clock” to vet Afghans before they’re allowed in the United States.

This is true.

It’s also irrelevant.

The irrelevance of the vetting process is twofold. First, vetting is only as good as the information you have to vet people against. I have little doubt that the DHS employees and others who are doing the vetting are dedicated public servants, genuinely trying their best. And those Afghans (though not necessarily their family members) who were previously employed by our military or embassy were vetted before employment, and periodically during employment, too. Even this isn’t foolproof; former Army platoon leader (and current Senate candidate) Sean Parnell told Tucker Carlson of his unit’s extensively vetted Afghan interpreter who ended up betraying his American comrades. But to the degree it’s possible to vet someone in Afghanistan, these former U.S. government employees have been vetted.

But the evacuation from Kabul was so haphazard and rushed that many, perhaps most, of those extracted were not such previously screened people. Representative Tom Tiffany (R., Wis.) told the Washington Times that of the 2,000 Afghans housed at a base in his state, not one had the Special Immigrant Visa for Afghans employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government. And at least one previously deported convicted rapist appears to have landed at Dulles already.

So, how to screen those Afghans who’ve never been screened? Given Afghanistan’s low level of development, it’s not like the record-keeping there was ever comprehensive and efficient, if it existed at all. And worse, as 30-year INS/ICE veteran Dan Cadman pointed out on my “Parsing Immigration Policy” podcast last week, while we occupied Afghanistan, we at least had a chance of verifying claims that people made. Now that we have left and a hostile force is in charge, what are supposed to do, call up the Kabul DMV to verify someone’s identity? Even under the best of circumstances, vetting can never be perfect; to borrow from Queen Elizabeth I, we can’t open windows into men’s souls. But under today’s conditions, meaningful vetting of Afghans is literally impossible.

The second problem is perhaps worse. Suppose we do somehow stumble upon incriminating information in the process of vetting, information that suggests an Afghan evacuee is a security threat or inadmissible for some other reason – what then?

We can’t deport them back to Afghanistan.

We can’t release them in Qatar or Bahrain or wherever we’re holding them; those countries only agreed to temporarily host the Afghans we flew in and certainly would not agree to take a potential threat off our hands.

Conclusion: We’re just going to resettle them in the U.S. regardless of the results of vetting.

The whole notion of holding Afghans offshore until they’re vetted is a charade. Those who don’t have a Special Immigrant Visa are simply being “paroled” into the U.S. Immigration parole is a work-around whereby the executive can temporarily let in visa-less foreigners for humanitarian reasons. But like so much else in our dishonest immigration system, “temporary” in this case means permanent. Every Afghan we extracted from Kabul will be able to live here for the rest of his life.

This is true even if the Afghan refugee commits crimes after his arrival. In the 2001 case of Zadvydas v. Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that deportable aliens (such as criminals who’ve completed their state prison sentences) cannot be held more than six months by ICE if their home country refuses to take them back. Five people paid for this policy with their lives when a Vietnamese criminal named Binh Thai Luc, who had been released after serving a prison sentence in California because Vietnam wouldn’t take back anyone who came before 1995, murdered a family in San Francisco. It will be some time before a similar incident occurs with an Afghan refugee, but you can count on its happening.

There is no connection between the vetting of Afghans and their admission to the United States. The moment the doors of a C-17 closed on the tarmac in Kabul, every Afghan on board, regardless of background or possible security threat, became a de facto permanent resident of the U.S. Anyone telling you otherwise is misinformed or mendacious.