Culture

Vicious, Demented Animal Cruelty or Social Construct? Who’s to Say?

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(Pixabay)

Every once in a while, a piece of reporting comes along that so perfectly encapsulates the excesses of progressivism that it seems to have been scripted for that purpose.

I’ve never encountered a better example of the genre than the latest edition of Bari Weiss’s Common Sense newsletter, in which Suzy Weiss recounts her experience attending the first meeting of the Park Slope Panthers, a community-watch organization founded after a stick-wielding madman attacked a woman and her dog in Prospect Park, beating the dog, Moose, to death and dumping urine on him.

As Weiss relays, only six concerned citizens showed up to the park to participate in the group, but they were soon joined by activists whose primary concern was not that a raving lunatic felt emboldened to beat a dog to death in broad daylight in their neighborhood park, but instead that the Occupy Wall Street veteran who founded the group and his five fellow Panthers might harm poor people of color in their efforts.

You should really read the whole article, but here are a few choice selections to give you an idea of the activists’ hierarchy of concern. (Hint: The woman and her deceased dog don’t rank highly.)

But what should they reasonably do about the man who had killed Moose? He’d reportedly been spotted swinging a stick on Flatbush Avenue, chasing down another woman and her dog in the park while screaming, “Let’s see some action here!” The kid with the speaker spoke up: “So, it sounds like this person has been pushed out of an unimaginable amount of systems.” He added that the assailant was probably “neurodivergent.”

“Crime is an abstract term that means nothing in a lot of ways,” said Sky. “The construct of crime has been so socially constructed to target black and poor people.”

“Right, yeah, I agree with you!” countered one of the older folks, who seemed confused.

So, first on the hierarchy comes the murderous lunatic, got it. Next, it’s people who might be offended that the Panthers are appropriating the name of the Black Panthers:

As far as the name, and the fortysomething dude’s problem with it: “There’s two statues of panthers at an entrance to the park,” Nammack pointed out, gesturing toward the two limestone pedestals designed by Stanford White. The panthers had been sculpted by Alexander Phimister Proctor, and had been there since 1898.

Didn’t matter. “Using the Panthers as your group’s name is kind of abhorrent to me,” said one of the girls. She was white, wearing cut-off jean shorts, loafers with socks, and a Baggu purse. “It feels antithetical to what the Black Panthers would stand for.” The next girl to speak said her name was Sky. She, too, was white, and had also grown up in the neighborhood: “It’s easy to be wrong about who you’re going after, particularly when those are some of the few black people still living in the neighborhood, and they’ve been pushed out on the streets by all white, ultra-wealthy people.”

“We can be the tigers!” suggested Dionne, the middle-aged woman next to me. Sweet Dionne.

For the assembled activists, not only does the neighborhood not require a community watch, it could actually get along fine without cops, provided its mentally ill, violent homeless people start to behave themselves.

[One activist] suggested we could build a community where we all took care of each other and no one ever had to call the police.

Now, why hasn’t anyone thought of that? I’m sure if the woman whose dog was killed had just explained what kind of community she wanted to live in to her attacker, this could have all been avoided.

But, after all, the guy may have been hungry. Who among us hasn’t given the neighbor’s pup a bashing after missing breakfast?

Someone else said, “I get angry and lash out at people when I’m hungry and haven’t slept well and people are being mean to me all day.” Another observed, “I’ve never killed a dog, but we’ve all hurt people.”

And, lest you think this way of seeing the world is confined to people who would spend their Saturday afternoon trying to disrupt a community-watch meeting, the article ends with this reassuring description of the priorities of our elected officials:

Nammack met with two staffers at the office of his local council person, Shahana Hanif, about the dangerous homeless man with the stick. “They said their biggest concern is that the perpetrator is not arrested and sent to Rikers because they are concerned for his wellbeing!!!” he wrote in an email to the group.

Soon after, Nammack woke up to red graffiti on the sidewalk outside his front door:

“Don’t be a cop, Kris.”

National Review

National Review Is Hiring a News Writer

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National Review is looking for a full-time writer to join its news desk. The ideal candidate would be a news junkie who keeps a constant eye on the headlines, and who is skilled at writing up rapidly evolving situations at speed. The ideal candidate would have at least one year of experience covering breaking news and would be open to working flexible hours, including weekends. The candidate will be permitted to work remotely or from the National Review office in Manhattan. Those interested should send a cover letter, a resume, and some examples of their work to: news.applications@nationalreview.com.

World

Vital to Understand

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A Ukrainian serviceman gestures from a Bradley Fighting Vehicle near the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv Region, Ukraine, September 19, 2022. (Gleb Garanich / Reuters)

James Waterhouse, a BBC correspondent in Ukraine, notes a “final ovation” for Oleksandr Shapoval — an ovation at the Kyiv Opera House. Shapoval was a ballet dancer. As Waterhouse says, “He’d performed for 28 seasons before volunteering to fight in the east. While Ukraine enjoys successes on the battlefield, his death is a reminder of the enduring, awful cost of this war.”

I think of a couple of things. The first is not very important. But I think of it.

In December 2019, I attended the ballet in Kyiv and wrote about it. Was Shapoval on the stage? I don’t think so. I can’t be sure.

At that time — late 2019 — about 14,000 people had been killed, in the war started by Vladimir Putin’s Russia in 2014. In a piece called “Ukraine and Us,” I wrote,

At the edge of St. Michael’s monastery — a beautiful light-blue structure, with golden domes — there is a Wall of Remembrance. It commemorates fallen soldiers. It reminds me a little of the Vietnam memorial in Washington. One difference, however, is that this wall has photos. You see the faces of the dead.

Virtually all of these people are known only to their family and friends, of course. But one of them, Vasyl Slipak, had some fame in the broader world. He was a baritone, an opera singer, working mainly in France. He returned home to volunteer for the war and was killed in June 2016.

Anton Gerashchenko, a governmental adviser in Ukraine, says,

Oleksandr Shapoval, soloist of National Opera ballet, Honored Artist of Ukraine, died in combat near Mayorsk, Donetsk region. He went to the frontlines as a volunteer and served as a grenade launcher. RIP, Hero.

• From Erika Solomon of the New York Times, a piece headed “5 Russian Bullets Dashed an Opera Singer’s Dreams. Then He Reclaimed His Voice.” We learn that Sergiy Ivanchuk “spent months in the hospital after he was shot trying to save civilians fleeing Kharkiv.”

Ivanchuk, age 29, thought he would die. He did not die. Moreover, he can sing again.

His dream — like that of all opera singers — is to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York or the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Ms. Solomon’s article quotes him as saying, “I think in five years I could make it onto one of those stages. As long as no one else shoots me.”

• Something to know about:

Investigators searching through a mass burial site in Ukraine have found evidence that some of the dead were tortured, including bodies with broken limbs and ropes around their necks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday.

The site near the northeastern city of Izium, recently recaptured from Russian forces, appears to be one of the largest discovered in Ukraine.

I have quoted from an Associated Press report, here.

• Something else to know about:

A volunteer Ukrainian medic detained in Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol told U.S. lawmakers Thursday of comforting fellow detainees as many died during her three months of captivity, cradling and consoling them as best she could, as male, female and child prisoners succumbed to Russian torture and untreated wounds.

That is another Associated Press report, found here.

For a report from RFE/RL — Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty — on the same subject, go here. That report begins,

Ukrainian medic Yulia Payevska described to U.S. lawmakers on September 15 “prisoners in cells screaming for weeks, and then dying from the torture without any medical help.”

Putin has many, many fans and apologists here in the United States. Some of them dot the media. And, of course, you will find them crowding the comments sections. What can the rest of us do?

I think of the advice that Elie Kedourie gave to David Pryce-Jones many years ago: “Keep your eye on the corpses.”

Here is another report from RFE/RL: “A Ukrainian priest told @radiosvoboda that he was abducted and tortured by Russian forces after he traveled to Snake Island to collect the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers thought to have been killed.”

• Myroslava Petsa, another BBC journalist, writes,

Izyum, Bucha, Borodyanka, Mariupol embody just what could have happened to all of Ukraine if Ukrainian troops hadn’t stopped the Russian invasion. The now impossible ‘peace’ deal granting Russia a chunk of Ukraine would mean sacrificing people who inhabit those territories.

This is something that too few people in the West understand. They say, some of them, that the Ukrainians are fighting for “territory” — mere territory. Ukrainian territory that has been seized and occupied by Russians. More than that, the Ukrainians are fighting for the people in those territories. They are doing all they can to spare their countrymen murder, rape, and subjugation.

In an article, Nataliya Melnyk, the director of a free-market think tank in Ukraine, spells this out. “Ukrainians Won’t Live Under Russian Fascism After Escaping Soviet Communism: They are fighting so hard because they know what’s in store if Putin wins.”

Yes. Of course. Given this, shouldn’t Ukrainians have the support of all people of good will?

• Oleksandra Matviichuk, a human-rights activist in Ukraine, has circulated a photo of a girl weeping at her father’s flag-draped coffin:

The price of liberation. 8-year-old Maria says her last goodbye to her father Artem Synelnikov, who served in the National Guard and died in the Kharkiv counteroffensive.

“The price of liberation” — yes.

• Years ago, Charles Krauthammer told me that the survival of Israel depended on two things: the determination of the Israelis to live and the support of the United States. I believe the same can be said of Ukraine: The survival of Ukraine depends on the determination of the Ukrainians to live and the support of the United States.

That the Ukrainians are determined to live — to keep their country and their independence; to resist invasion, occupation, and subjugation — is obvious. And so far, the support of the United States has held.

Of interest is a report in the New York Times: “The Critical Moment Behind Ukraine’s Rapid Advance.”

• As David French says, “America is still the arsenal of democracy.” This does not sit well with many; others of us think it is vital, and feel a certain pride in it. The split on the American right, in particular, is severe.

• There could well be new majorities in both houses of Congress next January. The Republican classes are likelier to be Trumpier, Fox Newsier, more Orbánite, more nat-pop — more than the current Republican classes, I mean. Will Congress continue to aid and arm Ukraine?

• From Quillette, an editorial headed “Horseshoe Theory Comes to Ukraine.” I will quote a paragraph:

One might think that Ukraine’s ability to defend itself so ably, and even to give the invaders a bloody nose in the process, would be met with cheers from across the political spectrum in Western nations. Yet Putin has his stubborn apologists in the free world — including some who’d seem to prefer that the Russian flag were still flying over Izyum, Kupiansk, and all over eastern Ukraine besides.

No question.

• Francis Scarr — another BBC-er — monitors Russian state TV. He writes,

. . . Vladimir Solovyov says his country should form an international coalition for its war in Ukraine including Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Nicaragua.

The gang’s all there. Les beaux esprits se rencontrent.

• A final report, for now — not as horrible as reports of torture, rape, and murder, but horrible in its own way, and quite revealing. “Locals Jailed, Fined For Ukrainian Song At Crimea Wedding Party.” That is a report from RFE/RL, here.

Jailed and fined for singing a song. A classic, and damnable, dictatorial touch — to be resisted.

White House

Senior White House Official: Biden’s Taiwan Comments Were Not Walked Back

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President Joe Biden announces additional military aid for Ukraine as well as fresh sanctions against Russia at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

During an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Biden said that the U.S. would send American service members to defend Taiwan “if in fact there was an unprecedented attack” by China.

White House officials told the television program, however, that the president’s comments did not represent a change in U.S. policy, and that there is no official commitment to mount a defense of Taiwan. White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell then denied that this contradicts what the president said during the interview last night.

This is the fourth time that Biden has, since the beginning of his presidency, vowed to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, only for White House officials to subsequently walk back his comments.

Campbell, speaking to a conference in Washington today, said that the administration’s comments were not, in fact, a walk-back: “I do not believe that it is appropriate to call the remarks that came from the White House today as walking back the president’s remarks,” he said, according to Reuters. “The president’s remarks speak for themselves. I do think our policy has been consistent and is unchanged and will continue.”

Woke Culture

Does Anyone Really Believe That? A Continuing Series

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Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) reacts after a play against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., January 30, 2022. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

A piece that the Atlantic published over the weekend inspires me to ask a question I have asked before in these pages. That question is: “Does anyone really believe this?”

Decades of research have shown that sex is far more complex than we may think. And though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential.

Yes, yes, yes, the author has ensured that the piece is full of vague language, fluffy anecdotes, and puffy appeals to “experts say.” And, yes, if someone really wants to pretend that it isn’t totally bonkers, they can squint a bit, insist that all it’s really arguing is that we need more nuance in the way we separate men and women on the field, and then switch to calling its critics sexist. But that’s all guff, isn’t it? The Atlantic‘s piece rests upon a clear and discernible claim — that “separating sports by sex doesn’t make sense” — and it advances this clear and discernible claim by proposing that “researchers” do not “know how much of” the difference between men and women “to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential.”

Which is tosh. There is nothing in . . . well, literally all of recorded human history that suggests that sex differences in sports (and other physical settings) are the products of a “lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential.” The idea is risible — akin in nature to my insisting that, while I cannot currently fly through the air like a bird, experts remain divided on whether that’s the product of biological or sociological causes. Some things are, indeed, sociological. And some — e.g.: whether, with enough encouragement, it would be possible to assemble a team of women that could compete against the Pittsburgh Steelers, or find a woman who is good enough at tennis to beat a relatively average man, or construct a prestigious female soccer outfit that could beat a bunch of 14-year-old boys — are not. I know it. You know it. We all know it.

So I’ll ask again: Does anyone really believe this? And if they don’t, why on earth was it published?

Politics & Policy

Illiberals Get Shade from Slade

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Students raise hands when Bernie Sanders asks them how many have student debt at a campaign rally at Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara, Calif., May 28, 2016. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

I’ve had disagreements with the libertarians at Reason magazine in the past, and doubtless I will again, not being a libertarian myself. But in two recent pieces for the publication, senior editor Stephanie Slade has provided much fodder for thought about our present political discontents.

Start with “The Authoritarian Convergence,” which is the cover of Reason‘s October issue. In it, Slade argues that, while political polarization is a real problem in the modern U.S., there is a sense in which both sides of the aisle are agreeing more: on the need for radical action against the other.

The future of the parties is now a matter of live debate. But in both cases, the elements that seem to have the most energy behind them have something important in common: a desire to move their side, and the country as a whole, in an illiberal direction.

On the left, a new crop of socialists hope to overthrow the liberal economic order, while the rise of intersectional identity politics has supplanted longstanding commitments to civil liberties. On the right, support for free markets and free trade are more and more often derided as relics of a bygone century, while quasi-theocratic ideas are gathering support.

What has not changed—what may even be getting worse—is the problem of affective polarization. Various studies have found that Americans today have significantly more negative feelings toward members of the other party than they did in decades past.

But partisan animosity suits the authoritarian elements on the left and right just fine. Their goal is power, and they have little patience for procedural niceties that interfere with its exercise. As history teaches, a base whipped up into fear and fury is ready to accept almost anything to ensure its own survival. Perhaps even the destruction of the institutions and ideals that make America distinctively itself.

Slade identifies this as a bipartisan problem, and it is indeed worth recalling the Left’s myriad assaults on our political and cultural order, and fighting against them. But at last week’s National Conservatism Conference in Miami (which I also attended), Slade detected among the NatCons evidence of the right-wing part of the convergence she identifies:

This burgeoning political faction has at its heart a fundamentally favorable orientation toward federal power and not a mere revivification of national pride. It also makes it clear that the natcons’ purpose in acquiring government power is not merely to prevent its misuse by opposing ideologues; it’s to use it affirmatively to destroy opposing ideologues.

As I am not a libertarian, neither am I “liberal.” Even so, Slade’s shade thrown at illiberals is difficult to discount.

Media

Chuck Todd Flubs Key Fact on Late-Term Abortion

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NBC News personality and Meet The Press host Chuck Todd at the NBC Universal Up Front presentation in New York City, May 14, 2018. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Colorado GOP Senate candidate Joe O’Dea is unusual for a Republican: He supports a right to abortion, but, unlike the two sitting GOP senators who take that stance, O’Dea supports restrictions on abortion after 20 weeks (that’s five months) of pregnancy with limited exceptions.  

During an interview with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd on Sunday, O’Dea reiterated his support for a five-month legal limit on abortion, and Todd replied: “The only time you really see [late-term abortion] is when it’s a medical emergency.” But that’s not true. The authors of a 2013 study on late abortions reported that “data suggest that most” abortions performed between weeks 20 and 28 of pregnancy are not performed for “reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” (“Little is known about the relatively few abortions occurring in the third trimester,” the same authors reported.) 

As Ramesh Ponnuru noted, that 2013 study “cited another paper, based on 2008 data, that found that fetal abnormality was present in 0.6 percent of abortions in its sample after the 20th week (although it speculates there could be an undercount). And a 2022 study went into some of the reasons unrelated to health that late-term abortions were sought (e.g., because the mother did not know she was pregnant or lacked the money for an abortion until the third trimester).”

Obituaries
The World Loses a Good One in Greg Pollowitz

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The world lost Greg Pollowitz last night; he worked here at National Review until making the jump to Twitchy in 2014.

Greg was jovial, snarky, sharp-eyed with details, a voracious news-watcher with a seemingly endless appetite and good nose for sniffing out BS spin. When some official explanation didn’t add up, he was often DM-ing me, pointing out the inconsistencies. Every now and then, he could let slip that sense of being the last sane man in an insane world. Back in 2012, he messaged me, “I’ve got total burnout. I was reprimanded yesterday when my son asked me, while doing his homework, who makes the laws again in DC, and I blurted out, ‘a******s.’”

When he left National Review, we only stayed in touch through Facebook. Earlier this year, Greg was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and for most of this year, his Facebook feed offered regular updates of exceptional good spirits. He posted on his indoor walks and mocked the infomercials on hospital television, shared pictures of his hospital food and cracked jokes about the menu, and shared the news that in a matter of days he had broken a TV remote, part of his oxygen system, and a noisy clock. Throughout the year he endured eight rounds of chemo. From Greg’s attitude and spirit, you would have thought he could have beaten anything, laughing all the way.

And then, a few days ago, the unthinkable update: “Unfortunately, it is bad news. All of the cancer treatments are ineffective and I decided to move to hospice. Thank you for your continued love, prayers and support.”

Greg was not the kind of person who can be easily replaced, in any form, or by any measure. Rest in peace, my friend, you will be missed.

World

Iran’s President Is Exactly Who You’d Expect Him to Be

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Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a news conference in Tehran, Iran, June 21, 2021. (Majid Asgaripour/West Asia News Agency via Reuters)

60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl recently traveled to Tehran to interview Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, only to confirm all of the assumptions about the man and the government he leads.

During the interview, Raisi rejected Israel’s right to exist, engaged in Holocaust denialism, and all but admitted to the attempted assassination of former national-security adviser John Bolton and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Raisi also stated that mass execution is a “proportionate” punishment for political prisoners.

Was anyone expecting something different? Raisi didn’t emerge out of oblivion. He’s earned his chops in this odious regime by being one of the most Robespierrean participants of the Iranian Revolution, and is now considered one of the potential successors to the ailing Supreme Leader. Raisi has been known as a hardliner since he served as a member of the “death committee,” responsible for executing thousands of political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s. For this and other depraved activities, he has been accused of numerous crimes against humanity by the U.N. and various NGOs.

The foreign-policy establishment’s incredulity about Iran’s nefarious ambitions is staggering. If State Department officials simply took Raisi and Ayatollah Khamenei at their word, they’d be more clear-eyed about the prospects of a potential rapprochement with the Islamic Republic.

Raisi is a genocidal authoritarian who would like nothing more than to see another Holocaust occur in the 21st century. The Biden administration ought to be careful not to give him the means to carry out his wishes.

World

Extinguishing Taiwan’s Democracy Is Not China’s Only Goal, Warns Taiwanese President

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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York during a visit to the U.S., in New York City, July 11, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen delivered a videotaped address to an audience at the Concordia Summit, an unofficial conference that is taking place in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly’s high-level meeting this week. Her remarks were also in defiance of the Chinese Communist Party’s campaign to isolate Taiwan on the global stage. Extinguishing Taiwan’s democracy is not Beijing’s only goal, she warned, citing China’s broader military intimidation efforts and its international political-interference work.

“Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the daily threats that Taiwan faces are all evidence that shows authoritarian regimes will do whatever it takes to achieve expansionism,” Tsai said.

While President Biden said during a 60 Minutes interview that aired last night that the U.S. would send troops to defend Taiwan against an “unprecedented” Chinese attack, Tsai’s speech, which was recorded ahead of time, did not address those comments.

China in recent years has intensified its diplomatic-isolation campaign, leading Taiwanese officials to worry that Beijing is laying the diplomatic groundwork for an eventual invasion to be met with apathy from the U.N., as Taiwanese ambassador James Lee recently told NR.

Tsai’s speech is the first time that a Taiwanese leader has addressed even an unofficial gathering adjacent to the U.N. General Assembly’s annual meeting since China’s Communist government succeeded in securing Taiwan’s ejection from the U.N. in 1971. Taiwanese passport holders are not even allowed to set foot on U.N. property.

Addressing Taiwan’s U.N. isolation in her remarks, Tsai spoke about Taiwan’s efforts to donate medical equipment to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. “Even though Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, we have been consistently helping the world on resolving many crises,” Tsai said.

She also expressed support for Ukraine’s efforts to fight off the Russian invasion, saying that Taiwan is proud to play a role in providing Kyiv with assistance.

When it comes to Chinese aggression, she said, the stakes are greater than her own country’s future.

“We have to educate ourselves on the authoritarian playbook and understand that Taiwan’s democracy will not be the only thing that the PRC seeks to extinguish. Securing Taiwan’s democracy is imperative in securing freedom and human rights for our collective future” she said.

Tsai, unlike other world leaders, will not attend or address the official U.N. gathering, as the organization’s leaders continue to bow to Chinese pressure and ignore Taipei’s requests to participate, even informally, at U.N. bodies.

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, the People’s Liberation Army drastically increased its military activities in the region, including by sending jets across the Taiwan Strait median line. Earlier today, the Taiwanese ministry of defense reported that it had detected nine Chinese military aircraft and five naval vessels in the general area near Taiwan.

National Review

Sad Goodbyes

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I think Kevin Williamson is one of the reasons I work at NR today. After he wrote a cover piece with the opening sentence, “Michael Brendan Dougherty is bitter,” it suddenly became irresistible to the perverse mind of Charles Cooke to bring me into the fold. The fights about nationalism and populism on the right weren’t going away, and we might as well have them inside the tent. One or two lunches later, and we pulled off the idea. To be honest, I liked the idea of coming in after that cover story, too. Maybe trying to disprove the accusation.

Five years later, and the other half is gone for the Dispatch. And this time, unlike last time, I suspect being gone will stick. Though I think the debate will continue.

Kevin has made some unforgettable contributions to National Review — including his reporting from Appalachia, the porn Oscars in Vegas, and his ahead-of-its-time essay “Laverne Cox Is Not a Woman.” I suppose, in providence, Kevin has put down so many torches, it takes a staff of us to pick them all up and keep running.

World

Zen on Trial

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Cardinal Joseph Zen attends a news conference in Hong Kong in 2018. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

The trial of Chinese cardinal Joseph Zen and five other defendants begins today in Hong Kong. They were arrested under the new national-security law which bans sedition, secession, foreign interference, and the like. Cardinal Zen and his compatriots are charged with a technical crime — for not registering their organization, the 612 Humanitarian Fund — under new laws instigated by the Chinese Communist Party. The Fund was used to defend democracy activists in Hong Kong.

According to a helpful report by Elise Ann Allen at Crux, the defense is going to say that it had the right to form its civil organization under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the original 1997 agreement between the United Kingdom and China.

Zen is 90 years old. He was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict in 2006, and he retired as bishop of Hong Kong in 2009. In 2011, Zen received $20 million from Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai (also arrested by the Communists), which he distributed to the underground church and the poor in mainland China.

I have a question: Will the Vatican continue to remain silent?

Media

Lincoln Project Snags a Five-Part Docuseries from Showtime

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From Showtime, in partnership with small-dollar donations from so many gullible MSNBC-watching suburban moms, comes the five-part docuseries that you didn’t know you needed:

You don’t actually need it. In fact, your life would probably be much better without it. But it’s here: an in-depth look at one of the most brazen grifts to emerge from the Trump era, which — if the advert is any indication — will look more like an adulatory promo flick than an actual exposé on the Lincoln Project’s myriad sins. 2020 was just the beginning. One shudders at the thought.

White House

Biden Administration: Okay, Maybe We’ll Spend Some Money on Fixing Border Fencing

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Construction crews work on a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in El Paso, Texas, September 26, 2018. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

When Vice President Kamala Harris said, “we have a secure border in that that is a priority for any nation, including ours and our administration,” maybe what she meant was that the Biden administration was quietly taking steps that the previous administration had wholeheartedly embraced, like filling in gaps in border fencing:

 U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that work on the border wall that began under Trump is revving back up under Biden. In an online presentation Wednesday, CBP — the largest division of the Department of Homeland Security and home to the Border Patrol — detailed plans to address environmental damage brought on by the former president’s signature campaign promise and confirmed that the wall will remain a permanent fixture of the Southwest for generations to come.

The resumed operations will range from repairing gates and roads to filling gaps in the wall that were left following the pause on construction that Biden initiated in January 2021. The wall’s environmental harms have been particularly acute in southern Arizona, where CBP used explosives to blast through large swaths of protected land — including sacred Native American burial grounds and one-of-a-kind wildlife habitats — in service of Trump’s most expansive border wall extensions.

Starting next month, contractors will return to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona to resume work on the wall, senior CBP officials said in a public webinar. In the months since Biden’s pause began, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas approved several so-called remediation projects related to the border wall. The first plan that CBP presented for public comment was in the Tucson sector, the Border Patrol’s largest area of operations and site of Trump’s most dramatic and controversial border wall construction.

It is fair to question whether the actions by DHS and CBP really count as “the Biden administration rev[ving] up work on completing Donald Trump’s signature project,” as the Intercept characterizes it. Filling in gaps does not quite align with Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” rhetoric from the campaign trail of 2016, or Trump’s 2020 contention that the wall was “almost finished.” A lot of the work during the Trump years was replacing old fencing that had holes or was falling down; as of January 2021, “only 80 miles of new barriers have been built where there were none before – that includes 47 miles of primary wall, and 33 miles of secondary wall built to reinforce the initial barrier.”

But the DHS decision also represents Biden backtracking again from his January 20, 2021, proclamation that “building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution. It is a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security . . . It shall be the policy of my Administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall.”

Maybe it’s not such a waste of money after all, huh, Mr. President?

How Modern Stats Actually Underestimate Aaron Judge’s Season

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New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge celebrates with teammates in the dugout after hitting his second home run of the night against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field in Milwaukee, Wis., September 18, 2022. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Rich already posted on the incredible season Aaron Judge is having, but there’s one way in which his season is actually being underestimated by modern statistical methods.

In recent decades, there’s been a shift away from many standard statistics for measuring a baseball player’s value, to a number of new formulations — one of the most prominent being WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which in theory is supposed to measure how many more wins a team gets by having a given player at a position relative to just slotting in a typical player.

This season, Judge is the clear leader in this category,

Politics & Policy

If Biden Thinks the Pandemic Is Over, Then All Covid Restrictions Should End

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks as he celebrates the enactment of the “Inflation Reduction Act” on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 13, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

During an interview on 60 Minutes last night, Joe Biden made a little declaration: “The pandemic is over,” he said. “We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing, and I think [the Detroit auto show resuming after three years] is a perfect example of it.”

Oh? Okay. Yeah. I hope this is forwarded to the people I still see wearing masks as they drive solo, with the windows up, in their Kia Sorentos.

Will the remaining mandates cease? Will health-care facilities stop requiring masks?

Will government directives given via emergency powers end now? Don’t forget that the student-loan-forgiveness scam was based, flimsily, on the idea that there is an ongoing pandemic.

And, rather importantly, will Title 42 cease?

For those following from home, don’t forget the pandemic order from the CDC that allowed Border Patrol to turn away illegal migrants on the basis of health risks. It’s a policy that the Biden administration has partly relied on to prevent a total border meltdown, because, well, it is more comfortable turning people away for health-policy reasons than it is acknowledging that the United States is a nation with borders that need enforcement.

Iran’s Raisi ahead of U.N. Meeting: Mass Execution of Political Prisoners a ‘Proportionate’ Punishment

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a summit of leaders from the guarantor states of the Astana process in Tehran, Iran, July 19, 2022. (President Website/WANA/Handout via Reuters)

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi defended his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners, calling it a “proportionate” punishment, during an interview that aired just ahead of his arrival in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

Raisi was one of four members of a panel in Tehran that carried out a fatwa issued by then-supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, approving the executions of political prisoners in 1988. The precise number of prisoners executed as a result of that process is disputed, though some estimates say that the Iranian authorities killed a few thousand people.

In 2019, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Stagflation and State Policy

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Kevin Hassett lists the ten steps of stagflation:

Last week, markets collapsed, and the media seemed dumbstruck when inflation “surprised” on the upside. There should have been no reason for surprise, however. We are in a straightforward stagflationary spiral. Everything that is happening makes sense and is following a predictable historical pattern. But for those who have doubts, let’s dig deeper into the simple economics of the world we are living in.

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute writes about the policy successes at the state level in the past few years:

But there is good news on fiscal policy. A wildfire of state income-tax cuts is sweeping the nation. Republicans are leading the reforms, but even Democratic states are offering some taxpayer relief.

The dollar value of recent state tax cuts is the largest in at least four decades, made possible by overflowing coffers in most states. Even with the cuts, state tax revenues rose 10 percent in 2021 and will likely rise another 10 percent in 2022.

The states could have spent all the extra money, but Republicans have pressed for pro-growth tax cuts in state after state. More than 20 states have cut individual or corporate income tax rates, with some of the reforms being phased in over time.

Sports

#59

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Speaking of baseball, Aaron Judge is one away from Ruth’s home-run record (two homers yesterday, plus a laser double that looked like it had a chance to be the third), and two away from Maris’s. It’s been a stupendous season from a player who is all class and is on the cusp of history without cheating or histrionics.

Here is 59:

Here is the kind of month he’s had:

And here is his season so far:

Sports

MLB Totally Gets It

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MLB baseballs in a bag during spring training at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz., Feb 23., 2021 (Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic via Reuters)

In response to MLB Just Doesn’t Get It

I’ve been meaning to respond to Dominic’s post objecting to the coming rules changes in the MLB. Unsurprisingly, as a longstanding pitch-clock and baseball-reform fanatic, I find his objections unpersuasive.

First, just because a game is getting artificially stretched out by mindless and unnecessary fiddling and delays doesn’t mean you are getting “more baseball.” You are getting exactly the same amount of baseball padded out to take more time.

If the commissioner of any sport sees his game actually producing less action but taking more time to play, he should be freaked out.

It’s not hard to find examples illustrating the point. A friend sent me a link to an old Yankees game in 1990. The inaptly named Bombers that year somehow won a game against the Orioles 15-3. It took two and a half hours for both teams to score 18 runs. The other night, the Yankees lost to the Brewers 7-6, and it took more than four hours (!) for both teams to score 13 runs.

Now, Dominic is right that there’s more than the time between pitches that adds to the time it takes to play a game (strike-outs, pitching changes, etc.), but it certainly contributes. I didn’t watch much of the Yankees’ game against the Brewers, but early in the game, the Yankees’ radio announcers were begging for mercy because it was taking so long for anyone to throw a pitch.

There is an easy solution to this: the pitch clock that has been successfully tested at the minor-league level. Believe me: If you go to see a minor-league game, you will not miss all the stepping off the rubber, batter time outs, etc. Since that’s all extraneous nonsense that no one thought necessary in the first 120 years of the game, after about an inning you, forget you ever had to watch a baseball game while being subjected to it.

Dominic says one of the glories of baseball is chatting with friends at a game. True. But chatting for two and a half hours should be plenty. If you want to routinely chat for longer, you can show up for batting practice, or go to a neighboring watering hole before or afterwards.

As for the shift, I’m old enough to have seen a hitter pull a ground ball for a single through the infield. It wasn’t my favorite play, but it was pretty cool to see every now and then. I know the answer to the shift is supposed to be everyone hitting to all fields. I love that kind of hitters, but it’s not going to happen.

And I also find stolen bases enjoyable — they add an element of interest and excitement.

So what we are looking at is that baseball games next year will have a little more action (I wouldn’t want to exaggerate it) packed into faster-paced games. In the other words, more baseball, less dilatory tactics that would have struck players, fans, and everyone else as bizarre and wrong through much of the history of the game and within very recent memory.

Now, bring on the laser strike zone.

Education

‘Elaborate Schemes Designed to Silence Dissenters’

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We’re talking about college and university “Bias Response Systems.” They’re an outgrowth of leftist militancy on our campuses, created to enable ideological zealots to complain about and trigger action against anyone who says things they dislike.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson and Ashlynn Warta look into a new study by Speech First on this phenomenon. They write, “Speech First’s report pulls no punches, calling Bias Response Systems ‘elaborate schemes . . . designed to silence dissenters, stifle open dialogue, and encourage students to report speech they deem unacceptable.’ Like most such initiatives on campus, their efforts tend to run in a single ideological direction.”

Speech First’s survey found that Bias Response Systems (BRSs) have been increasing around the country. That comes as no surprise, since the mania for “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion” has been spreading like wildfire and one element of that is to combat what the administrators regard as “hurtful speech.”

Most of the major public and private schools in North Carolina have an anti-bias system of some kind. They encourage students to anonymously complain about speech that bothers them. Robinson and Warta write, “One of the most concerning aspects of these BRSs is that almost all the forms allow submissions to be made anonymously. Identifying information is not required when one submits a bias incident. This option of anonymity removes any checks and balances from the process; not only are students and faculty able to tattle on each other, but there is no way of investigating whether a complaint is true rather than a hoax.”

What to do? The right thing is to disband these systems. American higher education got along fine without them until they began to appear in the early years of this century. Let’s return to the good old days of free speech.

National Review

Farewell KDW

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I don’t know whether I should be used to saying “farewell” to Kevin by now, but I’m definitely not. He is leaving us again. If I could do what Kevin does, I’d write a rollicking, elegant, vulgar, sad, and funny 800-word single-sentence goodbye post. Since I can’t, I’ll just say that Kevin is supremely talented, has done tremendous work for us over the years, and will be sorely missed. We wish him all the best.

White House

Biden’s Alternate Economic Universe

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at an “American Rescue Plan challenge event” at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 2, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The economy that exists in Joe Biden’s head is significantly better than the economy in the real world. That’s the major takeaway from the president’s comments to CBS’s Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes tonight.

Pelley asked Biden about the August inflation report, which put year-over-year inflation at 8.3 percent and month-over-month inflation at 0.1 percent.

BIDEN: Well, first of all, let’s put this in perspective. Inflation rate month-to-month was just up, up just an inch, hardly at all.

PELLEY: You’re not arguing that 8.3 is good news.

BIDEN: No, I’m not saying it is good news. But it was 8.2 or 8.2 before, I mean it’s not, you’re acting to make it sound like all of a sudden, “My God, it went to 8.2 percent.” It’s been –

PELLEY: It’s the highest inflation rate, Mr. President, in 40 years.

BIDEN: I got that. But guess what we are. We’re in a position where for the last several months it hasn’t spiked. It has just barely, it’s been basically even, and in the meantime, we’ve created all these jobs, and prices have gone up, but they’ve been down for energy. The fact is that we’ve created 10 million new jobs, we’re in, since we came to office, we’re in a situation where we, the unemployment rate is up at 3.7 percent, one of the lowest in history, we’re in a situation where manufacturing is coming back to the United States in a big way, and look down the road, we have massive investments being made in computer chips and employment, so I, look, this is a process, this is a process.

Inflation is the top political concern for voters right now, and according to a recent poll, 59 percent of voters who name inflation as their top concern plan to vote Republican in November. “This is a process” is not likely to persuade them out of that choice.

The process of reducing inflation was made more difficult by Biden’s signature on the American Rescue Plan Act in March of last year, which even left-leaning economists warned would contribute to inflation. Not only that, but it didn’t create a single job in all of 2021.

The president is right that inflation hasn’t spiked in the past few months, but not spiking is not the same as declining. Biden said inflation is “basically even,” as though that were a good thing. Holding steady at a 40-year high is not good news, and Pelley was right to push back on Biden’s characterization of the inflation report.

Biden’s curious comments on inflation continued:

PELLEY: And you would tell the American people that inflation is going to continue to decline?

BIDEN: No, I’m telling the American people that we’re going to get control of inflation, and their prescription drug prices are going to be a helluva lot lower, their healthcare costs are going to be a lot lower, their basic costs for everybody, their energy prices are going to be lower, they’re going to be in a situation where they’re beginning to gain control again. I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time.

PELLEY: Sir, with the Federal Reserve rapidly raising interest rates, what can you do to prevent a recession?

BIDEN: Continue to grow the economy. And we’re growing the economy. It’s growing in a way that it hasn’t in years and years.

PELLEY: How so?

BIDEN: We’re growing entire new industries. We’re, 695, I think it is, or 85 thousand new manufacturing jobs, just since I become president of the United States. Continue to grow the economy and continue to give hard-working people a break, in terms of, we pay the highest drug prices in the world, of any industrialized nation, making sure that Medicare can negotiate down those prices. By the way, we’ve also reduced the debt. We reduced the deficit by 350 billion dollars my first year. This year it’s going to be over a trillion, 500 billion dollars reduced the debt, so to continue to put people in a position to be able to make a decent living and grow, and grow, and increase their capacity to grow.

The entire premise here doesn’t make sense. Inflation cannot continue to decline when, by the president’s own characterization, it is “basically even.” And the economy cannot continue to grow when it has, in fact, been shrinking for two consecutive quarters. Whether that counts as a recession is debatable, but whether negative numbers count as growth is not.

Pelley should have called out Biden for his comments on the deficit. The American Rescue Plan was the most expensive spending bill of the past 50 years, adding $1.9 trillion to the debt. The savings from the so-called Inflation Reduction Act (which Pelley referenced in his introduction as “the largest investment ever on climate change,” never mentioning inflation reduction) are largely based on gimmicks. And even if they weren’t, they are more than completely wiped out by the estimated cost of Biden’s illegal student-loan “forgiveness.” The continued torrent of government spending certainly isn’t helping to lower inflation.

On top of that, the real reason the markets were so spooked by the August inflation report was the steady increase in core inflation, which came in at 0.6 percent month-over-month and 6.3 percent year-over-year. The month’s decline in gasoline prices covered for persistent price increases in just about everything else.

The president doesn’t control the price of gasoline, something that Democrats were quick to say when prices were going up. But now that prices are going down, Biden is trying to claim credit:

PELLEY: Mr. President, the price of gasoline is down about 26 percent from the five-dollar high. What can you do to keep that price down while Vladimir Putin is throttling energy supply?

BIDEN: Well, there’s a, there’s a couple things we’ve done. For example, remember where I got some criticism for releasing a million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve? And then along came the industry saying they’d produce another million barrels a day by the spring, so I think we’re in relatively good shape.

Biden thinks we’re in “relatively good shape” with gasoline prices up by $1.27 per gallon since the week he took office. He apparently thinks an extra million barrels per day are going to show up in the spring. (From where? And how?) And his abuse of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — which is supposed to be for acute emergencies, not months-long periods when oil prices are high — has likely had little effect on energy prices, which are set on global markets.

Biden is living in an alternate universe where the economy is thriving. If only we all could live there.

World

‘Don’t, Don’t, Don’t’: Biden Warns Putin against Using Nuclear or Chemical Weapons

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Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a news conference in Moscow, Russia, February 15, 2022. (Sputnik/Sergey Guneev/Kremlin via Reuters)

President Biden promised a “consequential” response to any Russian use of nuclear or chemical weapons in its invasion of Ukraine. This comment came during a 60 Minutes episode that ran this evening. During the interview with host Scott Pelley, Biden delivered his most extensive remarks on the war in Ukraine since Kyiv recently reclaimed swaths of territory as part of a counteroffensive in the country’s East.

“Don’t, don’t, don’t,” said Biden, when asked for his message to Putin on the use of such weapons. Biden said that deciding to use them would “change the face of war — unlike since World War II.”

Biden told Pelley that he would not specify what a U.S. response to a future use of unconventional weapons would entail, but he stated that it would be significant.

“You think I would tell you if I knew exactly what it would be? Of course, I’m not going to tell you. It’ll be consequential. They’ll become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been. And depending on the extent of what they do, [it] will determine what response would occur.”

Throughout the surprise counteroffensive, which began in early September, Ukrainian forces have seized more than 3,000 square miles of land that had previously been occupied by Russian troops since the start of the invasion in February.

The Ukrainian counteroffensive has unearthed previously unknown possible war crimes that occurred under Russian occupation. This week, the Ukrainian authorities found more than 400 unmarked graves in Izium, some with bodies that showed signs of torture.

“Winning the war in Ukraine is to get Russia out of Ukraine completely and to recognize their sovereignty,” Biden said. “Russia’s turning out to not be as competent and capable as many people thought they were going to be.”

Biden added that the U.S. would support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” Since the start of the Russian invasion, the Biden administration has shipped various weapons to Ukraine, including missiles and artillery systems that have played a pivotal role in propping up the Ukrainian military’s war effort.

Congress is currently considering a bill that would provide the Ukrainian government with $13.6 billion in supplemental emergency funding. Earlier this year, it passed a $40 billion package to authorize funds to provide Ukraine with military equipment and other forms of financial assistance.

Politics & Policy

On 60 Minutes, President Biden Admits His Student-Loan Order Is Illegal

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President Joe Biden interviewed on 60 Minutes, in a clip released September 16, 2022. (60 Minutes/YouTube)

On 60 Minutes this evening, President admitted aloud that his decision to transfer up to a trillion dollars in student-loan debt to taxpayers without congressional approval is flatly unconstitutional:

Why does Biden’s statement matter so much? I’ll tell you: It matters because the memo that the Biden administration released to justify his order rested entirely upon there being an ongoing emergency, and because, as Biden has just confirmed, there is no ongoing emergency.

Back in August, Biden’s lawyers argued with half-straight faces that the 2003 HEROES Act — which, as Bloomberg Law has noted, was passed not as a generalized enabling act but “to help borrowers serving in the military in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks” — could be twisted to apply to any national emergency, including pandemics such as Covid-19. This, of course, was nonsense. Among the specific problems with Biden’s argument was that the 2003 HEROES Act does not cover debt cancelation (i.e., transference to taxpayers); that its “direct economic hardship” language does not allow for mass relief; that the application of its “or national emergency” language clearly violates the major questions doctrine; and that the administration’s insistence that the act was designed to allow the executive branch “to act quickly should a situation arise that has not been considered” was flatly contradicted by the fact that the president waited until two-and-a-half years into the pandemic before acting, and then gave relief to the most privileged people in America. But, even if one were to ignore all that, one could still not get past the fact that the powers to which Biden laid claim can be applied only when there is an active emergency, and that the active emergency Biden is citing has now passed.

In May, the Biden administration (correctly) reported that it was obliged to end the use of Title 42 of the 1944 Public Health Services Act at the border because the Covid-19 emergency had passed. In a memo, the Department of Justice explained that, in 2020, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) invoked its authority under Title 42 due to the unprecedented public-health dangers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” but that, two years later, “the CDC has now determined, in its expert opinion, that continued reliance on this authority is no longer warranted in light of the current public-health circumstances. That decision was a lawful exercise of CDC’s authority.”

Or, to put it more simply: Three months before Biden’s move on student loans, the CDC concluded that the pandemic was no longer enough of an emergency to justify extraordinary measures at the border.

That, a quarter of a year later, the same administration asked us all to believe that the same pandemic was bad enough to justify giving hundreds of billions of dollars to college students was always utterly preposterous. Tonight, on 60 Minutes, President Biden confirmed as much in public. The courts — and the voters — must take note.

Biden Says, for Fourth Time, U.S. Would Send Troops to Defend Taiwan from Chinese Invasion

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington, D.C., November 15, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President Biden said that the U.S. would send American troops to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese military assault, reaffirming a series of similar statements that he has made throughout his presidency. The White House quickly walked back the comment.

During an episode of CBS’s 60 Minutes that aired this evening, host Scott Pelley asked if U.S. forces would defend Taiwan. Biden answered, “Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack.” He also said, “We are not encouraging their being independent” and that “that’s their decision.”

Asked to clarify whether a potential invasion response would, unlike the U.S. response

Dumb, Needful Stunts in Martha’s Vineyard

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Migrants gather outside St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown, Mass., September 15, 2022. (Vineyard Gazette/Handout via Reuters)

Governors Abbott of Texas and DeSantis of Florida have taken it upon themselves to deliver asylum-seekers to the liberal enclaves that have for so long extended unassayed invitations to the world’s poor and oppressed, promising succor while building high walls around their mansions at a significant remove from the southern border that has been the scene of horror for decades — a stain that grows by the day.

I’ve been staring at the computer for a while now, trying to decide if I care more about means or ends. The current immigration regime is untenable, but change has been even more

Economy & Business

The Irrational Fear of Falling Prices

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Interventionists have a big bag of tricks to get people to agree to expansions of government power. Many of them take the form of scary outcomes such as “Just imagine how bad things would be if the government didn’t mandate minimum wages” or “What if government didn’t break up monopolies?”

In the same vein, we hear them declare that generally falling prices (i.e. deflation) would be harmful and therefore we need government policy through the Federal Reserve to keep that from happening. The same folks usually also contend that “mild” inflation is an economic stimulant.

In the letter to the Wall Street Journal below, excerpted in part, GMU economics professor Don Boudreaux takes aim at that idea:

Roger Lowenstein’s review of Troy Senik’s biography of Grover Cleveland is excellent (“‘A Man of Iron’ Review: Grover Cleveland, Honest to a Fault,” September 17). But Mr. Lowenstein makes a small error when, implicitly commenting on the gold standard in place during Cleveland’s time as president, he says that “Cleveland seemed blind to larger shortcomings in the monetary system (the U.S. had suffered persistent deflation since the 1860s).”

Contrary to popular (and, alas, even to much professional) economic opinion, deflation is not necessarily – as it is when caused by contractions of the money supply – a source of suffering. Indeed, the “persistent deflation” that Mr. Lowenstein decries was a natural result of the enormous growth during those decades in the productivity of the U.S. economy.

U.S. industrial output skyrocketed in the decades immediately following the Civil War. It rose in 33 of the final 40 years of the 19th century, nearly all which 40 years witnessed deflation. One result was that annual U.S. industrial output in 1900 was nearly 7.5 times higher than it was in 1860* – a result explained by population growth. . . .

With a stable supply of money chasing ever-more goods (and services), the natural result was a falling price level. And it’s a result that deserves applause.

Media

Liberal New York Times Columnist Yearns for Donald Trump’s Charisma and ‘Soft Edges’

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Former President Donald Trump dances onstage after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, August 6, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to get a liberal New York Times columnist to praise Donald Trump for being “funny,” and for having stage presence, and a kind of natural charisma, and an easy ability to “persuade an audience that he’s just kidding — that he doesn’t actually mean it”… well, all it took was Florida governor Ron DeSantis to get the Times’ Jamelle Bouie looking fondly at the good old days, when everyone would just sit back, laugh, and bask in Trump’s natural charisma. Boy, we all had some hearty laughs together during the Trump presidency. Good times, good times.

Bouie also yearns for the simpler times of Trump’s “soft edges.”

Surely, if you asked a typical New York Times reader what they remembered of Trump’s presidency, good humor and “soft edges” would be a common answer, right?

Film & TV

Númenorean, Dwarven Intrigue, Men in Peril Mark Fourth Episode of an Improving Rings of Power

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Trystan Gravelle (Pharazôn) and Leon Wadham (Kemen) in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. (Amazon Studios)

Last week, I wrote that the third episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, “by simultaneously establishing one key new setting while otherwise moving past the necessary introductory material that made it difficult to judge the show fully,” became the best of the series yet. This week’s episode continued this improvement trend by introducing new complications to now-established settings and dropping ominous portents about calamities to come.

Elves in strange lands were once again a focus this week. Galadriel remained on Númenor, trying to persuade the island kingdom to fight evil in Middle-earth. Her persuasive methods are ineffective, however, until a different tack and two augurs help to convince Miriel, Númenor’s ruler, of Galadriel’s plan. The White Tree shedding leaves and visions of a catastrophic flood (the latter seen through a palantir) both augur poorly for the island kingdom of men. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Galadriel’s course is the way to stave off Numenor’s fall, or whether it will in fact set this fall into motion. On that score, the emergence of Pharazon as a recognizably — perhaps slightly too recognizably, given occasionally on-the-nose appeals to protectionism and nativism — modern demagogue and manipulator gives a better sense of how this schemer, currently subordinate to Miriel, will attempt to take control of the island. If the show continues in its presentation of him as a contemporary, grubby politician, presumably seeking to undermine the established monarchy, it would be a striking, authentic realization of Tolkien’s idiosyncratic contempt for modern forms of authority.

Meanwhile, Elrond returned to Khazad-dum, where he suspects his friend Durin IV hides a secret from him. That secret turns out to be a new ore, light yet durable, discovered by the dwarves: mithril. The full implications of this discovery remain to be seen, but the inherently risky nature of its pursuit, highlighted by a mining accident, hints at yet more danger to come (especially since trailers hint that a balrog is to appear before season’s end). Much remains hidden by the dwarves — and for now, that’s just the way they want it.

And in the Southlands, the evil that Galadriel has now roused Númenor to fight has made its presence known. As Southlander refugees struggle to meet basic needs in their self-imposed exile, young Theo impudently journeys back to the land they abandoned thinking he can find more food. Theo has discovered an ancient, malevolent weapon, which he hides from others and occasionally takes out to view, as though it were a porn mag (a classically — and fittingly, given the weapon’s provenance — teenage mixture of sin and shame). Theo’s adventure is interrupted by the orcs that now linger in his former homeland. Two sequences that result from their hunting him, a kind of Children of Men–esque tracking shot of Theo escaping their sight, and a slow-motion battle through the woods as elf Throndir makes a well-timed rescue, are highlights of the episode. But with the introduction of the mysteriously charismatic, nearly elf-like orc Adar, who has designs on what remains of the Southland’s refugees, this land’s beleaguered inhabitants are not out of the woods yet.

Númenorean and dwarven intrigue; elves dealing with men and dwarves; men in peril — The Rings of Power continues to hold my attention, with a promise of even more to come.

Immigration

‘They Are Actually Thanking [DeSantis] for Having Brought Them to Martha’s Vineyard’

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Venezuelan illegal immigrants stand outside St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown, Mass., September 14, 2022. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via Reuters)

When a reporter on MSNBC states that the migrants in Martha’s Vineyard “are not angry at Ron DeSantis, they are actually thanking him for having brought them to Martha’s Vineyard, where they were very well received…”

… and when the Washington Post profiles a migrant and volunteer on the island and includes the detail that “some of the migrants would tell her it turned out to be un golpe de buena suerte — a stroke of good luck — that they had landed there” …

…it’s a sign that the entire outrage-driven mainstream news environment should pause and gather some information – including the perspective of the migrants! – before launching into yet another frenzied news cycle Ragnarok comparing Republican governors to Nazis.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that some, or perhaps many, of the migrants are happy to be relocated to the northeast. After you’ve traveled from Venezuela to the U.S. southern border, by foot, train or bus, risked being assaulted, exploited or worse by coyotes and bandits, only to end up in a dusty border town that doesn’t have enough medical or educational services or other resources, it is likely even a temporary shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod looks pretty good! Today in Cape Cod, it is 68 degrees and sunny. (In Texas, highs are still in the 90s today.) Three square meals, a roof over your head, and safety – for someone who’s been trying to get to America, that all looks like an improvement, or at least relief.

If the U.S. is going to have a porous and insufficiently guarded border, then the consequences and costs of that policy should be experienced nationwide, not just in the border states.

Elections

Another Analyst Moves Oregon Governor’s Race to ‘Toss-Up’

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Gubernatorial Candidate Christine Drazan (R., Ore.) speaks during an interview (Screengrab KGW News/YouTube)

I’ve been closely following the surprisingly competitive Oregon governor’s race, where Republican Christine Drazan appears to have a viable shot at becoming the Beaver State’s first Republican governor since 1987. I profiled Drazan, who continues to poll neck-and-neck with her Democratic opponent, Tina Kotek, back in May. Around the same time, I profiled Kotek — a hard-left ally of the state’s outgoing governor, Kate Brown — in The Spectator. In August, amid growing concerns about the faltering red wave, I argued that “one little-noticed race where Republicans might have an unusually solid shot — and where the GOP nominee is, by all accounts, serious, focused, and competent — is my home state of Oregon.” And just one day later, as I reported at the time, “the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics moved the Oregon governor’s race from ‘Leans Democratic’ to ‘Toss-up.’”

Here was the reasoning that the Center for Politics offered for its unusually tight rating in a deep-blue state:

[Oregon] is hosting an unusual 3-way race among a trio of women who are all recent members of the state legislature: former state House Speaker Tina Kotek (D), former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R), and former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, an unaffiliated, former Democrat who is more conservative than most of the members of her former party and who has been backed by Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The race sets up an unusual situation where the winner may not need to crack even 40%. Additionally, the 3 candidates all served concurrently in the state legislature, which should provide the campaigns ample opportunities to draw contrasts among the candidates. Outgoing Gov. Kate Brown (D) is deeply unpopular, and there may be some desire for change in the Beaver State. Johnson, the independent, would still be the most surprising winner, and Kotek and Drazan both will be working to try to prevent their voters from flocking to her banner. There’s just enough uncertainty here that we’re looking at the race as a Toss-up now.

Yesterday, the Cook Political Report followed suit, moving the Oregon governor’s race from “Lean Democrat” to “Toss-Up”:

That’s the second time that CPR has downgraded Democrats’ chances in the race. In July, the group moved the race from “Likely Democrat” to “Lean Democrat.” CPR writes:

With less than two months until Election Day, the 2022 gubernatorial map has seen some surprising shifts since the outset of the cycle. Republicans had initially started targeting the Rust Belt, hoping to flip control in perpetual swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. But, saddled with weak and cash-poor candidates, those contests have moved down the priority list as new opportunities have emerged.

No race for governor has been more surprising than Oregon, which we last shifted into the competitive column at the end of July, moving it from Likely to Lean Democrat. Now, we are changing our race rating once again into the Toss Up column. 

Thanks to the presence of a well-funded independent candidate, private and public polling has shown the GOP nominee, former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, neck and neck with Democratic former House Speaker Tina Kotek. Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson — a bespectacled former Democrat-turned-independent — threatens to act as a spoiler. There’s a clear trend of both Kotek and Drazan pulling in the low 30s, while Johnson has yet to poll higher than the mid-20s, though she has argued that will rise post-Labor Day.

Drazan has run a really impressive campaign thus far, presenting conservative principles and policy goals in a commonsensical, reasonable way to Oregon’s left-leaning electorate. Her performance in the first gubernatorial debate was particularly strong:

Oregon is still a blue state, so Drazan undoubtedly remains the underdog. But something is only impossible until it happens. 

Politics & Policy

Happy Constitution Day

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An extremely rare official first-edition printed copy of the U.S. Constitution as adopted by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. (Ardon Bar-Hama/Handout via Reuters)

It was 235 years ago today, on September 17, 1787, that the U.S. Constitution was signed by its authors, and began its challenging journey toward ratification.

The document opens with one of the great run-on sentences in American history:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Fifty-two words, seven commas, and a powerful vision of the complicated aims of republican government.

We fight a lot about the Constitution, and we always have. But it’s not a coincidence that the document begins with the word “we” and puts union at the front of its list of ambitions. Properly understood, and properly put into practice, it has the capacity to bring us together. The Constitution was meant to create common ground in our society, not just to occupy it, and some of its most frustrating and peculiar features are the ones best suited to serving that purpose — a fact that a lot of our system’s loudest critics blithely ignore.

Over on the homepage today, I’ve got an essay on just how that capacity for forging unity manifests itself, and what that might tell us about what we’re doing wrong these days in our practice of constitutionalism.

In our search for greater national cohesion, the Constitution is not the problem but the solution.

Politics & Policy

The Miracle at Philadelphia

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Washington at Constitutional Convention of 1787 by Junius Brutus Stearns, 1856 (Public Domain/Wikimedia)

This Constitution Day is a great time to revisit the classic story of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia 235 years ago that gave birth to what Winston Churchill called the Great Republic. Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention by Catherine Drinker Bowen is scrupulously accurate, but told like a great story or a screenplay from a series on HBO or Netflix. A great read. More important, though, it describes a fundamental — perhaps the fundamental — part of the beginning of the great American experiment in self-governance. I’ve been in 85 countries around the world, and even the so-called “stable” countries have struggled with self-governance or the continuity of a constitution. France had 15 constitutions (some say more) between its revolution and 1958! Many countries just haven’t seriously tried self-governance at all.

The U.S. experiment, our one Constitution (with its amendments) and our continuing struggle to create a more perfect union, is truly unique. It survived a civil war, it survived many periods of serious political disagreement, and it holds our system together today. I have great reverence for this document – this blueprint for our democratic republic. I’ve sworn the sacred oath to it four times so far in my professional life.

We take history for granted, thinking it was inevitable it would turn out the way it did. But history is lived forward — and outcomes are hanging in the balance when it unfolds. Nothing is preordained. A long-lasting U.S. Constitution seemed an implausible future as our nation stumbled along in the years after achieving independence from Great Britain. The Constitution we know wasn’t accidental, but it was unlikely. The fact that those men were there at that time and in just that combination of brains, ego, experience, knowledge, talents, and ambition created a combustible mix that produced the most enduring system of self-governance for the greatest nation on earth. Truly, as the book’s title suggests, what happened that summer was a miracle. So labeled by George Washington and James Madison, not just the book’s author.

Former chief justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger says in the book’s foreword that this is “one of the greatest stories in our history . . . indeed in the history of human liberty.” And that is true despite what we might think are the obvious flaws in the Constitution — namely, dealing with the evil of slavery, the status and rights of Native Americans, the rights of women, and even of unpropertied men. Both things are correct in my opinion — Burger’s judgement about the Constitution and the arc of human liberty, and the short-comings we see in it from our vantage point in the present. F. Scott Fitzgerald reminds us that it is a high measure of intelligence (and I would add historical understanding) — to know that both things can be true at the same time. Moreover, our Constitution turns out to allow for self-correction on the one hand, without revolution and chaos. We get better as a nation. But the Constitution also promotes a foundational stability and continuity on the other hand — so we don’t recreate a system of governance with every new movement, administration, political sentiment or even whimsy that seizes us for a time. We are blessed to have it, and the Republic it created.

Politics & Policy

Compare and Contrast, Trump vs. DeSantis Edition

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Four days ago: “DeSantis is putting $2.5 million of his colossal $122.5 million campaign war chest into expanding the Republican majority in the Florida Senate.” He is also, of course, leading the ticket, so he’s going to spend a ton of the rest getting out the Republican vote in Florida for himself, Marco Rubio, congressional candidates, the state legislature, and the rest of the Republican ticket.

Today: “Trump is . . . using this cycle to hoover up grassroots donations that might otherwise go to competitive midterm candidates and so far refuses to commit any of the estimated $99 million in a leadership PAC to his endorsees.”

World

Twenty Things That Caught My Eye: Fearing the Taliban; Being Unserious about Child Welfare; David Beckham Waits in Line for the Queen & More

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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)

1. J. D. Long-Garcia: Thousands of Afghan refugees fled to America in search of a new home. Too many are still waiting.

“We are afraid of the Taliban,” she said. “In the U.S.A. we are safe, but in Afghanistan we have our own house. If the Taliban see us [in the media], maybe they will take our house, or burn it down.”

2. Catholic News Service: Kidnapped Nun Sustained by Prayer in Captivity

Sister Suellen, 83, was abducted by a group of armed men the night of April 4-5 from the medical mission residence in Yalgo she had shared since 2013 with two other Marianite sisters and lay employees.

Through Sister Suellen’s ordeal, the Marianites of Holy Cross, of which she is the former international leader, heard nothing about her whereabouts. She was freed peacefully in late August in neighboring Niger into the custody of the FBI and U.S. Embassy and Air Force personnel.

No ransom was paid, Sister Suellen said, another one of the inscrutable mysteries of her harrowing experience.

Speaking from New Orleans where she returned quietly Aug. 31, Sister Suellen expressed gratitude that her life was spared and for the invisible actions of the uncounted people who prayed and worked for her release.

“Prayer sustained me,” she said. “I went through my Mass every day. I did each part of the Mass and received spiritual Communion. … That was the thing that kept me going because I had nothing.”

3.

4. Naomi Schaefer Riley: Child Welfare Is Becoming a Joke

The field is mired in risible theory and impenetrable jargon, and increasingly divorced from concern with the welfare of children.

Continue reading “Twenty Things That Caught My Eye: Fearing the Taliban; Being Unserious about Child Welfare; David Beckham Waits in Line for the Queen & More”

Elections

Emerson Ohio Poll: 50% of Voters Support State’s Six-Week Abortion Limit

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Pro-life protestors hold a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., November 1, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters )

The latest from Emerson polling: “Ohio is evenly split between those that oppose (50%) and those that support (50%) its abortion law, prohibiting abortion after six weeks or when a fetus has a heartbeat, with exceptions to save a mother’s life, but not for cases of rape or incest.”

The Emerson poll finds Ohio GOP governor Mike DeWine, who signed that six-week abortion limit into law, leading Democrat Nan Whaley by 17 points (50 percent to 33 percent).

The same survey finds Ohio GOP Senate candidate J. D. Vance leading Democrat Tim Ryan 44 percent to 40 percent. 

Several polls have now shown DeWine with a big lead while Vance and Ryan are in a close race. As I noted last month, the abortion issue wouldn’t seem to be a factor that explains the polling differential in the gubernatorial and Senate races in Ohio:

Both DeWine and Vance are pro-life. DeWine is the governor who signed into law Ohio’s ban on abortion after a baby’s heartbeat is detectable about six weeks into pregnancy, with an exception for when the mother’s life or physical health is endangered but not when the pregnancy is the result of rape. If the abortion issue were a decisive factor for any given voter, it’s hard to see why that voter would cast a ballot against Vance and for DeWine.

Ever since the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade at the end of June, political observers have been trying to detect how much the issue might help Democrats in November, and there have been a few data points suggesting that Republican prospects have been diminished over the last couple months. The congressional GOP’s 2.3-point lead over Democrats on the generic ballot has turned into a 0.5-point lead for Democrats according to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls. Republicans have not met expectations in a couple of congressional special elections. And at the beginning of August, Kansas voters (by 59 percent to 41 percent) rejected a referendum that would have held a right to abortion is not protected by the state constitution.

A number of Senate GOP candidates have seen lackluster polling as well. But the strength of pro-life GOP governors in those same battleground states suggests that the Senate GOP’s diminished electoral prospects may have more to do with candidate quality than abortion politics. It’s not just Ohio. In Georgia, Republican governor Brian Kemp signed into law a heartbeat act that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is endangered. But Kemp leads Democrat Stacey Abrams by 4.2 points in the RCP average of polls, while Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker (who has a lot of baggage) trails Democratic senator Raphael Warnock by 4.4 points.

Books

And the National Book Awards Nominees Are . . . All about Identity Politics

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Customers at the Amazon Books store in New York City in 2017. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

This week the National Book Awards announced the 2022 nominees in the category of Young People’s Literature. The Publishers Weekly summaries of the books give us a window into the world of YA fiction. Here’s a sampling:

• The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen is about an Orthodox Jewish boy who moves to a “mostly non-Jewish town” and begins dating the mayor’s daughter, a doubly hyphenated character named Anna-Marie Diaz-O’Leary. PW wraps up its summary by noting that “Hoodie and his family read as white; Anna-Marie is Latinx-cued.”

• A Thousand Steps into the Night, a story “inspired by Japanese mythology” with fantastical elements, features “interrogation and analysis of gender, cultural sexism, and patriarchy [that] add layers of contemporary resonance.”

• Swim Team “details segregation’s generational impact through a warmhearted story of community, Black diasporic identity, and learning.”

• The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School follows a 16-year-old Mexican-American lesbian as she finds her place in a new school where “the student body is overwhelmingly white” and “homophobia [is] seemingly baked into the curriculum.” The story “tackles difficult subjects such as intolerant religious institutions.”

• Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist For Justice is by the track-and-field athlete Tommie Smith, who famously raised his fist in the black-power salute while on the medals podium at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The book is praised as “a powerful celebration of resistance.”

• All My Rage, concerning a Pakistani-American family, explores “grief, racism, financial need, trauma, and substance abuse.” It presents “solidly multidimensional characters alongside vividly wrought connections and pressure,” whatever that means.

• Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix, according to the publisher’s own description, reimagines Nick Carraway as Nicolás Caraveo, a transgender boy in 1922 who follows Daisy Fabrega from Wisconsin to Long Island, where he meets Jay Gatsby. Finding himself “falling hard” for Jay, he “learns something else: Jay is also transgender.”

I haven’t read these books, so of course I can’t comment on their literary value. But it’s a curious thing how, these days, books appear to gain recognition on the basis of certain approved themes.

World

China Censors Video of Tedros Saying End of Pandemic Is ‘In Sight’: Report

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaks during a news conference on the coronavirus at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, January 29, 2020. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The Standard Hong Kong reports on how an optimistic World Health Organization assessment about the Covid pandemic has met the digital buzzsaw of Chinese government censorship:

The World Health Organization chief’s comment that the end of the pandemic is within reach sparked lively online debate — and some censorship — in China, the only major country still trying to stop the spread of the virus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday that “we have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We are not there yet, but the end is in sight.”

China Newsweek and popular online media outlet Guancha.cn reported on Tedros’s remark and shared videos on social media platform Weibo, but those were removed in the afternoon. A hashtag on Tedros’s comments that gathered some 4.5 million views also appeared to have been removed, and Chinese media disabled the comment function on Weibo posts sharing the news.

Discussions still flowed in the vibrant but closed-off world of China’s internet, with many saying that the shift Tedros spoke of wouldn’t apply to them. China continues to address Covid pretty much as it did at the start of the pandemic in early 2020 — trying to cut off transmission and wipe out the pathogen with intensive restrictions.

Chinese officials have doubled down on their draconian zero-Covid policy in recent weeks. Although Chengdu exited a two-week-long lockdown on Thursday, Radio Free Asia recently reported on a disturbing Covid lockdown in Xinjiang, where the lockdowns seem to be exacerbating the impact of the Chinese Communist Party’s mass atrocities:

More than 600 mostly young Uyghurs from a village in Ghulja were detained by authorities in Xinjiang on Monday after they ignored a strict COVID-19 lockdown and staged a peaceful street protest against a lack of food that has led to starvation and deaths, a local police officer said.

The detention figure was much higher than China’s official number issued the same day on an official police website stating that only two people who violated the lockdown restrictions in Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) city were sentenced to five days of detention.

Ghulja, a city of roughly a half-million mainly Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Ili (Yili) Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the northern part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), has been under lockdown since early August, prompted by outbreaks of COVID-19.

Culture

How the Sexual Revolution Harmed Women

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In the latest issue of the magazine, I review Louise Perry’s brilliant book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution.