Biden Administration
Who’s Biden’s Workplace Vaccine Mandate Supposed to Help?

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And why can’t the administration be honest about it? That’s what my Bloomberg Opinion column takes up. I’d say it’s a must-read, if I were into mandates.

Politics & Policy

Fauci’s Complaint

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I would like to extend and amplify one little bit of Michael’s excellent post this morning and say this: Anthony Fauci should stop complaining about the obscene phone calls and the death threats.

Unhappily, this sort of thing now is part of the ordinary daily business of anybody who is in public life — and Fauci is a practically inescapable public figure. But his nemesis in this matter, Senator Rand Paul, gets the same thing. (Senator Paul has in fact been physically assaulted.) But even considerably less well-known figures endure a more or less regular barrage of threats, obscenity, and the like. I do. People on cable-news shows do. People who are big on social media do. And though I am not much of a feminist, I would suggest to anybody who wants a genuinely horrifying account of this sort of thing to ask virtually any woman in public life about it.

But to do what Fauci is doing — to treat the ravings and rhetorical misdeeds of the lunatics as though they discredited ordinary political disagreement — is dishonest; worse, it encourages the very thing that Fauci complains about by elevating and amplifying it. We should treat it like what it is: the almost always inconsequential ravings of people who are fixated on some public figure or public controversy but whose rage and psychic incontinence more often are rooted in personal inadequacies and unrelated anxieties — people who started off shaking with rage and then looked around until they could find something or someone to hitch it to. People who need to physically protect themselves should do so, of course, but cynically exploiting the outpourings of mentally incompetent people on Twitter or down in the comments section amounts to very little more than petty political advantage-seeking.

White House

Inflation Is Biden’s Covid-19 (But So Is Covid-19)

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President Joe Biden speaks during his visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., December 2, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Donald Trump was mocked, rightly, for his wishful thinking in the early days of the Covid-19 epidemic that the virus would just “go away.” That is, as you may remember, not exactly what ended up happening.

And now:

“The Biden administration,” the New York Times informs us in a headline, “has waited months for inflation to fade.” But inflation is not fading. It is currently at its highest rate since your grey-bearded correspondent was carrying his Star Wars–themed lunchbox to the fourth grade. It is eating into the wages and wealth of Americans at a steady pace.

Inflation is not a problem that is going to fix itself. And inflation is not the product of a virus — it is the entirely foreseeable product of bad public policy, and must be addressed with more intelligent public policy.

Wishful thinking isn’t going to get it done.

Politics & Policy

‘Voting Rights’ Has Become a Meaningless Political Slogan

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“I voted” stickers during the California gubernatorial recall election in Long Beach, Calif., September 14, 2021. (David Swanson/Reuters)

In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin manages to pen an entire column about the importance of saving democracy without mentioning a single thing that the democracy-saving bills she covets would actually do. The piece is a perfect example of the distance that now exists between the heated rhetoric around “voting rights,” and the cold reality on the ground.

In the course of her essay, Rubin references the need to “protect voting rights” and to “protect voting rights and secure our democracy”; she insists that “protecting democracy is more important than sustaining the filibuster”; she urges Biden’s critics “to consider their moral responsibility and historical legacy”; she criticizes “Manchin and Sinema,” who she says “have apparently decided that placating right-wingers in their states outweighs their obligation to support democracy”; she insists upon the need for “voting reforms”; she references “Biden’s defense of democracy”; she laments that the president “cannot force Manchin or Sinema to defend democracy”; she mentions the Republican party’s “implacable opposition to reforms and nationwide assault on voting”; she complains that “democracy’s fate rests with two stubborn senators”; and she demands that President Biden must do “whatever is necessary” to fix this problem.

But nowhere — at any point, in any way, even tangentially — does she put meat on the bone.

The column is a perfect example of the way in which this issue has been abstracted so far away from the details as to have become absurd. By and large, Americans do not believe that they are being denied the right to vote, or care much about attempts to “reform” the system. Why? Because they’re not — as the last few elections have clearly shown. As a quotidian political question, the Democratic Party is entirely within its rights to want the system to work differently than it does — although some consistency might be nice — but its pretense that its maximalist preferences are in some way synonymous with “the right to vote” is preposterous, and is being generally received as such.

Why isn’t President Biden making more progress on this front? Because, when one gets past the rhetoric and the assumptions, there’s really not much there.

Culture

Caring Less, and More

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On Broadway in Nashville, Tenn. (Jaime Durkin / Getty Images)

In Impromptus today, I begin with the Beijing Olympics and move on to Elon Musk, Vladimir Putin, Jeffrey Epstein, Boris Johnson, and a host of others: people and topics. See what you think.

Earlier this week, I published a Nashville journal. The city, I noted, was named after Francis Nash (a Revolutionary War general). I went on to comment,

The big Nash in my life, I suppose, is George Nash, the historian — particularly of modern American conservatism. (He is also the chief biographer of Herbert Hoover.) Then we had the cars — the Nash automobile, made in Kenosha, Wis., about a hundred years ago.

A reader writes to say, “What about Ogden?” My young colleague Dominic Pino asks, “What about Steve?” To which I can only say, Homer Simpson–style, “D’oh!”

In my journal, I took up the question, “What ought to be called ‘western’? What is the American West?” It’s not a matter of geography, is it? What feels more western? Portland, Ore., or Nashville, about 2,500 miles to the east? How about Seattle versus Dallas?

A reader writes, “The Dallas Cowboys play in the NFC East. Just sayin’.” True. Cowboys in the East!

Also in my journal, I commented on the touchiness of certain music people. You have to get the terms exactly right: “country,” “western,” “country-western,” “jazz,” “blues,” “rock,” “indie,” etc. People go nuts if you slip up (trust me).

A reader writes to recall an exchange in The Blues Brothers:

Elwood: “What kind of music do you usually have here?”
Claire: “Oh, we got both kinds. We got country and western.”

(See it here.)

A reader writes,

I’m a Nashville native, whose career took him away 40 years ago. I enjoyed seeing my hometown through your eyes. . . .

You had a picture of the War Memorial. That building’s auditorium was the home of the Nashville Symphony when I was a kid and even into the ’70s when I was the recording engineer for the orchestra. . . .

The old Customs House was where I went to register for the draft. It’s also where my father had an office when he stationed in Nashville as a counterintelligence agent during WW2.

Wonderful stuff. Thanks to all correspondents, and to readers in general. End on a little language?

Hi, Jay:

I enjoyed your virtual tour of Nashville. Thanks! But you did it again, so I’ll ask again. You write, in a parenthetical aside, “I exaggerate a little bit.” Isn’t “little bit” redundant?

A little bit! But more seriously: Idioms are not subject to reasoning. They flavor a language, independent of reason. “I could care less” is an American idiom, and should not be rendered, in my opinion, “I couldn’t care less.”

Thanks again — and today’s Impromptus, once more, is here.

Politics & Policy

Our Very Serious ‘Democracy Experts’ Strike Again

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Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), flanked by Senators’ Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) and Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), faces reporters following the Senate Democrats weekly policy lunch at the U.S. Capitol, November 2, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Today’s Politico Playbook contains a hilarious note about the two “democracy experts” the Senate Democrats invited to their lunch yesterday. As has been noted, the pair now favors abolition of the filibuster. But:

This take on the filibuster from Levitsky and Ziblatt is notable because in their book they actually warned of what someone like Trump could do if the Senate got rid of the legislative filibuster. But not unlike several Democratic senators, as well as Biden, they changed their minds, and in 2020 they started advocating for filibuster reform.

So, just like the Democratic Party writ large, our very serious “democracy experts” believed that the filibuster was imperative when the Republicans ran the Senate, but dropped their support the moment they thought the Democrats might have a shot at a trifecta in Washington, D.C.

Top men.

Economy & Business

Despite Biden’s Assurances, U.S. Inflation Is Now at the Highest Level Since 1982

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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)

President Biden, speaking with reporters, July 19:

Q    Yes, thank you, Mr. President.  At what point would you consider inflation unchecked to a point at which you would either consider taking action or you would want to see the Fed take action?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  There’s nobody suggesting there’s unchecked inflation on the way — no serious economist.  That’s totally different.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this morning: “The all items index rose 7.0 percent for the 12 months ending December, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending June 1982. The all items less food and energy index rose 5.5 percent, the largest 12-month change since the period ending February 1991. The energy index rose 29.3 percent over the last year, and the food index increased 6.3 percent.”

The Wall Street Journal, this morning: “2021 Is Expected to Rank as Biggest Year for Inflation in Four Decades”

Jason Furman, the former chairman of the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers: “I expect inflation to remain very elevated in 2022.”

Education

Don’t Assume That College Will Pay Off

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It used to be widely assumed that anyone who earned a college degree — any college degree — had made a good human-capital investment that would pay off handsomely. Even weak and disengaged high school students were encouraged to prepare for college, then go. The expense? Never mind — college grads got a huge earnings boost.

That was never true. Many of those students back in the ’80s and ’90s wound up being “underemployed,” which is to say working at jobs that were mainly done by people with high-school educations or less. But hardly any writers looked at them. Over the last ten years or so, things have changed and a lot of attention is now being focused on people who poured time and money into college, only to discover that their earnings prospects are bleak.

In today’s Martin Center article, I ask “Will Your College Degree be a Good Investment?”

Spoiler: the answer is “maybe not.”

There are now data resources that will help people avoid college programs that on average cost more than they’re worth. Even one of the dependable cheerleaders for “higher educational attainment” now admits that more than trivial numbers of students are better off going into the labor market after high school.

Students will be much more circumspect about enrolling in college than in the past, and that portends a serious shakeup in the world of higher education. The fat years of the college-for-everyone mindset are over.

International

Wall Street & China

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The People’s Republic of China flag and the U.S. flag fly on a lamp post along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol. (Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)

If China is the most significant strategic challenger that the U.S. has faced since the USSR (spoiler: It is, and, as I discussed here, it is considerably more sophisticated than its Soviet predecessor), that fact is not one that Wall Street seems to be taking with the seriousness that it deserves.

Bloomberg:

As tensions were rising between the U.S. and China last summer, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co. was letting it be known that he wanted to get to Hong Kong as soon as he could. Jamie Dimon did just that in November, becoming the first major U.S. bank executive to visit Greater China since the pandemic began. His 32-hour trip to the Asian financial hub was billed as a chance to thank thousands of employees there. But it was also a reminder of the company’s commitment to the territory, as well as to mainland China, where JPMorgan has exposure of about $20 billion, mainly from lending, deposits, trading, and investments.

Some U.S. politicians have been calling for companies to back away from China, over concerns about national security and human rights. But Wall Street banks are instead deepening their ties…

Both the U.S. and Chinese governments have cracked down on Chinese companies listing their shares in New York, hurting a lucrative business that was driven from Hong Kong. But U.S. banks that want a piece of the world’s second-largest economy—and second-biggest issuer of equities—are shifting gears to take on China’s top lenders on their own turf. “I don’t think we have a choice,” says Gokul Laroia, CEO of Morgan Stanley’s Asia-Pacific operations, describing the bank’s decision to think of China as one big opportunity and to compete for business on the mainland as well as offshore. Even though global banks haven’t made much money in China yet, the potential upside is massive, he says: “If you keep saying I am not going to invest in the domestic platforms because they are not as profitable, I think you’re missing a trick.”…

Even if we disregard the question as to whether U.S. capital should, on moral (Uyghur genocide, the crushing of Hong Kong, you name it) or geopolitical grounds, be put to work in China (not least by Wall Street institutions that spend so much time trumpeting the virtues of ESG), and we shouldn’t, there is also the awkward question as to whether, even looked at purely from the basis of financial return, it is wise to be putting money into the China that is developing in the way that it now is. Spoiler #2: No. It is madness. Underpinning this madness, I think, are two illusions. The first is that there are limits to the extent to which countries that are deeply entangled financially and economically can fall out. Those who believe that should look at the connections between Britain and Germany prior to 1914.

The second illusion rests on a misunderstanding of the nature of the Chinese state, which has moved a long way from communism and, indeed, the relatively freewheeling era that followed the Deng-era reforms. Instead the “People’s Republic” is rapidly evolving into a regime run on fairly classic fascist lines, even if that fascism comes with, as the phrase goes, “Chinese characteristics.” While fascism frequently involves strong elements of “state capitalism” (then and now: Think of Mussolini’s IRI), another important element within its economic history is the notion of “harnessed” capitalism, a system that is designed to exploit some of the dynamism of capitalism — companies remain privately owned — while ultimately subordinated to the interests of the state. And this, I think, is what Wall Street’s investors in China are missing. Yes, Beijing is perfectly happy that they should make money from their presence in China. However, if Sino-American relations degenerate beyond a certain point, and if, even at a financial cost to China or Chinese nationals, expropriating that investment (or the threat to do so) can be used, indirectly or directly, as a weapon against the U.S., it will be.

Elections

Democrats Can’t Quit Fighting Photo ID for Voters

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President Biden didn’t explicitly mention voter-ID requirements in his speech, but both of the bills he was urging the Senate to change its rules to pass have something to say about those requirements. As I’ve noted here before, the “Freedom to Vote Act” (S. 2747) would forbid states from requiring photo identification from voters in federal elections. States would be required to accept utility bills, sworn written statements, and other non-photographic forms of identification.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) treats states’ photo-ID requirements as evidence that they are denying or abridging the right to vote; if they rack up enough such offenses, they have to start getting “preclearance” from the Justice Department before changing any voting laws.

Photo-ID requirements have strong support in polls, including the support of most Democrats and most nonwhites, and don’t appear to reduce voter turnout in general or minority turnout in particular. Which is probably why Biden didn’t call attention to these provisions of the bills he is so intent on getting enacted.

Elections

Biden’s Reckless Plan on Voting Law

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The biggest problem with the system of casting and counting votes in the U.S. is neither voter fraud nor voter suppression. It’s lack of trust in a system that has shown very little of either. It’s an issue Senator Manchin (D., W. Va.) rightly highlighted in explaining his own opposition to enacting sweeping national changes to election law on a partisan basis. The only thing that could be worse for public trust in elections would be to enact sweeping national changes to election law on a partisan basis after changing the rules to do it. Which is, naturally, President Biden’s plan.

Law & the Courts

Amending Our Ways

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Sarah Isgur’s proposal to make it easier to amend the Constitution, which David Harsanyi criticizes, raises an interesting question: Why have Americans gotten so much slower at passing amendments? I suspect the rise of judicial activism has made amendments more infrequent, for two reasons: They became less necessary, as the courts would change the Constitution without the fuss and bother of the formal amendment process; and they became more dangerous, since amendments would (at least in many cases) hand judges more material with which to be creative.

The Equal Rights Amendment illustrates both points: Much of its substance ended up getting adopted by the courts even as it failed to be ratified, and it failed to be ratified after an opposition campaign that stressed the judicial mischief it could set off.

Business

America’s Most Automated Port Had Its ‘Most Productive Year’ in 2021

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(12963734/Getty Images)

With the record backup off the shore of southern California taking up all the port-related news for the past few months, let’s look at a bright spot. The Port of Virginia had its “most productive year” ever last year, successfully handling a 25.2 percent increase in cargo volume over the year before.

The Port of Virginia is not just one port. It includes all the major ports in Hampton Roads, one of the world’s largest natural harbors. The ports at Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Newport News are all run by the Virginia Port Authority, which is a state-level agency.

That organizational model is different than most other ports, and the port authority CEO and executive director, Stephen Edwards, credits it with delivering better results. From a November 27 Norfolk Virginian-Pilot story:

In the Los Angeles area, the two ports are run by two distinct organizations. The Hampton Roads terminals are run by one entity — the Virginia Port Authority. That means, if one terminal has a congestion issue, he said the port authority can easily divert cargo to another terminal.

“There are major differences in how we operate, which come to our advantage,” Edwards said.

Beyond the two ports, the Los Angeles area has three trucking providers unrelated to the terminals. In Virginia, the port authority has sole control over the trucking fleet and how to resupply it during shortages, Edwards said.

The next paragraph contains a word that’s often absent from American port conversations: “automated.”

Modernization efforts also have paid off, he said. For example, the port spent $320 million to expand the Virginia International Gateway terminal by 800 feet in 2019. The terminal’s automated stacking cranes means the port spends less time running extra shifts and burning out employees when ships are late. With only one in five ships arriving on schedule this year, it makes a big difference, Edwards said.

The Port of Virginia shelled out $217 million for 86 automated cranes back in 2016. Those are the kind of investments that made last year’s record productivity possible. As Rich Lowry pointed out for Politico in October, “The highly automated Port of Virginia has been weathering the current crisis better than its counterparts.”

The port is building for the future as well. A project to expand its rail capacity was approved in November and is scheduled to be completed in 2023. It will increase the port’s total on-dock rail capacity by 260,000 containers per year, to a total of 1.1 million.

It has also overcome the obstacles presented by the Jones Act and the Foreign Dredge Act and is deepening its commercial ship channel to 55 feet. That will allow two-way traffic of the largest container vessels operated today. Edwards said, “Our progress on dredging has us tracking to make Virginia home to the deepest port on the US East Coast by late 2024.”

More automation, better technology, expanding capacity — it’s already working in Virginia, and every port authority in the country should be taking notes.

Media

The Two Big Questions the Press Needs to Ask Joe Biden

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on voting rights during a speech on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Ga., January 11, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and their allies have set the malarkey meter all the way to 11 lately in their push to abolish the filibuster so the Senate can pass two sweeping, radical bills federalizing and dramatically remaking voting and elections across the country. Biden’s description of the January 6 Capitol riot, for example: “a dagger was literally held at the throat of American democracy.” Literally.

Jen Psaki was asked ahead of the Georgia speech about the starkly Manichean view Biden was preparing to present:

Q    The excerpt you folks released of what the President is going to say today . . . he’s going to say it’s a “turning point” for the nation.  “Will we choose democracy over autocracy…?” Does the President believe a vote against these two voting rights bills is a vote against democracy and for autocracy?

MS. PSAKI: I think the President’s speech will make that pretty clear.

The speech itself went there:

The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation’s history. We will choose — the issue is: Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadows, justice over injustice? I know where I stand.  I will not yield.  I will not flinch.  I will defend the right to vote, our democracy against all enemies — foreign and, yes, domestic.  (Applause.) And the question is: Where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?  Every senator — Democrat, Republican, and independent — will have to declare where they stand, not just for the moment, but for the ages. Will you stand against voter suppression?  Yes or no?  That’s the question they’ll answer.  Will you stand against election subversion?  Yes or no?  Will you stand for democracy?  Yes or no?

There is a lot going on here, but a press corps worth its salt would hound Biden until he answers two questions.

One is Biden’s hyperbolic framing of anyone who votes against these ill-considered pieces of legislative foolery and overreaching as domestic “enemies” of democracy. That alone is the kind of language deployed by authoritarian leaders since time immemorial: anyone who crosses my wishes is an enemy of the people.

Does he really consider anyone who votes against passage of either bill – including the Democratic Senators opposing the repeal of the filibuster to enact them – as enemies of the American people?

The other is about the upcoming 2022 elections. Biden frames this as a question of “democracy over autocracy.” By “autocracy,” he apparently means any election conducted under pre-pandemic rules.

Does Biden truly believe that, if these bills do not pass, America will not have democratic elections in 2022? Will he reject their outcomes as illegitimate?

Biden, or at any rate his speechwriter, has invited both of these questions. He should look the nation in the eye and answer them.

White House

What a Garbage Speech

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Ga., January 11, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In his wisdom, Joe Biden has decided to declare there’s a crisis in our democracy that can only be fixed if two bills pass in the next several days that aren’t going to pass. Maybe for some perverse reason he likes appearing weak and ineffectual. Regardless, he has now done more than his share to undermine faith in our electoral system.

He tried to make Georgia the poster child for voter suppression based on last year’s election reform. Biden’s case was, predictably, incredibly weak. Georgia has limited drop boxes! Well, yeah, it took a pandemic-driven innovation and made it permanent, although on a more limited basis. It has long lines! Sure, in certain places, but this is a local issue, often in cash-strapped, small jurisdictions (and the new law has provisions attempting to address it). It’s making it harder to vote by mail! No, it’s moving from signature match on mail-in ballots, which Abrams had criticized, to the more reliable driver’s license or state-ID number. (I went through all of this in detail here, by the way.)

And all of this is supposedly forcing Biden, who assured us he’s “an institutionalist,” to call for changing the filibuster after a decades-long career passionately supporting it.

The supposed promise of President Joe Biden in the 2020 election was that he’d be the adult in the room, but if there was any doubt, today’s speech removed it — he’s the same hack he’s always been.

Politics & Policy

Why Do Today’s Democrats Have Such Terrible Political Instincts?

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President Biden and Vice President Harris arrive for an event in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, D.C., July 26, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

President Biden is in Atlanta, giving a speech on the need to “carve out” an exception to the filibuster on voting rights legislation . . . and Stacey Abrams didn’t think it was worth attending. (Hey, the laws regulating who votes and how have never been a big issue for her, right?)

The administration’s plan on Build Back Better is apparently to just keep hoping that Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia changes his mind. The administration doesn’t have a lot of good news to report on Omicron, or inflation, or the supply-chain crisis, or the border crisis. (The number of ships waiting to unload in the ports Long Beach and Los Angeles reached another all-time high.)

Our old friend Mona Charen looks at New York City allowing noncitizens to vote and asks, “Are Democrats Trying to Lose Elections?”

And all of this is happening after the November elections sent the Democratic Party as clear a wake-up call as possible.

Why does today’s Democratic Party collectively have such terrible political instincts? Why do they keep placating their activist base, while hemorrhaging support from the voters in the middle who elected them in 2020? Why does the White House waste time on stunts like today’s speech in Atlanta, while leaving real problems that are angering voters unaddressed?

Perhaps it starts at the top. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris may not appear to have a lot in common at first glance, but both spent their political formative years in blue, Democratic-leaning states, with a state media that was largely positive and supportive. They didn’t represent a swing state like today’s Ohio, Florida, Michigan, or Pennsylvania. They’ve never had to win in a state or district that usually supports the opposition party, like Manchin or Montana senator Jon Tester or Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards. In Delaware or California, if you win the Democratic primary, you can take a lot of naps until Election Day.

When was the last time Biden or Harris had to win a hard-fought election on closely contested territory? In 1972, Joe Biden’s first bid for Senate, he won an exceptionally close race in Delaware. From then on, Biden never won less than 58 percent of the vote, as Delaware turned bluer and bluer. Delaware hasn’t elected a Republican governor or preferred the Republican presidential candidate since 1988. Technically, Delaware had a Republican congressman until 2010, but that congressman was Mike Castle, about as centrist as they come. If Biden ever had any instincts for winning over skeptical Republicans, they’ve long since atrophied.

Do you want to count the 2020 presidential election? Up against loose cannon Donald Trump, during the greatest public-health crisis in a century?

Do you want to count the 2008 or 2012 presidential elections? Come on, those were Barack Obama’s victories, not Biden’s.

Harris spent her career in even safer political territory, winning races in hard-left San Francisco and deep-blue California. Running for higher office in California as a Democrat is like playing a video game on the easiest setting.

In other words, Biden and Harris stepped into the Oval Office and Naval Observatory and suddenly . . . everything got a lot more difficult. Why are they struggling to win back voters in the center? Because they’ve never needed to do that before! Biden’s getting a hard lesson that Barack Obama did a lot more to help him than he did to help Obama. And Harris is learning that what it takes to succeed in California politics is not what it takes to be a popular vice president.

The good news for Republicans is that today’s Democrats look like slow learners.

Politics & Policy

Lincoln the Constitutionalist

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Detail of portrait of President Abraham Lincoln by George Healey, 1869 (White House Historical Association/via Wikimedia)

Allen C. Guelzo is always worth reading. In addition to his work at National Review, his latest at the Public Discourse shows why. Guelzo reviews Noah Feldman’s 2021 book The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America, which argues that President Lincoln’s conduct during the Civil War essentially created a new American regime disjunct from the Founding. As Guelzo characterizes Feldman’s argument:

. . . from the day the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, “the compromise Constitution would be officially and permanently dead.” It is this new “moral” Constitution that leads ineluctably to the Reconstruction amendments, and from there to Brown v. Board of Education, to Martin Luther King, and to Obergefell v. Hodges. The moral imperative of equality is now “our national project,” and Feldman believes that we should find its triumph over the compromise Constitution as the real substance of “Lincoln’s legacy.”

Guelzo, however, reasonably asks in response, essentially: If Lincoln was giving up on the Constitution and on the spirit of compromise that undergirded it . . . well, why didn’t he? Up until the outbreak of the war itself, he sought accommodation with the South; before its proper end, he did the same. Throughout the war, he repeatedly restrained his actions and justified what he did do in constitutional terms. It is more accurate to say, as Guelzo does, that Lincoln rejected the “slaveholders’ plot . . . to empty the Constitution of that meaning and swing the course of the Republic to their own amoral heading,” and “saw his task, as he said in 1858, as turning ‘this Government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it.’”

Moreover, America after the Civil War did not abandon the give-and-take of ordinary politics in the manner that Feldman’s account would suggest.

Guelzo’s argument is persuasive. It is worth reading in full, particularly at a time when constitutional norms are seen by many as déclassé.

Politics & Policy

Democrats Start to Notice That Biden Has Not, in Fact, ‘Shut Down the Virus’

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President Joe Biden speaks with reporters after delivering remarks on the November jobs report at the White House in Washington, D.C., December 3, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

NBC News reports big-name Democrats are noticing that President Biden is stumbling his way through the Omicron winter.

A half dozen former health policy makers, including some members of Biden’s transition team, told NBC News that the Biden administration needs an urgent reset on its Covid strategy or the White House could rapidly lose credibility with the public.

“Biden was elected president, in large part, based on a message of ‘I’m competent, I’m capable, I will tell you the truth and I will get a handle on Covid in a way my predecessor could not and refused to do,’ and that continues to be the No. 1 issue for most people,” said Kathleen Sebelius, who served as Health and Human Services secretary in the Obama administration.

While praising the administration for quickly being able to make the vaccines widely available, she said that Americans’ “lives are still pretty chaotic and kind of messy and when they thought they were getting out of this they are back in it.” . . .

“There has to be an admission at the federal level [about] what is not going well now and frankly, we have a testing mess,” Sebelius added. “While I think the president stepped up in the beginning to purchase the test kits and get them to people, even mail them to people, we’re late to this game for a whole variety of reasons. The United States has not done well on testing since March of 2020. That’s a problem and I think it needs to be said out loud that it’s a problem because that’s what a lot of people are experiencing every day.”

When Joe Biden pledged, “I’m going to shut down the virus,” he thought all he would have to do is tell everyone to wear masks for 100 days and finish the vaccine rollout started under President Trump. Alas, the task is more complicated — and the president’s favorite scapegoat, the unvaccinated, are a smaller and smaller percentage of the public. As of today, 86.4 percent of American adults have at least one shot. We don’t have a massive wave of Omicron cases, or a shortage of tests, because of the unvaccinated.

Omicron is different. It’s much, much less likely to kill you, and if you’re vaccinated and boosted, it’s likely going to feel like a winter cold. But we’re seeing that even a non-fatal virus can cause major problems throughout the country by keeping workers home sick.

Unfortunately, Biden doesn’t have many more tools or ideas. The virus is so contagious, it can’t really be contained. Cases are exploding even in the places with the strictest masking policies, making the old masking debates moot. He’s urging schools to remain open, but not publicly criticizing unions that want to close them.

Ideally, Americans would be testing themselves frequently to sort out the winter colds and flu from cases of Covid-19. NBC News also reports producing the administration’s promised 500 million at-home tests will take months.

Without widespread testing, the Biden administration’s approach really is
Hold On and Hope the Worst Is Over Soon.’

Regulatory Policy

Elizabeth Warren Wants to Destroy Your Supermarket

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A shopper browses for fruits at a grocery store in Pasadena, California, June 11, 2020. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

In a continued effort to deflect attention away from the Biden administration’s mismanagement, Elizabeth Warren contends that corporate greed is causing inflation and shortages and a lack of supermarket choices:

I live in a mid-sized American city in a purple state, and we have, within a 15-minute drive from my house:

  • Target grocery
  • Walmart grocery
  • Two Harris Teeters
  • Food Lion
  • Publix
  • Aldi
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Fresh Market
  • Earth Fare

And another half-dozen independent grocery stores, including an ethnic specialty-foods shop.

Now, granted, not everyone enjoys a similar number of choices. But, in general, American consumers have more options for their food shopping than anyone in the history of mankind.

Obviously, we’re going through a rough patch. But in 2020, the average consumer spent around 8.6 percent of their disposable personal income on food. In 1950, they spent around 30 percent. We are the beneficiaries of so much affordable food that Americans burn it to placate environmentalists and farmers. We have so much affordable food we implore people to stop eating so much. When I’m dispatched to the local supermarket to get . . . anything . . . I feel like Robin Williams buying coffee in Moscow on the Hudson.

Grocery chains, incidentally, are one of the least-profitable major businesses in the United States, with average margins coming in at a little over 2 percent. Kroger holds around 10 percent of the grocery-market share. Walmart holds the largest share, at 20 percent, and also provides the most affordable option. One of the reasons the big chains Warren wants to break up can offer lower prices is that they buy in massive quantities.

And considering the inverse relationship between more consumer choice/affordability and government intervention, the best way to keep food prices relatively low in the long run is stop people like Warren from taking advantage of a crisis and ruining another robust market. Inflation’s costs will always be absorbed by consumers. Warren’s price controls, or whatever regulatory interventions she has in mind, will never change that reality.

U.S.

Suffolk Poll: Americans Oppose Vaccine Passports 55 Percent to 42 Percent

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A new USA Today/Suffolk poll finds that Americans nationwide oppose the policy of “requiring a vaccination card for admission into any public space” by a double-digit margin:

The cities of Chicago, Boston, and Washington recently followed the lead of New York City in requiring vaccine passports. 

The Economy

Elizabeth Warren Is Wrong about Grocery Stores

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(Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Elizabeth Warren is attacking the grocery sector for being too consolidated:

Here are the market shares of the biggest players in the industry as of 2019:

A 16 percent market share is not exactly world domination. The report those data are from, by industry-research firm IBISWorld, also notes that competition in the grocery sector is high and likely to increase in the future. It notes that grocery stores have to undercut each other on price because the goods they sell are mostly the same from store to store. A can of Campbell’s soup is a can of Campbell’s soup no matter where you buy it. Grocery stores compete by offering deals on name brands or by providing cheaper generic-brand products; either way, it pushes prices down.

Just looking at grocery-sector market share to determine competitiveness is incomplete. Each company on that graph also competes with big-box stores (such as Walmart/Sam’s Club, Costco, BJ’s, Target), convenience stores (such as 7-Eleven, Circle K, Kwik Trip, Speedway, Casey’s General Store, Wawa, Sheetz), drug stores (such as Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid), dollar stores (such as Dollar General and Dollar Tree), ethnic/specialty grocery stores, and, to a lesser extent, restaurants.

So not only is the grocery sector competitive, but grocery stores compete with companies in other sectors that are themselves competitive as well. Even if someone only has one grocery store nearby, there will almost certainly be access to one of these other businesses with which grocery stores compete in providing food to customers.

There’s simply no reason to think that sometime in late summer last year, this industry that was hyper-competitive in 2019 decided to stop competing and start raising prices in a conspiracy against the public. But that’s apparently the story Elizabeth Warren wants you to believe.

Law & the Courts

Abortion Clinics Challenge Ohio Law Requiring Burial or Cremation of Aborted Babies

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Pro-choice activists assemble during a “Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action” rally hosted by the Tennessee chapter of Planned Parenthood in Memphis, May 21, 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

About a year ago, Ohio enacted a law requiring abortion clinics either to cremate or bury the remains of aborted babies rather than disposing of them as medical waste.

The law requires abortion providers to let women choose whether they want their child’s remains buried or cremated. If a woman declines to decide, the clinic must carry out one or the other at its own cost.

Even before the bill was signed into law, it drew opposition from abortion activists, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which referred to it at the time as “just another method to harass abortion providers and patients.”

With the help of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, abortion clinics sued the state over the law last spring, arguing that it is both “frivolous and medically unnecessary” and an unconstitutional limit on the supposed right to abortion. A judge sided with the challengers, temporarily prohibiting enforcement of the law based on the claim that the law lacked specific guidelines and made compliance unworkable.

“Without the required rules and forms in place, the plaintiffs will be forced to stop providing procedural abortions because of a real threat of sanctions and penalties independent from criminal prosecution,” judge Alison Hatheway wrote. “This substantially interferes with, if not denies, the plaintiffs’ patients’ rights to access abortion under the Ohio Constitution.”

Late last year, Ohio finalized the rules and forms that the challengers and judge had deemed necessary — but it turns out that still isn’t good enough. Now, abortion clinics in the state are demanding a second stay against the law, arguing once again that it’s an unconstitutional limit on abortion, as well as that it imposes a funeral ritual on patients, regardless of their religious beliefs. Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said compliance with the law “will have a devastating impact on the ability of patients to have autonomy over their own lives.” Iris E. Harvey, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said the the law is “based on misinformation and propaganda used to stigmatize abortion providers and the people we serve.”

But let’s recall what this law is about. It places no limits or restrictions on how an abortion clinic conducts its gruesome business. It puts no limits or restrictions on women who want an abortion. In fact, it doesn’t protect unborn children at all. It merely requires that abortionists dispose of the dead bodies of aborted babies with basic human decency rather than tossing them out with the trash. It says a lot that abortion providers would dare to call such a policy a violation of “abortion rights.”

Education

Reading between the Lines in the Washington Post on Anti-Asian Discrimination in Schools

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School buses line up outside Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Los Angeles, Calif., U.S., August 30, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Northern Virginia resident Alex Godofsky tweets:

Utterly fascinating, indeed.

“TJ” here refers to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the Fairfax County, Va., magnet school that’s one of the best high schools in the country. Godofsky’s screenshot is from this story in the Washington Post. You’ll note that one major racial group goes unmentioned explicitly in that paragraph: Asians. Of course, Asians are mentioned implicitly by process of elimination. All percentages must add to 100. If the percentage of black students increased, the percentage of Hispanic students increased, and the percentage of white students stayed the same, then the percentage of Asian students must have declined. You don’t have to have gone to TJ to figure that one out.

It’s barely even concealed anymore that “more diverse” means “fewer Asians” in the context of academics. TJ’s new application process sounds a lot like the “holistic” process at Harvard that rated Asian students lower based on their personalities. From the Post story:

TJ adopted a “holistic review” process that asks admissions officers to weigh four “experience factors” including whether English is an applicant’s first language, whether the applicant has a disability, whether the applicant’s family qualifies for free or reduced-price meals at school and if the applicant attends a middle school that has historically sent a small number of students to TJ. Only qualified eighth-graders — those who possess a 3.5 GPA while taking certain high-level math and honors courses — can go through the “holistic” review, and must also submit a math or science problem-solving essay as well as a “Student Portrait Sheet.”

Later on, the Post story does say what the effects were on Asians:

The proportion of Asian American students offered admission, though, shrank under the new system, falling from the roughly 70 percent typical in recent years to slightly more than 50 percent of the current freshman class. Critics, including a large and active parent and alumni advocacy group known as the Coalition for TJ, have pointed to this drop as evidence of their charge that Fairfax officials are working to diminish the number of Asian students at the school. Fairfax and TJ have denied these claims.

But you’ll notice that the claim that the new policy is discriminatory against Asians is framed as coming from “critics,” and the official denial is immediately mentioned. In other contexts, a change in the racial distribution of a population based on a policy change is treated as prima facie evidence of discrimination. But for some reason, on this issue, it’s more complicated than that.

Truth is, it’s usually more complicated than that in any context. Figuring out the best way to determine academic excellence is a complicated question. Standardized tests aren’t perfect. I’d say they’re probably the least bad way to determine admission. Others would disagree. That’s a sensible conversation to have.

But if you’re going to have a magnet school, it needs to be about academic excellence, not “diversity” or “representation.” The Post story is about a new bill in the House of Delegates that would prohibit Virginia magnet schools from “discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” It also prohibits “engaging in proxy discrimination,” which is likely a reference to the “holistic” process that uses roundabout methods to determine minority status.

The story says that an aide to incoming governor Glenn Youngkin declined to comment on the bill, though Youngkin did make an issue of TJ’s admissions standards during the campaign. If he wants to sign legislation to change magnet-school admissions, he may have to wait until after 2023 when the Virginia Senate, which is still controlled by Democrats, is next up for election. But it’s good news that after years of left-wing dominance on the education issue, conservatives are paying attention and winning over voters who just want some sanity in our public schools.

Elections

Hillary Clinton 5.0?

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Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton looks down during her South Dakota and Montana presidential primary election night rally in New York, June 3, 2008. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Douglas E. Schoen and Andrew Stein suggest that Hillary Clinton may be gearing up for another shot at the White House:

A perfect storm in the Democratic Party is making a once-unfathomable scenario plausible: a political comeback for Hillary Clinton in 2024.

Specifically:

Several circumstances—President Biden’s low approval rating, doubts over his capacity to run for re-election at 82, Vice President Kamala Harris’s unpopularity, and the absence of another strong Democrat to lead the ticket in 2024—have created a leadership vacuum in the party, which Mrs. Clinton viably could fill.

She is already in an advantageous position to become the 2024 Democratic nominee. She is an experienced national figure who is younger than Mr. Biden and can offer a different approach from the disorganized and unpopular one the party is currently taking.

And Clinton wouldn’t represent a re-run because:

If Democrats lose control of Congress in 2022, Mrs. Clinton can use the party’s loss as a basis to run for president again, enabling her to claim the title of “change candidate.”

This is the point at which I thought, “what?” Hillary Clinton has been a national figure since 1992. One of the big reasons she lost in 2016 was that voters didn’t want to go backwards. It is plausible that the Republicans nominating Donald Trump in 2024 would neutralize that liability, but it certainly wouldn’t change it.

As for this:

In a recent MSNBC interview, Mrs. Clinton called on Democrats to engage in “careful thinking about what wins elections, and not just in deep-blue districts where a Democrat and a liberal Democrat, or so-called progressive Democrat, is going to win.” She also noted that party’s House majority “comes from people who win in much more difficult districts.”

This is correct in the abstract, but it doesn’t really apply to Hillary Clinton. She won her Senate race in New York in 2000 — albeit by less than one would have expected, given how well Al Gore performed — and she was reelected there in 2006, but her performances on the national stage have been notably subpar. In 2008, she managed to lose the primary to the mostly unknown Barack Obama. In 2016, she nearly lost the primary to Bernie Sanders, before losing the general to Donald Trump. And, even in the Democratic wave year of 2018, she remained remarkably unpopular.

Schoen and Stein conclude their piece by arguing that “if Democrats want a fighting chance at winning the presidency in 2024, Mrs. Clinton is likely their best option.” If that is true, the Democratic party is in more trouble than we thought.

Energy & Environment

Gates of Hell to Close?

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The Gates of Hell, in Derweze, Turkmenistan (Giles Clarke/Getty Images)

If you ever find yourself in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan and then start to feel slightly hotter than you already were, you might be nearing the Gates of Hell.

Okay, so technically, the constantly burning pit, more than 200 feet wide and visible for miles in every direction, is simply called the Darvaza gas crater, after the nearby small town. But locals prefer the more infernal demonym. And it’s hard to blame them.

Who built these Gates of Hell? As with many bad things in the world, we can blame the Soviet Union. Per the always interesting Atlas Obscura:

The Gates of Hell crater was created in 1971 when a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Having punctured a pocket of gas, poisonous fumes began leaking at an alarming rate.

To head off a potential environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. Decades later, and the fiery pit is still going strong. The Soviet drilling rig is believed to still be down there somewhere, on the other side of the “Gates of Hell.”

America has its own, slightly less dramatic version of this: the perpetually burning coal-seam fire beneath the now largely (though perhaps not entirely!) abandoned town of Centralia, Penn. (Neither, to my knowledge, actually made it to hell.)

But recently, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the strongman president of Turkmenistan, called for the long-burning flame to be extinguished. Per the Daily Mail:

One of the world’s most brutal autocrats has announced that he plans to close the ‘Gates of Hell’.

Former dentist Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has ordered his ministers in reclusive Turkmenistan to find world experts who can seal off a giant crater that has been burning for half a century. . . .

The eccentric Berdimuhamedov — whose regime’s human rights record has been described as ‘dire’ — has ordered officials to stop the environmental damage caused by the constant blaze.

The health of locals is being hit by the ceaseless fire, he warned.

‘We are creating — and will continue to create — all necessary conditions for the development of the colossal hydrocarbon resources of our independent Motherland, in the interests of our people,’ he said, explaining his decision to stop the inferno.

The Mail adds that Berdimuhamedov has tried to extinguish the fire before, to no avail, and later declared it a “natural reserve.”

If he succeeds in closing the Gates of Hell, it will be slightly less cool for him to do doughnuts around it, as he has in the past.

Politics & Policy

Dr. Fauci Smears Rand Paul

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White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci gives his opening statement before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on “Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response” on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., November 4, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

It’s no surprise that Anthony Fauci, who believes attacks on him are “attacks on science,” is extraordinarily thin-skinned. But today, after being grilled by Senator Rand Paul over his involvement in concerted attacks on apostate scientists, Fauci deflected by noting that a man who’d threatened to kill him had been arrested a couple of weeks ago. Fauci went on to, in part, blame Paul for threats against him, claiming that Paul’s accusations “kindle the crazies,” and even pulled out a printed copy of a “Fire Fauci” headline from the senator’s website.

Is Fauci really arguing that calling for his firing — from a job he’s held since 1984 — is tantamount to inciting violence? Does that go for the Democratic Party rhetoric that motivated a Bernie Sanders fan who attempted to murder, among other Republicans, Paul on a baseball field in Alexandria in 2017? Or progressive rhetoric that motivated a mob to menace Paul and his wife on D.C.’s streets in 2020? Nothing in Paul’s critique of Fauci calls for any violence. It calls for a mendacious government official to be fired because he’s been awful at his job. Even if Paul is wrong, political discourse shouldn’t be inhibited by the prospective actions of third-party nuts. We don’t let those nuts undercut our ability to freely express our political disagreements. Those who do are usually engaged in a transparent attempt to chill speech.

Culture

Hollywood Gets Irritated with Its Own Anti-Racism: ‘Going to End in a Giant Class-Action Suit’

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Tourists view the Hollywood sign from Hollywood Boulevard. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Though it was just launched a year ago, Bari Weiss’s Substack op-ed page Common Sense has already become one of the best in the country because as an editor Weiss looks for the kinds of pieces (once united by the somewhat spy-movie-ish handle the “Intellectual Dark Web”) that simply scare off the bienpensant left-of-center media. When the highest-ranking editors (even left-of-center ones) can be Twittered and feathered into oblivion, there is a strong disincentive to publish anything that might result in instantaneous unemployment. Weiss, though, answers to no one, not even advertisers, except the subscribers who pay her to be interesting. We are all the richer for it.

Weiss’s latest humdinger and barnburner is this piece by Los Angeles writers Peter Kiefer and Peter Savodnik, who spoke to a number of Hollywood players (many of whom spoke only in exchange for anonymity) who are dismayed by the new post-George Floyd mega-affirmative-action-hiring policies that are in place virtually everywhere in the entertainment industry. As always, the response from those who were hired after the installation of explicit quotas and set-asides is: How dare you suggest I was hired for any reason other than merit? CBS is demanding that 40 percent of writers be BIPOC (black/indigenous/people of color), rising to 50 percent next season. The country is still 58 percent non-Hispanic white, and of course the percentage is much higher among college graduates.

Experienced white Hollywood creative types are saying they can’t get hired because so many spots are being reserved for BIPOC colleagues. Moreover, showrunners who have operated forever under the unwritten rule that what is said in the writers’ room stays in the writers’ room can no longer hire people they know/like/trust/respect and say they are bringing on easily ruffled minorities who are gaining a reputation for approaching the HR department to complain. One showrunner says he has ceased to give notes to women or people of color. Another shared a long list of emails in which he was told why he was being turned down for jobs: “This one a dead end — they are going to limit search to women and bipoc candidates” and so on.

“This is all going to end in a giant class-action lawsuit,” says a showrunner. That’d be something to see: what class is that? White people? A class of Hollywood white people launching a race-based lawsuit complaining of institutional discrimination is not something I ever expect to see; even if the suit had merit, and even if the plaintiffs prevailed, they’d never work again. Of course, many white creative types in Hollywood are starting to feel like they’ll never work again anyway, so they may be thinking: What have I got to lose?

Film & TV

Lift Up Thine Eyes

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Jennifer Lawrence in Don’t Look Up (Niko Tavernise/Netflix )

Netflix’s Don’t Look Up has proven unpopular on the review site “Rotten Tomatoes.” It has had mixed reviews at National Review where Kevin Williamson liked it, Kyle Smith hated it, and Ross Douthat found its satirical elements unconvincing.

Written by Adam McKay, the star-studded movie tells the story of an obscure midwestern astronomer (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Ph.D. student (Jennifer Lawrence) who discover a planet-ending comet hurtling toward earth, and go on an ultimately unsuccessful media tour to warn the world and spur politicians into action.

I agree with Ross that it was not a particularly good allegory for climate change and that it was also a weak satire of institutional liberalism. Still, for a whole 145 minutes, the movie held my attention. In part, that’s because there were wryly entertaining — if also depressingly accurate — depictions of ignorance, incompetence, and corruption in America’s ruling class. But my interest was also sustained by the movie’s materialist and nihilistic assumptions.

Jennifer Lawrence’s character is, I think, intended to be the movie’s hero. But that’s a difficult pill to swallow when — the destruction of earth notwithstanding — she is also a deeply miserable person. In the final scene, when they’re all holding hands around the table, enjoying their last meal (as much as one can), she tries to muster up some gratitude. She might have said she was grateful for 30-odd years of life, or her newfound love, Yule (the rebellious Christian shoplifter played by Timothée Chalamet). Instead, after some hesitation, she says “I’m grateful we tried.”

Perhaps because she doesn’t have anybody to be grateful to, as everything crumbles around her, the only comfort is her own righteousness. It’s in this way that Michael Shellenberger deems environmental alarmism to be a religious substitute in his book Apocalypse Never, which John Tierney neatly summarized in his review for the Wall Street Journal:

For [Shellenberger] and so many others, environmentalism offered emotional relief and spiritual satisfaction, giving them a sense of purpose and transcendence. It has become a substitute religion for those who have abandoned traditional faiths, as he explains in his concluding chapter, “False Gods for Lost Souls.” Its priests have been warning for half a century that humanity is about to be punished for its sins against nature, and no matter how often the doomsday forecasts fail, the faithful still thrill to each new one.

“The trouble with the new environmental religion is that it has become increasingly apocalyptic, destructive, and self-defeating,” he writes. “It leads its adherents to demonize their opponents, often hypocritically. It drives them to seek to restrict power and prosperity at home and abroad. And it spreads anxiety and depression without meeting the deeper psychological, existential, and spiritual needs its ostensibly secular devotees seek.”

In the end, it is Chalamet’s character who offers the most hope. He encourages the others not only to look up but to lift up thine eyes.

Media

Leave Ted Cruz’s Daughter Alone, You Creeps

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) speaks during a committee hearing in Washington, D.C., January 5, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

LGBTQ Nation recently ran a piece with the headline, “Ted Cruz’s teen daughter comes out as bisexual.” This they have apparently deduced from various TikTok users’ reports that Miss Cruz had written the word “bi” on her profile.

Miss Cruz is 13 years old. The legal age of consent in Texas is 17 years old.

From LGBTQ Nation’s article:

A screenshot of a comment thread shows someone asking if her bisexuality “is something he [Ted Cruz] knows” if she was comfortable talking about the subject.

“I haven’t told him yet, I’m kinda nervous tbh but I don’t think he would be mad about it.”

The teen’s worries could be well-founded.

So, here we have someone of an undisclosed age (i.e., potentially an adult) questioning a 13-year-old girl about her sexuality, and whether or not she has discussed it with her parents. In other words, we have a glaring safeguarding red flag — something that looks an awful lot like online grooming. But not to LGBTQ Nation. To them, this is a welcome opportunity to advance an ideology that undermines childhood innocence and parental rights — and, as a bonus, hurt a right-winger.

What a bunch of creeps.

Health Care

Don’t Mandate Covid Vaccines for Kids

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I wrote about Covid vaccines for kids today on the home page:

The decision whether kids get vaccinated or not properly belongs to parents. Yes, other vaccinations are a condition of attending school, but Covid vaccinations aren’t going to eliminate Covid the way, say, Jonas Salk’s miraculous innovation eliminated polio. With the advent of Omicron, it’s not even clear that childhood vaccinations will do much to dent the spread. On top of this, Covid is relatively mild in children, whereas polio was a dread childhood disease.

If the case for adults getting vaccinated is extraordinarily strong, it is much less so for minors, especially for healthy younger kids who tend to be at the least risk.

Why, parents might think, take any chances with a new vaccine if it is protecting from a minimal threat (or their kids already had the virus)? Even if you believe this is the wrong call, it’s not obviously unreasonable.

White House

Perverse Quote of the Day

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Axios notes that “a White House official told reporters Biden ‘supports — as an institutionalist — changing the Senate rules to ensure it can work again . . . and this basic right is defended.’”

Really? Making the Senate more like the House and blowing up its long-standing traditions on partisan votes is what Senate institutionalists do? There’s no good justification for Biden to turn his back on his long-standing, impassioned support for the filibuster, but Biden aides don’t need to insult our intelligence, even on background.

Politics & Policy

The LA Times Misleads on Abortion Policy in the Eastern Bloc

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Abortion rights supporters take part in a Women’s March in Los Angeles, Calif., October 2, 2021. (Ringo Chiu/Reuters)

Last week, the Los Angeles Times published an article by Carnegie Mellon professor Wendy Goldman analyzing abortion policy in the former Soviet Union, which in 1920 became the first country to legalize abortion. But later concerns about low birth rates concerned Soviet officials and led Josef Stalin to make abortion illegal in 1936. Those who performed abortions could be sentenced to three years in prison, and women who obtained abortions could face fines. Abortion remained illegal in the former Soviet Union until 1955, two years after Stalin’s death.

In her op-ed, Goldman states that after abortion was made illegal in the U.S.S.R., there was a short-term increase in the birthrate. After a few years, Goldman argues, the Soviet birth rate fell, the abortion rate remained high, and the death rate from illegal abortions soared. In short, she uses the example of the Soviet Union to rehash typical talking points in support of legal abortion, chiefly that protections for unborn children fail to lower the abortion rate and that pro-life laws lead to negative public-health outcomes.

However, better and more recent research using data from other Eastern Bloc countries undermines that narrative. After the fall of Communism, many Eastern European countries changed their policies regarding abortion. Most abortions were illegal in Romania during the Cold War, but starting in 1990, abortion became legal during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Bulgaria and Albania liberalized their abortion laws in 1989 and 1991 respectively. Conversely, Poland, where abortion had been legal during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, enacted significant legal protections for preborn children in 1993.

In a 2004 study in the Journal of Law and Economics, economists Phillip Levine and Douglas Staiger analyzed how these changes in abortion policy in Eastern European countries affected the incidence of abortion. The authors held constant a range of economic and demographic variables and found that modest limits on abortion reduced abortion rates by 25 percent. Additionally, the authors found that in countries where abortion is legal either only to save the mother’s life or for specific medical reasons, abortion rates are only about 5 percent of the level in countries where abortion on request is legal. The findings demonstrate that legal protections for the unborn save lives.

Additionally, other current research suggests that protections for preborn children are consistent with positive public-health outcomes. Poland, for instance, consistently has low maternal-mortality rates. Prior to legalizing abortion in 2018, Ireland had better public-health outcomes than regions of the United Kingdom where abortion was legal. Ireland had lower rates of maternal deaths, low weight births, and breast cancer than England and Wales, and Scotland. Academic research with data from Chile has shown that maternal-mortality rates continued to fall after the country enacted protections for preborn children in 1989.

This year, a favorable ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization at the Supreme Court would allow pro-lifers to enact laws protecting preborn children for the first time since 1973. It is likely that media outlets will continue to publish op-eds such as Goldman’s, claiming that pro-life laws are ineffective at lowering abortion rates and result in negative public-health outcomes.

Pro-lifers should not be misled. Substantial research demonstrates that the incidence of abortion in sensitive to its legal status. Furthermore, data show that pro-life laws go hand in hand with positive public-health outcomes.

Politics & Policy

Manchin Reiterates: It Takes Two-Thirds of Senate to Change the Filibuster Rules

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) speaks to news reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 4, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer clearly doesn’t have the votes to abolish the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for most legislation (or even change the rules governing the filibuster) with a simple majority. West Virginia senator Joe Manchin tells Politico: “We need some good rules changes. We can do that together. But you change the rules with two-thirds of people present. So, Democrats and Republicans changing the rules to work better.”

Manchin has long been open to making some rules changes — such as switching to a “talking filibuster” — but he’s always insisted on making those changes through the Standing Rules of the Senate, which establish a threshold of two-thirds of senators present and voting to change the rules.

Senate Democratic leaders are nevertheless telling reporters that they intend to attempt to change the rules with a simple-majority vote:

It’s hard to see Schumer’s decision to hold a failed vote on the “nuclear option” as anything other than an attempt to placate the progressive base.

Politics & Policy

Say, Does President Biden Support or Oppose Non-Citizens Voting in Municipal Elections?

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President Joe Biden looks on as he delivers remarks on the U.S. debt ceiling from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. October 4, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Today in Atlanta, before an audience that is probably still thinking about the University of Georgia’s first national football title since 1980, President Biden will declare:

The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation. Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?

Say, in this battle of democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice, does the President of the United States have anything to say about non-citizens voting in municipal elections?  Does he think it is right, legal, just and constitutional that New York City will now allow more than 800,000 non-citizens in the city to vote in municipal elections? Does he believe that illegal immigrants should get a vote, just like U.S. citizens? If he does not agree with any of this, why isn’t he speaking out against it?

Does the president believe “defending your right to vote” includes restricting the right to vote to U.S. citizens? And if not, why not?

Oh, and does the filibuster – which then-Senator Joe Biden passionately defended — requiring 60 votes to cut off debate, really constitute “autocracy”? Does a longstanding Senate rule really belong in the same breath as what Vladimir Putin is doing in Russia, what Xi Jinping is doing in China, or what Kim Jong-un is doing in North Korea?

Politics & Policy

We Have, Indeed, ‘Seen What’s Possible When President Biden Uses the Full Weight of His Office’

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President Joe Biden speaks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin from his home in Wilmington, Del., December 30, 2021. (Adam Schultz/White House/Handout via Reuters)

In the New York Times, today Martin Luther King III is quoted making the case for President Biden’s visit to Georgia:

“We’ve seen what’s possible when President Biden uses the full weight of his office to deliver for bridges,” Mr. King said in a statement. “And now we need to see him do the same for voting rights.”

This is backwards. In fact, it makes the opposite case to the one King intends. “Bridges,” by which King means the bipartisan infrastructure bill, did not happen because President Biden lobbied Congress. “Bridges” happened because there was sufficient appetite in the Senate for 69 senators to sign on to the deal. Biden, frankly, was incidental.

A better analogy for this “voting rights” push would be the Build Back Better project — which, like the bills Biden is trying to sell in Georgia, is opposed by every single Republican. With BBB, we did, indeed, see “what’s possible when President Biden uses the full weight of his office.” And what was possible was nothing. Hell, Biden couldn’t even convince all 50 Democratic senators to acquiesce.

Absent a remarkable change, this endeavor is going to end in the same way: failure.

 

Politics & Policy

When Jonathan Capehart Says ‘Recalcitrant,’ He Means ‘Majority’

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Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain points to the audience as he arrives to speak before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, June 2, 2008. (Jim Young/Reuters)

In the Washington Post, Jonathan Capehart laments the challenge that Joe Biden faces in getting his agenda through a 50–50 Senate:

Thanks to Georgia voters and the two Democrats they sent to the Senate, that party does have control of the chamber, but only by Harris’s tiebreaking vote. That dynamic gives recalcitrant Republicans and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) incredible and irritating sway.

This is an extremely weird way of describing the situation in the Senate — especially in a piece about democracy. A far simpler way of describing the “dynamic” is that there are 48 votes — maybe fewer — for changing the Senate’s rules, and 52 votes — maybe more — against changing the Senate’s rules. Of course the 52 senators who are not on board with the wishes of the 48 have “incredible” “sway.” Whatever arguments there may be for lowering the Senate’s threshold from 60 to 50 (and I dissent from them), and whatever arguments there may be for permitting rules changes with 50 instead of 67 votes, there can be no arguments whatsoever for reducing these numbers to 48. There are many parts of the American system that require majorities or supermajorities to effect alterations. There are none that allow changes to be made by a minority.

Since the Democrats won their 50th vote in January, it has proven extremely difficult for many in the party to grasp this elementary point. As a result, we have heard Bernie Sanders complain repeatedly that the Democratic party’s agenda is being held up by “just two” senators, instead of by 52, as is the case; we have heard activists routinely lambast a system in which “a single senator” (Joe Manchin) can hold up the president’s will, when it’s actually 51, and when there is no presumption that the president will get what he wants anyhow; now, we are hearing this Senate class being divided into two Manichean groups: the good and the “recalcitrant.” This is absurd.

If Capehart were merely griping about the political positions held by the 50 Republicans, his presumption would make a little more sense. But he’s not. Indeed, he seems flatly unable to comprehend that, in a 50–50 Senate, one cannot meaningfully add a “but” after the term “control of the chamber.” The sole reason that Democrats “have control of the chamber” in the first instance is that Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema have decided to caucus with them. When discussing the pair, annoyed progressives like to treat them as distinct from the Democrats’ majority. But they’re not. They are the reason that majority exists in the first place.

In essence, Capehart seems to share Bernie Sanders’s weird belief that, once a party has gained a majority, it should be able to wield dictatorial powers until such time as it does not. But this is simply not how the Senate — or any part of our system — is supposed to work. We do not pass bills with a minority of votes; we do not require our lawmakers to acquiesce to the demands of the party with which they caucus; and we do not decide which party will enjoy a temporary majority and then cut the minority out of consideration completely, as might the architects of a Politburo.

It is telling that we did not hear complaints such these back in 2017, when the Democrats in the minority were filibustering everything that moved, and when divisions within the Republican majority led to the spectacular failure of a piece of legislation that the party had been promising for eight years. Having been disappointed by what that Congress failed to do, I understand well why Jonathan Capehart is “irritated” now that the shoe is on the other foot. I do not understand, however, why he thinks that this time it’s different.

It’s not.

Elections

Will Teacher Transparency Sink the Democrats?

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Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe speaks to his election-night party and rally in McLean, Va., November 2, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Just about everyone agrees that Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe made a disastrous political error when he said during his failed reelection campaign, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” “Deadliest political gaffe of the year” and “top listing in the Hall of Fame of Political Blunders” were typical pundit takes at the time. A couple months after the election, when 1619 Project author Nikole Hannah-Jones echoed McAuliffe’s parents-keep-out remarks, some warned that the “Democrats’ education lunacies” mean “a lot more . . . losing ahead.”

But what if McAuliffe’s plan to cut parents out of their children’s education turns out to be more than an isolated gaffe? What if, on top of cheers from radicals such as Hannah-Jones, every sitting Democratic governor and Democratic state representative in the country were to cast an on-the-record vote to cut parents out of a say over the curriculum at their local school? Several such votes have already happened, in fact, and more will be taken in state legislatures this year.

I’m not talking about votes on bills that bar critical race theory (CRT) from K–12. I’m talking about state laws that mandate curriculum transparency — new laws detailed enough to require public Internet posting not only of textbooks and reading assignments, but also of teacher lesson plans, teacher handouts, accounts of political-advocacy exercises known as “action civics,” and other similar material generally hidden from parents.

The Goldwater Institute has just released the “Sunlight in Learning Act,” model legislation that represents the state of the art in K–12 curriculum transparency, combining prior efforts of both Goldwater and the Manhattan Institute. Goldwater’s Sunlight in Learning Act is going to kick the curriculum transparency issue into high gear nationally. The new model will likely inspire bills in many states. Every time it does, Democrats who vote against curriculum transparency, as they did with depressing regularity in 2021, will effectively be repeating — on record — McAuliffe’s gaffe. Here’s why.

Parents can’t have a say over what happens in their children’s schools if they don’t know what’s being taught. Sadly, classroom teaching is largely a black box. Vague state education standards and local curriculum guidelines allow individual principals, curriculum coaches, and teachers to effectively tweak and control the great majority of classroom content. In theory, states and school districts — i.e., the public, through its elected representatives — decide what is to be taught in our schools. In practice, a lack of information and oversight cedes de facto control of curriculum to the whim of individual staffers. A single diversity officer or teacher can turn almost any topic itemized in state standards or local curriculum guidelines into a woke political exercise or sermon, and it’s been happening with increasing frequency.

Teachers’ unions and professional organizations regularly approve resolutions urging the injection of politics into the classroom. Schools of education train for politicized teaching (always leftist, of course). Parents can’t push back against these trends unless they know what’s actually happening in classrooms. Ditto for state laws on critical race theory, action civics, or any other curriculum-related matter. Thousands of teachers have actually pledged to violate the new state CRT laws. Those teachers can’t be held to account if we don’t know what they do in the classroom.

In short, curriculum-transparency laws are essential, not only for enforcing state laws on CRT, action civics, and other specific topics, but for allowing any meaningful parental say over the content of education. Without a proper curriculum-transparency law — one that requires the posting of lesson plans, handouts, web-based material, and advocacy exercises, rather than just textbooks — teachers will easily flout state education laws while evading the wishes of parents and school boards to boot.

That means a vote against a state-of-the-art curriculum-transparency bill is a vote to prevent parents from knowing what’s happening in their own children’s classroom. A vote against a new-generation curriculum-transparency bill is also a vote to stop parents from “telling schools what they should teach” — exactly what Terry McAuliffe and the creator of the 1619 Project want. In fact, Democratic state legislators and governors have already worked to block K–12 curriculum-transparency bills in several states. In doing so, they have effectively gone on record in support of McAuliffe’s notorious gaffe. Yet so far, voters barely know that curriculum transparency is in play in their state.

Republicans ought to be making K–12 curriculum transparency into an issue on the scale of CRT. They should do this, first, because anti-CRT laws require transparency if they’re to be effective, and second, because curriculum-transparency laws pose a pure test of parental rights to informed influence over the content of the school curriculum. A vote against curriculum transparency is a vote to keep the public in the dark, to shut out parents, and to allow teachers to politicize the classroom. Even voters who may know little of CRT will immediately be struck by the legitimacy and importance of teacher transparency. For many, a politician’s stand against a parent’s right to know what’s happening in the classroom may be even more off-putting than a politician’s refusal to vote against CRT. K–12 curriculum transparency should henceforth be a top-tier issue for state legislators and governors everywhere — not above CRT in priority, but alongside it.

The new wave of K–12 curriculum-transparency legislation is largely the brainchild of the Goldwater Institute’s Matt Beienburg, who floated the first proposal early in 2020. State laws before that had allowed for public examination of curriculum material, yet typically under time and place restrictions that effectively shut out working parents. Beienburg had the bright idea of posting curriculum materials on the Internet, including items that usually escape scrutiny — including “supplemental” materials and activities beyond those found in districts’ officially adopted textbooks. Such materials are where the politicization often hides.

Working in Arizona, where school choice is widespread, Beienburg called for the annual posting of curriculum materials. That way parents could survey curriculum content when deciding which school to choose. At states began to pass CRT laws, however, the need for more frequent posting, and other changes, emerged. At that point, Christopher Rufo, James Copeland, and John Ketcham of the Manhattan Institute issued a new transparency model that built on and strengthened Beienburg’s. Rufo, of course, is the leading national critic of critical race theory, so the Manhattan Institute’s transparency model worked to maximize the effectiveness of laws barring CRT.

To create a blended and expanded version of both models, I consulted with Beienburg to add provisions disclosing the political-advocacy exercises and politicized internships that go under the name of “action civics.” I have written model legislation barring both CRT and action civics, and I consider Goldwater’s new Sunlight in Learning Act an indispensable companion to my own model bill. If bans on K–12 CRT and action civics are to work, transparency will be essential.

Goldwater’s Sunlight in Learning Act, which blends the earlier Goldwater Institute and Manhattan Institute models, has all the bells and whistles. Its requirements for disclosure are comprehensive, yet respect the proprietary nature of copyrighted material. Not only what transpires in the classroom, but the content of teacher-training sessions, must be disclosed. (CRT is at least as widespread in teacher training as in the classroom.) Action-civics exercises, projects, and political internships must also be made transparent. Provision for continuous updates allows teachers to develop new materials, while ensuring prompt disclosure after use. Enforcement provisions allow for investigations and, if necessary, lawsuits when it is alleged that curriculum material has been improperly withheld from disclosure.

Note that many schools already require teachers to submit their lesson plans and related material to administrators. It takes very little additional effort to post the same material on a public website. In fact, as some educators have already pointed out, posting materials online will make life easier on teachers, as they will be able to see what resources their most successful peers are using, instead of spending hours searching the Internet for new content. No need to reinvent the wheel.

The Sunlight in Learning Act is now the most up-to-date and comprehensive version of curriculum-transparency legislation. The 2021 state-legislative session, however, saw several bills inspired by the initial Goldwater Institute transparency model, or other similar proposals. A bill passed the North Carolina House on a near-party-line vote but languished in the North Carolina Senate, likely because a CRT bill (which did not become law) took priority. The Republican-majority Wisconsin State Legislature passed a good transparency bill on a strict party-line vote, after which Democratic governor Tony Evers vetoed it. Arizona passed a Goldwater-inspired transparency bill through the Republican-controlled Senate on a strict party-line vote, after which the bill stalled in the nearly evenly divided Arizona House. Fifteen Illinois Republicans, led by Representative Steven Reick, sponsored a Goldwater-based transparency bill, but it was held up without a hearing in the Democrat-dominated Illinois legislature. Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Tom Wolf vetoed a transparency bill passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. The Pennsylvania bill was not as thorough in its disclosure requirements as the Goldwater Institute or Manhattan Institute models. Pennsylvania should consider a new bill based on Goldwater’s Sunlight in Learning Act this year.

All signs for the 2022 state-legislative session are that Republicans will back transparency bills, while Democrats will oppose them. It shouldn’t be that way, of course. Curriculum transparency and the parental involvement it enables ought to be a point of bipartisan agreement. No doubt many grassroots Democrats feel exactly that way. Teachers’ unions, however, bitterly oppose curriculum-transparency bills, and the Democrats are greatly beholden to those unions.

We cannot rule out efforts by elected Democrats to show some independence from the teachers’ unions. As the public turns against school closings for Covid, Democrats have begun to worry that their ties to the teachers’ unions are driving away voters — especially the swing suburban-woman demographic. Opposing curriculum transparency at the behest of teachers’ unions can only aggravate the Democrats’ problem. So maybe some Democrats will come around, as they should, to the side of parents and transparency. Let us hope.

Should Democrats continue to block curriculum transparency, however — and with it the ability of parents to have some say over the education of their children — they will richly deserve any electoral comeuppance they receive. Republicans take note. Both substantively and politically, curriculum-transparency legislation is every bit as important as laws that bar CRT. Transparency may seem like a “boring” process issue. It isn’t. Just wait till you see what the new transparency laws produce: a passel of nightmare curricular smoking guns on CRT, action civics, and other topics as well. Exposure of harsh truths about our politicized curriculum will rightly build further support for reform. Good curriculum-transparency legislation is actually the key to enforcing CRT laws. When it comes to politics, just watch what Democratic lawmakers who vote against curriculum transparency have to say when their Republican opponents call them on it. They’ll be McCauliffe-gaffing from sea to shining sea.

With the release of the Goldwater Institute’s Sunlight in Learning Act, K–12 curriculum-transparency legislation has become the next big play in the battle to take back America’s schools.

Culture

Twenty-Five Things That Caught My Eye: Children Die in Deadly Fire in the Bronx, Coptic Activist Released in Egypt & More

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1. Devastating fire in the Bronx:

TREMONT, Bronx (WABC) — Hospitals are desperately working to save the lives of more than a dozen people critically injured by smoke in a fire that killed 17, including eight children, in the Bronx, while the investigation is focused on a door that should have closed automatically but did not.

The identities of those who died have still not been released, but authorities said the children who died were a 4-year-old girl, two 5-year-old girls, a 6-year-old boy, two 11-year-old girls, a 12-year-old boy, and one additional child whose age hasn’t been confirmed.

Ten children remain hospitalized in various conditions

2. Pope Sends His Condolences to the Victims of the Fire

3. Pope’s January prayer intention: For those who suffer religious persecution

4. Top 7 Pro-Life Moments of 2021

5. Please pray for this woman and her family:

Continue reading “Twenty-Five Things That Caught My Eye: Children Die in Deadly Fire in the Bronx, Coptic Activist Released in Egypt & More”

Health Care

We Should Cheer the Pig-to-Human Heart Transplant

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(stefanamer/iStock/Getty Images)

This is an amazing potential advance in organ transplant medicine. A pig’s heart — genetically modified to not be rejected as readily — has been transplanted into a dying human patient. From the AP story:

The Maryland surgeons used a heart from a pig that had undergone gene-editing to remove a sugar in its cells that’s responsible for that hyper-fast organ rejection. Several biotech companies are developing pig organs for human transplant; the one used for Friday’s operation came from Revivicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics.

“I think you can characterize it as a watershed event,” Dr. David Klassen, UNOS’ chief medical officer, said of the Maryland transplant.

Still, Klassen cautioned that it’s only a first tentative step into exploring whether this time around, xenotransplantation might finally work.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees such experiments, allowed the surgery under what’s called a “compassionate use” emergency authorization, available when a patient with a life-threatening condition has no other options.

That’s all well and good — and we should all support the concept of xenotransplantation. If we can use animal organs instead of human, the organ queue will shorten dramatically, and pressure to open unethical approaches — such as conjoining euthanasia and organ harvesting, doing away with the dead-donor rule, or flying to China to buy an organ strip-mined from a killed Falun Gong member — will abate.

But: There is a potential problem not mentioned in the AP story. What if a porcine virus crosses the species barrier because of this surgery, and a disease is loosed for which we have no immune resistance? That is one of the safety issues that will bear careful watching.

That point aside, we should all cheer. I can’t think of any reason to oppose this approach — assuming safety and efficacy — unless one is an animal-rights believer who thinks that pigs have equal value to humans. But they don’t. A rat is not a pig, is not a dog, is not a boy. Indeed, this field of medicine demonstrates the ethical urgency of pursuing the grim good of animal research in furthering medical advances.

Media

Another MSNBC Pundit Flees Electoral Count Act Reform

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Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference after the Republicans’ weekly senate luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 8, 2020. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via Reuters)

Progressive pundits were mostly in favor of reforming the Electoral Count Act when they thought it was a club that Democrats could use to bludgeon recalcitrant Republicans while tying them to January 6. Now that Mitch McConnell and John Thune have expressed openness to ECA reform while Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris are fleeing from it, there is suddenly a movement to get their punditry in line with where their party is. In that spirit we receive Hayes Brown at MSNBC, in a column titled “Mitch McConnell’s Electoral Count Act offer is a poison pill for voting rights.” ECA reform would, Brown allows, be “important to prevent another round of the chaos that former President Donald Trump inspired last year.” But never mind what’s good policy — now that McConnell is interested in the issue, Brown warns that “McConnell knows better than anyone that reforming the Electoral Count Act absent ‘all the other things’ Democrats want in terms of voting rights” — which McConnell opposes — “would be a new coat of paint on a house that’s about to collapse.” Note that McConnell has not demanded that Democrats drop their other proposals; he doesn’t have to, because they are not going to pass, anyway. Brown is warning Democrats against taking any action on the ECA simply because it would expose the fact that the rest of the party’s voting and election agenda has nothing to do with January 6 (which they invoke endlessly on this topic), and because it might seduce some Democrats into breaking with lockstep support of their party:

Why, then, is McConnell showing his willingness to take up reforms to the Electoral Count Act? Because he knows that offering the chance for a bipartisan win is tempting to many moderate Democrats. A stand-alone bill on the Electoral Count Act could sap the unified Democratic support for the Freedom to Vote Act. Moreover, that kind of bipartisan cooperation would also likely undercut any momentum toward reforming the filibuster to carve out an exception for voting rights, leaving red states free to make the ballot box as inaccessible as possible.

McConnell isn’t likely to budge anytime soon. And he knows that all he needs is one — one Democrat to remain willing to put his promise of “bipartisanship” ahead of voting rights. It’s up to Schumer to make sure that nobody breaks ranks in the name of a short-term victory.

Of course, Brown’s is a pipe dream; Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are already opposed to dismantling the filibuster to pass party-line bills dramatically overhauling voting and election law nationwide and radically reorienting the balance of federal and state power in this area. But with the Biden White House pushing that doomed agenda, progressive pundits feel it necessary to get in line rather than support bipartisan legislation to actually prevent a repeat of last January 6.