Law & the Courts

Do We Believe Our Own Dogma?

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

The FBI’s serving a search warrant on Donald Trump’s residence is not — in spite of everything being said about it — unprecedented. The FBI serves search warrants on homes all the time. Donald Trump is a former president, not a mystical sacrosanct being.

If we really believe, as we say we believe, that this is a republic, that nobody is above the law, that the presidency is just a temporary executive-branch office rather than a quasi-royal entitlement, then there is nothing all that remarkable about the FBI serving a warrant on a house in Florida. I myself do not find it especially difficult to believe that there exists reasonable cause for such a warrant. And if the feds have got it wrong, that wouldn’t be the first time. Those so-called conservatives who are publicly fantasizing about an FBI purge under the next Republican administration are engaged in a particularly stupid form of irresponsibility.

There are no fewer than five different congressional committees with FBI oversight powers. I’m not especially inclined to take federal agencies and their officers at their word in almost any circumstance, and so active and vigorous oversight seems to me appropriate here, as in most other cases. But if it turns out, in the least surprising political development of the decade, that Donald Trump is a criminal, then he should be treated like any other criminal.

If that did indeed establish a precedent, it would be a good precedent.

Books, Arts & Manners

Not by Bread Alone

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(Zbynek Pospisil/Getty Images)

Today is the publication day for one of the most interesting and worthwhile books I’ve read in a long time. It’s called Wild Problems: A Guide to the Decisions That Define Us, and its author is Russ Roberts — the economist and host of the EconTalk podcast who is now the president of Shalem College in Israel.

On its face, the book is about how to think about particularly consequential decisions in our lives: decisions about things like whom to marry, whether to have kids, what kind of work to pursue, where to live. But that ambitious self-presentation actually undersells it. In fact, this is a book about the nature of the moral life, intended to guide people who incline to be excessively cold and rationalistic about moral choices — that is, who strive for a more mathematical-style precision than the underlying subject will allow — toward a fuller understanding of the nature of the human person and therefore of the character of the most significant human decisions and judgments.

At the heart of the book is the insight that our most important choices are not answers to the question, “What do I want to do?” but rather to the question of, “What kind of person do I want to be?” These most important choices set us on courses that change who we are and so have to be understood in terms of personal formation rather than utilitarian calculation.

Like most of the best works of popular moral philosophy, the book is basically an extended paraphrase of Aristotle. But Roberts brings to it not only his engaging voice but also his experience of coming to this view from a very different starting point. A real Chicago economist, Roberts is deeply familiar with the various forms of decision theory developed by modern economics. He’s respectful of these, and helps his readers understand and respect them too. But he has come over time to recognize their profound limitations, and their blindness to their own limitations, in ways that have opened his eyes to a deeper understanding of the human experience.

Roberts offers himself as a kind of guide from his old view to his current one, in a way that ought to make the book a valuable resource for youthful libertarians of all ages, but also for more curmudgeonly moral conservatives (like me) who incline to be too dismissive of the utility of utility functions. He charts a path from economics-minded utilitarianism toward a more powerful yet also more humble virtue ethics, and does so with style, generosity, humor, and sympathy that make the book a real pleasure to read.

In the end, Roberts brings his reader to a distinct understanding of the nature of freedom. The human person, he says, is indeed capable of a kind of self-formation in some important respects. We are always building ourselves. But that fact is not an argument for radical liberation but rather for taking real care about moral formation, and therefore also for taking most seriously those sources of formation that seem to take us most seriously in turn.

Roberts’s Orthodox Judaism shines through in this illuminating insight. But it also brought to my mind another modern paraphraser of Aristotle who argued for paying careful attention to the formation of the human person in our social life.

In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, when considering the challenges involved in making people capable of responsible judgment, Edmund Burke offers this extraordinary observation:

Every sort of moral, every sort of politic institution, aiding the rational and natural ties that connect the human understanding and affections to the divine, are not more than necessary, in order to build up that wonderful structure, Man, whose prerogative it is to be in a great degree a creature of his own making; and who, when made as he ought to be made, is destined to hold no trivial place in the creation.

This paradoxical formulation came constantly to mind for me in reading Roberts’s book. There is a way to understand a good life as the function of a series of good decisions. But it is ultimately much more true, I think, that good decisions are functions of a good life, which in turn is a function of habits built up by modes of formation that are not really best understood as discrete decisions at all.

It isn’t easy to make that sort of idea accessible, appealing, even exciting. But Wild Problems does just that. Well worth your while.

If the Raid on Mar-a-Lago Was Not Justified, Then What?

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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (left) listens as FBI Director Christopher Wray discusses enforcement actions against Russia at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., April 6, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

The opinion on last night’s FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago around which many in the media seem quickly to have coalesced is that it was, indeed, a “dramatic” and “norm-breaking” event, but that this fact implies that it “must” therefore have been warranted. On CBS last night, Major Garrett confirmed that such action “is without precedent in American history, a former president of the United States now subject to a search of his primary residence by the FBI.” This morning’s Politico Playbook describes it as “the most aggressive law enforcement action ever taken against a former American president.” The BBC notes

Business

Public Pension Funds: Digging a Hole for the Taxpayer

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(metamorworks/Getty Images)

Managers of public pension funds have been notable advocates of switching to an investment approach that incorporates the disciplines of ESG or something akin to it (ESG is a variant of “socially responsible” investment under which potential or actual portfolio companies are measured against various environmental, social, and governance guidelines). Yes, there was a green bubble for a while, and there may well be others in the future, but it’s by no means clear (I’m being polite) that ESG will help deliver superior returns over the long term.

Meanwhile, via Marketwatch:

Top state and local pension funds lost $250 billion on the markets during the month of June and are down more than $600 billion for the year, according to a new study.

The 100 biggest public sector pension funds were a staggering $1.5 trillion underfunded by the end of June, according to the latest survey by analysts at Milliman. That funding gap will ultimately be the responsibility of taxpayers if the pension plans can’t make it up through investments. The gap is equal to more than $11,000 per full-time U.S. worker.

On the bright side, pension fund investments did better than a balanced portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds through the first half of the year…

On the gloomier side, this investment performance will include optimistic valuations of illiquid assets like private equity and venture capital.

I think we know what “optimistic” means.

Marketwatch:

 “Pension funds [were] 26% unfunded by June 30, meaning they only have 74 cents in assets for every dollar of liabilities.

It’s easy to hope for better times ahead, and maybe we should. On the other hand, cynics note that this funding gap comes after an unprecedented 40-year bull market in U.S. stocks and bonds. From 1982 to the present, the S&P 500  has beaten inflation by an average rate of 10.4% a year, 10 year Treasury bonds by 5.2% and investment grade corporate bonds by 7.2%.

These numbers are all way, way ahead of the historic averages. We had better hope future returns don’t end up “reverting to the mean.”

If they do, pension fund levels may get worse, not better.

Of course, without knowing what has been in these funds’ portfolios, it’s impossible to know to what extent (if at all) ESG has affected their performance (let’s just hope that they were not underweight conventional energy in the first half of the year). And it should be remembered that this was a general survey. Some funds, obviously, will have done better than others. Nevertheless, the overall numbers reported by Marketwatch make for grim reading, not least for the taxpayers who may well end up picking the tab for any shortfall. Those managers who have succumbed to ESG would do well to drop the political agenda that comes with it — and, for that matter, they should forget ESG’s false promise that it offers a way to do well by doing good.  In fact, they should forget ESG entirely: They should invest for economic return, and economic return only.

Education

Biden vs. DeSantis: The Unknown Clash

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Left: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at CPAC in 2021. Right: President Joe Biden at the White House, January 19, 2022. (Joe Skipper, Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

What kind of leader is Ron DeSantis? Undoubtedly, we get a clue from his widely discussed suspension of a state attorney who had publicly pledged that he would not enforce state laws against late-term abortions and sex-change surgeries for minors. An equally important clue, however, comes from a battle that far fewer have noticed. DeSantis is at odds with the Biden administration over university accreditation.

Are your eyes glazing over? Well, that is the point. DeSantis is at loggerheads with the Biden administration on an issue of great importance that, sadly, only education policy wonks tend to follow. DeSantis didn’t pick this fight with Biden over accreditation for the sake of tooting his own horn. University accreditation isn’t exactly a populist lightning rod, after all. And it’s actually Biden who is trying to squash DeSantis’s bold state-level move on accreditation, thereby turning the dispute into a federal issue. Policy, not publicity, has been DeSantis’s core motivation from the start.

In short, precisely because you’ve never heard of it, the DeSantis–Biden clash over university accreditation shows who DeSantis really is. Pushing back in unprecedented ways against the faceless bureaucracy that regularly frustrates conservative governance is what DeSantis does — whether or not you’re paying attention.

The DeSantis accreditation battle began in the spring of last year, when DeSantis’s education commissioner and former speaker of Florida’s house, Richard Corcoran, was being considered for the presidency of Florida State University (FSU). Since Corcoran is a conservative and committed to reforming higher education’s culture of intellectual conformity, the prospect of his appointment horrified FSU’s faculty and Florida’s left-leaning press. Nevertheless, Corcoran’s prospects looked good until Belle Wheelan, the head of FSU’s accrediting agency, stepped in to effectively scuttle his bid.

Accreditors certify that institutions of higher education meet basic standards of quality. Students can’t receive Pell Grants or federal student loans unless their institution is accredited. Since almost every college depends on such federal assistance, loss of accreditation is tantamount to an institutional death sentence.

That leverage gives the faceless bureaucrats who run FSU’s obscure accreditor — SACSCOC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges) — the power to kill off any serious campaign of university reform. Or rather, accreditors — who are supposed to be apolitical — can abuse their daunting powers by deploying them to protect the illiberal regime that currently governs America’s college campuses.

President Wheelan of SACSCOC makes a practice of writing unsolicited letters to universities whenever she reads a news story about something that might supposedly put them “out of compliance” with accreditor policy. Ostensibly, these letters are requests for further information. In practice, they read like threats to withdraw accreditation.

When Corcoran was up for the presidency of FSU, Wheelan wrote a letter to the chairperson of the Florida State University System Board of Governors suggesting that a conflict of interest and a potential lack of appropriate experience and qualifications on the part of an unnamed candidate might put FSU’s accreditation into question. The letter was widely understood to be referring to Corcoran. As a member of the University System Board of Governors, Corcoran had a potential conflict of interest in voting on his own job application. And even though Corcoran was Florida’s commissioner of education, a member of the University System Board of Governors, a former speaker of the house, and former chief of staff to Senator Marco Rubio, Wheelan was apparently arguing that he lacked qualifications for the academic position of university president.

Wheelan’s concerns were baseless. The Board of Governors planned to follow standard procedure and have Corcoran recuse himself from any vote on his own application for FSU’s presidency. As for experience and qualifications, political leaders often become university presidents. (Think of Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue.) In fact, two former Florida house speakers have helmed FSU in the last two decades, including John E. Thrasher, the incumbent president when Corcoran was under consideration. This is not to mention Corcoran’s education-based experience as Florida’s education commissioner and member of the University System Board of Governors.

National Association of Scholars (NAS) president Peter Wood made these points in an open letter to Wheelan, noting that her insistence on an academic background “by definition excludes all reform-minded outsiders.” In a follow-up piece, Wood decried “weaponization of an accrediting agency to dispose of candidates who are politically disfavored.” Notwithstanding such protests, however, Corcoran’s name was withdrawn from the short list of candidates for FSU’s presidency, very likely in response to the accreditor’s implied threat.

In the wake of the Corcoran affair, the Florida legislature enacted SB 7044, a bill that requires state colleges and universities to change accrediting agencies at the end of each accreditation cycle. By rotating accreditors, the bill reduces the ability of any single accreditor to abuse its regulatory powers. Although the Corcoran case was not explicitly put forward to justify the bill’s passage, most reports on the new law portray it (accurately, I think) as a response to the Corcoran controversy. Governor DeSantis strongly supported the bill and signed it into law.

Had matters ended there, a rare state-level experiment in accreditation would have begun to play out. The Biden education department, however, was not going to allow that to happen. It recently issued new guidance, accompanied by an explanatory blog post, all of which amount to an effort to neutralize the Florida law by effectively keeping the state’s universities chained to their current accreditors.

Andrew Gillen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation persuasively makes the case that Biden’s new accreditation guidance uses absurdly “twisted logic” to try to kill off Florida’s reform. NAS concurs. For the moment, however, let’s focus on what this dust-up reveals about DeSantis.

Gillen notes that the Florida bill is “one of the only accreditation experiments we’ve seen in decades.” That’s important. Accreditors such as Wheelan have turned themselves into de facto enforcers of the academy’s illiberal orthodoxies. Worse, they get barely any pushback from conservatives, even in red states. Just last year, another Wheelan letter effectively undermined the candidacy of former Georgia governor and Trump agriculture secretary Sonny Purdue to be chancellor of Georgia’s State University System. It took DeSantis and his allies in Florida to finally draw the line against this sort of regulatory abuse.

If you want to know why even public universities in red states find it hard to shake the woke ascendency, politicized accreditation is a big part of the reason (along with the quiescence of university regents). For decades, Republicans — much to their shame — have been reluctant to push back against the leftist education bureaucracy. True to form, however, DeSantis has broken that pattern and is leading the way on yet another cultural battle. Given the obscurity of the accreditation issue, it’s tough to dismiss this as political showboating. When DeSantis sees the Left using bureaucratic tricks to stymie conservative governance, he pushes back. That is who he is, and that is what he does.

But let’s not sit back and depend on DeSantis alone to fix things. It’s time for conservatives to wake up and fight back against the accreditation cartel. For one thing, we need to follow and support the accreditation struggle now joined between the Biden education department and DeSantis. As Gillen’s piece and the NAS commentary linked above make clear, DeSantis and Biden are now locked in a kind of chess game over accreditation. It’s now DeSantis’s move. How the game plays out over the next few years depends on both the courts and the Florida state legislature. Other states should take note and jump in.

Beyond that, we need to see federal reform of the accreditation system. The politicization of accreditation must be blocked. NAS has some proposals, and more are likely on the way, from both NAS and from other quarters.

Conservatives lost the commanding heights of the culture for many reasons, but failure to fight back against the leftist education establishment, even where we held the levers of power, is surely among the most important. Ron DeSantis is a very important exception to that unfortunate rule. His obscure accreditation quarrel with Biden may establish his culture-war credentials even more surely than his higher-profile controversies. Meanwhile, put accreditation on your personal radar screen, and let the battle be joined.

Politics & Policy

The Unprecedented FBI Raid on Former President Donald Trump

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Then-President Donald Trump speaks to the media after participating in a video teleconference with members of the U.S. military at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., December 24, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

It is unprecedented for the FBI to raid the house of a former president, as it did on Monday when it searched inside Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.

At this stage, with so little known, it is best for everybody to await more information before drawing any conclusions.

But the idea that a law enforcement organization under a sitting president would raid the home of his predecessor, opponent in the previous election, and potential opponent in the next election, has no close parallel in American history.

Trump no doubt deserves condemnation for his egregious denial of his 2020 election defeat and his role in inspiring the Capitol rioters. But this sort of action by the FBI should not be taken lightly.

Given the implications for the nation’s constitutional system, the FBI better have had a really good reason to search Trump’s property. If they do not actually have the goods, this will make a political system that is already under stress that much more unstable — and should be alarming to anybody, no matter their personal feelings about Trump or his statements and actions.

Politics & Policy

Why the Expansion of the IRS Is So Worrisome

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Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“We’re just trying to make sure the rich pay their fair share.” So runs the Dem line on the expansion of the IRS. People and businesses that comply with the tax code have nothing to worry about.

Writing at Power Line, John Hinderaker has other thoughts.

Here’s his key paragraph:

I think the liberals who run the IRS would sic their agents on every conservative nonprofit in the country. They would audit such organizations, looking for evidence that they somehow had violated the extremely vague regulations governing political activity. Such audits would require even squeaky-clean organizations like my own to hire lawyers to defend them. Government lawyers work for free–that is, courtesy of the taxpayers–while private lawyers have to be paid. Thus, a concerted attack by the IRS could largely disable conservative nonprofits, whose revenue would be dissipated by paying for lawyers, and whose energies would be dissipated in dealing with IRS attacks.

The “progressives” intend to weaponize every aspect of the government to cement their power in place permanently. I think Hinderaker is right in saying that the “fair share” baloney is cover for the further politicization of the IRS.

Science & Tech

About Those ‘Synthetic Embryos’

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(Evgenyi_Eg/iStock/Getty Images)

Israeli researchers appear to have created what they are calling “synthetic mouse embryos,” using embryonic stem cells — without fertilization — and developed them about halfway through a normal mouse period of gestation. From the Guardian story:

Last year, the same team described how they had built a mechanical womb that enabled natural mouse embryos to grow outside the uterus for several days. In the latest work, the same device was used to nurture mouse stem cells for more than a week, nearly half the gestation time for a mouse.

Some of the cells were pre-treated with chemicals, which switched on genetic programmes to develop into placenta or yolk sac, while others developed without intervention into organs and other tissues.

While most of the stem cells failed to form embryo-like structures, about 0.5% combined into little balls that grew distinct tissues and organs. When compared with natural mouse embryos, the synthetic embryos were 95% the same in terms of their internal structure and the genetic profiles of the cells. As far as the scientists could tell, the organs that formed were functional.

I have no problem with this work in mice. But the scientists want to take this technology into human experimentation:

But researchers believe the work could also reduce animal experimentation and ultimately pave the way for new sources of cells and tissues for human transplantation. For example, skin cells from a leukaemia patient could potentially be transformed into bone marrow stem cells to treat their condition.

Hold on a second. We heard these same kinds of goals for what was called “therapeutic cloning,” that is creating clones of patients and harvesting the organs or other tissues after a period of gestational development. But media descriptions always left something out: The organs and tissues taken in that process — were it to be done — would have been harvested from unborn cloned human beings. Morally speaking, that’s a much different thing than, say, turning skin cells into stem cells and then into heart cells for use in regenerative treatments.

So it seems to me that the key determinant in judging the moral propriety of applying this technology within the human realm is whether this process creates a human being or not. Or, to put it another way, would the “synthetic embryo” be a human organism?

If the “entity” — let’s call it — develops like a natural embryo and has nearly identical genetic properties, why would it be considered something other than bona fide human life? After all, a cloned human embryo doesn’t involve the use of sperm but is as fully human as its counterpart that comes into being through fertilization. Just because sperm and egg are not involved would not necessarily make the resulting entity less human.

What should matter is the nature of the thing itself, however brought into existence. Just calling something “synthetic” doesn’t make it so. And the burden of proof in this regard should fall on the scientists to demonstrate that the process would not create an organism before they are given carte blanche.

The broader point in this news is that biotech researchers are developing the most powerful technologies since the splitting of the atom. The time is now — while the field remains embryonic — to establish enforceable ethical and legal boundaries about what can be done, particularly with human research, and what shouldn’t be allowed. Boundaries are needed to help us navigate the tremendous potential of bioscience, without falling into the crassest kind of utilitarianism in which unborn human life is desiccated of all intrinsic moral value.

But we are not even having that conversation. The scientists only will agree to voluntary guidelines, which as the old saying goes, are not worth the paper they are written on. Until society demands accountability and transparency, I don’t see any likelihood that biotechnologists will restrain themselves.

Somewhere Aldous Huxley is saying, “I told you so.”

Politics & Policy

No Trade Is Better Than a Bad Griner Trade

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Brittney Griner stands inside a defendants’ cage before the verdict in a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, August 4, 2022. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/Reuters)

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters at a summit in Cambodia on Friday that Russia is ready to discuss a prisoner swap with the U.S. that would free WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison on drug-smuggling charges. Griner is being transferred to a penal colony to serve her term. Lavrov stated that Moscow is “ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that has been agreed by the presidents.”

Shortly thereafter, U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken said the U.S. will engage in discussions with the Kremlin. Also on Friday, President Joe Biden said, regarding the administration’s efforts to bring Griner home, “I’m hopeful. We are working hard.” U.S. officials are also hoping to include Paul Whelan, an American sentenced to 16 years in prison on spying charges in 2018, in the deal. Both the U.S. and Whelan deny the charges against him.

The Biden administration is negotiating to swap Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year federal prison sentence on four counts of conspiring to kill Americans, obtaining and exporting anti-aircraft missiles, and providing material support to a terrorist organization. Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death,” was arrested in 2008 during a Thailand sting operation for selling $20 million worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist-Leninist guerilla group. The weapons included hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, 10 million rounds of ammunition, and five tons of plastic explosives, and were to be used to kill Americans in Colombia, according to the DOJ. Bout was also accused of selling weapons to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Rwandan militants. Former attorney general Eric Holder called Bout “one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers.” 

Griner said in Russian court that she knew of Russia’s stringent drug laws and mistakenly brought cannabis oil into the country. Griner said she was in a rush and “stress packing.” Griner said in her speech, “I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here.” Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, gave the court a U.S. doctor’s note recommending that Griner use cannabis oil to alleviate pain. “The attending physician gave Brittney recommendations for the use of medical cannabis,” Blagovolina said. “The permission was issued on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health.” Medical marijuana is not legal in Russia.

I previously wrote that the Biden administration was weak to have failed to secure Griner’s release. However, given that the offenses that Griner and Bout have committed are vastly disproportionate, this trade would be highly inappropriate. Bout is a potential national-security threat who has past ties to terrorism, and he should serve the rest of his 25-year term in prison. It would be unacceptable to trade Griner for a man who is in prison for selling weapons to a group that planned to kill Americans. It is hard to believe that Griner erroneously put cannabis oil in her suitcase. If she did intentionally pack it, she likely knew she was breaking Russian law. The U.S. must find a different path to free Griner.

 There are other Americans stuck in Russian prisons about whom one never hears, but Griner is getting special treatment because she is a WNBA player. If Biden goes through with this deal, it would be reminiscent of former President Obama’s decision to trade Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban Gitmo detainees back in 2014. Bergdahl deserted his infantry regiment in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by the Taliban. He pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. That swap should never have happened. If the Biden administration were prudent, it wouldn’t make this swap and instead look for other avenues to bring first Whelan, and then Griner, home. 

Politics & Policy

Talk and Action in the 117th Congress

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) departs after a news conference to tout the $430 billion drug pricing, energy and tax bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, August 5, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The distance between rhetoric and action is one of the markers of the dysfunction of our political culture at the moment. Political speech should be directed to, or at least connected to, political action, which means that it needs to recognize the constraints to which policy-making is subject in our republic. Those constraints remain real, but our way of talking about politics has become disconnected from them, and too often this leaves us thinking that the constraints should be removed rather than that our political rhetoric should be pulled back to reality.

The structural constraints on political action in our system are charged with a difficult task: They are there to make sure that our politics is representative of the majority’s will and at the same time that it is protective of minority rights and prerogatives. These goals are obviously in tension, which means that our system is always and purposefully in tension with itself. This can be frustrating for both majorities and minorities — or in other words, for everyone. And it can be especially frustrating when majorities are very narrow, so that both legislative action and the lack of legislative action feel somehow excessive and illegitimate to a large portion of politically active citizens. The two houses of Congress, with their distinct overlapping electorates, and the supermajority requirement the Senate imposes on itself in most circumstances are there to force small majorities to deal with large minorities, and to moderate the pace and scope of action.

That has been plainly evident in the current Congress, in which the Democratic Party holds pretty much the narrowest majority in American history. Considering that fact in light of the institutional constraints on political action in our system, you’d assume that this majority would, at best, enact a small number of modest legislative measures, most of them bipartisan but maybe a couple making use of the exceptional procedures that allow a majority to act on its own. And that is in fact what has happened over the past 18 months.

The Democrats began this Congress by passing a reconciliation bill (which is exempt from the filibuster’s supermajority requirement in the Senate) nominally directed to Covid-19 relief. It’s a bill that could easily have been structured to be bipartisan, as the previous Congress had passed several large bills of that sort with bipartisan majorities. But they decided to make it unpalatable for Republicans so they could take ownership of it. The bill was misguided in some ways, given the threat of inflation that was evident by then, but it was plainly constrained by the narrowness of the Democratic coalition.

After that, the key legislative measures have been an infrastructure bill, a gun-control bill, and a bill funding subsidies for microchip manufacturers and some strategically significant R&D — all of which have passed with bipartisan supermajorities in the Senate. Still in process is a bipartisan reform of the Electoral Count Act that may or may not come together, and another partisan reconciliation bill, which passed the Senate this past weekend and is likely to pass the House. At less than half the size of the reconciliation bill the Democrats passed last year (and about a tenth the size of the bill some of them originally said they would pass this year), this latter measure is still fairly large but greatly curtailed by the dynamics of their coalition and the realities of the political moment.

If you had watched our politics on mute over the past 18 months, you might not have been that surprised by this list. But when you turn up the sound on our politics, you suddenly find yourself in a very different reality. The Democrats, having surprised even themselves by winning two seats in Georgia (with an assist from Donald Trump) and so ending up in a tied Senate they could control with the vice president’s help, somehow persuaded themselves that they could achieve their every fantasy. Joe Biden could be the next LBJ, every constituency in the party could get its ticket stamped in a multi-trillion dollar spending bill, and if they would just get rid of the filibuster they could also rewrite voting rules in every state, enact sweeping gun restrictions, codify the most radically permissive abortion regime in the developed world, and on and on. What couldn’t they do?

Of course, they couldn’t do any of that, because they hadn’t won anything close to the crushing majorities it would take. But in each case, the rhetoric had its own logic, so that it created periods of fevered delirium in our political culture in which the majority toyed with breaking the system and the minority insisted America was being run aground. It’s very hard to stay out of that kind of frenzy. None of us can really do it reliably.

To this day, I think the Democrats don’t grasp, for instance, how utterly mad their scheme to use the narrowest congressional majority in our lifetimes to change election rules in all 50 states at a time of exceedingly low public confidence in election rules really was. Read the speech President Biden delivered on that subject in Atlanta in January. Look at how he described the situation, his opponents, a state law he opposed, the law he supported. Biden’s not crazy, but that speech was totally bonkers. And it’s far from the only example.

This very great distance between action and speech makes it hard to know how to think about what actually gets done in our politics. Given the constraints they had, and maybe especially the very unusual circumstances of a tied Senate, the Democrats got a decent amount passed. The reconciliation bill they are pushing through now could have been much bigger, of course, even within these practical constraints. A year ago, Joe Manchin agreed with Chuck Schumer to spend twice what this bill has ended up spending. Schumer’s mismanagement of the process that followed will be studied as a cautionary tale by future Senate leaders. Mitch McConnell’s maneuvers to trip up and trim down those reconciliation efforts will be a salutary lesson for those same leaders. But on the whole, what this Congress is getting done is well within the range of what its partisan makeup should have led us to expect. It’s just nowhere near where the rhetoric around it has been.

One way for Democrats to deal with that is just to pretend they are achieving far more than they are. This is a natural move for politicians, and it is also how some observers and analysts seem inclined to resolve the tension. On Sunday, reporting on Senate passage of the reconciliation bill, the Politico “Playbook” offered the following example in an analytical tone:

There’s not much debate anymore over whether Biden has been a consequential president. In the long run, his first two years may be remembered as akin to LBJ when it comes to moving his agenda through Congress.

Seriously, that’s what they said. There was no punchline.

For many others on both sides of our politics, however, the preferred solution to the gaping distance between aggressive talk and modest action is to demand ways of enabling more aggressive action. Activists in both parties think their leaders should just pay less heed to structural constraints and “fight” more. Others want to break those constraints, whether by eliminating the filibuster or (particularly on the left) even changing the Constitution.

The explicit premise of such calls is that our system is not sufficiently representative of the will of the public. But their implicit premise seems to be that the system is not representative enough of the will of party activists, and indeed that it is perhaps too representative of a genuinely divided and constructively circumspect society.

But in truth, our politics has come to speak far too exclusively for the activists of both parties, especially thanks to the primary system, which fills political offices with men and women who take themselves to be answerable to a narrow, hyper-engaged slice of the public. Much of our political speech is directed to that activist slice. Our actual governing institutions have not been deformed to the degree that the parties’ candidate-selection processes have been, though. That is why they better represent the broader society. And that in turn is a big part of the reason for the gap between rhetoric and action. And it is why many party activists want to deform those governing institutions too.

In fact, the last 18 months speak fairly highly of the design of our governing institutions, and their capacity to compel a deeply deluded political class to deal with reality against its will.

The filibuster has proven particularly important and valuable over this period, and not just to the right — or rather, not just because it restrained the left. Critics of the filibuster often insist that there is no evidence that it can effectively compel bipartisan bargaining over legislation, at least in our intensely polarized era. But there has been plenty of such evidence in this Congress (as there has been in general, of course). The filibuster substantially strengthened the Senate’s position relative to the House, and made possible (by making necessary) substantive bargaining across party lines on a range of meaningful issues. It has forced our polarized, divided, embittered parties to find ways to work together a little. That’s its purpose, and that of the Congress as a whole.

Of course, none of this is to say that conservatives ought to be sanguine about the direction of public policy in this period. Elections have consequences. The two reconciliation bills have been full of bad ideas and waste — and the bipartisan bills haven’t been empty of those either. But a better grasp of reality would help explain that too: Republicans would get something closer to a politics they like if they won more elections, and they would win more elections if they offered the voting public more appealing candidates and ideas. Here too, it’s easy to talk yourself into all kinds of wild conclusions, but the practical reality is relatively simple. Sure, the radicalism of the left could create many opportunities for the right in the coming years. But if Republicans can’t see that they need to get past Donald Trump, that they have to stop letting petty charlatans, infantile celebrities, and deranged conspiracists represent them to the public, and that they should help voters grasp how their lives could be better under Republican governance then they will not be able to seize those opportunities. Our political speech should better conform to these realities, not the other way around.

And that’s the case more generally: Narrowing at least a little that vast gulf between talk and action will require our politics to be better guided by the limits of action, since (as we constantly demonstrate now) there are no limits on talk. Rather than altering the structure of our system to let our action be as aggressive as our talk, we should try to moderate our speech so that it better falls into line with the limits of what our very good system of government guides us toward doing even in times when we’ve all gone mad.

This is actually what a commitment to representative democracy demands. The institutional constraints of the American system force us to deal with the pluralistic reality of American life. The frustration it creates, the necessity of dealing with the other party even when you won the last election, is more true to the state of our society, and more likely to produce the governance the electorate wants, than a simpler majoritarianism. The desire to escape this complex reality, to make narrow majorities look and feel like broad ones, is the problem in our politics, not the solution.

U.S.

David McCullough: A Gracious Man

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Author David McCullough poses for a photo at the screening of HBO’s new miniseries John Adams in the Cannon Caucus Room in Washington, D.C., March 5, 2008. (Paul Morigi/WireImage via Getty Images)

I met David McCullough early in the new century at an alumni summer program at Washington & Lee. He gave the opening address, I gave the closer, and in between he ran seminars for the alums. I snuck into the back of one. He was in his element — fielding questions knowledgably and graciously. There came an uunusually interesting one: Who was the most dangerous man of the Founding period? He gave the answer that John Adams would have given — Alexander Hamilton. Ambitious, prone to intrigue, etc. My heart sank. I had just written my Hamilton bio, and here was David McCullough hanging him out to dry. I waited until he had finished, then ventured, “Arnold?”

Immediately, he said, Well, of course, Benedict Arnold, and talked about his failed conspiracy. I was glad to have nailed down the fact that the only major general in American history to commit treason had been worse than the first Treasury secretary.

David was always polite, genial, with never a trace of entitlement or hauteur — a delight to know. He epitomized the serious popular historian. He told engaging stories, often hung on a biography or biographies, but bolstered with research and attention to detail. His interests were wide: TR, Truman, American painters in Paris, the grim year 1776, the founding of Marietta, Ohio. His grand slam was his bio of John Adams. Author and subject were made for each other. Adams’s contemporaries, friends and enemies alike, all seemed to sense that he was a great character as well as, maybe even more than, a great public figure. Add his wife Abigail, as well-spoken and as prickly as her husband, and you had a fine entrée into a great time.

How great a time? The 250th anniversary of independence, not that far off, looks as if it may be a very different affair from the 200th. McCullough, the popular historian, echoed a cadre of academic historians who took the ideas of the Founders seriously, and found them worthy of that attention. Academic history is very different today.

The Founders will survive. Good stories beat bad ones, interesting ones beat both fustian and complaint. David knew it, and told them. So will as yet unknown successors.

Politics & Policy

Democrats’ Spending Bill Subsidizes Obamacare Plans that Cover Abortion

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Protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The new reconciliation bill that Senate Democrats just passed — under the almost unbelievable title of the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” — will have plenty of ill effects, including that it will extend Obamacare’s premium tax credits for health-care plans that cover elective abortion.

The bill extends the credits through 2025 at a cost of an estimated $64 billion, unless they’re made permanent in the future — a further extension of what was done under the American Rescue Plan. In short, the bill will continue subsidies for health-insurance plans on the Obamacare exchanges that fund abortion on demand, in violation of the Hyde amendment.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services has under the Biden administration proposed a rule change that would allow for the conflation of payment and accounting requirements related to abortion, rather than requiring premium payments for abortion and actual health care to remain separate, as Obamacare itself requires. Late last month, a group of Republican senators wrote to HHS secretary Xavier Becerra in opposition to this proposed rule change.

Politics & Policy

Americans Are Correct to Be Instinctively Terrified of the IRS

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Then-Director of Exempt Organizations for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Lois Lerner prepares to deliver an opening statement during a hearing on the alleged targeting of political groups seeking tax-exempt status by the IRS, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 22, 2013. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

This argument seems to be popular online this week:

Markowitz says that he has “never understood the fear of an IRS audit.” Given that he is an IRS-enrolled agent — that is, that he makes his living representing taxpayers in front of the IRS — this should perhaps not be too surprising. Oddly enough, my butcher doesn’t understand vegetarians. Nevertheless, I might be able to help Markowitz out a little — or, at least, to shed some light on why this particular tweet yielded such a cacophony of mockery and indignation, and on why the Democratic Party’s desire to be associated with IRS audits is a terrible political move.

Markowitz suggests that those who are worried about being audited by the IRS should just make sure that they are truthful on their return. “Don’t lie,” he suggests. “How about just don’t cheat on tax returns?” But this, of course, misses the point. I do not “cheat” on my tax return, and I never have. I don’t “lie,” either. But I’m still terrified of the IRS. Why? Because the process of being audited — especially in-person, which this funding will increase — is an absolute nightmare. It’s costly. It’s stressful. It’s invasive. It’s time-consuming. It’s easily manipulated by rogue political actors. And it is all of those things even if the saga concludes with a nice letter saying that everything is in order after all.

One suspects that, in any other circumstance, this would be intuitively obvious. Suppose that, tomorrow, the FBI announced that it intended to begin “auditing” millions of people to find out if they had committed any federal crimes. Would Markowitz and co. respond to this news by shrugging and saying, “don’t lie,” or “if you haven’t broken any laws, who cares?” I suspect that they would not. And they’d be absolutely right to decline to do so. The federal government is extremely powerful, and having it snoop around your life is distressing and scary even when you’ve done nothing wrong. In what other circumstances would Markowitz’s implication hold water? I’m not a domestic abuser. Should I therefore not care if the government wants to put cameras around my house? I haven’t murdered anyone. Should I therefore not care if the local police open a homicide investigation into me? The very idea is totalitarian.

To illustrate this, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the IRS’s intent here was reversed — that, instead of the Democratic Party having passed a law designed to squeeze more money out of taxpayers by cracking down on tax evasion, the Republicans had passed a law designed to ensure that Americans were taking advantage of all the deductions and credits in the tax code. In other words, assume for the sake of argument that Americans were facing the prospect of a million-and-a-half more audits, but with the aim of ensuring that everyone audited was getting a bigger refund than they otherwise might. “We just want,” the Republicans might say, “to ensure that you’re not overpaying. Even better: The average audited American will get to keep an extra $240!”

Would that make me comfortable with such an audit?

No, it bloody well would not. On the contrary: I would enthusiastically relinquish that $240 — or more — in order to avoid one.

One of the best things about the United States is that its constitution habitually preempts the “If you have done nothing wrong . . .” arguments that tend to prevail elsewhere. As a matter of course, Americans do not buy the idea that only a man with something to hide would cherish the Fourth Amendment or that only a man who is guilty would plead the Fifth or that only a man who wishes to demean others would wish to favor a robust understanding of freedom of speech. The broad opposition to a supercharged IRS that has so baffled Adam Markowitz and his fellow travelers is predicated upon a similar conceit: that this is a free country, and that those who wish to make it less so can shove it.

Law & the Courts

Disparate Impact Theory Has Done a Lot of Damage

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(Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Getty Images)

Neetu Arnold of the National Association of Scholars has written an excellent Law & Liberty essay on one of the Supreme Court’s greatest blunders, namely, Griggs v. Duke Power.

She points out that the disparate-impact theory the Court accepted and wove into the 1964 Civil Rights Act has had the unfortunate and unintended consequence of pushing employers to demand college credentials. Once testing became a legal minefield, many employers chose to use college degrees as a screening mechanism. As a result, more and more of the labor market was closed off to people who don’t have the right educational credentials, even if they have the native ability to learn the work.

Arnold writes, “Griggs, specifically, chilled merit-based hiring by businesses. Because companies feared legal liability if any of their job-specific hiring tests produced disparities, they turned instead to the college degree as an imperfect signal for the requisite talent and skills. Colleges, after all, can use test scores to filter strong and weak candidates. As a result of this shift, Americans — regardless of interest or ability — now need a college degree to qualify for most well-paying jobs. ”

She is right that the Court would do the country a service if it were to overturn Griggs. But the same thing would be achieved if Congress were to amend the Civil Rights Act. I doubt that there are any disparate-impact cases moving through our court system since I think that employers gave up that fight long ago. If Congress weren’t in Democratic hands, however, it might be possible to rewrite the Civil Rights Act so as to stop promoting needless, costly credentialism in the labor markets.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Free Markets/Culture and China/ESG

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Samuel Gregg of the American Institute for Economic Research writes about why free markets need a cultural base:

I have discovered, however, that good economic arguments only go so far in changing the minds of market-skeptic conservatives. If the state doesn’t engage in extensive and deep economic regulation, I’ve heard more than one conservative say, what’s to stop rampant materialism from becoming the norm? How, they say, do we prevent the type of dynamic commercial relationships associated with markets from putting immense pressure on other types of human relations, especially families?

The good news is that many free-market thinkers in the past thought long and hard about these matters, many of which revolve around the type of moral and cultural ecology most suitable for market economies. Consider, for instance, the German ordoliberal economist Wilhelm Röpke. . . .

Andrew Stuttaford writes about the supposed dilemma that Chinese companies pose for ESG funds:

This is a dilemma? Does the “g” in ESG stand for genocide? Because that is what is taking place in Xinjiang. Regardless of climate change, investors who believe that ESG (a variant of “socially responsible” investing in which actual or prospective portfolio companies are scored against a series of environmental, social or governance — the real “g”, in case you wondered — benchmarks) is in some sense ethical surely should find it unacceptable to take a stake in any firm manufacturing (or using) solar-panel materials (notably solar-grade polysilicon) processed in Xinjiang by forced labor.

But should that be the end of the matter?

Energy & Environment

Net Zero, Millenarianism, and the War against Growth

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A man holds a placard during a protest against the Federal Reserve about climate change in New York City, October 29, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Daniel Hannan looks at the deeper philosophical and cultural forces currently driving the “race” to net zero greenhouse-gas emissions and doesn’t much like what he sees. The background to his article is the energy crunch now being faced by the U.K. (and the rest of Europe), a fiasco that American climate policymakers seem only too keen to emulate:

[W]e are in this mess because, for most of the twenty-first century, we have ignored economic reality in pursuit of theatrical decarbonisation. Actually, no, that understates our foolishness. Decarbonisation will happen eventually, as alternative energy sources become cheaper than fossil fuels. It is proper for governments to seek to speed that process up. But this goes well beyond emitting less CO2. Our intellectual and cultural leaders — TV producers, novelists, bishops, the lot — see fuel consumption itself as a problem. What they want is not green growth, but less growth.

As Amory Lovins, perhaps the most distinguished writer to have been involved in the move away from fossil fuels, put it in 1970:

“If you ask me, it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it.”

The idea that cheaper energy is a positive good – that it reduces poverty and gives people more leisure time – has been almost wholly lost. We have convinced ourselves that if it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working. The reason we slip so easily into talk of banning and rationing is not just that the lockdown has left us readier to be bossed about. It is that we have come to regard the use of power as a sinful indulgence.

“Sinful indulgence”: Try as hard as one might (and I’m not inclined to try very hard), it is difficult to avoid the religious subtext that runs through so much of what passes as thinking by many climate policymakers, let alone those who cheer them on. On reflection for just a second, however, “subtext” is too mild a word. Much of climate activism bears an uncomfortably direct resemblance — down to the opportunities for grift that it offers — to the various millenarian movements that have sprung up over the centuries, sometimes with horrific results.

Hannan:

[R]aising the price of energy is not something we can do in isolation. When power becomes more expensive, so does everything else. Fuel is not simply one among many commodities; it is the enabler of exchange, the motor of efficiency, the vector of economic growth…

The high-status view is that we are brutalising Gaia, that politicians are in hoc to Big Oil and that we all ought to learn to get by with less – a view that it is especially easy to take if you spent the lockdown being paid to stay in your garden, and have no desire to go back to commuting.

The reference to Gaia, particularly in way that term is popularly used, is, of course, more than a nod to animism, yet another a reminder of the religiosity (or, in that case, spirituality) that saturates so much of climate activism. The same can be said about the way that some prominent British environmentalists, echoing misty-brained Edwardian pantheists, like to go on about “nature.”

Back to Hannan (my emphasis added):

Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and assorted anti-capitalist frondistes are openly and unashamedly anti-growth. For them, low-cost energy has dragged humanity away from the closed, local economies that they want. As Paul Ehrlich, the father of modern greenery, put it in 1975:

“Giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point would be the moral equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun. With cheap, abundant energy, the attempt clearly would be made to pave, develop, industrialise, and exploit every last bit of the planet”.

Tories don’t put it that way, of course, even to themselves. But they are still tugged by the cultural currents of the day. So they find ways to rationalise higher taxes, higher spending and anti-market measures with which they would normally have little truck.

Typically, they do so by playing up the economic opportunities that green technology will supposedly bring. Boris Johnson extols them with such gusto that he seems genuinely to have convinced himself. But it is pure hogwash. If there really were such opportunities, investors would find them without needing the the state to ban some fuel sources and subsidise others.

Green growth is a fallacy for the same reason that, as Frédéric Bastiat showed in 1850, you can’t make a city wealthier by smashing its shop windows. Doing so might immediately generate growth – nominal GDP often rises sharply in the aftermath of a natural disaster — but every penny spent by the shopkeeper on new windows (and by the glazier who now has extra income, and by the people he buys from and so on) is a penny that would have been spent more usefully without the breakages. In the same way, every penny spent on green “investment” is a penny that has been taken out of the productive economy through taxation.

None of this is to argue that governments shouldn’t seek to mitigate climate change. They should. I just wish they would admit that doing so is expensive. Green jobs are a cost, not a benefit. If you banned the use of diggers and had lines of workers with spades instead, you could argue that you had “created” jobs; but you would have made everyone worse off.

Conservatives should approach climate change in neither a masochistic nor a messianic spirit, but calmly, transactionally, hard-headedly. If there is good reason to believe that advances in technology will lead to sharply reduced costs, then let the timetable slip accordingly. . . .

Woke Culture

It Would Be Better Just to Burn Money Than Spend It on ‘Diversity’

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The obsession with “diversity” continues to rage throughout American higher education. Almost every institution has created a number of diversity offices and programs, spending many dollars on administrators who do nothing of value.

In today’s Martin Center article, Ashlynn Warta looks at the DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) spending in the UNC system. She writes, “DEI, more than a simple way of thinking or a mere teaching material, has become a budget line item, as most UNC-System schools now have DEI-specific staff as well as departments. In total, 14 of the 16 schools have staff who specifically promote DEI, resulting in over $11 million going towards DEI staff salaries within the UNC System.”

One of the two remaining institutions in the system that doesn’t yet have a “chief diversity officer” is the School of the Arts, but Warta reports that it is on the verge of hiring one.

But isn’t DEI just about making all students feel welcomed? As if colleges and universities aren’t already as welcoming as any places could be. DEI, however, isn’t merely that. As Warta states, “Rather than encouraging diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments, they actually encourage students to conform to predetermined ideologies. More specifically, DEI efforts are narrowing the scope of what is ‘acceptable’ on college and university campuses.”

That is to say, DEI is just another vehicle for smuggling in “progressive” ideology. That’s the reason why top administrators want it.

World

Pelosi’s China Connection

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House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi attends a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, August 5, 2022. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

You may have assumed this story would be about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s family’s financial investments in China, but this story’s roots go back many more years than that. 

On Friday, during a press conference in Tokyo, Pelosi made a comment about China when reminiscing about her youth: “When I was a little girl, I was told when at the beach that if I dug a hole deep enough, we would reach China — so we’ve always felt a connection there.”

Many American kids have been told the same story Pelosi remembers. The origin of the “digging to China” folklore may be with America’s iconic Henry David Thoreau. In 1854, he wrote in Walden: “As for your high towers and monuments, there was a crazy fellow in town who undertook to dig through to China, and he got so far that, as he said, he heard the Chinese pots and kettles rattle; but I think that I shall not go out of my way to admire the hole which he made.”

Pelosi’s comment doesn’t really make sense geographically. If you could theoretically dig a hole straight from China — and make it through the hard inner core of the earth — you would end up closer to South America than to the United States.

Pelosi also said in the press conference that America needs to work with China to confront the climate “crisis” and that “we can learn a lot from China in that regard.” Interesting choice. It is doubtful that China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world, is the ideal teacher.

Energy & Environment

John Kerry: Not in China’s Lane

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U.S. climate envoy John Kerry gestures during a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland May 25, 2022. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

One of the more appalling moments in a political career lacking much in the way to celebrate was the time when John Kerry appeared to shrug his shoulders at genocide. He had more important things to worry about, you see.

As a reminder (via the New York Post, November 11, 2021):

US special climate envoy John Kerry sidestepped a question about China’s use of slave labor during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference on Wednesday, saying the issue was “not my lane.”

Kerry was responding to a query from a reporter who asked the former secretary of state if he had mentioned human rights issues — including Beijing’s “use of forced labor in Xinjiang for building solar panels” — during recent meetings with Chinese leaders.

“Well, we’re honest. We’re honest about the differences, and we certainly know what they are and we’ve articulated them, but that’s not my lane here,” Kerry said. “That’s — my job is to be the climate guy, and stay focused on trying to move the climate agenda forward.”…

Throughout his time as President Biden’s special envoy, Kerry has urged China to “be part of the solution.”

“Climate is existential for everybody on the planet,” he said in May. “We have to deal with it and because China is nearly 30 percent of all the emissions on the planet, China’s got to be part of the solution.”

The Chinese, however, do not seem to see things the same way. To the extent that they have invested in renewables, it’s either been as a business opportunity (and one that it has used to leave the West dangerously reliant on Chinese suppliers) or as part of the country’s current drive to a form of autarky. If Beijing is concerned about the climate (not that much, it appears) it sees that as just one issue to be considered among many others, and one incidentally that has to be subordinated to geopolitical issues, the need to support economic growth and, of course, preserve the party’s control.

And so (via AP):

China cut off contacts with the United States on vital issues Friday — including military matters and crucial climate cooperation — as concerns rose that the Communist government’s hostile reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit could signal a lasting, more aggressive approach toward its U.S. rival and the self-ruled island.

Crucial!

Reuters:

China’s decision to suspend bilateral talks on climate change with the United States does not punish Washington, “it punishes the world,” U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change John Kerry said on Friday.

“No country should withhold progress on existential transnational issues because of bilateral differences,” said the former U.S. Secretary of State, who is currently the Biden administration’s top climate diplomat.

Existential transnational differences!

It’s time, I think, for our climate Metternich to assert himself. It’s time, in other words, to deploy James Taylor.

Why the Recent Decline in Diesel Prices Won’t Last

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Gas pump at a Shell gas station in Washington, D.C., May 15, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

As of this week, diesel prices have declined to their lowest level since April 18. That includes a 67.2-cent-per-gallon decline in the past six weeks.

That’s good news for truck drivers, farmers, and others dependent on diesel for their livelihoods. But does this price drop represent a return to more normal price levels, or only a momentary reprieve from this year’s soaring costs?

John Kingston of FreightWaves believes the data suggest that prices will rise again soon. In an interview with Rachel Premack, he outlines the reasons why.

Refineries are still “running just full blast,” he says. He points to the Q2 earnings

World

Taiwan’s Inconvenient History

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A Taiwanese sailor holds his country’s flag on a frigate in 2008. (Nicky Loh/Reuters)

Writing for UnHerd, Bill Hayton wonders just how Chinese Taiwan really is. Looking back to the essentially colonial relationship between the island and mainland since the time when most of modern Taiwan was brought under Chinese rule in the 17th century, Hayton sees some similarities to the relationship between Britain and Ireland. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the history (and Ireland is an intriguing if imperfect analogy), but this article is an interesting and provocative read (it’s worth looking at some of the comments too).

Moving on through the years, Hayton notes that:

Taiwan only formally became a distinct province of the Qing Empire in 1887, two years after the end of a war with France, in which control of the island’s ports had become strategically important. The new provincial administration made a display of bringing the benefits of civilisation from the mainland: railways, medicines and taxes. Local reactions were mixed.

Reading that made me think of Algeria, which formally became a French département in 1848 and remained one until independence over a century later. Taiwan’s status as a Chinese province did not, however, last so long:

The island remained under Qing control for just eight years before it was snatched by Japan at the humiliating end of the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War. The treaty signed in the port city of Shimonoseki granted Japan control of Taiwan “in perpetuity and full sovereignty”. Taiwan became a colony again, this time to a different master. There was some resistance on the island, but it was rapidly snuffed out. Another set of railways, medicines and taxes were introduced.

Within a few years, people on the Chinese mainland forgot the cause of Taiwan. There was no agitation to “restore” the country to mainland control.

For years, neither China’s Nationalist regime nor its communist opponents saw Taiwan as a part of the country, and Hayton points out that:

At its sixth congress in 1928, the [Chinese] Communist Party recognised the “Taiwanese” as a separate nationality. In November 1938 the party plenum resolved to “build an anti-Japanese united front between the Chinese and the Korean, Taiwanese and other peoples”, implicitly drawing a distinction between Taiwanese and Chinese. Both Nationalists and Communists regarded the “Taiwanese” as a distinct minzu — which can mean both “nation” and “ethic group”.

The attitudes of the Nationalists changed during the Second World War, and they reclaimed it after the Japanese surrender, receiving a distinctly mixed reception. Ironically, of course, they were to make it their refuge after the communist victory in 1949, but the divisions between the arrivals from the mainland and the native Taiwanese remain to this day:

The ranks of the Guomindang are still largely filled by the descendants of those who came to the island with Chiang Kai-shek. The current ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, represents that part of the population that resists the idea of mainland control. The family of Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, is of Hakka origin, for example.

Hayton concludes as follows:

Most Taiwanese — let’s call them that — enjoy the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. The PRC is Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, many Taiwanese are related to families living on the other side of the water, and in normal times the island benefits from the relatively free flow of people and trade across it. Aside from a few fantasists, no-one in Taiwan wants a war with the PRC, but nor do they want to be “reunified” with an authoritarian state that appears to be on a political journey from “socialism with Chinese characteristics” to “national-socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

Xi Jinping learnt his history from the simplistic nationalistic books of his youth: just like Chiang Kai-shek, he is a colonialist. As the people of Tibet and Xinjiang can testify, he has a “steamroller” view of national unity. He orders homogeneity in the name of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. He will not rest until he has ‘restored’ every rock and reef in the South China Sea and barren Himalayan mountainside to the motherland. Taiwan would be the jewel in his proletarian crown.

Interesting, and it’s worth noting that Hayton considers that the Chinese Communist Party is on, to use his phrase, a “journey” to fascism, a view with which I would certainly agree.

How much difference all this makes, I don’t know. Probably not much. As someone reminded me the other day, the U.S. has long accepted the idea of “one China” (for a brief  discussion of a concept that, to the U.S., is more nuanced than Beijing would like, please take a look here). And there is no doubt that, as Hayton observes, if Taiwan were to formally declare independence, China would regard it as grounds for war. Nevertheless, amid all the angry rhetoric from Beijing, Hayton’s article is worth pondering. And, even regardless of the history, the basic principle of self-determination ought to mean that the Taiwanese — by which I mean the inhabitants of Taiwan and its other islands — ought to be fully free to decide their own future. That they are denied that choice says everything about practical reality, and nothing about what is right.

Elections

Another National Poll, Another Strong Showing for DeSantis

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., February 24, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Some more indications of Trump slippage and DeSantis gains in the new YouGov poll:

The new poll does contain several warning signs for Trump. For one thing, he continues to trail Biden 45% to 42% in a head-to-head matchup among registered voters — despite Biden’s glaring vulnerabilities. For another, a majority of registered voters (53%) now say — in the wake of the House select committee’s high-profile Jan. 6 hearings — that Trump should not even be allowed to serve as president again, due to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And even though Trump voters are not openly disparaging their party’s leader in the way Biden voters are, they are hardly unanimous in their support for him.

Case in point: While a narrow majority (again, 53%) of Trump voters do still say he would be the GOP’s strongest candidate in 2024, that means that nearly as many of them say either that he would not be the strongest candidate (21%) or that they’re not sure (26%). Likewise, when given a choice, most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents don’t actually say they want Trump to be the 2024 nominee. Against “someone else,” for instance, just 48% choose Trump, while most either select the unnamed alternative (39%) or say they’re not sure (13%). Against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (35%), even fewer pick Trump (44%); more say they’re not sure (20%).

I wrote a column yesterday arguing that it’s 2015 again with Trump — there a lot of questions about exactly what is his real level of support.

Meanwhile, this is another catastrophic finding for Biden, and Harris isn’t benefiting:

A full 55% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic now say they would rather see “someone else” as the party’s 2024 nominee. That is twice the number who say they would rather see Biden as the nominee (27%).

Who else would Democrats prefer? Not Vice President Kamala Harris, who unsuccessfully sought the 2020 nomination. Assuming Biden doesn’t run in 2024, just 30% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they want Harris to be the nominee. Again, most (52%) say someone else — a number that rises to 55% among those who are actually registered to vote.

National Review

Back to the Minor Leagues

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(anyaberkut/Getty Images Plus)

This is the last Corner post I will write during my internship at National Review. It’s one that I now compose with a sense of great accomplishment, one that is also very bittersweet.

I am proud of my time this summer here at NR, and I have enjoyed writing every day for a publication with such a great history and mission. Through my essays and posts, many of which were about Michigan elections, I have gained indispensable skills in writing and reporting through the amazing writers and editors here.

Though my time here has been a dream, I recognize that I now have a duty to use the lessons I’ve learned to better serve the conservative movement to which I want to devote my life.

No one will contradict me when I say that college students’ time outside of school is incredibly important. Our summers are not mere vacations. They present an opportunity for us to find valuable job experience in the real world, rather than being simply coddled by our campus administrators. That said, they are not purely self-serving, either. We are not here only to make career connections that we hope to leverage in the future.

Rather, I like to think of them as team practices with a professional team. The experiences we have and the connections we make are not only for our careers, but for our fight to preserve American traditions as well. We all have roles in this wonderful movement that has been nourished across decades and centuries by the great leaders who precede us. Those roles just might be different depending on where we are.

Our colleges are much like the minor leagues. We’re cultivating our skills and learning how to use them against our opponents who are doing the same. These internships are an incredibly important glimpse of what the major leagues are like, and we must then work to apply what we learn on campus.

For those of us entering our senior year in college, we have reached our last season in the minors. We understand the duty to use our experience to make our campuses better places for our fellow students, both conservative and liberal. We further understand that, after we graduate college, that obligation does not lessen, nor should our commitment to fulfilling it.

I am friends with many conservative students throughout the country, and I take inspiration from seeing their successes every day. They are doing their duty on their campuses, and I must do the same on mine and beyond it.

I will pledge to use what NR has taught me to bring the principles of our great movement to others at Michigan, who may not interact with them as much as I do. I promise not only to argue effectively for the intellectual ideas of limited government and individual rights, but also (and perhaps more importantly) to live out the values of kindness and respect for which NR stands.

Overall, I want to thank all of the great people I have had the privilege of working with these past couple of months. You have all taught me so many valuable lessons that I will never forget. As I go back to campus, I will not let you down.

Woke Culture

Battling the Woke Education Establishment in the Trenches

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In state after state, the education establishment has been thoroughly infiltrated by aggressive leftists who intend to use the schools to spread their ideology rather than teaching students what they need to know to become successful. That is certainly the case in Maine, as Lawrence Lockman documents in this article.

As he recounts, the educrats have gone so far as to try to silence parents who don’t like what is going on. Fortunately, some judges still follow the Constitution (the real one, not the “living” one) and will stop the attempts to muzzle dissent.

Welcome to the most crucial battle in America: Will we return to the 3Rs or will we allow the left to hijack schools for the purpose of indoctrination?

The Expanded NATO Universe

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NATO and U.S. flags fly at the entrance of the Alliance’s headquarters during a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, March 31, 2017. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

This week Mitch McConnell (who’s not having a masterly term as minority leader), took a shot at Senator Josh Hawley, unburdening himself this way:

Oooof — McConnell with a not-so-subtle dig at Hawley, who is voting no on Finland/Sweden joining NATO.

“If any senator is looking for a defensible excuse to vote no, I wish them good luck. This is a slam dunk for national security that deserves unanimous bipartisan support.”

— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) August 3, 2022

Now, Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO is not as preposterous as that of, say, North Macedonia, a country that brought with it no serious military

History

Reflections on the Statue of Liberty

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(GBlakeley/Getty Images)

On August 5, 1884, the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was laid with no shortage of pomp and circumstance. That celebration was entirely appropriate, as the monument would welcome millions of people into the American family as they passed through New York Harbor to Ellis Island.

I visited the statue the day after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. On my visit, I saw the plaque inscribed with the text of Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus”:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

That “brazen giant” is the Colossus of Rhodes, the ancient Greek statue that celebrated victory in war and the might of its creators. In the poet’s conception, this new colossus, Lady Liberty, showcases not military prowess and power, but freedom.

Rather than tearing people down, the United States helps them lift themselves up by securing their God-given rights through its Founding principles. Each victory for freedom adds to its majesty.

The most recent victory was sending Roe to the ash heap of history where it belongs. Now, we still have a job to do on abortion, along with many other issues. We can look to Lady Liberty and the words of Lazarus for inspiration.

U.S.

What We Can Learn from the Public Response to Monkeypox

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Dr. Emily Drwiega from the University of Illinois Health and Maggie Butler, a registered nurse, prepare monkeypox vaccines at the Test Positive Aware Network nonprofit clinic in Chicago, Illinois, July 25, 2022. (Eric Cox/Reuters)

According to this new report on monkeypox from the Washington Post, public-health officials still aren’t ready to treat the emerging disease like a real threat, because to do so would encroach on our society’s secular religion: total sexual license.

The article’s headline says it all: “As monkeypox strikes gay men, officials debate warnings to limit partners.” And the subheading: “Sex is a major driver of the global outbreak. But health officials and longtime HIV activists say calls for abstinence don’t work.”

Contrast this tepid response with the society-wide crackdown public-health officials recommended in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. I need not recount the full laundry list; we all remember all too well what it looked like. And while some of that initial response to Covid makes sense in hindsight — it took us some time to learn what we were really dealing with, and a certain level of overly cautious advice was understandable and appropriate during that learning period — much of it looks ridiculously foolish, especially considering how long it went on relative to what we had learned. As Tim Carney points out, Americans were prevented even from attending funerals for much of the pandemic, thanks to the draconian guidance of public-health officials.

To this day, there are parts of the country that continue to enforce mask mandates when case numbers rise. There are school districts that plan to require children to wear masks in the classroom, regardless of their parents’ opinion and regardless of the almost nonexistent risk of the disease to children — and, indeed, to most all Americans. Vaccine mandates persist in many places, despite the fact that people who have gotten the vaccine can still catch Covid and pass it on to others. The risks and outright dangers of overreaction to Covid have become all too apparent, yet we persist in overreacting.

But when it comes to monkeypox, and when it is entirely evident precisely who is most affected by this disease and how they are contracting it, public-health officials are loath to issue guidance of any kind. Why? Because to do so would risk contradicting the most sacred dogma of our time: consequence-free sex on demand.

Our society’s dedication to limitless sexual self-expression and gratification is evident in the endless calls for free contraception and unlimited abortion, the desecration of marriage as a lifelong and life-giving union between one man and one woman, and our culture’s efforts to totally reshape what it means to be human incarnated as male and female. All this in service of the notion that every individual finds true fulfillment ultimately and only in his nature as a sexual being, and that as a result, each of us deserves complete license in this realm — even, apparently, to the point of spreading a dangerous disease.

Economy & Business

July Jobs Report Shows Workers Under Strain

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A 7-Eleven convenience store has a sign in the window reading “Now Hiring” in Cambridge, Mass., July 8, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

At first glance, the July jobs report released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics looks like good news, and it certainly is better news than some recent reports, with a headline seasonally adjusted number of 528,000 new nonfarm jobs and the unemployment rate, at 3.5 percent, finally back to where it was before the pandemic. An ecstatic New York Times report by Jim Tankersley was headlined “The jobs report suggests President Biden is right about a recession,” drawing gratitude from White House chief of staff Ron Klain:

Much of the press coverage was similarly straight out of the Biden White House’s hymnal. But a closer look at the numbers suggests why a lot of workers are not feeling so thrilled right now. Comparing the seasonally adjusted numbers for July 2022 with the previous month, we see:

  • 71,000 fewer people working full-time jobs;
  • 384,000 more people working part-time jobs. There was an overall growth of 303,000 more people working part-time who would prefer full-time, driven by a growth of 331,000 more people in full-time jobs being cut back to part-time (what the report refers to as “slack” work);
  • 92,000 more people working multiple jobs;
  • 279,000 fewer people self-employed; and
  • 63,000 fewer people in the civilian labor force, after a decline of 353,000 in June. Overall, there are 623,000 fewer people in the workforce compared with February 2020, and the workforce participation rate dropped slightly, from 62.2 percent to 62.1 percent.

When you put these numbers in the context of an economy with high inflation, the stock markets down, interest rates up, and GDP sagging, you get a picture of a lot of people working either more than they want to (picking up a second job) or less than they need to (getting part-time work instead of full-time work), and fewer people working as their own boss — all while employers face a shrinking workforce unable to fill all the open positions.

Politics & Policy

Remember How the Filibuster Was Paralyzing Democracy?

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

The D.C. press has recently lavished praise on the pace of new legislation moving through Congress. In an Axios story, Mike Allen touted Biden’s “success story” in scoring legislative wins on infrastructure and computer-chip production. CNN anchor Jake Tapper reflected on Twitter, “Between infrastructure, gun safety, CHIPs, and the PACT Act, all passed in less than a year, I can’t recall a period of so many big and substantive bipartisan accomplishments for Congress.” Many Democrats and progressive activists have eagerly shared both Allen’s and Tapper’s remarks.

Yet this narrative of bipartisan legislative successes contradicts what many critics of the filibuster were saying for the first year of Biden’s presidency: The filibuster was creating a “vetocracy” that paralyzed the Senate and American democracy. As one Guardian story put it, “What defenders of the filibuster want is . . . a government unable to deliver anything meaningful to its people.” Contrary to the Guardian’s accusation, defenders of the filibuster (including Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) argued that the filibuster helped members of both parties find common ground — that the Senate functioned better with the filibuster and, more broadly, regular order.

Over the past year, it seems as though the filibuster has likely increased the influence of the Senate in legislative negotiations; for many of the bills that have passed, some bipartisan “gang” in the Senate has set the contours for the eventual bill. The spectacle of partisan trench warfare grows ever starker in the House, but the Senate remains a place of bipartisan deal-making (whether one agrees with the eventual deals or not).

Praising Biden’s legislative record might give Democrats a talking point for the midterms, but it also takes away the argument that the filibuster has absolutely paralyzed the Senate.

Culture

Vasectomy Bros

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I wrote a piece on the increasing popularity of sterilization in post-Roe America.

Monetary Policy

Quick Note on the Jobs Report

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Today’s jobs report showed that the labor market is still strong. The unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, which is just as low as it was pre-pandemic. The number of jobs now equals what it was pre-pandemic as well.

That’s a speedy recovery after a deep recession, and it is certainly better than the agonizingly slow labor-market recovery after the Great Recession.

The problem is that inflation is still at 9 percent. Nominal spending is still growing well above trend. The Fed still needs to tighten.

The Fed has been concerned about harming the labor-market recovery with its monetary policy. That’s a reasonable concern, and unemployment is part of the Fed’s mandate from Congress. But unemployment is looking just fine. Inflation is not. The Fed runs many risks right now; being too hard on the labor market does not appear to be one of them.

Film & TV

The Breaking of Batgirl

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A fan dressed in a Batgirl costume, displays her tickets to an evening screening of the film “The Dark Knight Rises” in Burbank, California July 20, 2012. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

Bane broke Batman’s back, but it was the combination of DC’s new direction from Warner Bros. Discovery and exceptionally poor reviews from test groups that appear to have done in Batgirl, resulting in a $90 million loss.

Warner Bros. Discovery, under the leadership of David Zaslav, a man gifted with a name that sounds like a short-run Gotham villain, has been cutting costs at a frenzied pace ever since becoming CEO this spring, with Batgirl becoming one of many projects prematurely canned. He has already ended the fool venture that was CNN+ and has announced that HBO Max will be folded into Discovery+. One can expect more bloodshed from these quarters in the coming months, with a stated goal of trimming $3 billion from the books. 

Zaslav is reportedly pursuing a more traditional theater-first approach with DC-franchise films, modeled after Disney’s Marvel success. With their comic counterpart churning out money just as fast as VFX sweatshops can handle, DC has offered audiences inconsistent fare, the franchise suffering from uneven direction and quality and adding a heap of unwelcome virtue-signaling throughout. With Batgirl originally slated for release to streaming platform HBO Max, if one squints one can understand the cut in light of cinematic-release expectations — Batgirl wasn’t made for the big screen. 

But really? If the movie was even sufferable, I’m inclined to think that Warner Bros. would have released it in the theaters and on streaming. Comic-book movies can be heinous and make an easy $200 million. Long before Marvel was the $25 billion behemoth it is today, its 2008 release of The Incredible Hulk managed $264 million, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) somehow bagged $373 million. DC has but one movie that earned over $1 billion, Aquaman, beloved of David French. Other than that, it’s been slim pickings for a franchise with arguably far more compelling heroes and villains but no unifying vision (Marvel owns the rights to Vision). 

As the New York Post reported, Batgirl,

which was doing test screenings for audiences in anticipation of a late 2022 debut, would rank among the most expensive cinematic castoffs ever.  

Those tests were said to be so poorly received by moviegoers that the studio decided to cut its losses and run for the sake of the brand’s future. It’s a DC disaster.

“They think an unspeakable ‘Batgirl’ is going to be irredeemable,” the source said.  

More Hollywood-friendly (i.e., less inquisitive) outlets like Variety, Esquire, and the Hollywood Reporter chose not to mention the viewer feedback, instead focusing only on Zaslav’s cruel penny-pinching. But a day later, when asked about the Batgirl axing, Zaslav offered, “We’re not going to launch a movie to make a quarter and we’re not going to put a movie out unless we believe in it,” making it clear that Batgirl was dead and worth more to the company as a tax write-off than another flop. 

Good for Zaslav. May DC’s new direction eschew the uninspired woke tripe that has been the arch-nemesis of compelling cinema and profitability.

Media

How Big Media Institutions Unwittingly Helped Promote Alex Jones

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Alex Jones speaks at a rally near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2016. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

In today’s Morning Jolt, I asked whether the malevolent actions of Alex Jones were partially fueled and exacerbated by the fact that he knew he had an audience, hungry for whatever nutty conspiracy theory he would offer. As I describe from witnessing him at the 2016 Republican convention, Jones’ rise and continued prominence was helped along by a literal pack of reporters following him everywhere and eager to showcase Jones’ lunacy to their own audiences.

Today Parker Molloy offers a spectacular tour of mainstream media institutions that gave Jones a short-lived soapbox, and asks whether any of these powerful media voices realized what they were doing at the time.

That is the message that seems to be lost on Jones’s many “I may disagree with him, but…” defenders. It doesn’t matter if 90% of your audience thinks he’s a nutcase. He doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter if you “win the issue” or “expose” him as a liar. None of that matters at all to him because he lives in an alternative reality. All that ABC, CNN, and NBC did in these cases was help make Jones a household name, guaranteeing him more subscribers and a larger profile moving forward. It’s a numbers game, and Jones knows it. If he goes on TV and gets “exposed,” that’s fine, too, as it gives him something he can go back to his viewers with. Remember: these are people who hear the lies and nonsense he peddles and watch him, anyway. He’ll do what he always does in these situations and go back to them so he can claim that “corporatists” and “globalists” sabotaged him; it will only harden his viewers’ resolve to trust him and only him.

It’s a game, and as long as you invite Jones to play, he wins.

As you’ve likely learned in your time on this earth, the world is full of bright, fascinating, original, thought-provoking, learned, creative, and sane people, who rarely get much time in the spotlight. We’ve all seen researchers, writers, authors, bloggers, scientists, artists, academics, and idiosyncratic geniuses who we feel should be more well-known and discussed than they are. But for some reason, our media world seems much more interested in the latest news about a Kardashian, or some so-called “social media influencers” or a provocation from a professional outrage-monger, like Alex Jones.

Molloy accurately observes:

The press is powerful, and when it elevates people with abhorrent views, it provides them with an opportunity that very, very, very few people get.

I’m not asking anyone in media to stop covering important individuals.

I’m not asking anyone in media to “ban” anyone.

I am asking people in media to understand that their editorial decisions, from who gets invited to appear on talk shows to what topics we actually hear about in the news (and how often), are not value-neutral.

We’re simultaneously told that a figure as abhorrent as Richard Spencer should be “deplatformed” from social media… and at the same time, that figure should be invited onto CNN to discuss whether Trump’s tweets are racist. (Spencer argued that Trump’s tweets were indeed racist, but he was disappointed that Trump’s racist words were not being backed up by racist actions.) Does anyone in media recognize the contradiction here? “These people must not be allowed to influence public opinion by showcasing their views on a large media platform… but it’s okay for us to have them as guests, to showcase their views.”

Elections

Should Republicans Be More Worried about the Ohio Senate Race?

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Republican Senate candidate J. D. Vance speaks to supporters at an election party after winning the primary in Cincinnati, Ohio, May 3, 2022. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)

For much of the year, the conventional wisdom has been that Ohio is an increasingly red state that is drifting out of reach for Democrats. In 2018, a really good year for Democrats in the upper midwest, Mike DeWine won by about four percentage points. Trump won the state by about eight percentage points in 2020, suggesting it’s no longer a swing state. The state is currently represented by twelve Republican members of the House and just four Democrats.

And yet . . . since June, J. D. Vance has yet to lead a poll over Tim Ryan*, which is not what you would expect in such a seemingly red-leaning state. Whether we’re talking about big samples or small samples, registered voters or likely voters, Republican pollsters or Democratic pollsters, every pollster has found Ryan ahead so far, by anywhere from three to eleven percentage points.

Maybe the race is about to change; Vance and Republicans are about to launch a new ad campaign. (Ohio readers tell me they see Tim Ryan ads seemingly everywhere, but haven’t seen a Vance ad since the primary way back in May.) Last month, a Cincinnati radio talk-show host complained to the Daily Beast that Vance “is allegedly missing from many of the county fairs, party meetings, and campaign stops where candidates in this state are expected to be.” That too, may be changing:

On the heels of criticism that he hadn’t campaigned as actively as Ryan, Vance has scheduled a spate of in-state appearances over the past couple of weeks — including a Tuesday appearance at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, where he took a tour with the Ohio Farm Bureau after judging a ribs and pulled-pork contest.

Maybe this is just a summer slump, and Vance is about to catch fire. Tim Ryan is attempting to distance himself from the national Democratic Party, and Vance may well gain traction by asking Ohioans if they want a genuine Republican or a pretend one.

But if Vance doesn’t start showing some momentum by autumn, a lot of Republicans will loudly grumble that Mehmet Oz wasn’t the only Trump-endorsed celebrity candidate in the Rust Belt who turned out to be a lemon.

*The Vance campaign writes in, pointing to the Suffolk poll conducted May 22 to 24 had Vance at 42 percent and Ryan at 39 percent. A three-point lead in survey with a margin of error of 4.4 percent, conducted 73 days ago is better than nothing, but it shouldn’t really have Republicans breathing all that easier about this race.

Health Care

What’s the Matter with Kansas? Life in the States Post-Roe

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Join me for a discussion with our John McCormack later today. His pro-life reporting in D.C. and the states is consistent, reliable, a thorn in the side of Nancy Pelosi’s incoherence on abortion. We’ll talk Kansas and much more about life post-Roe — including John’s article in the current issue of National Review at 2 p.m. Eastern today. Sign up here.

This is the last in our Fridays for Life series. (There will likely be a new post-Roe series in the fall.)

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: SEC and Energy

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Bernard Sharfman of RealClearFoundation and the Law & Economics Center writes a follow-up to his last article about the SEC’s proposed climate-disclosure rules:

Materiality is a critical component in identifying the statutory limitations of the SEC’s regulatory authority. For the SEC to continue to pretend that its proposed emissions disclosures are material information for investors means that these disclosures are doomed to be vacated by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. It makes no sense for the SEC to take this approach.

Thomas Hochman writes about energy security as it relates to renewables, replying to an earlier piece from Jordan McGillis:

The most fundamental problem with McGillis’s article, however, is that the author largely fails to consider the question of cost in comparing and contrasting energy sources. He recognizes the importance of cheap electricity in the context of non-renewable energy sources, lauding the market’s “displacement of coal by lower-cost natural gas.” He further recognizes that when “markets fail to account for polluting emissions, it may be appropriate to accept a cost trade-off and implement a framework to account for them.” But in his thesis that a pivot to a cleaner energy economy would “introduce certain new energy-security vulnerabilities” vis-à-vis China, McGillis ignores the abundant cost benefits of renewables altogether. That’s a rather important omission — for energy economics and energy security are largely inseparable from one another. Different energy sources have very different price points, for example, and thus the makeup of our energy mix has a considerable influence on how much residential, commercial, and industrial customers pay for electricity. This has downstream effects, impacting everything from production costs to inflation to disposable household income. Reliance on expensive energy sources, then — as well as a lack of access to cheap alternatives — represents a significant energy-security vulnerability.

Woke Culture

Whither Tenure?

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Tenure used to serve as protection for professors against being fired or penalized for saying controversial things. These days, however, the forces of “progressivism” are undermining it.  Oh, sure — it still protects faculty members who espouse the wackiest or vilest sorts of leftist stuff, but not those who dissent from woke ideology.

In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Alexander Riley contemplates the future of tenure under these new circumstances.

He writes, “As the institutions of higher education are transformed by the ongoing DIE (Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity) revolution, tenure will no longer have the same meaning or practical effect it once did. Where it once served to provide some level of protection for scholars rigorously and unqualifiedly pursuing truth, tenure will be made toothless by shifting definitions of expertise and competence. Furthermore, it will serve as a mechanism for ensuring that any pushback against DIE extremism from outside the ranks of academia will be toothless.”

The reason for this change is that the academic ethos has shifted from one where scholars were expected to pursue truth and debate their conclusions in a civil manner to one where they are supposed to uphold the tenets of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE). We’ve moved from open inquiry to conformity.

Riley puts it this way: “DIE, then, has nothing in common with the pursuit of truth. It contends that the ostensible pursuit of objective truth is inextricably associated with reactionary exclusion and oppression. Our values must therefore be revolutionized in the interest of more diverse, inclusive, and equitable ways of understanding and changing the world.”

Our colleges and universities used to be socially useful institutions because of their commitment to the pursuit of truth. Under the new DIE regime, they’ll only be useful to the elitists who believe that they should control society.

International

Germany: A Stay of Execution for the Last of Its Nuclear Energy (Maybe)

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Clouds are seen over the cooling tower of the nuclear power plant Isar 2 in Eschenbach near Landshut, Germany, August 1, 2022. (Ayhan Uyanik/Reuters)

Reality is clearly beginning to bite rather deeply in Germany.

DW:

The German chancellor [Olaf Scholz] on Wednesday said it might make sense to extend the lifetime of Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants. Germany famously decided to stop using atomic energy in 2011, and the last remaining plants were set to close at the end of this year.

I would have used the word “infamously” rather than “famously,” but that’s to quibble. It’s positive that Scholz is at least considering the issue. Christian Lindner, Germany’s finance minister and the leader of another of the three parties in the governing coalition, the free-market FDP, supports extending the life of those last three nukes, if only until 2024. Lindner’s position is backed by both the CDU (Angela Merkel’s party: It was, infamously, Merkel who reaccelerated the phaseout of Germany’s nuclear power) and the CDU’s partners, the more robustly right-of-center CSU. The CSU would also support reopening some nukes that have already been shuttered.  Sadly, that’s not going to happen, nor, sadder still, will there be a more general reconsideration of Germany’s rejection of nuclear power.

But when it comes to the last three nuclear power stations, Scholz’s problem is that superstitious dread over nuclear energy still permeates much of Germany’s politics. The third party (the Greens) in his coalition remains opposed, as, I imagine, would be quite a few members of Scholz’s SPD.

Still the mere fact that Scholz is pondering a reprieve for those three plants is encouraging, although it may be telling that he has downplayed the contribution that they could make to helping Germany through its energy mess. In fact, they account for about 6 percent of Germany’s electricity production. That’s not nothing. It’s about half the amount of German electricity that is powered by natural gas. At a time when Germany is trying to reduce its vulnerability to Russian blackmail by cutting back on gas consumption, that could come in handy.

DW:

The German government has previously said that renewable energy alternatives are the key to solving the country’s energy problems. However, Scholz said this was not happening quickly enough in some parts of Germany, such as Bavaria.

“The expansion of power line capacities, of the transmission grid in the south, has not progressed as quickly as was planned,” the chancellor said.

That’s a useful reminder that phasing out one form of energy without something reliable to replace it at, so to speak, the flick of a switch is unwise, something that climate policy-makers would like us to forget as they try force through decarbonization at a pace so unconnected to reality that it would embarrass a Soviet central planner.

Oh yes, there’s something else.

DW:

The [current] reduction [in gas supplied by Russia] is fueling fears that Germany will not have sufficient gas for the coming winter, with potentially disastrous effects for industry and the public.

To allay those concerns, the government has already given the green light for 10 dormant coal-fired power stations to be restarted and six oil-lignite-fired plants.

Another 11 coal-fired power plants scheduled to be shut down in November will be allowed to keep operating.

Ah.

Politics & Policy

The ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ Is Cynically Misnamed

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Which is one of many reasons I’m rooting against it, as I explain at Bloomberg Opinion.

In the week since he reached a deal with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer on the “Inflation Reduction Act,” Senator Joe Manchin has been everywhere promoting it. One of the West Virginia Democrat’s top selling points is the promise to speed up permits for US energy production.

It’s a worthwhile idea. Stifling domestic production to send a message to the world about climate change has never made much sense. Indeed, it’s the best idea in the deal. Too bad it isn’t in the bill itself. . . .

Yes, Democratic Meddling Swung Peter Meijer’s Race

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Then-candidate for the House of Representatives Peter Meijer introduces Then-Vice President Mike Pence at a campaign event at Lacks Enterprises, Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., October 14, 2020. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

In the wake of Representative Peter Meijer’s loss to the Trump-endorsed John Gibbs in Tuesday’s Michigan Republican House primary, some have tried to give Democrats cover for meddling in the race. But that meddling did succeed in turning the race toward Gibbs, whom the Democrats believe their nominee, Hillary Scholten, can beat more easily.

The first of the disingenuous arguments trying to absolve Democrats of their role in the election’s outcome is that the TV ad on which they spent $435,000 was critical of Gibbs. True, the overall tone of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s ad is negative, but we have