World

‘There’s a Lot at Stake in This Fight’

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A scene in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 18, 2022 (Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters)

It was enlightening and stimulating to talk with Radek Sikorski. He is the guest on my latest Q&A podcast, here. Sikorski, as you know, is a Polish journalist, writer, politician, and statesman. He is a member of the European Parliament. He was defense minister and foreign minister of his country, and also speaker of the house (or the Polish equivalent). Once upon a time, as he points out to me, he was the chief foreign correspondent of National Review. Greatly prized by us.

The Ukrainians have put up a hell of a fight, Sikorski and I agree at the outset of our podcast. I will paraphrase what he says:

I was in Kyiv ten days before Russia invaded, and I spoke to, among other officials, the defense minister, who told me that they had a plan to disperse and not give Russia a set-piece battle, which would put Ukraine at a disadvantage. They indeed dispersed. The delivery of Western weapons — Javelins, Stingers, and so on — has helped a great deal.

The unknown piece of the equation was the will to fight of the Ukrainian army. The spirit of that army. Their morale is amazing — and the low morale of the Russian army is also amazing.

Putin has already failed in his Plan A, and he is now trying to wage a war of attrition, which is why he is targeting civilians.

If his requests to the Chinese for more matériel are not granted, then I think he might attempt one more push on Kyiv, and, if that fails, we may see serious peace negotiations.

The war crimes of Putin’s forces are shocking, are they not?

They are appalling, but not shocking. Remember how Putin came to power. Remember the apartment bombings. If you are willing to kill your own people. . . . Remember that he burned Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, to the ground, and took over the ashes. Remember what he has done in Syria. He is doing the same thing in Ukraine — but it’s in Europe, so we find it shocking.

Why now? Why did Putin choose to launch his assault in February 2022?

A number of factors, possibly. He saw the American exit from Afghanistan. He must have figured that the Americans would not rally around the Ukrainians. There was a new government in Germany, headed by a Social Democrat. The government may well have seemed soft. He thought he had an understanding with China, an “all-weather friendship.” He saw that Ukraine was beginning to succeed as a democracy: fighting corruption, integrating its economy with Europe, holding genuine elections. Meanwhile, demand for Russian gas and other things was dropping in Western Europe. Putin may well have figured: In five or ten years’ time, it will be even more difficult to conquer Ukraine, so why not now?

Sikorski adds,

This conflict is not about Ukraine only. It is about autocracy and democracy, a toleration of minorities and a kind of 19th-century unity of state and people. It could also kill globalization. If China starts arming Putin for this war of conquest, there will be dire consequences for all of us. The world could have two blocs again, with each creating economies within the bloc. This would be tremendously costly, for people everywhere.

A word about what the war has exposed, concerning the Russian military:

Putin started this war with insufficient forces. Ukraine has a numerical advantage. We always assumed that Russia would have a technical advantage, but . . .

How about the question of nukes?

Putin cannot push a button, as in the movies. There is a chain of command. Will commanders want to be responsible for genocide? Or will they think it better to get rid of Putin?

There is a theory: When the United States says, “We will defend every inch of NATO territory, but we will not fight in Ukraine,” Putin and his men hear, “Do what you like everywhere else. Do what you like in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia . . .”

I understand why President Biden is saying this. He wants to reassure us, the NATO members on the eastern flank; and he wants to reassure the American people, that their sons will not fight in Ukraine. But we ought to be in the business of making Putin unsure of what we will do, rather than telling him exactly where our redlines are. We should be doing things that make him nervous — things that are not escalatory and that are perfectly within our rights to do. There is a NATO exercise starting in Norway. We should be starting another one in the Baltic states, and another one in Alaska, so that Putin cannot marshal all his forces and throw them at Ukraine. This would materially relieve Ukraine of some pressure.

Is Putin mad?

He is not clinical. He is rational within a different logic: within the logic of a desire to reestablish the Russian empire, within the logic of hurt feelings and not enough respect and the kind of post-imperial resentment that leaders of former empires traditionally feel. Ukraine is the last toll of the Russian empire. This is Putin’s Algeria, if you like.

It’s hard to let go of an empire. The British fought you Americans because they didn’t want to let go of you. They fought the Irish. They suppressed the Indian mutiny, and so on. The French fought in Indochina, as well as Algeria. The Portuguese fought in Mozambique, etc. It’s very difficult to grant a former colony the right to be other. And it usually takes a war.

“They speak our language,” is the Putin attitude. “They are our peasants. What’s this business of being a separate country? That’s absurd!” This is Putin’s mistake. He thinks in a completely anachronistic way, in which your language determines your state loyalty. Well, Americans speak English, but they ceased to be loyal to the British crown, right? Try telling an Irishman that he’s really English and that London has the right to rule Ireland again.

Ukraine is interesting in that identities are actually political. People define themselves as Ukrainian or Russian on the basis of their political preferences. “I am Ukrainian because I want my country to be a tolerant democracy, and a part of Europe.” “I am Russian because I like strongmen such as Putin.” That is the division.

Putin is like a husband after a bad divorce, beating up the former wife because she dared to fix up her life rather better with someone else.

Instead of ending in Ukraine’s obliteration, could this war end in Putin’s fall from power?

Let’s hope so. But, for that, Ukraine would have to win. What would winning look like? Ukraine keeps most of its territory — almost all of it — and integrates with the rest of Europe, while remaining officially neutral. Finland or Sweden, if you like.

Putin keeps crying “Nazi! Nazi!” What’s that all about?

There was an article in the Guardian about the messaging of the far Left in Britain: They can’t decide whether Ukraine is Nazi, as per Russian propaganda, or Zionist, given the number of Jews in the government, starting with the president.

Putin talks of “denazification.” If any country needs deradicalization, and to learn peace with one’s neighbors, and tolerance internally, surely it is Russia.

There’s a reason that hipster and gay Kyiv went to the front lines. There’s a reason they took up arms. They know that, in a Putinized Ukraine, there’d be no room for them. This is a war for the right to be different.

So, it’s exactly the other way around. It is Putin, not Ukraine, who represents the idea of “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” — One People, One Realm, One Leader.

A word about the Russian state media, and the Russian apparatus more broadly:

Generations have been brought up on a crazy imperialist ideology. There is the old Russian version. There is the Soviet version. And you have the Putin version, which is an amalgam of the two. The school curricula and the media have persuaded a sizable portion of the Russian population that they have a God-given right to rule over their neighbors and to have their Lebensraum. This idea needs defanging.

Have you heard the heartrending recordings of people in Ukraine calling their parents in Russia? The people in Ukraine are under bombing, and their parents don’t believe them.

The protests of individual Russians have been incredibly brave and inspiring, haven’t they?

Yes. When the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia, there were eight or nine people who protested in Red Square, and they were all sent to prison, of course. Today, the protests are much more widespread, even though Russia is almost cut off from outside information. The chairman of an organization of war heroes resigned his position, in a letter of protest — a protest against the war in Ukraine. Extraordinary. Thousands of protesters have been arrested.

A lot of people are impressed with the generosity of Poles, in welcoming Ukrainian refugees.

Well, you know, we popularized the word “solidarity” around the world. Poland’s nature is to mobilize in a crisis. We now have almost 2 million Ukrainian refugees and no refugee camps, because the refugees have been received into Polish homes. This will require state solutions, and European solutions, but we feel that the Ukrainians are fighting our fight, and the least we can do is take care of their women and children.

What’s underreported and equally interesting is that we had a million Ukrainians before the war, most of them men, working at our construction sites and driving our Ubers. According to reports, some 80 percent of them have gone back to Ukraine to fight.

About ten years ago, you made a statement that made news around the world. Speaking in Berlin, you said, “I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.

Yes. Germany has been very late in recognizing that Putin regards himself as our enemy and that we need to do something about it. Germany has gotten their shock, and I hope they follow through on what Chancellor Scholz has announced: assistance to the Ukrainians, the rearmament of Germany, and a change in Germany’s energy policy.

In the past, you have said that liberal-democratic values have to be argued for, in every generation. Advocates of liberal democracy cannot rest on their laurels. They cannot assume that people — especially young people — naturally grasp the superiority of liberal democracy, or freedom, over autocracy.

Oh, it’s not just that liberal values have to be defended, or argued for. They are at a disadvantage, in a contest with the atavisms. I encourage people to Google and read George Orwell’s review of Mein Kampf, by a previous chancellor of Germany. The atavisms are very, very appealing: drums, excitement, a flag, a tribe, a fight. Can liberals match that, with the rule of law, a separation of powers, a free press, religious toleration, and so forth?

The higher values are a thin veneer that needs bolstering, all the time.

A final word:

If Ukraine wins — by the definition I have already presented — I think Russia will eventually overcome Putinism and become our ally, possibly, in our competition with authoritarian China, and that will change the balance of power substantially. If Putin wins — and I don’t think he can win without Chinese help — we will have the two blocs, and that will be very ugly. So, there’s a lot at stake in this fight.

Media

Washington Post Attempts to Justify Media Suppression of Hunter Biden-Laptop Story

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Then-vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter attend an NCAA basketball game in Washington, D.C., 2010. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

One of the main reasons that the mainstream press is so utterly lost these days is that the mainstream press does not know that it is utterly lost these days. See, for a good example, this preposterous post-rationalization of the reaction to the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story that has been put together by the Washington Post’s Philip Bump.

Introducing his piece — which is titled, “The forgotten — and ignored — context for the emergence of the Hunter Biden laptop story” — Bump writes:

When the New York Post reported on Oct. 14, 2020, that it was in possession of emails between a Ukrainian businessman and Hunter Biden, son of the then-Democratic presidential nominee, it would have been hard to predict what followed. This was less than three weeks before the election itself, and the content of the report was soon subsumed to the odd way in which the paper obtained the information. Mainstream outlets and social media companies balked at elevating the story’s claims, triggering frustrations on the right that remain to this day.

Before we go on, let me stop Bump right there. “Social media companies” did not “balk at elevating the story’s claims.” They worked overtime to stop anybody reading the story at all. Twitter prevented users from sharing links to the piece by showing those who tried a message that read, “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful,” and it went so far as to suspend the New York Post’s account completely, until the paper agreed to delete its tweets on the matter. Facebook, meanwhile, altered its algorithms so that it did not “place posts linking to the story as highly in people’s news feeds, reducing the number of users who [saw] it.”

As for Bump’s “mainstream outlets”? They were actively dismissive. NPR explained that it did “not want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.” This was typical. At one of the presidential debates, Joe Biden said (well, lied) that the story was “a bunch of garbage” and a “Russian plant,” and, as he knew that it would, the press followed suit with these characterizations. “Balked at elevating the story’s claims”? Give me a break.

Bump continues:

New reporting has re-elevated questions about how the story emerged and was handled. In light of that resurrection, it seems useful to articulate exactly why there was suspicion about the story’s origins — suspicion that itself has not entirely been resolved.

In a vacuum, the case that Bump goes on to make is arguable. Indeed, if the mainstream press were a habitually skeptical institution, it might even be correct. But the mainstream press is not a habitually skeptical institution. Rather, it is a gullible, ill-informed, hysterical, lazy, dumb, and duplicitous institution, and its aims are utterly transparent.

You will presumably recall that the Hunter Biden story about which Bump is writing came hot on the heels of one of the most absurd freakouts in recent American history — a freakout, I need not remind anyone, during which the press exhibited precisely none of the traits that Bump is ascribing to it now. Utterly convinced that the president was a Russian agent, Bump’s “suspicious” press spent four years repeating, sharing, “elevating” (and believing) the most preposterous things about Donald Trump — and doing so without the slightest hint of skepticism “about the story’s origins.” Buzzfeed happily published an obviously fake “dossier,” with the justification that it was out there, and that “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect.” In response, Twitter and Facebook did nothing. New York magazine published a ridiculous fantasy about Donald Trump having been a Russian asset since 1987. In response, Twitter and Facebook did nothing. Cable news guests speculated wildly, punctuating their ramblings with self-congratulatory “boom!”s and assurances that the “walls” were “closing in.” In response, Twitter and Facebook did nothing. But when the New York Post published a story that Hunter Biden himself declined to deny . . . well, suddenly, all hands were on deck.

“Context”? There’s your context.

Politics & Policy

Slowing Things Down Has Value, Too

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(spukkato/iStock/Getty Images)

Teddy Kupfer hosted a roundtable at City Journal on that perennial question, the future of conservatism, featuring our own Alexandra DeSanctis discussing whether social conservatives are really “junior partners” in the coalition:

I think it’s fair to call it a junior partnership. Something that I appreciate about the conservative perspective is that cultural problems are not, first and foremost, something that the government solves. Families, individuals, communities, civil society: those are the first bulwark against cultural problems. The federal government does not need to come in and solve every social issue that we might have. That’s why I would say that, if there’s a junior partnership, it exists at the federal level.

For example, a few years back, we had Republicans in control of the Senate, the House, and the presidency. They’ve been promising for something like ten years to defund Planned Parenthood. Did they defund Planned Parenthood when they were in charge? No, but they passed a tax cut. I’m perfectly happy for them to do that, but Republicans tend to run at the national level on “defund Planned Parenthood” or other social-conservative promises, and then they get in office and forget about it. I don’t think that means that the conservative movement or the Republican Party as a whole doesn’t care about social issues. It’s just at the national level that it’s a problem.

Things like education and defunding the police are social issues. All these things that have been hot-button issues — identity politics, abortion — the Republican Party’s starting to notice, “Hey, wait a minute, as the other side goes crazy like I said before, we can push back against that in a way that resonates with the average American, even if they might not be as conservative as us.” So I see that shifting quite a bit in a way where social conservatives actually have a leadership role to take.

It is, of course, fair to raise one of the recurring critiques of conservative politicians on social conservatism: that all they seem to do is slow things down and never reverse the advances of progressives, especially on a matter such as what they government funds. Saurabh Sharma, for example, notes that “if all the Right can muster in the United States is the idea that after the Left wins decades of victories, we’ll marshal the tiniest response to slow them down a little bit, that’s not a governing agenda.” This is a complaint as old as Benjamin Disraeli asking, in 1844:

What will you conserve? . . . Everything . . . that is established, as long as it is a phrase and not a fact. In the meantime . . . the rule of practice is to bend to the passion . . . of the hour. Conservatism assumes in theory that everything established should be maintained; but adopts in practice that everything that is established is indefensible. To reconcile this theory and this practice, they produce what they call “the best bargain;” some arrangement which has no principle and no purpose, except to obtain a temporary lull of agitation, until the mind of the Conservatives, without a guide and without an aim, distracted, tempted, and bewildered, is prepared for another arrangement, equally statesmanlike with the preceding one.

To those who ask this question, I offer two partial defenses. One, of course, is Alexandra’s point: conserving and restoring the culture is not principally the job of politicians and government, and asking the government to hold back changes in the culture is like asking it to hold back the tide.

But the other is this: sometimes, slowing things down has value in itself. That is not just because older people, who are often the chief constituency for social conservatism in any society in any age, dislike change and find it disorienting. Conservatives understand that civil society has a fabric developed over time, much of which consists of custom and culture and common understanding rather than prescriptive law. Shifts in demographics and culture can have concrete harms for the lives of individuals. When society and culture change — and they are always changing — it is healthier for them to change gradually, giving people, families, institutions, and their habits time to adjust. Change often has unforeseen consequences; human beings, individually and collectively, often need to work through those consequences before they are prepared for additional change. A textbook example of this is how we have pitched headlong into the increasingly surreal debate over transgenderism before we have even finished working out the ground rules for how free speech and freedom of religious exercise can survive collision with the novel, freshly minted social institution of same-sex marriage. Why do we have such a debate over “cancel culture”? In part, because the rules for what sorts of speech get you fired or pilloried keep changing so rapidly that ordinary Americans can’t keep up, and even people in their twenties get roasted by the censorious for things they said online in their teens. The time factor in social adjustment to change is valuable in itself in protecting individuals as well as institutions from more change than they can process.

World

A Weekend Shot across the Bow in the Red Sea

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Saudi Aramco’s Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in Saudi Arabia in 2018. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

Yesterday, the Iranian terrorist proxies, the Houthi, attacked a Saudi Aramco petroleum-distribution plant at Jeddah, setting a storage facility on fire. The Saudis subsequently publicly signaled they will not be responsible for decreased oil supply due to the damage. This is a clear signal to Washington that high gas prices are due to ongoing Houthi terrorist attacks in the wake of the Biden administration’s removing them from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list in its first months in office, rather than to Saudi intransigence. For their part, the Iranians may well be trying to jack up prices even higher as they are poised to bring their backlog of stored oil back onto the licit market if a new nuclear deal is reached in Vienna this week.

The location of Jeddah for this attack is significant, as the Saudi city sits at the narrow waist of the Red Sea where it would be easiest to disrupt this critical shipping lane flowing, among other things, oil from the Gulf through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea. The attack on Jeddah thus may be a shot across the bow, warning the world that Tehran has the reach to disrupt commercial shipping not only through the Strait of Hormuz off their own shores but also in the Red Sea via the Houthi. Ominously, the attack on Jeddah was the only successful Houthi operation over the weekend, as the Saudis also reported disarming an explosives-laden ship in the Red Sea, as well as drones deployed against a number of cities in southern Saudi Arabia.

If, in the wake of the new nuclear deal, Iran has access to additional resources to fund these activities in the Red Sea, the spiking energy prices and snarled supply chains we are currently experiencing may pale in comparison to what is to come.

Sports

Watch: Mother Berates Male Who Identifies as a Mother at the NCAA Swim Championships

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(hxdbzxy/iStock/Getty Images)

At the just-finished NCAA swimming championships, Kellie Jay Keen, an English women’s-rights activist, had an altercation with the transgender activist Dawn (formerly Don) Ennis.

Keen is married and has four children. She traveled from England to attend a number of women’s-rights protests and events in the United States this month, including the NCAA swim championship in Atlanta where the biological male, Lia Thomas, was permitted to displace and dominate female athletes.

Ennis (a biological male) was married to a woman and fathered three children. At the age of 49, he split with his wife of 17 years and publicly declared himself to be a woman. Ennis later went back to identifying as a man, then switched again for the third time, and currently presents as a woman.

Keen, who sells T-shirts as part of her organization Standing for Women, was wearing a T-shirt made with the words “I’m not a vet but I know what a dog is,” a reference to her earlier viral altercation with the transgender activist, Schuyler Bailar.

Keen approached Ennis and introduced herself as the founder of Standing for Women. She asked whether Ennis used women’s spaces.

“I’m a woman,” Ennis said.

“Do you use women’s spaces, private spaces?” Keen asked again.

“I’m a woman,” Ennis said.

“Do you understand that you using women’s private spaces makes women and girls uncomfortable?”

“No one has ever objected to my presence,” Ennis said.

“That’s because they’d be intimidated by you,” Keen said.

“I’m sorry. Do you know who I am?”

“Yeah, I do.”

A man who was walking by stopped to watch the debate unfold. I later found out that he was the father of a female athlete who had been displaced in an event with the biological male, Lia Thomas.

Keen continued asking Ennis, citing women’s comfort and dignity, not to use female spaces. But Ennis, tiring of her objections, asked Beth Seltzer, the founder of a separate women’s-rights organization Save Women’s Sports, to “call off your dog.”

“I beg your pardon,” Keen said. “As a mother, I am asking you — do not use female spaces. It makes women and girls very uncomfortable.”

“As a mother —” Ennis said.

“How dare you,” Keen said. “You are not a mother.”

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Arizona Taxes and the IRS

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Timothy Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute writes about the failure of an effort to raise taxes in Arizona:

That effort first began in 2018, when public-school teachers across the state led an illegal strike that shut down most public schools for over a week. Falsely claiming that the state’s schools were money-starved, school employees refused show up for work and instead stormed the halls of the state capitol building under the “Red for Ed” banner, demanding that lawmakers spend more.

The legislature eventually caved, agreeing to increase teacher salaries by 20 percent. But that wasn’t enough for progressives, who followed up by launching a ballot initiative called “Invest in Ed,” which imposed a new 4.5 percent income tax (euphemistically called a “surcharge”) on people earning more than $250,000 per year. Although the initiative’s backers claimed the tax would not fall on small businesses, the opposite was true: Proposition 208 made no distinction between personal income and the income of small-business owners. As a result, the proposition effectively doubled taxes on owners of small businesses, the largest engine of job and wealth creation in the state. Raising taxes in the midst of a drastic economic downturn — the pandemic combined with escalating inflation — is a formula for catastrophe. Indeed, a Goldwater Institute analysis indicated that the initiative would eliminate 100,000 jobs and drive away so much business that it would result in an overall reduction in state revenue.

Daniel Pilla speculates on the health of the IRS:

There is little doubt that the Internal Revenue Service is groaning under the burden of administering the tax code, which now exceeds more than 4 million words (up from 1.4 million, in 2000). The question is whether the agency will collapse under the growing weight of its concomitant processing and administrative problems.

Let’s consider a few sobering examples of what the IRS is up against, as identified by the National Taxpayer Advocate, Erin Collins, in her 2021 Annual Report to Congress. . . .

World

How China’s Covid-19 Lockdowns Are Helping Lower Gas Prices a Bit

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Workers wearing protective suits arrive to contain a new outbreak of coronavirus disease in Hong Kong, China, March 15, 2021. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Gas prices are still really high compared to a year ago, but they’ve dropped a little bit in the past few days. According to the American Automobile Association, the current average price of a gallon of regular gasoline nationwide is $4.25 — down from $4.32 a week ago. AAA notes that gasoline demand dropped slightly in the past week, and the price of a barrel of oil declined a bit, closer to $95 per barrel from a peak of more than $100 per barrel.

Ironically, the pandemic-driven shutdown of certain cities in China is one of the factors pushing down the price, as producers expect lower demand: “After crude prices spiked in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, crude prices changed course in reaction to China announcing new lockdowns alongside rising COVID-19 infection rates. The price of oil has moved lower due to market concerns that crude oil demand will decline, as it did in 2020 when countries sought to curb COVID-19 transmission rates.”

The Omicron outbreak that China’s “Zero Covid” policy was supposed to stop continues to rage; the city of Shinzen has reopened, but Shanghai, a city with roughly 26 million people, is reporting a record number new cases . . . of about 750 new cases. The reliability of official Covid-19 statistics from China is highly debatable, but with Chinese state authorities who insisted they had few or no cases for the past two years now admitting they have hundreds of new cases, and China reporting Covid-19 deaths for the first time in a year . . . Omicron has clearly arrived in China and is working its way through the population. There’s not a ton of data on how the major Chinese vaccines work against Omicron, but the early evidence suggests that at least one of them isn’t effective at all:

An analysis of blood serum from 101 individuals from the Dominican Republic showed that omicron infection produced no neutralizing antibodies among those who received the standard two-shot regimen of the Sinovac vaccine. Antibody levels against omicron rose among those who had also received a booster shot of the mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech.

But when researchers compared these samples with blood serum samples stored at Yale, they found that even those who had received two Sinovac shots and a booster had antibody levels that were only about the same as those who’d received two shots of the mRNA vaccines but no booster shot. In other studies, the two-shot mRNA regimen without a booster has been shown to offer only limited protection against omicron.

Separately, researchers at the University of Hong Kong found that:

Most individuals after given two doses of the vaccine (either BioNtech or Coronavac) do not produce sufficient levels of serum antibodies against the new Omicron virus variant. . . . Only five out of 25 Biontech vaccine recipients had neutralizing ability against the Omicron variant virus, and the vaccine efficiency was significantly reduced to 20 – 24 percent. Compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain, the titer of neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron variant has decreased by 36 – 40 fold. None of the serum of the 25 Coronavac vaccine recipients contain sufficient antibody to neutralize the Omicron variant at the limit of 1 in 10 dilution.

Because the evidence suggests that China has a population vaccinated with a vaccine that doesn’t work against Omicron, then it’s no wonder that they’re shutting down cities. An unnamed former official with China’s National Health Commission is nervous, telling the Singapore-based Straits Times, “Given the size of China’s population, even the low fatality rates reported overseas could mean millions of deaths.”

Even if that dire scenario doesn’t come to pass, daily life in China is likely to be significantly disrupted in the coming weeks and months. That means fewer Chinese will be driving anywhere — and that means China will be using less gasoline, bringing prices down around the globe, at least a little bit.

Education

The Battle for Transparency in Public Universities

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The people who run state university systems are often intent on keeping some of the details from the prying eyes of the citizens, who might just decide that their tax dollars are being put to poor use.

In today’s Martin Center article, Ashlynn Warta looks at the UNC system and finds that it could be a lot more open with the public. She has six specific recommendations:

By implementing these six simple steps below, the UNC system as a whole would make great strides in being more open to the public. The six suggestions are:

  • Staff and board member email addresses should be easily accessible online.

  • There should be publicly available office or university mailing addresses for each board member.

  • All publicly held meetings including committee, subcommittee, and special meetings should be recorded and posted online.

  • Meeting minutes should be made available every two meetings.

  • Votes should be taken by roll-call (and provided online in the meeting minutes)

  • Meeting notices should be made available to the public at least one week in advance

Especially important, I think, is the recording and posting of all public meetings. It ought to be easy for concerned citizens to find out what is being discussed.

Warta’s conclusion is right on target: “The lack of transparency is concerning, and has continued to be so for the past several years despite urges for change. When a public institution such as this is resistant to change and openness, it creates friction and sends a message of distrust. The Board of Governors and the Boards of Trustees exist to serve the people of North Carolina. Why does it continue to be so difficult for citizens to stay in the know?”

Judges
Talking Judge Jackson

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I was on a panel discussion recently held by Curt Levey and the Committee for Justice on the Ketanji Brown Jackson nomination, alongside John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation and Clark Neily of the Cato Institute.

World

Spring Reading

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Spring is here, and with it the Spring 2022 issue of National Affairs. Among the pickings this time:

  • Chris Griswold on how to save kids from social media
  • Mark Warshawsky on how to reform Social Security
  • Brian Riedl on presidents as economic managers
  • Paul DeHart and Ronald Oakerson on state power over localities
  • Will Haun on originalism and the American tradition
  • John McGinnis and Michael Rappaport on compromise and the Constitution
  • Ronald Cass on expanding the lower federal courts
  • Howard Husock on how John Silber fought Howard Zinn
  • Peter Schuck on what arguments about systemic racism overlook
  • Andrew Koppelman on how Rawls got capitalism wrong
  • Elizabeth Corey on public writing and academic writing
  • Ralph Lerner on why Lincoln will always survive cancellation

Happy reading!

History

Happy 168th Birthday to the Free-Labor Republican Party

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Abraham Lincoln in 1865 (Alexander Gardner via Library of Congress)

This day in 1854, what became the Republican Party was founded in Ripon, Wisconsin. The process that led from the collapse of the Whig Party between 1850-54 and the rise of the Republicans as their replacement between 1854-60 was a complicated one, and there were times when it appeared that the anti-immigrant American Party (aka the “Know-Nothings”) might become the chief rival to the Democrats instead. The 1854 midterms led to the election of a House majority opposed to the Democrats and their agenda, but nowhere close to a single, unified party caucus. Indeed, as is often true of the beginnings of large things, the meeting in Ripon is only clear in retrospect as the birth of a new, national political party.

The chief driving force uniting the early Republicans was opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, introduced in January 1854 by Democratic senator Stephen Douglas and supported by Democratic president Franklin Pierce, who signed it into law in May of that year. Kansas-Nebraska was universally understood to be a plan to open territories north of the Missouri Compromise line to slavery. Coming as it did on the heels of the Fugitive Slave Act controversies of 1850-51, which showed federal power at work for slavery in the North, the prospect of slavery’s territorial expansion, and of the breaking of the fragile peace on the issue of the Compromise of 1850, proved a radicalizing event for a lot of northerners who had always disliked slavery but were not previously motivated to do much about it.

To this day, there are those who seek to deny the extent to which opposition to the expansion of slavery was central to early Republican ideology – what historian Eric Foner summarized as a party of “Free Soil, Free Labor, and Free Men.” During the 2020 presidential campaign, USAToday actually printed a “fact check” describing as “PARTLY FALSE” the claim that “The Republican Party started in Ripon, Wisconsin, ‘to counter the Democrats’ plans to expand slavery.'” The theory, given a veneer of academic credibility by left-leaning historians:

The divide at the time was not as much Democrats and what would soon be called Republicans, but simple geography — the North-South split that ultimately fueled the Civil War. “(The Republican Party) was a party founded by ex-Democrats and ex-Whigs who were opposed to slavery,” said Joshua Zeitz, an author who has taught history and politics at Cambridge, Harvard and Princeton universities. “A whole bunch of northern Democrats opposed (the Kansas-Nebraska Act), and that’s why they left the party.” James Thurber, a government professor at American University, agreed. “It is not accurate nor fair to describe that as the ‘Democrats’ plan,’” he said in an email. [Professor Charles] Cohen said the majority of the Democratic Party at the time did support expanding slavery, but they “were not united in support of slavery, as the (post’s) wording suggests.”…

The majority of Democrats did indeed support an expansion of slavery, but not all. Northern Democrats opposed that expansion, some of whom abandoned the party to help create the Republican Party. In other words, the split was more geographic than partisan.

What blinkered, partisan hogwash. Yes, the country’s divide was deeply regional – that’s why the Whigs were breaking apart, as southern Whigs found their pro-slavery sympathies to be more important than the things they shared in common with their own party. Yes, the Democrats had internal divisions of their own. But it is nonsense to ignore the partisan realities that were plain to everyone in 1854. “Northern Democrats opposed that expansion?” The bill was supported and actively dragged into passage by the presidential administration of Franklin Pierce, a New Hampshire Democrat. It was authored by Douglas, an Illinois Democrat. Its policies were advanced by the next president, James Buchanan, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

Yes, Southern Whigs such as Alexander Stephens were crucial to managing the passage of Kansas-Nebraska…but the partisan result was that Northern Whigs abandoned the party in disgust (Abe Lincoln was one of those) and joined the Republicans, while Stephens and his fellow pro-Kansas-Nebraska southern Whigs soon joined the Democrats. Everybody saw the partisan writing on the wall: henceforth, the Democrats would be the party of expanding slavery, and if you were against that, you needed a new organization dedicated to opposing it.

Let’s quote here the second volume of Peter Wallner’s masterful and unwarrantedly sympathetic biography of Pierce on the final vote by which the Kansas-Nebraska bill passed the House, 113-100:

It took a southern Whig [Stephens] to break the impasse…But the victory was the result of intense effort by Douglas, [John] Breckenridge [the Democrats’ 1856 nominee for vice president], [Pierce’s secretary of war Jefferson] Davis, and Pierce to use all the power of incumbency to keep the Democratic Party together. In the end, all but two of fifty-nine southern Democrats voted for the bill, while forty-four of eighty-six northern Democrats voted with the administration and against their constituents, in support of the bill. In light of the agitation the bill created in the North, it was a remarkable display of party discipline. It was the Whig party that had failed to hold together. Not one northern Whig had voted for the bill, while twelve of nineteen southern Whigs endorsed it.

The voters noticed, and knew which party to blame. Only seven of the forty-four northern Democrats to vote for the bill were re-elected in 1854. Democrats lost sixty-six of their ninety-one northern congressional seats. Kansas-Nebraska killed the party in large sections of the North.

Only a fool would claim that Republicans have stayed united and unchanged on every issue since 1854, but as I have detailed previously, the fundamental free-labor ideology at the core of the early Republican party has remained remarkably durable as the backbone of the party ever since, and that is still true in 2022. So, for everyone across this land who wants the chance to work, respects the dignity of labor, and wishes to keep what they earn and have the opportunity to better themselves by their own efforts: happy birthday to the Republican party.

Law & the Courts

The Right Reason to Oppose Judge Jackson

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Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Tom Williams/Pool via Reuters)

As I’ve separately contended, some of the arguments being made against President Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson are unworthy. Nevertheless, though it seems certain that she will be confirmed, her progressive judicial philosophy is a meritorious basis to vote against her, for the reasons outlined by Ed Whelan last week.

I could not disagree more with the assertion of a moderate Republican group of Judge Jackson’s supporters that “the question for the Senators is not whether this is a nomination that they would make, but whether the President has put forward a nominee well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.” (See the letter in Ed’s post, linked above.)

That is more analogous to the question for senators with regard to nominees the president puts forward for executive-branch positions. While such positions involve critical duties, the executive appointee’s task is to carry out the elected president’s policies; thus, the principal confirmation issue is whether the nominee has the intellect, competence, and character that befits the position of trust, not whether we agree with the nominee’s politics or would ourselves have chosen the nominee.

Lifetime judicial appointments are very different, and those to Supreme Court seats are obviously significant — I hesitate to say “the most” significant because I believe a bad district judge, who is a court of one, can do more damage than a bad Supreme Court justice, who deals with many fewer cases and whose meanderings will rarely be decisive.

The most salient qualification for an American judicial appointment is commitment to applying the law consistent with what it was understood to mean when adopted. A judge who cannot be relied on to do that usurps powers that belong to the political branches, the states, or the people. Regardless of how intelligent, competent, and scrupulous the nominee may be, that is not tolerable in a judge. The willingness of Republicans to tolerate it is a consequential dysfunction in our system.

I thus found myself chuckling at the moderate Republicans’ “hope that, for a change, Judge Jackson’s confirmation process can be a moment of consensus around a truly excellent person who will add diversity and so much more to the Court.” The consensus that we should demand is that Judge Jackson be treated with the respect and admiration she deserves, despite philosophical disagreements. The norm should be that the confirmation process is a model of civil debate and exploration regarding those disagreements, rather than the character assassination to which Democrats habitually subject Republican nominees.

Unless and until (a) Democrats end that destructive practice and (b) we arrive at a broad bipartisan agreement about the proper role of judges, it is not possible to have a consensus that intelligent, competent people of truly excellent character should be confirmed. Such a consensus would omit consideration of the most vital question.

Sports

‘That’s Not a Woman’: Poolside Debate at the NCAA Swim Championships

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In case you missed it, at the NCAA swimming championships on Thursday, the English women’s-rights activist Kellie Jay Keen got into a poolside argument with Schuyler Bailar, a Harvard alumnus and the first transgender-identifying (biologically female) NCAA Division I swimmer to compete on any team.

I captured the altercation on camera and it has since gone viral.

Later, I saw Keen wearing a T-shirt that read, “I’m not a vet but I know what a dog is.”

Sports

Virginia Tech Swimmer Criticizes the NCAA’s ‘Disrespectful’ Swim Policy

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Virginia Tech swimmer Reka Gyorgy has gone on the record, writing an open letter to the NCAA saying that she lost her spot in the finals because of their “decision to let someone who is not a biological female to compete.” Gyorgy said the policy “doesn’t promote our sport in a good way” and is “disrespectful against the biologically female swimmers.” She wrote:

This week has been more about reporters, media and division in our sport than things like two women going under 21 seconds in the 50 freestyle, 3 women going under 50 seconds in the 100 butterfly and the first woman IN HISTORY to go under 48 seconds in the 100 backstroke.

Gyorgy’s decision to go public came after her friend, another Virginia Tech swimmer, told Rapid Fire Podcast that her friend and teammate was “very emotional” to have come in 17th in the 500-yard freestyle, and so just missing a spot in the finals. (Though her friend didn’t name her, from the interview identifying her wasn’t difficult.)

The athletes and parents I spoke to felt too intimidated to go on the record. We need more brave women like the Virginia Tech swimmers to call out this madness for what it is.

World

Merkel’s Army

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Then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts at the final election rally in Munich, Germany, September 22, 2017. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

Even as his country remains dangerously dependent on Russian oil and, even more so, natural gas (a vulnerability that is not going away any time soon), Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has signaled his intention to take a tougher line than Angela Merkel toward Moscow, not least with plans to substantially boost defense expenditures and by freezing the Nord Stream 2 application process.

Nevertheless, just as Scholz has, for now, to live with Merkel’s disastrous energy legacy, so he has to work with the military structures that she left behind.

The Daily Telegraph:

Germany has failed to deliver its historic pledge to provide arms to Ukraine, ministers have said, amid reports that weapons have been held up by red tape and are too old to be used.

Berlin has supplied just one-fifth of the missiles it promised in response to the Russian invasion, with the lack of weapons causing increasing frustration inside Ukraine…

Oleksiy Reznikov, the Ukrainian defence minister, told Paul Grob, the UWC [Ukrainian World Congress] president, on Saturday that most of the lethal aid had failed to arrive as it was “caught up in bureaucracy”.

…It comes as Berlin failed to deny German press reports that it had delivered just 500 Cold War-era Strela anti-aircraft missiles, despite having promised 2,700.

Christine Lambrecht, the defence minister, said at the weekend that the German army’s reserves of weaponry “have been exhausted”, and more would have to be sought from manufacturers.

Meanwhile, Die Welt has reported that many of the rockets are no longer usable because they have lain in storage for so long.

The Spectator:

[U]nderfunding [has] remained a structural problem that hindered efforts at strategic reorientation for years. Important military capabilities had either been cut completely, such as with the Navy’s Tornado fighter bombers, or made more or less useless. By 2010, for example, the Bundeswehr leadership had retired both the Roland and Gepard air defence systems to save money. The strategic assumption was that the Bundeswehr would only operate where there was western air superiority – leaving it now basically defenceless against the threat of armed drones.

Stocks of ammunitions had run so low by 2019 that the Bundeswehr would run out of bullets after two to three days of serious fighting. Shortages of spare parts and long maintenance queues meant that the readiness level of many weapon systems was appallingly low. Helicopters and planes were grounded, new warships and submarines were long delayed or laid up in dock, and new land systems like the Puma infantry fighting vehicle were not delivered combat-ready and had to be costly retrofitted to be made available for Nato forces.

Bundeswehr soldiers continue to lack modern radios, night-vision equipment, body armour, radio-integrated helmets, combat boots and even thermal underwear and water-proof clothing. Just the other day Bundeswehr soldiers stationed in Lithuania as part of Nato’s enhanced forward presence reported a lack of winter jackets…

A quick look at Lithuania’s location and the calendar would have revealed that that was going to matter.

I’m old enough to remember when Angela Merkel, chancellor for much of the time when this deterioration was allowed to occur, was often described (even if she did not like the term) as the leader of the free world.

U.S.

The United States of Tattoos, Etc.

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Tattoo artist “JuJu” Becker works to apply a tattoo to the forearm of National Guardsman Brian Wood at the Crescent City Tattoo Parlor in the Garden District of New Orleans, La., October 18, 2005. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)

I have a piece on the homepage today titled “Changing, and Staying the Same.” What gives? A well-known line from The Leopard goes, “If we want everything to stay the same, everything needs to change.” The Leopard is a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa written in the mid 1950s. It has now been turned into an American opera. So has The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, the novel by Giorgio Bassani, published a few years after The Leopard. I write about these things in my article.

All right, let’s have some mail — responding to my “Snapshots of America,” a travelogue of sorts, published on Friday. Let me quote a bit from that column, or travelogue, or whatever it was:

Tucson. Is there a city in the United States with a stranger pronunciation, in light of the spelling? What do you tell a foreigner? The “c” is silent? I suppose you do.

I think I can remember when I said “Tuckson,” as a kid. It was probably watching the NCAA basketball tournament, with the University of Arizona, that set me straight.

A reader of ours — a Polish American — writes,

I, too, pronounced it “Tuckson” till I learned better. Did you know there is a city in Poland whose name is spelled “Łańcut” and is pronounced “WINE-sooth”? I get that “Przemyśl” should, of course, be pronounced “Pshemish,” but the “Łańcut” thing is just weird! Makes me wonder whether my ancestors and forebears wrote their dictionaries and developed their tongues while consuming copious amounts of vodka!

In my piece, I wrote,

Ladies and gentlemen, the whole country is tattooed. I mean, the whole frickin’ country — from San Diego to Bangor, from Seattle to Key West. Every single person is tattooed to the gills. I hate it. None of my business, but I hate it. Self-vandalism, in my (irrelevant) opinion.

A reader writes,

I got over any inclination toward tattoos in Hayward, Calif., in 2000. Another agent and I were at lunch in something like a Denny’s. There were two post–middle-aged women a couple of booths down who got up to leave. They were dressed in tank tops and shorts (maybe ill-advisedly). One of them had a tattoo of some sort on her upper arm — unrecognizable. I said to my lunch companion, “That’s why you don’t get tattooed: Someday, you’ll be that age and no one will be able to tell what it is.”

In that piece, I had a few notes about Chelsea, Somerville, Medford — burgs outside Boston. A reader writes,

I was born in Somerville in the shadow of Tufts 80-plus years ago. Back then, Somerville was occasionally referred to as “Slumerville”: It was a working-class mostly Irish/Italian city; one of the most densely populated cities in the United States (104,000 in four square miles). Growing up there, I don’t remember ever seeing a black or Hispanic person. It was not “cool” to be LGBTQ in Somerville when I lived there. Now Somerville is as diverse as any city in the U.S. and 1,000-sq.-ft. condos sell for over $1 million. Somerville is not as lefty as Cambridge but close.

Medford was more Italian and a bit more upscale and hasn’t changed as much as Somerville. We called it “Medfed.”

Chelsea was originally a Jewish enclave. My dad (born in Somerville) as a kid went to Chelsea every Saturday morning to light the stoves of Jewish folks who for religious reasons were forbidden to light a fire. He was paid 25 cents per family. Chelsea is now home to many Hispanics and lots of upscale millennials. Tempus fugit.

My formerly totally Irish/Italian Catholic parish church and school (St. Clement’s) on the Medford/Somerville line is now a Vietnamese Catholic church. Thanks for the memories.

And thank you, one and all.

Trade

The Inevitability of Special Interests in Government Intervention

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Container ships wait off the coast of the congested Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., October 1, 2021. (Alan Devall/Reuters)

On Wednesday, Oren Cass responded to my response to his American Compass essay on globalization and free trade. In his American Compass essay, Cass argued for a “bounded market” where “economic analysis and legal treatment of activity depends on whether it occurs within the boundary, across it, or beyond it.” In my response, I argued that we already have a bounded market, given that we have basic customs enforcement plus a whole host of protectionist measures, and that when government sets boundaries in the market, it will inevitably be subject to special-interest capture.

Cass was unimpressed. In response to the question, “What to do?” Cass wrote:

Pino has no idea. In his defense, neither do most people who have spent recent decades reciting the conservative priesthood’s various incantations, only to discover them irrelevant to the real world and its problems. Pino has the compulsory reference to the number of chapters and pages in a particular government regulation and the head-scratching example of different regulatory treatment for two similar products. He demonstrates mastery of the public-choice lament that “elected politicians chasing votes and campaign donations are going to listen to” interest groups in formulating public policy. He concludes with the suggestion to “mak[e] the government a little less powerful.”

In one sense, Cass is right: I have no idea how best to coordinate and organize the purchasing decisions of 330 million people in a way that will optimize national well-being. That belief is not primarily based on faith but on what we know about the nature of government intervention and the incentives policy-makers face.

Cass seems to have faith in the government’s ability to generate better outcomes, though. He argues for “clear, simple, universally applicable rules that set the parameters within which free-market competition can flourish — for instance, a global tariff, a market-access charge, or tradeable import credits.”

Cass gives a backhanded compliment to my “mastery of the public-choice lament,” but he would do well to take it more seriously when proposing government intervention. Universally applicable rules for trade may sound good in theory, but they won’t stay that way in practice.

Let’s take Cass’s suggestion for a global tariff, and let’s set it at 20 percent for all imports. (The idea of this policy is to reduce the trade deficit.)

Among the first groups to show up to protest this will be automakers. Ford and GM both rely on parts from manufacturing facilities right across the border from Detroit in Ontario. (For all intents and purposes, Detroit and Windsor, Ontario function as one economic zone despite being in two different countries, with thousands of people commuting in both directions every day.) We saw how important these connections were when the Ambassador Bridge was blocked for almost a week by protesters, leading to shifts being canceled for auto workers in several facilities on both sides of the border.

If the general tariff Cass envisions were on the table, Ford and GM would come to the government and say, “Look, we get that you want to have a global tariff — and we love that it would apply to foreign cars — but Detroit and Windsor need each other, and it’s not like we’re importing from some far-off place like China, so could we please have an exemption?” They’d explain that without the exemption, they’d have to lay off workers, and their car production numbers would be thrown off for years.

At this point, the government would likely give in and grant an exemption because there are few things less popular than autoworker layoffs. But let’s say the government was feeling tough, and it said, “Sorry, you should have been making the parts in America all along!”

Ford and GM would come back and say, “We really will have to lay people off. If you’re dead-set on this global tariff, you’re going to need to compensate us. We’ll need some tax breaks and some subsidies, and we’ll build a new facility in Michigan, but we’ll at least need an exemption for a few years while we move production from Windsor.”

The government takes the deal. Hooray! The policy moved jobs to the United States.

But it did so by creating more corporate welfare and giving the government new strings to pull to influence the automakers’ behavior. Imagine a future presidential administration making those tax credits and subsidies conditional on accepting some political agenda (the connection between cars and climate change, for example, is not hard to make). The flip-side to “the power to tax is the power to destroy” is “the power to subsidize is the power to control.”

More crucially, granting the exemption, even though limited, would mean lobbyists would smell blood in the water. Every other industry would send its men to Washington, saying, “Hey, while you’re granting exemptions . . .

  • “. . . Western New York and the Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario have similarly integrated economies as Detroit and Windsor, so companies that operate on both sides of the border there should have similar exemptions.”
  • “. . . many American oil refineries are specially designed to process particular types of foreign oil, so crude-oil imports should be exempt from the tariff to avoid huge job losses in the American refining industry.”
  • “. . . there’s only one mine for platinum-group metals (PGM) in the United States, and we wouldn’t want that one company to be able to hold American car and electronics production hostage by being the only PGM company in the world not subject to the 20 percent tariff, so an exemption would be good there, too.”

And those are only the somewhat reasonable demands, before we get to the sugar-as-a-national-security-threat style of arguments that, however ridiculous they may be, still have significant purchase among American politicians.

The way to avoid this compounding nonsense is to not go down the path of trying to optimize economy-wide outcomes through government intervention to begin with. Such actions inevitably result in labyrinthine schemes that grant privileges to certain producers over others.

The reason to avoid this trap is not some utopian sense of global fairness. If all the costs to such intervention were borne by foreigners, there might be a case for taking them. But the costs of government-granted privileges for corporations are ultimately borne by American consumers, through higher prices, fewer options, and yes, less freedom to spend their hard-earned money as they see fit. If we want to see a flourishing American economy, a goal Cass and I share, we should take pride in our place as a hub in the global marketplace and remove the government regulations and taxes that unreasonably hold our people back from participating in it.

As to whether that’s a conservative goal, I’ll take my cue from Edmund Burke, who wrote in a letter that the goal of his extensive free-trade advocacy in Great Britain was “to fix the principle of a free trade in all the ports of these Islands, as founded in justice, and beneficial to the whole; but principally to this, the seat of the supreme power.”

World

Woodrow Wilson Betrayed the Ukrainians, Too

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As if there weren’t enough reasons for all decent people to loathe Woodrow Wilson, Tevi Troy reminds us that Wilson threw Ukraine under the bus at the Versailles peace table, and did so as part of a cynical realpolitik calculation that failed completely:

Another cynical Ukrainian-related ploy took place in the administration of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson spoke in high-minded idealistic terms about “self-determination” of the ethnic peoples of Europe, a policy popular with the millions of Eastern European immigrants who had migrated to America. Wilson’s self-determination policy did not, however, extend to Ukraine, because he agreed with the British and the French that maintaining Ukraine as part of a Russian empire would be a stumbling block for the Bolshevik revolution. Wilson’s ally in this misguided effort, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, dismissed the idea of Ukrainian independence by saying that he had only once seen a Ukrainian, “and I am not sure that I want to see any more.” This was an early example of the selective acknowledgment of national minorities’ right to self-rule. Wilson helped squelch an early opportunity for Ukrainian independence, with significant and tragic costs for the Ukrainian people. Soviet leader Josef Stalin initiated the Ukrainian famine, which killed over 3 million Ukrainians in the early 1930s.

Banking & Finance

Fossil Fuels, HSBC, and China

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A branch of HSBC bank is seen in central London, August 3, 2009 (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

Bloomberg:

HSBC Holdings Plc promised to “phase down” its financing of the fossil fuel industry, sending a warning to oil and gas clients as the bank works toward its target of net-zero emissions.

The step is in line with “what is required to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” HSBC said on Wednesday.

Like most of its top-tier banking peers, HSBC is looking for ways to cut emissions without losing business. For now, it remains one of the major funders of big oil and gas. HSBC helped fossil-fuel companies raise about $52 billion from selling bonds since the Paris climate agreement was announced at the end of 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Among European banks, only Barclays assisted in underwriting more debt for the oil, gas and coal industries.

HSBC said it will continue to work with energy sector clients “who take an active role in the energy transition and who apply good industry practices around environmental, social, and governance issues.”

Ah, ESG.

Meanwhile, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China has a few questions:

A bipartisan group of members of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) today released a letter to HSBC, a British multinational investment bank and financial services company, inquiring specifically about the freezing of accounts of Hong Kong media and civil society groups and restrictions placed on the accounts of American citizens at HSBC branches located in the United States.

The Commissioners also asked HSBC whether its business practices contribute to the “inability of the people of Hong Kong (a) to enjoy freedom of assembly, speech, press, or independent rule of law; or (b) to participate in democratic outcomes,” as stipulated under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act of 2020 (Public Law No. 116-149). Under this legislation, financial and other sanctions can be levied on any individual or entity complicit in undermining human rights and democracy in Hong Kong…

Oh, yes, there’s this via the Independent (January):

HSBC bank holds more than £2 million in shares for a subsidiary of a Chinese paramilitary company that has been accused of human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims, it has been revealed.

The UK’s biggest bank bought £2.2 million worth of shares for Xinjiang Tianye, a chemicals and plastics company, for an anonymous client last year while continuing to act as a custodian meaning it pockets money while holding the shares, the Sunday Times reported.

And this via CNN (January):

Late last month, HSBC received approval from Chinese regulators to take full control of its life insurance joint venture, which was created in 2009 in equal partnership with a Chinese company under rules that were rolled back in 2020. The bank said the move underscored its “commitment to expanding business in China.”

HSBC has, of course, a long history in China, and China (including Hong Kong) is an extremely important part of its business. That’s the firm’s choice to make, but it should not insult the rest of us with “socially responsible” investment talk while either investing directly, or encouraging investment, in a state now operating on, broadly speaking, fascist lines.

ESG. China. Choose one.

The NCAA’s Three-Day Swim Farce Is Over, but the Controversy Is Not

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UPenn transgender swimmer Lia Thomas walks out before the 200 free at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga., March 2022. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Atlanta — UPenn swimmer and biological male Lia Thomas finished eighth at the women’s NCAA 100-yard freestyle final tonight, with a time of 48.18 seconds. The winner was UVA’s Gretchen Walsh, at 46.05 seconds. And so concludes the NCAA’s sexist three-day swim farce.

On Thursday, Thomas was awarded the women’s 500-yard freestyle championship. On Friday, Thomas took to the podium again for a joint fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle.

The New York Times and other outlets have framed Thomas’s 500-yard victory as the story of “the first openly transgender woman to win a N.C.A.A. swimming championship.” Really, the story here isn’t

Economics

An Economically Literate Member of Congress Talks about Inflation with Two Economists

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(Darren415/iStock/Getty Images)

Inflation is on almost everyone’s mind these days. Consumers are upset because it is gobbling up their budgets, while “progressives” are upset because they fear a backlash if people conclude that profligate federal spending has something to do with the rise in prices.

Recently, Representative Lisa McClain of Michigan spoke with economists Dale Matcheck and Tim Nash about inflation, its causes, and cures. You can read their discussion in this piece published by the American Institute for Economic Research.

President Biden can sneer that “Milton Friedman isn’t in control any more,” but that buffoonery can’t change the laws of economics. As Nash points out, “If Dr. Friedman were alive, he’d blame our current inflation on the US Federal Reserve Bank’s excessive and recent expansionary monetary policy over the last few years. I believe Friedman’s cure for our current inflation rests with the Fed’s ability to control and reverse its recent expansionary monetary policy. This will need to happen soon, as annualized US inflation at the end of December 2021 measured by the CPI was 7 percent, measured by the Producer Price Index or PPI was 9.7 percent, and measured by import prices was 10.4 percent. These are all at or near multi-decade highs.”

Moreover, it is true, as Matcheck quotes Friedman, that “inflation is taxation without legislation.” Consumers are robbed of their purchasing power by the ability of Congress (in contravention of the Constitution) to spend money covertly, through the machinations of the Federal Reserve.

What to do? Nash suggests, “Let the market determine interest rates and have the Fed concentrate on shrinking its balance sheet.” Exactly. The Fed’s low-interest-rate policy has caused terrible economic distortions and facilitated the prodigious increase in federal spending over the last decade. We are much worse off because of that.

Read the whole thing.

National Security & Defense

A Response to Mr. Christopher Corrow, Headquarters Marine Corps

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Marines from Lima Company, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, return fire during a shootout with Taliban fighters in Karez-e-Sayyidi on the outskirts of Marjah District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, May 15, 2010. (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)

In response to The Russian Losses in Ukraine Validate the Marine Corps’ Force Design

Concerning my critique of the Marine force structure design for 2030, I’d like to offer five comments in response to Christopher Corrow, Headquarters Marine Corps.

Mr. Christopher Corrow: “Precision-strike weapons means the Navy will not have the same dominant access at sea and in the air enjoyed for the past 30 years.”

Bing West Comment 1: The argument is that precision weapons will sink Navy ships. Marines land from those ships. So the Marines will be sunk at sea along with the Navy. 

The Navy must design the strategy and structure to survive, with the Marines adapting their structure accordingly, not launching out on their own. Marine Force Design 2030 never went through the Marine development process for transposing an idea into a deployed product.

Mr. Christopher Corrow: “Force Design 2030 is as relevant in the South China Sea as it is in the Taiwan Strait; the East China Sea; the Strait of Hormuz; or the Black, Baltic and Mediterranean Seas.”

Bing West Comment 2: Force Design 2030 is designed to land very small groups of Marines armed with a few anti-ship missiles on uninhabited islands. All the islands in the Taiwan Strait, East China Sea, Strait of Hormuz, and the Black, Baltic, and Mediterranean Seas are heavily inhabited. Prior to war breaking out, the U.S. needs permission from the host nation to install weapons and troops. The host nation, about to become a belligerent, will demand a heck of a lot larger force than a few Marines with a few missiles.

Mr. Christopher Corrow: “Stand-In Forces provide reconnaissance and targeting data.”

Bing West Comment 3: The Stand-In Force, if it makes it ashore, is still out in the ocean. It is unlikely to acquire data not already reported by submarines, SEAL units, intel intercepts, and hundreds of satellites.

Mr. Christopher Corrow: “Divesting of tanks, cannon artillery, and air does not reduce combined-arms capability as much as it updates it.”

Bing West Comment 4: Basic arithmetic shows Marine capability has diminished. The Marines have significantly fewer infantry battalions, artillery battalions, and air. The Marines now have much less of the sustained close-in firepower that is required in any intense battle. Our four-star combatant commanders in Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific were not consulted. In a crisis, those commanders will receive Marine forces with reduced capabilities. Force Design 2030 is the Marine Edsel. Nice slogan, poor machine.

Mr. Christopher Corrow: “The Commandant believes the tank is operationally unsuitable for our highest-priority challenges. . . . In Ukraine, Russian armor has suffered a great many casualties.”

Bing West Comment 5: Russia is not a relevant example because their army is inept across the board. It is a truism that all vehicles, not just tanks, are vulnerable. No army, however, can operate without vehicles, including the Marine Corps. The Marines can’t fight in an urban setting without tanks. The U.S. Army has the expertise and is developing a new tank. Marines should pitch in 10 percent of the money and get the opportunity to make changes on the margin.

Economics

What if We Printed More Money to Fight Inflation But Don’t Call It Money?

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Printing more money but calling it gift cards instead of cash appears to be the depth of economic thinking from Team Biden these days:

The White House this week considered having the IRS send gas cards to Americans — a short-lived idea that some key House Democrats vehemently opposed. A House Democratic counsel on Wednesday laid out for the White House a list of reasons why gas cards would be a bad idea, including:

  • It would be expensive and poorly targeted.

  • It could worsen inflation and wouldn’t do much to lower costs.

  • Delivering the cards would be a slow process that could bog down the IRS in the middle of the filing season, potentially delaying people’s tax returns.

Lest you be impressed that House Democrats sank this nonsense, the report from Sophie Cai of Axios goes on to note that “other ideas being discussed include stimulus checks” and “a federal rebate whenever gas prices get above $4 per gallon.” So, the choices are (1) print more cash in rebates, (2) print more checks, or (3) print more debit cards. Truly, we are governed by the best people.

Politics & Policy

The Benefits of Periodic Exodus

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Reid Wilson of The Hill reports that a “Mass leadership exit hits nation’s state legislatures”:

Nearly a third of the top leaders in the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers will quit their posts this year, signaling a wave of turnover that will hand power to a new generation. At least 30 state House Speakers, Senate presidents and majority leaders have either resigned or said they will retire at the end of their current terms, according to a tracker maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

This is good news, and it undoubtedly is accelerated by the decennial redistricting of state legislatures. We can debate the pros and cons of term limits and turnover in Congress; the complexity of the federal government and the need for experience dealing with foreign policy and national security are, at least, countervailing arguments against them. But our nation was designed to be governed by its citizens, not by a permanent ruling class, much less by the sort of four-decade one-man fiefdom that only recently ended in Illinois. States should be run by citizen-legislators. And the more one argues for the necessity of professionals running the federal government, the more one makes the case for most power over the daily lives of Americans remaining with citizen-run state governments.

Sports

Crowd Boos and Teammates Ignore Lia Thomas’s NCAA Victory

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Lia Thomas prepares for the 200 free at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Atlanta, Ga. — Lia Thomas, the transgender-identifying male swimmer competing in the NCAA women’s swim championships, tied fifth on Friday with Riley Gaines of the University of Kentucky in the women’s 200-yard freestyle. Taylor Ruck, a Stanford junior, came in first at 1:41.12.

During the introductions for the 200-yard swim, each female athlete was greeted with unanimous cheers and applause. But when Lia Thomas’s name was announced, boos could be heard as well.

On Thursday, Thomas was awarded the 500-yard freestyle championship, with a finishing time of 4:34.99. When Ruck won the 200-yard freestyle, her teammates crowded around her and the crowd cheered.

However, when Thomas finished first in the 500-yard freestyle, the crowd’s reaction was more split, and Thomas’s teammates were noticeably less enthusiastic. Thomas walked alone to the camera crew, as female swimmers chose to hug each other instead.

As Thomas gave an interview to ESPN, one women’s-rights protestor shouted, “He’s a man!”

Culture

21 Things That Caught My Eye: Soviet Flashbacks, Surrogacy in Ukraine, & More

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A woman reacts near a block of apartments destroyed in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 17, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

1.

2. Time: A Ukrainian Photographer Documents the Invasion of His Country 

Pacing the ward outside the child’s room, Dondyuk found the head physician and asked for permission to photograph the boy. “I told him that the Russian people need to see this,” Dondyuk recalls. “When we show them the children killed by Russian bombs, they will imagine their own children. Our children are the same. Our cities look the same. They will see themselves in us. They will feel it.” The doctors relented, and that night Dondyuk took a photo of the boy, whose name, reporters later learned, was Semyon. He was still in critical condition at the time. He died soon after.

3. Nonstop bombing, exploding buildings: Priest describes Mariupol attacks

4. AP News: ‘Why? Why? Why?’ Ukraine’s Mariupol descends into despair

There’s 18-month-old Kirill, whose shrapnel wound to the head proved too much for his little toddler’s body. There’s 16-year-old Iliya, whose legs were blown up in an explosion during a soccer game at a school field. There’s the girl no older than 6 who wore the pajamas with cartoon unicorns, among the first of Mariupol’s children to die from a Russian shell.

They are stacked together with dozens of others in this mass grave on the outskirts of the city. A man covered in a bright blue tarp, weighed down by stones at the crumbling curb. A woman wrapped in a red and gold bedsheet, her legs neatly bound at the ankles with a scrap of white fabric. Workers toss the bodies in as fast as they can, because the less time they spend in the open, the better their own chances of survival.

“The only thing (I want) is for this to be finished,” raged worker Volodymyr Bykovskyi, pulling crinkling black body bags from a truck. “Damn them all, those people who started this!”

5.

6. George Weigel: Tyrants Like Putin Can’t Tolerate Truth

Both then and now, Soviet-style repression fails to silence sincerity.

7.

8. Francis X. Rocca: ‘Russian World’ Is the Civil Religion Behind Putin’s War

According to Kristina Stoeckl, a professor of sociology at the University of Innsbruck, the war undermines Mr. Putin’s campaign for traditional values, which had drawn the support and admiration of some conservative Christians in the West.

Or as Olivier Roy, a French political scientist, put it in a recent interview: “Putin sacrificed all the soft power he had acquired over the last 20 years, which allowed him to be a global player, for a purely territorial vision of Russian power.”

9.  Debra J. Saunders: Surrogate Babies of Ukraine Treated Like a Commodity

Continue reading “21 Things That Caught My Eye: Soviet Flashbacks, Surrogacy in Ukraine, & More”

Culture

May I Be So Bold As to Ask You – Even Beg You – for a Birthday Present?

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Some of the Sisters of Life at a profession anniversary celebration for some of the Sisters. (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

Tuesday (March 22) is my birthday. And a few years ago, I noticed that Facebook encourages birthday fundraisers. So, I did one for the Sisters of Life. But the next year I realized I don’t need a middleman, and we raised a few thousand dollars for the Sisters. This year, I’d like to show them we really love them. Here’s the thing: The Sisters of Life, as you may know, are women religious who are dedicated to ending abortion in America. They walk with moms. They invite pregnant women into their homes. They love women back to life and are a virtual support emotionally, materially, and of course spiritually to women and their children and families. They also more generally and individually show people they are loved. They try to give people a little glimpse into the love God has for them. Their lives can be heart-wrenching, too, because not all the babies are born. They also work with women in their healing from abortions, sometimes decades later. If you are pro-life, you should be supporting the Sisters of Life. If you simply want to know women have options, you should be supporting the Sisters of Life.

It will be a good birthday for me if the Sisters of Life are financially loved on during these days. Thank you for considering. God has called them to be mothers to many. Their “yes” to him has made them available to nourish life.

Use this link and I’ll be able to report back how we did.

Last year we made $8,480. This year, the Sisters turn 30 and I have the crazy wish we could raise $30,000. They are at a new point in the life of the community. Roe v. Wade may be overturned by the Supreme Court, and New York, where they were founded, will be one of the abortion destinations for states where the unborn are protected. There are about 120 Sisters in full profession or formation currently. They are wanted all around the country and even the world (they come from the same). They need more places to house women and babies. They need more space to do their mission work. That requires the generosity of friends.

Here they are jamming (along with the Hillbilly Thomists) with an audience of moms and babies and children and local friends around Christmastime:

One of the Sisters was previously in the Navy.

Here’s some more inspirational music:

I just started us out with donation of $300 in gratitude for life and for them. I’ll probably give more on my actual birthday Tuesday. This is my only Dobbs-year birthday, after all. I need to make it count for a culture of life in thanksgiving and preparation for what may be to come.

We all need to be stepping up to the plate more for a culture of life to have a shot. Giving to the Sisters is one way.

Again, here is the link. Thank you!

 

Culture

A Word (or More) about the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in NYC

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Pope Francis is seen outside the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. (Remo Casilli/Reuters)

As you may have seen, the National Review Institute is cosponsoring two events at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in lower Manhattan this upcoming week. We cosponsored a number of virtual events there during the pandemic, and I hosted a few additional events there for them. The idea of a center for thought and culture through a Catholic lens in a, frankly, very dark part of town (in many ways), is a wonderful one. Especially if its source is Christ and is life-giving and tells the truth. That’s certainly the goal with these two events. The first, on Tuesday night, is Francis in Iraq, a documentary on the pope’s visit to Iraq last year and its impact on the persecuted Christian minority there. The film is inspiring, seen through the lens of the people who have stayed in the wake of genocide.

The second event is a conversation with Ross Douthat about his book, The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery. It’s a moving read about his battle with Lyme disease and family life.

I’m a little bummed they are back to back, because I know a lot of people can’t make two nights in a row work out, but we plan to be conscious of your time.

And I make a plea with you. These two nights are substantive and human and powerful on the merits. But another thing, in case this is something that concerns you, too. The Sheen Center is next door to an abortion clinic. My prayer is that beautiful things can happen there — most especially prayer — to have that block counter the death with grace. My heart was touched when I attended an Irish concert at the Sheen Center earlier this week and a woman who listens to me on weekdays on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM (I have a two-minute weekday feature that airs throughout the day) told me the first thing she did when she parked her car was pray in front of Planned Parenthood because she had heard me talking about doing the same. If you are in the New York area and it makes a difference to you: Consider coming to one of these events to support something good happening on that block to counter the misery on the other side.

And before you leave the Sheen Center, stop in the chapel and pray to God for miracles on that block.

The tickets aren’t much, and they help keep the building open — NYC, as you know, is expensive. Click here for Francis in Iraq details and tickets. Click here for the Ross Douthat event details and tickets. (And if price is an issue, e-mail me.)

Continue reading “A Word (or More) about the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in NYC”

Culture

Pokémon-Related Covid-Relief Fraud

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Performers in Pikachu costumes dance at a Splash show and Pokemon Go Park event in Yokohama, Japan August 9, 2017. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Yes, that is a headline describing something that actually occurred in reality. And as the resident National Review (recovering) obsessive of the Japanese trading-card and video-game franchise about fictional creatures that fight one another at the behest of their human masters (who also quest to catch these creatures), I am obligated to note the case of Vinath Oudomsine. A 31-year-old man from Georgia, Oudomsine applied for a Covid-emergency loan from the Small Business Administration, supposedly to save his own small business as it was threatened by (idiotic) lockdowns. Instead . . . he used part of the $85,000 he received to buy a Charizard card. Per the DOJ press release:

Vinath Oudomsine, 31, of Dublin, Ga., was sentenced to 36 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of Wire Fraud, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen also fined Oudomsine $10,000, ordered him to pay restitution of $85,000, and to serve three years of supervised release after completion of his prison term.

There is no parole in the federal system.

“Congress appropriated funding to assist small businesses struggling through the challenges of a global pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “Like moths to the flame, fraudsters like Oudomsine took advantage of these programs to line their own pockets – and with our law enforcement partners, we are holding him and others accountable for their greed.”

As described in court documents and testimony, starting on or around July 2020, Oudomsine applied to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) ostensibly for an “entertainment services” business in Dublin that Oudomsine claimed had 10 employees and gross revenues of $235,000 in the 12 months preceding the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of fraudulent representations on Oudomsine’s application, the SBA deposited $85,000 into Oudomsine’s bank account on Aug. 4, 2020. Oudomsine later used $57,789 of the funds to purchase a Pokémon trading card. Oudomsine agreed to forfeit the Pokémon card – “Charizard” – as part of the prosecution.

It is no surprise to me whatsoever that someone tried to take advantage of the voluminous spigot of federal money turned on to redress the frenzied shutdown of society. There are undoubtedly far more pernicious examples of such behavior than this one, which I highlight mainly because I once shared Oudomsine’s presumed affinity for Pokémon. It’s no excuse, obviously. But perhaps something to make light of as we (I hope) emerge from this dark, confusing period of our national life.

National Security & Defense

The New York Times Misleads on Afghan Refugees

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A day after U.S. forces completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, refugees board a bus taking them to a processing center upon their arrival at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., September 1, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On Wednesday, the New York Times published a piece whose opening paragraphs were highly misleading about Afghan refugees. In describing the Biden administration’s recent decision to allow the 74,000 “Afghans who have been residing in the United States to remain in the country legally for at least another 18 months,” the Times wrote:

The program does not provide a path to a green card or citizenship, which many advocates say is warranted for Afghans who were brought to the country after risking their lives to assist American forces. Many served as combat interpreters, as drivers and in other supportive roles over the two decades that U.S. troops fought in their country.

Most Afghans who were evacuated to the United States last year have already been granted another status, known as humanitarian parole, which allows them to stay for two years. But many have had trouble navigating an immigration system that U.S. officials concede was unprepared to help them. The process to reapply for humanitarian parole after two years can be cumbersome for applicants, but temporary protected status is frequently extended for designated countries by the Department of Homeland Security.

The New York Times is playing games here with the words “many” and “most.” It is true that a small number of the Afghan refugees resettling in the United States “were brought to the country after risking their lives to assist American forces.” But the White House and refugee-resettlement advocates want you to believe that description applies to the majority of refugees. That is simply not true. As I wrote in October:

By all accounts, most of the refugees now residing within our borders did not work directly on behalf of America, despite the White House’s attempts to frame resettlement efforts as an initiative “to support those who have supported this nation.” The State Department itself acknowledged that the majority of interpreters and other holders of Special Immigrant Visas — the visas given to those who aided U.S. military and diplomacy efforts in Afghanistan — were left behind. These are the Afghans who deserve our help and resettlement the most, and we have let them down. As the Washington Post reported, many of the Afghan evacuees have “minimal identification and did not appear to have worked closely with the United States.” Instead, the majority of Afghans are arriving in America on “humanitarian parole,” a classification reserved for those who do not qualify for SIVs or even refugee status. And by all accounts, they are not all the Westernized interpreters and journalists they have been made out to be: Beyond the high-profile reports of assault, there have been credible reports of child brides and other trafficking victims being brought onto U.S. military bases by evacuees.

The Times admits that most of the Afghan refugees who are now inside our borders are recipients of “humanitarian parole,” while deceptively claiming that “many served as combat interpreters, as drivers and in other supportive roles over the two decades that U.S. troops fought in their country.” How many is “many”? Conveniently for the Times, it could be virtually any number. But the intent is clearly to make you think it is big. Whatever it might be, it is definitely not a majority — regardless of what the Times wants you to think. 

So if the “advocates” the Times is uncritically parroting want to make the case for green cards and citizenship, they’re going to have to find a more substantive argument. And since most of the refugees in question weren’t directly affiliated with American forces, activists are also going to have to find a way to explain away the substantial problems other Western countries have encountered in their attempts to integrate Afghan arrivals. In Austria, for example, a study by Center for Immigration Studies scholar Jason Richwine estimated that Afghans committed crimes at a drastically higher rate than the overall population. Those problems, which were exacerbated by the White House’s laughably porous vetting protocols, were already beginning to surface in this country back in October. As I wrote:

While just over 40,000 of the expected 95,000 Afghans have arrived in the U.S. in the past month and a half, there have already been multiple allegations of sexual assault and abuse perpetrated by refugees on the U.S. Army bases where they are being housed. In the first weeks of September, two recently arrived Afghan men were indicted for federal crimes at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, where 12,500 refugees now reside: Bahrullah Noori, 20, on multiple counts of allegedly sexually abusing victims under the age of 16, and Mohammad Haroon Imaad, 32, for allegedly trying to strangle and suffocate his wife. Later that month, the FBI opened an investigation into reports of an attack on a U.S. servicewoman perpetrated by a group of male refugees at Fort Bliss, N.M.

None of this, of course, is an argument against resettling any Afghans at all. Refugees should be judged on a case-by-case basis. But if we’re going to deal in broad generalizations, as the Times and pro-resettlement activists are doing, we should be clear about the actual facts here.

World

The Russian Losses in Ukraine Validate the Marine Corps’ Force Design

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U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Samuel Berkheimer, a forward observer with Battalion Landing Team 3/4, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, participates in exercise Noble Tempest at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, March 8, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Alexandria Nowell)

I usually agree with Bing West on national-security issues. But I profoundly disagree with his recent Corner post on the tragedy in Ukraine and the new Marine Corps force design. West is a respected author and scholar, but the post makes a number of factual errors I would like to address.

West argues that Force Design 2030 is an anti-ship strategy oriented on the South China Sea. This is not accurate. The last two commandants of the Marine Corps have agreed that “the Marine Corps is not organized, trained, equipped, or postured to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving future operating environment.” This is because the Marine Corps has had the same basic design since the 1950s, and global events require a more modern force that performs different missions. The proliferation of precision-strike weapons means the Navy and the Joint Force will not have the same dominant access at sea and in the air that the U.S. has enjoyed for the past 30 years. The U.S. needs a force that can fight within contested sea and airspace and supports Navy and Joint Force assets as they bring more combat power to the fight.

This is where the Marine Corps concept of the Stand-In Force is connected to the force-design effort. Far from being a force of anti-ship missileers, Marines will operate in these contested areas and perform multiple missions that counter enemy advances. Missile batteries that kill targets on land, in the air, and at sea are just one of these missions. Stand-In Forces also provide reconnaissance and targeting data, confuse our adversary’s battlefield understanding, and destroy targets via aerial drones and other unmanned systems. This force embraces the Marine motto, “First to Fight,” as the Marine Corps will open the door for the larger Joint Force to join them in combat.

Despite West’s contention, this is not a force design that is exclusive to the South China Sea or the Indo-Pacific theater. The Marine Corps has been invested in the Pacific since World War II, but that has not prevented it from responding to crises and fighting conflicts around the world. Though the Marine Corps is refocusing on the Pacific after 20 years in the Middle East, it remains a globally deployable force, and Force Design 2030 is as relevant in the South China Sea as it is in the Taiwan Strait; the East China Sea; the Strait of Hormuz; or the Black, Baltic, and Mediterranean Seas. Any adversary who can challenge air and sea maneuver will be frustrated by the Force Design 2030 Marine Corps.

Finally, West objected to the Marine Corps divesting of tanks, cannon artillery, and air as a reduction of Marine Corps combined-arms capability. This does not reduce combined-arms capability as much as it updates it. The divestment of cannon artillery for investment in rocket and missile artillery is a fair critique that rests on whether one values shorter-range area fire over longer-range precision strikes, the latter of which will continue to be important in the kind of urban fighting we’ve seen in Ukraine if we intend to preserve as much infrastructure as possible. The Marine Corps has not divested any fixed-wing air assets, and the divested helicopter assets are accompanied by investment in expendable unmanned systems that still provide the needed fire support to our troops on the ground.

Perhaps one of the most-discussed areas in this new design is the divestment of tanks, but that is where the Russian invasion of Ukraine provides the most illumination. In the Force Design 2030 Report, the commandant of the Marine Corps stated he had high confidence in divesting tanks, writing, “We have sufficient evidence to conclude that this capability . . . is operationally unsuitable for our highest-priority challenges in the future.” This statement is being repeatedly validated by the extraordinary efforts of the Ukrainian military. Russian armor has suffered a great many casualties during this conflict, and those casualties are not solely from Javelin missile teams. The TB-2 has been extremely effective, just as it and other loitering munition drones were in the Nagorno–Krabakh conflict. The increasing vulnerability of armor predated the invasion of Ukraine and will only increase in the future.

West is concerned that the Marine Corps is giving up too much and gaining too little in its force design. But Force Design 2030 is a necessary change that positions the Marine Corps as a unique and necessary element of U.S. military power.

Politics & Policy

Citigroup vs. Motherhood in Texas

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I was just reading the Axios write-up (“Ignoring abortion access is getting harder for companies”) of a new Citigroup policy in Texas to pay for employee travel expenses for abortions, and this jumped out at me:

The company plan already covers people with, say, a heart condition who need treatment at a far-off hospital. This is no different. The benefit would extend to employees in any state where access is restricted.

And therein lies the big lie — that killing an unborn baby is anything like having a heart condition. We are so mired in the darkness of evil that we can’t see straight and insist on telling the lies loud and incessantly so no one can hear the cries of misery of the voiceless and the women who have been told that wrong is not only right but in many cases necessary. Say, for your career. What Citi is doing is about their bottom line. Moms are inconvenient to that.

I also noticed this:

Not only would travel expenses be reimbursed, but paid sick leave would cover any time off for an employee who needs to travel, get the procedure done and recover.

But, whatever would the pregnant person have to recover from?

If the tyranny of Roe ends, there’s going to be so much more work to do. Get ready. We all need to do more to embrace women with love and resources for life and flourishing.

Culture

The Lia Thomas Story Is the Opposite of Inclusivity

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Lia Thomas of University of Pennsylvania celebrates with teammates after winning the 400-yard freestyle team relay at the Women’s Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., February 19, 2022. (Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

Yesterday, Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old transgender swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania, won the NCAA championship in the 500-yard freestyle, becoming the first transgender athlete to win any NCAA women’s Division I championship.

On January 19 of this year, the NCAA Board of Governors voted for a “sport-by-sport approach to transgender participation that preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion, and safety” for all competitors. The policy change adopts the International Olympic Committee’s policies on transgender participation in the Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimnation on the Basis of Gender. Lia’s participation in women’s sports is a reflection of the Left’s flawed understanding of “inclusivity.”

The framework aims to create a “level playing field” and to uphold the “credibility of competitive sports.” It seeks to ensure “fairness, particularly in high-level organized sport in the women’s category” and “competitions where no participant has an unfair and disproportionate advantage over the rest.” Yet as soon as the policy was enacted — officially starting with the 2022 winter championships — Lia Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle. 

The NCAA — and the Left’s — understanding of “inclusion” and “fairness” in sports is largely limited to the inclusion and fairness of transgender athletes. For instance, the framework states that anyone, “regardless of their gender identity,” should be able to participate in sports. It mandates “mechanism to prevent harassment and abuse” that especially consider the “particular needs and vulnerabilities of transgender people and people with sex variations.” 

In women’s sports, this brand of progressive inclusivity is quite literally exclusionary. In order to include (very few) transgender females, biological females are effectively excluded from fair competition because of differences in physical advantage. 

But physical advantage is not a factor in fairness, according to the NCAA. Per the framework, you cannot claim that transgender female athletes have an advantage: “Until evidence . . . determines otherwise, athletes should not be deemed to have an unfair or disproportionate competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.” Lia Thomas towers over her peers in physical stature. Her “physical appearance,” however, is not valid evidence of an unfair advantage. 

Progressive expressions of inclusivity often elevate the comfort of a minority over the needs of the majority, but to far less disruptive degrees. For instance, on college campuses, it’s a common requirement in both social settings and on official forms to provide your pronouns. This is an effort to “include” students with different gender identities by normalizing the idea that one’s pronouns are not necessarily correlated to their physical appearance. Stating your pronouns, however, doesn’t impact your ability to fairly participate in any activity; including transgender females in women’s sports is inherently exclusionary. 

The IOC’s framework is purportedly part of the “action taken to foster greater gender equality and inclusion.” In reality, the framework not only fails to promote widespread inclusivity, but hurts gender equality — especially equal access to sports across genders — by discouraging biological females from participating in sports.

Discouragement is not only at the collegiate level; younger female athletes are likely to face an unfair playing field as well. In my state of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), a league spanning 33 sports and 374 public and private high schools, is having its students sign a pledge on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The MIAA handbook states that per Massachusetts law, “students are entitled to be accepted by their schools as the gender with which they identify across all school programs. . . . Athletic opportunities must be afforded to students in accordance with their identified gender.” 

Like the NCAA, the MIAA cautions against arguments about mismatched physical advantage. It does so by discouraging its member schools from using risk of injury as justification against including students of different gender identities. The handbook says, “Student safety has not been a successful defense to excluding students of one gender from participating on teams of the opposite gender. The arguments generally fail due to the lack of correlation between injuries and mixed-gender teams.”

Faced with an unlevel playing field, younger, impressionable female athletes will likely be discouraged from pursuing higher-level women’s sports.

In the case of transgender women in sports, the Left’s understanding of inclusivity caters to an ultra-minority. This is not to say that transgender athletes should be excluded from sports (tighter eligibility requirements are one consideration, but far beyond the scope of this post), but it does draw into question the actual meaning of inclusivity. To women in sports, “inclusivity” has become nothing more than a woke virtue signal that ends up doing more harm than good. 

Law & the Courts

Judging Judge Jackson’s Judges

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This morning, Slate published Dahlia Lithwick’s argument that Republicans who eschew personal attacks on Judge Jackson in favor of criticism of the shared judicial ideology of Democratic judges are “erasing” her, which is — guess what? — “ultimately just a different form of racism and sexism.”

“McConnell is prepared to call her amply qualified,” Lithwick complains, “yet he is content to deny her the opportunity to prove her qualifications to the world.”

I think that this spin has been overtaken by events — it will be succeeded by indignant cries that Republicans are smearing Judge Jackson — but it does make you wonder what Republican approach to a Democratic nominee would meet Lithwick’s approval. I’m guessing celebratory assent, ideally followed by ritual self-disembowelment.

Sports

The Sad Contradictions of the Baseball ‘Traditionalists’

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Boston slugger Ted Williams heads for first base after hitting a ground ball in the 1st inning of the Yankees-Red Sox game in New York, September 6, 1960. (Bettmann /Getty Images)

My post last week on MLB rules changes engendered universal opposition around here. We had a yeasty argument about it on The Editors earlier this week. Just a couple of more points.

Obviously, the ghost runner is gimmicky. I think of it like the 3-on-3 overtime in the NHL or the starting-on-the-25 overtime in college football — a contrivance, but an entertaining one. The NHL and college football are physically demanding, hence the need to force a result, whereas baseball is only stupefyingly long and dull. But the ghost runner creates immediate interest — are you going to hit a grounder to the right side or try to bunt him over, and if you get him to third with fewer than two outs, can you manage to hit a sacrifice fly? (I’m a Yankees fan, so the answers were usually “no” and “no.”)

If baseball could pace itself more sanely and create some more action, this would be less of an issue. Which is why the pitch clock is so important. And this is where baseball “traditionalism” falls down. I used to call myself a baseball traditionalist until I realized what that meant was making excuses for changes in the game that were making it worse.

Let’s say baseball developed a culture where after every pitch, the hitter walked halfway up the third-base line and talked with the third-base coach. I’m talking after every pitch. The average length of the game might balloon by another 20 or 30 minutes (although maybe not by that much, since there’s already so much time-wasting).

The reaction of the baseball “traditionalist” would be to say, “Wow, what a wonderful thing! Talking to the third-base coach between every pitch — this is just how Abner Doubleday drew it up! I love these interminable player-coach conferences. Sure, they just started a couple of years ago, but they must be defended . . . because traditionalism.”

This is basically what’s happened with all the current, real time-wasting innovations. Check out the side-by-side videos of a pitch-clocked series of pitches in the minors and a series of pitches in the MLB in this story in the Athletic.

No rational person watching the two is going to say the MLB pace is better — unless you are such a George Springer fan that you enjoy watching him walk all the way around the catcher in a wide circle between pitches. A couple of years ago, I listened to and watched a bunch of old Yankees games, including an early TV broadcast of a World Series game at Ebbets Field. I guarantee you the pace of play in that 1950s classic is much closer to the pitch-clocked pace than the “let’s all walk around and stare and take deep breaths” contemporary pace of play. Of course, the pitch clock isn’t going to roll the clock back to that era in terms of timing (there are other delaying factors in the modern game), but it will mean a little less inaction.

So maybe I shouldn’t give up the label of baseball traditionalist. I’m a traditionalist — I want the pace of play of a couple of decades ago. I’m a traditionalist — I want to see more stolen bases again. I’m a traditionalist — I support the shift for Ted Williams, and Ted Williams only.

It’s the thoughtless innovators pretending that they are nostalgics who have brought baseball to this point.

Religion

Iraqi Christians Are Immensely Grateful When We Recognize They Exist. Come Hear Their Story Tuesday Night in New York City

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A year ago this month, Pope Francis went to Iraq. Now I know not everyone here is fond of Pope Francis. If you can put that aside for a moment — he is the pope. And so when he makes a trip somewhere, it is news. John Paul II wanted to visit the Christians in Iraq but wasn’t able to. After the genocide, Francis was determined to get there. Because of Covid and security, he was being urged not to go. Many a headline and news story made it look as if the trip was on the verge of cancellation. But he went. And the people there were overjoyed.

My friend Stephen Rasche caught much of the devastation and rebuilding on camera. He was in the front row in more ways than one for much of it and for the papal visit. He tells the story of the people in a new film, Pope Francis in Iraq, mostly by letting the people speak for themselves. Pope Francis in Iraq will debut Tuesday night at the Sheen Center in New York. National Review Institute is cosponsoring and I’ll be talking with Rasche after the film.

I know time is a precious commodity and it’s a weeknight (and we are all used to staying home), but we’ll get you out by 8 p.m. — it begins at 6:30 p.m.

What I’m struck by in the film — and in so many encounters with Iraqi Christians — is that they could have many grievances against us, but instead they are simply grateful when we pay attention and even recognize that they exist there. We should do more than that, but it’s a start.

And their witness of Christianity — and hope and even joy — under existential duress will inspire you.

Watch the brief trailer here:

You can RSVP here.

Religion

Do You, Like Me, Need a Restart on Lent?

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Watch the conversation I had with Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., on Ash Wednesday (I plan to later today!):

World

Pope Francis Calls War on Ukraine ‘a Perverse Abuse of Power and Partisan Interests’

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After talking to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill earlier in the week (and I assume getting nowhere fast, as Krill is adamantly in support of Russia’s evil attack on Ukraine), Pope Francis wrote today in a message to the President of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe:

What we have experiencing in recent weeks is not what we had hoped for after the difficult health emergency caused by the pandemic, which made us experience a sign of powerlessness and fear, together with the fragile condition of our existence. The tragedy of the war that is taking place in the heart of Europe leaves us astonished; we never thought we would see such scenes again, reminiscent of the great wars of the last century. The heartbreaking cry for help of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters urges us as a community of believers not only to reflect seriously, but to cry with them and to do something for them; to share the anguish of a people whose identity, history and tradition have been wounded. The blood and tears of children, the suffering of women and men who are defending their land or fleeing from bombs rattle our conscience. Once again humanity is threatened by a perverse abuse of power and partisan interests, which condemns defenseless people to suffer all forms of brutal violence.

I thank all of you, dear Brothers in the episcopate, for your prompt and concerted response in coming to the aid of that population, guaranteeing it material aid, welcome and hospitality. Let us not grow weary in this, and let us not cease to invoke peace from God and from men. I therefore urge you to continue to pray that those who hold the fate of nations will leave no stone unturned to stop the war and open a constructive dialogue to put an end to the immense humanitarian tragedy it is causing.

The Knights of Columbus is urging this prayer to be prayed in the coming days. (Note: It’s in preparation for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation next week — so it is necessarily Marian.)

Energy & Environment

Seven Years After Putin’s Annexation of Crimea, America’s Energy Revolution Has Changed the Game

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Pump jacks operate in front of a drilling rig in an oil field in Midland, Texas, 2018 (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

In Moscow this week, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin rallied Russians to celebrate the seventh anniversary of his annexation of Crimea in an attempt to persuade his citizenry that his current invasion of Ukraine is the same sort of bloodless, quick action as Crimea, which is what he had promised them a month ago. But as everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger on down has noticed, this narrative is completely divorced from events on the ground, with the Russian armed forces bogged down and taking significant casualties, while the Ukrainian resistance is strengthening and gaining material support from around the globe.

Another significant difference from seven years ago is the response of the international community to Putin’s aggression. The annexation of Crimea drew some rhetorical outrage but in practical terms went largely unnoticed by the Obama administration as well as our NATO allies. While some sanctions were imposed, the calculus was that Russian natural resources were just too powerful, particularly in the energy sector, to be seriously challenged.

But Putin’s stranglehold on global energy markets has loosened in the intervening years. While Russian production is at best holding even, the United States has massively increased production and has the potential to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We are seeing the effects of this new reality from the private sector, which has voluntarily abandoned the massive Russian projects they initiated after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which became the economic foundation of Putin’s power.

Given the emergence of new resources and the infrastructure to support them, however, Putin is no longer the only game in town — in fact, due to his grotesque and struggling invasion of a neighbor, he has become an intolerably toxic partner. As painful and difficult as significantly reducing Russian exports from the markets will be, it’s now an acceptable price to pay to stop doing business with the Kremlin.

This remarkable development should be a massive strategic opportunity for the United States to truly lead the economic charge against Putin and hopefully change his calculus so he sees a peaceful off-ramp as preferable to continuing a grinding war that will destroy Russia’s economy. Of course that would mean removing barriers designed to depress domestic U.S. production and proactively coordinating with allied fellow producing nations — all of which President Biden can do without putting a single boot on the ground in Ukraine. Yet his administration seems resolved not to take even the simplest steps in this direction.

The answer may lie, as so many things seem to do these days, on the negotiating table in Vienna.  During the annexation of Crimea in 2015, the Russians were (perhaps not coincidentally) playing a critical role in facilitating a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which then as now promised Moscow fat profits for developing Iran’s “civil” nuclear program while simultaneously enriching a key Russian partner in the Middle East. In 2022, in its eagerness to revive the nuclear deal, the Biden administration seems determined to return to the 2015 playbook and turn a blind eye to Russian bad behavior elsewhere in order to keep them engaged in the negotiations. But rather than charge back into what will inevitably be an even weaker deal than its predecessor, the administration would be much better off leveraging the new leverage the U.S. wields in the energy sector to curb Putin’s aggression — and then turn our attention to Tehran.

Culture

Stacey Abrams Does Not Deserve to Be President of Earth

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Former Georgia House of Representatives Minority Leader Stacey Abrams speaks in Atlanta, Ga., November 2, 2020. (Brandon Bell/Reuters)

Boldly going where K-Lo once forbade National Review writers from going, Jim wrote at great length this morning about Star Trek, and the flaws of the society it depicts. His motivation (this time) was the appearance of Stacey Abrams, who is not governor of Georgia, as “United Earth President” on a recent episode of Star Trek: Discovery, the current iteration of the long-running sci-fi franchise, currently airing on Paramount+.

Jim has covered the Star Trek criticism, so I’ll focus on Stacey Abrams. Abrams is, at this time, most famous for losing the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election and then proceeding to deny she had lost it, behavior that Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger has convincingly argued is morally indistinguishable from — and helped set the stage for — former president Donald Trump’s behavior after the 2020 presidential election.

And earlier this week, Matt Mashburn, a member of Georgia’s state elections board, argued that the House January 6 Committee’s decision to pursue the legal argument that those who argued the 2020 election did so knowing this was false and then raised money off of it anyway are guilty of fraud should make Abrams, who has profited handsomely in her own way from her election denial, nervous. As Spock once said, sauce for the goose.

Would Star Trek ever dream of making Donald Trump “President of Earth”? And I don’t mean in the way that the evil genetic superman Khan Noonien Singh once despotically ruled one-quarter of earth’s population. In classic Trek fashion, Abrams is shown as the logical and inevitable result of the kind of technocratic progressivism that the show has long advanced, a fruition of our highest ideals. Her behavior in the political sphere does not seem to bear this out. Apart from the election denial, there was this infamous photo, showing her reveling in the disparity of being maskless while surrounded by masked children. Given this, why hold her up as a model?

Then again, this is not the first time CBS has given a platform to an election-denying sore loser.