Economy & Business

‘Strong Labor Market’

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President Joe Biden listens as he receives an update on economic conditions from his advisors at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

The Biden administration and the most hackety-hackish of its media facilitators argue that our recession cannot be a recession because of the “strong labor market,” as evidenced by the unemployment rate of 3.6 percent.

I am glad the unemployment rate is low; things could be worse.

But.

“Strong labor market”?

I have a hard time accepting that we have a genuinely strong labor market while real wages are declining — and prices are rising about twice as fast as wages. A strong labor market is not one in which workers are working more but producing less (which is what the contracting real GDP means) and being paid less (which is what “declining real wages” means). That doesn’t seem quite right.

But how to explain that low unemployment rate?

It is a pickle.

The labor-force participation rate is one of those metrics that people seem to talk about only when the unemployment rate says something that is politically inconvenient for them. Not only do we have a low unemployment rate, we also have a growing population and a shrinking labor force — making it difficult for businesses to fill some positions but apparently not so difficult as to have a large positive effect on real wages. At least to some extent, workers are scarce in certain industries not because they have been lured away by better wages elsewhere but because they have left for a wage of $0.00, exiting the labor force entirely. Retirement is only part of the reason for that, recent experience suggests.

The labor-force participation rate has declined significantly since 2000, from 67 percent to 62 percent, a decline of about 7 percent. That means (approximately) that for every 14 workers the United States had in the labor force in 2000, we now have only 13. That would be a not especially great development on its own, but this has happened during a period in which the United States has added 50 million people to its population.

Our current labor-force participation rate is higher than it was at any point before the 1970s, but pretty low by the standards of the past 40 years.

Here is the employment-to-population ratio, which seems to have peaked in the 20th century.

Everything should be on the side of wages at least keeping up with inflation, but they aren’t.

I know that 9.1 percent inflation is the big variable here, but it must say something about our economy that the people selling labor, at least at the lower end, don’t seem to have as much pricing power as the people selling potatoes and used cars do.

In any case, don’t try to tell me there’s a “strong labor market” when Americans’ paychecks are shrinking in real terms. We may have a larger share of our shrinking labor force at work, but that isn’t quite the same thing.

Politics & Policy

‘It’s Just a Skinnier Build Back Better’

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Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) attends a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 19, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Did we over-hype Manchin? That’s the question Jim pitches to Michael on today’s edition of The Editors. It’s about perspective, though, as Michael makes clear: “We do have to be honest here. This is dramatically slimmed down and less dangerous to pass than the original version of Build Back Better.” He goes on to say that, “This is something much smaller, much less inflationary,” and he thinks we should be thankful for the overall effect Manchin has had on the direction of this Congress. 

Our resident China expert, Jimmy Quinn also joins the gang today to cover Nancy Pelosi’s possible stop in Taiwan. While the visit would not be unprecedented, China has threatened some type of military action if Pelosi decides to visit the island nation. “We’ve been pursuing a closer diplomatic relationship with Taiwan while still staying true to our One China policy,” Quinn said. “Meanwhile, in Beijing, there’s been a lot of saber-rattling, a lot of flights through Taiwan’s air-defense-identification zone, and more belligerent rhetoric.” 

This is a multi-faceted issue, so what should the Speaker do? Per Quinn: “At the end of the day, there’s this choice that only Speaker Pelosi can make — the White House can’t make it for her. And I think that National Review’s editorial line is correct: She should go.”

Finally, that lurking annoyance, Covid-19, reclaims our attention for a bit, as Jim, Michael, and Jimmy discuss what steps the GOP should take to investigate its origins. There’s a lot to cover, as Jimmy says, and the difficulty for the next Congress will be one of prioritization. Jim follows up with an important point: “It’s worth a deep dive into how we [went], almost over night . . . from a constitutional republic in which people’s rights were first and foremost as laid out in the Bill of Rights, to the kind of country where you could get arrested for being outside. . . . Did people understand the kind of lunacy they were empowering?”

Listen to the whole episode here:

Politics & Policy

Going Forward to Nowhere

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Why “Forward,” the new “centrist” party, won’t make it.

As a general proposition, going forward beats the alternatives. But people don’t always agree on where they should go forward to. The trio is attempting to get broad support by not specifying a destination.

Politics & Policy

The True Cost of Expanding Obamacare in the ‘Inflation Reduction Act’

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In the fall of 2021, West Virginia senator Joe Manchin said that the “Build Back Better” bill employed “budget gimmicks” and “shell games” to hide the true cost of the bill. Manchin was specifically referring to the fact that many programs in the bill that were intended to be permanent expired after a few years. 

Yet the expansion of Obamacare subsidies in the Manchin–Schumer “Inflation Reduction Act” are extended only until 2025, and the price tag for the three-year expansion is pegged at $64 billion. But according to a Penn-Wharton analysis, this expansion of Obamacare will actually cost $228 billion over ten years if the subsidies are made permanent. Combined with the $369 billion on “climate and energy” spending and $80 billion more for the IRS, the Inflation Reduction Act would spend about $680 billion more over the next decade if the three-year extension of Obamacare subsidies becomes a ten-year extension.

The Penn-Wharton model also shows that the Inflation Reduction Act would add to the deficit until 2026, after which time the bill’s Medicare price-fixing proposal and extra money spent on IRS enforcement are estimated to yield the federal government more savings each year than it spends in the bill.

Law & the Courts

Time for a Biden Special Counsel?

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I think Andy’s argument today is a very persuasive one. Particularly this:

The idea is that an investigation may be retained within “the normal processes of the Department” if the conflict can be mitigated by recusing particular officials. When the president and his close family members are implicated, however, it is the Department of Justice, not just the AG or particular officials, that is conflicted. That’s when a special counsel is required.

Like Andy, I have no love for the kind of circus that such investigations often turn into. But the cost of inaction in this case would be high.

Media

Rebutting Michelle Goldberg’s Mischaracterizations, Again

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Abortion-rights demonstrators protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court rules in the Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning Roe v. Wade in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2022. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Last week, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg cited my work, out of context, as an example of how pro-lifers don’t care about women’s health. In my response to her earlier this week, I pointed out that she used a single tweet of mine to assert that I don’t care whether women who suffer a miscarriage are able to obtain necessary medical care after the fact. Naturally, Goldberg ignored the vast majority of my recent work — including additional tweets, full-length articles, and even an entire book — all of which is extremely clear about how pro-life laws both should and do protect the lives of both pregnant mothers and their unborn children.

In her column this week, Goldberg cited me again, once more taking a single sentence of mine and using it as representative of my views, without citing any of the surrounding work that disproves her argument:

In National Review, Alexandra DeSanctis, who has written for Times Opinion calling for a fetal personhood amendment to the Constitution, suggested that pro-choice activists are the ones sowing confusion about how abortion bans affect miscarriage treatment. “Abortion supporters are muddying the waters on purpose, with the sole aim of undermining pro-life laws,” she wrote. The influential anti-abortion strategist Richard M. Doerflinger accused his opponents of “revving up a public relations apparatus to spread false and exaggerated claims in order to ‘paralyze’ physicians and discredit the laws.” LifeNews.com tweeted that doctors are “willing to put women’s lives at risk to create viral stories making abortion bans look culpable.”

Naturally, Goldberg ignored that both my article and Doerflinger’s contained thousands of words of essential context explaining why direct induced abortion — a procedure that intentionally kills the unborn child — is never medically necessary to protect the life or health of a pregnant mother. This is an indisputable fact. Pro-lifers have argued since the very start of the abortion debate that it is always morally acceptable, and should remain legal, to perform necessary health-care procedures in cases of medical emergency, even those that might result in the unintentional death of an unborn child, as in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. It is abortion supporters who are attempting to create a lack of clarity about this, pretending that direct induced abortion is the same thing as a necessary health-care procedure that has the foreseen but unintended consequence of the unborn child’s death.

Elective, induced, direct abortion is just that — elective. Induced abortion takes place when a pregnant mother doesn’t want to be pregnant any longer and engages an abortionist to take the life of that child. By contrast, and as a new report from the Lozier Institute makes clear, in various types of medical emergencies when a mother’s life is at risk, doctors can almost always deliver the child safely (with the primary exception of an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo has implanted outside the womb). Saving a mother’s life never requires direct killing of her child, even if a medically necessary early delivery might result in the child’s death, depending on how developed he or she is. This is why pro-life laws defer to a doctor’s medical judgment but also require choosing whatever procedure is most likely to result in both a healthy mother and a healthy child. In other words, directly and intentionally destroying the child is never required to save a mother’s life; there are two patients involved, and both lives should be considered worth saving.

But because abortion supporters by and large are refusing to defend their actual policy preference — elective abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy — they are reduced to patently false claims, such as that pro-life laws, no matter how they are written, will result in mothers dying grisly deaths. This is simply untrue, and Goldberg’s weak effort to portray pro-lifers as heartless does nothing to change that.

Economy & Business

The GDP Number(s)

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The GDP report indicated that “real” economic output — adjusted, that is, for inflation — dropped for the second time in a row. “Nominal” output, including inflation, not only rose but rose at a faster rate than the quarter before. This doesn’t quite clinch the case that the Federal Reserve ought to keep tightening — it includes what was happening three months ago and not what’s happening right now — but it strongly suggests that it ought to. The latest inflation numbers point in the same direction: Core PCE inflation (excluding food and energy) has jumped too. The Fed should keep its focus on tighter money even as a weak economy increases the pressure on it to ease up.

Culture

Down the Gender-Identity Slope

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(Yavor Naydenov/iStock/Getty Images)

Six Republican Senators — Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, Josh Hawley, Mike Lee, and Marco Rubio — just did something important and clever by way of a letter they sent to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The senators’ letter poses a series of questions about Cardona’s plan to treat Title IX’s ban on discrimination by “sex” as a ban on discrimination against “gender identity.” The questions posed by the senators draw on a series of recent incidents — punishments of students and teachers who refuse to use preferred pronouns; Florida’s new law protecting K–3 students from instruction on “gender identity;” the decision by schools to treat a biological girl as a boy, against her parents’ wishes; schools that withhold information about a child’s supposed “gender transition” from parents; the rape of a girl by a boy able to use the girl’s bathroom because he claims he is “gender fluid,” etc.

The ten very pointed questions in the senators’ letter are clever — and wise — in more ways than one. (Read them here.) Every question is a policy and political land-mine. The Secretary must be pressed to answer all ten, or held to account for refusing to do so.

Beyond the immediate policy and politics of the proposed change to Title IX, however, the letter and its questions hold a broader lesson about the culture war. For a couple of decades — from about the 1990s to the aught decade of the 2000s — it was argued by many that the culture war didn’t really exist, or that if it did exist it would soon be over. Now that the culture war is everywhere — and increasingly seems to rope in just about everything — you hear dismissive talk about the culture war less and less. For a long time, for example, many people believed that national recognition of gay marriage would effectively spell the end of the culture war. It hasn’t worked out that way.

Instead, gay marriage has emboldened the left, unleashing a series of demands around “gender identity” that are bound to clash with a wide variety of established legal and cultural principles. The letter from the senators summarizes by telling Secretary Cardona that the referenced incidents “suggest how your interpretation of Title IX could erode women’s rights, free-speech rights, parental rights, and children’s safety and innocence.” The contradiction between the new “gender identity” regime and these deeply rooted rights and goods is not about to disappear anytime soon. On the contrary, the logic of dispensing with the male/female dichotomy seems to generate new cultural conflicts with regularity. The same expansive principle lies behind the “plus” in the ever-growing LGBTQ+ litany of letters.

The culture war is, and always was, real. The economy may still be at the center of our politics, but the culture war’s share seems to grow each year. The ten questions from Senators Cotton, Cruz, Blackburn, Hawley, Lee, and Rubio provide a snapshot of where we are and where we’re headed in this culture war. So long as the current administration is in place, where we’re headed is down a very steep and slippery slope.

Politics & Policy

Marriage and Religious Liberty: The RFRA Distraction

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I gather that some opponents of the bill to put same-sex marriage into federal statute are saying that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act doesn’t apply to the bill. I’m against the bill, but that’s not true.

Legislation doesn’t have to mention RFRA to be subject to it. It applies unless the legislation explicitly says it is exempt from it. The recent contraceptive bill had that kind of carve-out. The marriage bill doesn’t.

The broad cultural and legal shift in favor of same-sex marriage obviously and generally threatens the right to act on opposition to it. The only way this bill could undermine RFRA specifically, though, is if opposing congressmen said its protections would not apply and some court seized on that legislative history to make the claim self-fulfilling.

International

U.K. Dockworkers Vote to Strike at Country’s Largest Port

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Container ships at the Port of Felixstowe in Felixstowe, England, January 28, 2021. (Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

The strike wave in the U.K. is spreading. Dockworkers at the Port of Felixstowe, the country’s largest container port, voted to strike yesterday. From Reuters:

The dockworkers join a growing wave of employees, in a range of sectors from rail to telecoms, resorting to industrial action as pay rises fail to keep pace with inflation which is expected to hit double digits in Britain by the end of the year.

“Strike action would bring Felixstowe to a standstill and would cause major logistical problems for maritime and road haulage transport entering the port,” Unite said in a statement.

Unite’s regional officer Miles Hubbard said the industrial action would “inevitably create huge disruption across the UK’s supply chain”.

Unite said workers at Felixstowe Docks, which is operated by Hutchison Ports, had been offered a pay increase of 5%.

It’s the same story as elsewhere: Raises that were sufficient in the past are no longer acceptable to workers dealing with high inflation. Consumer-price inflation in the U.K. is at 9.4 percent right now, so a 5 percent raise amounts to a 4.4 percent cut in real terms.

This comes on top of the threatened strike action at the port in Liverpool, whose dockworkers are organized by the same union. The union is fully aware of the economic consequences and doesn’t appear hesitant about striking.

British labor leaders see the strike action as part of a broader economy-wide trend. From the Guardian:

The vote for action came as a senior union official predicted rolling strikes across the economy for the rest of the year beginning with a “summer of solidarity”, as workers become emboldened to protest in the face of rising living costs.

Simon Weller, the assistant general secretary of the train drivers union Aslef and a national council member of the Trades Union Congress, said strike ballots planned by civil servants and teachers alongside more strikes already planned by college staff and across the rail network – starting with train drivers walking out at seven operators on Saturday – would increase “organic momentum”.

Felixstowe is located on the eastern coast of England, near Ipswich, on the North Sea. It is connected by rail to London, which is just under 100 miles away. It handles 48 percent of British container trade. The strike action is planned for August.

Energy & Environment

Today in Capital Matters: Net Zero

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Richard Morrison of the Competitive Enterprise Institute writes that environmentalists’ net-zero aspirations are not inevitable:

It’s only a matter of time, we are frequently lectured, until the climate campaigners sweep the political field, and heavy judgement will fall on all the reactionaries who were foolish enough to question their enlightened policies. Those of us who are skeptical of abandoning hydrocarbon energyair conditioning, and the internal combustion engine are in for difficult times, as the future triumvirate of Al Gore, Greta Thunberg, and Klaus Schwab inaugurate a new, green era. Some campaigners have even suggested that climate skeptics should be rounded up and subjected to prosecutions designed, in some grotesque way, to be reminiscent of the Nuremberg trials. Meanwhile, others are working to get “ecocide” treated as a new category of international crime, similar to genocide.

The ostensible inevitability of decarbonization, however, has always been more bluster than substance, allowing the climate-change alarmists to survive levels of unpopularity and dysfunction that would have ended any other activist campaign years ago. Yet its proponents’ ability to hide its failures and costs enabled the activism to thrive, along with its intimidating reputation. Recent events around the world, however, are conspiring to stop the movement in its tracks.

Read the whole thing here.

Economy & Business

Economic Wisdom Is Only Days Away

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David Bahnsen (The Bahnsen Group/YouTube)

Our pal David Bahnsen, host of the exceptional NR podcast, Capital Record, and creator of so much more, commences an important new video-course series, Bahnsen Economics 101, that will rock America starting August 8. Here’s a glimpse:

Remember, August 8. Mark your calendars.

World

Americans Are Moving to Mexico City, to Mexicans’ Chagrin

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Protesters carry American and Mexican flags at an immigration-reform march in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2013. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Many Americans are leaving the states for Mexico City, which is angering some of the Mexican population there, the Los Angeles Times reports. Americans are capitalizing on the lower rents available, the cheaper standard of living, and the ability to stay in Mexico for six months without a visa. Locals are complaining that the areas where the Americans have settled have been gentrified, and traditional Mexican businesses have been turned into different ones that cater to Americans. The influx of Americans has contributed to an increase in rent and a change to English-speaking in some areas. According to the L.A. Times, writer and university professor Fernando Bustos Gorozpe said, “‘We’re the only brown people. We’re the only people speaking Spanish except the waiters.” There are 1.6 million Americans living in Mexico, according to the State Department, but it is unknown how many of those 1.6 million reside in Mexico City. Many of these Americans went south of the border because Mexico eased Covid restrictions prior to many states doing so. Alexandra Demou, head of Welcome Home Mexico, said she receives 50 calls a week from Americans looking to move to Mexico, according to the L.A. Times

Many of the Americans moving to Mexico are California residents — a state that has seen its population growth decline for about the past 30 years. California is so expensive that the state’s residents are moving out and making parts of Mexico City too expensive for the Mexicans. Inflation will only drive out more Californians. The median price of a home in California is $797,470. CNBC notes that in the fourth quarter of 2021, only 25 percent of California households could afford that price for a home. Woke Californians apathetically driving up the rent for Mexicans in their own homeland is the ultimate representation of the ugly American. 

Education

Why Student–Faculty Ratios Are Often Misleading

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When students are looking for colleges they might apply to, one consideration can be the student-to-faculty ratio. Lower numbers would seem to indicate that students will have more access to professors and not get lost in great masses of students.

The problem is that schools often manipulate the data to make their ratios look better. So argues Robert Thornett in today’s Martin Center article.

He writes:

Like average class size, student-faculty ratio also has the appearance of a rough gauge of personal attention. But it can be even more misleading than average class size, for several reasons. First, the most obvious problem with student-faculty ratio is that the process of reporting it is based on an honor system. While there is a standard formula provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which schools are supposed to use, colleges do not have to report any of the specific details of their calculations, only the outcome. Given that, numerous times over the past decade, U.S. News & World Report has removed schools from its annual “Best Colleges” ranking for misreporting data, and that, this past March, the dean of Temple’s business school was sentenced to 14 months in prison for sending false information to the magazine, there is reason to doubt whether the honor system produces trustworthy results.

There are a number of ways for schools to fudge the numbers and they often do. Moreover, it’s usually the more prestigious institutions that manipulate the data so as to look better.

So, what should students do? Here is Thornett’s advice: “If statistics like student-faculty ratio and average class size are not reliable indicators of personal attention and access to professors, what is? The truth is that a large part of the answer to this question lies within students. Few students take full advantage of office hours, the opportunity to engage one-on-one with professors outside of class.”

That’s absolutely correct.

Sports

The Dominican Republic of Baseball

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Dominican boys practice baseball at a park in Guerra, Dominican Republic, August 10, 2013. (Ricardo Rojas/Reuters)

Why do some societies have a harder time prospering than others? There are many reasons. Noah Smith and Craig Palsson examine a natural experiment: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Both share the same island. Both derive from a common heritage as sugar-and-coffee-producing slave colonies, although Haiti’s European cultural inheritance is French, and the Dominican’s is Spanish. Yet, while the Dominican is hardly a rich country, Haiti is much poorer. One can list a number of reasons why Haiti is poor: unstable government and misrule, the legacy of slavery, natural disasters, and meddling by the United States and international institutions such as the United Nations. But while it can be argued that Haiti has had the worse of these things, several of them have affected the Dominican as well. Yet, a popular graph illustrates how the two societies have diverged in GDP growth since about 1960, and especially since 1990:

The Haitian economics Substack, Vodou Economics, argues that the graph is misleading and that the divergence has earlier roots, but nobody seems to dispute the general trend and timeline, only the extent to which the imprecise data underlying the graph make it seem so stark and dramatic. For what it’s worth, Vodou Economics also quibbles significantly (as does Palsson) with the recent New York Times argument that Haiti has been uniquely crippled by French indemnities imposed on the island to pay off its former slaveholders, a symptom of how badly the white worlds of Europe and America treated the Western Hemisphere’s second republic in the decades after it threw off slavery.

At any rate, you can read the explanations proffered by Smith and Palsson for the divergence and judge for yourself. I would add one factor that is hardly a full explanation, but might well be a marginal contributor that Smith and Palsson are overlooking. The two nations’ fate diverges at the precise moment when Felipe Alou and Juan Marichal arrived in Major League Baseball in 1958 and 1960, beginning their careers with the San Francisco Giants (Marichal ended up in the Hall of Fame; Alou managed in the majors until 2006, and saw two brothers, two sons, a cousin, and a nephew play and/or manage in the majors). One player from the Dominican (the elder Ozzie Virgil) had preceded them, as well as seven Dominicans who played in the Negro Leagues. But from 1960 on, counting Marichal, 847 Dominicans have played in the majors. Many became major stars and earned tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, including Albert Pujols, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Adrian Beltre, Sammy Sosa, and Manny Ramirez, just to name a few.

It wasn’t just the talent pipeline. The Dominican Professional Baseball League, played in the winter, has brought major league players and managers to the Dominican since the 1960s. All 30 MLB teams maintain baseball academies in the Dominican, some of them dating back to the 1950s. In 2013, Alicia Jessop of Forbes argued that the deep ties between American baseball and the Dominican were a factor in the economy: “The country’s 2012 exports of  $9.467 billion ranked it as 97th worldwide for export totals. However, chances are that if baseball players’ salaries were factored into that export total, the Dominican Republic would see a steady rise in its export value. 20 current MLB players were featured on the Dominican Republic’s World Baseball Classic roster. Their combined 2013 salaries amount to $104,590,000.”

Is baseball alone enough to explain why the Dominican is not as poor and dysfunctional as Haiti? Surely not. But it has to be counted in the visible differences between the economies of the two halves of the island.

The Economy

Recession: Are We There Yet?

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A person pushes purchases in a shopping cart in a supermarket in Brooklyn, N.Y., March 29, 2022. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

NPR:

The U.S. economy shrank in the last three months by 0.9%.

This is the second consecutive quarter where the economy has contracted. In the first quarter, GDP, or gross domestic product, decreased at an annual rate of 1.6%.

While two consecutive quarters of negative growth is often considered a recession, it’s not an official definition. A nonprofit, non-partisan organization called the National Bureau of Economic Research determines when the U.S. economy is in a recession. An NBER committee made up of eight economists makes that determination and many factors go into that calculation.

The White House has pushed back against calling the current economy a recession. It is no doubt aware of the role the economy is going to play in the midterm elections.

President Biden cited record job growth and foreign business investment as signs of strength in the economy. “That doesn’t sound like a recession to me,” Biden concluded.

Can the NBER, which is considered to be the “official” judge of when a recession begins, save the day, at least as NPR would doubtless likely see it?

In any event, while it is certainly true that two consecutive quarters of falling GDP would generally be viewed as satisfying the definition of a recession (just as a 20 percent sell-off in share prices is the popular definition of a bear market), that is not a hard and fast rule. Instead, the NBER prefer another rule, which is neither hard nor, in both senses of the word, fast (the NBER can take its time to come up with a determination).

From the NBER report in June 2020:

The usual definition of a recession involves a decline in economic activity that lasts more than a few months.

“A few”.

The number of quarters is not fixed.

According to the NBER, “a recession begins when the economy reaches a peak of economic activity and ends when the economy reaches its trough. Between trough and peak, the economy is in an expansion.”

NBER:

In determining the monthly peak, the committee considers a number of indicators of employment and production. The committee normally views the payroll employment measure, which is based on a large survey of employers, as the most reliable comprehensive estimate of employment.

That employment number is still moving up.

Brian Wesbury looks at a chart of the data used by the NBER to determine whether we are in a recession, noting (correctly) that they do not just include GDP.

Of the six indicators, only one is negative -“real retail sales,” which are coming off a sugar high of unsustainable pandemic checks. Compare these data to the previous five recessions! Best Recession Ever.

He does expect a recession within “the next 18-24 months.” My own guess is that it will be sooner than that.

Also note that Wesbury adds that he “[doesn’t] agree with a single policy of this administration.  Bad policy = Bad Outcomes.  However, we are not in a recession, yet.”

However, it’s worth taking a look at this post of his too.

An extract:

The big drag in the second quarter was a slowdown in the pace of inventory accumulation, which, all by itself, reduced real GDP growth by two percentage points; excluding inventories, real GDP would have grown in Q2.  However, inventories were not the only soft part of the economy.  On an inflation-adjusted basis, home building dropped at a 14% annual rate while commercial construction fell at an 11.8% rate.  Business investment in equipment also declined, as did consumer spending on goods.  Meanwhile, consumer spending on services rose as did net exports, and business investment in intellectual property.  Although we do not believe the economy entered a recession in the first half of 2022, we are certainly not saying the GDP report was good news.  “Core” GDP, which includes consumer spending, business investment, and home building, was unchanged in Q2, the softest showing since the COVID shutdowns.  And the economy is also being ravaged by inflation, with the GDP deflator up at an 8.7% annual rate in Q2, the fastest pace for any quarter since 1981 . . .

Meanwhile, Albert Edwards, an analyst, who, to borrow part of a line from P. G. Wodehouse, “is never difficult to distinguish from a ray of sunshine,” tweets:

The strong payrolls report is often cited as evidence that the US economy can’t possibly in recession. It depends though which ‘jobs report’ you look at. The Household Survey measure, which is more sensitive to turning points, is certainly ALREADY consistent with recession.

So there’s that.

The Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl, a regular contributor to Capital Matters, has a good take:

I think the left is correct that this is a rare instance where we are not technically in a recession despite the GDP data.

But the right is correct to be frustrated because there is no way a GOP administration would be given this nuance by the usual suspects.

That, as people, say, is the tweet.

Riedl continues:

Whether we’re in a technical recession is less interesting to me than the following 3 questions:

1) Are jobs plentiful? (Yes – good)

2) Are real wages rising? (Falling fast – bad)

3) Is inflation hitting fixed income fams? (Yes – bad)

Fair enough, on all three counts, although I don’t think that jobs will remain plentiful for much longer. It continues to be worth noting that only now has the (seasonally adjusted) number of employed (excluding farmworkers) reached its pre-pandemic peak. That’s despite the fact that the working-age population has increased by around 2 million over the same period.

Other clouds on the horizon include growing signs of shakiness in the housing market, falling consumer confidence, certain areas of commodity-price decline, the “wealth effect” of a weaker stock market (despite a recent, partial rally), although, on a longer view, it still continues to be at a high level. Then throw in higher interest rates (although note that they are still still negative in real terms) and inflation, both of which have already had their effect on the preceding (incomplete) list of woes, as well as the effects of the Ukraine war. It is hard to be optimistic.

It’s even harder to be so when it seems that increased taxes and increased spending, much of it wasteful, seems to be on the way. No time would be a good time for the unconvincingly named Inflation Reduction Act, but the current moment seems worse than most.

Film & TV

Better Call Carol

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Better Call Saul, which for my money is the best show still on television, is just a few episodes from its conclusion. In this week’s episode, the series introduced a character played by Carol Burnett. Without spoiling anything of consequence, it proved a skillful use of stunt casting, which Vince Gilligan has used sparingly in the run of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and it tells us something about his artistry, as well as being a small reminder of Burnett’s enduring talents.

This kind of stunt casting — filling a supporting role with an instantly recognizable figure (and Carol Burnett remains instantly recognizable at 89) — could be perilous for a series that is bringing to a climactic boil all the accumulated dramatic tensions of six seasons, plus the five seasons of Breaking Bad. But it works, for two main reasons. The first is patience. Gilligan is the absolute master of patience, at bringing the audience along gradually to where he wants them to end up, and trusting that they will not lose interest along the way. Better Call Saul has been a slow show; its early seasons featured lots of small-stakes law-office scenes that were much beloved by people (such as myself) who worked in large law firms, but could be tedious for others. It often took well into episodes for anything much to happen. That has accelerated with a series of payoffs as the show has run through its final two seasons, rewarding those who remained committed. In the case of Burnett’s character, we get a leisurely introductory scene in the grocery store that gives the viewer ample time to process “hey, that’s Carol Burnett!” and then get on with the plot. The other reason it works is that Burnett still has the gift to make her character sympathetic and three-dimensional before we get into the business of finding out what will come of her encounter with Saul’s latest alias.

Economy & Business

It Depends What the Definition of ‘Recession’ Is

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Then-President Bill Clinton in an August 17, 1998, videotape as he testifies before a grand jury regarding the White House sex scandal. The tapes were aired September 21 on nationwide television. (Reuters)

In my latest New York Post column, I take on the Biden team trying to redefine “recession”:

The traditional rule of thumb for when an economy is in a recession is a decline in gross domestic product for two consecutive quarters — a shrinking economy for half a year. Under previous presidents, that was not a controversial definition. In 2008, Joe Biden’s National Economic Council director, Brian Deese, wrote, “Economists have a technical definition of recession, which is two consecutive quarters of negative growth.”

But here’s Deese Wednesday: “Two negative quarters of GDP growth is not the technical definition of recession.” He’s not the only one. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Sunday: “we are not in a recession now” even if GDP declines for a second straight quarter. “That’s not the technical definition.”

You can guess the reason for the spin: When the second-quarter GDP number came out Thursday — surprise! — it was negative for the second straight quarter. Just don’t say the R-word. President Biden’s response: “That doesn’t sound like recession to me.” It’s like a three-card-monte dealer looking you in the eye and saying, “That’s not the queen.”

Yeah, and speech is violence while riot is mostly peaceful protest. Some of the fact checks applied to Trump when he brushed off recession fears in 2019 are hilarious in retrospect. CNN’s Daniel Dale:

During a question and answer session with reporters on Sunday, Washington Post White House bureau chief Philip Rucker told President Donald Trump that “a lot of economists say that you should be preparing for a recession.” Trump responded that he is “prepared for everything,” but that “I don’t think we’re having a recession.” Speaking to reporters before he boarded Air Force One in New Jersey, Trump pointed to Walmart’s strong second-quarter earnings as a sign that consumer spending is healthy. Then he said, “And most economists actually say, Phil, that we’re not going to have a recession. Most of them are saying we’re not going to have a recession.”

Facts First: We don’t have data on what every economist thinks. But prominent bank economists have warned this month of a significant risk of a coming recession, and a survey of business economists, mostly conducted in July, found that 74% thought there would be a recession by 2021.

The US is still in its longest uninterrupted economic expansion ever; nobody knows for sure if or when a recession might hit. And since we don’t have comprehensive data on economists’ views, we can’t declare Trump’s claim about “most” of them false. But multiple economists have said this month that the possibility of a recession is real and growing.

The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler:

[Trump]: “Your statement about, ‘Oh, will we fall into a recession for two months,’ Okay? The fact is, somebody had to take China on. My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t take China on. But I like doing it because I have to do it.”

[Kessler fact-check]: A recession is two quarters of negative economic growth. That’s six months, not two months.

Woke Culture

The Solution to Campus Wokeism? Enlightenment Principles

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A student walks across the campus of Columbia University in New York, October 5, 2009. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

James Lindsay, who has worked to expose the lunacy of leftist ideologies such as critical race theory, spoke to young conservatives at Young America’s Foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference on Thursday.

He outlined to students the connections between identity politics and Marxism, explaining that the view of one group as an inherent oppressor and the other as inherently oppressed is an intrinsically collectivist and authoritarian one.

While the subject of his talk was interesting, there was a point in the question-and-answer portion of his lecture that was especially important. It gave students an idea of how they can fight back against indoctrination without necessarily calling it out publicly and risking cancellation.

A student told Lindsay about his experience in his math class, recounting that he felt the lectures he was supposed to attend were useless, given that the professor was just repeating the material in the textbook without challenging students to think critically about it. He said this phenomenon was also likely happening in the liberal arts and asked Lindsay how students can learn about the world despite their dogmatically leftist professors.

“You actually pointed at [the solution], which is that you have to do the study yourself. You have to be autodidactic,” Lindsay answered.

“You are going to have to step outside of the frame of your professors,” he added, “and you’re going to have to start coming together as students who are interested to learn, interested to find the truth.” He advised conference attendees to simply read the texts for themselves, maybe forming little book clubs where they discuss their ideas freely outside of the classroom.

This advice may seem like common sense now, but it was once a revolutionary idea, especially during the advent of the classical liberalism of the Enlightenment. One of the first people to articulate it as political theory was Immanuel Kant. In his 1784 essay, “What is Enlightenment,” he defined the concept as “man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity.”

That immaturity, he said, comes about when people allow others to think for them, abdicating their responsibilities to gain knowledge. If a man wants to become enlightened, Kant argued, he must “dare to know,” not accepting the dogma of a church or a state without question.

Now, some in our contemporary culture need a reminder of Kant’s ideas. There are people in our world who have taken up the mantle almost as a magisterial authority in their advocacy for social justice.

Ibram X. Kendi has said that “the very heartbeat of racism is denial,” arguing that people who push back on allegations of racism against them are illustrating their own bigotry. In this view of the world, people must accept critical race theory unquestioningly, which flies in the face of the ideas Kant expressed.

In Kant’s time, achieving personal enlightenment was much more difficult to do. Though the printing press was centuries old by the time he wrote his essay, books were still expensive, and people had far less leisure time and disposable income. Now, we have access to the mass production of books both old and new, as well as libraries at our universities that are filled with them.

Additionally, governments in Kant’s era were wont to ban books that challenged their authority. Though we have seen publishing companies and retailers engage in soft bans, these controversial books are still ultimately available, at least, far more than books that were prohibited in the 18th century.

Conservative college students have the resources at their fingertips to achieve Kantian enlightenment, and Lindsay’s advice allows them to do so without necessarily facing too much pushback. Having the fortitude to speak unpopular truths is courageous, but not all people are willing or equipped to do that.

But the least everyone can do is read materials themselves and come up with their own opinions. Brave people in Kant’s time did it amidst harder barriers than there are today. What excuse do we have?

Health Care

Britain’s Gender Youth Clinic Shuts Down

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Britain’s National Health Service is closing its gender-identity youth clinic after a review revealed its care of gender-confused children and adolescents was substandard. Referrals at the clinic have skyrocketed in recent years, especially among teenage girls and those on the autism spectrum. Hilary Cass, the pediatrician leading the review, found that the clinic was “not a safe or viable long-term option.” Instead, new regional centers will be set up to “ensure the holistic needs” of patients are met.

In a face-saving statement, the trans activist group Stonewall said it welcomed the opportunity to decrease “unacceptable” wait times for “young trans people.” Really, though, this comes as a major blow to their efforts. And it is all thanks to the dogged journalism of the Times of London, the whistleblower clinicians who spoke out, and the battle in the British courts brought by Keira Bella, the young woman and former patient harmed by a hasty transition.

Business

VW’s Futurism Meets Reality

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Volkswagen employees stand next to Volkswagen electric cars during a ceremony at the company’s first battery cell production plant “SalzGiga” in Salzgitter, Germany, July 7, 2022. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

The Germans may be returning to pragmatism. Volkswagen AG has seen the light, or at least slowed in its delusion that all cars will be entirely electric in the next decade. The world’s third-largest automotive group by market cap (after Tesla and Toyota), the manufacturer has announced that CEO Herbert Diess is out, and the head of its Porsche division, Oliver Blume, is in command. While there appear to be at least a few reasons why VW prematurely ended Diess’s lease (labor disputes, slow EV rollout, and impolitic revelations), it may be the prudent incrementalism of his replacement that will make the change particularly consequential. “Electrofuel” is Blume’s pet term, one we’ll no doubt hear more of in the coming years. 

As the Wall Street Journal explains:

Electrofuels are a type of synthetic fuel that produce energy the same way gasoline and diesel do. They combust as part of a conventional power drive. But they are manufactured by mixing water and carbon dioxide to create a low-carbon replacement fuel for diesel or gasoline engines. Right now, they are too expensive to make economically. Some experts believe they will never be as cheap as battery electric cars.

For the industry, though, e-fuels carry one big advantage over battery-powered vehicles: Because they burn the same way as gasoline, they can run in the internal-combustion engines that most of the industry still pumps out. That would allow car makers to continue to make traditional engines, saving them the billions of dollars many have already committed to in their pivot to making electric cars.

Governments and manufacturers have long dreamt of a world without fossil fuels, with visions of sleek, environmentally-inoffensive electric vehicles taking their place. Critics of this vision have rightly scoffed at it, both for the onerous regulations to effect such a dramatic shift in transportation and the obvious scaling issues of producing these millions of cars. Not to mention that the electric-vehicle class is burdened with new technologies that do not necessarily improve upon their internal-combustion engine (ICE) counterparts meaningfully. 

Toyota is the best example of a hybrid philosophy, rewarded by consumers with the most car sales of any company in the world. They incorporate passive batteries into their lineup — making for efficient and robust vehicles — while accepting that the internal-combustion engines are familiar, inexpensively produced, and near-perfected. The driver can treat his hybrid like any other gas-powered vehicle, never having to deal with chargers, but the batteries within allow for 50+ mpg and regenerative braking. If only we could expect the same realism from legislators regarding transportation. 

VW’s new boss, Blume, adopted a similar hybridized stance at Porsche, leading it to become the most profitable section of VW. He understands, and rightly so, that producing a superior electric sports car and continuing to develop a brilliant ICE sports car lineup would only redound to his company’s benefit. While Porsche buyers aren’t keen on fuel efficiency per se, they do desire the crackling feedback and power curve that ICE innately offers. 

Whether Blume can shift Volkwagen into the same philosophically prudent gear will be worth watching. If he can, we may see VW finally pull itself from the doldrums that the combination of their emissions scandals and weak electric offerings the company has foolishly steered into.

Culture

Republicans’ Same-Sex-Marriage Dilemma

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I have a piece in the upcoming print issue explaining why social conservatives oppose the Respect for Marriage Act.

Education

Education Becomes a Winning Issue for Republicans

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Shelley Slebrch and other parents and community members protest after a Loudoun County School Board meeting was halted by the school board because the crowd refused to quiet down, in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Parents — especially minority parents — are clearly revolting against governors, school boards, and their teachers’-union overlords.

A new poll by Morning Consult of battleground states shows that for the first time in anyone’s memory, Democrats have lost the trust advantage they had with voters on education. Democrats had a 15-point edge on that question as recently as 2020. Now the GOP has a four-point advantage.

With parents, the margin is nine percentage points, and with voters of color, the gap is ten points as minority parents revolt against lockdown, mask mandates, and “woke” classroom learning.

The pandemic revealed the anti-student agenda of progressive leaders. Voters are ready to render a verdict on it this November.

Politics & Policy

The Grab Bag of Green Corporate Giveaways and a Tax Hike Act

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So Democrats got some kind of illegible agreement from Senator Joe Manchin to support a very skinny version of the Build Back Better bill that is now called the Inflation Reduction Act. And the press is calling it a “surprise climate deal.”

I just remain endlessly fascinated by Democratic attempts at legislation and how they are communicating their priorities to the public. Most voters don’t even know that an infrastructure bill was passed because the headlines kept saying that a bill named “Build Back Better” didn’t pass.

I suppose “Inflation Reduction Act” is better branding than “Grab Bag of Green Corporate Giveaways and a Tax Hike.”

Education

Chapel Hill’s Trustees Pass Two Strong Resolutions

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University trustees seldom do much good, but the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Board of Trustees has just passed two strong resolutions, available here.

One states that funds collected from mandatory student fees are to be distributed in a viewpoint-neutral fashion. That is to say, without favoritism for “progressive” organizations or hostility toward conservative and libertarian ones. University administrators have often played favorites and it’s a good thing that school policy now forbids it.

The second resolution affirms the university’s commitment to the Chicago Principles and UNC’s 1967 Kalven Committee Report. Both uphold academic freedom and the role of the university as a place for debate and scholarship rather than activism.

I particularly like this paragraph from the Kalven Committee Report:

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Too many of today’s academic leaders fail to appreciate that wisdom.

 

Culture

In Support of Loch Ness Monster Clickbait

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In response to Against Loch Ness Monster Clickbait

My friend Jack Butler, a self-described “general connoisseur of the strange,” objects to recent headlines overselling the evidence of Scotland’s Loch Ness monster. He takes the mythical monster seriously and wants others to do the same. While I respect Jack’s enthusiasm for “real news” on the subject, clearly the sensationalized version is a greater boon to the imagination — not to mention Scotland’s tourism industry!

Culture

The Correct Term for ‘Egg Donor’ Is Mother

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On TikTok, a gay couple posted a video explaining how they chose their “beautiful egg donor.” Stuart explains, “I wanted her to have lovely big eyes, I wanted her to have really thick hair because I’ve had two hair transplants.” He laughs. “I wanted her to have a really wide, nice smile. And just look like a kind person.”

After flicking through an online catalogue, Francis details how they had “a few Zoom calls” with their favorite donors. Two let them down. “Fuming!” Stuart exclaims. “Luckily,” though, a third agreed.

A couple of quick points:

  1. Children aren’t commodities. Deliberately engineering a situation in which a child is deprived of his mother (or father) is wrong.
  2. Women’s bodies aren’t commodities. Harvesting and selling women’s eggs or renting out their wombs is demeaning. The correct term for this “egg donor” is mother. 

 

World

U.K. Transgender Clinic to Close after Damning Report: ‘Not Safe’ for Children

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Protesters attend the London Trans Pride 2020 march, in London, Britain, September 12, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

As the Biden administration continues to try to use its regulatory powers to force a “gender-affirming” approach to children who question their sex, in other countries the rubber-stamping of a gender-dysphoric child’s belief and the prescribing of puberty-blocking drugs are under serious reconsideration. The U.K., Sweden, Finland, and France — not exactly Bible Belt countries — are all pulling back from the rush to transition children.

Now, in the U.K., the Tavistock Gender Clinic — run by the National Health Service — is being shut down because it is not safe for children. From the Daily Mail story:

The NHS‘s controversial child transgender clinic will shut its doors after a damning report found it was ‘not safe’ for children.

The gender identity service at Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust will be replaced by regional centres at existing children’s hospitals, which will provide more holistic care with ‘strong links to mental health services’.

It comes in response to an ongoing review led by senior paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass, who warned the gender clinic was ‘not a safe or viable long-term option’. She found other mental health issues were ‘overshadowed’ in favour of gender identity issues when children were referred to Tavistock’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS).

In other words, children will not be pushed toward transitioning — as the Biden administration wants done here — but their mental and emotional issues will be more thoroughly explored.

Part of the issue — also acknowledged in France — has been the exponential increase in cases, brought on I believe by a moral panic and a form of social contagion spread by social media:

There have also been concerns about the sharp rise in referrals to GIDS. There were more than 5,000 referrals being made in the last year, compared to just a few hundred 10 years ago.

The closure of the service for young people at Tavistock is likely to be seen as a victory by campaigners who have previously accused GIDS of rushing children onto puberty blocking drugs.

Former patient Keira Bell took the clinic to the High Court, claiming that she had not been challenged enough when she was prescribed the drugs at age 16.

It is also worth noting that transition ideologues were accused of pushing autistic children to transition in the U.K.

The report that led to the clinic’s closure also worried that there is a lack of knowledge about the impact that puberty blocking has on maturing bodies. In other words, whereas the Biden administration claims these interventions are uncontroversial, the report makes clear that they are entirely experimental:

In a letter to NHS England, Dr Cass also called for more research into the effects of puberty blockers on a young person’s brain development.

[The report’s author] wrote:  ‘A further concern is that adolescent sex hormone surges may trigger the opening of a critical period for experience-dependent rewiring of neural circuits underlying executive function (i.e. maturation of the part of the brain concerned with planning, decision making and judgement).

‘If this is the case, brain maturation may be temporarily or permanently disrupted by puberty blockers, which could have significant impact on the ability to make complex risk-laden decisions, as well as possible longer-term neuropsychological consequences.

‘To date, there has been very limited research on the short-, medium- or longer-term impact of puberty blockers on neurocognitive development.’

Meanwhile California is set to become a gender-affirming care sanctuary state, to the potential profound detriment of children.

It’s time to hit the brakes on all of this. Our children’s futures are too important to allow trans ideology to drive our public-health policies.

Science & Tech

Against Loch Ness Monster Clickbait

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(Max2611/Getty Images)

Over the past few days, you may have seen article headlines such as “Scientists say new fossils point to existence of Loch Ness monster,” or “Loch Ness Monster Existence Plausible, Scientists Say,” or “New discovery makes Loch Ness Monster ‘plausible.’” Though I prefer America’s weirdness, I am a general connoisseur of the strange. And the Loch Ness monster of Scotland has long held a special place in my heart. So when I became aware of this “story” via Twitter trending, which presented it similarly, I got excited: Had a fossil of Nessie been found in the “dark Scottish lake” in which she allegedly resides? Was some other proof unearthed? A tunnel to the ocean, perhaps?

In truth, it was nothing of the sort. Actually clicking on one of the stories revealed the somewhat boring truth behind the sensational headlines. Let’s pick on the New York Post, whose headline “The Loch Ness monster may be real, scientists now say” was probably — unsurprisingly — the most lurid of all. Here’s what has actually been “revealed”:

According to a new joint study, released Wednesday by the University of Bath and University of Portsmouth in the UK and Université Hassan II in Morocco, fossils of plesiosaurs were found in the Morocco portion of the Sahara Desert, reported Newsweek.

The study — published in Cretaceous Research — suggests that 100 million years ago, the desert was once a body of freshwater where hundreds of carnivores lived together.

Several fossils including teeth from adult plesiosaurs that measured 9 feet in length and baby plesiosaurs — measuring 5 feet long — were found at the dig site.

So we don’t have new evidence of a plesiosaur — the extinct creature long put forward as a possibility for what Nessie might actually be — currently existing in Loch Ness. We don’t even have evidence that such a creature might once have inhabited the loch. Instead, we have evidence that, at one point, this type of animal may have lived in freshwater thousands of miles away. And so it could, theoretically, have lived in Loch Ness — or it could be there currently, I guess?

Nonsense. What we have here is a classic case of Loch Ness monster clickbait. I am firmly against such things. Let the settlements around the loch profit from tourism; let a thousand History Channel shows about Nessie bloom; and, by all means, let there be legitimate scientific investigations into the lake and into the possibility of Nessie’s former, or current, existence there. But spare me this cryptid sensationalism. Goodness knows there are worse problems with the media, but this is still an example. When there’s real news about stuff like this, I want to be the first to know. But don’t try to get me to click on something that doesn’t directly bear on the reality (or not) of Nessie.

It sure is a relief that we never get this kind of thing when it comes to UFOs . . .

Now It’s a Recession, Now It’s Not: Media Parrot White House Talking Points on Economy

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White House economic adviser Brian Deese speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 31, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On Tuesday, Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, took the podium in the White House briefing room to perform the magnificent feat of bending reality to his will.

Echoing Treasury secretary Janet Yellen, Deese explained that “two negative quarters of GDP growth is not the technical definition of recession. It’s not the definition that economists have traditionally relied on.”

“There is an organization called the National Bureau of Economic Research and what they do is they look at a broad range of data in deciding whether or not a recession has occurred,” he continued serenely. But that doesn’t free the

Politics & Policy

New Report: State Pro-Life Laws Protect Pregnant Mothers

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Pro-abortion rights activists protest outside the Supreme Court building, ahead of arguments in the Mississippi abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A new report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute confirms what I reported here at NR earlier this week: Every pro-life state law in the country contains explicit protections ensuring that pregnant women can receive necessary medical care in cases of a health emergency.

The report is rigorously researched and cited, and it includes the relevant text of each law in question, including the sections defining abortion and outlining exceptions for medical emergencies. In addition to this much-needed information about state laws, the report’s summary contains these key explanations, including an explanation of why direct abortion — or a procedure that intentionally kills the unborn child — is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother:

Each of these states permits abortion in those rare and heartbreaking circumstances when it is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. Physicians can make this determination based on their “reasonable medical judgment,” a standard very common in the medical profession and used for any case involving medical malpractice litigation. Physicians are trained to use their best judgment to care for patients; however, it would be prudent for state medical boards, state medical societies, state boards of pharmacy, hospital quality committees, and hospital attorneys to provide more detailed guidance to doctors on how to reach a determination that abortion is necessary. Tragically, this type of guidance appears slow in coming. Meanwhile, abortion advocates are spreading the dangerous lie that life-saving care is not or may not be permitted in these states, leading to provider confusion and poor outcomes for women.

To assist healthcare providers and dispel the myths being spread by those more concerned with promoting abortion than women’s health, this document discusses miscarriage management, treatment for ectopic pregnancy, and medical conditions that could qualify as life-threatening, permitting abortion under pro-life laws. . . .

While some laws contain definitions and exceptions that more explicitly speak to certain situations, each law reviewed does not prevent mothers from receiving the medical care necessary. A plain reading of any of these statutes easily refutes the false and dangerous misinformation being spread by pro-abortion activists. Further, none of the laws reviewed prohibit a medical professional from acting as necessary when facing a life-threatening medical emergency; therefore, under these laws medical professionals can exercise reasonable medical judgement and as outlined by the ACOG guidance, are not required to delay necessary care and treatment to a mother.

Because the terminology can be confusing, it is important to be aware that a “spontaneous abortion” describes a “miscarriage,” a pregnancy where the fetus dies naturally.  An “induced abortion” is sometimes shortened to the layman’s term “abortion,” indicating that the pregnancy was intentionally ended in order to cause the death of the fetus.  Additionally, “termination of pregnancy” and “medically indicated separation” indicate that the mother will be separated from her fetus but does not indicate the method used. This can be done by labor induction or c-section, potentially resulting in a live baby if he has reached an appropriate gestational age. “Induced abortion” indicates that a dead baby will be the outcome of the intervention (such as after a dilation and evacuation “dismemberment” abortion). While the law allows induced abortion if needed in order to protect the mother’s life, compassionate care and respect for fetal life would dictate that the fetus should be delivered intact and alive if possible.

The report is a great service to those following the debate over abortion policy, and it performs the essential task of dispelling falsehoods spread by those who defend unlimited abortion, hiding behind the dangerous lie that women will die as the result of pro-life laws.

Politics & Policy

Chip Roy Introduces Bill That Would Allow the President to Fire Executive-Branch Employees

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U.S. Congressman Chip Roy speaking with attendees at the 2019 Young Americans for Liberty Convention (Gage Skidmore/WikiMedia )

Today, Representative Chip Roy (R., Texas) introduced the Public Service Reform Act (PSRA), a long-overdue, good-government reform aimed at reining in the runaway power of the administrative state. According to a summary of the bill exclusively obtained by National Review, the PSRA would “make all executive branch employees at-will, meaning they can face any adverse action, including removal, provided it is not a prohibited personnel practice, such as racial discrimination.” The bill’s description continues:

It establishes an efficient termination process. Under this framework:

  • An employee shall be notified of his/her removal and the reasons for it;
  • The employee shall have 14 days to provide a written response;
  • An agency deciding official shall decide to proceed with the termination or not;
  • The agency head has discretion to hold a hearing over the termination if needed;
  • The deciding official’s decision shall be the agency’s final decision, unless the agency head or POTUS reverses the termination within 7 days;
  • Provides post-facto whistleblower protections that penalizes frivolous claims and protects legitimate whistleblowers with reinstatement and backpay;
  • Allows a federal employee to bring a discrimination claim to the EEOC, however, the claim would be treated as if it came from the private sector.

The bill covers all non-political executive branch employees and removes any avenues for outside appeals after termination, which are abused by poor-performing or politically- motivated bureaucrats.

Further, the bill would eliminate the Merit Systems Protection Board and other pathways for adverse action appeal.

The PSRA already enjoys the endorsement of conservative groups such as Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, and America First Works. “We applaud Rep. Chip Roy’s legislation as it brings much-needed reform, helping fight government corruption by draining the swamp,” Ashley Hayek, Executive Director of America First Works, wrote in a statement. “Federal agencies need the ability to remove career bureaucrats who underperform or subvert the will of the American people.” Indeed, this should be a priority for anyone who cares about the health of the American constitutional order. An administrative state that is unaccountable to the president is at odds with the Founders’ Constitution — and the fundamental principle of self-government: As Jonathan Turley wrote back in 2013, “The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined . . . the vast majority of ‘laws’ governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.” And it’s incredibly difficult for the one member of the executive branch who’s actually accountable to voters — i.e., the president — to actually change the composition of this bureaucracy. As Roy notes:

To fire employees, federal supervisors must navigate an unjustifiably complex and time-consuming process, conducting a formal investigation and giving employees 30 days advance notice. During this time, they are prohibited from hiring a replacement.

  • Disgruntled employees often intentionally impeded policies they personally disliked, delaying important work, hiding information from political appointees, and in some cases outright refusing to do their jobs.

  • Career employees have misrepresented federal regulations and legal precedent, withheld records they were required by law to turn over, and left political employees scrambling to make up work they not only would not do, but actively obstructed.

The stark nature of this issue was brought into sharp relief during the Trump administration, when, as Roy said, “Non-political executive branch employees consistently hindered political employees’ work and undermined the executive branch’s agenda, with few repercussions.” The logical response, as I myself have argued in the past, is to allow the president to actually exercise control over who serves in the branch of government he ostensibly oversees. As I wrote in March:

The idea that administrators in the executive branch should just get to decide that a president’s decisions are unacceptable, over and above the expressed electoral wishes of the people, is fundamentally un-American. In our republican form of government, the administrative state doesn’t get to unilaterally determine which policies are worth pursuing. Within the parameters set by the Constitution, the people do.

It’s encouraging to see conservatives like Roy actually take proactive measures to remedy this issue and restore sovereignty to where it should lie — in the hands of the people’s elected representatives. This should be a no-brainer for Republicans. 

Law & the Courts

The Dobbs Leak Whodunit May Not Yield a Who for Many Years

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A person walks past the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

As Jack Wolfsohn detailed yesterday, the latest reporting from the Supreme Court does not paint an optimistic picture of the Dobbs leak investigation and its odds of smoking out the culprit. The window of opportunity for Chief Justice John Roberts to pressure the leaker with a swift, dramatic internal investigation within the first 48 hours has long since closed, yet it does not appear that the more powerful law-enforcement tools outside the Court have been deployed, either. David Lat parses out what the latest CNN report by Joan Biskupic suggests:

First, Biskupic reports that Colonel Curley asked clerks to sign affidavits and to turn over cellphone data, but Biskupic does not discuss whether clerks complied with these requests. It’s possible that some clerks complied and some did not, or some clerks complied but not completely — e.g., they signed affidavits but refused to turn over cellphone data. As Biskupic previously reported, the requests, especially the ones for cellphone data, raised concerns among certain clerks.

Second, Biskupic reports that some permanent employees, i.e., not one-year Term clerks, turned over not just cellphone records, but electronic devices themselves. In my view, this information makes it less likely that the leaker was a permanent employee, like a judicial assistant or chambers aide, and more likely that the leaker was a law clerk. Why? The permanent employees were more cooperative with the investigation because they had less to hide.

I still agree with Lat that a law clerk is the most likely suspect, but it remains enraging that we are left to speculate and not know the answer nearly three months later, when the clerks have all left the Court. Lat’s essay is worth reading for his full explanation of how he thinks the leak could have gone down in true cloak-and-dagger fashion, such that it is possible that even the Politico reporters do not, to this day, know the identity of the leaker. But as Mark Sherman of the Associated Press notes, while the leaker has left a cloud of suspicion over everyone who worked at the Court this past term, there is still one way in which the truth may surface decades from now if it was a clerk:

The public might never know. Then again, Supreme Court clerks often go on to prominent legal jobs. Six of the nine justices once served as law clerks. Sometime in the next few decades, one or more of them might appear for a confirmation hearing for a judgeship or some other high-ranking government job where they might be asked if they leaked the document or know who did.

If I was involved with the Senate Judiciary Committee or other Senate committees holding hearings, I’d make a note to put this in the written questionnaire for any nominee who clerked for the Court in 2021–22.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: ESG and Inflation Indexing

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David Bahnsen writes about today’s episode of the Capital Record, about ESG:

I encourage you to listen to the podcast with Professor Damodoran. The ESG movement is beginning to falter, and that is not merely because of a bull market in energy and bear market in Silicon Valley. An intellectually and morally bankrupt movement is finally being exposed, and the entire economy will soon be better off for it.

You can listen to that episode right here.

Daniel Pilla writes about provisions of the tax code that aren’t indexed to inflation:

The calculation of basis in capital assets (stocks, bonds, savings accounts, real estate) is not indexed to inflation. The only thing that is measured is the nominal gain or loss. As far as the IRS is concerned, if you sell an asset for more than you paid for it, you have a taxable gain, period. And this is true regardless of the fact that all gains may be purely attributable to inflation over the holding period.

There are dozens of provisions of the tax code that are indexed to inflation, including the income-tax brackets themselves. The idea is that one’s income-tax rate should not necessarily increase simply because inflation pushed his income up. But capital gains do not benefit from the same treatment.

Media

The Coordination Was Explicit

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The ability of progressives to coordinate their efforts spontaneously across organizations has always seemed to me to be their chief strength. But it turns out that public-private censorship during the pandemic was partly due to explicit coordination between the CDC and the social-media networks.

Joseph Simonson reports at the Washington Free Beacon:

Over the course of at least six months, starting in December 2020, CDC officials regularly communicated with personnel at Twitter, Facebook, and Google over “vaccine misinformation.” At various times, CDC officials would flag specific posts by users on social media platforms such as Twitter as “example posts.”

One funny detail is that once the CDC’s recommendations came in, they had the side effect of occasionally censoring guidelines and information released by individual state health departments.

The lesson that should be taken here — if it isn’t a dramatic diminishment of the CDC’s role in public life — is that the government should not try to help private censors, or encourage censorship at all across the media. But of course, the real lesson that progressives will take is that the CDC needs an entire department to centralize talking points and impose them on all public-health officials, and perhaps all doctors before beginning its campaign of censorship.

Politics & Policy

Thanks for the ‘Memory’

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Former president Donald Trump speaks during the Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit in Tampa, Fla., July 23, 2022. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

The thing you have to understand about Donald Trump, says Claremont Institute chairman Tom Klingenstein, is that “Trump is a manly man,” an exemplar of “traditional manhood.”

Well.

There is, I think, a contrary point of view.

Donald Trump is a whiny Palm Beach pasha whose put-upon servants soothe him by playing showtunes — specifically, the sad songs from Cats — when he’s feeling a little verklempt. He has your Aunt Jeanie’s social-media addiction and wears more makeup than the hog-tied hooker I predict somebody will find in the trunk of Anthony Weiner’s rental car one of these days. His Manhattan apartment is the sort of gilded and frescoed mess that would have made Liberace say, “Tone it down, Nancy.”

Donald Trump isn’t a warrior-prince — he’s a character who got cut from Glee for being too campy.

But I suppose I don’t see this issue precisely the same way they do over at Claremont. When it comes to pegging a man for the virile type, they know whereof they speak.

The Economy

Who Saw This Recession Coming? Lots of People

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Chair of the White House Counsel for Economic Advisors, Kevin Hassett, sits down for a conversation with National Review Institute fellow Ramesh Ponnuru at the 2019 National Review Institute Ideas Summit.

Back in October 2021, at the National Review Institute gathering in Dallas, Kevin Hassett, who was the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Trump and a senior adviser to him, offered a fascinating contrast between his usually cheerful and amiable personality and an economic assessment that I described as “darker than Rembrandt’s Night Watch viewed through sunglasses at midnight during a power outage.” Hassett suggested that GDP numbers were going to decline and that a recession was on the way. In autumn 2021, people knew that inflation was a little higher than we wanted it to be, businesses were having a hard time finding workers, and the supply-chain issues were becoming major headaches, but at that time, predicting a recession was still a surprisingly grim assessment. The U.S. was supposed to be enjoying a post-Covid economic boom!

And in the fourth quarter 0f 2021, the GDP number did boom, all the way up to 7 percent. So for a little while, Hassett’s prediction of a recession seemed too pessimistic . . .

. . . but six months later, we’ve now experienced two consecutive quarters of declining GDP, which has been the traditional, rule-of-thumb definition of recession for a long time — just ask Joe Biden’s advisers before this past week.

Once the U.S. experienced one quarter of declining GDP, there was always a good chance that the next quarter would be lousy as well. Inflation continued to rage out of control. Gas prices have declined since mid June, but they’re still high by historical standards. The labor shortage hasn’t changed, and the effort to mitigate supply chain problems is two steps forward, one step back. The Fed hiked interest rates to fight inflation, making it tougher to get loans and purchase homes. Today’s GDP number indicating a decline of nine-tenths of 1 percent isn’t the worst possible news, but it indicates we’re not out of the tough times yet.

I’ve returned to Hassett’s remarks (in April) and warned that the administration was whistling past the graveyard (in June and at the beginning of this month). Yes, the national unemployment rate is low and many businesses are still hiring. But we are still beset by economic problems that usually take long periods of time to resolve. Inflation is paramount, but lots of companies can’t find enough workers, hurting productivity. Many businesses expect the supply-chain issues to last well into 2023 or even longer. And while we thought Covid-19 was in the rear-view mirror, this summer businesses are seeing staffing problems, with some staffers taking vacation while others are calling in sick with mild cases of Covid. None of these factors help increase the national GDP.

The third quarter GDP numbers will be released October 27. If that one is negative, will the administration stop whining about people using the term “recession”?

Film & TV

Rewriting What’s Gone Before (Streaming Edition)

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(Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

I’m dating myself (again), this time, I suppose, by admitting that I still buy DVDs. That’s my Generation Jones fondness for ownership, and my own hoarding instinct, but there’s something else at play. Rely on a streaming service and things can, in our age of cancellation, either disappear, never to be seen again, or they can be tinkered with, perhaps to remove a scene now deemed offensive or, less malignly, for artistic reasons.

GQ:

Given the relative permanence of TV and film, you’d think the screen industries will remain unscathed — but you’ll be so, so very wrong, if Stranger Things creators the Duffers get their way.

In an interview with Variety in early June, the sibling directorial duo confirmed plans to “George Lucas” — ie. retrospectively edit, as has been the Star Wars progenitor’s unpopular bent with later editions of the original franchise trilogy — a moment in Stranger Things season two, owing to a fan-identified plot hole. It’s a simple mistake of an expansive series costing $30 million an episode, really: the creative team set an episode of Stranger Things 4 on March 22, forgetting that it had been established as Will Byers’ (Noah Schnapp) birthday in the earlier season.

To be fair, March 22 is a day that needs to be respected. Not only is it (it appears: I haven’t watched the show) Will Byers’s birthday, but it’s also mine, K-Lo’s, and William Shatner’s (Captain Kirk’s too).

GQ:

The error is mostly anodyne, singularly offensive to the most hand-wringing of pedants (it’s giving Genius At Work), and certainly not something that needs to be fixed after the fact. The given reason for the tweak? They didn’t want the fans to feel sad, or to be mad at them for their negligence.

Confirmation was given to Variety later that month. “We have George Lucas’d things also that people don’t know about,” Matt Duffer said, declining to touch upon the specific alterations made to previous seasons…Editing a continuity error after the fact would be fairly innocuous if not for the implied slippery slope. No one can ever convince me, a rational person, that anyone aside from a subset of weirdos online would actually care — but hey, said tweaks bode no dramatic change, and if this wasn’t a news story, the vast majority of viewers simply wouldn’t notice. Season one came out six years ago, after all: it’s not as though most watchers are tracing back character beats like an archivist for Ancestry.com, as much as I’m sure the Duffers would like to think the Kool-Aid has been more widely sampled.

A show like Stranger Things, the most highly watched series on Netflix in the English language, boasts huge cultural cachet: if the Duffers are doing it, who’s to say that other creators won’t? One day patches might become as commonplace in screen media as they are in video games, and that is a truly worrying precedent for consumers and the integrity of art alike.

In principle, retrospective tinkering (or more) is fine (if “censors” are not involved), but ideally the viewer should, if he or she wants (and their psychiatric nurses are okay with it), be able to compare different iterations of the same product. If we’re talking relatively small changes (repackaged films such as the various editions of Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner — I have the DVDs, each version, perfectly normal thing to have done — are a different matter), that is unlikely to be possible with streamed content. DVDs, of course, can also be messed around with, but not remotely. The answer, therefore, for strict originalists, unwilling to try their luck and the law by recording content streamed on, say, Netflix, is not to hesitate too long before buying the DVD version of any movie or show they wish to preserve in all its original glory.

Now I think of it, maybe it’s time for me to invest in the complete Breaking Bad (the greatest TV series ever made, in case you wondered). There’s a show that could fall foul of someone someday . . .

There is a wider, more serious point to be made about how new technologies are changing our ability to rewrite history. The Internet may indeed be the greatest store of information that any society has ever had, but I’m not sure we fully understand how effectively it can be used to mess with the past as well as the present. Conventional wisdom has it that, once something is on the Internet, it’s forever. Maybe, maybe not. That people can just make things up online is hardly a revelation, but smaller, subtler changes can be made, with little or no chance of discovery, obscuring the original item, which will be lost, probably, beyond recall.

Politics & Policy

I Remember the ACLU

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Headline from The Nation:

The Arizona Prison System Is Censoring The Nation. We’re Doing Something About It.

Arizona prison authorities are stopping incarcerated people from reading The Nation. We’re working with the ACLU’s National Prison Project to assert their First Amendment rights.

At times like this, it would be a very fine thing to have an ACLU that was a civil-liberties-and-free-speech organization rather than an ACLU that is a free-speech-sometimesexcept-if-we-don’t-like-it-in-which-case-you’re-on-your-own organization. Having real principles makes coalition-building easier. The ACLU may still make the occasional political stretch, but the organization seems to have lost its way.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before: When Amnesty International stuck to its mission — prisoners of conscience — William F. Buckley Jr. was on the board, and it had cross-ideological support for its core program. When it became just another left-wing advocacy organization, it lost its vitality. Roughly the same thing happened to the NAACP. On the right, the NRA lost its way when it took its eye off the Second Amendment ball and became in effect a subsidiary of the Republican Party and an unfocused right-wing culture-war committee.

We could use an organization that does what the ACLU used to do. But I fear that Americans, particularly American liberals, have long ago stopped believing their own dogma.

 

Elections

Mike Pence Endorses Rebecca Kleefisch for Wisconsin Governor

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Then-Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch in 2018. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

Mike Pence endorsed Rebecca Kleefisch in the Wisconsin gubernatorial primary today, adding to the massive list of conservative individuals and organizations that have endorsed her over Trump-backed Tim Michels. The primary election will be held on August 9.

Kleefisch was lieutenant governor from 2011 to 2019, for both of Scott Walker’s terms as governor. She helped stand up to public-sector unions, who sent thousands of protesters to the state capitol in opposition to the state’s budget in 2011. That led to her recall, along with Walker’s, and they each won their recall election with larger margins than they won in their first election.

The GOP leadership in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature endorsed her, as have numerous other state legislators. She’s also been endorsed by Iowa governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Ted Cruz, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, and, naturally, Scott Walker.

With the Supreme Court returning the issue of abortion to the states (where it belongs), it’s all the more important that Wisconsin Right to Life has endorsed Kleefisch. Crime is becoming more of an issue to voters, and Kleefisch is endorsed by the sheriffs of 40 of the state’s 72 counties. She’s rock-solid on gun rights as well, with the Wisconsin Firearms Owners Association supporting her.

Tim Michels, on the other hand, is endorsed by former governor Tommy Thompson and Donald Trump. And that’s pretty much it. Not one member of the state legislature and not one sheriff has endorsed him yet. One campaign mailer claimed he has been endorsed by the NRA — but he has not been endorsed by the NRA (source: the NRA). He has an “AQ” rating from the NRA, which is one grade below Kleefisch’s “A” rating. Wisconsin Right to Life endorsed him as well as Kleefisch, but unlike Kleefisch, who supported multiple cuts to Planned Parenthood funding during the Walker years, we don’t really know anything about Michels’s record on abortion. In fact, we don’t really know anything about his record on anything.

Michels ran for Senate in 2004 against Democrat Russ Feingold, losing by eleven points. Then, he essentially disappeared from any visible role in Wisconsin politics. He apparently spent a fair amount of time in New York and Connecticut, where his kids went to school and he purchased multiple multimillion-dollar homes.

Then, with the campaign already well underway, he parachuted into the gubernatorial election at the end of April and got Trump’s endorsement. He’s been self-funding his campaign and pledged not to take individual donations — which is a creative way to turn having no in-state conservative connections into an “outsider” campaign posture.

Given that nearly everyone else has supported Kleefisch, Trump’s endorsement is a bit puzzling. It may have had something to do with Trump’s pettiness and grievances over the 2020 election. Trump lost Wisconsin in 2020, but he continues to believe that he actually won it. One person he believes harmed him was Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Brian Hagedorn, who joined the court’s left-leaning members in declining to hear one of Trump’s legal challenges to the election. (Like all the legal challenges the Trump campaign brought in Wisconsin, it was baseless anyway.)

What does Hagedorn have to do with Michels and Kleefisch? Well, in 2019 Hagedorn’s son went to high-school homecoming with Kleefisch’s daughter, which apparently came up in conversation when Michels visited Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago before announcing his campaign. Even though Michels donated $5,000 to Hagedorn’s campaign in 2018 (Wisconsin Supreme Court justices are elected), Trump was reportedly “bothered” by the homecoming photo and subsequently announced his endorsement of Michels.

Trump had reportedly nicknamed Kleefisch “48 Percent Becky,” referring to the 48.5 percent of the vote she and Walker won in 2018, narrowly losing the election. Again, the unreasoning pettiness is something to behold: Trump is making fun of Kleefisch, who has won three of four statewide races in which she has run, while endorsing Michels, who is 0–1 in statewide races in his career and earned only 44 percent of the vote in that one and only election in 2004. And Trump himself earned a lower percentage of the vote in Wisconsin when he won the state in 2016 than Walker and Kleefisch earned when they lost in 2018. Walker and Kleefisch won with comfortable outright majorities in each of their three victories.

One of the only polls of this year’s race shows Kleefisch and Michels basically tied at around 25 percent, with many voters still undecided. The general election promises to be close, with incumbent Democrat Tony Evers raising plenty of money and the state being one of the most competitive in the country. It’s one of the top flip opportunities for the Republican Governor’s Association. Mike Pence is wise to endorse the only consistent and experienced conservative in the race, Rebecca Kleefisch.