Politics & Policy

Biden’s Lockdown Answer

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In response to President Biden: Lockdowns Are Off the Table, ‘For Now’

As Jim Geraghty noted, yesterday President Biden responded, “Yes, for now,” when asked whether lockdowns are “off the table.” Critical attention has focused on that ominous “for now.” Here’s how Biden should have answered: “Obviously, I do not have any legal authority to impose a lockdown on the country. Remember when the previous president said he had ‘total authority’ over lockdowns and everyone said he was being either ridiculous or scary? The president’s powers haven’t changed since then. It’s not my table to set.”

White House

On COVID, President Biden Needs Normal Friends

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President Joe Biden takes off his mask in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 13, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I wrote yesterday that President Biden is “hamstrung” on COVID-19 in part because he has “allowed himself to be captured by monomaniacal, neurotic, agoraphobic pantywaists.” And, right on cue, the Washington Post demonstrates what I was talking about:

President Biden and his aides have long asserted that ending the pandemic would revive his political fortunes, as Americans give him credit for lifting covid’s threat and begin to appreciate his other accomplishments, from climate to infrastructure.

And yet:

“We’re never going to go back to normal. Personally, I don’t think I will ever get on a plane without wearing a mask,” said Patti Solis Doyle, a Democratic strategist who worked closely with Biden during the 2008 presidential campaign.

This is a ridiculous and irrational thing to say. And, unfortunately for Biden, it’s typical of the sort of people with whom he spends his time. There is scant reason to wear masks on planes even now, let alone once the pandemic is over. And who, pray, is the “we” in “we’re never going to go back to normal”? If Patti Solis Doyle wants to live her life like that, good luck to her. But does she really think everyone else is itching to join her? If, tomorrow, you told a plane full of Americans that they no longer needed to wear their masks, how many do you think would still have them on by the time you’d hung the intercom back on its hook? Twenty? Ten? Three?

With friends like these, Biden’s recovery will be a slog. If, that is, he can ever get “back to normal” at all.

Law & the Courts

Kavanaugh’s ‘Roadmap’ on Overturning Precedent Points to Overturning Roe

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Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. February 5, 2019. (Doug Mills/Pool via Reuters)

An excerpt from my piece on the homepage:

In 2020, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is widely expected to be one of the decisive votes in Dobbs, offered in a concurrence in an unrelated case, Ramos v. Louisiana, a “roadmap for determining whether to overrule an erroneous constitutional precedent” — and that roadmap points strongly in the direction of overturning Roe and Casey.

Kavanaugh outlined “three broad considerations” that justices should take into account when they’re asked to overturn precedent instead of following the doctrine of stare decisis: (1) whether the decision was “grievously or egregiously wrong;” (2) whether the decision has “caused significant negative jurisprudential or real-world consequences;” and (3) whether overruling the prior decision would “unduly upset reliance interests.”

It is obvious that the Roe decision was “grievously or egregiously wrong” as a constitutional matter: There’s nothing in the text of the Constitution or history to suggest a right to abortion is protected by the 14th Amendment. A simple look at the death toll from abortion since 1973 proves that Roe has also “caused significant negative . . . real-world consequences.” But the third question — whether overruling Roe would “unduly upset reliance interests” — is more complicated and worth dwelling on at greater length.

The Souter-O’Connor-Kennedy concept of “reliance” had more to do with sociology and psychology than it did with legal jurisprudence. “Casey acknowledged that traditional considerations of reliance had little force in this context because ‘reproductive planning could take virtually immediate account of any sudden restoration of state authority to ban abortions,’” Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett and former assistant attorney general Charles J. Cooper write in their amicus brief in Dobbs.

Here’s what the Souter-Kennedy-O’Connor opinion said about reliance:

For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.

In 2021, of course, there are several methods of birth control that are more than 99 percent effective, and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 mandates that all FDA-approved female contraceptives must be covered by insurers with no copay.

One remarkable aspect of the above excerpt from the Souter-Kennedy-O’Connor opinion is that it presents only two options for a woman experiencing an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy: Abort the child or raise the child. A third option — placing the child up for adoption — never really enters the picture even though it is available to 100 percent of pregnant women.

Adoption also never enters the discussion of reliance interests in the respondents’ brief in Dobbs: “Consider just one person’s reflection in a brief to the Court: ‘Becoming a first-generation professional would have been impossible without access to safe and legal abortion services.’” As Erika Bachiochi writes in National ReviewRoe and Casey themselves create expectations that make life more difficult for working mothers: “Rather than challenge workplace norms head-on, the decades-long quest for unfettered abortion feeds into the model of the ideal male worker who is beholden to no one but his boss. If abortion is what enables women to participate in the workplace, then perhaps costly accommodations, flexible work schedules, and part-time-pay equity are not so necessary.” Many millions of women have had successful careers while raising children, including children born following unexpected pregnancies. But the point remains that adoption is always an option for any particular woman facing an unexpected pregnancy who does not want to raise the child for any reason.

And of course it is a simple fact that ending Roe would not end access to abortion in the United States. Some states would generally prohibit abortion, some states would maintain or establish an expansive right to abortion, and others would place greater limits on it while keeping it generally legal. If Roe were overturned, research indicates that additional legal hurdles to abortion would lead to a decrease in the abortion rate of about 13 percent — roughly 100,000 fewer abortions per year.

“Even if contested, constitutional rights that have ‘become embedded’ in ‘our national culture’ are entitled to heightened stare decisis effect,” the respondents’ brief in Dobbs argues. But it can’t possibly be the case that simply because swathes of society “rely” in some broad sense on a grievously wrong and harmful precedent, that precedent should be preserved. The Supreme Court gave its blessing to segregation in 1896. By 1954, many states had been living under de jure segregation for many decades, and millions of white parents had strong expectations that they could send their children to segregated schools. As Garnett and Cooper write in their amicus brief:

No doubt “economic and social developments” premised on the continued lawfulness of race-based segregation took place in the 58 years between Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954); and no doubt many white southerners “made choices that define[d] their views of themselves and their places in society” based on the institution. But that did not give the Brown Court any pause before restoring the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal protection.

Brown v. Board did not end racism, nor did it immediately usher in an era of racial harmony. It was in fact followed by a period of social and political unrest. But segregation was a grave constitutional and moral injustice, and Brown was necessary for the United States to become a more just, decent, and humane society. In Kavanaugh’s 2020 Ramos concurrence, he wrote that when the justices look at reliance interests, they should focus on the “legitimate expectations of those who have reasonably relied on the precedent,” but in that same opinion he called Brown v. Board “the single most important and greatest decision in this Court’s history.” If Kavanaugh follows the logic of his own roadmap, it’s hard to see how he can help but arrive at the conclusion that Roe and Casey should be overturned.

There’s been much speculation that Kavanaugh and Chief Justice Roberts may try to find a way to uphold the Mississippi law without fully overturning Roe and Casey and restoring the right of states to limit or prohibit abortion. But it is very difficult to see how the Court could discard the arbitrary and judicially invented right to abortion until viability in favor of some other arbitrary and judicially invented right to abortion.

The Economy

Omicron and Inflation

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(AndreyPopov/Getty Images)

There’s not that much that we know about the medical effects of the Omicron variant, although if there is such a thing as an emerging consensus, it seems to be that (1) it is highly infectious and that (2) the vaccinated can catch it, but, if they do, the consequences should in most cases be relatively mild. There are even suggestions from the South African data that Omicron may not be that dangerous (these things are all relative, of course).

On that latter topic, the Daily Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard comments:

Scientists will know in a couple of weeks whether omicron has a lower case fatality rate than delta.

They flag two obvious grounds for caution: viral infections tend to start with mild disease; and past waves show that young people tend to catch Covid first before it spreads up the age ladder.

The original cohort of patients breezing through surgeries in Johannesburg with little more than a headache may be a trick of the time sequence.

It’s still early days.

So far as the economy is concerned, even before today, Fed chairman Jerome Powell had flagged the fact that Omicron might trigger further supply-chain disruptions (or presumably prolong existing ones). The implication of that is that the current inflationary surge will last even longer than was already anticipated by the Fed (until some time in the second and third quarters of 2022), bad news even if there is more to rising prices than supply-chain problems and energy prices (spoiler: There is).

Whatever is behind this inflationary moment, the fact that Powell is now (Tuesday) proposing to speed up his rather leisurely taper timetable is the right way to go.

The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Powell said elevated inflation pressures and rapid improvements in the labor market would justify “wrapping up the taper, perhaps a few months sooner.” He joined a handful of Fed officials who said recently they would support deliberating at the Fed’s Dec. 14-15 meeting whether to accelerate the process of reducing those purchases.

If officials were to quicken the pace at which they reduce the purchases by $30 billion a month after the December meeting, they could conclude the program by March, giving them more flexibility to raise rates in the first half of next year.

“You’ve seen our policy adapt and you’ll see it continue to adapt” in response to concerns about more persistent inflation, Mr. Powell said.

Also, of note — “Transitory” R.I.P:

Mr. Powell backed away from the central bank’s initial characterization that elevated prices would be short-lived, or transitory. “It’s probably a good time to retire that word and explain more clearly what we mean,” he said.

And Powell made clear that, in his view, supply-chain disruptions are not, so to speak, acting alone:

Mr. Powell said he still expects that because many price increases can be traced to supply-and-demand imbalances that resulted directly from the pandemic, inflation would decline next year. “But it’s also the case that pricing increases have spread much more broadly” in recent months, he said.

Mr. Powell pointed to rising energy prices, increasing rents and brisk wage gains as other factors that could keep inflation elevated. But the persistence of supply constraints remains hard to predict, and “it now appears that factors pushing inflation upward will linger well into next year,” he said.

But even if supply-chain problems are not the sole cause of the current inflationary spike, they still matter. In the context of Omicron, it is worth remembering that current supply-chain disruptions are partly (only partly) the consequences of overly draconian governmental responses to the coronavirus over the past 18 months. The question now is whether those errors are going to be repeated on enough of a scale to set back the recovery in supply chains — of which there is some evidence — and, for that matter, lead to other disasters that, at many levels, we cannot afford.

NRI

Burke, Buckley, and You!

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William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

Calling all mid-career professionals! National Review Institute’s Spring 2022 Burke to Buckley program is headed to New York City, Philadelphia, and for the first time, Miami.

The Burke to Buckley Program is an eight-week graduate-level series designed for mid-career professionals to gain a deeper understanding of conservative thought, while building a network of talented, like-minded individuals. Each class is made up of 20 to 25 participants. Candidates should have between ten and 25 years of professional work experience and ideally be between 35 and 55 years old. This program is not intended for recent graduates or people working in the fields of public policy or politics.

This spring’s program will run from approximately March to May. Accepted participants will gather over dinner to discuss foundational conservative texts. Each week, an expert (often an NR writer or fellow) will guide the discussion providing a unique opportunity for participants to engage with, and to learn from, one another. Program topics include:

  • William F. Buckley Jr. and American Conservatism
  • The Founders’ Constitution
  • Economic Freedom and Political Freedom
  • Burke, Prudence, and the Spirit of Conservatism
  • Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Fusionism
  • Mediating Structures between the State and the Individual
  • Conservatism, Democracy, and Foreign Policy
  • The Conservative Spirit and Civic Gratitude

Check out the Burke to Buckley webpage for more information and applications, and be sure to apply by December 15, 2021.

U.S.

Remember When Chris Cuomo Was Accused of Sexual Harassment with No Consequences?

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Chris Cuomo (Mike Segar/Reuters)

As mentioned on forthcoming episodes of The Editors and Three Martini Lunch podcasts, it is very easy to forget that a bit more than two months ago, Shelley Ross, a veteran television journalist and former executive producer at ABC and CBS, offered an account of Chris Cuomo grabbing her tush at a party, and shared Cuomo’s apologetic e-mail. The email, in which Cuomo said he felt ashamed, appeared to offer corroboration that, at minimum, Cuomo did something grossly inappropriate. (Cuomo did this in front of Ross’s husband. Never mind being lucky to keep his job; Cuomo is lucky he kept all his teeth.)

Ross wrote that she didn’t want to see Cuomo fired from his current position, but instead:

I would, however, like to see him journalistically repent: agree on air to study the impact of sexism, harassment and gender bias in the workplace, including his own, and then report on it. He could host a series of live town hall meetings, with documentary footage, produced by women with expert consultants. Call it “The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo” and make this a watershed moment instead of another stain on the career of one more powerful male news anchor.

Cuomo told the Times in a statement: “As Shelley acknowledges, our interaction was not sexual in nature. It happened 16 years ago in a public setting when she was a top executive at ABC. I apologized to her then, and I meant it.”

But in the aftermath of that op-ed . . . absolutely nothing happened. Chris Cuomo kept hosting his prime-time show. CNN offered no statement. Everyone more or less just pretended they didn’t see it.

A few days later, Ross said in an interview with Megyn Kelly, “I was hoping that in 15, 16 years that he had changed, but he’s no more enlightened today than he was then, as demonstrated by his response . . . I don’t acknowledge that there’s anything that was ‘our interaction.’ I was not a participant. I was groped.”

And now we learn that Cuomo was intensely involved with his brother Andrew Cuomo’s defense against multiple accusations of sexual harassment —much more involved than his previous statements indicated. Why was Chris Cuomo so helpful to Andrew Cuomo? Yes, part of it is because they’re family. But it is also probably partially because they’re both sexual harassers. They’re cut from the same cloth, and a pervasive public judgment that Andrew Cuomo is a creep and a lech and a bully would strongly suggest that Chris Cuomo is a creep and a lech and a bully, too.

CNN promised a “thorough review” of Cuomo.

Culture

‘The King of Hypocrisy’

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I wrote today about the hypocrisy of the NBA–Nike industrial complex:

Nike’s latest TV ad is another slick paean to individual empowerment and the ability to prevail despite the naysayers.

Centered around Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant, the commercial features various people doubting that Morant can keep up his stellar play, to which someone always cheekily replies, “Says who?”

Yes, Nike believes anything is possible — so long as it doesn’t involve doing anything to cross one of the world’s most hideously repressive regimes.

World

Welcome Barbados to Club Republic

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The Caribbean nation of Barbados swore in their new president, Sandra Mason, and officially became a republic at the stroke of midnight, last night.

Maybe it’s because I’m not from a Commonwealth country, but I cannot understand why Prince Charles was at the ceremony marking this moment, listening to poets insult the Union Jack. Of course the flag is associated with appalling crimes in Barbados. So would a native flag, flown long enough. But for a great long time, the Union Jack has been associated with peace and the progress of Barbados toward becoming a fully independent nation, and it is being lowered peacefully.

Law & the Courts

The Phony History behind Roe v. Wade

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False and even fraudulent historical claims pervade the abortion debate. Newspaper stories, academic and popular books, and legal briefs — not to mention Roe v. Wade itself — traffic in myths about the history of the law and practice of abortion. In our latest issue, I clear away a tangle of misrepresentations to uncover the truth.

An influential legal brief signed by 400 historians, for example, asserted that in the early 19th century, abortion was legal and often used to limit family size. To give credence to this idea,

the authors of the brief quoted a physician who wrote that “abortion is not always associated with crime and disgrace; it may arise from causes perfectly natural and altogether beyond the control of the female.” But those words suggest and their context makes obvious that the physician, Theodric Beck, was writing about miscarriages, which are to this day sometimes described as “spontaneous abortions.” Earlier in the same work, Beck wrote that “the procuring of abortion . . . can be considered no less than murder.” . . .

Health Care

Ron DeSantis Wasn’t Lying, He Was Just Ahead of the Curve

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Then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally in Orlando, Fla., November 5, 2018. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, discussing COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, November 4:

Ultimately, people should be able to make these decisions. I don’t think people want this decision yanked away from them. I don’t think they want to allow a precedent where the federal government could come in and just force you to do what it wants you to do. And make no mistake about it, those individuals who have been gone through a normal vaccination series for COVID, you will be determined to be unvaccinated very soon. They will do that. They are going to tell you, “You’re unvaccinated and you have to get a booster. Otherwise, you could potentially face loss of employment or other types of penalties.”

The subsequent headline in The Independent: “Fact Check: DeSantis falsely claims vaccinated citizens without boosters could be declared unvaccinated and lose their jobs.”

The news in Axios, this morning: “The emergence of the Omicron COVID variant is turbocharging the push for vaccine boosters, and experts say a booster may soon become a requirement to be considered ‘fully vaccinated.’… Bob Wachter, chairman of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine, told Axios he expects vaccine mandates will soon include requiring boosters.”

But we had been reassured that needing a booster to be considered fully vaccinated was a false claim! Apparently DeSantis was just correct too early.

It is clear that quite a few self-appointed “fact-checkers” begin with the assumption that Ron DeSantis must be wrong about everything.

Politics & Policy

Some Questions for Blake Masters

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Blake Masters at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action in Phoenix, Ariz., July 24, 2021. (Gage Skidmore/The Star News Network/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Yesterday, Nate Hochman published an interesting profile of Blake Masters, who is running for the Republican nomination in the 2022 Arizona Senate primary. I learned a lot from it. However, I still have a few questions about — and for — Masters.

Nate notes that Peter Thiel, a billionaire Silicon Valley tech investor and entrepreneur as well as a conservative megadonor, is “one of Masters’s longtime mentors and business associates.” (I wrote about Thiel over the summer.) They met when Masters took a class at Stanford taught by Thiel; Masters’s notes for that class became the best-selling book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, which lists Thiel and Masters as co-authors. Masters currently works for Thiel as president of Thiel Capital and chief operating officer of the Thiel Foundation. In addition to having donated $10 million to a super PAC supporting Masters’s candidacy, Thiel is paying Masters as an employee and continues to fundraise for him.

Masters assured a previous interviewer that his campaign is his campaign, “not Peter’s campaign.” He added that Thiel “sees some promise in me, but he knows I’ll be an independent-minded senator.” In a different interview, Masters was asked whether Peter Thiel should pay more taxes. His response:

I’m open to it. Look, I know a lot of wealthy people. Obviously, I know Peter really well. Everybody tries to pay the legal minimum, right? Nobody’s trying to overpay their tax bill. What I hear from a lot of rich people is they would be happy to pay more in taxes if the money was used well. These people are used to running businesses. They’re used to being efficient. They don’t like throwing money away. And so when they see a federal government that is so horribly run, there’s tons of waste, fraud and abuse. You know, maybe it doesn’t make sense to pay a boatload of taxes to just have your government go and start dropping bombs randomly in Syria. We’re paying for illegal immigrants to be put up in hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, you go to a public park, and you see military veterans who are homeless in need of mental healthcare, not getting it. So the sense among a lot of rich people that I know is they would actually be happy to pay more in taxes if they were getting something from it. If there was a sense that the government was spending money wisely to help people in America rebuild a middle class and have a functioning society. I think people would be open to paying a little bit more taxes in the top, top, top elite of our economy.

My first question for Blake Masters: Would he be open to investigating Peter Thiel’s use of tax-free Roth IRAs to house $5 billion in assets, as he has done for 20 years? After all, Thiel definitely belongs in the “top, top, top elite of our economy.” And if our tax system is to be more equitable, and if Masters believes that “just doing tax cuts” is no longer adequate tax policy, it would be a shame if all of Thiel’s money were to elude the government’s reach.

Thiel’s relationship with Masters is not just financial. Masters said that “the thinking behind [Zero to One] and just the countless conversations I’ve had with Peter over the years have really been instrumental in forming my political outlook and beliefs.” Well, in 2016, when Peter Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention, he called the culture wars “fake.” Nate has sensibly urged Republicans to engage more in culture-war issues. Profiling Masters, Nate calls him a member of a new breed of candidates with a “renewed interest in cultural issues.” Does Masters agree with Thiel that the culture wars are fake?

The same speech contains a reference to a then-raging controversy about transgender bathrooms. Thiel said:

When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?

In light of the controversy about an alleged sexual assault in a bathroom at a Loudoun County, Va., public school, about which Nate has written eloquently, this statement by Thiel seems callous. Does Blake Masters agree with it?

Nate writes that Thiel is “a unique figure in the Republican donor class, which typically prefers Chamber of Commerce–style candidates over their more populist counterparts.” In the past, Thiel has donated to notably Chamber of Commerce—style initiatives supporting the legalization of marijuana and of same-sex marriage, helping those causes succeed at a time when their success was not guaranteed. In early 2017, Peter Thiel was asked in an interview whether he thought the Trump administration would do much to advance social conservatism. Thiel said he didn’t think so, and would be “concerned if he thought otherwise.” He added: “There are just all these ways I think stuff has just shifted.” Does Masters agree with Thiel’s view of social conservatism? Does Masters, who once tweeted that “not everything has to be gay,” believe that Obergefell v. Hodges, a 2015 Supreme Court case that imposed a new definition of marriage by 5—4 judicial fiat, is just another one of these things that has “shifted,” and is now settled law?

Masters has elsewhere argued that conservatives should not be satisfied with 9–0 cases that are narrowly decided, such as the Court’s recent ruling in Fulton v. Philadelphia that the government of the city of Philadelphia could not condition its working relationship with Catholic adoption agencies on their certifying same-sex couples as parents. This is all well and good. But many social conservatives believe that, as with the advance of transgenderism, such policies have flowed ineluctably from the floodgate opened by Obergefell. What positive action, as opposed to mere rhetoric or simply a more aggressive defensive crouch, is Masters prepared to take on this front to restore America’s moral capital?

Nate identifies another quality of the new breed of candidate of which Masters is an example as “a newfound skepticism of increasingly activist Fortune 500 corporations and the concentrated power of Big Tech.” In addition to being the first outside investor in Facebook, a company Masters has criticized, Peter Thiel (who also sits on Facebook’s board) founded and has profited handsomely from his investment in a company called Palantir. It is a pioneer of techniques that involve processing and analyzing vast quantities of digital information for the patterns they contain. It currently has many government contracts, including one to facilitate distribution of coronavirus vaccines. Would Blake Masters, who has called coronavirus-vaccine mandates “evil,” support the further integration of Palantir, a private company in which Peter Thiel is invested, with the U.S. government? Or, if it grew to a sufficient size, would he support its breakup or regulation by the government? After all, if we are concerned by the rise of Big Tech, then one company shouldn’t get a pass.

I eagerly await Blake Masters’s answers to my questions.

Fiscal Policy

Why Spending More Money Isn’t the Answer on Infrastructure

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A Skanska contractor stands during construction on the Sixth Street Viaduct replacement project in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., August 11, 2021. (Bing Guan/Reuters)

Here’s the gist:

American cities and states were long renowned for some of the greatest bridges, water systems and freeways in the world, but challenges have grown more potent. Agencies have less internal technical talent. Legal challenges have grown stronger under state and federal environmental laws. And spending on infrastructure as a fraction of the economy has shrunk, giving local agencies less experience in modern practices.

On Honolulu’s rapid-transit project, there were “problems with welding and cracks in the tracks” and then “earlier this year, engineers realized that in some sections, the wheels were a half-inch narrower than the rails.”

California voters approved a high-speed rail project in 2008 that was estimated to be completed in 2020 at a cost of $33 billion. “The job is now projected to finish in 2033 for $100 billion, though those estimates are dated and there is an $80 billion funding gap.”

On the East Side Access extension of the Long Island Rail Road:

Conceived more than a half century ago, with a construction contract awarded in 2006, that project was supposed to be completed by 2011. Early estimates put the cost at $2.2 billion, then $4.3 billion in 2006 and $6.4 billion in 2008. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority now envisions completion in December 2022 at a cost of $11.1 billion. Design changes, underground tunneling problems and coordination with other agencies were some of the factors in the delays and cost increases.

On a nuclear clean-up project in Hanford, Wash., where land was polluted as part of the Manhattan Project, “an independent review in 2015 found 362 significant design problems.” The Department of Energy “announced a 17-year delay and estimated the system would become fully operational in 2036.”

These aren’t honest mistakes, either. Costs of major projects are difficult to estimate, but if this were simply a matter of statistical error, you’d expect as many overestimates as underestimates. Instead, the figures that consultants put out are almost always underestimates of the true cost. “Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor at the University of Oxford who has studied scores of projects around the world, found that 92 percent of them overran their original cost and schedule estimates, often by large margins — in part, he said, because cost estimates are ‘systematically and significantly deceptive.'”

That confirms research reported in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that focused only on the United States. The logic for decision-makers makes perfect sense when you consider the incentives. For a “candid admission of how the political world operates,” the Times quotes Willie Brown:

“In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment,” he wrote in a guest newspaper column in 2013. “If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

We’ve known about these problem for years (Flyvbjerg wrote a whole book on it in 2003), and marathon construction projects make people’s everyday lives more difficult. Yet few Americans seem to care. Infrastructure spending is still a popular idea with most of the electorate, as the bipartisanship of the most recent bill demonstrates, and politicians are basically never held accountable for the overruns that inevitably come to pass.

Aside from some tinkering around the edges, the bipartisan infrastructure law just shovels money into a broken system. We aren’t getting what we pay for now. The solution to that problem is not to spend more money.

World

Afghanistan Is Starving

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A displaced Afghan woman walks with her child after receiving money and aid supply from UNHCR agency outside a distribution center on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, October 28, 2021. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

Reports of a growing humanitarian crisis are emerging from Afghanistan, as tens of millions face death by starvation.

Some parents are selling their children in order to feed the rest of their family. CNN reports on a nine-year-old sold to a stranger as a child bride.

The BBC interviewed a mother of two twin boys, both of whom are dangerously malnourished. “Only God knows what I go through when I look at them,” she said.

“Two of my children are facing death because we don’t have any money. I want the world to help the Afghan people. I don’t want any other mother to see their children suffering like this.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the World Bank is working to deliver up to $500 million from a frozen Afghanistan aid fund to humanitarian agencies but that it “remains complicated by U.S. sanctions.” The Washington Post explains:

Before the militants took over in August, foreign donors — largely wealthy Western countries led by the United States — paid for up to 80 percent of all Afghan government expenses. Since then, donors have frozen all funding, as leverage to press the Taliban to meet demands including rights for women, girls and minorities, an inclusive government, and freedom from reprisals and of movement.

It’s a high-cost strategy. Interruptions to foreign aid don’t just hurt the Taliban — but also millions of innocent men, women, and children.

Economy & Business

Biden’s NLRB Assaults Democracy at Behest of Unions

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(Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

CNBC reports that democracy dies in . . . well:

The National Labor Relations Board authorized a new union election at one of Amazon’s Alabama warehouses, the labor union behind the effort said Monday.

In a statement, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said an NLRB director formally granted a new union election at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse. As a result, workers at the facility, known as BHM1, will get another chance to vote on whether to join the RWDSU.

Oh, really? What was wrong with the last one?

BHM1 was the site of a high-stakes union drive that attracted global attention, including from President Joe BidenIn April, employees overwhelmingly rejected forming a union, with fewer than 30% of the votes tallied in favor of joining the RWDSU.

That’s right. What was wrong with the last one was that employees overwhelmingly rejected it.

And what is the RWDSU pretending was wrong with the last one?

The RWDSU sought to challenge the results, arguing Amazon illegally interfered in the election. It kicked off a protracted legal battle with months of hearings examining the lead up to the vote. Much of the debate centered around Amazon’s decision to install a mailbox on site at the facility, which the RWDSU argued created the false appearance that Amazon was conducting the election and intimidated workers into voting against the union.

Nobody believes this. Nobody. It’s a scam. A ruse. A ploy. As the New York Times reported at the time, the employees in Alabama simply weren’t that into the idea of unionizing:

William and Lavonette Stokes, who started work at the Bessemer warehouse in July, said the union had failed to convince them how it could improve their working conditions. Amazon already provides good benefits, relatively high pay that starts at $15 an hour and opportunities to advance, said the couple, who have five children.

“Amazon is the only job I know where they pay your health insurance from Day 1,” Ms. Stokes, 52, said. She added that she had been turned off by how organizers tried to cast the union drive as an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement because most of the workers are Black.

“This was not an African-American issue,’’ said Ms. Stokes, who is Black. “I feel you can work there comfortably without being harassed.”

The vote could lead to a rethinking of strategy inside the labor movement.

It didn’t, of course. Instead, the RWDSU got the the NLRB — which is also a scam, a ruse, and a ploy, and which has no legitimate role to play in a free country such as this one — to order a do-over.

They think you’re stupid — and if you put up with this, you are.

Elections

‘Dangerous and Misguided’ — City Council Democrat Attacks NYC’s Non-Citizen Voting Bill

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Comes today an email from Reverend Rubén Díaz, New York City councilman from the Bronx (District 18), a lifelong Democrat and former state senator who takes to task the plan to permit non-citizens to vote in local elections. Its text follows in full:

You should know that on December 9, 2021, a vote is scheduled to take place in the New York City Council that could allow 800,000 noncitizens to vote in local elections in our city, including the race for Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, and City Council.

This is a dangerous and misguided effort being made by some elected officials to overlook the law which offers citizens—not noncitizens—in New York City, the right to vote.

You may already know that Mayor-Elect Eric Adams won the June 2021 Democratic Primary by only 7,197 votes. In the November 2021 General election, Adams received a total of 271,834 votes—a fraction of 800,000.

You should know that if this City Council Intro 1867 passes, regardless of its actual legality, New York City, which is home to both the United Nations and Wall Street could easily be taken over by any group of noncitizens who live here for 30 days and vote for the leader of their choice.

Why would we ever make ourselves vulnerable to this kind of possible threat?

Although lawlessness may seem to be in fashion these days, I urge you, my dear reader, to oppose efforts to ignore the actual law and instead permit noncitizens, the right to vote and to raise your voices and be heard against this radical agenda.

It is important for you to know that much of my life’s work as an elected official has been working closely with many noncitizens and celebrating many ethnicities.

For example, in 2006, I organized and led “The Great Walk in Solidarity with Immigrants,” one of the largest rallies where thousands of documented and undocumented immigrants marched in New York City;

I was the most outspoken Member of the New York State Senate on the DREAM Act, and my support for DACA is fervent;

I played a significant role with the IDNYC Program, offering documented and undocumented New Yorkers a way to receive discounts at museums and cultural institutions, libraries, banks and credit unions, movies, plays, BigAppleRx prescription drugs, fitness and health centers, Food Bazaar supermarket, veterans designation benefits, and animal care centers;

I worked very hard to ensure that our immigrant community would be counted in the annual census, without fear of ICE.

It is important for you to know that when a permanent resident applies to become a naturalized citizen, there is a rigorous process of study and testing to guarantee that new citizens understand the basics of the history of the United States of America and how our government functions. Under the New York City Council proposal, 800,000 noncitizen voters with no comparable understanding of the history of this country and government could, with nothing more than 30 days of residency here, be allowed to pick a name at the ballot box with no understanding of what that office is.

Ladies and gentlemen I fully support our immigrant community, but I also respect our laws and cherish my privilege as an American citizen to vote. I encourage all New Yorkers to pay close attention to what is going on here. I don’t believe that this proposal will hold up in court if it is passed by the City Council, so stay tuned.

Politics & Policy

Trust the Science?

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Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci waits to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2020. (Kevin Dietsch/Reuters Pool)

Anthony Fauci is literally The Science, personified and made flesh. That’s why Republicans hate him, you see. When asked about his critics on Face the Nation yesterday, Fauci responded:

So it’s easy to criticize, but they’re really criticizing science because I represent science. That’s dangerous. To me, that’s more dangerous than the slings and the arrows that get thrown at me. I’m not going to be around here forever, but science is going to be here forever. And if you damage science, you are doing something very detrimental to society long after I leave. And that’s what I worry about.

“I’m going to be saving lives, and they’re going to be lying,” Fauci continued. 

This is not the first time Fauci has presented himself this way — far from it. In June, he told Chuck Todd of NBC News: “A lot of what you’re seeing as attacks on me, quite frankly, are attacks on science, because all of the things that I have spoken about, consistently from the very beginning, have been fundamentally based on science.” Just to drive the point home, he reiterated: “People want to fire me or put me in jail for what I’ve done — namely, follow the science.” He doubled down later that week on Chelsea Clinton’s podcast, expressing shock at the “phenomenal amount of hostility” he’s received “merely because I’m promoting what are really fundamental, simple public-health principles.” And then again toward the end of the same month, when asked about his “evolution” — a charitable descriptor, to say the least — on the efficacy of masks: “It is essential as a scientist that you evolve your opinion and your recommendations based on the data as it evolves,” he told interviewer Kara Swisher. “And that’s the reason why I say people who then criticize me about that are actually criticizing science.”

Of course, the scientific objectivity that Fauci is invoking is a ridiculous myth. As Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote this morning in response to the Face the Nation clip:

Public health was already deeply politicized. Public-health bodies kowtowed to China early in the pandemic and dragged their feet on declaring a public-health emergency because they wished to spare from embarrassment the oversensitive Communists who run China. Public-health officials were against border controls early on, not because the science backed up their view, but because their politics required it. Fauci amplified Peter Daszak’s campaign to label the lab-leak theory a ‘conspiracy theory’ because of politics; they believed that it would hinder funding of research they believed in.

In spite of Fauci’s claims to the contrary, he and his compatriots in the public-health bureaucracy are the ones who are primarily responsible for politicizing “facts” and “data.” If we take the good doctor at his word, and accept that he is The Science, then . . . why should we trust science? As the official mouthpiece of objective expertise, Fauci’s — excuse me, The Science’s — record is remarkably bad, from masks and the lab-leak theory to NIH funding for gain-of-function research in Wuhan and an open admission of lying about vaccination rates because apparently the country wasn’t ready to hear the real numbers: “When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent,” the augural prophet of The Science told the New York Times last December. “Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”

All this happens as public-health bureaucrats bemoan declining public trust in science and expertise. Here’s Fauci himself speaking on a panel literally titled “Public Trust in Science” back in November 2020: “Things as simple as public-health measures like wearing a mask, avoiding close contact, not congregating indoors . . . the pushback against it has a political and ideological connotation to it. You cannot properly and successfully implement a public-health program when you have that much of a disagreement in society, because infectious diseases don’t distinguish between one’s ideology.”

Right. Anthony Fauci, the patron saint of “In This House, We Believe: Science Is Real” yard signs, is a totally apolitical actor — a faceless font of facts and data. Anyone who disagrees with him, however, is an ideologue. What’s so hard to understand about that?

U.S.

New CDC Data Shows Slight Abortion Rate Increase in 2019

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A demonstrator holds an abortion flag outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., as justices hear a major abortion case on the legality of a Louisiana law that imposes restrictions on abortion doctors, March 4, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released abortion data for 2019. The new statistics are concerning and disappointing for pro-lifers: Among the forty-seven states that reported abortion data for 2018 and 2019, the number of abortions increased by 1.7 percent. This is the second consecutive year that the CDC has reported an increase in the incidence of abortion. Overall, the number of abortions increased in 24 of 47 states that reported data in both 2018 and 2019.

The main story with the new statistics is the increase in chemical abortions. The number of chemical abortions increased by a whopping 12.5 percent between 2018 and 2019, the second consecutive year in which CDC data indicates that the number of chemical abortions increased by more than 10 percent.

In 2016, the FDA enacted a rule change allowing women to obtain chemical abortions later in pregnancy, with fewer visits to the physician’s office, which has likely played a role in this increase. Pro-abortion groups’ efforts to expand access to chemical abortion is partly responsible as well. As of 2019, 43.7 percent of all abortions in the U.S. are chemical abortions.

Another important lesson from the new data is that policy continues to affect the incidence of abortion.  In 2018, West Virginia stopped funding abortions through the state’s Medicaid program, and abortions in the state dropped 21 percent in 2019. Conversely, Illinois began funding abortions through the state Medicaid program in 2017. For the second year in a row, the CDC data indicate that the number of abortions increased by more than 9 percent in Illinois.

The CDC report also reveals ongoing weaknesses in abortion-reporting requirements. The report does not include abortion data from either California or New Hampshire. Neither state has reported abortion data to the CDC since 1997. The report also fails to include data from Maryland, as the state has not reported data to the CDC since 2006. Furthermore, not every state provided abortion data separated by gestational age of the unborn child, and many states failed to provide summary data about the method of abortion used.

This short-term increase in the U.S. abortion rate is certainly a cause for concern. However, pro-lifers should keep in mind that we have made impressive, long-term progress reducing the incidence of abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the U.S. abortion rate has declined by more than 50 percent since 1980. CDC statistics indicate that the U.S. abortion rate has declined by 20 percent since 2010. Legislation is not the only reason why abortion numbers are falling, but it certainly has played a role.

As a result, pro-lifers should take heart. Oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will take place this Wednesday. This case involves the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that would protect preborn children after 15 weeks’ gestation. A favorable ruling would allow pro-lifers to pass more protective laws and build on long-term gains.

World

‘All Xi Virus and only Xi Virus’

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Badiucao, the artist known for his piercing criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, slammed the World Health Organization’s decision to skip the Greek letter “Xi” (pronounced “ksi”) to name the latest coronavirus variant “Omicron,” as a concession to Beijing.

In a tweet promoting his latest work, Badiucao said that all variants should be considered the “Xi Virus,” after the Chinese Communist Party leader, presumably because the party’s initial attempts to cover up the spread of the virus in late 2019 made it impossible to prevent the emergence of a global pandemic. “Shame on @WHO,” he wrote.

The international health body, which names COVID variants according to the Greek alphabet, also skipped the letter Nu. WHO officials have said that Nu sounded too much like “new” and claimed that naming it Xi, the next letter, would have violated its internal guidelines because that’s also the English spelling of a common Chinese last name. WHO guidelines issued in 2015 say that officials should avoid “causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”

But WHO’s move appeared to be an attempt to avoid a falling out with the Chinese Communist Party general secretary, given the way in which it caved to Beijing’s demands at the start of the pandemic. And, as Jim Geraghty noted earlier, WHO officials weren’t as careful about a previous variant that also shared the spelling of a common last name.

Meanwhile, WHO spokespeople have taken a righteous tone in their unconvincing rejoinders to criticism of the group’s handling of the situation:

Health Care

President Biden: Lockdowns Are Off the Table, ‘For Now’

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President Joe Biden removes his mask to deliver remarks on the importance of COVID-19 vaccine requirements in Elk Grove Village, Ill., October 7, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Then-candidate Joe Biden, October 30, 2020:

President Biden, earlier today:

Not only is the virus not “shut down,” more than a year after Biden’s election, the shut down of the country and the economy are only off the table “for now.”

New York City announced a “mask advisory” today, mask requirements are returning to Colorado counties. The state of Oregon just lifted its outdoor mask requirement. Schools are closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks in Arizona, Colorado, KansasMichigan, Minnesota, and other states. Less than half the workers in the financial industry have returned to the office; as of October, fewer than 25 percent of office workers have returned to downtown Washington D.C. — even though vaccines have been available for almost a year.

Either Joe Biden had no idea how difficult it would be to “shut down the virus,” or he knew, and simply lied to the public because he wanted to get elected.

Editor’s note: This article originally stated that New York City re-imposed a mask mandate; it has announced a “mask advistory.” 

Health Care

Getting COVID-19 Is Not a Sign of Personal Failure

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Sign mandating face masks at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Ariz., September 24, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Already, people are objecting to the statement in today’s Morning Jolt that, “there is not a lot any of us can do about the mutation rate of SARS-CoV-2.” Apparently, this kind of factual observation is “defeatist rhetoric.”

You can get vaccinated if you’re not yet vaccinated. You can get a booster if you haven’t yet gotten a booster. You can choose to wear a mask – unlike, say, President Biden in a store that requires them. You can choose to avoid crowds. You can do what you can to maintain good health, and keep your immune system strong – eating healthy, getting exercise, taking vitamins.

Beyond that, there’s not much you can do to alter the course of this pandemic. You can’t control how this virus spreads, you can’t control the actions of other people, and chances are, you have little or no ability to get vaccines to those who still need them in other countries.

And until we know for certain that a new variant is significantly more virulent than the original SARS-CoV-2, you probably don’t need to worry much. If you’re vaccinated, there’s an extremely good chance you’re protected against the virus, or at least if you catch it, the virus will not put you in the hospital or kill you. Yes, some people who are fully vaccinated die of COVID-19, but they are usually very old, immunocompromised, or have some other serious health issue. As one late October study of COVID-19 deaths in Scotland published in The Lancet concluded:

In summary, COVID-19-related deaths were extremely uncommon in those fully vaccinated with either BNT162b2 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. Most individuals who died after two doses of COVID-19 vaccine were older than 75 years and had multiple comorbidities. These results are similar to the risk profile for mortality in unvaccinated individuals with COVID-19 infection and in vaccinated individuals who have received one dose of vaccine. Risk of COVID-19-related death is therefore not completely eliminated when fully vaccinated; the results of this study suggest the importance of continued caution and non-pharmaceutical interventions, in particular for older adults with multiple comorbidities.

If you’re elderly, immunocompromised, or have multiple comorbidities, COVID-19 is more likely to kill you. Of course, if you’re elderly, immunocompromised, or have multiple comorbidities, lots of things are more likely to kill you.

Alas, in the third year of this pandemic, certain circles of American life continue to moralize the virus, and treat infection as if it represents some sort of divine punishment for sinning against the teachings of Saint Fauci. These beliefs persist, no matter how much we argue against them. A group of parents discussed this in The Atlantic:

Julie Bogen: Also I feel so paralyzed by judgment of other people and parents if we were to get sick. You know, like, Oh, you guys got COVID? Do you know how you got it? Did you do something irresponsible to get it? I really can’t think of anything short of my daughter getting vaccinated that would change our behavior right now. I feel like I don’t know how to not blame myself if something went wrong.

Natalie Dean: I also wanted to make a comment about this stigma. Because of the nature of the pandemic, there’s a lot of stigma about transmission, and I think we’re going to need to move past some of that as well. There’s not the same stigma about RSV or flu or these other respiratory pathogens, and they cause a pretty similar risk to kids. That would be another thing that, as we move forward, we need to grapple with.

Becca Rosen: I’ve been trying to make the case among my friends and to colleagues that getting COVID is not a sign of personal failure. We live in a society with illness, and we don’t blame people when they get flu. We have to learn to not see getting COVID as a moral failure. Because this is something we have to live with, and the truth is that we will all be exposed.

What’s kind of fascinating is that many of today’s modern, well-educated, sophisticated, “SCIENCE” bumper-sticker-owning cultural elites probably look at ancient religious beliefs that diseases were the consequences of sin and scoff at how backwards, cruel, illogical, irrational, and superstitious people could be.

But they also think that if you caught COVID, it’s probably because you were reckless and foolish in some way.

 

 

Capital Matters

One Cryptocurrency to Rule Them All? Not So Fast, Says Tolkien Estate

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Elijah Wood as Frodo in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. New Line Productions, Inc./IMDb (New Line Productions, Inc./IMDb)

Sometimes, the news has a real Mad Libs quality, in which it just seems like incredibly disparate words are smashed together and fashioned into a breaking development. That’s how I felt, anyway, after reading a Guardian story headlined “Tolkien estate blocks ‘JRR Token’ cryptocurrency.”

It may be a Mad Libs, but it’s also real. Someone really did try to create a Lord of the Rings/J R. R. Tolkien–themed cryptocurrency called “JRR Token,” with the “JRR” supposedly standing for “Journey from Risk to Reward.” Billy Boyd, who played the hobbit Pippin in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, even signed up to promote it, claiming in a promotional video that “Saruman was trying to unify Middle Earth under centralised rule whereas the fellowship wanted decentralisation. Cryptocurrency is literally a decentralised network.”

But the Tolkien Estate was having none of it, swiftly taking legal action to block JRR Token:

It took action almost immediately via the World Intellectual Property Organization’s arbitration procedure, where it argued that the product infringed its trademark rights to JRR Tolkien’s name, and that the domain name was “specifically designed to mislead internet users into believing that it and the website to which it resolves have some legitimate commercial connection” with Tolkien. It pointed out that only the letters “L” and “I” were omitted from the domain name.

The developer said in response that JRR Token was intended to reference “a unique form of digital currency”, rather than the late fantasy author, and that the fact that the domain name “brings to mind” the name JRR Tolkien is parody rather than bad faith. “The introductory header on the website homepage ‘One Token That Rules Them All’, referencing the famous phrase ‘One ring to rule them all’ . . . produces a humorous difference in order to invoke the desired effect of a parody,” it said, in the WIPO’s summary of its argument.

The WIPO’s arbitrator, however, said that “the respondent does not specify why the disputed domain name is humorous, funny or nail-biting, and not just a domain name chosen due to its similarities with the [Tolkien estate’s] trademarks to take commercial advantage of its evocation”.

The Tolkien estate prevailed, also getting the domain name JRRToken.com in the process. This is probably for the best; the cryptocurrency was clearly leaning on the Lord of the Rings connection as a kind of promotional gimmick. Moreover, Tolkien himself, who had strong Luddite tendencies, would certainly have hated seeing his work abused in this way.

It is an interesting question, however, what some of his characters might have thought of crypto. Despite Boyd’s statement above, Saruman would have probably been a fan. Smaug the Dragon undoubtedly would have purloined a vast hoard of crypto, which Thorin Oakenshield would have desperately wanted back. Sauron would have probably helped others make their own cryptocurrencies, but while secretly laboring to make his own to which they were all somehow tied. And Gollum would have purchased a single Bitcoin early on, become rich, then forgot his password. It’s not hard to imagine his cries of “My precious!” being replaced with “My password!”

PC Culture

Disney’s Tiananmen Censorship Viewed from Hong Kong

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Characters from The Simpsons pose for photographers at the premiere of The Simpsons Movie in Springfield, Vt., in 2007. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Disney has once again chosen to accommodate the Chinese Communist Party, censoring an episode of The Simpsons that discusses the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. The episode no longer appears on its Disney+ streaming platform in Hong Kong, though it can still be accessed by use of a VPN service.

The company’s apparent capitulation to the city’s pro-Beijing authorities follows the broader political crackdown that began last year and has featured a campaign to wipe out city residents’ memories of the brutal suppression of student protests. The Hong Kong Free Press, one of the final remaining independent news sources in the city has more in its report:

Meanwhile, following the onset of the Beijing-imposed national security law last June, Hong Kong has arrested leaders of the Alliance, which organised annual commemorations of the 1989 crackdown. The authorities have banned the annual vigil in Victoria Park citing Covid-19, textbooks have been censored, museum exhibits seized, and the University of Hong Kong has demanded the removal of a monument to the dead.

Last month, Hong Kong’s legislature passed a bill which enables the government to ban films deemed contrary to national security from being screened and published in the city. Any person who exhibits an unauthorised film could face up to three years in jail and a HK$1 million fine. However, the the new does not apply to streaming platforms.

When asked if YouTube or other online platforms would be affected, a spokesperson for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau told HKFP in August that “other” laws apply to the internet: “[TV] broadcast and the Internet are subject to other applicable law and regulations. Whether an act constitutes a crime or otherwise would depend on its specific circumstances and evidence, and cannot be taken in isolation or generalised,” they said.

The Hong Kong crackdown and historical-erasure campaign have dovetailed with Disney’s long-running willingness to partner with Chinese government entities carrying out egregious human-rights abuses, as it did in its filming of the live-action remake of the movie Mulan. The film’s credits thank government entities in Xinjiang, including one that was added to a U.S. sanctions blacklist after scenes for the movie were filmed in the region.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized the Hong Kong Free Press as a “pro-democracy” outlet, and it has been amended to reflect that HKFP takes an impartial stance on issues that it covers. 

Education

Resistance Rising against College ‘Wokeness’

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The “progressives” managed to conquer most of our colleges and universities without any serious resistance. Finally, some people who abhor what has been done to their schools are mounting a counter-attack.

Among those schools is Davidson College, and in today’s Martin Center article, Jay Schalin writes about developments there.

“One of higher education’s most enduring enigmas,” he begins, “is the continued support given by relatively traditional donors to their rapidly radicalizing institutions. This deep division between the beliefs of important donors and the actual conduct of school officials has been brought to light in a new report about Davidson College by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). The beliefs of the top donors are so at odds with the actions of the administration in recent years that one must wonder why they have remained silent and continued to contribute for so long.”

The college’s outgoing president, Carol Quillen, pushed Davidson far along the “woke” path, instituting a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office (which simply stokes racial divisions and promotes leftist beliefs). It’s possible that her successor will be a true academic who will listen to the disgruntled alums and turn the ship around.

Schalin concludes, “While survey results chronicle opinions rather than actual facts, they can still be very helpful when it comes to decision-making. And the results of this survey show that, in overwhelming fashion, the most important supporters of Davidson want a change of direction. And when it comes to choosing the new president, alumni and donors should settle for no less than a serious reformer who will begin the hard fight to end Davidson’s ongoing slide into intellectual degradation.”

Religion

Happy Hanukkah! (The Most Zionist of Holidays)

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In an effort to find a happy holiday around Christmas, American Jews have turned Hanukkah, a remembrance of a violent and complex moment in Jewish history, into an insufferably vacuous, tedious, anesthetized, consumerist celebration of “lights,” stripped of any genuine theological or cultural purpose. I wrote about the true meaning of the holiday last year. Happy holidays!

Health Care

Study: Natural Immunity Effective at Preventing Severe Reinfection

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The vaccine mandates are an exploding cigar. Not only are they causing severe societal dislocation, but they have been implemented in a one-size-fits-all approach that is not justified by current scientific understandings.

A recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine illustrates the point. Based on the study of reinfection in Qatar, people with natural immunity rarely became severely ill upon reinfection — with none dying. From, “Severity of SARS-CoV-2 Reinfection Compared with Primary Infections”:

There were no cases of critical disease at reinfection and 28 cases at primary infection (Table S3), for an odds ratio of 0.00 (95% CI, 0.00 to 0.64). There were no cases of death from Covid-19 at reinfection and 7 cases at primary infection, resulting in an odds ratio of 0.00 (95% CI, 0.00 to 2.57). The odds of the composite outcome of severe, critical, or fatal disease at reinfection were 0.10 times (95% CI, 0.03 to 0.25) that at primary infection. Sensitivity analyses were consistent with these results (Table S2).

Reinfections had 90% lower odds of resulting in hospitalization or death than primary infections. Four reinfections were severe enough to lead to acute care hospitalization. None led to hospitalization in an ICU, and none ended in death. Reinfections were rare and were generally mild, perhaps because of the primed immune system after primary infection.

In earlier studies, we assessed the efficacy of previous natural infection as protection against reinfection with SARS-CoV-22,3 as being 85% or greater. Accordingly, for a person who has already had a primary infection, the risk of having a severe reinfection is only approximately 1% of the risk of a previously uninfected person having a severe primary infection.

This data are highly relevant to the “mandates” debate. Yes, people with natural immunity can become reinfected. But people who are fully vaccinated can be infected too. The vaccines do reduce severity of disease and reduce likelihood of death. But apparently, so does natural resistance caused by surviving a primary infection.

This being so, what justifies forcing persons with natural immunity to accept the vaccine when they already are protected against severe disease? What justifies firing such persons from employment?

Most of us are already protected either by natural or vaccine-generated immunity voluntarily received. Policy should recognize that truth and be tailored accordingly. The best public and private policies toward vaccines would be to encourage people to receive protection — but eschew coercion.

Impromptus

Dances, Dunces, and Others

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The Nutcracker at the Royal Ballet, London, December 9, 2020 (Toby Melville / Reuters)

Impromptus today begins with The Nutcracker — the cancellation of. In Berlin. Why? Because the Chinese and Arab dances give offense — allegedly. In reality, “they give delight and enchantment,” as I say in my column.

Until now, I’ve thought that “wokeness” was an American affair. We see that it has hopped over to Europe — which is tragic.

Other topics in Impromptus today include Russia and Ukraine; the nuttiness of the Women’s March; and the sheer, wonderful spine of J. K. Rowling, the best-selling author in history. (Even the best-selling author in history needs spine, if she wants to speak out, despite the death threats and all.)

Stephen Sondheim passed away last Friday. I’ve written an appreciation of him, here. But back to Impromptus.

One of my items concerns an opera company in Britain — which has fired half of its musicians, for the sake of “increased diversity in the orchestra,” according to the company itself. I have a memory, which I’d like to relate, here in the Corner.

In fact, I will quote a piece I wrote in 1996, when I was at The Weekly Standard. Here goes:

The issue of race intruded on the music world in a big way in 1989. The venue, appropriately, was Detroit, than which no city is more race-obsessed and race-driven. Two state legislators threatened to block $2.5 million in funds for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra unless it breached its policy of blind auditions and hired a black musician. They also threatened a boycott.

The orchestra’s management convened an emergency meeting and quickly capitulated. Within days, it hired a black bassist without benefit of competition, blind or otherwise.

The executive director told the press, “The Detroit Symphony was in a weakened financial situation. If we had not hired a black musician, it would have meant immediate bankruptcy.” The musician himself said, “I would rather have auditioned like everybody else.”

It was a big story at the time, at least in the little world of music (classical music).

Also in today’s Impromptus, I quote a tweet from Josh Mandel, the Ohio Republican:

We’re not fighting the Nazis anymore, so why do we have these enormous military bases all over Europe?

The mission of our military is to protect the AMERICAN people — not to subsidize European socialism or to prop up the military industrial complex.

My impression, as I say in the column, is that this view is very popular in America, on both right and left. In any event, I would like to offer a link, here in the Corner — to a piece I wrote in 2014: “Ike as Weapon: The use and abuse of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, with its warning about the ‘military-industrial complex.’” Kind of interesting.

In an Impromptus earlier this month, I took note of a Lebanese-American author and artist: Etel Adnan, who had passed away at 96. I quoted part of her New York Times obit:

In addition to her taut yet cheerful paintings, Ms. Adnan also drew praise for her leporellos, books folded like an accordion on which she combined drawings, splashes of color and Arabic words and numbers. After discovering leporellos, which were popular with Japanese artists, she decided to appropriate the format for her own work.

“Yes,” I commented. “Nothing wrong with ‘appropriating.’ Nothing wrong with human connections.”

My friend and colleague Jason Steorts informs me that a “leporello” comes from Leporello, the manservant in Don Giovanni. When he sings the Catalogue Aria, he unfolds a long list of his master’s conquests.

I’ll be damned. An opera, based on a Spanish tale, by an Austrian composer and an Italian-Jewish librettist. A Japanese art enthusiasm, caught by an American of Lebanese background.

The arts leap boundaries, and nobody, of any political color, can stop them (I hope).

Hang on — I should have said that, on top of everything else, Don Giovanni premiered in . . . Prague.

Okay, enough of my Cornering. Today’s Impromptus, again, is here.

U.S.

‘Guard for news crew dies after being shot in attempted robbery’

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In another sign of the Bay Area’s descent, news crews have to hire security guards to keep thugs from robbing their equipment. The guard for one crew that was covering a smash-and-grab robbery, a former cop named Kevin Nishita, was shot and killed while providing security. Heartbreaking and appalling.

Culture

In Germany, You Must Be Fully Vaxxed before Your Death by Assisted Suicide

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A dose of the BioNTech and Pfizer coronavirus vaccination is given in Mainz, Germany. (BioNTech SE 2020/Handout via Reuters)

The ironies of assisted suicide never end. Germany allows suicide on demand — including assistance — as a fundamental constitutional right. But now, you must be vaccinated against COVID before a euthanasia group will help you kill yourself. From the Spectator story:

As European countries battle to limit the spread of the virus, Verein Sterbehilfe – the German Euthanasia Association – has issued a new directive, declaring it will now only help those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the disease. In a statement, the association said:

Euthanasia and the preparatory examination of the voluntary responsibility of our members willing to die require human closeness. Human closeness, however, is a prerequisite and breeding ground for coronavirus transmission. As of today, the 2G rule applies in our association, supplemented by situation-related measures, such as quick tests before encounters in closed rooms.”

‘Close encounters in closed rooms’ – what a fabulous German euphemism for assisted suicide.

Sometimes words even escape me!

Economics

Good Luck Filling Up Your Tank on Your Long Drive Home Today

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(Larry Downing/Reuters)

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year, and today, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, is usually close behind. According to AAA, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.39, down about a penny from a week ago. One month ago, the national average was also $3.39 per gallon.

Drivers are filling their tanks for less in Texas, where the average price is still just barely under three dollars per gallon, at $2.98, and in Oklahoma, where it is $2.95. Drivers have it worst in California, where the average price is $4.71 per gallon, and Hawaii, at $4.35 per gallon.

In sparsely populated Mono County, Calif., the average price has reached $5.64 per gallon. Quite a few California counties are close to an average price of $5 per gallon. In Napa County, the average price per gallon is $4.88, which is slightly more expensive than the average price of the cheapest bottle of wine produced in the county.

Earlier this month in Baltimore, Biden exclaimed, “Did you ever think you’d be paying this much for a gallon of gas? In some parts of California, they’re paying $4.50 a gallon!”

One year ago, the national average was only $2.12.

Last week, Dominic Pino observed the glaring contradictions in Biden’s energy policies. Charlie Cooke noted that by limiting domestic production while calling for OPEC to produce more oil, “Biden has adopted a set of positions that make him a bystander in the areas over which he has some authority, and a beggar in the areas over which he has none.” Daniel Tenreiro concluded that we’re seeing the consequences of public policies designed to reduce investment in fossil fuels: “With the help of the private sector, administration officials have already begun pressuring banks to cut back on investments in the fossil-fuel industry. Now, White House appointees look poised to codify this policy.”

Andrew Stuttaford noticed that after Biden announced the release of 50 million barrels from U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, “the oil price moved, well, up.”

Good luck, American drivers.

World

Why Won’t Washington Speak Out about the Latest Crisis in Iran?

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Flag in front of Iran’s Foreign Ministry building in Tehran (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

Almost exactly two years since the Iranian regime brutally put down the “Bloody Aban” mass protests, the mullahs are at it again—this time targeting the people of Isfahan, who have the temerity to demand clean drinking water.

The Isfahan protests expose one of the regime’s key failings, which has been the systematic degradation of Iran’s environment. This egregious mismanagement has left some 97 percent of Iranians without sufficient water, and the shortage is particularly acute in the agricultural zone of central Iran. The regime tolerated some earlier, smaller demonstrations. Yesterday, however, a larger protest, which had broad popular support and started to spill over to the rest of the country, triggered the regime to deploy its Chinese-imported oppression apparatus to crush it.  One standard tool in this grim toolbox is to cut off the state-run Internet to hide Tehran’s crimes from the world and disable the protestors, although a few searing images of defenseless innocents being brutalized by the basij, or regime paramilitary forces, have trickled out.

Shamefully, the Biden administration, which claims to put human rights, not to mention climate issues, at the core of its foreign policy, has remained silent as this atrocity has unfolded. Perhaps they are assuming most Americans are too stuffed with turkey or concerned about rising fuel prices and inflation here at home to worry much about a far-away protest. But there are still enough Americans who can remember when the people of Iran were our friends, and what an enormous regional strategic advantage that was in the Middle East. They also remember the catastrophic 1979 Islamic Revolution and subsequent hostage crisis that ended that alliance. As the crisis in Isfahan grinds into another week, all those who care about building a better, more prosperous future for the people of Iran, one in which asking for a drink of water is not punishable by death, should demand better from our own leadership.

Some key points:

  • The Iranian people are not apathetic and they do not support their odious regime for the sake of stability. This narrative, which not coincidentally is virtually identical to that pedaled by the People’s Republic of China about its own people, is the work of the regime. Over and over again through the course of the Islamic Republic’s history the people of Iran have risen up to demand freedom and basic rights. The 2009 Green Revolution was primarily an urban demonstration for real democracy.  The Bloody Aban protests were sparked by a sharp increase in fuel prices.  The most recent iteration is over water.  So while the brutal crackdowns are chilling, they have by no means silenced the people—and the regime knows it.  These brave protesters deserve our robust support.
  • Strategic silence did not work in 2009 and it’s not going to work now. In 2009 then Senator John Kerry disingenuously claimed that vocal U.S. support for the Green Revolution would only offend the protestors and empower the “hardliners.” The Iranian regime—correctly—interpreted the Obama administration’s deliberate decision not to back the Green Revolution as a tacit admission that the United States wanted diplomatic engagement at all costs, and would accordingly stove-pipe any human rights abuses.  The result was dead protesters, an entrenched regime, and ultimately the disastrous 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iranian nuclear deal. We repeat this history at our peril.
  • The United States still does not have the capacity to stream satellite-based free Internet access to the people of Iran so they can communicate with each other—and the outside world—when the regime uses its Internet kill switch. This is a disgrace. We have the technology and capability to do this. The fact that the U.S. government has not equipped itself with the ability to export free speech is deeply unfortunate and if the Biden administration refuses to advance this policy that would have wide-ranging, strategic global applications, Congress should act.
Business

Mr. Goxx, R.I.P.

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(mu_mu/Getty Images)

Perhaps the animal spirits of the market are best understood by animals. Mr. Goxx, a cryptocurrency-trading hamster, was at various points outperforming Warren Buffett from the offices of Goxx Capital — an addition to a hamster cage.

His office includes a hamster wheel, used to select which cryptocurrency he wants to trade, and two tunnels, one marked “BUY” and the other marked “SELL,” that he crawls through to make trades. Whenever Mr. Goxx entered his office, his movements were livestreamed on Twitch, and his trades were automatically posted on Twitter (with this disclaimer: “This content is for entertainment purposes only. Investments shown here are not financial advice.”).

Mr. Goxx’s Twitter account, which only started in June 2021, has over 18,000 followers. It only follows two accounts: Elon Musk and Shibetoshi Nakamoto, the alias of the creator of the cryptocurrency Dogecoin.

Mr. Goxx’s anonymous owners announced on Wednesday that he died in his sleep on Monday. They wrote, “You will be missed, and your memory will live forever on the blockchain.” According to Fortune, as of his last completed trading session, he was up 19.72 percent on the year. R.I.P.

Culture

Rude Welcome for Dave Chappelle at His High School: ‘Your Comedy Kills’

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Dave Chappelle presents the ICON award during the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, March 12, 2017. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

D.C.-raised Dave Chappelle did a surprise set at his alma mater Tuesday night and got an earful of woke from triggered teens. “Your comedy kills,” one told him. “N*****s are killed every day,” he said. “The media’s not here, right?” It was contentious. Another student called Chappelle “a bigot.”

According to a detailed report by Politico, Chappelle performed for a crowd of nearly 600 at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts – which he has generously supported in the past. After the set Chappelle took part in a Q & A with surly pupils. One indignant kid said, “I’m 16, and I think you’re childish.” Chappelle fired back, “My friend, with all due respect, I don’t believe you could make one of the decisions I have to make on a given day.”

Replying to “another antagonistic question,” says Politico, Chappelle said, “I’m better than every instrumentalist, artist, no matter what art you do in this school, right now, I’m better than all of you. I’m sure that will change. I’m sure you’ll be household names soon.”

Students who represent a movement that has been trying to bully Chappelle for weeks complained to Politico, “He could tell we were nervous. It was a huge power imbalance of this grown man and his camera crew — and these 14- to 18 year-olds without their phones, just high school kids.”

As is his habit, Chappelle made the students lock up their cell phones during the show. I find it extremely revealing that kids complain that they’re powerless without the bully-multiplication effect of cell phones.

World

Biden Admin Backs Countries That Defy Beijing

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A soldier facing the Tiananmen Gate stands guard outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, in 2016. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Smaller countries that defy the Chinese Communist Party’s diktats do that braving the risk of a disproportionate, reckless, and punishing response. That’s what Australians saw when they dared to protect the integrity of their country’s political system from Chinese interference and called for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. It’s what Lithuanians learned when they dared forge closer ties with Taiwan, opting to welcome a “Taiwanese Representative Office” in Vilnius. In both cases, diplomatic histrionics and retaliatory trade measures ensued.

That seems to be why, in a flurry of diplomacy, U.S. State Department officials rushed to embrace their Lithuanian counterparts amid the office’s opening and China’s subsequent move to downgrade its diplomatic relationship with Lithuania. A senior official tasked with promoting human rights went to Vilnius, and foreign minister Lithuanian Gabrielius Landbergis went to Washington to huddle with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in a meeting today.

So that there was no mistaking what this flurry of meetings was all about, Sherman “expressed support for Lithuania’s plans to expand ties with democracies in the Indo-Pacific region” per a readout of their meeting, and Landsbergis, representing the tiny Baltic state, yesterday participated in meetings with Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell and Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state in charge of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs bureau.

All of this is about showing support for Lithuania and telling other smaller countries that might defy Beijing — especially by supporting Taiwan — that they can do so while finding support in Washington. That’s important given the sway that Beijing can hold over countries with considerably less clout than the United States and the success with which it has isolated Taipei on the global stage. The administration’s moves here are also consistent with its democracy agenda — and while Landsbergis visited Washington, State published the full list of the December Democracy Summit’s participants, which includes Taiwan.

From the president’s odd gaffes about U.S.–Taiwan ties, to the way in which State instructs diplomats to speak about Chinese malign-influence campaigns, there are plenty of reasons to question the administration’s approach to the China challenge. Its handling of Lithuania’s growing ties with Taiwan, by contrast, sets a worthwhile standard.

World

On Keeping in with the (Chinese Communist) Party

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Performers rally around the Red Flag during a show commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party at the National Stadium in Beijing, China, June 28, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Here’s just another reminder of the way that corporate virtue-signaling stops at the West’s borders. Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is a prominent advocate of stakeholder capitalism. Under his leadership, the bank has embraced quite a bit of the woke baggage that goes with that, making this story one that is worth remembering.

Reuters:

JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said on Wednesday he regretted his remarks that the Wall Street bank would last longer than China’s Communist Party, moving quickly to avoid any longer-term fallout.

Dimon’s comments had risked jeopardizing JPMorgan’s growth ambitions in China where it won regulatory approval in August to become the first full foreign owner of a securities brokerage in the country. China experts in the United States said his quick apology should ensure no serious damage was done.

The first thing to note is that it is (we must assume) not “problematic” for the firm to be expanding its business (and working with the “regulatory authorities”) in a country now moving rapidly toward a kind of fascism with Chinese characteristics, complete, of course, with genocide.

Moving on:

“I regret and should not have made that comment. I was trying to emphasize the strength and longevity of our company,” Dimon said in a statement issued by the bank.

In a later statement, Dimon said: “It’s never right to joke about or denigrate any group of people, whether it’s a country, its leadership, or any part of a society and culture. Speaking in that way can take away from constructive and thoughtful dialogue in society, which is needed now more than ever.”

Notice the exquisitely well, woke, nature of that later statement (“It’s never right to joke about or denigrate . . .”) and the way that Dimon slips a country’s “leadership” onto the list of those who must “never” be joked about or denigrated.

China has been run by the Communist Party since 1949. Since that time, that party (and thus, sorry Jamie, its leadership) has been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions and has ruined the lives of countless millions more. It is now in the process of using a combination of brutality and technology to, once again, tighten its control of the society over which it presides.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that’s worth a bit of “denigration.”

Back to Reuters:

A week ago Dimon was granted an exemption by the Hong Kong government to visit the Chinese-controlled financial hub without needing to quarantine.

A business trip to a city where what’s left of its freedom is being crushed.

Nice.

And

Dimon was in Hong Kong for 32 hours after arriving by private jet.

CNBC (April):

JPMorgan is committing $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years toward climate action and sustainable development.

Economics

Free Trade Isn’t Free

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Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the China Development Forum in Beijing, March 23, 2019. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Sometimes it costs your dignity:

Charles Rollet helpfully pointed out the origin of Tom Watson’s little slogan.

But it’s not just Tim Cook. Here’s Jamie Dimon today.

Add these to the pile where Charles Munger of Berkshire Hathaway responded to questions about the months-long disappearance of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma by saying that Ma had been “arrogant” to criticize the Chinese Community Party.

The idea that businesses can merely pursue “shareholder value” to the exclusion of other values is false. All these men now understand that their job includes defending the Chinese Communist Party from criticism. This doesn’t just affect their private statements; it will also affect their advice to U.S. policymakers.

Note that there is no elite omertà about criticizing Russia, with whom we do very little trade.

There is no such thing as free trade with communist nations. The remaining question is how much more this misadventure in doing good while getting rich is going to cost the rest of us.

Elections

More Pills the Democrats Will Find Hard to Swallow

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President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress as President Kamala Harris (left) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) applaud at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Chip Somodevillaat/Pool via Reuters)

As I wrote in October, “Ruy Teixeira is the co-author . . . of the 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority. He is probably more responsible than anyone for the rise of smug Democratic projections that demography would sweep them into power and consign Republicans to the dustbin of history” — and he has been raising ever-increasing alarms that Democrats are now fatally out of step with ordinary voters by virtue of their capture by “woke” academic cultural leftism. As he writes in a recent newsletter, “It’s not a good look for the party of the working class to be losing so much working class support that it’s no longer, well, the party of the working class. But of course it goes way beyond the look to the realities of electoral performance and political power. Put simply, there’s just no way Democrats can maintain a consistent hold on political power with this level of working class support.”

Teixeira has some very good advice for Democrats:

A Democratic brand reset is clearly in order to stop the bleeding among working class voters, along the lines suggested by the Jacobin study. A good way to start would be to embrace widely-held American views and values that are particularly strong among the multiracial working class.

  • Equality of opportunity is a fundamental American principle; equality of outcome is not.
  • America is not perfect but it is good to be patriotic and proud of the country.
  • Discrimination and racism are bad but they are not the cause of all disparities in American society.
  • No one is completely without bias but calling all white people racists who benefit from white privilege and American society a white supremacist society is not right or fair.
  • America benefits from the presence of immigrants and no immigrant, even if illegal, should be mistreated. But border security is still important, as is an enforceable system that fairly decides who can enter the country.
  • Police misconduct and brutality against people of any race is wrong and we need to reform police conduct and recruitment. But crime is a real problem so more and better policing is needed for public safety. That cannot be provided by “defunding the police”.
  • There are underlying differences between men and women but discrimination on the basis of gender is wrong.
  • There are basically two genders but people who want to live as a gender different from their biological sex should have that right and not be discriminated against. However, there are issues around child consent to transitioning and participation in women’s sports that are complicated and not settled.
  • Racial achievement gaps are bad and we should seek to close them. However, they are not due just to racism and standards of high achievement should be maintained for people of all races.
  • Language policing has gone too far; by and large, people should be able to express their views without fear of sanction by employer, school, institution or government. Good faith should be assumed, not bad faith.

Besides positively embracing these views it is necessary for major Democratic officeholders and candidates to actively dissociate themselves and their party from the woke stances that contradict these views and tarnish their brand among working class voters. That entails not just saying that one does not endorse now-familiar strands of cultural leftism but in some well-chosen places directly criticizing by name some who hold extreme views that are associated with the Democrats. That will be of great assistance in getting the message through to average working class voters.

I predict that some Democratic politicians will be smart enough to take a good deal of this advice at the state, local, and House district level, but not until they receive a 1988-style national repudiation is the party’s elite likely to truly internalize the message.

Politics & Policy

Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Right: Lin Wood Is a ‘Horrible Person’

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) at an “America First” rally in The Villages, Fla., May 7, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

House member Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) is right about Lin Wood:

The Georgia lawyer had represented Richard Jewell, the security guard falsely accused of perpetrating the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, in his suits against media outlets and his employer, earned settlements from the media outlets who maliciously smeared Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann at the 2019 March for Life, and had served as one of Kyle Rittenhouse’s lawyers.

But after the 2020 presidential election, Wood took his stolen-election beliefs so far that he encouraged Republicans not to vote in the crucial Georgia Senate runoff that would determine the chamber’s balance unless the state government changed voting procedures in the way he desired. Wood got his wish: Republican David Perdue, who had won more votes than Jon Ossoff in November 2020, lost to the same candidate in January 2021. Greene is right that Wood “grifted off of Trump & told people not to vote on Jan 5th saying their vote would be stolen.”

Recently it emerged that one of Wood’s ostensibly nobler pursuits may have been a grift all along as well. In an interview after a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse innocent of all charges against him stemming from an August 2020 incident in Kenosha, Wis., he revealed the extent of Wood’s mistreatment of him. Rittenhouse claimed that Wood and John Pierce, another attorney, had kept him in jail longer than necessary while they raised funds for his bail via their own foundation. Rittenhouse also considered Wood “insane” and fired him in December 2020.

All of which is to say that Marjorie Taylor Greene is totally on the money to call out Lin Wood for costing Republicans the Senate and for mistreating Kyle Rittenhouse. It is heartening to see Greene push back against someone some might say would be on her “team.” She is right that sometimes these are the people most in need of correction or refutation.

Media

Time Magazine’s Revealing Hero-Worship of the Facebook ‘Whistleblower’

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Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 5, 2021. (Jabin Botsford/Pool via Reuters)

Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who disclosed tens of thousands of pages of documents from the social-media giant to the Wall Street Journal in September, is the subject of a glowing Time profile. Her face adorns the cover of the magazine’s latest issue, with the words “The Making of a Whistleblower: What Drove Frances Haugen to Sound the Alarm About Facebook—And What Happens Next” emblazoned beneath.

It’s odd to see someone who is ostensibly famous for courageously speaking truth to power to immediately be rewarded by adulatory cover stories in the media. And the Time story really is adulatory: “While some have described the Facebook whistle-blower as an activist, Haugen says she sees herself as an educator,” the author beams. How did this Harvard-educated maverick manage to take on Facebook? “​​Haugen’s atypical personality, glittering academic background, strong moral convictions, robust support networks and self-confidence also helped.”

In reality, Haugen has made a name for herself by repeating the talking points of the progressive powers that be. The problem with Facebook isn’t that it’s too keen to censor or that it’s politically biased in its content moderation, she argues — it’s that it doesn’t censor enough. “Misinformation,” that wonderfully vague and oh-so-malleable progressive term of art, is the problem. Haugen’s narrative — happily echoed from the highest echelons of progressive media, and praised by national Democratic politicians — is that there is an urgent need to take a more hard-line approach to dissident right-wing voices online. And the way to do that, of course, is to give people like Haugen more power. “In her Senate testimony in early October, Haugen suggested a federal agency should be set up to oversee social media algorithms so that ‘someone like me could do a tour of duty’ after working at a company like Facebook,” Time writes.

As always, this is all in the altruistic interest of “our democracy.” Haugen is just a brave, selfless servant of our democracy, you see. Surely it’s just a coincidence that she’s saying exactly what the most authoritarian interests in American politics want to hear.

The Economy

Rosy Unemployment Data Largely a Result of Seasonal Adjustments

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Seasonally adjusted jobless claims fell to a 50-year low last week. Initial unemployment claims fell to 199,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis, beating expectations of 260,000 and marking a large drop from last week’s claims.

That’s good news, but it appears to be mostly a result of the Labor Department’s seasonal adjustments rather than a significant reduction in unemployment claims. In non-seasonally adjusted terms, claims rose to 259,000, up 18,000 from the week prior. The adjustment is not unwarranted or unexpected; the week before Thanksgiving tends to see a seasonal uptick in jobless claims. The size of this adjustment, however, looks unduly large when compared with previous years.

During the pandemic, the Department of Labor (DOL) changed its seasonal-adjustment methodology in response to elevated unemployment claims. Previously, DOL statisticians would multiply actual claims by a “seasonality factor.” For instance, unemployment claims tend to rise significantly at the beginning of a calendar year. Under the old methodology, DOL would take those elevated claims and remove, say, 30 percent as a seasonal adjustment.

With weekly jobless claims in the millions throughout the pandemic, multiplying by a predetermined percentage for seasonal factors was causing enormous, misleading discrepancies between the actual and seasonally adjusted data. In normal times, a 20 percent adjustment might mean a gross difference of 20,000 claims, but with jobless claims at 2 million, the same adjustment totals 400,000. In September of last year, the Labor Department shifted to additive adjustments, where a predetermined number of claims would be added or subtracted from the actual number.

In March 2021, DOL determined the gross seasonal adjustments to be made for the next 52 weeks. At the time, claims were hovering around 700,000 a week. Based on the seasonal adjustments set at that time, the department does not seem to have anticipated weekly claims to be as low as they are right now. The result is seasonal adjustments much higher than normal.

For the week before Thanksgiving, DOL adjusted jobless claims down by an average of 7.5 percent from 2016-2020. This past week, that adjustment came in at 23 percent — the largest in DOL’s archived data. Seasonal adjustments will likely continue to obfuscate jobless claims until DOL revises its figures or reverts to its pre-pandemic methodology.

Politics & Policy

How Democrats Ruin Everything: The New York Times

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This New York Times video doesn’t exactly shout, “Vote Republican” because everyone involved in it, and everyone it is aimed at, is a Democrat. But if Democrats can mess things up this badly, what other conclusion are we supposed to draw? Democrats make things worse is the resounding message here. I agree, except unlike the production team of the video, I don’t find this baffling.

The message of the video is that Democrats are hypocrites who don’t live up to their values. Of course they don’t! But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that they make everything worse. Watch the video. It’ll knock you out that this came from the Times.