Law & the Courts

BREAKING: Supreme Court Strikes Down New York’s Restrictive Gun-Carry Rules

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas poses during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

I’ll dig into the full 135-page decision in a moment, but here’s the bottom line from the blockbuster gun-carry case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which the Supreme Court just announced:

The exercise of other constitutional rights does not require individuals to demonstrate to government officers some special need. The Second Amendment right to carry arms in public for self defense is no different. New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms in public.

In other words: New York cannot force applicants for gun-carry permits to “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.”

The decision was 6–3. It was written by Justice Clarence Thomas. Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented.

PC Culture

Womb Carriers


Verso Books, the “largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world” according to its Twitter bio, posted a thread yesterday about “womb carriers”:

“In the 1970s up to 50% of Native womb carriers were sterilized against their will by the Indian Health Service (IHS).”

“Stripping our womb-carriers of their ability to have children is the continuation of over 500 years of misogynistic violence against Indigenous peoples.” [emphasis added]

As easy as it is to dismiss this absurd, demeaning language, remember how quickly such terms become mainstream. A decade ago, there were women and men (a very small number of whom liked people to pretend they were women).

Now, in the mainstream, there are “cisgender women” and “transgender women.” Next: “birthing people,” “menstruators,” and womb carriers. 


A Nerd-Out on Golf

Matt Fitzpatrick holds the championship trophy after winning the 2022 U.S. Open golf tournament in Brookline, Mass., June 19, 2022. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

The U.S. Open was played last week at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., outside Boston. That’s the name of the club: “the Country Club.” It’s sort of like naming a restaurant “the Restaurant,” but there you go. The Country Club is a historic place, where golf is concerned.

Have I said that this U.S. Open was the golf one, not the tennis one? It was.

Dueling down the stretch were Matt Fitzpatrick, a young Englishman (never mind the Irish name), and Will Zalatoris, a young American (never mind the Greek name). A thrilling duel it was. Fitzpatrick won out in the end.

Writing about him for Golf magazine was Luke Kerr-Dineen, who said, “Fitzpatrick is, quite simply, the golfer I want to be.” He added, “He’s the one you should want to be, too.” LKD is my guest on Q&A, here.

Kerr-Dineen is game-improvement editor for Golf (and He knows the ins and outs of swings and the rest of golf technique. He knows about the game at large. He is one to “nerd out,” he says, with Tour pros and other knowledgeable folk. Like Winston Churchill and Robert Conquest, Luke is both British and American. He was born in New York. (So was Boris Johnson, to British parents. He could run for president, right?) Then it was over to London, until he was 13. Then it was back to the U.S. — to South Carolina, in particular. Luke talks like a Brit, however, rather than a South Carolinian.

Bill Buckley used to say, “There’s something in the water over in Britain, rendering them articulate. It’s just so.” LKD is further proof of this.

Incidentally, we at NR offered him a fellowship, as he discloses in this podcast. But he chose a career in golf journalism — starting at Golf Digest. I expect him to be in the booth one day, commentating.

By the way, the “Kerr” in “Kerr-Dineen” is pronounced “cur,” rather than “car.” The coach of the Golden State Warriors says “cur.” But a proper Scot says “car.” Deborah Kerr, the striking actress who was born in Glasgow, was “car.” She is best known for playing Anna in The King and I (movie version). MGM had a slogan for her, to make things clear to American audiences: “Kerr rhymes with Star!” Luke says that, for his dad, “car” is a hill to die on. But Luke and his siblings go with “cur,” mainly for expedience in American life.

Enough nomenclature. In our podcast, besides names, we talk about swings. And the Tour life. And the new Saudi tour, speaking of tours. (For a piece I did on this, earlier this week, go here.) We also talk about Tiger Woods, of course. Is he finished, at long last? People have counted him out before, to their embarrassment. We talk about favorite golfers and favorite courses. Also, a longstanding question: the equipment. Has it advanced to a crazy degree, warping the game?

Oh, there’s another question: Is golf a sport or something else? More like a game? Some people don’t accord golf the name “sport.” I’m not too offended. Golf is a sport, of course, but I don’t care if you call it a ham sandwich, as long as I get to play it and watch it.

This Q&A is for golfers and golf fans, yes. But I think most everyone else would enjoy LKD too. Again, here we are.

Economy & Business

Prepare for Pain


This article from the L.A. Times is the sort of thing that inspires me to invest in canned goods and shotguns.

The headline is “Yes, a recession looks inevitable. But it may not be that bad. Here’s why.”

The message is exactly what you would expect. Hey, a recession is coming. But don’t blame anyone in charge, they always happen eventually. And anyway, household balance sheets aren’t so bad, and more people are locked into low-interest-rate mortgages.

Here’s how it concluded:

Jeffrey Korzenik, chief investment strategist at Fifth Third Bank in Tampa, Fla., said the country will avoid a recession, barely, largely because of the strength of the labor market.

He figures the Fed’s tightening will create more layoffs but said, “We have so many openings, it’ll be easier to get workers recycled into the job market. It’s not bulletproof, but it means the economy is less likely to fall off a cliff.”

When the experts agree it won’t be so bad, I’m put into a mood to build a bomb shelter. “Less likely to fall off a cliff” is a great phrase, since it betrays no actual conviction about the overall likelihood.

Health Care

The CDC Just Pushed Fake News on Covid Child Mortality

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

Only because “an internet rando is more knowledgeable and paying closer attention than our top scientists and doctors” do we know that the CDC just publicized false information about the deadliness of Covid-19 to small children. This misinformation, presented at a conference among top experts, went viral and was promoted, notes Substack columnist Matt Shapiro, by dozens of well-known physicians and other media commentators and specialists, including CNN mainstay Dr. Leana Wen and a former surgeon general of the United States. Wen’s promotion of the false claim is still up on Twitter as of 6:45 p.m. on June 22.

The CDC displayed a slide at a conference that falsely claimed Covid-19 was the fourth or fifth leading cause of death for all pediatric age groups. A writer who is publicly known only by the name Kelley immediately saw that the claim was “completely and utterly false.” Among several errors, which are so blatant as to seem like intentional massaging of the numbers, Kelley discovered that all data from a 26-month period were being crammed into one year, and that deaths were attributed to Covid, regardless of whether the death was caused by Covid, if the disease was mentioned on the death certificate. The CDC slide, which cited a pre-publication British study that is now being re-examined, also bumped up the numbers by altering the definition of pediatric (ordinarily understood to mean under 18) to include 18- and 19-year-olds.

The danger to children from Covid is very, very low. For instance, babies and toddlers are 25 times likelier to die of an accident than of Covid. And all-cause pediatric mortality in the pandemic era for young children (up to 12) is 30 percent lower than it was a generation ago, in 1999. All-cause mortality for children over 12 has spiked in the pandemic era because of accidents, drug abuse, and other factors unrelated to disease. Covid barely registers as a cause of death for teens or small children.

Writes Shapiro in his Substack column, Marginally Compelling:

This is a massive data error, and yet it persisted through a supposedly rigorous data check from 11 authors and was selected by top-tier scientists for their landmark presentation to the most knowledgeable experts in the field.

No one in any of these meetings recognized this error. This slide was presented uncritically to the nation’s top doctors and epidemiologists who are in charge of setting the national policy on COVID vaccines for children and no one even noticed it.

Law & the Courts

Breyer’s History of ‘Strife’

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer is seen during a group portrait session for the new full court at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., November 30, 2018. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Fear of disputes among religious groups has been a recurring theme of the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence for eight decades. Even so, Justice Breyer’s dissent in yesterday’s landmark Carson v. Makin ruling, which ordered Maine to stop excluding religious schools from a tuition-assistance program, had a familiar ring.

“I write separately, however, to emphasize the risk that publicly financed voucher programs pose in terms of religiously based social conflict. I do so because I believe that the Establishment Clause concern for protecting the Nation’s social fabric from religious conflict poses an overriding obstacle to the implementation of this well-intentioned school voucher program.” That’s not what Breyer wrote in yesterday’s dissent. It’s what he wrote in a 2002 dissent. Then the question was not whether the Constitution commanded states to include religious schools in scholarship programs. It was whether it even permitted them to include those schools. Five justices said yes; Breyer, and three other justices, said no.

Allowing states to fund religious schools, even indirectly, would, in Breyer’s view, pose an unacceptable risk of “social dissension,” a “struggle of sect against sect,” and “division among religious groups.” The word “strife” got a particular workout, appearing ten times. In conclusion, he warned of “religiously based conflict potentially harmful to the Nation’s social fabric.”

It has been twenty years since Breyer lost in that case. Is there any evidence that the majority opinion resulted in any of the dangers he mentioned? If so, you would think that he would mention it. In yesterday’s dissent, though, he does nothing to evaluate whether the record since 2002 makes his fears look more or less plausible. Instead he just repeats the argument. We hear about “religiously based social conflict,” “disunion,” the European wars of religion, “division,” and, of course, “strife” (this time eight times).

The line about “the struggle of sect against sect” was not original to Breyer. He was quoting Justice Wiley Rutledge’s opinion in a 1947 case — in another dissent, as it happens. Perhaps some other justice in 2094 will be quoting Justice Breyer, with a similar indifference to how prescient his words will have proven.

Film & TV

What Happened to Star Trek?

Sonequa Martin-Green in Star Trek: Discovery (Paramount Plus/YouTube)

Writing in the New Atlantis, Alan Rome takes issue with the now-stunted horizons of Star Trek as manifested in the new series Star Trek: Discovery. Rome charts the rise and fall of Star Trek in tandem with the contemporary forms of liberalism each series embodied. First was the confident, assertive, Kennedy-era Captain Kirk incarnation of the late 1960s (The Original Series). Then came the universalist, “End of History” Captain Picard of the late 1980s and 1990s (The Next Generation). Some of the TNG spinoffs, such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, dabbled in post-colonialist forms of liberalism. Even so, Discovery’s pessimistic, dead-end, identity-politics-obsessed modern version came as something of a surprise, despite matching considerably the tenor of modern liberalism. As Rome puts it,

The most prominent current series, Discovery, shows no interest at all in discovery, or in science, wonder, or philosophical reflection. It represents a new type of cultural myopia and chauvinism, different from that seen in The Original Series in its total closure to worlds outside the ones run by its protagonists. Indeed, it seems not even to recognize the existence of alternative conceptions of the world. . . .

While Discovery’s third season is set in a distant future where the Federation has all but collapsed, the first two seasons are set during the supposed historic height of the utopia, and yet lack any recognition of it. The show evinces no interest in any positive aspects of the Federation, nor do its characters seem to be driven by any higher principles or ideals. Discovery has quietly abandoned the moral superiority of the future: The barely-developed characters are almost entirely unlikeable, highly flawed, some explicitly mentally ill, others ill-tempered, bickering, ruthless, or vain. . . .

Whereas in the earlier waves of Star Trek the ideals of equality and freedom had triumphed and become permanently available to all, these ideals are now fragile and ephemeral, relative products of a particular time and place, lacking any real grounding and perhaps even any desirability. They are under siege. . . .

Now, despite having written about Star Trek for National Review, I am not what is known as a “Trekkie.” I have seen a decent number of episodes of TOS and TNG, as well as several movies from the former and one from the latter. So I cannot speak to the quality of Discovery. But, at the risk of violating K-Lo’s ancient proscription, I would like to speak to a part of Star Trek that I do know, one that Rome’s essay touches upon.

Rome writes that one of the central tensions of all of Star Trek is that between the utopian aspirations of the world created by the United Federation of Planets, a kind of “space U.N.” that is also post-scarcity, and the lingering remnants of either (1) atavistic human foibles or (2) the designs of other alien races outside of the Federation (which often resemble No. 1). Luxuriating in utopia all day just isn’t very exciting. Thus, in my experience of its various media, Star Trek is at its most interesting when emphasizing this tension. Often, this requires setting heroes directly against such forces. As Rome writes,

Star Trek manages to cheat history of its finality. Post-historical humanity no longer internally faces interminable political conflict, but it does externally in the infinite number of other species and regimes of the galaxy that remain incorrigibly “historical.” The republic must eternally renew itself in its confrontation with outsiders.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, for example, forms around a classic quest for vengeance on the part of Khan, its villain. Calling it an “old Klingon proverb,” thereby tying himself to one of the other sources of primal resistance to utopian designs in the Star Trek universe, Khan asserts that “revenge is a dish best served cold.” (“And it is very cold . . . in space,” he adds.)  Khan is a figure out of Earth’s past, but he combines his primeval qualities with a genetically enhanced strength and intelligence, making him a threat from two worlds. Defeating him requires the crew of Kirk’s Enterprise to access some timeless heroics and virtues of their own, ones that we would easily recognize regardless of the setting. Thus does Khan become by far the most interesting and compelling foe for Kirk and Co.

In an interesting twist on this, Picard’s main antagonist is not a man but a species: the Borg, a galaxy-bestriding, techno-organic assimilative hive mind that absorbs then destroys the individuality of every other race it comes across. “Resistance is futile,” goes the Borg’s famous taunt. And yet Picard and the Federation do resist, at great cost; a memorable arc from The Next Generation sees Picard assimilated by the Borg. In Star Trek: First Contact, Picard faces the Borg again; this time, he is the one motivated by vengeance as he seeks to reverse a Borg time-travel scheme that has assimilated Earth centuries before the Federation even comes into existence. In facing the Borg, our heroes once again assert more old-fashioned virtues and individuality. And, arguably, they do so facing a dark mirror of their own universalist designs. A character in DS9 makes this explicit, telling an officer of the Federation, “You know, in some ways, you’re even worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You’re more insidious. You assimilate people and they don’t even know it.”

Given that Star Trek always depended, somewhat paradoxically, on this tension, it is not surprising that current versions of the show have found it somewhat tricky to navigate, and have instead once again resorted to a more familiar and more human backdrop. After all, not even a warp drive will get rid of human nature.


Electric Vehicles and the Green New Dole (2)

Ford Motor Co. shows the all-new electric Mustang Mach-E vehicle at a studio in Warren, Mich., October 29, 2019. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Policy-makers relying on electric vehicles to be a source of net new jobs (after subtracting the jobs lost by conventional automakers, and to Chinese manufacturers) are likely to be disappointed.

I’ve mentioned this a few times, including here, but this is another story to add to the pile (my emphasis added):

The Financial Times:

Ford has selected its Spanish plant to make battery cars and will cease vehicle production at a rival site in Germany as the carmaker reshuffles its European factories ahead of going all-electric in the region.

The US carmaker also plans “significant” staffing cuts, even at the Spanish plant in Valencia because electric cars need fewer staff to build them, it said on Wednesday…

Ford’s new in-house system will be used in factories globally, but the company expects to have only one European production centre for the vehicles that use the technology.

Ford’s European president Stuart Rowley said Ford was “seeking alternative opportunities . . . both in Ford and outside of Ford”, for the German site, but added that the US carmaker “does not have additional product at this point in time” to make at the site when the current car, the Ford Focus, ends production in 2025.

But even in Valencia, which has 6,000 staff, there will be a significant number of job reductions.

“We will need to restructure both of our plants in Saarlouis and Valencia to compete against existing incumbents and new competitors,” Rowley said. “We will require less employees to build new electric vehicles.”

Here are some comments from the CEO of Stellantis, the fifth largest automaker in the world (formed as a result of the merger between Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot). They date from January 2022. Biased? Perhaps, but I suspect that he knows what he is talking about:

“What is clear is that electrification is a technology chosen by politicians, not by industry,” Tavares told a handful of European newspapers in a joint interview. “Given the current European energy mix, an electric car needs to drive 70,000 kilometres to compensate for the carbon footprint of manufacturing the battery and to start catching up with a light hybrid vehicle, which costs half as much as an EV (electric vehicle).”

A technology chosen by politicians. What could go wrong?

But at least the electricity grid is in good shape to cope with the increased demand.

Isn’t it?


NH Poll: DeSantis 39 percent, Trump 37 percent


I’ve been thinking the chances are high that Trump runs again and wins the nomination, but this is an encouraging poll:


Young Female Athletes Defend Women’s Sports

Selina Soule (left) and Alanna Smith, part of Alliance Defending Freedom’s Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools case. (Courtesy Alliance Defending Freedom)

Tomorrow marks 50 years since the passing of Title IX. Today, Alliance Defending Freedom held a press conference to discuss some of the cases they’ve handled as they relate to fairness in women’s sports.

ADF senior counsel Christiana Kiefer introduced clients involved in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools, B. P. J. v. West Virginia State Board of Education, and Hecox v. Little.

“It took incredible courage for women 50 years ago to fight for a level playing field in sports, and serving alongside these incredible female athletes has allowed me to experience a new generation with equal courage,” Kiefer said.

She introduced Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, and Alanna Smith. During their time in high school, two male athletes were awarded 15 women’s state championship titles and set 17 new individual meet records.

Also present was Lainey Armistead, who won a soccer scholarship to West Virginia State University, and has since taken a stand in defense of the Save Women’s Sports Act, a West Virginia law. Madison Kenyon and Mary Kate Marshall, Idaho female collegiate athletes who support the state’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, were also in attendance.

“My dad was a soccer coach, and growing up I got to play against my brothers and against boys’ pickup teams. It was a lot of fun, but I knew when they were holding back because they were bigger, faster, and stronger than me,” Armistead said.

I asked when she first encountered the concept of transgenderism. “Probably high school,” she said. And how did she square that concept with her early experience of sex differences? “I knew the difference growing up with brothers and competing against men. There’s just a big difference in how our bodies are.”

As Kiefer outlined in her introduction:

Males are generally bigger, faster, and stronger. They have larger hearts and greater lung capacity, denser bones, and stronger muscles. These physical characteristics give males a 10 to 50 percent performance advantage over comparably fit and trained female athletes. That means that no amount of hormones or testosterone suppression can undo those physical advantages.

Someone asked: Why aren’t more female athletes speaking out?

“First of all, I think they are speaking out,” said Mary Kate Marshall, a competitive track athlete at Idaho State University. “I think that they’re kind of being swept under the rug and important voices aren’t being heard as loud . . . The scariest part about this is the initial step to do it. But once you do it, it’s nowhere near as scary. So to many people, I would tell them that they should speak out. It’s not scary and so many people are supporting us.”


Evidently, Plagiarism Is No Big Deal (If You’re a Lefty)


Historian Phil Magness specializes in debunking bad scholarship by “progressives.” Most recently, he wrote about the obvious plagiarism of Princeton historian Kevin Kruse.

Naturally, some of Kruse’s fellow leftists have come to his defense with feeble excuses. In this post, Magness jousts with one in particular, Lora Burnett of Collin College. She has quite an animosity towards Magness, dating back to his attacks on the veracity of Nancy MacLean’s screed Democracy in Chains.

If this were a boxing match, the referee would have to stop the contest.

Law & the Courts

Why, Exactly, Would the Biden Administration Choose to Persecute Andrew Gillum?

Democratic Florida gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum concedes the race to Ron DeSantis at his election-night rally in Tallahassee, Fla., November 6, 2018. (Colin Hackley/Reuters)

Andrew Gillum, who ran for governor of Florida in 2018, has been indicted on 21 counts:

Andrew Gillum, a once-rising Democratic star who nearly won a 2018 race for Florida governor, was indicted on Wednesday along with a close political ally on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and making false statements.

According to a news release from the United States attorney for the Northern District of Florida, Gillum and a longtime associate, Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks, are accused of making “false and fraudulent promises and representations” related to money that they had received from 2016 to 2019. The money was diverted to a company owned by Lettman-Hicks and then funneled to Gillum for personal use, the US attorney’s office said.

Gillum and Lettman-Hicks face 21 charges, according to the news release. Gillum, a former CNN political commentator, is scheduled for an initial appearance at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday at the United States courthouse in Tallahassee, where he resides.

In return, Gillum has said:

In a statement released before the government announced the charges, Gillum declared his innocence and suggested the case against him was political.

“I have spent the last 20 years of my life in public service and continue to fight for the people,” Gillum said in the statement. “Every campaign I’ve run has been done with integrity. Make no mistake that this case is not legal, it is political. Throughout my career I have always stood up for the people of Florida and have spoken truth to power.”

Look: as all NR’s readers and podcast listeners know by now, I am a self-professed “criminal justice squish,” and I am entirely open to the idea that Gillum is innocent — which, of course, he must be presumed to be until a jury decides otherwise. Prosecutors often gets things wrong, or overcharge, or bring cases that aren’t good enough to satisfy our constitutional and statutory rules. Maybe Gillum will walk away free, and maybe he’ll deserve to. I don’t know.

But the idea that the case against him is “political”? That seems silly on its face. Gillum, you will note, is not being prosecuted by the State of Florida, but by the federal government. So where’s the motive? Gillum mentions his “campaigns.” But he’s a Democrat, like the president, and his most recent opponent was Ron DeSantis, whom the president loathes. In 2018, Joe Biden not only endorsed Gillum, he stumped for him, too.

As for Gillum’s “career”? Again: He’s a lifelong Democrat, whose last political act was to help “mobilize 50,000 voters” for Biden during the 2020 presidential election. What, exactly, is the executive branch supposed to get out of persecuting him? Clearly, if the federal government thought that the investigation into Gillum was some Trump-era holdover, it wouldn’t have charged him.

Is that federal government wrong in its assessment of Gillum’s conduct? Maybe. We’ll find out. Is it “political”? That seems extremely, extremely unlikely to me.

Politics & Policy

Once Again, Only the Other Guy’s Super PACs Are Bad

Third party candidate Evan McMullin, an independent, talks to the press as he campaigns in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 12, 2016. (George Frey/Reuters)

Well-past-his-sell-by-date former presidential candidate Evan McMullin is now the de facto Democratic nominee for Senate in Utah, running against incumbent Republican Mike Lee. McMullin insists he’s an independent, but the Utah Democratic Party endorsed him.

In a recent fundraising email, McMullin’s campaign writes:

After a new poll showed us in a near-statistical tie with Senator Lee, a far-right super PAC announced it was spending $2 MILLION to prop up Lee’s campaign.

That is the type of dark-money spending we’ll be up against from now through Election Day.

It’s also the kind of so-called “dark money spending” that helped McMullin in his presidential bid in 2016! The Lincoln Project is a super PAC, will McMullin denounce their efforts as sinister “dark money spending”? Or is McMullin like almost every other candidate in politics who denounces the super PACs that work against him but quietly assents to the super PACs that work to help elect him?

As for that near-statistical tie that McMullin’s campaign touts, it is a poll of registered voters with no likely-voter screen, conducted over eleven days, showing a four-point lead for Lee. But hey, with everything in the country going so well, it’s entirely reasonable to assume that GOP enthusiasm and Democratic enthusiasm will be the same in November, right?


Dave Chappelle’s Plot Twist

Dave Chappelle in Toronto, Canada, September 9, 2018 (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

After the controversy at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., over the school’s relationship with its most famous graduate, Dave Chappelle, comes a surprise twist. Chappelle, after whom a theater building was supposed to be named, announced during a special naming ceremony that he would not lend his name to the theater after all. Instead, the theater is to be called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.

“I saw in the newspaper that a man who was dressed in women’s clothing threw a pie at the Mona Lisa and tried to deface it. And it made me laugh and I thought, ‘It’s like The Closer,’” he said, referring to his Netflix special, which prompted fierce backlash from trans activists.

“When you say I can’t say something, the more urgent is it for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you are saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my freedom of artistic expression.”

Chappelle is right that this controversy is much bigger than him, or even the issue of transgenderism. As I wrote previously, comedy exists to puncture sacred cows. Artistic freedom and expression are essential components of this. No belief — whether religious or ideological – should be insulated from criticism.

Politics & Policy

Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing

Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing by Ryan T. Anderson & Alexandra Desanctis (Regnery Publishing/Amazon)

Monday may very well be the long-awaited Supreme Court decision in the Mississippi abortion case. If so, the Heritage Foundation will be a good place to be – I’ll be moderating a conversation with Ryan T. Anderson and Alexandra DeSanctis, authors of the new book (coming out Tuesday) Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing. I cannot think of a better title to explain why we are where we are today, in such a culture of death and violence. Their book is clear and a handbook for going forward. It should be a conversation-starter with reasonable people who are on the fence or open to learning more about why we have been opposing Roe since it was imposed by the Court.

11 a.m. Monday. You can join us in person and get a book signed after. Or if you’re nowhere near D.C., you can join us by livestream. RSVP for one of these options here.


From a Nobelist, Nobility

The Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov delivers his Nobel lecture in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2021. (Stian Lysberg Solum / NTB via Reuters)

Today on the homepage, I have an Impromptus column, which begins with Charles Barkley and ends with the late Mark Shields. In between are the Texas GOP, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, and other personalities and issues. Elsewhere, I have a piece on the new Saudi golf tour: from the points of view of golf, world affairs, and human rights. In 2016, David Satter wrote a book about Russia called “The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep.” The less you know about Saudi Arabia, the more you can enjoy a Saudi golf tour, or a Saudi-funded anything.

Here is my view in a nutshell: Though I am a traditionalist, and fond of the PGA Tour, I am also for markets. Including in golf tours. I’m for competition. I am anti-monopolistic. But this “sportswashing” from the Saudis — as from the Chinese and others — is appalling and unstomachable.

The Saudi dictatorship has a lot of support in the Free West. It is a lot of people’s favorite dictatorship, I have discovered, not least through social media. Whenever I write critically of the Saudis . . . wow. The resentment and vitriol are enormous. People who like the Saudi dictatorship also tend to like Russia’s.

On that subject: Dmitry Muratov is one of the noblest people in the world. He is — I suppose I have to say “was” now — the editor of Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper. It was one of the few independent media outlets in Russia. Of course, all of those have been shut down now. Over the years, six of Muratov’s colleagues on the paper have been murdered: Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova, Stanislav Markelov, and Natalia Estemirova.

In 2021, Muratov won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with another splendid person, Maria Ressa, the journalist from the Philippines. Like Muratov, she has braved many dangers. I wrote about Muratov and the Nobel last January, here.

Yesterday, this came in from the Associated Press:

The Nobel Peace Prize auctioned off by Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov to raise money for Ukrainian child refugees sold Monday night for $103.5 million, shattering the old record for a Nobel.

Muratov auctioned off the gold medal you receive when you win the prize. (For the article I have quoted, go here.) Obviously, someone — an anonymous bidder — wanted to aid Ukrainian refugee children, and the medal was simply an occasion, or spur. This bidder has a very big heart, in addition to a very big bank account.

In Russia, there is much dishonor, starting at the top: starting with Putin, the boss in the Kremlin. But there is honor too, as represented by the political prisoner Vladimir Kara-Murza and the journalist, and Nobelist, Dmitry Muratov. As I have done in the past, I will quote a statement from José Martí, the Cuban independence hero: “When there are many men who lack honor, there are always others who have within themselves the honor of many men.”

Politics & Policy

The Limits of Expertise


In today’s Martin Center article, political-science professor Joseph Knippenberg reflects on a new book by David Epstein in which he explains why generalists often do so well in a world that seems to be dominated by experts. “The book,” Knippenberg writes, “is chock-full of anecdotes and evidence that people with breadth or range—indeed, amateurs in the true sense of the word—can contribute immensely to enterprises in environments that seem, at first glance, to respond to and reward highly specialized expertise alone.”

Good, but how does that relate to higher education?

Knippenberg continues, “As a college educator (and parent), I take to heart and endorse Epstein’s exhortations against forcing young people to decide what they want to be when they grow up before they’ve actually grown up. One of the most compelling stories in the book involves the proportion of service academy graduates who do not make a career of the military, despite our government’s investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in their education and training and their gung-ho attitude at age 18.”

So, when colleges (and families) try to push young people into paths of specialization early, they may be making a serious mistake.

Knippenberg draws this conclusion: “In a world where the market still rewards specialization, many of the disciplines (especially in STEM fields) will take care of themselves. What need to be nurtured are those inter-, multi-, and pre-disciplinary programs that provide range and context for specialists.”


Will Electric Cars Crash the German Government?

The new Smart Concept #1 electric car ahead of the Munich Motor Show IAA Mobility 2021 in Munich, Germany, September 5, 2021. (Andreas Gebert/Reuters)

Well . . .

The Financial Times:

Germany’s finance minister has rejected EU plans for a de facto ban on the sale of new combustion engines cars by 2035, raising the prospect that a pillar of the bloc’s green agenda will be watered down.

Christian Lindner told a conference in Berlin on Tuesday that completely phasing out the combustion engine in Europe was “the wrong decision” as manufacturers elsewhere in the world would fill the gap. Lindner, who also heads the business-friendly Free Democratic party, said: “Germany is not going to agree to a ban on combustion engines.”

Brussels wants the region’s automakers to cut carbon emissions from cars by 100 per cent from their 2021 levels, a mandate that would make it impossible to sell new petrol or diesel vehicles from 2035. The move would force the German car industry to accelerate its electrification plans, and lobbyists have warned it could lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the sector.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs?

I reckon that that will have weighed with Mr. Lindner, who may, I suspect, not be entirely convinced by stories of all those new jobs that are supposedly going to be created in the green economy.

I wrote about what the switch away from internal-combustion engines could mean for carmakers here. Looking on the bright side, it will be a good news for the Chinese auto sector, which will be able to take advantage of the position that it has built up in the battery sector, and the fact that electric vehicles are relatively simple to make. Chinese exports of EVs are already doing well in Europe. Rejoice!

The FT:

A vote by MEPs [members of the European Parliament] two weeks ago to adopt the revised CO₂ standards met with a strong backlash from Germany’s automotive lobby, the VDA. The VDA claimed the decision was “taken against citizens, against the market, against innovation and against modern technologies” . . .

Perhaps the VDA is wrong about that, or perhaps it is right, but it seems that the EU’s central planners do not want to put its claims to the test.

The FDP is only one of three parties within Germany’s governing coalition. The second of those parties, the Greens, does not agree with the position Lindner has taken. Meanwhile, the FT reports no one could be reached for comment from the SDP, the third (and leading) party in the coalition, and one that enjoys significant blue-collar support.

The conversation across the coalition table will be interesting.

Back to the FT:

The division between Germany’s coalition partners echoes the ructions within the European auto lobby in Brussels, known as ACEA. Stellantis, one of the organisation’s largest members, left to start its own campaigning organisation just days after the parliamentary vote. Stellantis boss Carlos Tavares has been critical of the speed at which regulators are forcing carmakers to electrify their models.

Stellantis was formed by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, and is the fifth-largest auto manufacturer in the world,

On the other hand, other automakers disagree.

The FT:

The boss of Volkswagen’s passenger cars brand, Ralf Brandstätter, said: “The current vote, but above all the choice of customers in Europe, shows that the shift to electromobility is irreversible.”

Best guess is that after the dieselgate scandal, VW won’t want to risk alienating any governments. Nevertheless, an obvious question remains. If consumers are so keen on EVs, why the need for compulsion?

Something similar might be said of Mercedes, another carmaker with a diesel scandal to live down, which has also backed the European vote.

The skilled engineers over at (checks notes) the German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation, meanwhile, declared that “the internal combustion engine is a discontinued model,” language with more than a touch of the commissar about it.


U.S. ‘Nazi Hunter’ Leading Ukraine War-Crimes Team

Pro-Russian troops inspect streets in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 7, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

CNN reports that the Department of Justice has tapped its top “Nazi hunter” to lead a U.S. war-crimes prosecution team supporting Kyiv’s efforts. Attorney General Merrick Garland made the announcement during his surprise trip to Ukraine earlier today:

The team, Garland said, will be led by the department’s best-known Nazi hunter Eli Rosenbaum, and will be made up of experts in investigations involving human rights abuses and war crimes. Rosenbaum, a 36-year veteran of the Justice Department, previously served as the director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy, and helped the department over 100 cases to strip citizenship from or deport accused Nazis, according to the Justice Department.

The announcement is a signal from DOJ that it is interested in investigating war crimes in the ongoing war in Ukraine and follows a previous effort by the department to lock down the assets of Russian oligarchs.

Garland made the announcement after meeting with Iryna Venediktova, the top Ukrainian prosecutor.

Rosenbaum’s War Crimes Accountability team will streamline multiple ongoing department efforts to investigate war crimes and “provide wide-ranging technical assistance, including operational assistance and advice regarding criminal prosecutions, evidence collection, forensics, and relevant legal analysis” to Ukraine, according to a Justice Department statement.

The team will also “play an integral role” in U.S. prosecutions involving Russian war crimes, such as when U.S. journalists are killed by Russian forces while covering the invasion.

While prosecuting top Russian leaders for their roles in the atrocities they ordered remains a very unlikely prospect for the time being, empowering the Ukrainians to go after Russian soldiers is a realistic option.

In addition to identifying hundreds of war-crimes suspects, Venediktova’s team secured the first conviction of a Russian soldier, for shooting an unarmed civilian, in May.

Still, needless to say, whatever legal actions the Ukrainian authorities are able to initiate won’t, for the foreseeable future, come close to meeting the scale of the atrocities that have been carried out across the country, and continue to be carried out, every day.

These smaller prosecutions are a no-brainer, but no one disputes that securing any true measure of justice for the massacres, torture, and rapes of Ukrainians will only begin with a battlefield victory.

Law & the Courts

More Details on the Cornyn-Murphy Bill

A man holds a gun displayed at the Shore Shot Pistol Range gun shop in Lakewood Township, N.J., March 19, 2020. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Earlier today, I noted a Washington Post report on John Cornyn’s proposed gun-control bill, which suggested that “under-21 gun buyers will have to wait at least 3 days, perhaps 10” to buy a gun.

This evening, the text of the bill was released, and it seems that the Washington Post‘s characterization was incorrect. Specifically, it is not the case that buyers will “have to wait at least 3 days, perhaps 10,” but that they could have to wait that long depending on whether the enhanced background checks in the bill trigger an extended investigation, and on how long that investigation takes.

Essentially, the bill would require NICS checks performed on purchasers who are under-21 to look for some additional information, including:

  • “criminal history repository or juvenile justice information”
  • “mental health adjudication records”
  • “local law enforcement agency”

That process, Cornyn’s office told me, would be “automated through NICS and done immediately by them.” If the purchaser is 21 or older, NICS would not include those items in its search. It is not currently clear how NICS would interact with all those different systems.

If NICS turns up potentially disqualifying information on a buyer, then the FBI would be obliged to investigate that information (as it is currently) to see if it prohibits the applicant from purchasing a gun. Currently, the FBI has three days to complete that investigation. Under Cornyn’s bill, if the purchaser is under 21, it would have ten days. If the FBI cannot find anything disqualifying in that time, the transfer would go through.

Over time, the extra information that NICS would be obliged to look up for purchasers younger than 21 would come to be included within the NICS database as a matter of course, and the need for more explicit checks on under-21s would thereby be negated. In consequence, those extra checks would be discontinued after ten years.

According to an explanatory document issued by his office, Cornyn’s bill “clarifies current law that a person is prohibited from purchasing a firearm if their juvenile record meets the existing criteria for a prohibited firearms purchaser under 18 U.S. 922(d).” If enacted, this would represent a biggest change in the law, in that, for the first time, Americans who have juvenile records (obtained at any age) would be excluded from buying firearms irrespective of their current age. (Possibly due to a drafting error, the text of the law makes it unclear whether these rules apply to possession, or just purchasing.)

It is unclear what happens to Americans whose juvenile records have been expunged.


Anti-Slavery Uyghur Bill Takes Effect

A guard watchtower along the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a “vocational skills education center” in Dabancheng, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, September 4, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

A major law to combat the Chinese Communist Party’s enslavement of Uyghurs took effect today, kicking off a vigorous effort to enforce an effective ban on importing goods from Xinjiang.

The bipartisan sponsors of the legislation, called the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, hailed the law’s enactment and the release of a Department of Homeland Security enforcement strategy, in a statement on Friday.

“The United States is sending a clear message that we will no longer remain complicit in the Chinese Communist Party’s use of slave labor and egregious crimes against humanity,” said Senators Marco Rubio and Jeff Merkley, and Representatives Jim McGovern and Chris Smith, in the statement.

The law contains a rebuttable presumption, meaning that importers must prove that any goods originating from Xinjiang, or from forced-labor-connected entities in China, were not produced using forced labor. That’s a significant standard, filling the gaps left by previous discrete U.S. government actions to block certain cotton and agricultural imports.

Companies in industries as varied as textiles, agriculture, and green technology have been found to use Uyghur forced labor. In 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that at least 80,000 Uyghurs were placed in slave-labor programs across China between 2017 and 2019 alone.

In an op-ed for RealClearPolitics today, Rubio called the law “the most significant change in America’s relationship with China since 2001, when the communist nation joined the World Trade Organization.”

Rubio also characterized the law as a rejection of the elite ideology held by business leaders, politicians, and intellectuals that free trade with the West could bring about liberalization in China.

“This proclamation is already is sending shockwaves through the global economy, but enduring change will only come from its rigorous and thorough enforcement,” Rubio wrote, adding that the Biden administration is under pressure from businesses to minimize the law’s impact through various loopholes.

That the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act became law is significant, considering the obstacles that powerful interests threw up to block it.

Major companies with ties to Uyghur forced labor, such as Coca-Cola, Apple, and Nike, reportedly lobbied to water down the bill. In its own statement on the law’s enactment, the Uyghur Human Rights Project noted the corporate lobbying effort.

“The fact that it is now clearly illegal for companies to import goods made with Uyghur forced labor into the United States is a huge win for our movement to end atrocities in East Turkistan,” said UHRP executive director Omer Kanat, using the Uyghur name for Xinjiang.

The Biden administration also reportedly urged lawmakers to stymie the bill late last year, as it pursued an agenda emphasizing some degree of cooperation with Beijing. That effort, revealed by the Washington Post, sparked a public outcry, ending an unexplained monthslong delay of the bill and contributing to its ultimate passage by Congress and signature by the president.

The legislation could also hamper the White House’s green-energy push, as a New York Times report found that lithium mines in Xinjiang participated in a Uyghur forced-labor program. The mineral is a key component in electric-vehicle batteries.

Whether that will shape enforcement efforts remains to be seen. Last year, climate envoy John Kerry said the mass atrocities in Xinjiang are “not my lane.

Nevertheless, top administration officials said they are committed to ensuring the law’s full implementation.

“The State Department is committed to working with Congress and our interagency partners to continue combating forced labor in Xinjiang and strengthen international coordination against this egregious violation of human rights,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a prepared statement today. “Addressing forced labor and other human rights abuses in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and around the world is a priority for President Biden and this Administration.”


Germany, Devil, Long Spoon, etc.

Then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference on the second day of a face-to-face EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2021. (John Thys/Pool via Reuters)

With the euro zone heading toward some tough economic times (it’s hardly alone in this, but the currency union’s structural failings have a way of making the bad worse), this report on Germany, the euro zone’s largest economy, might signal grim times ahead.

The Daily Telegraph:

German businesses are set to pay the price for years of reliance on Russian gas, with a new study saying the corporates in the country face soaring bills as Moscow throttles energy supplies.

Companies in Germany are at the greatest risk of default compared with their European counterparts, according to the Weil European Distress Index, which looked at data from more than 3,750 listed companies across Europe….

But what does Angela Merkel, the former chancellor of Germany who presided over the reacceleration of the country’s scrapping of its nuclear power stations and its increasing reliance on renewables and Russian gas, have to say about her handling of relations with Moscow?

Writing in the Financial Times, Constanze Stelzenmüller:

After handing over to her successor Olaf Scholz in December, [Merkel] disappeared from public view, taking winter walks along the Baltic Sea and listening to an audiobook of Macbeth. Six months later — and four months into the war — she is back and clearly intent on protecting her legacy in a series of conversations, speeches and interviews.

Merkel left office of her own will, the only postwar chancellor to do so. She was popular at home and she was admired worldwide as one of Germany’s greatest postwar leaders. Now, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has cast a dark backwards shadow over her tenure.

Indeed she was admired, greatly so, something that at one level was remarkable (to me, it has long been evident that she was one of Germany’s worst post-war chancellors), but at another not. Whatever her shortcomings, she had immense political skills, and those included knowing how to play to an audience, whether in Germany or beyond it.


Should [Merkel] not have paid more attention to Putin’s repression of civil society and murders of political opponents in Russia? His poisoning of European politics by means of disinformation and corruption? His careful weaving of a continent-wide web of dependency on Russian gas? His stationing of intermediate-range missiles in Kaliningrad? His increasingly evident imperial ambitions?

Should she not have seen a connection between the assault on Chechnya, with which Putin began his reign at the turn of the millennium, the war with Georgia in 2008 which resulted in that country’s dismemberment at Russian hands, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and eight years of proxy war in Donbas with 14,000 dead? But those who expected a self-critical examination of her record were disappointed.

“I don’t see that I should now have to say, that was wrong. And I will therefore not apologise.” The literal English translation is clunky, but then so is Merkelish in the original German. The point of the former chancellor’s remarks to a Berlin theatre audience was clear enough: she had nothing to regret.

Merkel contended that she always saw through Putin: “I always knew he wanted to destroy Europe.” Yet she insisted — in a phrase redolent of Bismarckian Realpolitik — that it was important to maintain “a trade connection” with “the world’s second largest nuclear power”.

One commentator branded her comments as appeasement. A second seized on her description of Putin’s war as “a great tragedy” as evidence of fatalistic determinism. Others suggested that Merkel had simply been “the perfect chancellor for a system that had reached its limits”. None of these explanations is entirely off the mark.

What matters, however, is that Merkel’s signature approach to dealing with problems — comprehending them fully, but choosing to manage rather than to resolve them — was shared not just by her various coalition partners, but by the German business community and by voters. It is in line with a longstanding postwar tradition of German leaders framing strategic choices as strategic constraints, thereby evading the appearance of agency or responsibility.

As a recipe for grappling with an unchained totalitarian Russia — and with a future of permanent upheaval and disruption — it is not just futile but reckless.

Too true.

One additional detail from Stelzenmüller’s piece that stands out was a reference to (an apologetic) Sigmar Gabriel. A member of the SPD, Merkel’s center-left coalition partners, Gabriel rose to be foreign minister, but was economic affairs and energy minister at the time that Russia annexed Crimea. Stelzenmüller notes that Gabriel sold Germany’s largest gas-storage facilities to Gazprom after the Kremlin’s seizure of the peninsula.

Now turn back to the Daily Telegraph:

In February, Mr Habeck [Germany’s economic minister] said Gazprom, which operates midstream energy infrastructure in Germany, had “systematically emptied” the country’s gas storage facilities in the run up to the war.

And here we are.

Politics & Policy

WaPo: Cornyn’s Gun-Control Bill Adds Waiting Periods for Under-21s (Updated)

Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) attends a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 22, 2020. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

UPDATE: The text of the bill has been released, and it appears that the Washington Post‘s report was incorrect. I have published a separate post explaining the full details of this part of the bill here.

Mike DeBonis reports:

If this is correct, the bill is a catastrophe. The Republicans who negotiated this deal — “deal” — may see adding a federal waiting period for under-21-year-olds as a narrow exception to the general rule, but the Democrats will not. Within an hour of that measure becoming law, the Chris Murphys of the world will start calling it the “waiting period loophole” and asking in faux confusion why we apply it to Americans aged 18 to 21 but not to everyone else. And the press, of course, will follow suit.

Worse yet, the GOP will have helped set the precedent that the federal government may micromanage the purchasing process. The 1993 Brady Bill contained a waiting period, but it was valid only until the instant-background-check system was ready, and then it immediately disappeared. This would restore that system for a subset of buyers. At present, the federal government’s role in regulating firearms purchases is limited to running checks. Once expanded, it will be extremely tough to put it back in its proper place. Is that what John Cornyn wants?

The Economy

The Biden Team Whistles Past the Graveyard on Recession Fears

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C.., May 16, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

There are few good ways for a president or his staff to talk about the economy when the nation is on the precipice of a recession. If a president acknowledges hard reality and concedes that a recession may be imminent, he may inadvertently spur Americans to alter their economic behavior and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. But when the outlook is grim, the president can look naïve, overly optimistic, and out of touch by downplaying the likelihood of a recession.

That’s not a good look in normal circumstances, but it’s terrible for a president who is approaching a likely midterm shellacking, who insisted that inflation would be transitory, that “there’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan,” and that he would have to be a “mind reader” to see the infant-formula shortage coming, and so on. Just in time for November, Biden may be telling Americans not to fear a particular dire economic outcome, right before it becomes true.

Yesterday in Delaware, Biden was left to insist that a recession wasn’t inevitable . . .

Q    (Inaudible) in Congress are saying a recession is even more likely than ever.

THE PRESIDENT:  Not — the majority of them aren’t saying that.  Come on, don’t make things up, okay?  Now you’re sounding like a Republican politician. I’m joking. That was a joke. But all kidding aside — no, I don’t think it is. I was talking to Larry Summers this morning.  And there’s nothing inevitable about a recession.

. . . while also trying to tell Americans to look for the silver linings:

And we also — I’m working with our team is — to put together, at the same time — my dear mother used to have an expression: “Out of everything lousy, something good will happen if you look hard enough for it.”

And today, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had to offer the finely worded argument that the U.S. was not officially in a recession yet: “Right now, we don’t see a recession right now. We’re not in a recession right now. Right now we’re in a transition where we are going to go into a place of stable and steady growth.”

But the country isn’t going to have to wait too long to hear whether it is in recession. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. In the first quarter of 2022, the U.S. experienced a shrinkage of about 1.5 percent. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis will release the numbers for the second quarter on July 28.

Some of the Federal Reserve banks regularly update their projections for the next quarter’s GDP. And none of the outlooks are particularly cheery.

The Atlanta Fed’s “GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth in the second quarter of 2022 is 0.0 percent.” Technically that isn’t two quarters of negative growth, but about as close as you can get; most Americans would likely interpret two quarters of no economic growth as a de facto recession.

The St. Louis Fed currently projects GDP growth of “0.0273 percent” in the next quarter — dodging an official recession by the skin of its teeth.

Meanwhile, the New York Fed model offers a particularly grim assessment: “a contraction by 0.6 percent this year, and another 0.5 percent next year, compared with the Fed’s median forecast for 1.7 percent growth this year and next.”

All of these assessments could be wildly off base, but the range of outcomes appears to be extremely small growth to staying flat to another quarter indicating negative GDP growth. This shouldn’t be surprising; the past two and a half months or so have featured runaway inflation, continuing supply chain problems, and about 11.4 million unfilled jobs during a continuing labor shortage. Businesses are nervous about the coming year, and even if they felt confident, expansion and growth are hindered by those skyrocketing fuel costs, supply chain issues, and labor shortages. Maybe the economy will be able to eke out a little growth in the face of these obstacles, but we shouldn’t count on it.

In other words, there is a good chance that we will learn late next month that Biden was declaring “there’s nothing inevitable about a recession,” while the U.S. was in a recession.

National Security & Defense

TikTok Is (Still) Evil

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

It is my considered opinion that TikTok, a fast-growing Chinese social-media app, is evil. And not just because it seems uniquely manipulative of user attention at the algorithm level, tracking user keystrokes and even the amount of time a user lingers on a certain video. Or because, as a result of a soulless algorithmic manipulation excessive even by modern standards, users can be led down dark rabbit holes of drug- and sex-related content very quickly.

All of this is suspect, but questions about the app’s possible connections to the Chinese government should remain paramount. We have asked such questions here before. The stock response is that ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, maintains separation between TikTok, the American app, and Douyin, the Chinese version; and that the data of U.S. users stay in this country. But a recent BuzzFeed report by Emily Baker-White raises questions about this arrangement.

According to BuzzFeed, though TikTok does not currently store user data in China and is making efforts to store all of it in the U.S. (with backups in Singapore), they can still be accessed by ByteDance employees in China. From the report:

For years, TikTok has responded to data privacy concerns by promising that information gathered about users in the United States is stored in the United States, rather than China, where ByteDance, the video platform’s parent company, is located. But according to leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings, China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users — exactly the type of behavior that inspired former president Donald Trump to threaten to ban the app in the United States.

The recordings, which were reviewed by BuzzFeed News, contain 14 statements from nine different TikTok employees indicating that engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022, at the very least. Despite a TikTok executive’s sworn testimony in an October 2021 Senate hearing that a “world-renowned, US-based security team” decides who gets access to this data, nine statements by eight different employees describe situations where US employees had to turn to their colleagues in China to determine how US user data was flowing. US staff did not have permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own, according to the tapes.

“Everything is seen in China,” said a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department in a September 2021 meeting. In another September meeting, a director referred to one Beijing-based engineer as a “Master Admin” who “has access to everything.” (While many employees introduced themselves by name and title in the recordings, BuzzFeed News is not naming anyone to protect their privacy.)

There are all sorts of reasons to find this unnerving. The more worrisome but perhaps less plausible concern is that the data could be accessed directly by the Chinese Communist Party, to which Chinese tech companies are legally subordinate. A more plausible concern is that the CCP could exert a more indirect influence over the platform. “The soft power of the Chinese government could impact how ByteDance executives direct their American counterparts to adjust the levers of TikTok’s powerful “For You” algorithm, which recommends videos to its more than 1 billion users,” as Baker-White puts it. This is unsettling for all sorts of reasons, chief among them that, apparently, “Zoomers” (the generation after my own, for whom I am thus obligated to have some contempt) get a lot of their opinions, information, and general awareness from TikTok. Writing on his Substack earlier this year, Matt Yglesias said that this level of cultural power was equivalent to “if the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union had decided to plow some of its oil export profits into buying up broadcast television stations across the U.S.”

Yglesias notes that the FCC would not have permitted this. And yet, here we are with TikTok. Late in former president Donald Trump’s term, he attempted to force a sale of TikTok to a U.S. company; early in his term, President Joe Biden abandoned this effort. And so TikTok faces no competition even from a government-revived (for national-security reasons) Vine. Until government action is taken against this app, the best we can do is be wary of it.

(And definitely keep kids off of it.)

Law & the Courts

Sonia Sotomayor Discovers That Judicially Recognized Rights Cost Money

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor poses during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters)

One of the most interesting lines in Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent today in Carson v. Makin is this: “If a State cannot offer subsidies to its citizens without being required to fund religious exercise, any State that values its historic antiestablishment interests more than this Court does will have to curtail the support it offers to its citizens.” Which I find interesting, because back when we were debating whether the Court should require the elected government to treat same-sex unions the same as traditional opposite-sex marriages, we were lectured endlessly about how this wouldn’t affect anybody else. But that was not so, just as it has not been so with other reasoned distinctions that government seeks to make in distributing scarce benefits, such as between citizens and noncitizens, or married and unmarried people, or people with and without children. There is always a cost to expanding the pool.

That alone does not decide any of these questions, of course: The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the textual protection of rights and the textual limits to power, not to decide how to spend taxpayer money. It may have cost more money to tell states that they could not just cut black Americans out of benefits provided to white Americans, for example, but that is the necessary side effect of a constitutionally color-blind government. In fact, some racist governments did precisely what Sotomayor recommends here, as in the notorious 1971 case Palmer v. Thompson, where the Jackson, Miss., city council closed the city’s swimming pools entirely rather than integrate them.

But the reality is that Sotomayor’s concern — that requiring benefits to be paid to more people could result in cutting them, whether for fiscal reasons or because of objections to being compelled to subsidize people or things considered objectionable — is a legitimate state interest. It is not enough of a state interest to justify unconstitutional discriminations based on race or religion, but it is quite a turnabout to see it acknowledged in the same quarters that scorned it when it was convenient to do so.

Law & the Courts

Observations on the Opening of Today’s January 6 Committee Hearing

Committee Chairperson Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.), Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wy.) and committee member Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) attend the fourth of eight planned public hearings of the U.S. House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack on the Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Today’s January 6 committee hearing is under way. The topic this afternoon is former president Trump’s pressure campaign against elections officials and legislatures in a handful of states — states with legislatures controlled by Republicans and where Joe Biden had won the popular vote — to invalidate Biden’s victory.

The opening statements by Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) endeavored to tie this scheme into what the committee has portrayed as an overarching scheme to overturn the election. I have a column on the homepage explaining why I think the committee should not be emphasizing a purported conspiracy, since it is unnecessary to demonstrate either that Trump is unfit for the presidency or that he may be guilty of a crime.

It is already clear that the committee is again steering into what I’ve called the “plausibility gap” — i.e., the difference between (a) the extent of Trump’s machinations and (b) the possibility that he could actually have succeeded in getting the election overturned.

Relying on no shortage of bombastic rhetoric in an opinion by federal judge David O. Carter, a Clinton appointee who once sought elective office as a Democrat, the committee is taking the happenstance of Trump’s having had gambits that “targeted every tier” of government and inferring from it the extravagant conclusion that this made the reversal of the election result more likely to succeed.

I believe instead that the committee is already demonstrating that the opposite is the case. California Democrat Adam Schiff, the committee member taking the lead in today’s hearing, gave an opening statement in which he previewed that Trump targeted the Congress, the vice president, the state courts, the state legislators, and the state election officials, yet at every turn, he failed.

So yes, the committee is showing that Trump is unfit for office. It may even be showing that he obstructed Congress or (as Schiff said, relying on Judge Carter) conspired to defraud the United States. But the committee is not showing that this scheme was plausible. To the contrary, Schiff is showing, however inadvertently, that the genius of our Constitution is that authority over our presidential elections is so diffuse, so extensively divided between federal and state officials who do not answer to the president, that Trump’s scheme had no chance of success. Our democracy was never on the brink.

This goes to a point we made in our editorial earlier this week:

Notwithstanding committee hyperbole about our democracy on the brink of destruction, the main hero of this dark episode is the Constitution. Ingeniously, the Framers divided power horizontally among the branches, and vertically among the federal government and the sovereign states. No one actor could have stolen this presidential election, and even a well-conceived conspiracy (which this wasn’t) would have been foiled at several turns. In this case, dozens of state and federal courts (including Trump-appointed judges and justices) rejected Trump’s frivolous lawsuits. The Justice Department’s top officials discredited his fraud claims and refused to thrust the baseless suggestion of voting fraud onto state election officials. Thanks to separation of powers, those officials did not answer to Trump and would have defied him — as, in fact, Georgia officials did. And Trump never even tried to seek armed-forces support for his scheme to remain in power because he understood he’d never get it: The military was loyal to the Constitution. So was Pence.

One last point. Representative Schiff — as we’ve seen in the impeachment proceedings — is a very able lawyer, and particularly good at marshaling the most emotionally gripping evidence. Not surprisingly, he has done a compelling job of showing the tremendous pressure state officials were under from Trump supporters. He has done this by weaving into his presentation video clips of these officials being harassed by pro-Trump protesters at their homes.

It was hard to take this too seriously, though, when at this very moment, committee Democrats well know that Supreme Court justices are facing exactly the same kind of pressure from pro-abortion advocates who hope the harassment will corruptly influence the justices, in the Dobbs case, to shrink from overruling Roe v. Wade.

Notwithstanding his indignation today, I’m pretty confident that if we could question Representative Schiff, he’d somehow manage to tell us that the threat to our democracy is conservative Supreme Court justices, not the left-wing protesters harassing them in violation of federal law.


A Modest Proposal to Help the Tampon Shortage: Stop Giving Them to Men

(Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

One of the first times I went into a student union at my university, I went to use the bathroom on the third floor. As soon as I walked in, I saw a fully stocked dispenser for tampons and pads and immediately dashed out because I thought I was in the wrong place. I checked the sign again, re-entered, and saw that the tampon machine was next to the urinals. Then it dawned on me — men have periods, too!

That is the belief of our cultural betters in the higher education and media systems. The country is seeing the beginning of a shortage in menstrual products, which could prove a serious difficulty for American women. In covering the shortage, NPR reported that “people who menstruate are saying it’s hard to find tampons on store shelves across the U.S. right now.” Take note: It’s not women who are saying that it is hard for them to find tampons; it is “people who menstruate.”

Even the companies that make these products are on board. Tampax tweeted in 2020 that “not all people with periods are women.” Another company, Aunt Flow, creates dispensers and advocates for tampons and pads to be given out for free to “all menstruators” and recognizes that “not all people with periods are women.”

If a biological woman transitions, “he” is now a man, according to progressives. But because that decision does not magically take away that person’s reproductive processes, she will menstruate and be in need of sanitary products.

This is the philosophy behind the presence of tampons and pads inside men’s bathrooms. At my school, at least, most of them go unused and just sit there, seldom needing to be restocked. This policy is a waste of products that are currently in a limited supply, and it is another example of how pandering to transgenderism hurts women.

Many have argued that putting feminine products in men’s bathrooms feeds into delusion, which is true. But it is also unwise from a purely utilitarian standpoint. There are certainly a number of transgender men at most large institutions, but they are statistically few and far between. Approximately 1.3 percent of adults in America aged 18–24 identify as transgender, and the number drops from 0.45 percent for those aged 25–64. This is why the tampon machines sit full at many of these institutions. They are inconveniencing the vast majority of women for the sake of a few individuals.

To be fair, if these men’s menstrual machines are sitting fully stocked and unused, they are not guzzling tampons or driving the shortage, and taking the products from them and giving them to women at the institution would not be a cure-all for the current difficulties.

Still, that would provide some relief, and it would make much better use of the menstrual products that sit idle among the urinals. Women have a serious grievance here, and constructing policy around a small group of individuals exacerbates waste in a time of need.

Law & the Courts

Supreme Court: The First Amendment Bans States from Excluding Religious Schools from School-Choice Programs

(trekandshoot/iStock/Getty Images)

The First Amendment never uses the term “separation of church and state.” It instead contains two religion clauses: one that prevents Congress (or, since the 14th Amendment, the states) from passing any law establishing a state church or “respecting” such an establishment; and the other protecting the free exercise of religion from government prohibitions. A myth has grown up around Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 phrase “wall of separation” that treats religion, not as a thing the government cannot mandate or regulate, but as a kind of kryptonite the government must avoid any contact with even if it means separation of religious people and institutions from equal participation in what the state provides. That is not what the establishment clause was understood to mean in 1791, and today, the Supreme Court went further: It concluded that discrimination of that sort violates the free-exercise clause.

This morning’s 6–3 Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, is a huge victory for the freedom of religious parents to educate their children in the school of their choice on the same terms as non-religious parents. Maine long ago established a school-choice program in order to resolve the tension between its state constitutional requirement of a publicly funded education and the reality that much of Maine is too rural to support a school in every town: As Roberts noted, “of Maine’s 260 school administrative units (SAUs), fewer than half operate a public secondary school of their own.”

So, the state established a tuition-assistance program — basically, tuition vouchers — for parents in districts without a school of their own. They could use those vouchers at a secular school, or a religious school — until 1981, when Maine passed a statute barring any “sectarian” school from the program. It did so explicitly in response to the Supreme Court’s “separation of church and state” line of cases that began in the late 1940s and reached a crescendo with 1971’s Lemon v. KurtzmanThe 1981 statute required that students attend “a nonsectarian school in accordance with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution” and “was enacted in response to an opinion by the Maine attorney general taking the position that public funding of private religious schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

The now-infamous Lemon test struck down a Rhode Island statute that supported teacher salaries in both secular and Catholic private schools on an equal basis — 25 percent of Rhode Island students attended private schools, almost all of them in Catholic schools — even though it was limited to teachers providing only non-religious instruction. Chief Justice Warren Burger’s opinion concluded that the program nonetheless resulted in “excessive entanglement between government and religion.” The Court has been chipping away at the overzealous and non-textual Lemon test and its abuse in restricting equal aid to students in religious schools since 2002, when it held in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that “direct government aid to religious schools wholly as a result of their own genuine and independent private choice” does not violate the establishment clause.

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (2017), the Court added the free-exercise clause to the mix, holding that Missouri violated the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment by refusing to provide grants for playground resurfacing to a Lutheran church’s preschool and daycare center, solely because it was a religious institution. In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (2020), it allowed Montanans to use generally available private-education tax credits for religious as well as non-religious schools, striking down the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments. Today’s decision noticeably failed to cite Lemon –– even the dissents did not mention it. Lemon may not be entirely dead, but after today, it is hard to see what vitality it retains in the school voucher context.

Nonetheless, the myth of a “wall of separation” that requires discrimination against religious schooling persists, even among people who ought to know better. Justice Sonia Sotomayor complained in her dissent today:

This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build. . . . In 2017, I feared that the Court was leading us to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment. Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation. If a State cannot offer subsidies to its citizens without being required to fund religious exercise, any State that values its historic antiestablishment interests more than this Court does will have to curtail the support it offers to its citizens.

Well, yes: Both “separation of church and state” and “wall of separation” are, in fact, slogans rather than constitutional commitments. Allowing students to take state aid to a religious school on the same terms as a secular school does not establish a church, any more than allowing them to use Pell Grants at a religious college or, for that matter, allowing people to buy Bibles with their Social Security checks, establishes a state church. As Roberts summarized: “The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools—so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion.”

Of course, the Founders expected church and state to be more separate, but then, they expected a lot of things to be more separate from the state; we have a much bigger government today. Then again, most public schools in the early republic were sectarian. Roberts emphasized that today’s decision does not require states to fund religious school choice — but if it funds secular school choice, it may not exclude students who choose religious schools. Religious believers may not be required to choose between the exercise of their faith and being treated the same as people who exercise no faith. One hopes that, at long last, the education bureaucracy will get that message.

Politics & Policy

Republican Consultants: Dumb and Evil


From a nasty New Yorker profile of Ron DeSantis and the “radical” GOP in Florida comes this comment:

The Republican Party’s rank and file became increasingly radical, and G.O.P. leaders appeared only too happy to follow them. “There was always an element of the Republican Party that was batshit crazy,” Mac Stipanovich, the chief of staff to Governor Bob Martinez, a moderate Republican, told me. “They had lots of different names—they were John Birchers, they were ‘movement conservatives,’ they were the religious right. And we did what every other Republican candidate did: we exploited them. We got them to the polls. We talked about abortion. We promised—and we did nothing. They could grumble, but their choices were limited.

“So what happened?” Stipanovich continued. “Trump opened Pandora’s box and let them out. And all the nasty stuff that was in the underbelly of American politics got a voice….”

Stipanovich is speaking for a type in American politics that we’ve seen over and over again at the very top: the cynical consultant who just wants to get his secretly or not-so-secretly moderate Republican over the line so we can cut taxes, bomb Islamic nations, and get a few good rounds of golf in — damn the hippies and the snake-handlers. This is the type of person that ran the McCain campaign and the Romney campaign into the ground. The only success this type ever had in politics was George H. W. Bush, and only because he was riding in after Ronald Reagan and running against Michael Dukakis. Nixon and George W. Bush had these types on staff, but they also had “movement conservatives” around. Because each of them understood that a party needs a lot of invites.

This type thinks they got the best of the religious Right and “movement conservatives.” They made their money, won a few elections, and get to go home, and now the New Yorker calls them up to get them to trash people they believed were marks and mooks.

I think the exploitation works both ways in politics. Stipanovich wanted the votes and to do nothing. But by forcing his candidates to “talk about abortion,” by forcing them to “promise and do nothing,” we used them to normalize the idea that Republicans should talk about abortion and should do something about it. Over time, that pays dividends. In fact, we used them so well that we forced Donald Trump, a guy who did cameos in pornography, to put three anti-Roe justices on the Supreme Court.

Thank you for your service to the cause, Stipanovich. Enjoy your golden years, and go to hell grateful that we found something you could be used to do.


But They’ve Already Done That

Almost empty streets in Milan, Italy, March 23, 2020. (Daniele Mascolo/Reuters)

In this post, Professor Bryan Caplan reflects on the so-so-common response of people when they spot a problem: “The government should do something!”

The inspiration for the post is Caplan’s stay in Palermo, Italy, with its filthy streets. Shouldn’t the government levy more taxes to fund a clean-up program? Ah, but it turns out that the government is already doing that! People pay taxes and the government runs a miserably ineffective clean-up program.

Caplan wisely concludes, “If you can’t trust government with the basics, you are foolish inded to trust them with anything more.” Right, and government officials depend on on that foolishness.

Hat tip: Don Boudreaux

Politics & Policy

The New Yorker Accidentally Makes Ron DeSantis Look Awesome

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at CPAC in Orlando, Fla., February 24, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The New Yorker set out to do a hit piece on Florida governor Ron DeSantis. But what we learn from the profile is that DeSantis is smart, serious, hard-working, focused, honest, and apparently incorruptible. He ignores media “noise” and does what he thinks is best for Florida based on analysis of data and science. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood, then attended Yale, where he worked several jobs to pay tuition, and Harvard Law School. He served in the military in Iraq. The main thing the New Yorker hates about DeSantis is his effectiveness and hence the implicit threat he poses to Democrats: “Like Trump with a brain.”

Quotes from the piece:

“He’d read all the medical literature — all of it, not just the abstracts.”

“Ron’s strength as a politician is that he doesn’t give a f**k. . . . Ron’s weakness as a politician is that he doesn’t give a f**k. Big donors? He doesn’t give a s**t. Cancels on them all the time.”

“He’s good-looking. . . . His wife is really good-looking. His family is beautiful. They look like they’re from central casting.”

“He’s a serious guy. Driven.”

“He was stubborn. If he set his mind to something, you couldn’t shake him. He was focussed and motivated. He didn’t get that from me.” [This is Ron DeSantis Sr. speaking. DeSantis’s dad opened the door in a Florida State University T-shirt and proceeded to chat amiably about his son’s baseball prowess.]

“Ron was a voracious worker, and he worked at phenomenal speed. He was a superb writer, especially for his age.”

“He’s so f***ing smart and so creative. You couldn’t even plagiarize off his work. He’d take some angle, and everyone knew there was only one person who could have done that.”

“He’s just incredibly disciplined.”

And summations by the author of the piece, Dexter Filkins: “DeSantis has an intense work ethic, a formidable intelligence, and a granular understanding of policy.” He’s “articulate and fast on his feet.” He’s “dogged and precise.”

The New Yorker expends a lot of energy trying to make DeSantis’s response to Covid look poor (good luck with that — Florida opened schools in August 2020 and never looked back, preventing the catastrophic learning loss and widespread depression that characterized children in other states) and does a lot of snarking about the way he walks, his self-confidence, the way he ridicules Democratic Party shibboleths, and how he’s supposedly “angry” or personifies the rage of voters or that lots of white people like him. Somehow these last three aspects are never a problem when it comes to Democrats. Also, DeSantis doesn’t like small talk or hand-shaking and he appears on a cable-news channel the New Yorker does not like.


It’s Okay to Experience ‘Boredom’

(ablokhin/Getty Images)

In the latest issue of NR, David Harsanyi self-deprecatingly shares about aging and embracing boredom. He writes:

And, anyway, these days my wife and I get our workout by walking. Not speed-walking or hiking. I don’t really get much pep in my step at all, to be honest. Nothing fancy. Just plain old walking down the street. There is an entire industry, I soon learn, that manufactures footwear and clothing specifically tailored for lazy people like me. The reviews for walking sneakers make you feel like you’re a year away from being carted off to an old-age home — “Pros: Lightweight and breathable. Good shock absorption. Cons: Laces are not easy to change. Not warm enough for cold weather walking.” It’s okay, because I talk to my wife about our latest epic Scrabble game or monochromatic puzzle we tried to do, or ponder which bird seeds I am going to buy next.  

That’s right, the former owners of my new home left us an impressive bird feeder. I intended to dismantle the thing and throw it in the trash, because bird-watching is probably the fourth-most tedious activity ever invented, right behind doing puzzles, fishing, and bike-riding. Now, of course, I am obsessed with birds. I consider myself something of an expert on the local varieties. I own binoculars. I’ve observed bald eagles and hummingbirds. I have begun recognizing the distinct calls of each species.  

My embrace of the boring life has taken some getting used to. My wife and I not only went swimming with the sharks in Belize on our honeymoon, we hiked the jungle at night among jaguars and snakes. We used to seek out adventure. I was a punk-rock kid, for God’s sake. Now I know the difference between a hermit thrush and a northern flicker. But it’s all fine. Act your age. It’s a life that can be reliably enriching.

As a recent amateur gardener and woodworker, I feel much the same. Not many are interested in my clamp rack or the particular stakes used to buttress the tomatoes, but there is pleasure in both. Moreover, the satisfaction is not tied to outside approval or status but to the pastimes and their respective challenges.

The American fears many things — Germany, salad, a hand appearing in the gap as the elevator door closes — but what we seem to fear most is to be thought boring, much more than any of us would care to admit. In fact, there’s this whole industry, quite profitable, where we share things online for the approval of others. Harsanyi’s engaging acceptance of boredom is enviable — downright conservative in the most excellent and stodgy fashion. 

May we all seek to find our equivalent of shamelessly puttering in the yard while rocking fresh New Balance 624s.


Horie Sensei and More

Japanese sailor and adventurer Kenichi Horie addresses the media in front of his yacht in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, on January 24, 2022. (STR / JIJI Press / AFP via Getty Images)

“Move on” was a great cry of the late 1990s. Democrats even formed an organization: In March 2001, I wrote a piece on one of President Clinton’s last-minute pardons and commutations. The subheading of my piece: “Before we ‘move on.’” That’s the heading of my Impromptus today: “Before We ‘Move On.’” It’s about January 6 and the relevant congressional hearings.

My latest Q&A podcast is with Jacob Mchangama. He is an old friend and one of the great authorities on free speech. In fact, his new book is called “Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media.” Get a load of the blurb of the late P.J. O’Rourke: “The best history of free speech ever written and the best defense of free speech ever made.”

Shall we have some mail? In a column last week, I focused on barbarity in the PRC. (That’s a perennial.) A reader writes,

Irony in the form of a shirt: I recently ordered a lightweight summer shirt, and it’s very comfortable. The brand on the label is Free Country and, of course, the tag next to it says Made in China. And I got it through the U.S. military exchange system, which I wish would tell its customers (former U.S. military personnel) where its goods come from.

In that column last week, I had the following item:

I am amazed, or awed, by Kenichi Horie. In 1962, he became the first person to cross the Pacific in a solo, non-stop voyage. That is impressive enough — worthy of awe on its own. But, you know what? He has done it again, 60 years later (at the age of 83). To read about Mr. Horie, go here. What human beings can achieve . . .

A reader writes,

Dear Jay:

We were stationed in Japan for four and a half years and had heard of Horie San’s previous crossing of the Pacific. We have some very good friends in Japan who had been following his progress on the latest adventure. I told them that Horie San should henceforth be known as “Horie Sensei” as he is definitely the greatest “Professor/Teacher” of Solo Ocean Crossings ever.

Also in my column last week, I deplored a common grammatical error, which the Tom Cruise character commits in the new Top Gun. “I wish I would have done it better,” he says. Ay ay ay. A reader writes,


I agree with you completely on that atrocious construction. When you write legislation to ban it, please include as well a popular extraneous “of.” “There’s cake for dessert. How big of a piece do you want?” “How tall of a man was he?” Etc.

Finally, I made mention of Mitch Daniels. A reader writes,

Now that Mitch has resigned as Purdue’s prexy — can you start the campaign to draft him for 2024?

I will answer with a song from Man of La Mancha: this one. My thanks to all readers and correspondents.

Politics & Policy

Why Biden’s Leisurely and Light Schedule Matters

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on infrastructure at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority in Kansas City, Mo., December 8, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I get what Kevin is getting at in his latest edition of the Tuesday newsletter. It would be better if political disputes played a less ubiquitous and pervasive role in American life, and it would be better if this country had a less imperial presidency, where each day’s news didn’t revolve around what the man in the Oval Office was doing or saying. I, too, would love to live in a country where you could ignore the president most of the time, knowing that what he did had little influence over your daily life.

But as one of those guys who frequently points out how Biden rarely does more than one public event a day, rarely attends events at night, goes home to Delaware every weekend, rarely does sit-down interviews and sounds like he’s in a delusional state of denial when he does, let me explain why I feel the need to point this out with metronomic regularity.

Joe Biden didn’t have a particularly big role in public life from January 2017 to April 2019 – and from the moment he reemerged, a lot of us saw him and listened to him and marveled, “man, he got old.” Just go back and watch a few minutes of Biden’s speech at the 2016 Democratic convention – the energy, the movements, the look in his eyes, the volume and tenor of his voice. Back then, Biden was old but looked and seemed energetic, even feisty. By 2019, Biden was old and looked geriatric.

I think it was clear by spring of 2019 that Biden was getting too old to be an effective president. No doubt he had his good days and his bad days, but the presidency is a legendarily physically and psychologically taxing job, and there was no reason to think Biden would get sharper, wiser, more energetic, or better as he aged. Better, wiser, more responsible people would have advised Biden that he should be enjoying his golden years, not grappling with an ever-growing pile of domestic and foreign crises.

I think it’s clear some Democrats saw it, too. You have to wonder if that was a factor in Barack Obama’s lack of enthusiasm for a Biden presidential bid. Julian Castro went after Biden’s memory and mental capacities in one of the primary debates, and insisted afterwards that he didn’t regret it. (It didn’t help that Biden called Castro “Cisernos” a month later.) Liberal cartoonist Ted Rall contended that Biden clearly had worsening dementia and was incapable of performing the duties of the presidency.

Lots of us noticed that the Biden presidential campaign in the 2020 cycle didn’t have the former vice president out on the trail very much – and once the Covid-19 pandemic started, Biden largely disappeared, other than short, videotaped appearances. When some of us pointed out that Biden’s off-the-cuff remarks were increasingly incoherent word salads, we were accused of mocking him for a stutter. But we had eyes and ears, and could tell this wasn’t the guy Americans had listened to as vice president for eight years. Something about him wasn’t right anymore.

We were assured, over and over again, by Biden, his wife, his campaign staffers, and lots of Democratic officials that Joe Biden was in fine shape, physically and mentally. I think all these people were lying.

I think the people closest to Biden could tell that he was a man in his late seventies whose mind and body were not what they used to be, and whose focus, memory, stamina, judgment, and overall health were starting to falter. I think these people found reasons to play along with the lie that Biden was in excellent physical and psychological health. They wanted to see Trump defeated and thought Biden was the safest bet, they wanted to be close to a president, they thought Biden as president could be easily influenced, and so on. And I think the people around Biden have tried to hide the increasingly obvious throughout his presidency.

And now we’re stuck with the consequences of that lie. Biden is a tired, overwhelmed, erratic, frequently-irritable, defensive, prickly, forgetful, soon-to-be-octogenarian who should be enjoying a leisurely retirement full of trips to the ice cream shop with his granddaughters – not trying, and failing, to address all the problems in the world.

This afternoon, President Biden and the first lady will “visit a local COVID-19 vaccination clinic hosted by the District of Columbia’s Department of Health to highlight the recent authorization and recommendation of COVID-19 vaccines for children under age five.” This will be Biden’s first public event since 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Health Care

Fletcher’s Mother Is a Freak

FBI and law enforcement officers in hazmat suites prepare to investigate potentially hazardous chemicals in Logan, Utah, October 3, 2018. (George Frey/Reuters)

That’s the only conclusion I can draw, having read this description of her in this AP story about Covid vaccinations for “little US kids”:

Little Fletcher Pack woke up Monday morning and asked: “Is today vaccine day?”

For the 3-year-old from Lexington, South Carolina, the answer was yes.

The nation’s infants, toddlers and preschoolers are finally getting their chance at COVID-19 vaccination as the U.S. rolls out shots for tots this week. Shipments arrived in some locations over the weekend and some spots, including a Walgreens in South Carolina and another in New York City, opened up appointments for Monday.

Fletcher’s mother said that once her son is fully vaccinated, he can finally go bowling and visit the nearby children’s museum.

“He’s never really played with another kid inside before,” McKenzie Pack said. “This will be a really big change for our family.”

This is wholly irrational behavior. Per the AP’s story, Fletcher does not have any special medical needs. He’s a normal American three-year-old boy. And normal American three-year-old boys are not at risk from coronavirus. There was no reason for Fletcher’s mother to do this to Fletcher, who could quite safely have gone bowling, visited the nearby children’s museum, and “played with another kid inside.” What, one must wonder, has Fletcher’s mother been reading?

Judging by what we know — let’s call it The Science — Fletcher has been placed in far more danger by his mother’s neuroses than he was ever in as a result of Covid-19. Just try to imagine how this kid now sees the world; what he believes to be normal; where he is in his social and imaginative development. If Fletcher’s mother were a member of a cult, and had kept Fletcher inside for three years out of fear that he’d be abducted by aliens, we’d all immediately grasp the problem. But because it’s Covid-19, that great destroyer of rationality, there are millions and millions of people who do not. One day, when this has all finally blown over, and the damage report is in, they’ll get it.

Politics & Policy

Apparently, Americans Think Biden Can Command the Cost of College Down


That’s the conclusion you get from this Inside Higher Ed story, reporting on a poll showing that a majority of Americans favor college-debt relief but think it’s more important for Biden to focus on lowering the cost of college.

The trouble is, of course, that the president has no legal authority over college costs. Nor does the Department of Education. Nor does Congress. Unfortunately, many Americans have been led to believe that the president is supposed to have kinglike powers to command that good things happen.

Biden himself seems to think so.

Economy & Business

Against QR-Code Menus

A customer scans a QR code to access the Andres Carne de Res restaurant menu in Chia, Colombia, August 30, 2020. (Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters)

Helaine Olen’s Washington Post column last week, “QR code menus are the death of civilization,” is spot-on. Olen writes:

The coronavirus pandemic saw a number of changes in how we live, in ways big and small. Some were welcome: flexibility about remote work, say, or cocktails to go. But here’s one adaptation that can’t fall by the wayside fast enough: the now-commonplace QR code menus offered in place of the paper version in millions of American restaurants. They are unnecessary, anti-social, discriminatory and unpopular. They fully degrade the experience of dining out.

If you don’t know what a restaurant QR code is, I envy you. It’s the black-and-white square code you find on a placard at the table when you are seated, asking you to scan it with your phone’s camera for a link to the establishment’s offerings. Offered up as a bit of hygiene when restaurants reopened after the shutdowns of the early pandemic period, online QR code menus are unnecessary, since the coronavirus is (we now know) an almost entirely airborne pathogen. But all too many dining establishments continue to use them.

A physical menu sets the stage. It highlights the fact that this is a special occasion, even if it’s simply a quick bite at a local diner. The menu signifies that it’s time to take a break in a busy day, that this meal is something separate from the normal course of events. It also pushes us to interact with others. We share menus. We point to things; we ask the wait staff questions about the meal and what they particularly like. It’s like opening a program at a theater, for a show you and your companions are about to experience together.

Whipping out a phone to check the menu, on the other hand, is hardly conducive to setting a mood, unless you want to dine in the metaverse. Smartphones are endlessly distracting, and it takes discipline to put them away after checking a menu, a bit of self-control many can’t always muster. (Guilty.) It’s all too easy to rationalize checking just one email, sending just one tweet, taking just one glance at Instagram. (Guilty again.) We already spend almost five hours a day staring at our smartphone screens. Do we really need a prompt to spend even more time in our electronic silos?

I should admit that I’ve been on the anti–QR code menu bandwagon for some time now:

It’s all a little tongue-in-cheek, of course — QR-code menus are annoying, but not exactly the greatest civilizational threat of our time. But there’s a serious aspect of this, too: They not only represent a holdover from a pandemic era that we should be leaving in the rearview as expeditiously as possible — they also are another concession to the digitization of American life, replacing the world of the physical and material with an emaciated, online substitute. For that reason, and so many others, we should demand a return to the real thing. Nothing less than physical plastic menus will do.

PC Culture

‘A World without Risk’

The Hoover Tower rises above Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., January 13, 2017 (Noah Berger/Reuters)

An essay published last week in Palladium, titled “Stanford’s War on Social Life,” is well worth your time. The author, Ginevra Davis, is a recent graduate of the school and describes the growth of the diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucracy’s systematic destruction of almost every redeeming aspect of campus social life: “Driven by a fear of uncontrollable student spontaneity and a desire to enforce equity on campus, a growing administrative bureaucracy has destroyed almost all of Stanford’s distinctive student culture.” She goes on to write:

What happened at Stanford is a cultural revolution on the scale of a two-mile college campus. In less than a decade, Stanford’s administration eviscerated a hundred years of undergraduate culture and social groups. They ended decades-old traditions. They drove student groups out of their houses. They scraped names off buildings. They went after long-established hubs of student life, like fraternities and cultural theme houses. In place of it all, Stanford erected a homogenous housing system that sorts new students into perfectly equitable groups named with letters and numbers. All social distinction is gone.

The school’s “new social order,” Davis writes, “offers a peek into the bureaucrat’s vision for America. It is a world without risk, genuine difference. . . . It is a world largely without unencumbered joy; without the kind of cultural specificity that makes college, or the rest of life, particularly interesting.” Amid all the talk of campus wokeness, this is an important aspect to note: The diversity, equity, and inclusion ideology — what some have taken to calling “safetyism” — is not just totalitarian and illiberal, although it often is both of those things. It’s also fundamentally anti-human. It’s driven by a radical conflict-aversiveness that robs life of joy — “born,” as I wrote back in October, “from what the political philosopher Michael Oakeshott described as the ‘anti-individual’ impulse”: 

That impulse, Oakeshott wrote, is an anxiety about the experience of individual liberty itself — a “revulsion from individuality” that drives a desire for “a solidarité commune in which there [is] no distinction of persons and from which no one [is] to be exempt.”

The anti-individual distaste for the conditions of a free society — a visceral horror at the possibility that someone, somewhere, is living differently from oneself — has always animated a certain kind of technocratic progressive but has potentiated and spread alongside the virus itself. As Oakeshott observed in his seminal book, On Human Conduct, “the determined ‘anti-individual’ is intolerant not only of superiority but of difference, disposed to allow in all others only a replica of himself, and united with his fellows in a revulsion from distinctness.” For the anti-individual, the politics of conformity and radical sameness are preferable to those of self-determination — his anxious neuroticism is incurable unless it is “imposed on all alike,” as Oakeshott wrote in another essay. “So long as ‘others’ were permitted to make choices for themselves,” Oakeshott added, “not only would his anxiety at not being able to do so himself remain to convict him of his inadequacy and threaten his emotional security, but also the social protectorate which he recognized as his counterpart would itself be disrupted.”

So it is at Stanford — and in so many of our other elite institutions. A world without risk is not a world worth living in. And that, at its root, is why the bureaucratic campus ideology is so poisonous.

Politics & Policy

Will ‘Stop the Steal Republicans’ Renounce Democratic Support?

Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano speaks at a protest against the state’s extended stay-at-home order in Harrisburg, Pa., April 20, 2020. (Rachel Wisniewski/Reuters)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once asked voters to “judge me by the enemies I have made.” That can be a pretty good standard of success. If a person is opposing bad people, then their dislike of him can be to his credit.

As a college student who is rather active in the conservative movement, I do a good bit of journalism and activism on campus. These efforts have not been without pushback from leftist opponents in the community. In fact, the people I am involved with accept the backlash as part of the job, and we endure it for the sake of the movement. Now, if I were to take an initiative at Michigan, and the College Democrats or, God forbid, the Young Democratic Socialists of America were to praise me for it, that might give me pause. I would be even more unsure of what I was doing if those groups were to spend more money than I did in pursuit of my goal.

Unfortunately, some in the Republican Party have not learned this lesson. In the 2022 cycle, Democrats have spent large amounts of money to prop up “Stop the Steal” Republican candidates who question the results of the 2020 elections. Their efforts could have two possible motivations: (1) to make the more mainstream candidates spend more in the primary so they will be weaker in the general or (2) to help the Trumpier candidates win the primary because they will be easier for Democrats to beat in the general.

In Pennsylvania, this strategy appears to have worked to perfection. Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, had his campaign spend twice as much money on TV ads for the very Trumpy Doug Mastriano than the Mastriano campaign itself did. As a result, Mastriano won in a crowded field of conventional Republicans.

California Republican congressman David Valadao, who voted to impeach Trump after the January 6 riot, faced a challenge from Chris Mathys, who calls himself a “Trump Conservative.” For the race, Nancy Pelosi had her super PAC run ads boasting of Mathys’s commitment to Trump. Results from that June 7 race are still being counted, but Valadao is currently leading Mathys with just over half the vote counted.

Democrats in Colorado are pursuing the same strategy, spending money to boost Ron Hanks, who began his campaign with a video of him blowing up a voting machine, in the state’s June 28 Senate primary. Other Republicans in the country are fearful of the same strategy in their races. Peter Meijer recently expressed concerns that Democrats would help his opponent, John Gibbs, closer to their August 2 primary in Michigan.

Whether the “Stop the Steal” candidates deplete the funds of the conventional Republicans or win the primary themselves, their presence in these races helps Democrats. These candidates should either leave the races for the good of the party and country or renounce the help they are getting from Pelosi and her ilk.

Otherwise, mainstream Republicans will have a golden opportunity to run ads against them in their races: “Doug Mastriano, Democrats’ favorite Pennsylvania candidate” or, “Chris Mathys, Pelosi’s pick for Congress.”

If future “Stop the Steal” candidates will not stop helping Democrats and withdraw from their races or make a serious effort to distance themselves from the support Pelosi gives them, these attacks will land, and they will land hard.