Politics & Policy

The Pro-Life Movement Isn’t in Kansas Anymore

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Voter mark their ballots during the primary election and abortion referendum at a Wyandotte County polling station in Kansas City, Kan., August 2, 2022. (Eric Cox/Reuters)

The Kansas abortion referendum was, unquestionably, disappointing to pro-lifers and a morale boost for Democrats.

Ramesh notes some of the reasons why the framing of this particular referendum was unfavorable. I’d add two more. One, which I’ll discuss below a bit more, is timing. The status quo bias in favor of a “no” vote was helped by the fact that very few state abortion bans have been in effect for much time, if at all, yet. That made it easier to paint a “yes” vote as a leap into a hazardous unknown. The second, to which Ramesh nods, is that more so than most states, Kansas for many years has been considerably more Republican than it is conservative. That is not to deny that it has produced some very conservative figures, whether of the religious conservative sort (think Sam Brownback, who won all six of his statewide races between 1996 and 2014) or the Trumpier sort (think Kris Kobach, who won his primary yesterday to run for state attorney general).

But Kansas has deep ancestral ties to the GOP, going all the way back to its having been founded, in effect, by an armed wing of the Republican Party in the 1850s. Republicans have won the state by 20 or more points in 23 different presidential elections back to 1864; the Democrats have won it only six times, four of which were Democratic landslide years nationally (the exceptions being 1896 and 1916). One could cite chapter and verse at different levels of government, but the relevant point is that the state has been more Republican than not at every point in the past 160 years, through a lot of different ideological and issue environments. Few other states have such a deep reserve of Republican partisanship. As a result, Kansas moderates are a good deal more likely to be Republicans than moderates in other states — a fact reflected in the careers of people such as Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum and visible again in some of the state legislature’s fights with Brownback during his governorship. Thus, it is easy to overstate exactly how ideologically red Kansas is from its partisan lean. It’s not Mississippi or Utah or even Nebraska.

All of that said, there is no reason that pro-lifers should abandon Kansas or other states like it. The movement should, instead, learn some crucial lessons about strategy.

First, focus on securing the beachheads. There are many strategic lessons that pro-lifers take from the progress of the anti-slavery movement, but we should start with this one. Anti-slavery became a powerful force in national politics only after it had (1) convincingly won over the voters in the states where slavery was least popular, beginning with New England and Pennsylvania, (2) shown the practical workability of emancipation in states such as New York and New Jersey, (3) demonstrated the superiority of the free-state model, and (4) built a sufficient power base to keep the federal government from strangling political anti-slavery in new territories, at least in the Midwest and Upper Midwest. Trying to sell the nation on a complete federal ban on slavery in 1787 would have been lunacy for the movement, but by 1807, even a slaveowning president was willing to sign a ban on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. By the 1850s, however, freedom — not slavery — was the status quo in states housing 60 percent of the nation’s population. The prospect of adding more free states was frightening to nobody but the hard-core defenders of slavery.

That model can be followed by pro-lifers. It requires, in the short term of 2022–23, a laser focus on winning where the wins are within reach, and pushing no further than necessary. If it takes a 15-week, or twelve-week, or six-week ban, if it takes exceptions for rape and incest, or a larger “health” exception than seems prudent: so be it. Once the principle of life is established in a state, incremental progress can be sought later. This is best done legislatively, although that requires bypassing states (such as Kansas) where the judiciary has ruled out democratic lawmaking. The sooner a critical mass of states can be built up where abortion bans of any sort are thinkable and even acceptable, the better. Plant the mustard seeds now, and know that you can sit in their shade later.

Second, and relatedly, be willing to compromise. Compromise is painful when it means leaving some children to their deaths; no later progress can undo that. But it is how progress in a democracy works. And pro-lifers now have the advantage on that score. The pro-life ideology is that all human life is sacred at every stage and should be protected in law, but a law that protects some lives is better than a law that protects no lives. A 15-week abortion ban concedes nothing to principle, as opposed to political reality. By contrast, Democrats’ pro-abortion ideology assumes that any restriction at all is intolerable — even a limit on taxpayers subsidizing abortion — so even to engage in a discussion of compromise is heresy. As pro-lifers, we can use that contrast. Many Americans, perhaps a third of the country, are in the mushy eyeball-test middle on this issue: They aren’t willing to ban all abortions, but they also dislike taxpayer funding of abortion and see late-term abortions as barbaric. (Indeed, one argument made prominently against the “yes” position in Kansas was that the state already bans taxpayer funding, so doing so by referendum was unnecessary.) Dobbs itself illustrates the contrast: Mississippi was defending only a 15-week ban, while the abortionists and the Biden administration were stuck defending a “no compromise, no restrictions are possible” position. What we don’t need is people in deep-red states who are so eager to flex their pro-lifer-than-thou credentials that they push states into seeking uncompromising rules that produce blowback against the beachheads.

Third, fight the smears — and do so precisely by being visible about compromise. Nobody is against ending ectopic pregnancies, which are incapable of producing a live-born child. Nobody needs to draw a line in the sand around the most extreme cases: rape victims in their early teens, severe health problems. The abortion industry and its progressive flacks focus entirely on these cases because they know that the argument around the vast majority of abortions is much harder to defend. Win the cultural argument over those majority cases, and we will be in a much better position to have a conversation about the extreme cases.

Most of the great victories won by conservatives, Republicans, and Christians in this country have been long struggles with many setbacks. We knew, after Dobbs, that we would not win every battle ahead. But we should plan for the long game, because justice and mercy and common decency are still on our side.

Chuck Schumer
CBO: Over 90 Percent of Promised Deficit Reduction in Manchin–Schumer Would Come after 2026

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Left: Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 19, 2022. Right: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 12, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Senator Joe Manchin has been making the rounds promoting the deal he struck with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer as inflation-fighting legislation, in part because it reduces the deficit through tax hikes and price fixing. But a closer look at a fresh analysis of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office shows that over 90 percent of the promised deficit reduction in the bill would come after 2026 — meaning it would do absolutely nothing to help reduce the current inflation problem.

The basic mechanics of Manchin–Schumer is that it spends hundreds of billions of dollars on green-energy initiatives and an Obamacare expansion, which is then offset by tax hikes, claimed savings from having Medicare fix drug prices, and increased IRS enforcement. Taken together, CBO expects these measures will reduce deficits by about $305 billion, of which $204 billion would come through the expected boost in revenue from the enforcement provisions.

But the way the bill is structured, the spending increases occur immediately, while the claimed savings take time to take effect — exactly the sort of “shell games” Manchin warned about last year when he blasted Democrats for not considering the permanent cost of expanding government programs (as this bill does with Obamacare).

Of the $305 billion in promised deficit savings over the next decade, CBO says just $21 billion will be coming over the next five years, when we’re in the midst of a historic inflation crisis, while the remaining 93 percent of the claimed savings won’t come until after 2026. Whatever else may be said about the bill, the idea that it will help address the current inflation problem is absurd.

Politics & Policy

Child Careless

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Senator Mitt Romney (R., Utah.) speaks at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 26, 2022. (Al Drago/Pool via Reuters)

To the extent that Jack Salmon’s arguments against Senator Romney’s child allowance are sound, they’re arguments against some other proposal — not against Romney’s plan.

He complains that Romney’s plan does not deregulate child care to make it more affordable. But that misunderstands the point of Romney’s plan. It’s to help parents and children — including parents who care for their own children at home. Deregulating child care may be a fine idea, but it would do nothing to help that group, and there’s no reason to make it an either/or choice with Romney’s proposal.

Meanwhile, the sorts of criticisms that Salmon makes of child-care subsidies (they’re regressive, they are designed in ways that punish marriage, etc.) simply do not apply to the Romney plan — or, for that matter, to Senator Marco Rubio’s idea for paid family leave, which Salmon criticizes in passing. And neither of those plans amounts to “nationalizing child-rearing,” as he puts it in a final flourish.

Salmon’s cautions are worth saving for a target that actually justifies them.

Politics & Policy

Justice Department Subpoenas Another Trump White House Lawyer to Grand Jury

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Patrick Philbin (Screenshot via PBS NewsHour/YouTube)

I have a column on the home page about the Justice Department’s subpoenaing of Pat Cipollone, the former Trump White House counsel, into one of the grand juries that is investigating potential crimes arising out of the Capitol riot.

This afternoon, CNN has reported that Patrick Philbin, Cipollone’s deputy in the Trump White House counsel’s office, also has been subpoenaed. The CNN report relies on two unidentified “sources familiar with the matter.”

As my column relates, the Biden Justice Department is clearly weighing whether to indict former President Donald Trump and a circle of advisers — mainly, Trump’s private lawyers (i.e., not White House lawyers) — who developed half-baked schemes to reverse the presidential election and maintain Trump in office. Testimony and documentary evidence in various probes of the riot, and events over the two months leading up to it, have indicated that Cipollone, Philbin, and other White House officials had relevant conversations with the then-president and his private advisers, and witnessed key events. The White House lawyers appear to have been pushing against the private advisers and trying, without success, to nudge Trump into accepting his defeat.

The subpoenas of former White House lawyers raise questions about executive privilege and attorney–client privilege. As I explain in the column, the fact that the Justice Department is in the position of trying to pierce the president’s confidentiality protections, rather than its usual position of trying to uphold them, does not bode well for the viability of those privileges if there is an effort to invoke them.

Politics & Policy

Is Time on the Side of Senate Democrats, or Kyrsten Sinema?

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Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) departs after attending a bipartisan work group meeting on an infrastructure bill at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 8, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

It has now been almost a week since Democratic senator Joe Manchin announced he would support a hefty nearly half-a-trillion dollar spending package targeting energy and climate, health care, and increased taxes on the wealthy. But Manchin and Chuck Schumer hadn’t informed Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema about their deal until after it was publicly announced, and she represents the last serious potential obstacle. Our John Fund notes that there are reports of other Democratic senators with reservations about the legislation, but who aren’t willing to publicly oppose the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act.”

The fact that Sinema hasn’t signed on yet is a sign that if she becomes a “yes,” she won’t be an easy yes. She’s talking with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, discussing whether the bills proposed 15 percent minimum tax on corporations would be economically harmful, and those business groups won’t be telling her, “don’t worry, that provision will be fine.”

And CNN reports Sinema is in no rush.

On Wednesday, Sinema indicated to CNN that she was in no hurry to announce her position on the bill. “Taking my time,” she said. Her spokesperson reiterated that Sinema was waiting for the review by the Senate parliamentarian to be completed before announcing her position.

Sure, Sinema faces enormous political pressure to get on board now. But if the process drags out, and as we get closer to autumn, will pressure start to build in the other direction?

Is time on the side of Senate Democrats? The closer they get to the midterm elections, the more senators like Mark Kelly of Arizona, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and perhaps even Patty Murray of Washington or Raphael Warnock of Georgia may get antsy about voting for tax increases, as GOP attack ads will be flooding the airwaves.

You can envision the ads now: “America is in a recession, your grocery bills, gas bills, and rent have never been higher… and your senator voted to raise taxes again.”

NRI

Last Chance to Register for This Year’s NRI Cruise

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(NRI)

The 2022 NRI Eastern Caribbean Cruise is taking place from November 12 to 19. Hurry and book your cabin today, as there are only ten remaining! The deadline to register is August 8.

This fall, the National Review Institute is continuing NR’s 20-year tradition of memorable cruises. Come and take a trip around the eastern Caribbean with several NR writers and esteemed conservative-movement leaders.

Our seven-day adventure on the Sky Princess begins at the port of Fort Lauderdale and will include stops at Princess Cays, Bahamas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; and Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos, before returning to Fort Lauderdale.

This year’s NRI cruise will be similar to past NR cruises but will also include exciting new programming, such as breakout sessions, book clubs, and exclusive 1955 Society events. The main-stage conference program will feature a variety of one-on-one interviews, panel discussions, and spirited, if friendly, debates. Broad themes include the economy, education, and the legal system, and you can be sure our panelists will be wrangling with the hot topics of the day.

This year’s cruise speakers include Charles C. W. Cooke, William B. Allen, Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru, Andrew C. McCarthy, and more!

One of the institute’s primary missions is to preserve and promote Bill Buckley’s powerful legacy. NRI president Lindsay Craig and several trustees will be onboard to discuss ambitious plans to celebrate that legacy leading up to the 100th anniversary of WFB’s birth in 2025.

Learn more here or contact Jason Wise with questions (jason@nrinstitute.org or 203-273-3628).

Elections

Trump Shouldn’t Celebrate Too Much in Michigan

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Then-President Donald Trump reacts during a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Mich., December 18, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Tuesday’s Michigan primary election was an overall win for former president Donald Trump. The candidates he endorsed, most notably, John Gibbs, who challenged Peter Meijer in Michigan’s third congressional district, were all victorious. But the fact is, many of his endorsements were inconsequential. And his biggest victory may hurt him in the long run.

Trump waited the longest to make an endorsement in the gubernatorial race. It wasn’t until July 29, only four days before the primary, that he endorsed Tudor Dixon. His decision to wait as long as he did allows him to pretend that his endorsement was influential, but that’s really all he can do — pretend.

What Trump did for Dixon is tantamount to jumping to the front of a parade in its last leg and pretending that he was leading it the entire way. The truth is that Dixon would likely have won with or without him. Some Republicans endorsed her immediately after the disqualification of presumptive nominee James Craig threw the primary into chaos.

CPAC, Right to Life of Michigan, and the family of former education secretary Betsy DeVos all threw their support behind Dixon when she was losing in the polls to Ryan Kelley, who was arrested in early June for allegedly entering the Capitol on January 6. After receiving those endorsements, Dixon climbed in the polls to become the front-runner. By the time Trump endorsed her, one poll had her at as many as 25 points ahead of eventual second-place finisher Kevin Rinke.

John James, a retired Army helicopter pilot running in Michigan’s tenth congressional district, also received a superfluous endorsement from Trump, and he demolished Tony Marcinkiewicz by 73 points. To his credit, though, Trump didn’t wait in the wings to see who would take the lead in that race, endorsing James in March.

While Dixon’s win was doubtful a few months ago, James always had it in the bag. Michigan Republicans love him. In 2018, he won the Republican nomination for Senate but lost the election to entrenched Democrat Debbie Stabenow. In 2020, he once again won a statewide Republican nomination, this time to face off against then-freshman Senator Gary Peters. He lost again, but not by very much. One could argue that Trump’s endorsing James in those two earlier races was significant, but the fact is James’s popularity among Republicans extends far beyond Trump, and his win yesterday is not a sign of the former president’s enduring influence in Michigan.

The defeat of Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump after the January 6 riot, is a legitimate MAGA victory. It signifies that a legislator, even if he is generally solid in pushing conservative policy, can be ousted if he does not display loyalty to Trump.

Still, this win for the MAGA movement is ephemeral. Because of redistricting that occurred as a result of the 2020 census, Meijer’s district has become much bluer. It went from R+9 to D+3, and its voters are unlikely to embrace Gibbs. Meijer’s loss gave Trump a win for his vanity within the Republican Party, but it will lose a seat in Congress that could have been used to carry on Trump’s policy agenda, which Meijer has praised.

All in all, Michigan’s primary was a victory for Trump, but it just wasn’t that meaningful.

Immigration

‘Build the Wall!’ Says the Biden Administration

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Illegal immigrants are detained after crossing into the U.S. near Yuma, Ariz., April 19, 2021. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

Facing an ongoing crisis at the southern border, the Biden administration is resorting to a Trump-era policy — building more of the wall. The administration is going to fill four gaps in the wall along Arizona’s border, near Yuma, which has experienced a surge in border crossings: Border Patrol has encountered 235,230 migrants attempting to cross the border at the Yuma Sector in fiscal year 2022. Only Del Rio and the Rio Grande Valley have encountered more migrants — 326,177 and 377,994, respectively. 

Last Thursday, Department of Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas authorized U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to conduct the Yuma Morelos Dam Project, sealing the gaps in the wall. According to the department, because of the area’s proximity to the Morelos Dam and Colorado River, the location presents safety and life hazard risks for migrants attempting to cross into the United States where there is a risk of drownings and injuries from falls. This area also poses a life and safety risk to first responders and agents responding to incidents in this area.” 

This is an interesting development, considering that candidate Biden vowed not to finish the wall as president. “There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration,” Biden proclaimed. 

Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy grilled White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on this reversal: “Why is the Biden administration building a border wall in Arizona?” Jean-Pierre denied that the Biden administration was finishing former president Trump’s border wall and blamed the Trump administration for the “mess”: “So, we are not finishing the wall, we are cleaning up the mess the prior administration left behind in their failed attempt to build a wall.” Doocy pressed Jean-Pierre: “But, President Biden when he was a candidate, said, ‘There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.’ So, what changed?” Jean-Pierre replied, “We are not finishing the wall.” Doocy responded: “By finishing the wall . . . by filling in, is this racist? Because in 2019, when the former guy was proposing a wall, you said that it was his racist wall. So how is this any different?” Jean-Pierre responded, “A border wall is an ineffective use of taxpayer dollars.”

The Biden administration cannot admit that it was wrong, and that walls do in fact workthat would be conceding a major defeat and giving credit to the prior administration, which they can’t do. But the administration sees the numbers: As of July 18, 1,634,104 people have been encountered at the border in FY 2022. Almost 1.05 million illegal aliens have been released into the interior of the country as of June — more people than the population of Biden’s home state of Delaware. National Border Patrol Council president Brandon Judd suggests that the Biden administration’s move to fill in the gaps in the border wall near Yuma is a political move timed to help Senator Mark Kelly (D., Ariz.) in his tough reelection bid this November. Kelly’s office says he has been pushing to fill in those same gaps for months and that he secured a “commitment from the administration to get this done.”

Whether it is to help a Democrat, as Judd contends, or because the migrant crisis is destroying Biden’s approval numbers — or even because the administration realizes the crisis is harming the country — building the wall, possibly the symbol most closely associated with the Trump presidency, has returned. How ironic. 

Sports

Vin Scully’s Verbal and Vocal Genius

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Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully smiles in a broadcast booth during the National League MLB baseball game in Los Angeles, April 25, 2007. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

So Harvey Kuenn is batting for Bob Hendley. The time on the scoreboard is nine forty-four. The date, September the ninth, nineteen sixty-five, and Koufax, working on veteran Harvey Kuenn. Sandy into his windup, and the pitch: a fastball, for a strike.

He has struck out, by the way, five consecutive batters, and that’s gone unnoticed. Sandy ready, and the strike-one pitch: Very high, and he lost his hat. He really forced that one. That’s only the second time tonight where I have had the feeling that Sandy threw instead of pitched, trying to get that little extra, and that time he tried so hard his hat fell off. He took an extremely long stride to the plate and Torborg had to go up to get it.

One and one to Harvey Kuenn. Now he’s ready. Fastball high, ball two. You can’t blame a man for pushing just a little bit now.

Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, and dries it off on his left pants leg, all the while Kuenn just waiting. Now Sandy looks in, into his windup, and the two-one pitch to Kuenn: Swung on and missed, strike two.

It is nine forty-six p.m. Two and two to Harvey Kuenn. One strike away. Sandy into his windup. Here’s the pitch. Swung on and missed, a perfect game!

[Crowd noise for 40 seconds.]

On the scoreboard in right field, it is nine forty-six p.m. in the City of the Angels, Los Angeles, California, and a crowd of twenty-nine thousand, one hundred and thirty-nine just sitting in to see the only pitcher in baseball history to hurl four no-hit, no-run games. He has done it four straight years, and now he capped it: On his fourth no-hitter, he made it a perfect game — and Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flourish. He struck out the last six consecutive batters, so, when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record books, that K stands out even more than the O U F A X.

— Vin Scully, Dodger Stadium, September 9, 1965

Those may be the most lyrical few minutes of baseball you’ll ever hear, Vin Scully’s narration of the last at-bat of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game. It’s hard enough to speak graceful sentences when you’re explaining what you already know and have thought out. Try doing it when you’re reporting what’s happening in front of you at a hundred miles an hour, the approximate speed of Koufax’s fastball.

Scully did more than find pretty good words, though that might have been achievement enough. He gave them his distinctive intonation. Above, you see the sheet music, as it were. Listen to the sound he gave it.

He was blessed with a great radio voice, clear and easy on the ears, and with a certain New York phonetic style — “accent” would be too strong a word — of making English words sound crisper and cleaner than they do in the mouths of some of us from other parts of the country. In the passage above, he twice says “forehead” and pronounces it as one syllable, or maybe a syllable and a quarter. It’s elegant.

Because music is what’s in the silence between the notes, Scully turned the microphone over to the crowd after the last pitch of the game, for 40 long seconds. They weren’t silent, but he was. The dramatic touch was suited to the moment. What a deft move.

He did the same for Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, which he called for NBC TV: “High fly ball, into right field. She is—gone!” and then for the next minute he let the 56,000 fans crammed into Dodger Stadium do the talking. (Gibson had entered the game, two out in the bottom of the ninth, with an injured left hamstring and an injured right knee — a Hail Mary pinch-hitter. Squirming in the left batter’s box, the count one and two, he was “shaking his left leg, making it quiver like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly.”)

Scully’s naming the day, time, and place in the last inning of Koufax’s perfect game 23 years earlier lent his on-air improvisation of that event a stately tone, but that wasn’t his intention. He wanted to provide the dateline and some timestamps, that’s all. As Koufax took his perfect game into the late innings, Scully asked his sound engineer to start taping. (Few game broadcasts were recorded back then.) The idea was to give Koufax the tape as a keepsake and document of his feat.

The voice of the Dodgers for 67 (mostly) sunny seasons, and recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award (40 years ago already) at the Baseball Hall of Fame, within shouting distance of the plaque of fellow Fordham alumnus Frankie Frisch, Vincent Edward Scully died yesterday in Los Angeles, age 94. Requiescat in pace.

Politics & Policy

Los Angeles County to Allow Noncitizens to Hold Government Jobs

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California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks during his meeting with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the California Science Center outside the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, Calif., June 9, 2022. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted, without discussion, last Friday to allow noncitizens to hold government jobs. Because of state and federal law, citizenship requirements will still be required for those seeking to work as a peace officer or for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The motion was penned by chair Hilda L. Solis and supervisor Sheila Kuehl. According to Solis, as of 2018, there were 880,000 noncitizens living in Los Angeles County. Solis pointed out that while noncitizens are able to practice law in California, they are disqualified from the application process because of their noncitizen status.

“Barriers to employment based on cultural, racial, ethnic, or religious characteristics are contrary to our core values. Citizenship overlaps these demographic characteristics,” said Los Angeles County public defender Ricardo García. García continued, “This motion, by Supervisors Solis and Kuehl, will promote equity in hiring and give the Public Defender’s Office access to the most qualified applicants for employment, irrespective of their citizenship status.” 

How allowing noncitizens to hold government jobs will promote equity is unclear.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated for accuracy.

Politics & Policy

Let’s Stop Deferring to Academic ‘Experts’

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Increasingly, Americans turn to academics, especially those with glittering credentials from prestige universities, to guide policy decisions. And that, argues Ben Goldhaber in today’s Martin Center commentary, is a serious mistake.

He writes, “There’s an increasing tendency in mature democracies to outsource policy decisions to ‘non-partisan experts’ from academia. This is often billed as ‘believing the science’ or ‘trusting the experts,’ but, in reality, it’s a means of taking power away from the voting public and its representatives and putting it in the hands of unaccountable third parties.”

We have, for example, turned legislative redistricting over to “experts” only to find that they are biased in favor of one political party.

Goldhaber explains the roots of this problem: “The increasing influence of academic experts in the political process is likely the result of multiple factors, but one of the largest and least acknowledged is the growth in the number of people who are instructed in the ways of academia. We turn out far more master’s degree-holders and PhDs than ever before. While more people with specialized education can help craft good policy, it often comes at the expense of democratic oversight.”

The solution? Don’t rely on just one expert, but solicit input from several and allow the marketplace of ideas to work.

Politics & Policy

The Strange, Scrambled Politics Surrounding Pelosi’s Trip

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House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu before boarding a plane at Taipei Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan, August 3, 2022. (Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout via Reuters )

Nancy Pelosi’s recently completed trip to Taiwan scrambled the usual political lines.

It was odd enough to see Biden and his administration initially opposed, although Biden characterized it as the Pentagon being reticent.

But then a few high-profile Republicans took Biden’s side. Donald Trump rarely agrees with Biden, but Trump asked why Pelosi is visiting and declared she’s “always causing trouble.” Mitt Romney and Trump don’t agree on much, but the Utah senator said Pelosi’ trip was “ill-advised.”

A lot of left-of-center columnists and talking heads found themselves in the strange role of Pelosi critics. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called her visit “utterly reckless, dangerous and irresponsible.” Former senator Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana who served as ambassador to China under President Obama, called the trip a “provocation.” The Washington Post editorial board called the trip “unwise.”

Even CNN’s Stephen Collinson offered the skeptical assessment, “Pelosi’s achievements in Taiwan are largely personal, symbolic and short-term.”

So who supported Pelosi’s decision to visit?

A lot of congressional Republicans, the editors of National Review, the Heritage Foundation, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, former national-security adviser John Bolton, and a whole bunch of other right-of-center voices who are used to denouncing Pelosi. Even Herschel Walker taped a short video, saying her visit “sends a signal to the world that we’re going to stand up to China.” Walker offered to be her escort to Taiwan because “I know what it means to stand up to tough opponents.”

I suppose almost everyone deserves credit for not seeing the issue through the usual partisan lens; left-of-center voices were willing to criticize Pelosi, and right-of-center voices were willing to defend her decision, based on the larger consideration of whether it was worth it for the speaker of the House to make a high-profile demonstration of American support for Taiwan. Vice characterized it as “The GOP Hates China So Much They Are Praising Nancy Pelosi,” but yes, that’s the point; there are forces in this world that we oppose more vehemently and resolutely than our domestic political opponents.

Republicans and conservatives — generally speaking — are bothered more by the idea of the U.S. backing down in the face of threatening messages from Beijing than the risk of a high-profile Democrat getting some bipartisan praise. Democrats and liberals — generally speaking — don’t want to antagonize China in general and particularly don’t want to rock the geopolitical boat anymore, just a few months before a big midterm election. (There also may be some Democrats who believe that when the president says a particular foreign trip is a bad idea, the speaker should acquiesce to the president’s will.)

Politics & Policy

Will Sinema Be the Senate’s Iron Lady?

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) walks to an elevator outside the Senate Chamber in Washington, D.C., May 19, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

It’s been a week since the Schumer–Manchin tax and spending bill was sprung on Congress, and Democrats are worried that Senator Kyrsten Sinema has kept complete radio silence on what she thinks of the bill. According to The Hill:

Manchin left Sinema a message on Monday in hopes of talking to her and explaining why he struck the deal and why she should support it. He tried to catch her on the floor for a conversation during the Monday evening vote, but without success.

Manchin finally tracked down his colleague on Tuesday when she was scheduled to preside over the floor, a duty routinely assigned to more-junior members of the upper chamber.

Television cameras caught Manchin kneeling on the chamber’s blue carpet next to the presiding officer’s desk, seemingly trying to cajole Sinema.

We had a nice time. We had a nice time. Next?” Manchin briefly said to reporters afterward.

Let’s hope Sinema holds firm despite the excruciating pressure she is being subjected to.

Sinema was purposefully excluded from the negotiations that resulted in the bill, but progressives now expect her to march lockstep with them in voting for it. Pointing to her 2024 primary for reelection, Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva, a fellow Arizonan, menacingly says that Sinema “politically doesn’t have a choice” but to support the bill.

That’s not true. John McCain, Sinema’s role model for independence, lost Republican voters in his 2016 primary for reelection in Arizona. He was saved by independents and Democrats who crossed over and voted for him in the open primary. Sinema could pull off that same type of feat in her Democratic primary in 2024.

Her concerns about the Manchin–Schumer bill are genuine. She has been open to many of its provisions. But she has worried that the bill’s 15 percent minimum corporate tax would mostly hit manufacturers who use tax deductions and credits for capital investments and R&D. Sinema has said she won’t vote for tax changes that cost Arizona jobs.

Other Democratic senators share her concerns. The Hill reports that, “A half-dozen Senate Democrats have privately shared concerns about the minimum tax with industry lobbyists, (but) none have publicly come out against the proposal.”

If Sinema forces Schumer and Manchin to reexamine the bill, it won’t be the first time she has allowed her male colleagues to — in her words — “hide behind my skirts.”

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Child Care

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Jack Salmon writes about the drawbacks of federal funding and government regulation of child care:

Romney’s plan is just the most recent episode in a burgeoning and bipartisan effort to expand the role of the federal government in American family affairs. The Biden administration’s American Families Plan includes federally mandated paid leave, a massive expansion in child-care subsidies, and expanded tax credits, much of which was not paid for with corresponding revenue.

But it isn’t just progressive policy-makers who are driving this agenda. Non-left advocacy groups are also calling for these policies to be implemented, while conservative policy-makers have recently introduced legislation to expand Child Tax Credits (CTC) and fund paid leave by pulling from already financially fragile Social Security funds.

However, few of these proposals do anything to address the underlying driver of high child-care costs — namely the dwindling supply of care providers. Instead of throwing money that we just don’t have at the problem, policy-makers would do better to remove the regulatory hurdles that are keeping prices high and potential care workers jobless.

Read the whole thing here.

Health Care

10,000+ Canadian Euthanasia Killings in 2021

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(AVNphotolab/Getty Images)

Canada has gone all in for euthanasia, and it is going to get worse now that the “strict guidelines to protect against abuse” — in the movement’s parlance — have expanded to people with chronic and disabling conditions, and will soon expand to those with dementia and mental illnesses.

The statistics are startling and illustrate that once euthanasia consciousness infects a culture, it grows like a fungus. Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition reports that:

Comparing the Third Annual report (2021) to the Second Annual Report (2020), the report states that there were: 10,064 assisted deaths in 2021 up from 7603 in 2020, 5661 in 2019, 4480 in 2018, 2838 in 2017 and 1018 in 2016.

The report indicates that the number of assisted deaths increased by 32.4% representing 3.3% of all deaths in 2021.

When all data sources are considered, the total of number of (MAiD) reported assisted deaths in Canada from legalization to December 31, 2021 is 31,664.

That’s a huge number. With the newly loosened guidelines fully in effect for 2022, the darkness will only deepen.

A few more thoughts:

  • Some of these people might still be alive had they received sustained suicide prevention treatment. But that essential service is not usually offered to people asking for euthanasia in Canada (nor assisted suicide in the U.S.). This abdication of compassion is a profound abandonment of the despairing ill.
  • Only 15 percent of Canadians have access to quality palliative care — compassionate treatments that can make all the difference in wanting to live or die.
  • In Ontario, doctors have no conscience rights. They must either kill qualified patients who ask to die or find a doctor they know will do the deed — known in the euphemisms so typical of the movement as an “effective referral.”
  • Some people were euthanized out of fear of loneliness caused by Covid lockdowns. In one case, a woman asked to die because of the isolation she would face. Ironically, her family was allowed to attend her death, but not visit as a means of helping her continue on. Moreover, hundreds of people chose death, at least in part, due to fear of loneliness in 2019, a trend that has continued.
  • Canada conjoins euthanasia and organ harvesting, giving the despairing a reason to choose death over life.
  • Beginning in 2023, the mentally ill will be eligible for euthanasia.

Some readers may think that this doesn’t matter because Canada isn’t the U.S. That reaction is truly whistling past the graveyard. Canada is our closest cultural cousin. If it can happen there, it can happen here, too.

And here’s a shocking truth: Nearly 4 million Americans die each year. If the same percentage of people were killed by doctors here as are now in Canada, it would amount to more than 120,000 euthanasia killings per year. And even more, if (when) the law permitted euthanasia/assisted suicide beyond the terminally ill, as will surely happen should the American culture swallow the euthanasia movement’s cultural hemlock.

We had better pay close attention to Canada. Because the same culture of death pathogen is coursing through our national veins, albeit our resistance is stronger. But once a society falls into the cultural abyss, it is very difficult to climb back out.

Politics & Policy

Friend of Liberty — Still

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U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel line the deck of the USS Bataan as it sails past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, May 25, 2022. (Brendan McDermid / Reuters)

Kim Holmes is a veteran foreign-policy hand. He worked at the Heritage Foundation for many years. He was an assistant secretary of state under George W. Bush. Today, he is vice chairman of the Center for International Private Enterprise. And he is my latest guest on Q&A, here.

In our discussion, he is very thoughtful, very shrewd — and very candid. Refreshingly so. There is no pussyfootin’ around, as George C. Wallace used to say. (Wallace’s moment is now. He should be alive.)

Holmes was born in Kentucky and grew up in Florida, along the Space Coast. He watched the rockets to the moon go up from his backyard.

What was it like to grow up as a boy named “Kim”? Not so bad, actually — at least at first. But then “Kim” became a popular name for actresses in Hollywood. And “Kimberly” became a popular name in the country at large — a popular girls’ name.

When I was young, I knew an older man whose first name was “Shirley.” He was a tough guy. A retired FBI agent. One day, he told me, “My life was just fine until that darn Shirley Temple came along.”

In our podcast, Kim Holmes and I talk about a variety of things, including Ukraine, of course. The world’s attention seems to be ebbing. Such is the way of things. There are signs, says Holmes, that Germany and France are eager to get back to business as usual. Britain is different, though. And so is Eastern Europe. The Poles, for example, are strong backers of the Ukrainians.

How about Americans? We are split, says Holmes. Certainly the Republican Party or the Right is. Figures such as Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney represent one view of foreign policy: deterrence, engagement, U.S. leadership, etc. Then you have Josh Hawley, Rand Paul, et al.

Isolationism, always a strain in American life, is resurgent.

There is an obvious moral case for support of Ukraine, says Holmes. There is also a “security case.” He spells this out. If Putin succeeds in Ukraine, the chances of a global war grow. If he fails — if he is pushed out — peace and stability have a much greater chance.

About China, Holmes says many interesting things. One is this: They are having a crisis over COVID. The government could use a distraction — and Taiwan makes a handy one. The government is milking nationalism for all it’s worth. Forget COVID. Shouldn’t we bring this renegade, uppity province to heel and unite our great China?

Kim Holmes is an increasingly rare bird — an old-fashioned American conservative, a Reagan conservative, a champion of free-market liberal democracy. His worldview used to be common on the right. Even standard. Now it is next to weird.

As he explains, he believes in the rule of law, free enterprise, democracy, traditional values, with an accent on virtue. All of these things go together, he says, because of the uniqueness of the American founding and the uniqueness of American history.

Also, the uniqueness of American conservatism. Ours is one of the few conservatisms, he says, with elements of classical liberalism: limited government, free markets. In Europe, conservatisms have almost always been statist, with an emphasis on blood, soil, and class.

“We had a really good thing going, in the American tradition,” says Holmes, “and that’s now being challenged.” It has long been challenged by progressivism; now it is also being challenged by Euro-style rightism.

Holmes draws a fascinating comparison between the 1960s and the 2020s. An apt one, I think. In the ’60s, leftists were impatient with liberals. “Establishment” liberals. These leftists wanted to make their mark in the world. They wanted to turn the world upside down. They were bored with liberal-democratic procedure. They wanted action and excitement, and they wanted it now, baby.

Burn it down.

Today, rightists are challenging conservatives in the same fashion.

In Europe, the Right has traditionally been anti-capitalist, says Holmes. That is because they are anti-liberty. But in America? Many people on the right, says Holmes, have turned against capitalism, because they associate it with the “woke” corporation.

Which is a problem, and an interesting one.

You will hear from people who regard themselves as conservative that the Republican Party ought to be a “workers’ party” and the conservative movement a “workers’ movement.” Kevin McCarthy and Marco Rubio have begun to talk that way, for example. According to Holmes, this has a neo-Marxist air. American conservatism has always been a philosophy for all people, with class grievance left to others.

Besides, has anything in history helped workers and poor people more than free-market democracy? I will put the record of freedom up against that of central planning and social engineering any day.

Many Americans on the right are enamored of Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian leader. They make pilgrimages to him. He will headline CPAC this week. (Ronald Reagan and Mitch Daniels used to be big deals at CPAC!) Kim Holmes is not enamored. Orbán is “bad news on a number of levels,” he says. For one thing, “he’s in bed with Putin,” which alone should be disqualifying.

“I think they’re being fooled,” says Holmes of Orbán fans, or many of them. “I think they’re being played.” Orbán is “a cynic,” says Holmes — not a defender of Christian civilization or any other civilization. He rules through “cronies and oligarchs.” Very familiar.

Toward the end of our podcast, Holmes sticks up for ideas, broadly speaking. Debates over ideas. He sees two scorpions in a bottle: the woke Left and the populist Right. In this bottle, there is very little room for thought, for genuine debate over ideas. What matters is, not ideas, but attitude. Fighting. Tribe.

Does this strike you as true? Kim Holmes is thought-provoking, if nothing else. And he has been in the trenches for a long, long time. Again, to listen to him, go here.

Science & Tech

Dr. Strangelove’s Affair with Siri

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War on the Rocks, a national-defense blog associated with the University of Texas and the Texas National Security Review, has published a fascinating and disturbing article about the development of AI and nuclear-deterrent technologies. The author of the piece, James Johnson, offers the value of such systems while considering the extent to which we should trust AI with nuclear responses.

Johnson writes:

“AI technology” is already fused into military machines, and global armed forces are well advanced in their planning, research and development, and, in many cases, deployment of AI-enabled capabilities.

AI does not exist in a vacuum. In isolation, AI is unlikely to be a strategic game changer. Instead, it will likely reinforce the destabilizing effects of advanced weaponry, thereby increasing the speed of war and compressing the decision-making timeframe. The inherently destabilizing effects of military AI may exacerbate tension between nuclear-armed powers, especially China and the United States, but not for the reasons you may think. 

The Emerging AI-Nuclear Nexus

It is worth considering how advances in AI technology are being researched, developed, and, in some cases, are deployed and operational in the context of the broader nuclear deterrence architecture — early-warning and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; command and control; nuclear weapon delivery systems; and non-nuclear operations.

(Read the rest here.)

As a layman when it comes to nuclear missiles and AI, I can think only of the scene in Dr. Stangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, where Peter Sellers plays the good Dr. Strangelove and explains the suspect practicality of a “doomsday machine” — a device that would automatically and irrevocably trigger a world-ending explosion upon nuclear attack.

I’m sure the lovely people in our R&D departments have their reasons for AI-nuclear integration, but I must admit my reservations are profound. 

Politics & Policy

We Need to Downsize the Federal Government, and Here’s a Good Place to Start

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Roads had always been a state and local concern in America until 1956, when the feds got into it with the interstate highway system, which was supposed to be paid for with the gasoline tax.

It’s time for the feds to get out of the road business, argues economics professor James T. Bennett in this Independent Institute article.

Why? For one thing, much of the money that is supposed to be spent on highways is being diverted to other purposes. Bennett explains that, “In the 1970s, Congress began diverting a portion of the Highway Trust Fund to public mass transit, light rail buses and bike lanes. Today, about 20% of Highway Trust Fund monies are diverted to other purposes. The percentage going to mass transit — 12.8% on average during fiscal years 2010 through 2019, according to the nonpartisan Eno Center for Transportation — is more than two-and-a-half times the percentage of Americans who use mass transit, 40% of whom live in just one city: New York.”

Bennett argues that road building and maintenance should be returned to states, localities, and private enterprise. Doing that would more fairly apportion the costs and improve efficiency.

Politics & Policy

Kansas Is Not a Bellwether on Abortion

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Pro-life activists celebrate outside the Supreme Court as the court rules in the Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning Roe v Wade in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

As Ramesh Ponnuru noted in a post early this morning, pro-lifers in Kansas lost by a large margin last night on a ballot measure that would’ve undone a state supreme court ruling finding a right to abortion in the Kansas constitution.

Abortion supporters have been quick to cast the outcome as an indication that abortion — and, more specifically, the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — will be a major factor in the Democrats’ favor in the midterms. Politico, for instance, characterized the result as “a political earthquake with the potential to reshape the entire midterm campaign.”

This appears to me to be a major misreading of last night’s results. For one thing, it’s fair to say that the question of what the amendment actually would’ve done was somewhat murky for many observers and voters. As I noted in a piece on the ballot initiative last week, opponents of the amendment united in lockstep around the falsehood that a “yes” vote was essentially a vote to ban abortion in Kansas. For instance, a coalition led by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and others in opposition to the amendment branded itself “Kansans for Constitutional Freedom.” In reality, the amendment would’ve taken Kansas back to abortion neutrality, allowing lawmakers to legislate on the issue — though it’s likely that the legislature’s slant would’ve quickly resulted in a much more pro-life status quo than is currently permitted.

In other words, supporters of abortion effectively won the messaging battle. While many Kansans likely opposed the state supreme court ruling finding a right to abortion in the constitution and would prefer more pro-life laws than are currently permitted, they also didn’t like the idea of a total abortion ban, which is how the other side managed to cast the amendment. Given the amendment’s language and the relative murkiness of what it actually would’ve done policy-wise, the outcome doesn’t easily translate into the assumption that Americans across the country are poised to accept what the Democratic Party prefers when it comes to abortion policy.

While I’m certain that Democrats are over-reading last night’s results, I’d also offer pro-lifers two general words of caution in reacting to this news. The first: Don’t allow Republican politicians to consider the outcome in Kansas evidence that being pro-life is electorally toxic. One bad result on a confusing amendment in a state that’s relatively moderate on abortion isn’t indicative of how Americans feel about abortion policy. And the second: Remember that the Democratic Party is deeply out of step with Americans, and its own voters, on abortion. It’s true that most Americans oppose enacting total protections for unborn children, but most Americans also oppose allowing abortion for any reason until birth. This debate is in many ways a messaging battle, and we will be more successful in the long run if we continue to highlight the grotesque extremism of the other side than if we allow them to put us on defense.

U.S.

It’s Not Easy Being a New York City Cop, Cont.

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Check out this scene:

And this guy fighting out of custody with help from bystanders:

And this insane melee:

Economy & Business

The False Dawn for Democrats This Summer

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President Joe Biden speaks to the media as he arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Md., July 20, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Democrats are likely feeling a lot better than they did a month or two ago. Joe Manchin came around on a version of Build Back Better. (Go figure, it seems like Manchin’s problem was the title all along. If you call it the  “Inflation Reduction Act” but keep most of the same stuff in there, he’s fine with it.)

Congress passed a semiconductor bill and a veterans’ health-care bill. Zawahiri is dead, and in Kansas, the right to abortion remains. Republicans have nominated the more controversial options in a lot of statewide primaries.

Democrats are probably telling themselves that they can prevent the midterm election cycle from turning into a metaphorical bloodbath.

But a week from today, the new Consumer Price Index numbers come out, updating our sense of how bad inflation is. Once again, we don’t know what the precise figure is going to be, but we know that the number isn’t going to be good. One projection is 9.2 percent, and Kiplinger expects inflation to remain near 9 percent for the rest of the year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects food prices to keep rising; the department recently stated that, “In 2022, food-at-home prices are predicted to increase between 10.0 and 11.0 percent, and food-away-from-home prices are predicted to increase between 6.5 and 7.5 percent. . . . The ranges for 10 food categories and 4 aggregate categories were revised upward this month. No food price categories were revised downward.” Food banks report longer lines again.

Yes, gas is down nearly 85 cents since the mid July peak of about $5 per gallon. But gas that is $4.15 per gallon is still really high by historical standards! (Biden’s communications team is bragging that, “Nineteen states now offer gas under $4.” Yes, they’re almost all southern states with Republican governors, have easy access to oil refineries, and have low gas taxes.)

When inflation is raging at a 40-year high, and gas and food prices are skyrocketing, the incumbent party is going to get thrashed.

Business

Nervous Consumers and Large Inventories: Tough Times in Retail

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(Mark Makela/Reuters)

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey didn’t reveal much in the way of good cheer last week, falling for the third consecutive month.

Lynn Franco, the Conference Board’s senior director of economic indicators:

 As the Fed raises interest rates to rein in inflation, purchasing intentions for cars, homes, and major appliances all pulled back further in July. Looking ahead, inflation and additional rate hikes are likely to continue posing strong headwinds for consumer spending and economic growth over the next six months.

I doubt if Walmart, which issued its second profit warning in two months last week, would disagree. The company specifically cited the squeeze on consumers from higher gas prices.

Enter the markdowns.

The Financial Times:

An air fryer marked down from $149 to $110; a trampoline discounted by 10 per cent and a set of star-spangled kids’ pyjamas priced at $9 rather than $12: the red “rollback” signs were not hard to find this week at the Walmart Supercenter closest to the retailer’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas . . .

Walmart’s growth was built on aggressively competitive prices and the tempting promotions it calls “rollbacks”. But it is now having to resort to more markdowns than planned, particularly to shift inventory in apparel. At the store on South Walton Boulevard this week, bright yellow balloons marked “clearance” bobbed over $4 T-shirts and $11 Bentonville Tigers sweatshirts . . .

Target warned in May that it would have to discount products and cancel orders to clear excess stock in categories from televisions to outdoor furniture. Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy’s and Gap have admitted to similar inventory troubles in recent months.

Those excess inventories arose in part out of earlier “overordering” in order to avoid being caught out by the post-pandemic supply-chain problems.

Writing in early June about Target’s problems with its inventory management, I quoted an analyst’s comment that the just-in-time mentality was broken for now.

I added this:

That’s probably going to last a while. Major economic trauma can have a ‘scarring’ effect on corporate (and not just corporate) behavior (I wrote about this here and here). There’s a good argument to be made, for example, that the financial crisis led to a long-term reevaluation of risk, a phenomenon that goes some way to explaining the relatively depressed rates of investment activity that followed the financial crisis, and we may see an echo of that as companies begin (at some level) to price in pandemic risk, a risk not many of them had previously considered with any seriousness. The same will almost certainly hold true of supply-chain risk. Over time that will lead to reshoring/nearshoring, but it’s easy to see how the view of what is a prudent level of inventories is going to change over a wide range of industries, at least for now. However, as Target has just reminded us, higher inventories are not without their risks either.

Under the circumstances, it was interesting to read this in the FT:

Several companies, fearing a repeat of the supply chain delays that burnt them last holiday season, have been stocking up early this year.

Mattel, the maker of Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars, reported last week that its inventories were up 43 per cent year on year, for example, while rival Hasbro also had unusually high inventory levels as it stocked up for toymakers’ peak season.

“Importers don’t trust supply chains anymore,” explained Zvi Schreiber, chief executive of logistics booking service Freightos. “Retailers are not taking any risk. If they can afford the inventory, they’re stocking up ready now for the shopping season.”

Retailers might be able to afford the inventory now, but will they able to afford it early next year, if they have made the wrong call?

Nevertheless, scarring apart, it’s easy enough to understand the retailers’ nervousness.

The FT:

Few retailers are betting on congestion ending any time soon, as labour shortages have perpetuated delays, unions remain in negotiations with California’s ports and labour unrest threatens truck and rail disruptions.

For a recent update on that, turn to Capital Matters’ Dominic ‘Mr. Supply Chain’ Pino here, and, for trouble that ill-conceived regulations may be bringing California’s trucking sector, take a look here.

Meanwhile, stocking up on inventory is bringing good times to one, highly specialized sector of the economy.

The FT:

Retailers bringing in products long before the holiday shopping season have to contend with scarce and expensive storage. Prologis, the warehouse leasing company, said last week its average occupancy rate had risen from 96 per cent to 97.6 per cent while rents for newly leased US warehouses were up 54 per cent year on year.

That added cost piles on yet more pressure on retailers, as does this (via the FT):

What holiday demand will look like is in flux, said Vaughn Moore, chief executive of freight forwarding company AIT Worldwide Logistics, noting that two of his large retail clients have downgraded their sales forecasts ahead of the peak annual shopping period.

“The problem is, as we go into the holiday season, they’ve got the wrong stock in the warehouse,” he said, predicting that “slash and burn” sales would be needed to clear old stock and make room for new merchandise.

Whatever Elizabeth Warren might think, retail is not an easy business, even for the big players, but we can be sure that private enterprise will manage it better than the state (it’s worth reading Dominic on this topic here). That’s just as true when government steps in, as seems may well soon be the case, through an aggressive reinterpretation of antitrust.

In an inflationary era, I didn’t think that this was great news.

The Wall Street Journal, July 15:

Amazon.com Inc has started drastically reducing the number of items it sells under its own brands, and the company has discussed the possibility of exiting the private-label business entirely to alleviate regulatory pressure, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sports

R.I.P. Vin Scully

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Former Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully before game two of the 2017 World Series against the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

The most beloved voice in American broadcast died Tuesday, August 2. Vin Scully was the radio voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then moved with the team to Los Angeles in 1957, broadcasting on both radio and television. His tenure began in 1950 and ended in 2016, when he was 88 years old. It is by far the longest in sports history.

Of course, this career gave him a front row seat to the racial integration of baseball. You can listen to his call of the final three outs of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game on September 9, 1965. The mound, “the loneliest place in the world.”

There is his call of Kurt Gibson’s famous home run off Dennis Eckersly in 1988:  “In a year that has been so improbable . . . the impossible has happened!”

Scully also routinely was brought in to call playoff and World Series games that did not involve the Dodgers. See his call of Mookie Wilson’s hit past Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series: “Little roller up along first. Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!”

Even late in his broadcast life, well into his 80s, he was simply masterly. YouTube has a beautiful compilation of him calling every single out in Clayton Kershaw’s June 2014 no-hitter

Scully prepared for his games, until the very end. What made him great was not just his genuinely lyrical sense for the game, or his lightly philosophical digressions, it was also his appreciation of his place in the entire soundscape of baseball. His voice would rise to ride on top of a crowd that was starting to froth. He would take the quiet moments of baseball and give simple — suspenseful — narration to what players on the field were doing to cope with their own nerves. Scully understood, like great musicians, the value of silence. Sometimes the noise of a ball snapping into leather, of a bat cracking, and a crowd roaring in exultation is poetry enough.

Scully had a devout but unshowy Catholic faith. He was a communicant at St. Jude the Apostle in Westlake Village, California. Though he often said he was richly blessed by God in life, it was was not a life untroubled. His first wife, Joan Crawford died of an accidental medical overdose in 1972 at age 35. He would later marry Sandra Hunt. His eldest son, Michael, died in a helicopter crash at the age of 33. Scully had four children, two stepchildren, 16 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He was 94 years old.

For more than a half century, Vin Scully’s voice was carried through the golden and languorous evenings of Southern California, beaming in to the cars, and kitchens, and living rooms of millions of Dodgers fans. To describe this is to describe something like the genius and zenith of American civilization. With that voice, he made millions of Dodger fans and millions of others, his friends. How lucky were they and we to have had him so long as we did.

Politics & Policy

The Pro-Life Defeat in Kansas

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A sign reading “Value Them Both Amendment” is seen hanging on a door in Lenexa, Kansas City, Kansas, July 12, 2022. (Gabriella Borter/Reuters)

The lopsided result in the referendum is an illustration of first-mover advantage. Kansas (where I grew up) is by no means a pro-life state, but it would probably never have adopted a sweeping abortion-protective constitutional amendment by popular vote. Once the state’s high court effectively amended the state constitution by itself, though, dislodging its mini-Roe by referendum became — as the result suggests — impossible.

That it didn’t work really shouldn’t be surprising. If we held national referenda, one on abolishing Roe in favor of some policy regime TBD would almost certainly have lost in most states. Pro-lifers by and large understood that the polls in favor of Roe didn’t mean Americans were deeply committed to an abortion regime as expansive as the one Roe actually entailed.

So here. The result is bad news, but supporters of the abortion license are giddily overreading it. The instant line is that the result shows that a backlash to Dobbs will be powerful this November. And it’s true that the referendum appears to have driven turnout in the state. This suggests to me a few potential advantages for pro-abortion Democrats this fall. They can do very well in places where a pro-life referendum is on the ballot, especially one that can be presented as effectively banning abortion without exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape; and maybe also in some places where legislators are on the verge of enacting such bans (or can be presented as being on the verge of it).

Will they be as successful in turning out their vote in the many places where those conditions are not present? Tuesday night’s result in Kansas will yield Democratic confidence about the answer to that question. It could turn out to be overconfidence.

And even in Kansas, I think pro-lifers ought to come back in a few years with another ballot initiative, this one establishing a gestational limit on abortion: at fifteen weeks, for example. There is no reason pro-lifers should take this deeply disappointing vote as the last word anywhere.

World

Stories amid the Terror

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A woman visits the tomb of her relative, a Ukrainian serviceman who was killed in a fight against Russian troops, on the Day of Ukrainian Statehood in Lviv, July 28, 2022. (Pavlo Palamarchuk / Reuters)

It’s good to know a few names — a few individuals — so that the dead are not just an undifferentiated mass. No one gives a damn about masses. People care about people.

Children’s neurologist Pavlo Kovalchuk, who suffered severe burns as the result of the russian missile attack on Vinnytsia, succumbed to wounds after the three-week struggle. This is an unbearable horror & a big loss for the community of Ukrainian children’s doctors. RIP

The above is a tweet from Olena Halushka, a civil-society leader in Ukraine. Accompanying the tweet is a picture of Dr. Kovalchuk.

“Husband, son, father, angel: A Ukrainian family mourns its hero.” That is the heading over an article by Scott Peterson, of the Christian Science Monitor. The subject of the article is Oleksandr Palahniuk (and his family). What a man.

A report from the New York Times begins,

The first air raid alarm rang out over Mykolaiv at 1:01 a.m. and for the next four hours, explosions thundered as Russian missiles rained down on this already battered southern port city.

By dawn, a hotel, a sports complex, two schools, a service station and scores of homes were in ruins and emergency crews raced between blast sites were working to establish the full casualty count. But one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, Oleksiy Vadaturskyi, and his wife were among the dead . . .

Some more:

Tributes to Mr. Vadaturskyi — who had been declared a “Hero of Ukraine” more than a decade ago for his contributions to society — poured in from across the country as news of his death spread. . . .

Mr. Vadaturskyi made his fortune in the agricultural industry: His company, Nibulon, has built storage facilities and infrastructure necessary for exporting grain.

A little more:

He was killed just as the first shipments of grain since the beginning of the war in Ukraine were being loaded onto freighters at Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea after a monthslong blockade.

A friend of mine — a Ukrainian — was e-mailing me about some musical matters. She said,

We have lost songwriters and singers on the frontlines of the war. Just last week, a songwriter for one of my favorite rock groups, Kozak System, was killed.

That was Hleb Babich.

• In mid April, President Biden used the word “genocide” to describe Russia’s depredations in Ukraine. “It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being a Ukrainian.” A lot of people didn’t like this, at all. (Biden’s statement, I mean.) To others, the statement looked like a simple recognition of reality.

Let me recommend a piece by Adrian Karatnycky, a former president of Freedom House: “Putin’s Genocidal War: The West cannot allow the attempted destruction of the Ukrainian people and their state to succeed.” Let me also recommend a piece by National Review’s Andrew Stuttaford: “Putin’s Genocide in Ukraine: Moscow wants to destroy the Ukrainian people, as such.”

• Anyone who turns away from the news can hardly be blamed. The turners-away, I don’t particularly mind. The deniers, obfuscators, and outright Putinists, I do.

Here is an unbearable article, from RFE/RL. The heading: “‘Worse Than Azovstal.’” The article begins,

Relatives of defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol hold a rally in Kyiv on July 30 demanding that Russia be designated as a terrorist state following the deaths of Ukrainian POWs in a deadly attack on a prison in Olenivka.

On July 29, Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, issued this statement:

Today’s shelling of a POW/filtration camp is absolutely repugnant. Along with reports of barbaric, inhuman treatment of POWs by Russian forces. We need accountability, and Ukraine needs the means to defend itself against such horrors perpetrated on its territory.

Yes.

Another unbearable article — a long report — by a team from the Associated Press: “‘The mouth of a bear’: Ukrainian refugees sent to Russia.” Unbearable. Deeply reported. And important.

• A terrorist state, yes. “We see all the brutality of Russian forces, that actually resemble a lot of ISIS, who we have been always calling a terrorist organization,” said the Latvian foreign minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, to Politico. “Let’s call a spade a spade.”

Further, “If we condemn countries like Iran, Russia is not different.”

Here is an article about Estonia — Estonia and Ukraine — by Michael Weiss, of New Lines.

Estonia has donated almost 40% of its annual military budget to Ukraine and more than 0.8% of its gross domestic product, higher than any other nation per capita. It is a contribution made all the more impressive when one considers that Spain, a much larger and wealthier country, hasn’t given Ukraine a single item of heavy weaponry in 2022. Estonia has provided howitzers, armored personnel carriers, mine-resistant vehicles and hundreds of Javelin anti-tank missiles.

• I would like to credit the essayist, but the essay appears in The Economist, which does without bylines. In any case, an outstanding essay, powerful in explanation: “Vladimir Putin is in thrall to a distinctive brand of Russian fascism: That is why his country is such a threat to Ukraine, the West and his own people.”

To be read and even studied.

• A report from RFE/RL:

Well-known post-Soviet reformer Anatoly Chubais, who left Russia following the Kremlin invasion of Ukraine, is reported to be in intensive care in a European hospital.

Yup. From one point of view, it is amazing he has lived this long . . .

(Kira Yarmysh, of Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption organization, commented, “No one really doubts that Chubais was poisoned.”)

• Matteo Salvini, the Italian rightist, is one of the most ardent Putinists in Western Europe. He is a darling of the crowd that bills itself as “national conservative” — the crowd that exalts Viktor Orbán, over in Hungary. The latest on the Italian can be read in this article from France 24: “Italy’s Salvini under scrutiny over Russia ties in wake of government collapse.”

I loved the understatement of this sentence: “Salvini has long admired Russian President Vladimir Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Putin’s face, a stance that has become politically difficult since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.”

Salvini and his party-mates started a “Friends of Putin” group in the Italian parliament. They also signed a “friendship and cooperation agreement” with Putin’s party (“party”).

They are a little abashed at the moment, but only a little. As a rule, they are out and proud — which I, for one, prefer to the sneaky sort of Putinism. Give me the out-and-proud over the sneaks any day.

• Reports CBS News,

The U.S. received more than 100,000 Ukrainians in roughly five months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fulfilling President Biden’s pledge of providing a temporary safe haven to those displaced as part of the largest refugee exodus since World War II . . .

(Full article here.)

Obviously, the acceptance of refugees does not sit well with a lot of people. But it does with me. America being America.

Long may she, we, wave.

Film & TV

Can Andor Keep Star Wars Interesting?

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Diego Luna as Cassian Andor in the new trailer for Andor. (Disney)

Yesterday, Lucasfilm released a new trailer for Andor, the next Star Wars series bound for Disney+:

Andor is a prequel to a prequel. Set between episodes III (Revenge of the Sith) and IV (A New Hope), and five years before the events of Rogue One (Episode 3.5, if you like), it will explore a perspective new to Star Wars: how different people and planets became part of the burgeoning rebellion against the Empire’s increasingly tight grip on the galaxy. The series promises to be filled with danger, deception, and intrigue, and to explore the journey that led Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to become the rebel hero seen in Rogue One.

Andor will feature new (Stellan Skarsgaard as Luthen) and familiar faces (Forest Whittaker as Saw Gerrera, last seen in Rogue One but introduced in Star Wars Rebels) as supporting characters. The trailer promises plenty of gritty exploration of the reality of conflict. Just one dialogue exchange is revealing. The rebel veteran Gerrera says he is working “for the greater good.” Luthen responds, “Call it what you will.” To which Gerrera solemnly replies, “Let’s call it . . . war.”

Tony Gilroy — who was brought in for script-doctoring, reshoots, and editing on Rogue One — will lead the series as its showrunner. The studio seems confident in Gilroy’s Midas touch on this era of the franchise, as Andor received twelve episodes instead of the usual six or eight. A second season is already confirmed.

For a while, it felt like The Mandalorian was the top draw for new Disney+ subscribers, much like Stranger Things is for Netflix. But, after the less favorably received series The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi, it seems decision-makers at Disney are looking to Gilroy & Co. to shoulder a heavy burden in carrying one of the largest franchise’s live-action series. Even with the series in these seemingly capable hands, one question continues to percolate among loyal fans and skeptics alike: Why?

With each new property, Star Wars grapples with the problem of confusing its audience with what can or cannot be considered “canon.” After the original trilogy, Star Wars media exploded with animated shows like The Clone Wars, Rebels, The Bad Batch, and many more. Some of this media would eventually be considered canon to the greater universe, while others, like the original Thrawn book trilogy, were not.

This created a problem for Disney and Lucasfilm. Too much additional content could make Star Wars fandom overwhelming and complicated. This is why the franchise has stayed on so many pre- and post-Empire stories, trying to clarify exactly what happened during these crucial periods. While it is understandable, it has also impeded the franchise’s ability to grow. The most-common criticisms cited about focusing on these same parts of the timeline center around predictability and lack of universe expansion.

For instance, although fans and critics were thrilled to see Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen reprise their roles as Kenobi and Darth Vader, respectively, in Obi-Wan Kenobi, many critics wondered if it was necessary to revisit the two characters.

The Mandalorian avoided these issues by introducing new characters and putting most of its focus on the character of Mando and his relationship with the Child/Grogu. But even The Mandalorian, as brilliant as it is, still has the flaw that its events seem irrelevant to the larger universe. Moreover, even the new characters introduced outside the sequel trilogy have their origins tied to the Empire or the Rebellion in some fashion.

The problem with this approach is that these characters rely on events that we, the audience, have already seen play out, reducing the stakes and making all this content seem unoriginal. And that is a shame. These are dynamic, exciting characters who should be captivating audiences with ideas about what the Star Wars universe could contain, not what we know it already has.

The shows and movies could be free to explore all new galaxies and characters, examine the political upheaval following the fall of the First Order, and tackle stories of day-to-day life on distant planets, all without having to shoehorn in characters or a rebellion dynamic. The possibilities are endless.

Unfortunately, an exploration into such a story will have to wait. Until that day comes, all eyes now turn to Diego Luna and his costars to make the known entertaining. We’ll see if they succeed when the first three episodes of Andor premiere on Disney+ on September 21.

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Ukraine Blame-Laying Effort Enters a New Phase

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Left: President Joe Biden at the White House in March. Right: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint news conference in Kyiv in April. (Kevin Lamarque, Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Thomas Friedman reports, based on conversations with senior administration officials: “Privately, U.S. officials are a lot more concerned about Ukraine’s leadership than they are letting on. There is deep mistrust between the White House and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — considerably more than has been reported.”

Perhaps those conversations are now taking place to a degree previously unknown, but those in Kyiv have understood for several weeks now that President Biden is preparing to blame them if the war effort collapses. In fact, he already started to do so in June, as I reported at the time:

Senior Ukrainian officials believe that President Biden is ramping up an effort to fault Kyiv for failing to heed his pre-invasion warning about Russian war plans — and thus deflect from his administration’s own inability to deter the invasion, a former U.S. official who speaks regularly with top Ukrainian officials told National Review.

They’re furious about this new rhetorical tack, according to the source, because they believe that the White House declined to take meaningful action to deter the Russian assault in late 2021 and earlier this year…

During remarks at a Democratic fundraiser Friday in Los Angeles, Biden reportedly said that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky failed to listen to his warnings about the imminent Russian invasion. “Nothing like this has happened since World War II. I know a lot of people thought I was maybe exaggerating,” he said, according to an Associated Press report. “But I knew we had data to sustain” the prediction that Putin “was going to go in, off the border.” He added, “There was no doubt, and Zelensky didn’t want to hear it.”…

In an interview this week, the former U.S. government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that officials in Kyiv see Biden’s remarks as the “start of a process to lay blame on them.”

Earlier today, Jim Geraghty wrote that there are two possibilities: Either the Biden administration wants to pressure Zelensky to negotiate an end to the war, or that it is “preparing to use Zelensky as a scapegoat.”

The latter seems increasingly true, as the blame-laying process continues. The former possibility also cannot be dismissed outright.

Film & TV

Don’t Say ‘No’ to Nope

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Steven Yeun in Nope (Screenshot via Universal Studios/YouTube)

National Review’s film critics Ross Douthat and Armond White have each written critically (imagine that) about Jordan Peele’s latest film, Nope. Douthat considers it “a polarizing movie, with reactions and reviews all over the place,” saying that this “makes sense once you see it, because the movie contains enough grist to furnish several different mills.” White writes that the movie “deconstructs movieland history as a fable, like Quentin Tarantino did in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” but feels that “Nope’s junk pile of references combines movie and TV lore to no particular effect.” While neither is wrong in his critique of the movie, it remains well worth a watch as a spectacle. In fact, Nope is probably the best summer movie outside of Top Gun. If horrific suspense is your flavor, you’d be hard-pressed to find better. 

To be clear, I’m no Foucault-quoting, graduate-level film critic referencing movies you’ve never seen. I’m a populist moviegoer: me like spectacle, me like bass-y rumble, and me enjoy big-screen ability to transport audience away from me-self while movie clerk fetch food. Nope achieves that end. It’s a movie about film, family legacy, and Hollywood’s entrenched insanity. It depicts OJ and Emerald Haywood, an African-American horse-husbanding sibling duo professionally tethered to Los Angeles; the Haywoods are struggling to avoid bankruptcy following their father’s mysterious death. If you’ve spent any time in southern California, you’ve met the living cognates of these characters — pretentious filmmaker, foolish hustler, taciturn rancher. It’s California on a stick; I love it.

Thankfully, Nope refrains from the nauseating wokeness of Peele’s earlier movies. (Peele is best known for his freshman offering Get Out, a politically charged indictment of white liberalism.) The writing is realist, with Daniel Kaluuya (as OJ) and Keke Palmer (as Emerald) turning in fabulously contrary performances, his stoic, hers obstreperous. While Emerald is evidently bisexual, there’s nothing gratuitous about that fact — she’s a flirty, free-loving California girl, and it’s alluded to as a matter of course. Other than that, the director allows the audience to doff their political baggage at the door. 

Nope is a perfect summer movie. It bumps up the heart rate with moments where your date will squeeze your hand with anticipation; the thrills are measured, and the writing never falters. It’s not one for kids by any stretch — take them to DC League of Super-Pets, a movie that’s far better than it has any right to be — and keep Nope for date night. I promise it’ll have you talking about it, at least until you get home and find other fun things to do. 

Regulatory Policy

The Only Good Part of the Manchin–Schumer Deal Isn’t Included in the Reconciliation Bill

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U.S.Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., August 2, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Joe Manchin’s deal with Chuck Schumer on the so-called Inflation Reduction Act is bad for many reasons. Just in the past few days here at NR, you can read:

  • John McCormack on how the Obamacare expansion in the bill uses a budget gimmick to make it look cheaper than it really is.
  • Caroline Downey on how the Penn Wharton Budget Model finds that the bill would actually increase inflation slightly in the short run and only decrease it slightly a few years from now.
  • Kevin Williamson on the hidden gas-tax increase in the agreement.
  • Ryan Ellis on how the bill won’t actually reduce the deficit as it claims.
  • Joe Bishop-Henchman on why the IRS funding is misguided.
  • Rich Lowry and the editors on why the whole thing isn’t even smart politics.

But there is a solitary good idea in this mess of an agreement: environmental-permitting reform. James Broughel argues for these provisions today in Forbes:

For example, permitting reforms worked out as part of the deal should speed up National Environmental Policy Act reviews and limit some harmful effects of litigation, both of which tend to slow down development projects or all sorts. Progressives are sometimes leery of these kinds of reforms, but clearing regulatory backlogs speeds up renewable energy projects, along with coal and natural gas ones too.

Manchin also wants to see the Mountain Valley Pipeline completed. It’s been in a bureaucratic holding pattern for months due to opposition from environmentalists, but it may actually be good for carbon emissions as natural gas displaces some coal and heating oil use.

Less paperwork leading to more pipelines would be great news. Any Democratic embrace of supply-side economics is welcome.

The problem is that these reforms aren’t included in the reconciliation bill that Democrats want to pass. Schumer has agreed with Manchin that Democrats will support them after they pass the reconciliation bill with all the taxes and spending. That gives other Democrats the chance to screw over Manchin by reneging after they get what they want.

There’s a case to be made that permitting reform would have a meaningful revenue impact and therefore would be allowed to be included in the reconciliation bill. But most Democrats likely would not support it, as they are ideologically opposed to easier pipeline construction.

Republicans, of course, are in favor, and Marco Rubio is trying to force a vote on the permitting reforms. Today he said he will submit an amendment to the reconciliation bill that includes these reforms, which would force senators to vote on that before voting on the bill as a whole. If it passes, great news. If it doesn’t, it will show that the Schumer–Manchin deal is even more of a farce than it already is.

Music

Arcade Fire’s Latest Album: Not as Memorable, but Certainly Admirable

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Arcade Fire performs at the Capitol Records building in Hollywood in 2013. (Gene Blevins/Reuters)

Writing in the Spectator World, Alexander Larman praises Arcade Fire’s latest album, We, as a “return to form.” “We has proved, once again, that Arcade Fire is still capable of a joyful noise,” Larman argues, returning to the biblical allusion that he used to describe the band’s earlier work.

As a fan of Arcade Fire, especially Funeral, the band’s debut album, and The Suburbs, arguably its best, I really, really wanted to like We. I’d been looking forward to its release in May and listened almost as soon as it became available. Unfortunately, aside from some stand-out moments on individual tracks and some profound lyrical work, We just washed right over me. I forgot about it almost instantly. And so, out of mercy to one of my favorite bands of this century that’s still producing new material, I simply declined to say anything about the album.

Larman, however, has forced me to reassess my own feelings about We. Having re-listened to it, I still mostly stand by my initial assessment, though with some movement toward greater appreciation. Larman is right to identify “End of Empire” as the “centerpiece” of the album. He describes it as a “a multipart epic orchestral ballad that owes a substantial debt to the Beatles and John Lennon,” so it’s no wonder I like it best of the album’s tracks. Alas,  the band’s gift for crafting tunes that both push you and stick with you is muted, or absent. So many tracks from prior albums are instantly recallable; I’m not sure any song from We reaches this status.

Where I will give We credit is that it shows Arcade Fire with its heart on its sleeve. That’s been a trait of the band from its start, of course. Funeral‘s emotionally charged mix of mourning the loss of the past and embracing adulthood was inspired by band members having lost family before its recording. Neon Bible was a kind of Iraq War–era cri de coeur. And The Suburbs was a powerfully wistful recollection of childhood in subdivisions. So it’s not unusual for an Arcade Fire album to be so emotionally explicit about something: in this case, the state of the consumerist, information-drenched world.

In praising We, Larman compares it unfavorably with Everything Now, the band’s last album, which he says “was a selection of solipsistic and often irritating songs that were so deeply in love with their own metaphorical conceit . . . that they neglected to have anything so vulgar as tunes or thought-provoking lyrics attached.” But I see a thematic consonance between the two works. The main difference between the former’s lamenting of “infinite content” and the latter’s simple, powerful rejoinder to modernity — “I unsubscribe” — is one of degree, not of kind. Or perhaps of superior execution. The moral universe of We seems more coherent and specific in its challenge to our “age of anxiety,” to borrow the opening track’s title. There is a spirit of defiance against the age and its defects in the album’s lyrics, and a desire to return to things that matter more.

So even though Arcade Fire’s latest album just doesn’t stick with me as I wish it would, I certainly admire its spirit. And I share Larman’s hope that Arcade Fire, “representing a heroic last stand for a kind of artistry that is now an endangered species,” might “restore some sanity to the world, even now.” Goodness knows we can’t expect most of the band’s ”peers” in the music industry to do it.

Law & the Courts

The Transgender Serial Killer

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(Photos597/Getty Images )

“How did a two-time killer get out to be charged again at age 83?” reads a recent New York Times headline.

In the first two paragraphs of the story, Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Ali Watkins set the scene. In 2019, “the person before the parole panel” — later “the supplicant,” “the murderer,” and “the inmate” — was someone who “had spent decades in prison, first for shooting a girlfriend dead in 1963, and then for stabbing another in 1985, stuffing her corpse into a bag and leaving it in Central Park.” The panel granted the request for release.

The person in question, we learn, is Marceline Harvey, “a transgender woman who transitioned at some point after her release from prison.” Which means that in 2019 Harvey was standing before his parole panel unambiguously as a man.

Two and a half years after being released, Harvey was charged with killing Susan Leyden, 68.

Later, we learn how “a homeless shelter worker and people close to Ms. Leyden questioned whether, despite her gender identity, Ms. Harvey should have been placed in a homeless shelter for women, given her history of attacking and murdering them.” This is immediately followed by the writers’ assurance that “transgender people are far more likely to become victims of violence, not perpetrators, and data from the National Center for Transgender Equality suggests more than half of transgender people who stay in shelters encounter harassment.”

But back to the real point of the story — not one, but two occasions of early release and repeat offending.

At the age of 14, Harvey Marcelin attempted to rape an eight-year-old girl. At 24, in 1963, Marcelin attempted rape again and shot his girlfriend “point blank in their crowded Manhattan apartment, chased her as she staggered through the kitchen and living room, and shot her twice more before she collapsed.” He was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life but released 20 years later. Two years later, in 1985, he killed another girlfriend by stabbing her over 30 times. After another 35 years behind bars, in 2019, Marcelin was let out again whereupon he sought “placement in city shelters” in the Bronx.

The writers report that the nurse practitioner, Anne Brennan, who ran the intake interview at the shelter “said she told Ms. Harvey that placing her in a women’s shelter seemed like a bad idea, given her history of killing women.” Yet despite Brennan’s objections, “her supervisors allowed Ms. Harvey entry.”

“Apparently his feelings and identity were far more important than all the other women that were terrified of him,” she said.

Julia Savel, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Social Services, said rules were followed.

“Our policy — in accordance with the law — is to place individuals in shelters based on their reported gender identity,” she said. “Being homeless or transgender does not make you inherently violent and are not connected to the crime that was committed.” [Emphasis added]

The point is not that Marcelin was homeless or transgender-identifying but that he is a man with a criminal history of attempted rape and murdering women. Given his freedom, Marcelin struck again, killing Susan Leyden, chopping her up, and dumping her remains in a bag in East New York.

Politics & Policy

‘Conversion Therapy’

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I have a new piece out at the Spectator on “conversion therapy.”

World

Why Pelosi Did It, in Her Own Words

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Speaker Pelosi (D., Calif.) speaks at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Nancy Pelosi faced significant resistance to her Taiwan travel plans, from the White House to the Chinese foreign ministry. Senior administration officials sought to deter her from making the trip, briefing her on the risks, while Communist Chinese propagandists huffed and puffed about potentially shooting down the plane on which she would travel to Taiwan.

The House speaker landed this morning, defying the naysayers and, not for the first time in her career, sticking it to the Chinese Communist Party. But she did not do so as a provocation but rather to support the party’s apparent next intended victim.

In a Washington Post op-ed released after her landing in Taipei, she explained the rationale for her trip. Supporting Taiwan is, she wrote, about standing with its 23 million people “but also to millions of others oppressed and menaced by the PRC”:

Thirty years ago, I traveled in a bipartisan congressional delegation to China, where, in Tiananmen Square, we unfurled a black-and-white banner that read, “To those who died for democracy in China.” Uniformed police pursued us as we left the square. Since then, Beijing’s abysmal human rights record and disregard for the rule of law continue, as President Xi Jinping tightens his grip on power.

The CCP’s brutal crackdown against Hong Kong’s political freedoms and human rights — even arresting Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen — cast the promises of “one-country, two-systems” into the dustbin. In Tibet, the CCP has long led a campaign to erase the Tibetan people’s language, culture, religion and identity. In Xinjiang, Beijing is perpetrating genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities. And throughout the mainland, the CCP continues to target and arrest activists, religious-freedom leaders and others who dare to defy the regime.

We cannot stand by as the CCP proceeds to threaten Taiwan — and democracy itself.

Pelosi gets it. Deterring the Chinese party-state calls for partnering with all its victims and targets — and deterring aggression early.

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that Americans are ultimately in the PLA’s crosshairs. For years, the party has exercised vast influence over American business and culture to soften U.S. impressions of its totalitarian rule. It has exploited U.S. financial markets to fuel its military buildup and transfer American tech toward those aims. Anything that begins in the Taiwan Strait will not end there, and deterrence, while it is still possible, remains Washington’s best option.

The Chinese Communist Party has already indicated that it will respond to Pelosi’s trip with fury. Chinese state media announced that the PLA will conduct live-fire exercises around Taiwan from August 4-7. Prior to Pelosi’s arrival, Beijing already announced a series of retaliatory trade measures. Hackers, presumably from the PLA, also took the Taiwanese president’s website offline for 20 or so minute this morning.

But again, this trip is not a provocation. Pelosi is traveling abroad, as is her prerogative as a member of Congress, and as plenty of lawmakers have done in recent months. Chinese officials are linking their military exercises and other threats to Pelosi’s visit, but only the Leninist zealots in Beijing are in the wrong here. Americans ought not forget that.

Elections

Eric Schmitt Has the Momentum in Missouri

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Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks during a news conference a in Washington, D.C., April 26, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

It’s primary day in the Show Me State, and the closely watched battle between the top three contenders — Missouri’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, U.S. representative Vicky Hartzler, and scandal-plagued former governor Eric Greitens — for the GOP Senate candidacy draws to a close. According to the latest Trafalgar Group poll, Schmitt leads Eric Greitens by 13 points and Vicky Hartzler by 16 points. In a KMOV-TV/SurveyUSA poll conducted last week, Schmitt leads Greitens by eight points and Hartzler by 15 points.

Schmitt has made a name for himself as a fighter. “I am the real America First candidate,” Schmitt tells National Review in a written statement. If elected, Schmitt says that he will take a “blow torch to Biden’s radical agenda.”

Former president Trump issued an ambiguous endorsement of “ERIC” yesterday, publishing a statement from his Save America PAC. Dan McLaughlin called Trump’s move “cowardly and contemptible.” McLaughlin said, “Trump knows perfectly well how this will play, and that it allows him to claim a win later while putting nothing at risk, neither his skill at picking winners nor his standing with the transgressive voters who prefer Greitens precisely because he is a man of visibly bad character.”

Greitens tweeted in response, “I’m honored to receive President Trump’s endorsement. From the beginning, I’ve been the true MAGA Champion fighting against the RINO establishment backing Schmitt. President Trump said it best when he characterized Schmitt’s campaign as ‘great dishonesty in politics.’” Greitens has the backing of Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is the national co-chair of his Senate campaign and perhaps just as importantly, the fiancée of Donald Trump Jr.

Schmitt also claimed the endorsement, tweeting, “I’m grateful for President Trump’s endorsement. As the only America First candidate who has actually fought for election integrity, border security & against the Left’s indoctrination of our kids — I’ll take that fight to the Senate to SAVE AMERICA!” 

Schmitt alluded to political corruption in Washington, D.C., saying, “Voters are tired of their elected officials lying to them and using their time in office to enrich their family.” Schmitt believes his record proves he is “the true conservative in this race who takes on the tough fights and does not back down.” 

Some Republicans are rallying behind Schmitt as they try to ensure that Greitens does not become the GOP Senate nominee in Missouri. Republicans, including Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts, are donating money to the anti-Greitens Show Me Values PAC that is running TV ads against Greitens focused on the allegations of spousal abuse against him. The Show Me Values PAC has reported having spent almost $3.9 million to the FEC so far. According to the Independent, the vast majority of that money was spent on ads highlighting Greitens’s more recent scandals and accusing him of being soft on China.

For his part, Schmitt doesn’t mince words when describing his opponents. Greitens, in Schmitt’s view, “quit on our state and abused his wife and kid. He quit on Missouri once and will quit on Missouri again when the work becomes too hard and the pressure too much for him to handle.” 

Eric Greitens was leading the pack until June, when Schmitt started beating him in the polls. Greitens, as Schmitt alluded to, is mired in scandals. He resigned from the governor’s office only one and a half years into his term after he was found to be having an affair with a hairdresser whom he allegedly threatened to blackmail with nude photos if she exposed their relationship to the public. While Greitens acknowledges the affair took place, he denies blackmailing the hairdresser. Greitens was charged with a felony for the blackmail scandal as well as with a felony for improperly taking a donor list from a non-profit that he created to use in his campaign for governor. Moreover, this spring, Greitens’ ex-wife, Sheena Greitens, filed a sworn affidavit that Eric had assaulted her and their three-year-old son. The criminal charges against Greitens have been dropped, and he claims he has been exonerated. 

In June, Greitens released a highly contentious campaign ad that showed him going “RINO [Republican In Name Only] hunting.” In the ad, Greitens holds a shotgun and says, “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice.” Schmitt told NR that, based on that ad, Greitens “should seek professional help.” 

Schmitt says he has aggressively taken on the Biden administration and liberal policies as attorney general, although many lawsuits he has filed have been unsuccessful. He attempted to sue China over Covid-19. Schmitt sued 47 school districts in Missouri for mandating masks in the classroom. He also filed a lawsuit against St. Louis just last week for passing an ordinance to assist women in getting abortions out of state. Furthermore, Schmitt has filed a number of lawsuits regarding vaccine mandates and immigration. Schmitt touted his record as attorney general to NR: “I have beaten back Joe Biden’s radical open-border policies, stopped attempts to stifle free speech, sued to end Fauci’s COVID mandates, fought for election integrity, stood up to China, and much more.”

The momentum seems to be with Schmitt leading into today’s election. Trump’s strange endorsement of “ERIC” — which voters can interpret any way they please — will probably not make much of a difference, but like Trump, it’s another wild card. “We need more reinforcements in Washington willing to fight for their constituents,” says Schmitt. “I have a record of fighting and winning for our freedom and for Missouri families.” 

Politics & Policy

Kansas Votes on Abortion and the State Constitution Today

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A sign reading “Value Them Both Amendment” is seen hanging on a door in Lenexa, Kansas City, Kansas, July 12, 2022. (Gabriella Borter/Reuters)

Three years ago, the Kansas supreme court held that the state’s constitution prohibited a state law generally banning the most common second-trimester abortion procedure (dilation and evacuation) in which a baby’s body is torn apart in the womb. The state supreme court declared in 2019 that the state constitution had created a “fundamental” right to abortion in 1859 with language echoing the Declaration of Independence: “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Today, Kansas voters head to the polls to vote on the “Value Them Both” amendment, which says that the Kansas constitution “​​does not create or secure a right to abortion.” If the amendment passes, the legislature would be able to enact legislation limiting or generally banning abortion in the state.

Polling has been sparse, but the most recent public survey showed a close race with 47 percent supporting the amendment, 43 percent opposed, and 10 percent undecided. Although Joe Biden lost the state in 2020 by 14 points, a Democrat was elected governor in Kansas in 2018 by five points, and today’s vote could go either way.

World

The Scene in Taipei

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Demonstrators gather in support of Speaker Pelosi’s visit, in Taipei, Taiwan, August 2, 2022. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Taiwan’s TVBS News reports, ahead of Nancy Pelosi’s expected arrival in Taipei:

An open-source flight tracking website says that her ETA is later this morning Eastern time (around 10:40 p.m. in Taiwan):

Music

Crazy Dreams

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Paul Brady (NR Illustration; Photo Credits: Bryan Ledgard/Wikimedia Commons, Mark Mingle/Unsplash)

I’m on a bit of a Paul Brady kick since his famous album with Andy Irvine was re-released on vinyl. I thought I’d share this 1980 clip of a younger Paul Brady singing “Crazy Dreams”:

And then this 2015 version.

White House

Why Is the White House Quietly Griping about Zelensky Now?

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U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak with reporters after returning from their trip to Kyiv and meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, near the Ukraine border, in Poland, April 25, 2022. (Alex Brandon/Pool via Reuters)

Which Biden administration official is leaking to the New York Times’ Tom Friedman that the White House doesn’t trust Volodymyr Zelensky?

The timing could not be worse. Dear reader: The Ukraine war is not over. And privately, U.S. officials are a lot more concerned about Ukraine’s leadership than they are letting on. There is deep mistrust between the White House and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — considerably more than has been reported.

And there is funny business going on in Kyiv. On July 17, Zelensky fired his country’s prosecutor general and the leader of its domestic intelligence agency — the most significant shake-up in his government since the Russian invasion in February. It would be the equivalent of Biden firing Merrick Garland and Bill Burns on the same day. But I have still not seen any reporting that convincingly explains what that was all about. It is as if we don’t want to look too closely under the hood in Kyiv for fear of what corruption or antics we might see, when we have invested so much there. (More on the dangers of that another day.)

Your mileage may vary, but I see two possible motives here. Possibility one is that the Biden administration just wants the Ukraine-Russia war to end, and Zelensky isn’t playing ball, so the administration is getting ready to leave Zelensky hanging out to dry. Possibility two is that the administration foresees the Ukraine-Russia war going badly, and is preparing to use Zelensky as a scapegoat. They’re laying the groundwork to argue, “we did everything we could to help the Ukrainians defend themselves, but in the end, they were too incompetent, too corrupt, and too beset by infighting.”

Remember, on the campaign trail, Biden offered tough talk about Russia — “Putin knows that when I am president of the United States, his days of tyranny and trying to intimidate the United States and those in Eastern Europe, are over.”

But once Biden was in office, he emphasized that he wanted “a stable, predictable relationship” with Russia. “Throughout our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and to keep them from escalating out of control.” For a president who once sounded so bellicose towards Putin, Biden sure sought out new areas of agreement. Biden almost immediately accepted Putin’s offer to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty for five yearsdropped U.S. opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline making Europe more dependent upon Russian energy exports, declined to pursue Putin’s personal wealth through sanctions, increased U.S. imports of Russian oil, and canceled the Keystone Pipeline. Biden did not arrive in the Oval Office itching for a fight with Russia.

Joe Biden now finds himself in a proxy war with Russia, and he never wanted to be in one. Before Russia invaded, he let slip that a “minor incursion” might not trigger a full U.S. or NATO response. Biden sees the mounting consequences of the Russian invasion – higher energy and food prices, a global famine, a potential cold winter for western Europe – and probably just wants to get out of this mess; if Ukraine has to make some territorial concessions, well, the U.S. was never that interested in who controlled the Donbas region anyway.

U.S.

In These United States

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Mötley Crüe members (L-R) Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, and Nikki Sixx pose for cameras during a photo session following a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, November 19, 2005. (Toru Hanai / Reuters)

My Impromptus column today is headed “Back to 9/11, &c.” The subheading says, “On conspiracy theories, a brave Iranian exile, nuclear power, Fidel Ramos, Bill Russell, Leontyne Price, Luciano Pavarotti, tampons in the men’s room, and more.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. “Tampons in the men’s room”? Yes. I could not help snapping a photo (which is in my column). A basket of tampons, thoughtfully placed at the sinks.

This men’s room was on a college campus, which is perhaps unsurprising.

Anyway, our Judd Berger said he was reminded of a Mötley Crüe hit, from 1985: “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room.” “Tampons in the Men’s Room” does not have exactly the same ring — but maybe some creative types could make something of it.

Pause for a language note? The dots in “Mötley Crüe” are even stranger than those in “Häagen-Dazs.”

Let’s have some reader mail. In response to my piece yesterday on Marilyn Horne, the legendary singer, a reader writes,

Dear Jay,

. . . I had the privilege of attending a few of her master classes. Now when I hear singers, I ask myself, “What would MH say?”

Another reader writes,

Jay,

. . . My discovery of Marilyn Horne was in college, when I became a convert to classical music and something of an autodidact on the subject, with Harold C. Schonberg’s lives of the great conductors never too far away. I couldn’t resist splurging for the Deutsche Grammophon recording of Carmen, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, and it remains a favorite recording to this day.

Horne sings the title character on that recording.

In recent weeks, I have published various notes on Americanism (the general subject of). A reader writes,

Hi, Jay,

I had let my NR subscription expire so I renewed it today and got caught up on all the great info NR has to offer. When I read what you said about Americanism, I went to my Facebook archives from 5/8/20 to copy and paste something. This takes place in Houghton/Hancock, Mich. Today’s America could use a unifying victory.

Houghton and Hancock are twin cities in the Upper Peninsula. This is what our reader wrote, on the eighth of May, 2020:

Today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day — victory in Europe, when what was left of the German government surrendered to the Allies. My oldest uncle, Bob, was 8 years old and the family was living in the Houghton/Hancock area when the church bells began to ring and the sirens started to blow. People gathered in the streets to find out what was going on, and when they heard the news, it was as if a big weight had been lifted off the American psyche. Soon the gas coupons would vanish and the victory gardens where the Copper Country Mall is now would not need to be weeded.

Stay in Michigan, for a note on an item I had in a recent column. Jim Harbaugh, by the way, is the coach of the University of Michigan football team, and a former NFL quarterback — and a former U of M quarterback. (And one of my oldest friends. We met in fifth grade.)

Writes a reader,

Jay —

. . . As a dyed-in-the-wool Buckeye — scarlet and gray — it pains me to praise Jim Harbaugh — he was Michigan’s quarterback during my nascent years at THE Ohio State University — but he has been raised in my esteem due to his unabashedly pro-life comments. I agree with you: Let Jim be Jim. And I look forward to beating Michigan by four touchdowns in Columbus in November.

Finally,

Hi, Jay:

Just so you know, the Indiana State Fair will be opening a brand-new air-conditioned Swine Barn! Yes — Hamps, Durocs, and all the others will be basking in air-conditioned Hoosier air. It don’t git no better than that!

I expect to see you at the fair next summer . . .

Hog heaven.

P.S. The heading over this blogpost is an homage to Reader’s Digest, which had a feature called “Life in These United States.”

Culture

‘Hey, Kid, Get a Job’

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(semenovp/iStock/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an excellent opinion from Pamela Paul arguing why teenagers should get a job. She argues that the most valuable thing a high-school-age individual can do is work because some worthwhile lessons will benefit them beyond the material advantage of income. 

Paul lists the insights, which are as follows:

“Being good at school doesn’t mean being good at work.”

“Being fired isn’t the end of your career — and neither is quitting.

“You learn what it’s like to make minimum wage.”

“You’re being paid for your time.”

“Promotions aren’t automatic.”

“Bosses can behave badly.

“Being in a workplace means working with people who aren’t like you.”

“Not everyone is as lucky as you are.”

“Boredom comes with the job.

“School skills can be acquired outside of school.

All of this is true, and it’s heartening to see a columnist at the Times speak in favor of honest labor. Teenagers should work, especially if they have naught else to do. Anything that takes them away from the desultory existences that so many have lived post-Covid, wasting away before screens, would be a blessing. 

But I don’t think she’s right to dismiss extracurriculars (she suggests focusing too much on things such as student government are more for burnishing college applications). Rather, like in adulthood, kids should do one or the other, or both. Extracurricular activities are those organic bonds that make a schooling institution more than a dismal box where academics are attempted for a third of the day. 

Sports, clubs, and productions foster community and buy-in from all ages and interests. I’d hate to see these things dropped so that Wendy’s has a few more kids working the till. Instead, the ones I want working are the kids who go straight from school to their empty homes at 3:15 p.m. and spend the next eight to twelve hours consuming unfiltered media. 

If I ran the zoo, here’s what I’d do: All students age 14 or older are required to take part in an afterschool activity, watch siblings, or have proof of employment. The greatest danger to a teen is himself, so we keep him so busy with activities and work that he arrives home exhausted. 

While such an edict is unlikely to be allowed in a public school, for any private institution, why not go for it? With the expansion of school vouchers and choice, why not tie an activities requirement into enrollment? For parents, such a thing would mean that their kids are no longer latchkey but instead at school or work until an adult is home. For kids whose parents are largely absent, the activities requirement has a bonus of further socialization with responsible adults like coaches, directors, and managers.

Pamela Paul’s piece is a good one. But I think her point lauding pubescent labor is dwarfed by the greater need for our most energetic and temperamental citizens to be engaged in society in any way possible, finding healthy outlets for their very natural anxieties, aggression, and inexperience.