Media

America Really Is an Outlier on Abortion

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Sen. Lindsey Graham on Capitol Hill (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In her latest New York Times column, “Lindsey Graham’s Unbelievably Cruel Abortion Ban,” Michelle Goldberg took Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) to task for defending his proposed 15-week nationwide abortion ban as being “in the mainstream” compared to the rest of the developed world:

Graham was making an argument, common in anti-abortion circles, that American abortion laws are unusually permissive, and that banning abortion at 12 or 15 weeks would bring us in line with Europe. France and Spain, for example, both permit abortion for any reason through 14 weeks, and Germany through 12 weeks post-conception. “If we adopted my bill, our bill, we would be in the mainstream of most everybody else in the world,” said Graham. “I think there are 47 of the 50 European countries have a ban on abortion from 12 to 15 weeks.”

This is, at best, a highly selective reading of European abortion laws. It ignores the fact that, on most of the continent, abortion is state-subsidized and easily accessible early in pregnancy, so women aren’t pushed into later terminations as they struggle to raise money. More significantly, the restrictions on later abortions have broad exceptions.

Despite her allegations surrounding Graham’s “selective” reading, the only country Goldberg cites as evidence of those “broad exceptions” to later-term abortion is Germany. In fact, even left-wing media have admitted that Graham’s central claim — that U.S. abortion laws are unusually permissive  — is correct. As the Catholic News Agency reported last year:

The Washington Post’s fact-checkers concluded in 2017 that “the data back up the claim” that the U.S. is one of only seven countries that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. (PolitiFact also determined that the statement was true.)

The other six countries are North Korea, China, Vietnam, Canada, Singapore, and the Netherlands.

This is an inconvenient fact for abortion-rights activists, but it is one that they have to face. As Angelina Nguyen noted in an essay for National Review about the 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi that was the subject of the Dobbs decision:

Recently, the Washington Post ­pub­lished a piece titled “How Abortion Laws in the U.S. Compare to Those in Other Countries,” comparing nations where “abortion is broadly legal” to weave a narrative that the global trend is toward abortion permiss­iveness. But even the Washington Post acknowledged the truth that “many European countries limit on-request abortions to the first trimester” and called this “more restrictive than much of the United States.” [Emily] Matchar came to a similar conclusion in her 2013 Atlantic article: “I assumed that Western Europe would be the land of abortion on demand, likely government-subsidized, and possibly with a free bag of condoms afterward. But as it turns out, abortion laws in Europe are both more restrictive and more complicated than that.”

By any measure of international comparison, Mississippi’s 15-week abortion law is mainstream and falls within the same gestational framework as laws in most of the world’s nations. If the United States Supreme Court allows Mississippi to become one of many states that desire to draw a bright-line gestational limit on elective abortion to protect the unborn, Mississippi will certainly not be alone in the inter­national community, which has largely done the same.

This isn’t some deceptive anti-abortion trope — it’s just empirically, demonstrably true. Facts are stubborn things.

Education

No, Jill Biden, Not ‘All Books’ Should Be in School Libraries

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First Lady Jill Biden speaks during the Council of Chief State School Officers’ 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

In an interview with the Today Show yesterday, Jill Biden was asked about her view on the debate surrounding the teaching and dissemination of controversial content in public schools. After a brief, boilerplate aside about how parents and teachers should “work together in their school districts and decide what they want with their curriculum,” the First Lady was asked if books in school libraries should reflect “a balance.” “All books should be in the library,” she jumped in. “All books. This is America. We don’t ban books.”

Well, first, it’s one or the other: Either parents get to work with teachers — which means they get a say — as Biden initially argued, or they don’t, i.e., “all books” are necessarily allowed. The obvious subtext of the conversation is that many parents think some books shouldn’t be in the library. If the First Lady really thinks those parents are deserving of a voice in such things, the result will presumably be that some books are left out in favor of others.

Second, on the “this is America” point — Biden’s comments were in the context of content in public schools, provided to underage children. America has always restricted certain kinds of content, and the attendant freedom to engage with it, when it comes to children. Why? Well, because we understand that some things — including some books — aren’t appropriate for children. Her husband himself called for banning targeted advertising to children in his State of the Union address. He wasn’t calling for banning targeted advertising to adults, because children and adults are different. Go figure.

Biden Is Telling a Whopper on the Deficit

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President Joe Biden at the Detroit Auto Show in Detroit, Mich., September 14, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden sprinkles the line “I’m not joking” throughout his public remarks, and it’s reasonable to conclude this is because he’s worried listeners are routinely on the cusp of figuring out he’s not serious.

One way we know he’s not serious is that he keeps claiming to be a deficit hawk.

You can skip ahead to around the 23-minute mark here to listen to the president, in Detroit today, mock Republicans for voicing concern about the deficit impact from profligate spending and then counter: “Guess what? First year in office, we reduced the deficit by $350 billion. Guess what? This year, this

Law & the Courts

Dissent from NR’s Editorial Favoring Federal Abortion Ban

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(giftlegacy/Getty Images)

I respectfully dissent from Wednesday’s National Review editorial, which supports Senator Lindsey Graham’s proposed federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks. When, in the last paragraph of the editorial, they get around to first-order question of what the supposed constitutional source of this federal power is, the editors proclaim, “We are persuaded that the undoubted federal power to defend basic civil rights under the 14th Amendment” does the trick. Count me out of the “we,” for I harbor significant doubts.

The “who would dare doubt this” appeal is surprising to find in our pages. Until about five minutes ago, the protection of abortion itself was “undoubted” because progressives were haughtily confident that no one would call them on their dearth of constitutional mooring. I fear my colleagues go with “undoubted” because they don’t want to say aloud what this implicitly means: They believe the supposed federal power to regulate abortion is a matter of substantive due process. It’s just that, unlike progressives, they undertake to accomplish a limited ban rather than make it available on demand.

Of course, having for decades held the concept of substantive due process in disdain, and rightly so, we would prefer to rely on a rhetorical flourish about “basic civil rights” — one eerily reminiscent of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s wooly jurisprudence of liberty, which was so impossible to defend as a matter of constitutional law that he notoriously resorted (as Justice Antonin Scalia scathingly observed) to the “sweet mystery of life” theory (“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”).

No, our editorial is not that out there. Still, basic civil rights? What are they? Where in the 14th Amendment are they located? And, the answer on abortion being obviously nowhere, what do you suppose the Left will do with “basic civil rights” once it has our imprimatur?

Given the extent to which National Review has quite appropriately opposed expansions of federal power based on progressives’ endlessly elastic interpretation of the commerce clause, the only plausible source of federal power to protect unborn life by outlawing abortion is the 14th Amendment. The editors concede as much. Within that amendment, however, there are only two conceivable sources: the due-process clause (out of which the contrivance of substantive due process was fabricated) and the privileges or immunities clause.

On the latter, I am persuaded by the brilliant work of Evan D. Bernick and Randy E. Barnett (The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment) that the privileges or immunities clause could be a source of expanded civil rights over time. But as a plain textual matter, the clause’s protections apply only to citizens of the United States. There is no sensible way to construe unborn children as citizens of the United States. As Jonathan Adler has explained, citizens are those “born or naturalized in the United States” — the unborn have never been understood to fit this category.

That leaves substantive due process. Many constitutional conservatives would shun any reliance on this dubious doctrine. But assuming it is available to us (and I assume the editors are relying on it), Dobbs has most recently instructed that rights not enumerated in the Constitution have no call on 14th Amendment protection unless they are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” (quoting from Washington v. Glucksberg).

Personally, I believe a ban on abortion would be “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” in a nation that honors a culture of life. Alas, that is very different from saying we currently inhabit such a nation.

Moreover, in light of the last century of life under Roe and its progeny, as well as the loosening of abortion restrictions that was underway in the states in the years prior to Roe (and which constitutional conservatives have rightly argued that Roe invalidly interrupted), I simply don’t see how a right against abortion can rationally be seen as deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition. I wish it were otherwise, but we have a very checkered history and tradition in this regard.

If the Left were proposing something along the lines of what our editorial is proposing, the first thing we would do is pin the proponents down on the constitutional roots of their claim of federal power. We would not let them get away with “undoubted.”

I am also unmoved by the editorial’s catalogue of positions taken by Republicans and conservatives over the years that have implied a federal power to outlaw and regulate abortion. This is not a stare decisis question. (You may remember stare decisis as the doctrine of respect for precedent that we vigorously argued was no reason to retain the Court’s pro-abortion cases.) It is also not a hypocrisy test. When we were in the Roe trap, everything was unconstitutional — we were trying to minimize the damage of a world in which abortion-on-demand was invalidly and monstrously deemed a constitutional right.

Now we are in a post-Dobbs world where the Constitution is back in force. We are not pushing against an unconstitutional order. We are proposing a federal power for which there is no constitutional support.

The regulation of abortion is a state issue. The federal constitution has nothing to say about it. If we’ve now suddenly decided it does, nothing prevents a Democrat-controlled Congress from imposing Roe on the nation by legislation, just as the Supreme Court imposed it by judicial decision. By proposing a federal regulation ourselves, we are gutting the rationale for arguing in the future that the Democrats’ gambit lacks constitutional legitimacy. We’ll be sorry about that.

In any event, I humbly ask my colleagues exactly what they would ask if Democrats were trying to do something like this: Please, tell me exactly where in the Constitution you locate the power of the federal government to outlaw abortion. Don’t tell me it’s “undoubted,” because I am doubting. Give me a clause — and if you’re relying on substantive due process, say so . . . and explain why it’s okay when we do it but not when they do it.

Economy & Business

Bernie Sanders Blocks Bill to Avert Rail Strike

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, (D., Vt.) questions former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm during a hearing to examine her nomination to be Secretary of Energy on Capitol Hill, January 27, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) has blocked a joint resolution sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) and Senator Richard Burr (R., N.C.) that would avert a freight-rail strike.

Wicker and Burr introduced a resolution that would adopt the recommendations of the presidential emergency board (PEB) appointed by President Biden as binding for a new, national, freight-rail labor contract. The PEB recommended a 24 percent pay increase over the five-year span of the contract, the largest pay increase in the history of national bargaining.

Sanders said, “Rail workers have a right to strike for reliable schedules. They have a right to strike for paid sick days. They have a right to strike for safe working conditions. Rail workers have a right to strike for decent benefits.”

After talking about wealth inequality and “the billionaire class,” the crux of Sanders’s objection was the PEB’s recommendation about sick days. “Right now if you work in the freight rail industry . . . you are entitled to zero sick days,” Sanders said. “What that means is that if you, as a worker get sick, if your child gets sick, if your spouse gets sick, and you need to take time off of work, not only will you not get paid, you actually could get fired,” he said.

Sick leave was considered at length by the PEB. Unions had proposed “15 days of paid sick leave annually where no sick leave is currently provided and increase the number of days of paid sick leave annually to 15 days where less than 15 days of paid annual sick leave is provided.” That means some workers already do get paid sick leave.

After considering the unions’ arguments for the proposal and the carriers’ counterarguments, the PEB said (emphasis added):

The Board appreciates how deeply the Organizations and the membership feel about the manner in which the Carriers are applying their attendance policies. Disputes over those issues, however, are best resolved in the grievance and arbitration process, not by an overly broad and very costly proposal that would create 15 paid days a year that, while nominally labeled as sick leave days, would be structured to be used on demand as a means of permitting employees to better balance work-life needs and would effectively be personal days that could not be denied for any reason by the Carriers. We understand the concerns voiced by the Organizations as to the circumstances that led to this proposal (and several others made in this proceeding). We are simply not in agreement that this sick leave proposal is otherwise warranted or is the appropriate way to address the concerns. We have taken the changes in demands upon employees into account when we formulated our recommendations concerning the wage package, including the service recognition bonus component.

As I wrote earlier today, sick leave was one of the elements on which the PEB recommended arbitration as a possible solution. That means that accepting the PEB’s recommendations does not preclude unions from continuing to push for more sick leave in arbitration in the future. In addition, the PEB considered the sick-leave policy when making its wage-increase recommendations, which were the highest ever from national bargaining and over 40 percent higher than what carriers wanted to offer. The PEB also recommended adding an additional paid personal day, which would be included if Wicker’s and Burr’s resolution passes.

Time-off policies for rail workers are more complicated than other industries, owing to the inherent 24/7 nature of the business. According to the Association of American Railroads, rail workers receive three weeks of paid vacation on average, eleven paid holidays, and 26 weeks of partial income replacement (about 60 percent of pay). Some also receive a supplemental sickness benefit, which increases the partial-income-replacement rate and extends it to 52 weeks. In prior rounds of bargaining, some unions traded sick leave to get the supplemental sickness benefit instead.

Sanders’s objection now means that the resolution will require 60 votes to pass the Senate. Burr said, “This is in Senator Schumer’s hands. He’s the majority leader. . . . Here is the promise I’ll make to Senator Schumer. If you bring it to the floor, I’ll produce 48 Republican votes for it. That means Dems only need to produce 12 people to support it to keep the American people from a $2 billion a day negative impact on them.”

Wicker asked President Biden to make clear whether he supports the report from the PEB that he appointed. “[He should] exercise the presidential leadership that is needed at this point to persuade his friends in the four holdout unions that this is what needs to be done. . . . It’s really up to the Democratic leader and the president of the United States,” Wicker said.

Education

Justice Gorsuch’s Law-School Existentialism

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Justice Neil Gorsuch participates in taking a new group photo with his fellow justices at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., June 1, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, in recent remarks to the Tenth Circuit Bench and Bar Conference, provocatively asked: “Does it really require seven years of collegiate education to become a competent lawyer?”

The problem Gorsuch identifies stems from the fact that American higher education is averse to early specialization, whereas the bar is “over-professionalized.” The American pedagogical establishment has long been the chief proponent of the notion that education is not simply a means to material prosperity. America’s universities have done their utmost to advance the idea that, besides the skills necessary to make a living, education exists for cura personalis (the enrichment of one’s whole person). Just as pervasive as in undergraduate education, this ethos is present in law schools, too, where students must often study areas in which they do not intend to practice.

Given the dismal state of higher education (especially in the humanities), we should revisit the assumption that years spent in an academic milieu is necessarily an individual and social good.

Gorsuch also took aim at some some of the cartel-like practices of professional law associations, such as how they fight efforts to reduce the cost of legal services. “Every time LegalZoom wants to go to a new state they get sued for unauthorized practice of law,” he said, observing that “it’s never by a consumer; it’s always a lawyer.”

The American Bar Association (ABA) and jurisdiction-based bars have acted more like medieval guilds than unprejudiced arbiters of professional standards. The state has granted these organizations the exclusive right to decide the criteria for entering the legal profession. Bar associations have used this monopoly power to restrict the business of offering counsel to licensed attorneys, thereby raising the price of legal services. Rather than protecting the interests of the public, they have protected themselves at the expense of indigent individuals in need of legal assistance.

Bar associations’ anticompetitive practices manifest in law school. Beyond determining which schools receive accreditation, they have successfully made law-school attendance a prerequisite to bar admittance. Today, only California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington allow one to forgo law school for a legal apprenticeship. This means that many young attorneys graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, impeding their capacity to work in relatively low-paying public-service positions, and compelling them to ratchet up the price of their counsel. I have witnessed this phenomenon as many of my peers have ditched their initial career aspirations, their professional raisons d’être, for more lucrative positions out of Maslowian necessity.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If one has acquired legal experience through an apprenticeship, one should be able to pursue a career in the law without attending law school.

Gorsuch is right. As it currently exists, legal education is in dire need of reform. This is why breaking down barriers to legal practice must be included in any broader conversation regarding occupational-licensing reform.

Law & the Courts

BREAKING: Supreme Court Abandons Yeshiva’s Religious Freedom

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As I discuss here, Yeshiva University was enjoined by a New York state court to recognize a gay group on its undergraduate campus, in violation of the school’s Torah-based religious conscience. Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the school an interim stay of the injunction on Friday, but late today, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that Yeshiva must go back to state court to ask the same appeals courts for the same relief — and must labor under the injunction in the interim. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined with the three liberals (including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson) in this ruling. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the four dissenters that Yeshiva should win on the merits and is being deprived of its religious liberty by having the case sent back, deeming it “ironic” that the Court denied to the nation’s most prominent religious Jewish university the same relief it once granted to Nazis:

Unless a stay is granted, Yeshiva will be required to recognize the [YU Pride] Alliance as an official student group and to grant it all the privileges extended to other such groups. As the Alliance has contended, this would force Yeshiva to make a “statement” in support of an interpretation of Torah with which the University disagrees. The loss of First Amendment rights for even a short period constitutes irreparable harm, and the appellate process in the state courts could easily drag on for many months. . . . The majority does not address our well-established standard for granting a stay but instead suggests that we cannot grant a stay because the New York courts have not entered a final order. But the state courts’ denial of interim relief constitutes a final order under National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie, 432 U. S. 43, 44 (1977) (per curiam). It is ironic that the theory that supported a stay in that case is eschewed here. . . .

The majority instructs Yeshiva to pursue two avenues of relief in state court before filing another application here. First, the University is told to seek “expedit[ed] consideration of the merits of [its] appeal.” . . . But even expedited review could take months, and during all that time, the University would be required to continue to make the statement about Torah that it finds objectionable. Thus, an expedited appeal in and of itself would not be sufficient to protect Yeshiva’s First Amendment rights. Second—and more to the point—the majority seems to think that it is still possible for the University to persuade the Court of Appeals to grant a stay. Of course, the Court of Appeals has already denied Yeshiva’s application for interim relief, but the majority interprets a case comment written by a court clerk employed by the Appellate Division to mean that the Court of Appeals may give Yeshiva a second bite at the apple notwithstanding its previous denial. That interpretation is dubious, yet the majority seizes upon it as dispositive. I doubt that Yeshiva’s return to state court will be fruitful, and I see no reason why we should not grant a stay at this time. It is our duty to stand up for the Constitution even when doing so is controversial.

International

Biden’s Oil Diplomacy — A Tale of Failure and Self-Inflicted Wounds

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President Joe Biden announces the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 23, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

A week or so ago, I noted that President Biden’s efforts to encourage OPEC and its allies to increase production did not seem to be going very well.

Now we have this (via the New York Times):

As Russia massed troops on its border with Ukraine and invaded the country at the start of the year, Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Company quietly invested more than $600 million in Russia’s three dominant energy companies.

Then, over the summer, as the United States, Canada and several European countries cut oil imports from Russia, Saudi Arabia doubled the amount of fuel oil it was buying from Russia for its power plants, freeing up its own crude for export.

And, this month, Russia and Saudi Arabia steered the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allied producers to reduce output targets in an effort to prop up global oil prices, which were falling, a decision that should increase the oil profits of both nations.

Taken together, the moves represent a distinct Saudi tilt toward Moscow and away from the United States.

Of course, the administration’s efforts to cut a deal with the terrorist regime our reliable negotiating partners in Tehran, who don’t get on so well with the Sunni theocrats in Riyadh, won’t have helped, not least because the Saudis are not too appreciative of what freer availability of Iranian oil might do to the oil price.

The NYT:

By working more closely with Russia, the Saudis are effectively making it more difficult for the United States and the European Union to isolate Mr. Putin. As Europe gets ready to greatly reduce how much oil it imports from Russia, Saudi Arabia and countries like China and India are stepping in as buyers of last resort. . . .

By announcing a small trim of production this month, OPEC Plus demonstrated its independence from President Biden, who visited Saudi Arabia in July and exchanged a fist bump with Prince Mohammed. The visit was widely interpreted as an effort by Mr. Biden to restore U.S.-Saudi relations after he criticized the kingdom during the 2020 U.S. presidential election for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist.

Fist bump, meet punch in the face.

This was an extra twist, however:

Some Middle East energy executives said the United States and other Western countries had not been reliable partners to oil exporters, in large part because they sought to wean the world off fossil fuels in an effort to address climate change.

“Years of schizophrenic energy policy in Europe and the U.S. have resulted in significant energy security vulnerabilities that large producers are adapting to,” said Badr H. Jafar, the president of Crescent Petroleum, an oil company in the United Arab Emirates. “And the energy chessboard is likely to keep shifting in the months and years to come.”

Translation: The West is an unreliable long-term customer (at least if the transition away from CO2 goes according to plan, which it won’t, but that’s another story). However, it is also a customer that, thanks to climate policy, is now deliberately weakening its own ability to push back against higher oil prices. Given where things currently stand technologically, renewables are not going to deliver energy independence on their own and, even if the West accelerates, as it should, down the nuclear route (I wonder what a Russian-engineered catastrophe at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant would do to those plans), that will take years.

Put all these things together and they give OPEC and its allies every incentive to push the price up as far as they can, and as soon as they can, and for as long as they can without flattening demand. They will be given more confidence in their ability to do so by the West’s unwillingness to boost its own oil production over a long enough period to deliver energy security until that happy moment when the switch away from greenhouse-gas emitting energy sources can be achieved without economic or geopolitical disaster.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports on a move by the administration that signals that it is determined to stick to a course that will only help the Saudis, the Russians, and other well-wishers:

Joe Manchin’s deal with Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer isn’t looking so good for the West Virginian, and the latest evidence is a Biden Administration settlement with green groups that stops previously approved oil and gas leases.

The Interior Department last week agreed to conduct additional climate reviews for five federal oil and gas lease sales held in 2019 and 2020 that were challenged by environmental groups. Activists claimed the Trump Administration didn’t sufficiently study the climate impact of the leases under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Rather than defend the earlier environmental reviews, the Biden Administration surrendered to their progressive friends. According to last week’s legal settlement, the climate reviews will incorporate the “social cost” of greenhouse gas emissions that could result from the leases.

The social cost of empowering Putin and his pals is, apparently, zero. The difference all this could make to the climate: not much more than zero. The actual cost to Americans at the gas pump: considerably more than zero. Greenflation is what it is.

What, Me Worry?

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Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, November 10, 2021. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

I had my doubts that having Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in the office back in October 2021 would have made much of a difference in the supply-chain crisis that bedeviled the country in the fall and winter. I contended that the more uncomfortable fact for the administration was that Buttigieg was out on paternity leave for two months and no one noticed.

But U.S. secretaries of transportation are a bit like brake lines, offensive lines, and power lines — you only pay much attention to them when they don’t work. And a year after massive backlogs at U.S. ports, the

Culture

Fred Franzia, R.I.P.

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Fred Franzia walks through his vineyard in Lodi, Calif., December 17, 2003. (Stephen Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Fred Franzia, the inventor of Two Buck Chuck (a.k.a. Charles Shaw) wine, died Tuesday in Denair, Calif. at age 79.

Franzia, whose parents invented the boxed Franzia wine beloved by college students across the country, personified the noble American tradition of taking the high brow and making it low.

The Franzia family literally boxed the refinement of Napa Valley and delivered it to the quantity-minded American drinker — an act that true oenophiles undoubtedly consider deeply profane. But those types never concerned Franzia, who insisted throughout his life that no bottle of wine should cost more than ten dollars.

“Take that and shove it, Napa,” he once said in an interview.

Like many popularizers before him, Franzia was also steeped in the rich American tradition of corner-cutting, pleading guilty to fraud in 1994 for mislabeling the grape varieties on his wine. (He had instructed workers to scatter a few zinfandel grapes atop a truck load of cheaper grapes in order to sell the resulting wines as zinfandel). He also campaigned unsuccessfully to have state regulations changed so that he’d be able to label his Central Valley–grown wines as having been grown in Napa.

What McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc did for dining out and Conrad Hilton did for hotel lodging, Fred Franzia and his parents before him did for California wine.

Bronco Wine Company, the brand Fred founded with his brother after their parents sold Franzia to Coca-Cola in 1973, now boasts a portfolio of more than 100 brands ranging from wine to spirits and ready-to-drink cocktails.

Asked how he could sell his wine for less than a bottle of water, Franzia responded “They’re overcharging for the water — don’t you get it?”

Pour out some Sunset Blush for Fred.

Elections

Fetterman Debates Too Late

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John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, has finally agreed to a debate with his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz. Unfortunately for everyone, this debate is on October 25, just a few days before Election Day and weeks after early voting will have begun in earnest in Pennsylvania.

In 2020, over two and a half million Pennsylvanians cast ballots through the mail. Just over 4 million were cast on Election Day.

Given these stats, this agreement to debate should be taken as John Fetterman admitting that he is not well enough to debate before voting begins, an issue inevitably raised by his stroke and his difficulty speaking coherently since.

The Economy

Some of the Industries a Freight-Rail Strike Would Hurt

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Numerous industries would be affected by a freight-rail strike. Here’s what some of them are saying:

Manufacturing:

We urge [Congress] to utilize all possible measures to avoid a service disruption in the freight rail network. While it remains our hope that the parties will successfully conclude negotiations by this week’s deadline, Congress is empowered to institute the recommendations produced by President Biden’s PEB and approved by both the Class I railroads and numerous labor groups. Should it become necessary to intervene, we implore you to use your authority as leaders of Congress to diminish any further supply chain uncertainty and economic damage.

Oil and gas:

[The American Petroleum Institute] requests that Congress prepare to act if negotiations this week fail to produce agreement to facilitate a workable settlement and prevent catastrophic disruptions to the freight rail network. Last Friday, representatives of the oil and gas industry began receiving notifications from the railroads that they intend to begin curtailing shipments of hazardous materials and other chemicals as of today, to ensure carloads of product are not stranded on the tracks if a work stoppage occurs. This curtailment alone, could have profound impacts on the ability of our industry to deliver critical energy supplies to market.

Fuel and petroleum products:

The harm to the U.S. economy from the potential rail strike has already begun, as railroads are embargoing shipments of materials critical to the refining and petrochemical industries. Railroads are curtailing operations prior to the September 16th, 2022, deadline to ensure their networks can be shut down safely and in compliance with applicable regulations should a sudden work stoppage occur. Without the ability to move critical materials in and out of refineries and terminals, our members will experience a significant impact on operations.

[The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers] respects the negotiation process and the positions of railroads and the rail labor unions. However, the implications of a rail strike on our economy are obvious and potentially extreme, so Congress must take steps immediately to prevent a work stoppage.

Chemicals:

The highest-volume chemical carried by US railroads is ethanol.

More than half of all rail chemical carloads consist of various industrial chemicals, including soda ash, caustic soda, urea, sulfuric acid and anhydrous ammonia.

Plastic materials and synthetic resins account for close to a quarter of rail chemical carloads.

Most of the rest is agricultural chemicals.

In the US, chemical railcar loadings represent about 20% of chemical transportation by tonnage, with trucks, barges and pipelines carrying the rest.

Retail:

While the PEB has done its job, it is now time for Congress to ensure that a freight rail shutdown does not occur. As we have in the past, Congress has the ability to implement the PEB’s recommendations in whole, which we would encourage happens quickly after the cooling off period ends.

We are in the middle of the peak import season as retailers bring in their holiday merchandise for the all-important fourth quarter. Any rail network disruptions this month could have long-lasting negative effects on this important selling season. Product delays and shortages are correlated with inflation – an issue of great significance to Americans and the economy.

Ultimately, we continue to implore the parties to resolve these negotiations on their own, especially with the PEB recommendations. In the event they do not, however, we ask you to be prepared to act to protect the supply chain and ensure no interruption to rail service.

Agriculture:

The U.S. rail network moves critical agricultural inputs and significant quantities of agricultural products. These essential items are transported by rail to domestic facilities and to ports for export abroad. A complete stoppage of the rail system would lead to shutdowns or slowdowns of rail-dependent facilities resulting in devastating consequences to our national and global food security.

Leaders around the world are already concerned about food shortages and famine due to drought and geopolitical challenges, such as the invasion of Ukraine, which accounts for ten percent of the global exports of wheat. A freight rail stoppage would occur as America’s farmers harvest their crops and would exacerbate global food insecurity and likely contribute to further geopolitical instability in regions that experience famine. Congress must be willing to act to ensure our farmers and ranchers can continue to help feed the world.

The freight rail system already is significantly challenged and many rail customers are not receiving timely rail service. A complete stoppage of rail service, even for a single day, would escalate these challenges. Most freight railroads currently lack extra capacity to make up for down time. Thus, a sizable portion of freight backlogged due to a stoppage may never be made up leading to less production from rail-dependent businesses to the detriment of producers and consumers.

Mining:

A rail strike could create a debilitating logistics chokepoint for the movement of energy and materials resources essential to our grid reliability and energy affordability, as well as our manufacturing sector and the energy security of our allies. Ongoing service issues continue to threaten coal deliveries, impeding the delivery of essential fuel as utilities work to shield consumers from soaring natural gas prices and build up stockpiles to ensure they have the fuel security needed for the winter. Curtailing the supply of materials essential to manufacturing will also push up costs and reverse any progress made in solving the supply chain challenges driving inflation. The U.S. has abundant mined resources, but they are dependent on reliable, efficient rail service.

Fertilizer:

The production and movement of fertilizer is heavily dependent on rail, both for finished product and production inputs. Many of those products have already been removed from the rails in preparation for a potential rail stoppage.

“For every day this uncertainty continues, we essentially lose five shipping days because of the ramp down and ramp up,” continued [Fertilizer Institute president and CEO Corey] Rosenbusch. “If this situation is not resolved by tomorrow, it could quickly impact supplies for fall application and lead to a reduction in U.S. production at a time when 70% of European production has been curtailed or ceased due to Russia’s shutoff of natural gas supplies.”

Congress has the power to step in and avert a rail strike if agreements between the rail carriers and labor unions are not reached.

“Congress can act to implement the President’s Emergency Board compromise agreement,” Rosenbusch concluded. “Action must be taken to ensure rail networks continue operating or American consumers and global food security will pay for it.”

Clothing and shoes:

With 98% of all apparel, footwear, and travel goods sold in the U.S. today being imported, our industry’s 3 million American workers depend on a smooth supply chain. Rail, particularly intermodal, is an increasingly important piece of the puzzle as we work to bring the right clothes, shoes, and accessories to American families at the right time, and at the right price.

Trucking:

While trucking and rail companies compete for ground freight, trucking is also the largest customer of the rail industry, and both industries rely on one another to keep our supply chains healthy and efficient. We deliver the last mile of virtually every product that rail transports. Particularly through “intermodal”
shipments involving containers moved by ships, railroads and trucks, the industries depend on each other to meet domestic and international demand. The Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) reports that in 2021 alone, transportation companies moved 18,435,249 intermodal units. Idling all 7,000
long distance daily freight trains in the U.S. would require more than 460,000 additional long-haul trucks every day, which is not possible based on equipment availability and an existing shortage of 80,000 drivers. As such, any rail service disruption will create havoc in the supply chain and fuel inflationary
pressures across the board.

Passenger railroads:

Many passenger rail services operate on tracks owned by freight railroads. Without the freight employees on hand to operate their networks, US rail commuters will be unable to make their trips. Some passenger rail operators have already cautioned customers about service disruptions. Amtrak faces the largest impact, as it generally only owns tracks between Boston and Washington, DC, but regional and local rail services will suffer as well.
Metra, which operates 11 commuter rail lines in the Chicago area, warned its customers in a statement Tuesday that “a potential work stoppage by freight railroad workers” could “directly impact” its “ability to operate most of its services.”
“We want you to be aware of this issue so that you can make alternate plans for travel should a work stoppage occur,” Metra told customers.

Other freight railroads:

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) is the non-profit trade association representing the interests of the nation’s 600 small business short line railroads that operate 50,000 miles of track, or approximately one-third of the national railroad network, originating or terminating one out of every five railcars, serving customers who otherwise would be cut off from the network and thus disconnected from the national and global economies. Short lines work with our Class I freight railroad partners to serve every aspect of our nation’s industrial, agricultural, and energy economies.

Put simply, a rail system shutdown would be catastrophic for the U.S. economy, tens of thousands of businesses, and tens of millions of consumers. It would spike inflation, cause industrial chaos, and be a terrible result for everyone involved.

Woke Culture

DEI Plans: Are They Legal?

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(Devonyu/Getty Images)

Nearly every major institution has a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plan, and advertises it as loudly, frequently, and insufferably as possible — having such a plan puts the institution on the side of the angels. Not having a plan suggests the institution is racist or, at least, retrograde.

Because our woke anointed support DEI plans, they seldom receive critical scrutiny. But many such programs provide racial and ethnic preferences that are flatly unlawful and exist unchallenged. Recent news reports of major companies announcing the implementation of positive discrimination plans fuel the perception that these DEI initiatives pass legal muster. After all, these companies have substantial legal departments and major law firms on retainer. Surely, the plans passed legal review.

Not always.

Years ago, in United Steelworkers v. Weber, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of private sector affirmative action plans, provided they’re designed to remedy a “manifest imbalance” in a “traditionally segregated workforce.” The terms “manifest imbalance” and “traditionally segregated workforce” were sufficiently nebulous for it to be left to circuit courts to sort out what they meant in a given context. Most courts require that the plan be supported by direct evidence of discrimination against the beneficiary group (although some cases suggest mere evidence of statistical imbalances may suffice).

Weber was decided in 1979. Since then, however, employers have developed affirmative action or DEI plans for reasons wholly unrelated to past discrimination or traditionally segregated workforces. Some are designed to comply with Executive Order 11246, requiring government contractors to take affirmative action. Some are designed for cosmetic reasons and others to forestall public opprobrium. Most are at least partially designed to virtue signal.

A review of websites and promotional materials of major corporations and other large institutions shows that “benign” DEI programs are nearly ubiquitous. But many of these programs may be problematic, as the Fifth Circuit’s Frank v. Xerox demonstrates.

In Frank, some of Xerox’s black employees challenged the company’s Balanced Work Force (BWF) Initiative. The BWF was designed to ensure that racial and gender groups in Xerox’s Houston office were represented at all levels of the company in reasonable proportion to their respective numbers in the local workforce. Xerox set racial and ethnic “goals” for each job and grade. Management evaluated supervisors on their success in meeting these goals.

The plaintiffs alleged that the BWF unlawfully discriminated against them. Since blacks were overrepresented in the Houston office, Xerox’s goals were tilted against them.

The court found that the existence of the BWF program, coupled with evidence that the company followed the plan, constituted direct evidence of unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The diversity programs of most public sector employers face an even greater burden: the need to survive strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. In other words, the diversity program must promote a compelling governmental interest and be narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. What qualifies as a compelling governmental interest in this regard is limited almost exclusively to remedying actual instances of past discrimination by the public employer in question. Undaunted, some DEI proponents have been straining to apply Grutter’s “benefits of diversity” rationale to public employment. But the Supreme Court made clear that that rationale applies because the First Amendment (purportedly) grants educational institutions broad latitude in defining their pedagogical missions. While this could possibly be used to justify the hiring of, say, a professor, Grutter’s First Amendment predicate has no application to most other public employers (and may not survive SFFA v. Harvard, currently before the Court).

DEI plans are the rage. But wokeness could come at a cost.

Politics & Policy

We Must Overcome Economic Ignorance

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Harmful policies thrive because so few people understand what they actually do. People end up falling for political deceptions such as calling the latest federal extravaganza the “Inflation Reduction Act.” They believe politicians who say that government spending stimulates the economy. They nod in approval when told that price controls are the way to tame inflation.

Statist politicians and their allies depend on economic ignorance, just as con artists rely on people’s gullibility.

The battle against economic ignorance is crucial, and entering on the side of knowledge is Oklahoma State professor Per Bylund with his new book How to Think about the Economy: A Primer.

Bylund correctly writes that economic literacy “is necessary to properly understand the world.” His clearly written book (no math, no jargon) accomplishes that. Economists have a “mental toolkit” that enables them to grasp how people behave, and Bylund makes that toolkit easily accessible.

Do you know someone who ought to start thinking like an economist? Consider this book.

Politics & Policy

White House: Biden Flew to Delaware to Thank Poll Workers in Person

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President Joe Biden talks to reporters while boarding Air Force One at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., August 8, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Charlie noted that President Biden flew to Delaware and back in one evening, simply to cast a ballot in Delaware’s primary that had one contested statewide office. Biden and the first lady were on the ground in Delaware for about one hour and 15 minutes.

It will probably not surprise you to learn that when asked about this, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not have a particularly good explanation for why the president didn’t simply vote absentee, or vote early when he was in Delaware this past weekend.

Q: Thanks, Karine. Can you tell us why the President went to Wilmington yesterday to vote in the primary when he could have had an absentee ballot or he could have voted in person, early voting, when he was there last weekend?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, it’s multiple things. I know there has been a lot of interest in this.

So every American, as you know, has a sacred and constitutional right to vote. The President exercised that right, alongside other Delawareans, last night. That’s what you saw, just a couple — to answer your specific questions.

Look, as you know, the President has a very heavy schedule. He’s the President of the United States. It worked out best for him to vote yesterday, to vote on Tuesday. He thought it was important to exercise his constitutional right to vote, as I just mentioned, and set an example by showing the importance of voting.

He also had the opportunity to say hello to poll workers and thank them for their work. And we know how under attack poll workers have been these past several years.

And as some of you noted — some of your colleagues noted that many Presidents — it’s not — it’s not unusual — head home to vote in their local elections. And he thought it was important to do so yesterday.

Q: Do you think that it would have been better then to make it more of, like, a public event, for him to sort of, like, tout it a little bit more? It was sort of a surprise — right? — until we — until he landed there.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President has been voting in Delaware for decades. And this is something that was important to do. He wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to vote — to vote yesterday, and he did that. It is not unusual for him. He’s done that for — again, for many decades.

And so — so, you know, he had an opportunity to thank the poll workers. He had an opportunity — I think by the President going to vote, that sends a very strong mesh- — message to the American public.

Ah, so the president flew to Delaware and back, just so he could thank the poll workers in person.

Either carbon emissions matter, or they don’t. If they matter, then the president is setting a bad example by taking his 35-minute flight from Joint Base Andrews to Wilmington, Del., and back to cast a ballot with one contested primary. And if the decisions that influence a person’s carbon emissions don’t matter for President Biden, then they don’t matter for anyone else.

Politics & Policy

On Abortion, Joe Manchin Is a Total Mess

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D, W.Va.) speaks to journalists during a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 8, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

John McCormack reports:

When I briefly caught up with Senator Joe Manchin today in a Capitol hallway, the West Virginia Democrat said he “absolutely” still supports the 20-week federal abortion limit he has voted for on multiple occasions. While Manchin said he has not yet seen text of Senator Lindsey Graham’s new bill to prohibit most abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy and beyond, Manchin said he was “very interested” in the new legislation.

Is Joe Manchin remotely capable of joined-up thinking? When Dobbs was decided, Manchin said:

I am deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. It has been the law of the land for nearly 50 years and was understood to be settled precedent. I trusted Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v. Wade was settled legal precedent and I am alarmed they chose to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans.

As a Catholic, I was raised pro-life and will always consider myself pro-life. But I have come to accept that my definition of pro-life may not be someone else’s definition of pro-life. I believe that exceptions should be made in instances of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. But let me be clear, I support legislation that would codify the rights Roe v. Wade previously protected. I am hopeful Democrats and Republicans will come together to put forward a piece of legislation that would do just that.

As a statement, this was nonsense from start to finish. Manchin was “deeply disappointed” that the Court had overturned Roe, because . . . he’s “pro-life” — which, in his case meant that he was in favor of the sort of exceptions that many pro-lifers support, and that was why he wanted to . . . “codify the rights Roe v. Wade previously protected,” which ensured that no abortion restrictions of any sort could be passed, and to get that done he hoped that the Republicans who had fought against Roe for half a century would come together with the Democrats to undo Dobbs, which, if achieved, would . . . prevent Joe Manchin from passing the sorts of pro-life laws that, on other occasions, he has insisted he wants to pass.

Laws such as . . . the “20-week federal abortion” ban that Manchin says he “absolutely” still supports, and the 15-week federal abortion ban that Manchin now says he is “very interested” in considering — both of which would only pass constitutional muster* now that Dobbs has been decided, and would be rendered instantly illegal by the “codification” of Roe v. Wade that, back in June, Joe Manchin vehemently insisted he supported.

What a joke.

*I think federal abortion laws are unconstitutional for other reasons

Politics & Policy

Why Biden’s Student-Loan Forgiveness Plan Is Illegal 

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I’ve done a little video explainer on the NR YouTube page:

NRI

Debating Originalism

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I’ll be debating originalism at the National Constitution Center in an event co-sponsored by NRI this coming Friday afternoon. If you are in the Philadelphia area, it’d be great to see you:

White House

Joe Biden Spikes the Football Again

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks as he celebrates the enactment of the “Inflation Reduction Act” on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 13, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Biden, yesterday: “Exactly four weeks ago today, I signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, the single most important legislation passed in [this] Congress to combat inflation and one of the most significant laws in our nation’s history, in my view . . . Today offers proof that the soul of America is vibrant, the future of America is bright, and the promise of America is real . . .  This bill cut costs for families, helped reduce inflation at the kitchen table, because that’s what they look at — how much are their monthly bills and how much do they have to pay out for their necessities.”

As I find a need to mention more and more frequently, this administration has many bad habits, but one of the worst is their inclination to spike the football in victory at any glimpse of good news, only to be quickly overtaken by bad news. In Biden’s eyes, everything is always going great. Inflation will be temporary, the Afghan army is well-trained, all the Americans in Afghanistan will be rescued, the Covid tests will be plentiful, and “the much-predicted crisis didn’t occur. Packages are moving. Gifts are being delivered. Shelves are not empty.”

Here’s a selection of headlines from the print edition of today’s Wall Street Journal:

Page A1: Stocks Sink on Dashed Inflation Hopes

Page A6: Fed Set for More Tightening

Page A6: Inflation Hits Families in the Pantry

Page A6: Where Prices Rose and Fell in August

Page A7: Energy Bills Are Climbing Sharply

Page A7: U.S. Deficit Widened from a Year Earlier

Page A7: U.S. Household Income Stalled Last Year, Census Bureau Says

This is all separate from the potential economic chaos that a freight-rail strike would bring.

It says something that Biden and his team would choose to do the political equivalent of an elaborate touchdown dance on a day when the U.S. was deluged with bad economic news. A combination of blind optimism, reflexive denial, and a desperate need to convince people that they’re doing a great job permeates everything this administration does. And the inability or unwillingness to look at national problems with clear-eyed realism keeps catching up with them.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Inflation, Antitrust, and Argentina

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Jack Salmon writes about the August inflation report:

Declining headline inflation is good news, but neither the Federal Reserve nor Congress is off the hook just yet — inflation is still very much out of control. Since the headline CPI primarily reflects transitory fluctuations in the prices of the supply of goods, the declines seen in recent months can be chalked up to the 20 percent drop in the price of oil since June — and not to the Fed’s tightening its belt.

The Fed knows this and will be more concerned with core CPI, the metric that reflects the non-transitory components of inflation by excluding food and energy prices, which fluctuate with supply volatility. Core CPI rose from 5.9 percent in July to 6.3 percent in August. It has been persistently elevated around 6 percent since the start of the year and remains at almost double the rate of Euro Area core inflation, and almost three times the 2015–2019 U.S. average.

Ryan Young and Alex Reinauer write about the relevant-market fallacy in the context of tech and antitrust:

In competition policy, it is not enough to say that a company has a monopoly. One must ask: a monopoly over what? Defining a company’s relevant market is a core question in every antitrust case. The relevant-market fallacy is defining that relevant market so narrowly that it makes a company look more dominant than it really is.

Any market is a monopoly if you define it narrowly enough. Antitrust enforcers have an incentive to push market definitions in this direction as far as they think they can get away with. It makes their case look stronger, even if that strength is only semantic.

Antonella Marty writes about inflation in Argentina:

Argentina’s annual inflation rate now exceeds 70 percent — a 30-year high. Its monthly inflation (just under 8 percent) is comparable to the U.S.’s annual inflation, with prices rising so much that the country’s central bank recently hiked interest rates to 69.5 percent.

U.S. Officials Licensed U.S. Battery Tech to China

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The People’s Republic of China flag and the U.S. flag fly on a lamp post along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol. (Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)

Is the U.S. serious about developing new battery technology to power the future? Right now, it looks more silly than serious. A highly promising new battery was developed at a cost of $15 million in a U.S. government lab, but then the U.S. Department of Energy awarded many of the manufacturing rights to China in violation of its own licensing rules. Now, China is about to bring online one of the largest battery farms to ever power a major city.

And not just any battery farm. It uses vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFB), a new technology that enables large, long-lived batteries

Health Care

Child Wellbeing as an Afterthought

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Business Insider has a piece on “induced lactation” for biological mothers whose children were carried by surrogates, as well as parents who have “transitioned from female to male and those who have from male to female.” What is striking about the report is that it is centered almost exclusively around the feelings of the parents, not the well-being of the child.

Energy & Environment

What I Say, Not What I Do, cont.

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President Joe Biden departs Air Force One as he returns from NATO and G7 summits in Europe at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 30, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Per Bloomberg, Joe Biden sure isn’t acting as if we’re in a “climate crisis”:

President Joe Biden, who depended on mail-in votes to win office in 2020, unexpectedly flew Air Force One to his home state of Delaware on Tuesday to cast a primary election ballot in-person.

The White House didn’t publicly announce the trip until just before he left. Asked before boarding his plane why he was traveling to his home state on short notice, the president answered: “To vote.”

What’s the excuse for this? It can’t be that there were no mail-in or early-voting options available:

He didn’t answer when asked why he hadn’t simply requested and returned an absentee ballot. Delaware also offered in-person early voting on Saturday, when Biden was at his home in Wilmington.

And it can’t be because he doesn’t trust mail-in ballots, because, in addition to being our key Defender of the Earth, Joe Biden is the primary champion of Our Democracy.

When other progressives do this, they often insist that they ticked the “offset my carbon” box on the airline’s website. Alas, there is no such option within the booking system for Air Force One.

World

Sweet Potability, Etc.

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An Iraqi medical staff member drinks water during anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, November 1, 2019. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

On the homepage today, I have a piece called “Ukraine and the Right.” Difficult subject, important subject. And for something offbeat: “Another F-word.” That word would be “Führer.” A controversy over this word has arisen at — naturally enough — the Bayreuth Festival.

In an Impromptus last Friday, I had a note on drinking water (meaning water to drink). The problems of Jackson, Miss., have reminded some of us that this water can’t be taken for granted — though maybe it should?

A reader writes,

I was a contractor in Iraq from 2007 to 2009. We had several Third World nationals as logistics and support contractors. Early in my tour I asked a gentleman from Nepal how he liked Iraq. He replied that he enjoyed working there because he had so much and made far more than he would have in Nepal. I asked him what his favorite part of living in Iraq was and he pointed to a pallet of water — potable water in eight-packs of two-liter bottles. It was then — at the ripe age of 53 — that I realized that countless people live without ready access to potable water.

Now, on Tuesdays and Fridays, I crow about the “miracle of curbside garbage pickup.”

A friend of mine from Munich writes,

Several years ago, German bottled-water companies successfully sued the City of Munich to prevent them from advertising the superior chemical quality of their water.

I had some notes on Queen Elizabeth II. A reader writes,

I never saw the Queen but I did see Prince Philip in 2016 from a distance. . . .

. . . my parents got married the day after Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip (still a serving officer) did. Both my parents were in the Navy at the time and my dad was serving on the USS Ellyson. One of his fellow officers dubbed him the Duke of Ellyson since that’s when George VI named Philip the Duke of Edinburgh.

In my Impromptus last Friday, I commented on something Donald Trump said when campaigning for a gubernatorial candidate: “He’ll rule your state with an iron fist, and he’ll do what has to be done.” A friend writes,

When I read your “rule with an iron fist” comments, my mind immediately went to this exchange from A Man for All Seasons — Roper is talking about getting at the devil:

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More : Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?

I spoke of the columnist Steve Chapman, who was born in Brady, Texas. Writes a reader,

When I was growing up, my family traveled from Midland to Houston, and we would sometimes drive through Brady. I remember my dad saying it was “the heart of Texas.” Also, as a music guy, you might like this: the Heart of Texas Country Music Festival.

In an Impromptus, I talked about, and celebrated, the weirdness of English. A reader writes,

I, too, love the weirdness of English. I’ve never forgotten this bit by the Reagan-era comedian Yakov Smirnoff: When asked by a maître-d whether he had reservations, he said, “Yes — but I’ll eat here anyway.”

Marvelous.

Education

Education versus Mind Control

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The “progressive” project of controlling education continues apace. Rather than producing knowledgeable people who can think for themselves, progressives envision education as a means of conditioning young minds to accept their beliefs, which don’t include individual success. They’re all about collectivism, and the goal of schooling is to produce lots of worker bees.

One American who understands the danger is Daniel Buck of the Fordham Institute. In today’s Martin Center article, he explains “Why the Canon Wars Still Matter.”

Buck writes, “Critics of the literary canon usually point to its preponderance of white males, but this antipathy toward tradition traces down to a more fundamental, even revolutionary, first principle. The radicals behind the anti-canon movement want more than the expansion of the existing canon; they want to eradicate any commitment to aesthetic ideals, objective truth, or moral imposition. Undergirding their resentment of Shakespeare or Tolstoy is a resentment of Western values as such, and so saving the canon is about more than saving Romeo and Juliet.”

Exactly.

Where classical education helps a student to understand reality, the “progressives” want to make reality optional. All objective standards must go, so out with all those books by dead white males. Instead, we get “critical pedagogy,” which is wholly negative.

Buck continues, “Perhaps the most egregious example of progressive deconstruction is contemporary gender ideology. Where it was in vogue decades ago to criticize religion or traditional institutions like the family, now even nature cannot impose itself on an individual. Self-actualization and subjective perception have such a final claim upon reality that one’s personal sense of gender—regardless of chromosomes or phenotypes—takes precedence. Thus, nature itself must conform to individual desire through gender surgery and hormone therapy.”

The Left has had its long march through our institutions, and it’s time for a counter-march. We need, as Bill Bennett argued, massive curricular change to reinstate the books and teachings that used to work so well before they were supplanted by junk from the likes of Paulo Freire and Howard Zinn.

Music

Polyphony among the Recusants

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Writing over at Corpus Christi Watershed, the musician Charles Weaver relays some of his experience working through the books of the recusant Edward Paston (1550–1630), which translate the polyphonic (multi-voiced) compositions of Elizabethan England into arrangements for lute and a soloist.

Weaver writes:

What were these settings used for? They could have been merely for private devotion, to be sung in gatherings of like-minded souls eager for spiritual and musical consolation. Another intriguing possibility is that the sacred works could have been used liturgically at small and illicit Masses celebrated in recusant homes by intrepid Jesuits. Either way, the whole collection is deeply moving to me, since it represents a longing for a spiritual connection to the past in the face of incomprehensible liturgical and religious upheaval. The connections to the experience of aesthetically minded Catholics living today hardly need to be spelled out.

And then he embeds some of the performances in them. Here he is performing with his wife, Elizabeth.

JOHN TAVERNER (d. 1545) “In Nomine” • Charles & Elizabeth Weaver from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

I’ve always thought that the Catholic music of this era, Thomas Tallis in particular, was ringed with sadness — a kind of witness to spiritual desolation and persecution, and a testimony to the believer’s call to God out of the depths of despair. I suppose the whole point of recusant spirituality is that you can’t be so explicit about your meaning. But hearing Weaver sing is like hearing my own prayer, transfigured. Go to CC Watershed for other examples.

Fiscal Policy

Interest on the Debt Is Increasing

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United States Department of the Treasury headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Treasury released its Monthly Treasury Statement. There is a lot of interesting information in there, but what caught my eye was the interest-on-the-debt number. It should open our eyes to the impact of large increases in deficit spending and rising interest rates.

For perspective, interest payments in January were $34 billion, close to half of what Treasury paid in August. Another way of appreciating the size of August’s interest payments is to annualize the figure: $756 billion is 3 percent of GDP. Furthermore, interest rates are still going up, so it will likely get worse before it gets better. FYI: Half of our debt has a maturity of 3 years or less, and 3-year treasury notes are currently yielding 3.74 percent — up from 0.4 percent a year ago.

Incidentally: The Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl published a timely paper last year that could have been called “Everything you need to know about interest rates and interest payments, and why legislators should worry more than they are.” This paper is important, and I hope you will read it.

The summary:

Today’s trendy economic argument asserts that the current debt-to-GDP ratio of 100% has not harmed the economy, and therefore Congress can easily afford large new government expansions. But that argument has two fatal flaws. First, it fails to acknowledge that over the next few decades—even without new legislation—the debt is already projected to reach levels that even debt doves would likely consider unsustainable. Second, this argument assumes that interest rates will forever remain near today’s low levels, thus minimizing Washington’s cost of servicing this debt. However, economic trends rarely remain linear indefinitely, and interest-rate movements have rarely followed forecaster projections. Indeed, several realistic economic scenarios could easily push interest rates back up to 4%–5% within a few decades—which would coincide with a projected debt surge to greatly increase federal budget interest costs. Debt doves have no backup plan for this possibility. Policymakers should now enact reforms that scale back the escalating long-term debt projections in order to limit the federal government’s risk exposure to a fiscal crisis.

U.S.

From Darfur to San Francisco

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Melinda Henneberger on some of the people she meets on the streets of San Francisco:

Women in the camp look out for one another, says her friend Lucia Mercado: “We try to keep all of the females together.” But that strategy isn’t protection enough, here or anywhere elsewhere.

“Most women on the street have been raped,” Catherine Moy, a city councilwoman in Fairfield, who ran a homeless shelter in Solano County, told me. “They end up taking meth to keep themselves awake at night” to try and ward off more attacks.

The South Sudanese refugees in a camp in Uganda I’ve written about a couple of times were, without any exaggeration, better off materially than these Americans living two miles from the seat of power, such as it is, in the fifth-largest economy in the world.

And the stories homeless women like Gallegos tell me about being raped remind me of Sudan, too: When women in Darfur told the world that they couldn’t even go out looking for firewood without being attacked by the notorious Janjaweed soldiers, the world was properly horrified.

Yet when it happens here, who knows or cares?

 

Politics & Policy

Ken Starr Was a Good Man

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Independent counsel Kenneth Starr testifies during the investigation of President Clinton, November 19, 1998. (PTB/RC/SB via Reuters)

Ken Starr was a great lawyer, but much more than that, he was a good man. As things often go at the intersection of law and politics, he had plenty of reasons not to be. A brilliant constitutional conservative, federal appellate judge, and solicitor general — perennially in the mix for nomination to the nation’s highest court — he had the patriotic devotion to take on the most thankless task in modern American history: independent counsel in the investigation of President Clinton. For that, the media-Democrat complex spared no effort to destroy him . . . personally. The deeper they dug into the muck, though, the more determined he was to complete his work while maintaining his dignity, honor, and civility.

It was a real privilege to befriend him these last years, mainly at NR Institute events and working together at Fox. He was a voice of calm through the turbulence of the Trump years, too, confident through one controversy after another that the genius of our Constitution would see us through. What I will always remember is how his deep faith, keen mind, and quick wit kept him cheerful and gracious after all he’d been through. His wife, Alice, had a great deal to do with that, and our thoughts are with her and the Starr family.

Requiescat in pace.

Politics & Policy

Progressives Burn Manchin

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D, W.Va.) speaks to journalists during a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 8, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

The apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus cautions one to “never trust thine enemy: for like as iron rusteth, so is his wickedness.” West Virginia senator Joe Manchin might want to revisit this timeless passage.

As a condition for the recalcitrant moderate’s co-sponsorship of the Inflation Reduction Act boondoggle, Democrats enticed him with a promise to enact energy-permitting reform, a top priority for the Senator from the coal-rich Mountain State, by streamlining the environmental-review process, among other things.

Now, House progressives are reneging on that promise, making a concerted effort to stop Democratic leadership from fulfilling their end of the bargain. This effort comes as Manchin finds himself among the motley crew of the least popular politicians in America. One can assume that this has something to do with his support for the signature Democratic legislation in an R+22 state.

Liberals have been lambasting Manchin since Democrats retook the Senate majority in 2020 for his refusal to shut up and get in line. Ironically, he’s probably the only Democrat who could get elected in a state that President Trump won for a second time in 2020 by a gargantuan margin of 38.9 percentage points. And after he forsook his reputation as a maverick to toe the party line, his fellow Democrats seem intent on throwing him under the bus.

Manchin shouldn’t have been so naive. The old aphorism that “you’re only as good as your word” has long been dead on the Hill, and his detractors have been transparent in their hatred of him for months. Next time, when his intraparty political rivals pronounce their intentions, he ought to listen.

Law & the Courts

Re: On the Pro-Life Senate Bill and ‘Late Term’ Abortion

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Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks at the American Bankruptcy Institute’s 26th annual spring meeting in Washington, D.C., April 4, 2008. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Alexandra writes:

Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) has just introduced a bill that would protect unborn children from abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In recent months, polls have found that either a majority or plurality of Americans supports such legislation.

The response from abortion supporters to the bill has been . . . predictable. There’s a substantial cohort claiming the bill proves that pro-life opposition to Roe v. Wade was “never about states’ rights,” as though support for a federal pro-life law somehow negates the constitutional argument against Roe.

I agree with Alexandra that “support for a federal pro-life law” does not “somehow negate the constitutional argument against Roe.” But it does weaken the broader originalist argument upon which the objections to Roe were built. Obviously, Chris Hayes can’t make useful legal arguments about Roe — or anything else, for that matter because, as a “living constitutionalist,” he doesn’t believe the Constitution means anything discernible in the first place. But conservatives can — and they should.

The winning — and correct — argument against Roe was not that the Constitution prohibits abortion, but that the Constitution is silent about abortion, and that, because the Constitution is silent about abortion, the judiciary is prohibited from setting abortion policy. As our readers will know, I have strong views on abortion, and I have done since I was a child. But my views cannot, and should not, be confused for the original public meaning of the unamended Constitution or of the 14th Amendment — both of which, as the majority confirmed in Dobbs, leave the matter to “the people and their elected representatives.”

Alexandra notes that “polls have found that either a majority or plurality of Americans supports” federal legislation that “would protect unborn children from abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.” And I daresay that’s true. But that’s not the end of the story, is it? At least, it’s not the end of the story if we apply the same constitutional approach to the powers that are enjoyed by the federal government as we did to the question of abortion per se. And, if we do that, we easily find that the federal government has no constitutional power to regulate abortion. Hell, even if we stretch the commerce clause beyond its original meaning — which, as Dobbsian originalists, we should not — we still can’t find such a power, because the prohibition of abortion is not a commerce power, but a police power of the sort that the Constitution’s enumerated powers doctrine explicitly reserves to the states. (In Gonzales v. Carhart, Justice Thomas noted that the question of “whether the Act constitutes a permissible exercise of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause is not before the Court,” and could therefore be waived for now).

So, no, Lindsey Graham’s bill doesn’t undermine Dobbs, but it does diminish the integrity of the originalist philosophy that underpinned and justified the constitutional argument for Dobbs — and, if that philosophy is to remain intact, that matters.

World

King Charles’s Temper

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King Charles III has been touring the United Kingdom following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. While signing the guest book at Northern Ireland’s Hillsborough Castle, the king became visibly upset after he realized he’d written the wrong date on the document, and his wife, Camilla, pointed out he’d done the same thing earlier, and then the pen he’d been using proceeded to leak.

Besides this being amusing — on a human level, the man has just lost his mother and must be exhausted from all the public engagements. Nevertheless, it is striking that in 70 years on the throne, Charles’s mother was completely unflappable. The role of monarch demands superhuman grace and decorum. Such qualities take practice. Elizabeth had the advantage of making a habit of them while young.

The Economy

Freight-Rail Strike Could Send Gas Prices Back Up

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(JerryB7/iStock/Getty Images)

Today’s inflation report showed a slight decline in headline inflation. That decline occurred largely because a significant reduction over the past month in the price of one commodity, gasoline, compensated for price increases in just about every other category.

A freight-rail strike, which could begin as early as Friday, could put gasoline prices back on the rise.

The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), a trade group for fuel producers, sent a letter to congressional leadership today urging Congress to intervene and prevent a rail strike. The letter says, “A railway strike and embargos on rail shipments have the potential to force production cuts at U.S. petrochemical facilities and fuel refineries, which could deplete U.S. gasoline and diesel supplies and drive-up fuel prices.”

The industry’s reliance on rail is significant. “Annually in the United States, over 2 million carloads of our members’ raw materials and products, including crude oil, natural gas liquids, refined products, petrochemicals, and plastics are transported by rail,” the letter says.

The AFPM called the independent recommendations from the presidential emergency board that Biden appointed to help resolve the dispute “a workable middle ground,” and it urged Congress to “take steps immediately to prevent a work stoppage.”

One of the primary things holding the inflation numbers steady right now is gasoline. If rail unions go on strike under the self-described “most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history” and send gasoline prices back up, Democrats had better look out for voter backlash in November.

Culture

Which Is Worse?

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On a Zoom call with other clinical activists, Marci Bowers — an infamous trans-identifying surgeon featured on Matt Walsh’s documentary What Is a Woman? — discussed the future sexual dysfunction that children whose puberty “was truly blocked” will face.

“Are they going to be able to achieve sexual satisfaction?” Bowers asks. “It’s important in relationships. And I know that from my work with female genital-mutilation survivors that the lack of being able to be intimate with a partner is very important. And so this is what really raised the red flag for me.”

Bowers rightly compares these treatments to female genital mutilation and yet, despite identifying this as a “red flag,” shows no signs of stopping the experiments.

Which is worse? Being so invested in an ideology that you can’t admit what you’re really doing or admitting what you’re really doing and then doing it anyway?

Politics & Policy

Manchin ‘Absolutely’ Backs 20-Week Abortion Limit and Is ‘Very Interested’ in 15-Week Bill

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

When I briefly caught up with Senator Joe Manchin today in a Capitol hallway, the West Virginia Democrat said he “absolutely” still supports the 20-week federal abortion limit he has voted for on multiple occasions. While Manchin said he has not yet seen text of Senator Lindsey Graham’s new bill to prohibit most abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy and beyond, Manchin said he was “very interested” in the new legislation. When the Senate voted on the 20-week abortion limit in 2015, the ban had the support of 51 Senate Republicans and three Senate Democrats.

Education

Here Comes a Blockbuster Discrimination Case

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Texas A&M University campus (Spencer Selvidge/Reuters)

In many colleges and universities, faculty hiring and promotion are subject to highly discriminatory conditions. Many positions are reserved for women and “persons of color” because the decision-makers want to promote “diversity.” The applicants must also avow certain beliefs. The way this works out is that applicants who might have the wrong views (i.e., who aren’t vociferously “anti-racist”) are filtered out.

But aren’t there anti-discrimination laws regarding employment? Yes, and someone has just filed a lawsuit to find out if the courts will enforce them. That someone is University of Texas at Austin professor Richard Lowery, who is suing Texas A&M University.

To read all about this litigation, go to this Minding the Campus essay by Texas attorney Louis Bonham. He writes, “With universities perceiving no real risk of being sued, and with the Biden administration having about the same interest in neutrally enforcing federal discrimination law as it does in securing the southern border, university administrators know there is no serious risk to giving in to the demands of ‘antiracist’ activists for official, overt discrimination against white and Asian men.”

Does Lowery have a chance of beating the academic establishment?

Yes. The case will be heard in Texas, and the Fifth Circuit has been ill-disposed toward leftist attacks on legal equality. Bonham quotes Berkeley law professor John Yoo: “This seems like a strong case. The Supreme Court’s diversity rationale for the use of race in university admissions for students is a limited exception to the general rule that the Constitution prohibits government from using skin color in its decisions and policies. Here, Texas A&M is flatly using race in considering the hiring and compensation of faculty. It is flatly unconstitutional and the university should lose in court.”

I must add that Lowery recently wrote an article for the Martin Center on how the University of Texas managed to ruin an attempt at injecting some intellectual diversity by subverting an institute that would have upheld values like limited government and free enterprise that are no longer tolerated at UT.

This is at least as important as the discriminatory-admissions cases the Supreme Court will hear this fall.

Politics & Policy

‘The Least We Can Do to Protect’ Women and Babies

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Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) speaks during subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds/Reuters)

Lindsey Graham’s legislation today reminds me of the partial-birth-abortion debate. We have to talk about what abortion is. On and around the Senate floor is one place to do so. Rick Santorum once stayed on the Senate floor talking about it, and we know of at least one life that was saved because he did.

Just noticing some of the reactions in my inbox and nodding:

“The science of fetal development, and what we know about a 15-week-old unborn baby, is vital in evaluating the bill Sen. Graham introduced today.  Pregnancy websites describe “babies” who “work on breathing, sucking and swallowing motions … kicking, curling toes and moving those little arms and legs.” Limits on abortion at this stage of development are humane and common sense. We applaud Sen. Graham’s efforts to seek consensus in a post-Roe world and to protect as many babies and women as possible from the harms of abortion.” — Maureen Ferguson, senior fellow with The Catholic Association  

“Limiting abortions after 15 weeks is the least we can do to protect women, as well as babies who at this stage are already fully formed in their mother’s womb and can feel pain. It is consistent with what we know from science about the harm of late abortion, as well as in line with where Americans stand on the issue. After all, 90% of Americans reject the view that abortion should be legal up until birth. Politicians voting against this bill will stand against science and against the American public. March for Life challenges all elected officials to come together to pass this compassionate bill and is grateful to Senator Graham for introducing it.” — Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life

The scare tactics in the weeks since Roe was overturned are making things worse — women as well as doctors are confused and frightened. Anything that can lovingly shed light on the truth of what happens in an abortion is necessary.

And even more important: What more are we doing to help women and girls know that we love them and will help them?

Economy & Business

The Ticking Time Bomb of a Freight-Rail Strike

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A commercial freight train carries a load of shipping containers at the Port of Savannah, Ga., October 17, 2021. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

The potential strike by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and SMART-Transportation Division union would be a giant, economy-snarling headache from coast to coast. The potential strike is already disrupting certain shipments; freight railroads said they are planning to halt the transport of hazardous materials and sensitive cargoes, such as chemicals used in fertilizer and chlorine for water purification, because they don’t want those sensitive materials stuck somewhere when a work stoppage begins. (I guess the hazardous materials and sensitive cargoes will just sit in place for a while.)

Amtrak announced today, “While these negotiations do not involve Amtrak or the Amtrak workforce, many of our trains operate over freight railroad tracks. Because the parties have not yet reached a resolution, Amtrak has begun to make initial service adjustments in response to a possible freight railroad service interruption that could occur later this week.”

If you’re in the supply chain industry, you’re freaking out right now. We are approaching supply chain peak season, as stores want to have their shelves well-stocked for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season. Many retailers begin offering deals in early November, which means all of those goods need to arrive in September and October. UPS just announced plans to hire more than 100,000 seasonal employees, while the U.S. Postal Service announced its own peak season plans.

The economic reverberations would be far-reaching; as our Dominic Pino wrote yesterday, “a strike by SMART-TD and the BLET would still lead to a nationwide shutdown. Carriers can’t run without their roughly 62,000 employees combined, and workers represented by other unions would be unlikely to cross a picket line. A nationwide shutdown would cost $2 billion per day.”

Rail moves one-third of all U.S. exports and roughly 40 percent of long distance freight volume.

Oh, and what do you think happens to already-high electricity bill prices when coal stops moving by train?

One of my readers follows this industry closely, and writes in:

Railroad strike on Friday? Better than even odds. Biden used his best tool in July by ordering a 60-day cooling off period which expires on Friday. He has no other executive card to play. Congress can impose another cooling off period, but good luck with getting that done by Friday.

Does anyone believe the Secretary of Labor has any pull with the BLE&T? Can anyone actually pick the Secretary of Labor out of a lineup?

I’ve talked to people across the federal government who – like me – deal with railroads on a daily basis. I’ve also talked with the Association of American Railroads. Everyone is holding their collective breath. Nobody wants to find out what happens when the trains stop running. Problem is, there is no silver bullet here.

A few career lives ago, I was a railroad freight conductor. Toughed it out for two years and quit for the same reasons the unions are complaining about today.

It would be painfully ironic if the presidency of Joe Biden, who constantly goes on about how much he loves trains and Amtrak, endured a painful and economically-disruptive railroad workers’ strike. You would also think that a Democratic president would have the ability to persuade union allies to not launch an economy-crippling strike six weeks before the midterm elections. But Biden’s presidency is full of unpleasant surprises.

Religion

Fourteen Things That Caught My Eye: Yeshiva University, Hasidic Schools, Religious Liberty, Pluralism & More

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People walk by the campus of Yeshiva University in New York City, August 30, 2022. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

1. Before her murder by insurgents, Italian nun called niece for prayers

According to Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Italian Sister De Coppi, 84, was killed by a bullet to the head during the night between Sept. 6 and 7 during an attack on their mission. She had been serving in Mozambique since 1963.

According to reports sent to Fides, those who attacked destroyed the mission’s structures, including the church, the hospital and the primary and secondary school. Fides reported the nun was killed while trying to reach the dormitory where the few remaining students were.

Other sisters and two Italian missionary priests were able to escape and hide: Father Loris Vignandel, 45, and Father Lorenzo Barro, who is the rector of a diocesan seminary in the city of Destra Tagliamento.

The BBC reported Sept. 8 that the Islamic State group (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed four Christians, including Sister De Coppi. IS said it killed the nun because she had “excessively engaged in spreading Christianity,” the BBC reported.

2. Bill McGurn: Yeshiva University Case Means We’re All Jews Now

“The stakes couldn’t be higher, not just for Yeshiva but for the country,” says Mark Rienzi, the Catholic University law professor and Becket Fund president who represented the Little Sisters in 2013. “That’s why people of many different faiths filed briefs asking the court to protect Yeshiva. If Yeshiva can’t even make religious decisions on its own campus, then no religious group is safe from government control.”

3. Eli Spitzer in Mosaic: New York State vs. the Yeshivas

What the dispute about ḥasidic yeshivas is really about, then, is something much more critical than instruction in secular studies. It’s about whether the liberal state is willing to let a countercultural social movement that bends the rules of the liberal order grow up in its midst. From the perspective of the state, and those loyal to it, there are reasonable grounds to prevent that. What is not reasonable, however, is the sort of liberal triumphalism that imagines that, under the pretext of implementing minor or neutral reforms, Ḥasidim will simply be intimidated into dismantling their own social order. Those among YAFFED’s supporters who understand what is at stake and want to disable the ḥasidic community’s ability to ensure generational continuity should do them the credit of not imagining it will be so easy.

In the meantime, those who have the more modest goal of promoting better secular studies in the ḥasidic education system would be well advised to return to first principles and remember the distinction between education—the molding of an individual—and instruction—the imparting of specific skills. If they wish to get the majority of ḥasidic parents on board, then their most urgent priority is to demonstrate how specific forms of instruction can be introduced into ḥasidic schools without imperiling its overall educational purpose. In my own experience as a headmaster trying to do exactly this, I have found the task both easier and harder than you might think. Many seemingly impossible obstacles can be overcome when your goals are clear and defined, and many seemingly innocuous reforms actually have a destabilizing effect that ripples throughout the whole system.

Many features of a ḥasidic school seem pointless or bizarre to those who have not thought deeply about how they fit together, but it is precisely for that reason that reformers—assuming they want to succeed—must tread carefully. As G.K. Chesterton warned in his famous fence parable, you cannot fix what you do not first understand. The instinctive attitude of ordinary ḥasidic parents who would like better, more engaging, and successful secular studies for their sons, but who fear any tampering with the existing system, is wholly reasonable. Improving standards of secular education can be done only by those who have demonstrated their ability to tinker with the edifice of hasidic education without bringing the walls tumbling down. As for those who want those walls to fall so that poor, oppressed ḥasidic children can taste the pleasure of liberal autonomy—well, as we say in Yiddish, zol zayn mit mazel.

Continue reading “Fourteen Things That Caught My Eye: Yeshiva University, Hasidic Schools, Religious Liberty, Pluralism & More”

The Economy

‘Inflation Reduction’: Update

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President Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 2, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Yes, yes, cheap shot there in the headline. It would, of course, be unreasonable to expect that the Inflation Reduction Act would already be working its promised wonders. Then again, it would be lunacy to expect the Inflation Reduction Act to ever do what it says on the label, so there’s that.

According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, a group of economists and data scientists at the University of Pennsylvania who analyze public policies to predict their economic and fiscal impacts, the effect of the IRA on inflation will be “statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

Nevertheless, given today’s inflation data, it’s perhaps a little unfortunate that the administration will be celebrating the Act later today in Washington, D.C.

So unfortunate that it would take a heart of stone not to laugh, however bitterly.

But back, via Reuters, to the numbers:

U.S. consumer prices unexpectedly rose in August and underlying inflation picked up amid rising costs for rents and healthcare, giving the Federal Reserve ammunition to deliver a third 75 basis points interest rate hike next Wednesday.

The surprisingly firm inflation readings reported by the Labor Department on Tuesday followed in the wake of recent data showing labor market resilience…

To include both “unexpectedly” and “surprisingly” in the text might suggest that Reuters has a message to deliver. But, to be fair, the number was worse than expected. As (at the time of writing) you can see by the market reaction.

CNBC:

Stocks fell sharply on Tuesday after a key August inflation report came in hotter than expected, hurting investor optimism for cooling prices and a less aggressive Federal Reserve.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 861 points, or 2.7%. The S&P 500 dropped 3%, and the Nasdaq Composite sank 4%

Reuters:

A 10.6% decline in gasoline prices was offset by increases in rents, food and healthcare. Food prices rose 0.8%, with the cost of food consumed at home increasing 0.7%. Consumers also paid more for electricity and natural gas.

Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how is the cost of living?

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI dipping 0.1%. In the 12 months through August, the CPI increased 8.3%. While that was a deceleration from July’s 8.5% rise, inflation is running way above the Fed’s 2% target.

Though annual CPI peaked at 9.1% in June, which was the biggest gain since November 1981, it has remained above 8% for six straight months. With only one more CPI report due before Election Day it is unlikely to give up that handle before Americans head to the polls.

Justin Wolfers:

Core inflation is the real gut punch, rising +0.6% in August, and it’s now up +6.3% over the year.

And core inflation is what the Fed looks at most closely.

The Financial Times:

In government debt markets, the yield on the 2-year US Treasury, which is more sensitive to policy expectations, surged to be up 0.16 percentage points at 3.73 per cent, having traded at 3.52 per cent before the release of the inflation data.

It’s worth reading the whole of Wolfers’s thread, also for a few signs of optimism. Consumer inflation expectations have fallen (probably thanks to falling gas prices), but that’s a lagging indicator (paradoxically). There are, notes Wolfers, no signs of a wage–price spiral. It also helps that supply chains are easing (I wonder what a freight-rail strike could mean for that).

Wolfers cites data showing that:

Core inflation has remained relatively constant as it has shifted from goods into services. But this is not benign. Team transitory was largely based on the view that a shock to goods prices would dissipate rather than spread.

In Wolfers’s view a 75bp rate hike is a lock-in. I’ve thought that’s more likely than not for a while. His slightly longer-term forecast:

I expect that over the next year or so inflation will come down to rates of two or three-point-something. It’ll become less of a concern for the general public (it’s hard to tell the difference between 2% and 3% inflation), but this will remain a central concern for the Fed.

Note that time frame (“next year or so”). Somewhat unscientifically, I can see inflation getting down to around 4 percent some time next year, which is where it was at the end of the Volcker era, but, as Volcker recognized (rightly), that was still too high (he also didn’t think much of a 2 percent target either, but that’s a discussion for another day).

At this point, if we do not have the 75bp hike next time around, I can see the markets taking that badly.

Still, at least we don’t have an administration that is spending like crazy, attacking the supply side, promoting greenflation and incentivizing massive malinvestment in green projects.

So there’s that.

Isn’t there?