Culture

DNT GO BRNDN: The Censors Come for Maine’s Vanity Plates

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(NR Illustration; Photos by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters and kenkuza/Getty Images)

Maine drivers will soon have to find new means of communicating their spicy opinions about the Yankees, non-Mainers, and the mechanics of intercourse currently stamped onto their license plates. Beginning later this year, a trio of bureaucrats associated with Maine’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles will use the powers granted by a 2021 law to establish the Vanity Plate Review Committee. Armed with the moral authority only a government employee can know and the Urban Dictionary — no, I’m not kidding — the committee will decide whether a petition to put VT LAME or BIDNOLD on the hindquarters of one’s vehicle comports with the new standards.

Covering the story for the Wall Street Journal, Scott Calvert interviewed Shania Roussel, the proud owner of an endangered plate. He writes:

Shania Roussel knows she might soon have to give up the plate she got in 2020. It features the F-word plus “AHH”—think “-ER” in a Maine accent. Ms. Roussel, 25 years old, said the seven letters on her Toyota Corolla aren’t a slur but a spicy homage to the Pine Tree State.

“It was like, how can I incorporate my frequent swearing with my love for my state?” she recalls thinking when she selected the plate.

Vanity plates are ridiculous, albeit much less obnoxious than improperly applied bumper stickers. Despite their silliness, however, there’s something beautiful about the ingenuity of the American’s ability to wordlessly thumb his or her nose at the authorities or his neighboring state. So, to you Maine lawmakers, I repeat the titillating words of civil libertarian Randy Marsh, “I thought this was America!” Let the people have their plates; perhaps they can use them to eat cake.

Politics & Policy

Today in Capital Matters: California Water

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Edward Ring of the California Policy Center writes about California’s struggles with water supply:

On May 12, the California Coastal Commission board of directors voted 11–0 to deny the application from Poseidon Water to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Since 1998, Poseidon has spent over $100 million on design and permit work for this plant. At least half of that money was spent on seemingly endless studies and redesigns as the Coastal Commission and other agencies continued to change the requirements. The denial of Poseidon’s application makes it very unlikely another construction contractor will ever attempt to build a large-scale desalination plant on the California coast.

This is a historic mistake. If you’re trying to eliminate water scarcity, desalination is an option you can’t ignore. Desalination has the unique virtue of relying on a literally inexhaustible feedstock, the world’s vast and salty oceans. At an estimated total volume of 1.1 quadrillion acre feet (1.1 billion million acre feet), there will always be enough ocean.

Read the whole thing here.

Economy & Business

Joe Biden’s Latest Policy Idea Is — Yes, You Guessed It — Inflationary

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Gas prices over the $8.00 mark are advertised at a Chevron Station in Los Angeles, Calif., May 30, 2022. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

At this point, it’s just downright astonishing. Joe Biden is 79 years old. He has been in public office for half a century. He lived through the last period of inflation. And the only idea he ever seems able to come up with is to send people more money.

The Washington Post reports that:

Biden officials are taking a second look at whether the federal government could send rebate cards out to millions of American drivers to help them pay at gas stations — an idea they examined months ago before ruling it out. Aides had found that shortages in the U.S. chip industry would make it hard to produce enough rebate cards, two people familiar with the matter said. White House officials also fear there would be no way to prevent consumers from using them for purchases other than gasoline, according to another person familiar with the discussions. Even if the administration embraces the proposal, it would probably require congressional approval and face long odds among lawmakers wary of spending more money.

This measure would be — yep, you’ve guessed it — inflationary. It doesn’t really matter whether there is a way “to prevent consumers from using” the cards “for purchases other than gasoline,” because money is fungible. If gas prices stay high, and if people are sent money with which to buy gas, then those people will have more money to spend on other things, and, absent a shift on the supply side, the resulting increase in demand will make inflation worse, rather than better.

This is basic stuff, and still — still — the president has not grasped it. He is, as ever, an inflation machine.

World

Jailed for Bad Memes

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(Photos597/Getty Images )

This is what happens when your country doesn’t have a First Amendment:

A former police constable has been jailed for 20 weeks after sending a string of racist WhatsApp memes, including images that mocked the death of George Floyd. James Watts was serving with West Mercia police in 2020 when he shared the “grossly offensive” material in a group chat, which included former colleagues at a Warwickshire prison. After a police inquiry, the 31-year-old was found to have posted 10 offensive memes in May and June 2020, including one featuring a white dog wearing Ku Klux Klan clothing and another showing a kneeling mat with Floyd’s face printed on it.

Sentencing Watts at Birmingham magistrates court on Tuesday, the deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram said he had “undermined the confidence the public has in the police”. “At the time of these offences, you were a police officer – a person to whom the public looks up to to uphold the law – but you did the opposite,” he said. “Your behaviour brings the criminal justice system as a whole into disrepute. The hostility that you demonstrated on the basis of race makes this offending so serious that I cannot deal with it by a community penalty or a fine. “A message must go out and that message can only go out through an immediate sentence of imprisonment.”

The memes are, in fact, bad, and there is a case to be made for firing Watts from his job as a police officer. But a court of law looking at memes and declaring, “a message must go out . . . through an immediate sentence of imprisonment” should send a chill down the spine of free people everywhere.

Education

Acting Like Nero While Rome Burned

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Many of the professors at American universities live comfortable lives, oblivious to the damage they’ve done to our future. They wrap themselves in their supposed virtue as advocates for environmentalism, social justice, racial equity, and so on but can’t see that their schools and the nation are in grave peril.

So argues Michael Pearce in today’s Martin Center article.

He likens the situation to that depicted in a famous painting (“Birds of Paradise”) that shows upscale LA residents partying while a fire rages just a small distance from them.

Pearce writes, “Satirical paintings are always open to interpretation, but this one is especially biting and points a sharp finger at American elites who disregard the heralding of a catastrophic future. Although its message could be equally well directed at the cream of the entertainment business, at journalists, or at politicians, Dobsky’s work is especially meaningful to close observers of the slow-motion collapse of private liberal-arts institutions, who are keenly aware of the dissonant devil’s tritone of recruitment, social justice, and education.”

That slow-motion collapse is about to accelerate as demographic trends turn against college enrollments and more people realize that the highly politicized education they get isn’t worth it.

For the moment, our preening faculty are happy. Pearce continues, “Snugly tucked behind an azure moat and the fortifications of an ivory tower, complacent tenured faculty imagine themselves as virtuous warriors fighting for the fashionable issues of contemporary agitation. Within their imaginary world, they are safely protected from real life, making glib pronouncements about social-justice issues and enforcing internal compliance.”

That’s a good assessment of the situation. Reality is about to intrude.

International

Adventures in Lithium

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An employee works on a production line for lithium-ion batteries at a factory in Dongguan, China, in 2018. (Joyce Zhou/Reuters)

As surely we all know by now, lithium is a key material used in the production of batteries for the electric vehicles that we are being “encouraged” to buy, albeit without much thought of what that encouragement might lead to. Top-down mandates tend to be like that. Unsurprisingly, lithium is currently in short supply.

Bloomberg (May 25):

Elon Musk wants to mine it, China is scouring Tibet for it, battery makers are crying out for it. Lithium, the wonder metal at the heart of the global shift to electric cars, is in a full-blown crisis. Demand has outstripped supply, pushing prices up almost 500% in a year and hindering the world’s most successful effort yet to halt global warming.

The shortage of lithium is so acute that in China, which makes about 80% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, the government corralled suppliers and manufacturers to demand “a rational return” to lower prices. Analysts at Macquarie Group Ltd. warned of a “a perpetual deficit,” while Citigroup Inc. nearly doubled its price forecast for 2022, saying an “extreme” rally could be coming.

There is a view that the squeeze may have peaked (a minority view, but it’s out there), but if it has peaked, it is doing so from a very high level.

Expense apart, lithium has its problems, ranging from where it is produced (the U.S. has just one source at the moment, a brine operation, yes, brine, in Nevada), to the mess associated with its mining (it can also be found in a type of rock).

And now there is this (via Reuters):

Lithium’s pivotal role in electric vehicles makes it an important commodity in meeting global targets to cut carbon emissions, and it was added to the EU’s list of critical raw materials in 2020.

Great!

But . . .

The European Commission is currently assessing a proposal by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to classify lithium carbonate, chloride and hydroxide as dangerous for human health.

That would result in a more restrictive regulatory framework for their use at a time when the EU is aiming to be self-sufficient in electric vehicle batteries by 2025.

The proposal doesn’t ban lithium imports, but if legislated will add to costs for processors from more stringent rules controlling processing, packaging and storage.

I’m not entirely convinced that the central planners behind the EU’s headlong rush into electric vehicles were at the top of their game.

National Security & Defense

Congress to Rebuff Biden on Defense Spending for Second Year in a Row

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Aircraft attached to Carrier Air Wing CVW-8 sit on flight deck of the Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), under way in the Atlantic Ocean, April 13, 2022. (Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Riley McDowell/US Navy)

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a version of the annual defense authorization bill that would result in an $847 billion defense budget, which is $45 billion more than what the White House requested.

After the administration released its budget request earlier this year, lawmakers complained that the proposed budget would essentially fail to keep pace with exploding inflation and not match the 3–5 percent annual rise in defense spending recommended by a bipartisan panel in 2018.

Politico reported that the House Armed Services Committee still needs to put forward its own version of the legislation but that it would likely also add money to the White House request.

 

Congress also opted for a larger budget than what the president requested in last year’s defense bill, authorizing $749 billion in spending and enraging progressive defense-budget-cut advocates.

The decision to approve a larger figure than what Biden proposed was supported by lawmakers from both parties, motivated in large part by rampant inflation. Senator Jack Reed, the committee’s chairman, called inflation “the first consideration” motivating the higher defense-budget figure, according to Politico.

Another reason to support the larger proposal was the message that it would send about U.S. defense readiness.

Senator Roger Wicker, the favorite to become the committee’s chairman if Republicans win a majority in the Senate next year, wrote on Twitter that the NDAA would “send a strong signal” to U.S. adversaries such as Russia and China.

Law & the Courts

A New Report Demonstrates the Importance of Tough-on-Crime Policies

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NYPD officers in Times Square, New York City, in 2013. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

For years, many have presumed that socioeconomic status is the primary determinant of criminality in American society. A new study authored by Matt DeLisi, John Paul Wright, and Rafael A. Mangual and published by the Manhattan Institute upends that presumption. The report, titled, “Psychology, Not Circumstances: Understanding Crime as Entitlement,” finds that instead of cracking down on crime by reducing poverty through greater social and capital investments, crime should be tackled by enforcing strict criminal laws, prosecuting criminals, and sending them to prison.

Criminals share similar patterns in their mind-sets, the study’s authors write. “Those mind-sets and expectations . . . reveal entitlement as an important, yet underexplored, driver of a significant amount of criminal behavior.” 

The study on the origins of criminality comes amid a surge in crime in the United States. Murder rates spiked 30 percent in 2020 compared with 2019. Fox News found that in the cities of Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., violent crime has increased between five percent and 40 percent in 2022 compared with 2021. This comes on the heels of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, which sparked a nationwide backlash against law enforcement, likely leading to less proactive policing in high-crime neighborhoods. 

The Manhattan Institute study finds that entitlement is key to understanding “antisocial conduct and aggression.” Public policy since the 1960s has encouraged entitlement thinking, according to the study. This can be seen through the lackluster policy responses to drug abuse and homelessness, the popular response to which is a hands-off approach that incentivizes more of the same behavior. Entitlement thinking is also encouraged by progressive prosecutors pursuing criminal-justice reform, declining to prosecute crimes. The authors write, “Suffused with entitlement, progressive reforms take the coddling of offenders to another level. . . . For many, progressive criminal-justice reform is a green light to act out their predations.” George Soros–backed prosecutors have taken the reins of power in jurisdictions across the country, refusing to prosecute certain crimes and expressing their intentions to decrease prison sentences for violent crimes as part of the radical criminal-justice-reform agenda. Over the past decade, Soros’s funding has helped get 75 prosecutors elected across the U.S. who now control half of America’s biggest jurisdictions.

The study addresses what social interventions can be implemented for prevention and rehabilitation: “Those seeking to craft such interventions through public policymaking must reorient their approaches around an understanding of entitlement as one of the single most important ‘root causes’ of crime—one that cannot be treated by financial benevolence from the state.” The study also points out that entitlement is one of the most widely noted criminal thinking tendencies connected to repeat offending, and repeat offenders are a huge factor behind significant crime in the U.S.

According to the researchers, the dismissiveness of the importance of entitlement in crime has led scholars to erroneously believe economic distress is a driving force behind crime, and it has also led to an overestimation of society’s capacity to resolve the “psychological underpinnings of criminal offending.” In the end, keeping criminals off the streets and deterring them with strict laws and incarceration are the most effective ways of protecting law-abiding Americans. 

This study proves what commonsense Americans already know to be true. Society is incentivizing criminals to commit more crimes through implementing soft-on-crime policies. This stems from a distorted view that the criminals are somehow the victims of a flawed and unfair system. What has become clear is that the current wave of crime ravaging America’s cities is an issue that disturbs all Americans regardless of politics, and proactive policing combined with serious prosecutors can help thwart the crime wave.

World

U.S. Discussing Whether to Ask Ukraine to ‘Dial Back’ War Aims: NBC

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Ukrainian servicemen ride BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles in Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 14, 2022. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

The Biden administration is holding internal discussions about asking the Ukrainian government to step back from its firm stance against ceding territory to Russia in eventual peace talks, NBC reported today, citing seven U.S., European, and former U.S. officials.

The report reflects a changing mood in the White House as a slow-moving, high-casualty war of attrition has set in in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

NBC reported the news in the sixth paragraph of a piece focused on an incident in which President Biden chided Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for saying in April that the U.S. wanted to see Russia “weakened” and defeated.

During a press conference following the two cabinet members’ trip to Kyiv in April, Austin made the comments about weakening Russia, and Blinken, who also spoke at the event in Poland, said he agreed.

Multiple Biden administration officials told NBC that while Austin and Blinken flew from Poland toward Germany and Washington, respectively, Biden organized a conference call to criticize their comments and instruct them to use different language.

One official told NBC, “Biden was not happy when Blinken and Austin talked about winning in Ukraine. He was not happy with the rhetoric.”

While the president’s own off-the-cuff remarks about Ukraine in recent months have sowed confusion about the White House’s true policy, the administration has consistently tempered its ongoing support for Ukraine with a level of caution that has frustrated Ukraine and Eastern European countries.

From declining to endorse a plan for allies to transfer Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine to deciding against transferring rocket launch systems that could strike Russian territory, the administration has opted for a relatively restrained stance compared with what officials in Kyiv, Warsaw, and Baltic capitals have urged.

In May, Biden wrote a New York Times essay to clarify the aims of U.S. policy toward Ukraine. “We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression,” he wrote.

He also reiterated his administration’s position on whether Ukraine should offer territorial concessions to achieve a cease-fire agreement.

“I will not pressure the Ukrainian government — in private or public — to make any territorial concessions. It would be wrong and contrary to well-settled principles to do so.”

National-security adviser Jake Sullivan cited that formulation earlier today during his remarks to a foreign-policy conference organized by the Center for a New American Security.

“We are gong to support and consult with them as they think about how they want to approach a negotiated outcome with the Russians, and for the time being, supporting them in that means supporting them through the steady provision of weapons and intelligence, which yesterday, we just announced another billion dollars,” he said.

Senior Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, are concerned that Biden is preparing to blame Ukraine for failing to heed U.S. warnings in late 2021 and early 2022 that Russia was going to launch a full invasion of the country.

War fatigue has not visibly hampered U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, but this apparent leak to NBC indicates some thinning patience in Washington.

International

Windfall Tax Blowback Shock

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The BP Eastern Trough Area Project oil platform in the North Sea, 2014. (Andy Buchanan/Pool via Reuters)

Britain’s Tory party is not good for much these days, except, perhaps, for providing useful lessons on how not to do things.

The U.K., like just about every other Western country, is wrestling with higher energy costs. An obvious move, therefore, would be to encourage oil and gas companies to invest more in North Sea production.

This is not one of those obvious moves (via the Washington Post, May 27):

Britain’s Conservative government announced Thursday a 25 percent windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas firms that would be used to support $19 billion in assistance for low-income households struggling with a sharp spike in the cost of living.

And so what has the response been?

I think you can guess (if you don’t already know).

The Financial Times:

North Sea oil and gas producers have told UK chancellor Rishi Sunak they are rethinking projects in Britain because of a new 25 per cent windfall tax on their profits, branding the policy “anti-investment” and “anti-business”.

In the strongest protest yet against the government’s “energy profits levy”, Brindex, an organisation that includes privately held and listed oil and gas producers, warned that the shock of its “sudden introduction” at the end of May is “very real and has already had a dramatic effect” on the industry.

The criticism from smaller and medium-sized producers — including some held by private equity groups — comes after initial assurances from larger energy companies such as BP that the windfall tax will not limit investment significantly.

Independent oil and gas companies became a powerful force in the UK North Sea after the oil price crash of 2014 as companies such as Harbour Energy, Neo Energy and Siccar Point Energy scooped up assets from retreating majors that wanted to refocus their spending on cheaper regions. Many are now among the top 10 producers in UK waters.

One thing that businesses need if they are to deploy capital is a degree of certainty about the investment environment in which they are operating, so this  (via The FT) was an extra twist of the knife:

Many [oil companies] had been expecting just a one-off hit, but BP attacked the chancellor for introducing a multiyear proposal that will remain until December 2025 unless oil and gas prices “return to historically more normal levels” in the meantime.

The vague wording there is a gift to a greedy (and/or desperate) government, but it’s the last thing that any company wondering whether to commit capital should want to see.

Solution: Don’t commit that capital.

According to the FT, the chairman of an association of smaller oil and gas producers has written to Britain’s finance minister to complain. Apparently, his complaint included a surprise that such a tax should happen under a Conservative government.

Not really. The Tories these days are a party of the center-left, somewhat akin to Merkel-era Christian Democrats. That they should introduce this tax was about as predictable as the damaging reaction to it.

Elections

The GOP Should Want to Get Beyond 2020

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I wrote at Politico today about the Republican Party and the January 6 committee:

It’s understandable that Democrats would want to constantly revisit January 6 — to invoke it, investigate it, and sacralize it even.

It’s a mystery, at least from a certain level of abstraction, why Republicans would want to have anything to do with that day, or want to fixate on the 2020 election.

The party is on the cusp of a midterm triumph, has enormous openings on the economy and education thanks to Biden administration stumbles and left-wing overreach, is making inroads among Hispanic voters, and has a well-stocked political bench that Democrats worried about 2024 should envy.

Yet the GOP is stuck litigating the past almost entirely because its putative leader in Mar-a-Lago is incapable of admitting error or defeat, and will never stop trying to excuse and explain away his infamous conduct after November 2020.

Science & Tech

Making the Internet Fun Again

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(scanrail/Getty Images)

The latest trend to sweep the Internet has been the Dall-E mini-image generator, which creates pictures through artificial intelligence based on a textual description. Users can enter practically anything into the textbox on the website, and the software will draw a somewhat accurate picture of what the user says.

Images will not be photorealistic, but they will give viewers a general idea of what the things they are describing would look like. The opportunity to see almost anything in the human imagination resulted in users flocking to the website to create the most ridiculous pictures they can think of.

Dall-E has become so popular that most people who try to run the software will receive a notification from the page: “Too much traffic, please try again.”

Users lucky enough to have their descriptions processed have shared their creations to social media, resulting in Twitter accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers dedicated to sharing them.

Over the past couple of weeks, Internet users may have seen pictures of “the demogorgon from Stranger Things holding a basketball,” “fire hydrant death metal cover,” and “courtroom sketch of a capybara suing Elon Musk.”

The type of cultural climate that surrounds Dall-E’s growth in popularity is something that we should welcome and work to nurture. The memes surrounding it make the Internet enjoyable and fun, bringing people together in a very healthy way. There is no uniting people into a cancel- culture mob or creating an aggressive campaign of infographics for a political issue. People are simply enjoying the ridiculousness all for its own sake.

Some of the Dall-E posts border on being a little political, e.g., “Grimace at the Capitol Riot,” and many appeal to dark humor with “Hitler in a Pixar movie” or “gender reveal 9/11.” But most of the pictures are lighthearted.

We may not have thought we’d ever see a “courtroom sketch of the Xenomorph from Alien on trial for felony jaywalking,” but here we are. Apparently, there was a great need in our society for “Darth Vader mowing his lawn,” and Dall-E fulfills it.

These are the types of posts users generally create and share. They are intentionally stupid creations that are not meant to be taken seriously, and people can laugh at them without doing so at others’ expense.

Seldom can we enjoy a moment where Internet users come together simply because they are enjoying something. It is not an cure-all antidote to our social ills and polarization, but it is a sign that we can redeem our culture.

For that reason, let’s keep generating and sharing “Godzilla robs a McDonald’s” and “Bigfoot performing at Woodstock.” They help the internet become less toxic.

Who knows, maybe “Thanos looking for his mom in Walmart” will win the culture war.

Politics & Policy

Quit Passing That Buck

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On this week’s first episode of The Editors, David Bahnsen makes a special guest appearance to discuss inflation. He covers many aspects of this topic, answering questions from our hosts on the Fed and the history behind how we got to this point. 

Biden’s role in the mess is also a key point of conversation, and David stresses that the president isn’t receiving enough blame on inflation, specifically on energy prices. He also covers “Japanification” and expresses frustration over the arrogance of those who thought we didn’t need to talk about inflation ever again.

Our Editors regulars touch on a few other topics, so listen in for a detailed gun-control discussion between Rich and Charlie. There is also plenty of frustration over the January 6 committee’s televised hearings. Listen below, or on your podcast app of choice.

The Economy

‘Objectively False’ That Shipping Reform Bill Will Fix Supply Chains

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President Joe Biden delivers a speech during a visit to the Port of Baltimore, Md., November 10, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

President Biden will be signing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act into law today after it passed the House a few days ago. In a statement from Monday, he said the legislation will “make progress reducing costs for families.”

It won’t.

Brendan Murray writes for Bloomberg about the OSRA:

The bipartisan Ocean Shipping Reform Act is set to get President Joe Biden’s signature on Thursday, but it’s hardly clear whether the new law will have much of an effect on an inflationary force still bedeviling American companies — elevated container costs.

As I first wrote in December and reiterated on Monday, the OSRA is primarily about benefiting domestic exporting industries with various regulatory changes. It’s Washington corporate-interest politics, not congestion alleviation or price reduction.

Murray quotes container-industry analyst Lars Jensen:

There’s nothing in the new law “pertaining to price controls or anything related to carrier consolidation or the operation of alliances and vessel sharing agreements,” Lars Jensen, the CEO of Vespucci Maritime, wrote in a LinkedIn post a few days ago. “Therefore, the political rhetoric seen over the past week related to outrage over the very high freight rates in conjunction with alleged lack of competition is not a part of the legislation at all.” . . .

He says it’s “objectively false” for politicians to try to create the impression that the legislation will fix things. He also acknowledges that it “certainly cannot be ruled out that political pressure might indeed be mounting towards more legislation.”

That’s exactly what’s going on. Domestic exporting industries saw an opportunity to secure regulatory changes they have wanted for years, and politicians saw an opportunity to say they were fixing the supply-chain crisis by supporting those changes. It’s a win-win for politicians: Making domestic corporate interests happy while also avoiding any tough decisions on a pressing issue.

Culture

The Trans Debate Erupts in Ireland

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Transgender flag at a protest against Trump administration policies in New York City, 2018 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Ireland is a very small country, roughly 10 percent larger by population than Louisiana. It’s interesting to see the debate about transgenderism erupt there almost overnight.

There is no established and organized social-conservative party in Irish politics. Social issues in Ireland are still managed, as ever, by a clerical class. But in modern Ireland this is made up of a nexus of media figures and activist groups.

Ireland had already passed a self-ID law in 2015, when only 17 percent of the public supported it. But there was no real debate about it.

In the last two weeks, the national broadcaster RTÉ — and, to a lesser extent over the last twelve months, the Irish Times — has given a platform to people who are critical of the transgender movement, particularly as it relates to children. Activists who are used to setting the terms of the debate in concert with Irish media have gone into full meltdown mode. From the Irish Times:

Dublin’s lord mayor and a leading human rights activist have expressed anger at recent RTÉ Radio 1 Liveline programmes which dealt with transgender issues. Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland said the subject was “being played out in the most appalling, disgusting way on our national airwaves in the name of public debate.” What had taken place “actually hinders, and creates more division,” she added.

Human rights activist Dr Ailbhe Smyth, recently conferred with the Freedom of the City of Dublin, said: “It is not the role of our national broadcaster to enable or encourage hate speech of any kind. If it comes up on the programme I can understand but that it is allowed to crop up again and again, that is a step too far. I believe that it’s important that senior management at RTÉ should look at that, indeed the board of governors should consider this matter very carefully.”

This may seem like small ball to us, but it’s a big split among an important caste in Irish society. It also shows how trans activists are happy to shut down the conversation before it’s even had.

Unlike the United States, and a bit more like the United Kingdom, Ireland does not have a buccaneering and entrepreneurial medical profession. In the U.S., drug sellers, academics, and doctors can open up a gender clinic, and with the right amount of moxie, find a way to sluice the funds of your health insurer. Irish children seeking “affirming” care have sought out the controversial Tavistock Foundation in the United Kingdom.  So, it was only a matter of time before the TERF debates of the United Kingdom crossed the Irish Sea.

One gets the sense that a certain generation of liberals in Ireland fears that a freight train of medical scandals is inbound and that they are artfully trying to dodge it by allowing debate on the issue at last. I think such would be happening in the United States already, but here liberals have a greater fear of providing aid and comfort to conservatives.

U.S.

What Is Matthew McConaughey Up To?

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Matthew McConaughey, a native of Uvalde, Texas speaks to reporters about the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, June 7, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Matthew McConaughey has been in the news quite a bit, but not for his acting. Following the shooting in Uvalde, he has been making the rounds in Washington to advocate for gun-law reforms. He appeared at the White House briefing-room podium for over half an hour last week, calling on Congress to enact more restrictions. “This time, something is different,” he said, echoing comments made by Senators John Cornyn (R., Texas) and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.). As I wrote then, his appearance could be read as part of a flailing effort by the White House to shore up Biden’s popularity via celebrities.

However, even before he held court with the press, McConaughey visited Uvalde with his wife the week before. Was he doing so in his capacity as a famous actor, or something else? Politicians often make pilgrimages to the sites of tragedies — Biden did so to Uvalde, as well — and McConaughey’s visit was a mirror image of them. “We spent most of last week on the ground with the families . . . we shared stories, tears, and memories,” he said. These words could have come from the mouth of any elected official, but McConaughey, the actor, said them more convincingly than I’d seen others do. During that time, he penned a policy-heavy op-ed for the Austin-American Statesman — calling for, among other things, nationwide red-flag laws, raising the age of purchase to 21, and a national waiting period for gun purchases.

Today, we’ve learned that his political activity goes further. As Politico first reported, McConaughey has retained a high-powered D.C.-based lobbying firm, Avisa Partners, to represent him on Capitol Hill as he pushes for gun control. This is quite unusual. McConaughey is presumably a millionaire, but he likely doesn’t have the kind of cash to fund campaigns that, say, Peter Thiel has, or a large membership roster that may vote against unfriendly politicians (as does, e.g., the AARP). Without them, the lobbyist for McConaughey seems like a show prop.

Maybe that’s the idea. This packed calendar of political activity clearly evinces a trend: McConaughey is staking his ground on gun control, publicly and hard. On the face of it, that he was born and grew up in Uvalde, Texas, may be proffered as the reason for his intense activity after a shooting there. Yet, it also comes on the heels of his open consideration of a run for governor of Texas last year as a Democrat to challenge incumbent Greg Abbott, whom he was defeating in hypothetical matchups. In November, McConaughey decided not to run but posted a campaign-style video message on Twitter announcing his decision. With plausible deniability, he’s been following the political playbook to a T.

Does McConaughey really have no intentions of running for office? I, for one, find that hard to believe. After a successful Hollywood career complete with public adoration, McConaughey certainly appears to have his eye on a more lasting public legacy. With his Texan drawl, cowboy swagger, and glam profile, he may fashion himself as the Democrats’ Ronald Reagan — timing his entry into politics proper as a new hope while the party’s stock falls fast under Joe Biden’s leadership. There’s no chatter that he’s actively considering a run for that office, of course. But make no mistake: Matthew McConaughey walks like a candidate and talks like a candidate. In this movie, what do you think comes next?

Health Care

The Real Conversion Therapy

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Yesterday, Biden signed an executive order to begin banning “dangerous practices like so-called ‘conversion therapy,’” (so-called, indeed!) defined as “efforts to suppress or change an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” Never mind, of course, the real conversion therapy — efforts to suppress or change an individual’s sex. Biden specifically seeks to expand that kind of therapy.

Culture

Abortion Increased in America during Covid, the Dangers of Puberty Blockers & More

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1.

2. Grazie Pozo Christie: Pregnancy Care Centers in the Crosshairs

What would it be like to go to work in the morning and find a death threat spray-painted across the façade of your office? What would it be like knowing that a facility just like yours was recently fire-bombed near Buffalo, New York? Would you keep showing up? Would you continue to put yourself in danger?

Maybe you could, if you knew you were saving fragile lives and helping vulnerable women and girls each day. Maybe you could, if you were very brave.

These are the hard questions facing the volunteers and staff at a pregnancy care center in South Florida where I volunteer. It was recently vandalized with spray-painted threats. Like other pregnancy care centers, our facility assists under-resourced pregnant women and families. Our clients are already struggling to make ends meet. Unlike the nearby Planned Parenthood, our center offers real choice. While Planned Parenthood offers exactly one solution for parents in this situation – abortion, and cash up front, please! – our center offers material necessities, parental education, assistance in accessing obstetric care, ultrasounds, and adoption referrals for those who don’t feel they are prepared to parent. All free, of course. And the mothers who nevertheless choose to have an abortion are always welcomed back with open arms for post-abortion grief counseling when and if they need it.

These are the works of mercy that have sparked the ire of hate groups like the one that claimed responsibility for the recent arson at a Wisconsin pregnancy care center.  The vandals scrawl a variant of the same phrase at each site: “If abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either.” The group’s name – Jane’s Revenge – was painted across our facility’s wall. Their communique, as issued via journalist Robert Evans, reads, in part: “We have run thin on patience and mercy…we [shall] adopt increasingly extreme tactics to maintain freedom over our own bodies.” These are the kinds of words used by ideologues and extremists who are, indeed, ready to use violence to cleanse the world of the people who disagree with them.

3. Daily Signal: Churches, Pro-Life Organizations Attacked 41 Times in Past 6 Weeks

4.

5.

6. Ryan Anderson and others talk about Jay Greene’s new Heritage Foundation study “The Effect of Access to Puberty Blockers and Cross-Sex Hormones on Youth Suicide Rates.” The report is here.

7.

8. AP: Trans kids’ treatment can start younger, new guidelines say

9. By the Numbers: How Many Men in California Prisons Identify as Women

California’s prison population includes 1,115 biological males who say they identify as women, according to the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

About 1 in 3 in that population has requested transfers to women’s prisons, but only about 1 in 10 of those requests have been approved, the corrections department says.

California’s prison agency provided the statistics in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Oversight Project, the government watchdog division of The Heritage Foundation. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)

A women’s advocacy group sued the state of California in November to overturn a law allowing biological males to be housed in women’s prisons after a female inmate said she was raped by someone the prison called a “transgender woman with a penis.”

A section of the corrections department’s website devoted to “frequently asked questions” includes this question: “Does a transgender person have to have gender-affirming surgery to be housed at an institution that matches their gender identity?”

The department provides this response: “No. All housing for incarcerated people is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, which includes their criminal history, behavior, rehabilitation opportunities, medical and psychiatric needs, [and] program needs as well as their safety and security.”

Continue reading “Abortion Increased in America during Covid, the Dangers of Puberty Blockers & More”

Music

‘And the Livin’ Is Easy’

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In Madison, Wis., on June 15, 2022 (Jay Nordlinger)

A couple of days ago, I stepped out of the airport in Madison, Wis., and it was hot. About 96 degrees. “Hot one,” I said to a man standing on the sidewalk, having a smoke. “Yup,” he said. “And it’s not even summer yet.” That took me aback. True. Summer does not begin officially until June 21. But I don’t go by the calendar, I guess. I go by weather.

Also, June is pretty much the best month, isn’t it? And not just for weddings. I think of a favorite snatch of poetry: “And what is so rare as a day in June?” (James Russell Lowell).

Before arriving in Madison, and being reminded of summer’s official start, I put together a new episode of Music for a While: here. I begin, “You know what time it is, right? I mean, seasonally.” Then I offer “Summertime,” the lullaby that opens Porgy and Bess (Gershwin).

In the past, I have done full-out summer-music podcasts: the relevant selection from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; Les nuits d’été, the song-cycle by Berlioz; Im Sommerwind, the tone poem by Webern; “Summer Nights,” from Grease. (Pretty much everyone my age was in love with Olivia Newton-John.)

But in this new podcast, I have just the one summertime piece: Gershwin’s lullaby. And I have Leontyne Price, of course, singing it. She sings it live in Munich in 1968 — on what must have been a cold day: January 27.

As I mention in the podcast, I heard Price sing “Summertime” probably a dozen times, in recital. It was a habitual encore (along with five or ten other habitual encores). She never sang it the same way twice. I have many of her renderings in my head. They are lodged happily, and I hope permanently, in memory.

What else on this new podcast? A little Mozart. A piano piece by Medtner, played by Horowitz. (“Why no one play Medtner?” he once lamented.) A violin concerto by Szymanowski. An aria by Stravinsky. (I may or may not do a little singing myself — but if I do, it’s not enough to ruin the show.) A few viola jokes.

Yes. Musicians love to crack viola jokes. Sample: “Why is lightning like a violist’s fingers?” “Lightning never strikes the same place twice.” Second sample: “How can you tell whether a violist is playing out of tune?” “You see his bow moving.” Third sample: “How do you keep a violin from being stolen?” “Keep it in a viola case.”

Are these jokes absurd, mean, and unjust? Yes. Mainly. Anyway, it’s a subject. For my new Music for a While, once more, go here.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Carbon Tax

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Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute writes against a carbon tax:

The GHG tax supposedly is a climate policy. But the proponents of GHG policies never tell us what impacts on the consequences of climate change are to be expected from implementation of GHG taxes, subsidies, and regulations. If we apply the Environmental Protection Agency climate model, and if we incorporate assumptions that exaggerate the future climate effects of reductions in GHG emissions, the Biden net-zero policy would yield a reduction in global temperatures of 0.173 degrees Celsius by 2100. The proposed GHG tax would yield only a portion of that trivial number. International efforts to reduce GHG emissions similarly would have very small effects. In short, a GHG tax, like almost all seemingly plausible climate policies, would be all costs and no benefits.

Watchful waiting and adaptation over time are the only climate policies that make sense scientifically, economically, politically, and in terms of the preservation of freedom.

David Bahnsen is joined by Oren Cass on this week’s episode of the Capital Record.

Politics & Policy

How’s That January 6 ‘Blockbuster’ Working Out for Dems?

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Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) speaks as the the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol holds its first hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2022. (Jabin Botsford/Pool via Pool via Reuters)

Across all networks, something like 20 million people tuned in to the opening night of the January 6 hearings in Congress. That supposed “blockbuster” video was going to Change Everything. I guessed at the time that only a handful of political obsessives were paying attention. Now, we’ve got several days of polling data and . . . if the needle has moved, these eyes can’t detect it.

In three polls listed on RealClearPolitics quizzing voters starting last Friday, the generic congressional ballot has been Democrats plus two, Republicans plus four, Republicans plus three. Democrats have had an outright lead in this poll dozens of times this year (albeit only one time this month), so not much has changed there. Democrats typically need a large lead in the generic ballot to win Congress; if it’s close, Republicans take the House.

As for President Biden’s job approval rating, his RCP average in polls is at 39.6. In polls that started since last Friday, his approval rating has notched a 40, 44, 40, 39, and 43. So Biden is one tenth of a point above his all-time low, which he hit last Thursday. Do you see a January 6 bounce? I don’t. The Democrats have been trying to make hay of it all year, and the voters don’t seem to be paying it much mind.

Politics & Policy

Why Not Forgive College Loan Debt?

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The Left desperately wants this further giveaway by Uncle Sam. One of the strongest arguments against it is provided in this post by GMU economics professor Bryan Caplan — it will exacerbate our problem of credential inflation.

He explains: “When the share of college graduates rises, the availability of good jobs barely changes.  The more degrees job seekers have, the more degrees job seekers need to keep their applications out of the garbage can.  When formal education expands, students need college degrees to get the same jobs their parents got with high school degrees – and their grandparents got with even less.”

Caplan refers to his incendiary book The Case Against Education, where he set forth his strong reasons for believing that pushing education on society is mostly a waste of resources that benefits the providers but makes the nation worse off.

Read the whole thing.

Culture

Pelosi: Drag ‘Is What America Is All About’

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When Nancy Pelosi appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars to opine that “Your freedom of expression, of yourselves in drag, is what America is all about. I say that all the time to my friends in drag,” she wasn’t entirely off-base. True, drag isn’t as American as, say, exercising one’s freedom to own guns, unless I missed a constitutional amendment on men wearing taffeta ball gowns, but America is certainly all about the freedom to be weird and was in fact founded by weirdos who were much farther out of the mainstream than drag queens are today.

What I would dispute, however, is why there seems to be this pressing urgency to bring drag into every corner of American life. I don’t particularly derive a lot of entertainment value from observing men shrieking and camping and pretending to be caricatures of women. Maybe Nancy Pelosi does, and that’s fine. There could be several cable channels devoted to drag, for all I know, and I don’t care. But, as my friend Charlie asks, why are children suddenly being forced to watch drag performances in schools, where they are a captive audience and where their formation is a matter of public interest? Why is drag everywhere, with public funds being spent on it? For citizens, especially children, to be forced to approve of entertainment that doesn’t necessarily appeal to them in order to advance some sort of ideological agenda doesn’t sound very American at all. It sounds rather Soviet, no? Being browbeaten is not very fabulous.

Politics & Policy

Jane’s Revenge Threats against Pro-Lifers Presage a New ‘Bleeding Kansas’

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

I worry that the country is entering a violent time akin to “Bleeding Kansas,” an era during the 1850s when pro- and anti-slavery partisans — most famously, the abolitionist terrorist John Brown — violently contested with each other for political control of the then-territory.

The alleged attempted assassination of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh by a pro-choice fanatic is the most extreme of such recent actions. But partisans on both sides of the political and cultural divides have been pursuing increasingly violent means of promoting their ideological desires. We have seen violence from Antifa, the Capitol rioters of January 6, BLM “protests” in which cities burned and people died, the violence at Charlottesville, the attempted mass assassinations of congressional Republicans that almost took the life of Representative Stephen Scalise, and in years past, the murders of abortionists.

Now, as Kathryn noted earlier, a radical pro-abortion group called Jane’s Revenge — which claims to have burned and vandalized pro-life offices and crisis pregnancy centers, threatening at some locales: ““If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you!” — has just issued a communique threatening worse to come. From “Jane’s Revenge: Another Communique,” addressed to pro-life organizations:

Your thirty days expired yesterday. We offered an honourable way out. You could have walked away. Now the leash is off. And we will make it as hard as possible for your campaign of oppression to continue. We have demonstrated in the past month how easy and fun it is to attack. We are versatile, we are mercurial, and we answer to no one but ourselves. We promised to take increasingly drastic measures against oppressive infrastructures.

Rest assured that we will, and those measures may not come in the form of something so easily cleaned up as fire and graffiti. Sometimes you will see what we do, and you will know that it is us. Sometimes you will think you merely are unlucky, because you cannot see the ways which we interfere in your affairs. But your pointless attempts to control others, and make life more difficult, will not be met passively. Eventually your insurance companies, and your financial backers will realize you are a bad investment.

From here forward, any anti-choice group who closes their doors, and stops operating will no longer be a target. But until you do, it’s open season, and we know where your operations are. The infrastructure of the enslavers will not survive. . . . Through attacking, we find joy, courage, and strip the veneer of impenetrability held by these violent institutions.

Enslavers?” No one forces women to seek help at crisis pregnancy centers, which offer help for mothers both before and after birth — but then, logic and true compassion have nothing to do with any of this.

Hello, Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI, and President Biden: Are you going to do something about this or keep pretending the biggest threats to peaceability and comity in this country are white supremacists?

Monetary Policy

The Fed: More of a Surprise Required

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Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during his re-nominations hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 11, 2022. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool via Reuters)

Dominic Pino writes:

Based on market predictions and overall economic conditions, and given that the Fed — both in recent history and over its entire history — is usually behind the curve, a hike higher than the markets were expecting would have been welcome. Instead of talking about how the Fed got surprised yet again, Powell should have been the one doing the surprising.

So, while a 75-basis-point hike was a good thing to do, 100 basis points would have been better. Remember, real interest rates are still well in negative territory, and a 2 percent federal funds rate would hardly be radical.

As always, read all that Dominic has to say, but what is key (to me) is that the Fed needed to surprise, and it didn’t. Last week 75 basis points would have been a surprise. Today, not so much.  Markets move.

I wrote this last night:

The Fed, which was complacent for far too long, now needs to step up with a rate hike to confirm that it, at least, is finally taking inflation seriously. To have a chance of doing that, it should hike by more than expectations, which currently appear to be rising from 50 basis points to 75. Is 100bp unimaginable? Not entirely, but, if the Fed is serious, 50 bp should be.

By this morning, 75bp was more or less priced in. When that number was announced, it sent stocks up (the S&P ended 1.47 percent up), but this move looks (to me) more like  a relief rally — investors were relieved that Powell had shown his seriousness about inflation by rejecting 50bp. And that relief was supplemented by the fact that Powell appears willing to contemplate another 75bp on top of it. That may be interesting for two reasons: It shows that, for now, investors are more worried about inflation than a slowdown (or maybe that they are more worried about stagflation than a slowdown; there’s a thought) and it shows that they are easily pleased: Of course, the next increase should be 75bp. No contemplation required. However, even if the S&P ended higher, it ended the day off its peak, something (short-term profit-taking aside) that might suggest that the relief was not uncontained.

And take a look, as Dominic suggests, at real rates. Even though tightening has an effect equivalent to an additional rate increase on top of the 75bp, today’s announcement can hardly be said to represent a dramatic crunch in any real sense of that word.

Unless of course, assets have been wildly bid up (and too much debt incurred) as a consequence of the ultra-low interest rates of recent years.

And there is no way that that could have happened, not at all.

Politics & Policy

‘How Aggressively Should Liberals Attack the Supreme Court?’ Maybe Not with Gunfire

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The U.S. Supreme Court Building (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters )

“How aggressively should liberals attack the Supreme Court?” That is the headline on a Washington Post article co-bylined by Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent. A sampling:

A debate is heating up on the left about how to communicate with the public about the court’s radicalization and what should be done about it. Grist for this discussion comes from the group Take Back the Court, which has released a new memo suggesting that liberals and Democrats should frontally attack the court as a kind of cancer on democracy. The memo argues for messaging that depicts the court as fundamentally rigged by Republican tactics such as the swiping of Merrick Garland’s seat. . . . The idea of an aggressive attack on the court as a fundamentally damaging force in our politics might push establishment liberal institutions in a direction that makes them uncomfortable.

Here’s a suggestion: If you’re going to call the Supreme Court a “cancer” on our system and debate how people on your side “should frontally attack” it with “aggressive attack” tactics that treat it as “rigged” and “a fundamentally damaging force in our politics,” maybe you should at least remind them not to try to assassinate the justices, at least when one of them was just arrested last week trying to do so. That is certainly the standard that the Post‘s liberals have applied in other contexts, if you recall Max Boot trying to smear me on the basis of things written by a shooter in El Paso, Texas. I don’t hold Sargent and Waldman responsible for the guy who showed up at Brett Kavanaugh’s house with “a black tactical chest rig and tactical knife, a Glock 17 with two magazines and ammunition, pepper spray, zip ties, a hammer, screwdriver, nail punch, crow bar, pistol light, duct tape, hiking boots with padding on the outside of the soles” and an admitted plan to assassinate Kavanaugh. But at the very least, they could mention this fact somewhere in their column as a to-be-sure word of caution against taking this all too far. Instead, so far as I can determine from their columns and Twitter feeds, neither Waldman nor Sargent has yet seen fit to say a word about the attempt on Kavanaugh; to the contrary, just twelve hours after the would-be assassin was apprehended, Waldman published a column titled, “Conservatives, your radical legal revolution will not go unchallenged.” It is enough to make one wonder if Waldman or Sargent actually have any criticism at all to offer against the assassination of conservative justices.

Politics & Policy

The Updated Romney Family Plan

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Senator Mitt Romney asks Antony J. Blinken, a question during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 19, 2021. (Alex Edelman/Reuters)

Over on the home page, Yuval Levin and Scott Winship heap praise on the new iteration of Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act. This is notable as Winship, the director of poverty studies at AEI, did not like Romney’s first draft of the bill, which had no work requirements.

He wasn’t alone. Oren Cass of American Compass criticized the first iteration along the same lines. Cass, who had advised Romney previously, seems to have had some influence on the new iteration. The new proposal has modest inducements to work and to marriage that the previous version lacked.

Levin and Winship explain some of the political logic:

The earnings requirement would reduce the reach of the benefit, and therefore reduce its potential to support family formation and reduce short-run poverty. Yet it’s a modest requirement, meant to mitigate perverse incentives but not to fully replace the emphasis on work and marriage that defines the TANF program (which would be retained under this new proposal). To us, the balance seems roughly right. This proposal will appeal to reformers who actually want to both support parents and encourage work and marriage — which means it could unite most conservatives, though it is also likely to have less appeal than Romney’s original proposal to some progressives who mostly liked that original version because they saw it as a path toward a universal basic income (UBI).

It’s definitely a bill that more conservatives can support, as it replaces a number of more complex and parsimonious programs with an expanded and simplified support for families.

It’s also been very interesting — and very telling — to see the lines on which liberals and progressives are opposing this bill. They are mad that the bill is paid for by eliminating SALT tax deductions that overwhelmingly benefit affluent liberals.

I’d be very curious to see if a 2024 Republican picks this ball up from Romney and runs on it.

Education

Must Reading on the Peril DEI Poses

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A man walks through an empty campus green at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., April 3, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

National Association of Scholars president Peter Wood has written a superb essay on the terrible effects of the DEI mania (diversity, equity, inclusion) on not just our education system, but on the nation’s future.

Wood lists the following consequences of the DEI agenda:

  • Ethnic division and strife. DEI is an incitement to racial resentment, primarily of blacks against whites, and at another level of whites against blacks.
  • Political opportunism. DEI in schools and colleges is aimed at recruiting students through emotional manipulation into durable allegiance to progressive political loyalties.
  • Cultural impoverishment. DEI displaces from the curriculum and disparages study of the great achievements of Western civilization and the American past. DEI imposes ruthless hostility toward Western values and falsely romantic views of other traditions.
  • Historical amnesia. DEI amplifies accounts of injustices in American history and minimizes American accomplishments. Sometimes, as in the 1619 Project, it sets forth grossly inaccurate accounts of the American past as if they were true, and it provides students with no basis to recognize that there are other accounts better grounded in the facts.
  • Professional incompetence. Because it lowers academic standards and diverts attention from well-established facts, DEI leaves graduates with an inferior education. The problem is compounded at the level of graduate and professional education where individuals begin their careers with significant DEI-caused deficits in their professional knowledge.
  • Impeded international competitiveness. Other nations are not handicapping generations of students by providing them inferior DEI-inflected educations and false maps of the world we live in. America’s international competitiveness is at risk from graduates who think they understand things of which they in fact have only superficial or mistaken knowledge.
  • Destructive orientation. DEI is an essential piece of indoctrination in the social-justice ideology that is now taking hold in the American economy as the “ESG” movement (Environmental, Social, and Governance investing). DEI prioritizes race in all contexts and subordinates all other principled considerations. Graduates carry this into the corporate world, where it has now been elaborated as ESG.

To those, I would add that it undermines the idea among minority youth that they have any agency, teaching that they can look only to politics for any improvement in their lives.

Read the whole thing — and share it with others.

Monetary Policy

The Fed Needs to Exceed Expectations, Not Just Meet Them

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Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell takes questions after the Federal Reserve raised its target interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point to stem a disruptive surge in inflation, during a news conference following a two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) in Washington, D.C., June 15, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

The Federal Open Market Committee raised the federal funds rate by 75 basis points at its meeting today. That means the upper limit of the target range now sits at 1.75 percent.

Members of the committee estimated that inflation will be 5.2 percent overall this year, up from March, when they thought it would be only 4.3 percent. Those numbers might seem low, but the Fed doesn’t use the consumer price index to measure inflation. Instead, it uses the personal consumption expenditure index, which measures inflation to be a few points lower than the CPI. For April, the PCE showed inflation at 6.3 percent over the preceding twelve months.

That means the FOMC still believes inflation will begin to go down quite soon. It will have to if it is to average 5.2 percent on the year. Exactly how remains unclear.

There’s an inconsistency in the Fed’s stance on inflation, as reflected in Jerome Powell’s comments after the meeting. He said, “We have both the tools we need and the resolve it will take to restore price stability on behalf of American families and businesses.” He then went on to talk about supply constraints, commodity prices, the war in Ukraine, and logistics concerns as factors contributing to higher-than-expected inflation.

The Fed does not have any tools to fix supply constraints, commodity prices, the war in Ukraine, or logistics concerns. If those things are causing inflation, the Fed will have a very hard time restoring price stability.

Later on, Powell mentioned that things such as the price of gas affect inflation expectations as well as actual inflation. That’s certainly true, and he expressed a  commitment to keeping the public’s inflation expectations anchored at 2 percent in the long run.

But that still doesn’t resolve the fundamental tension in the Fed’s position. It’s basically, “We got this! — but also there are all these things we can’t control that keep catching us by surprise and driving inflation up.” The first part is difficult to believe if you also believe the second part.

Powell also repeatedly emphasized overly strong aggregate demand in the economy, and that’s something the Fed can control through tighter monetary policy. That’s the direction it’s going in, and Powell said the FOMC continues to think it will need to raise interest rates for the rest of the year.

But nominal GDP for April continued to outpace its pre-pandemic trend by a lot. Interest rates have gone up, but conditions have not really tightened yet, as Ramesh pointed out in the cover story for our June 13 issue.

After being set on a 50-basis-point hike for this meeting, markets had been predicting the possibility of a 75-basis-point hike after the May CPI report came out. Markets had probably already priced in a 75-basis-point hike.

Based on market predictions and overall economic conditions, and given that the Fed — both in recent history and over its entire history — is usually behind the curve, a hike higher than the markets were expecting would have been welcome. Instead of talking about how the Fed got surprised yet again, Powell should have been the one doing the surprising.

So, while a 75-basis-point hike was a good thing to do, 100 basis points would have been better. Remember, real interest rates are still well in negative territory, and a 2 percent federal funds rate would hardly be radical.

Fortunately, Powell didn’t talk about the “soft landing” this time and put the cart back behind the horse where it belongs. “Inflation can’t go down until it flattens out,” he said. Indeed — and better to flatten it out sooner rather than later.

U.S.

Jane’s Revenge Threatens Domestic Terrorism

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They are calling for open warfare on pro-life ministries.

They are accusing people who help women who want to choose to not have an  abortion as violent enslavers who must be shut down. This is not about women. This is not the stuff of a pluralistic society. Where is the common sense and truth? Where are the people of good will who can speak out against this and make clear that these people, if they engage in criminal acts, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law? And as Caroline suggests: How is the attorney general of the United States not making this a priority?

Pro-choicers of good will, stand united with us against this evil. We can have different views on abortion and jointly condemn this.

Culture

When, Exactly, Did Drag Queens in Schools Become a Thing?

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(Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

The attorney general of Michigan is having a day:

My question is: How did we get here?

Seriously: How? How did we reach the point at which drag queens in schools became a topic that is routinely debated in domestic American politics? How did drag queens get into schools in the first place? Why does anyone think it’s acceptable — let alone crucial — to keep them there? Why has one of the two major political parties in America decided that this a hill to die on? How did this happen? In the last six months, I have heard more about drag queens in schools than I have heard about the solvency of Medicare. Why?

“A drag queen for every school” is a sentence that, until today, has probably never been uttered before in the English language. Why is an elected official saying it in public? As for “drag queens make everything better,” one can just about imagine circumstances in which a person might say such a thing aloud. But the attorney general of Michigan?

Weird times.

Culture

Good Riddance to the ‘Millennial Consumer Subsidy’

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A car drives past an Uber office at Redondo Beach, Calif., March 16, 2022. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

There are certain stereotypes that attach to the lifestyles of those whom Atlantic staff writer Derek Thompson calls “youngish, urbanish, professionalish.” The twenty/thirtysomethings one thinks of most frequently in such contexts — those who live in cities such as Washington, D.C., and New York and who work in finance, consulting, or (ahem) media — are often thought to live bespoke existences, spending much of their leisure time being ferried via rideshare services between various social outings (especially brunch), ordering food for immediate consumption to be delivered to their abodes (if in D.C., often recently built, hotel-esque constructions with rooftop pools in trendy areas), and generally relying on apps for other assorted needs (getting groceries, arranging out-of-city travel, buying furniture, etc.).

Now, some of this is exaggerated. Not everyone lives this way. I’ve structured my life in D.C. basically to do none of these things, but you don’t have to be a Butlerian Jihad weirdo to avoid ordering Uber Eats to your apartment for every meal. And some of the ways this exaggeration is true stem from the fact that living in this manner can make more sense in the environment of a modern American city. But it is not inaccurate to say the caricature I sketched above is fairly prevalent in such environments. One reason why, as Thompson explains in a recent piece for the Atlantic, is what he calls the “Millennial Consumer Subsidy.” As he describes it:

For the past decade, people like me—youngish, urbanish, professionalish—got a sweetheart deal from Uber, the Uber-for-X clones, and that whole mosaic of urban amenities in travel, delivery, food, and retail that vaguely pretended to be tech companies. Almost each time you or I ordered a pizza or hailed a taxi, the company behind that app lost money. In effect, these start-ups, backed by venture capital, were paying us, the consumers, to buy their products.

It was as if Silicon Valley had made a secret pact to subsidize the lifestyles of urban Millennials. As I pointed out three years ago, if you woke up on a Casper mattress, worked out with a Peloton, Ubered to a WeWork, ordered on DoorDash for lunch, took a Lyft home, and ordered dinner through Postmates only to realize your partner had already started on a Blue Apron meal, your household had, in one day, interacted with eight unprofitable companies that collectively lost about $15 billion in one year.

Alas for its beneficiaries, however, this subsidy is being drawn down. Tightness in the labor market, challenges elsewhere in the economy from supply chains and inflation, and other exogenous factors have ended the previous willingness of investors to bankroll these enterprises indefinitely in the hope that one of them would really take off. As Thompson puts it, until recently “the best way for a start-up to make money from venture capitalists was to lose money acquiring a gazillion customers.”

But no more. The city-dwelling youth whose lifestyles have depended on the cheap availability of services and products through these companies must now contend with “higher prices, higher margins, fewer discounts, and longer wait times.” And I say good riddance — and not just as someone who had long tailored his life mostly to avoid excessive reliance on such things. Whatever their utility in certain situations — a utility that will not expire entirely, even for a stick-in-the-mud like me — inexpensive access to such products by such means enabled a lifestyle for many that prioritized instant gratification, superficiality, and dependence over planning, sustained engagement, and self-reliance. Not to mention the dubious economics behind the whole affair, now being exposed.

If those who once built their lives around these things must now retreat from them somewhat, and others never get the chance to build a life around them in the first place, then I consider that a good thing. The Millennial Consumer Subsidy deserves to be slashed.

Politics & Policy

What’s a Red Tsunami?

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The always-valuable Josh Kraushaar has a good column on how to think about the building Republican wave:

It’s not the number of House seats that Republicans pick up that’s the relevant measure, but the overall number of seats won. So mark the number 248 (or +35 net) on your scorecards as a sign of a true political tsunami. Simply winning 242 seats (+29 net) would match the party’s 2010 standing. And anything at 233 or higher (+20 net) would give Kevin McCarthy enough breathing room to manage his caucus effectively, without having to fear the most extreme House Republicans from disrupting his best-laid plans.

Health Care

Step One: Acknowledge the Controversy

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A long piece in the New York Times Magazine looks into the “battle over gender therapy.”

The writer explains that clinicians and researchers working for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in formulating its new “standards of care” guidelines, have acknowledged that

part of the rise in trans identification among teenagers could be a result of what they called “social influence,” absorbed online or peer to peer. The draft mentioned the very small group of people who detransition (stop identifying as transgender), saying that some of them “have described how social influence was relevant in their experience of their gender during adolescence.” In adolescence, peers and culture often affect how kids see themselves and who they want to be. Their sense of self can consolidate, or they can try on a way of being that doesn’t prove right in the long run as the brain further develops the capacity for thinking long-term.

This comes as a major concession since Lisa Littman first sounded the alarm in 2018.

Evidently, the warnings about social contagion are now too frequent and persuasive to ignore.

Culture

The Culture of Death Breeds a Culture of More Violence

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Grateful to Kathleen Parker and the Washington Post for this:

It is a terrible irony that the people who want to protect life must put their own lives at risk. Maybe violence is what we should expect when abortion, one of the most-violent acts conceived by humankind, is Ground Zero. Whatever one’s argument for abortion, there’s no debating the utterly inhumane violence inflicted upon a gestating human being.

The entire abortion apparatus is reprehensible on its face, but over time we’ve become accustomed to it. In the process, we’ve found ways to discuss abortion that sidestep its appalling reality. We make the objectionable more acceptable by manipulating language. The object of termination isn’t a “baby,” we’re told. It’s a fetus. The terminology may be accurate, but “fetus,” despite its definition (”unborn offspring of a mammal”), does sound rather reptilian.

Republicans and Democrats have predictably defaulted to their usual crouches, each side accusing the other of insufficient outrage. Usually, the effect is a standoff, but this time Republicans have the stronger case. The public hasn’t heard much from the media about the reported dozens of attacks on churches and crisis-pregnancy centers since May 2, according to the Washington Stand, a news site recently launched by the pro-life Family Research Council. A draft Supreme Court opinion that outlined the end of abortion rights was leaked on that date.

If you go looking for stories about this or that bombing, you’re likely to find them only in religious news outlets, such as the Catholic News Agency or Get Religion. The pregnancy centers that were destroyed or damaged do nothing worse than help vulnerable pregnant women through counseling and resources, as well as provide diapers and other baby supplies. So much for pro-lifers caring for babies only until they’re born.

Despite these attacks — and the alleged attempted assassination of Kavanaugh — President Biden hasn’t been moved to condemn them. Kavanaugh’s would-be assassin, Nicholas Roske, 26, told police he was upset about the leaked opinion and concerned that Congress would tighten gun restrictions in the wake of the Uvalde, Tex., school shooting. He arrived at Kavanaugh’s home equipped with a Glock 17 pistol, ammo, a knife, zip ties, pepper spray and duct tape and said he intended to break in, and kill Kavanaugh and himself to give his life meaning.

The National Review points out that Biden had three opportunities before large audiences to condemn these events. Instead, he apparently delegated that job to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who has said that the president condemns all political violence.

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Inflation, Welfare, and Crises

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Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute writes about the inflation problems facing Europe:

After having been in inflation denial over the past year, the ECB has finally taken some tentative measures to address the inflation problem. It announced that beginning on July 1, it will cease its bond-buying activities and will raise interest rates by 25 basis points. It also announced that it will again raise interest rates at its September meeting, perhaps by more than 25 basis points depending on how inflation develops.

While the ECB’s move on interest rates at least constitutes a start to what is likely to be a long interest-rate-hiking journey to regain control over inflation, it is far from obvious that it will make much of a dent on inflation. After all, even after the ECB’s proposed move, the ECB’s interest rates will still remain a negative 25 basis points — at a time when inflation is above 8 percent.

Representatives Rodney Davis (R., Ill.) and Jake LaTurner (R., Kan.) write about welfare reform:

It’s time to fix welfare again. Since the historic reforms of the 1990s, welfare has been steadily divorced from work once more. Today, hardly anyone on welfare is required to pursue employment or an upward path in life. Not only is this disastrous for welfare recipients themselves, but it’s also driving America’s record worker shortage. On June 9, we introduced two bills that will restore a welfare system that works in every sense of the word.

Wayne Crews and Ryan Young of the Competitive Enterprise Institute write about a new report on preventing government overreach during crises:

Rainy-year funds and the rule of law in monetary policy are just two ways to prevent abuses of future crises. People have already suffered enough this century from terrorist attacks, a financial crisis, and a pandemic. Hasty, expensive “flash policy” made things worse each time. When the next crisis hits, people will be better off if they have some institutional safeguards against flash policy. The time for an Abuse-of-Crisis Prevention Act is now.

Politics & Policy

House Dems Blocking Public Oversight of Afghanistan Disaster: GOP Lawmakers

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Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.) speaks during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 30, 2021. (Al Drago/Reuters)

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Democratic leadership is blocking public oversight of the Afghanistan withdrawal, GOP members alleged, prompting a blunt rejoinder from the committee’s chairman.

This morning, committee lawmakers are receiving a briefing from State Department officials on the U.S. government’s handling of Afghanistan from 2017 through last August. But that briefing was slated to take place behind closed doors, and the committee’s majority leadership has made the question and answer portion classified, the committee’s GOP members said in a statement yesterday:

Even though the State Department had a large part of the responsibility for the noncombatant evacuation operation that ultimately resulted in the death of 13 U.S. servicemembers and the abandonment of more than 700 American citizens and tens of thousands of Afghan allies in the Taliban-controlled country, our committee has to date only had one open, full committee hearing with an official from the Biden administration. Holding a closed briefing where the question-and-answer portion is classified at the highest level – even though the vast majority of the information sought should not be classified – is not the transparency the American people deserve.

In addition, the briefing’s question portion was expected take place under one of the highest levels of classification, TS/SCI, according to the statement.

The GOP committee members also alleged that while the State Department offered to make part of the hearing unclassified — therefore enabling members to publicly share information about unclassified portions — the committee’s leadership declined to do so. Asked about this, a department spokesperson only referred National Review to the committee and offered no additional information that could be published.

In an email to NR, a spokesman for Representative Gregory Meeks, the committee chairman, assailed the “patently false” claim by Republican ranking member Michael McCaul that Meeks “was offered and rejected an open session for this briefing.”

“Our conversations with the State Department had not entailed discussions of such an open setting, since the purpose of this briefing is to ensure that Members have access to the most detailed information available — including information that cannot be disclosed in an unclassified setting,” the spokesman wrote, adding that Meeks intends to continue to conduct oversight of the Afghanistan withdrawal in open and closed settings.

Several senior State Department officials are addressing the committee’s lawmakers today. The briefers are expected to include deputy secretary of state for management and resources Brian McKeon, under secretary of state for management John Bass, and State Department counselor Derek Collet, among others. Bass served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2017-2020, and McKeon, a few months ahead of the withdrawal, reportedly ordered the dismantling of a key State Department bureau that had carried out the evacuation of U.S. citizens from global hotspots.

Culture

Matthew Yglesias Does Not Understand Free Speech

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Performers in costume as Jessie and Buzz Lightyear at the premiere of Toy Story 4 in Los Angeles, Calif., June 11, 2019. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Matthew Yglesias tweets:

This is nonsense. There’s no conflict between defending free speech and deciding what speech you wish voluntarily to consume (or you wish your minor children to consume). On the contrary: the ability to determine what speech to engage with and what speech to avoid is, itself, a key part of free speech.

Conservatives who object to cancel culture are not bothered by the existence of people who dislike — or, even, who are mortally offended by — figures such as Dave Chappelle. Conservatives who object to cancel culture are bothered that a significant number of the people who dislike Dave Chappelle seem to believe that, because they do not like Dave Chappelle, he should be banned, de-platformed, rendered unemployable, or even physically hurt. Or, to put it another way: The conservative objection to cancel culture is not that its adherents wish to make decisions for themselves and their children, or that they wish to persuade others to their viewpoint, it is that that they wish to bypass all that and make decisions for everyone else in the name of the “greater good.”

Is this what Ben Shapiro is doing? No, it is not. In the tweet to which Yglesias is responding, Shapiro has offered up a sharp criticism of Disney and its new movie, and he has proposed that parents should “keep that in mind before deciding” — note the word deciding — “whether to take their kids” to see it. That isn’t an attack on “free speech”; it is free speech. You can tell this because, at no point has Shapiro made any claims on anyone except for himself. He hopes to persuade, yes, but he leaves it at that.

There is nothing in small-l liberalism that requires small-l liberals to like everything. The demand is that they say their piece, and then agree to live and let live. For example: Small-l liberalism demands that I respect Matt Yglesias’s right to run his blog, and it encourages me to disdain those who would pressure his host, Substack, to summarily expel him from their platform. It does not require me to read Matt Yglesias’s blog, to like Matt Yglesias’s blog, to pay for Matt Yglesias’s blog, or to recommend that others do any of those things, and it certainly does not require me to agree with Matt Yglesias or to decline from criticizing him (as I am now). To say, “If I were you, I wouldn’t pay for Matt Yglesias’s blog” would be a position consistent with the broad support of free speech. To say, “Matt Yglesias should be arrested or fined or fired or canceled or deplatformed or marginalized” would not.

When making their decisions as to whether to listen to Matt Yglesias, parents should keep that in mind.

Politics & Policy

I’ll Keep Repeating This until It Sinks In

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About 2 percent of the criminals who use guns in their crimes get those guns at retail gun stores.

About 80 percent of the murders are committed by people with prior arrest records, in most cases including a criminal conviction.

The problem isn’t the regulations that apply to sporting-goods stores. The only reason to focus on the 2-percent correlation rather than the 80-percent correlation is political cowardice and intellectual dishonesty.

The population of violent-crime offenders is about 1 million a year. The population of gun-store customers is about 40 million a year. Do we want to go looking for a needle in a haystack or a needle in 40 haystacks?

Education

Helping Students Avoid Bad College Choices

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Time was, and not so long ago, that most Americans believed that a college degree was necessarily a good investment. Getting a degree — any degree! — would put you on the path to success. That badly mistaken idea led us to a bloated higher-education sector and large numbers of graduates struggling to repay loans they took out to pay for degrees of minimal value.

In today’s Martin Center article, economics professor Roger Meiners looks at this problem.

He writes, “When we invest in a retirement fund, we see lots of data about rates of return. There is no guarantee about the future, but you can see the returns on various funds and stocks from previous years. No one buys expected losers. Colleges, however, generally avoid providing information about their return on investment. Instead, there is happy talk about how ‘rewarding’ college is, though the truth is that some degrees are almost sure losers.”

Meiners points to two factors that will help to alleviate the bad-college-choice problem. One of them is the proliferation of data on degree returns. We now have good numbers on how well the average student does with his or her degree in X, Y, or Z. Some generally lead to pleasing outcomes while others are almost certain to leave the student in the red. With better data, fewer students will blunder into low-value programs.

The other factor is the rise of a new financing mechanism, the Income Share Agreement. Meiners explains:

A loan program that implements an Income Share Agreement (ISA) would help impose degree discipline. ISAs would impose market-like discipline on the student loan system. An investor pays the student’s college costs, and the student agrees to pay back a set percentage of his or her income for a fixed time after graduation. This percentage differs based on what students want to study and what the investor expects their future earnings to be. Just as with down payments on houses, students who contribute a larger portion of their college costs up front are likely to get a better deal, as they have more skin in the game, a good signal to investors.

We’ve had tremendous waste in higher education, thanks to easy government money and a clever sales pitch. But if Meiners is right, we might be in the recovery phase.