Health Care

Disabled Man Commits Italy’s First Legal Assisted Suicide

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(Pornpak Khunatorn/Getty Images)

A seriously disabled man was allowed by an Italian court to commit assisted suicide. From the New York Times story:

For more than a year, media reports kept Italians up to date on the travails of a 44-year-old man known only as “Mario” as he sought to end his life through physician-assisted suicide. Paralyzed 12 years ago in a traffic accident, “Mario” faced a series of legal, bureaucratic and financial hurdles in his pursuit of death.

On Thursday, “Mario,” identified for the first time by his real name, Federico Carboni, ended his life, becoming Italy’s first legal assisted suicide, in his home in the central Italian port town of Senigallia.

What to make of this? Note that the patient who killed himself was not terminally ill, but paralyzed — illustrating the fact that assisted suicide isn’t about terminal illness. Rather, it is a philosophy that sees death as a proper and empowering response to suffering caused by serious disease, disability, mental illness, and the morbidities of old age.

This is why disability-rights organizations are so adamantly opposed to legalization. They see themselves — correctly in my view — as the primary targets of the movement. And indeed, we see in places such as Canada, people with disabilities choosing to be euthanized because they are denied the kind of services that would help them want to live.

The court ruling reflects how much of the West is fast becoming pro-some suicides, a policy that basically says that we should try to prevent suicides of the young and of veterans. But that people with serious illnesses or disabilities are better off having their suicides facilitated, a message repeatedly encouraged by laudatory stories in the media.

This is a terrible dereliction, even a failure of love. When we say that we will strive to save some from suicide — but not others — we are making a fundamental claim that the latter categories of people are not as important or valuable. If that devastating message of rejection isn’t a denial of equality, I don’t know what is.

Media

Just Who Is Preventing Americans from Seeing the ‘Real’ Kamala Harris?

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a news conference in Bucharest, Romania, March 11, 2022. (Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via Reuters)

It’s a day ending in a “y,” so it’s time for another mainstream media voice to argue that Kamala Harris is actually really good at her job of vice president, and is being drastically underestimated by an allegedly hostile media. Joy Reid of MSNBC contends that Americans just haven’t been able to see the real Kamala Harris.

For starters, Reid says VP Harris is about as real as they come. People just haven’t had a chance to see that side of her. “She’s just a regular sister in the same way people would always say that Michelle Obama is like if your cousin became First Lady. Kamala Harris is like if your cousin became VP of the United States,” she said. “I think she doesn’t get to show that personality often enough, and so people haven’t had a chance to get to know her,” she said. . . .

Reid told me that she hopes the Vice President will have more opportunities to take control of the narrative created by the talking heads and show Americans who she really is. “Most of the media is still white and male. And their take on Kamala Harris becomes the take. It becomes conventional wisdom,” she said. “I was able to kick off my heels and talk real. We need more conversations like that.”

As noted late last year, Harris does have a few factors outside her control that hinder her performance as vice president. Most of her Senate and campaign staffers didn’t come with her in the vice presidency. None of her top staff have worked with Harris for long. Her current chief of staff was formerly a vice president at George Washington University. Her current national-security adviser previously worked at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her current communications director was previously a commentator for CBS News.

As veep, Harris gets assigned the least popular issues to focus upon, the ones that the president doesn’t want associated with himself. Welcome to the not-so-glamorous aspects of life as vice president.

And Harris doesn’t fit many of the traditional roles of the job. She’s not a foreign-policy specialist, she doesn’t have longtime, strong ties on Capitol Hill, and as her presidential-primary campaign demonstrated, she doesn’t have a strong relationship with any particular constituency. She’s in the uncomfortable role of the heir apparent for a president who does not want to admit that he’s too old to run for another term. Biden apparently isn’t even interested in maintaining his weekly lunch habit.

And remember, some of Biden’s closest friends and allies didn’t want her in this position and are unlikely to ever trust her. It’s fair to wonder if Jill Biden ever forgot Harris’s attacks on her husband during the primary. Apparently the Biden staff finds Harris and her staff frustrating.

But at some point, it becomes absurd to continually contend that Americans still haven’t seen or heard the “real” Kamala Harris. For starters, who is preventing Harris from showing Americans her “real” self? She’s the vice president. She can grant interviews with anyone she likes, give just about any speech she likes. At what point is it fair to say that the problems with Harris’s image are the fault of Harris herself?

Finally, Harris spent four years in the Senate, spent about a year as a presidential candidate, and has been vice president for about a year and a half. How much more time will it take for Americans to “get to know” the “real” Kamala Harris?

Religion

A Real Presence — and Encounter — on the Streets of Manhattan

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St. Joseph’s parish’s Corpus Christi procession in Greenwich Village, June 19, 2022. (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

“Jesus!”

Yesterday Catholics celebrated Corpus Christi Sunday, and the U.S. Bishops launched a Eucharistic revival, aimed at witnessing to the power of the Eucharist. In Greenwich Village, the Dominican friars at St. Joseph’s Church processed with the Blessed Sacrament (which Catholics believe is the Real Presence of Jesus) with about 80 parishioners, including a few Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s sisters) and a choir.

At one point, about halfway through the procession, a woman excoriated a young priest who moved an orange cone outside the brownstone whose doorway she was standing in. “You are a liability to me,” she said, because he had moved the cone a few inches, as best I could tell. He explained that a procession would be passing by, and that’s why he moved it. She insisted a procession could not pass by because she had movers there. “I don’t give a sh** about any procession. I don’t give a sh** about anything.”

Also ahead of the procession, taking pictures, I whispered a prayer that there would not be an incident. As I walked on, I turned around and saw one of the movers standing by a desk on the sidewalk. He looked at the procession and exclaimed, “Jesus!” I’m quite sure he meant it as an expletive, but on Gay Street in Manhattan during a month dedicated to the deadly sin of pride (while that might not be the intention, it is), I saw it as a reminder that with God all things are possible and all of us blinded by every kind of sin can see in His light.

Peacefully, we walked around the block, which happens to include the Stonewall Inn and memorial. I often wonder if pluralism is still possible. Can we live together still? With Jane’s Revenge threatening domestic terrorism and all, I worry. But in a sea of rainbow flags, we took Jesus to the streets, and I know people were blessed. It was a tremendous sign of hope in an increasingly violent city.

Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Poll Finds Most Americans Believe Unborn Children Have Rights

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Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Americans United for Life (AUL) has partnered with YouGov to survey 1,000 Americans on their opinions about abortion, fetal personhood, and legal rights for the unborn. YouGov conducted the survey between May 6 and May 13, shortly after someone leaked a draft opinion in the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The poll sample included Americans with a wide range of views about abortion. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they are pro-choice, 32 percent said they are pro-life, and 29 percent said they identify with neither label.

According to the poll results, a copy of which was provided exclusively to National Review, majorities believe in fetal personhood and believe that unborn children have a variety of rights. For instance, a combined 55 percent of respondents said they believe an unborn child is a person either from the moment of conception or within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Only 14 percent of respondents said they think an unborn child becomes a person at birth. An overwhelming majority (86 percent) say that the unborn child is a person by the time he or she can survive outside the mother’s womb.

Meanwhile, supermajorities believe unborn children have a number of rights, including the right to be born (80 percent), the right to be protected from violence or assault (89 percent), and the right to be protected against substance abuse (90 percent).

A slight majority (51 percent) said that abortion ends the life of a human being before birth, and 52 percent said they would support the Supreme Court “extending legal rights of personhood to unborn children.” At the same time, however, only 44 percent of respondents said they’d support state lawmakers having the power to prohibit abortion, an interesting discrepancy.

“What we should take away from the results of this latest AUL/YouGov national survey is that in a post-Roe world, Americans will rely on our executive, judicial, and legislative leaders to clarify and uphold the human right to life in practice,” said Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of AUL, in a statement following the survey announcement. “As crucial as the encouragement of public opinion is for the human right to life, what will most be needed post-Roe are brave and courageous political leaders who are willing to act to restore the human right to life in its fullness and to protect it for all time to come.”

U.S.

New Guttmacher Report Shows Abortion Rate Increase in 2020

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An anti-abortion demonstrator holds a replica of a human fetus as demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., June 29, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Last week, the pro-abortion research group that Guttmacher Institute released new abortion data for 2020. The data are broadly consistent with recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, which also show an uptick in the incidence of abortion in the U.S.

The new Guttmacher data suggest that the abortion rate increased by approximately 7 percent between 2017 and 2020. The increase was fairly widespread, as 28 states reported an increase in the abortion rate over this time period. That said, there was more variance in state abortion-rate fluctuations than is typical.  Some states experienced large abortion-rate declines due to abortion facility closures, while others experienced substantial abortion-rate increases due to a rise in women obtaining abortions from out of state.

Unsurprisingly, Guttmacher’s analysis blames the abortion-rate increase partially on the Trump administration’s Protect Life Rule, which prevented recipients of Title X family planning grants from co-locating with abortion facilities or from referring women to get abortions. However, this likely wasn’t the cause of the increase, because the abortion rate started to increase before 2019, which is when Planned Parenthood withdrew from the federal Title X program.

A more likely culprit for the increase is the long-term increase in chemical abortions. According to Guttmacher’s most recent data, 54 percent of all U.S. abortions were chemical abortions in 2020. Abortion facilities and advocacy groups fought to make chemical abortions more widely available during the Covid-19 pandemic, and for part of 2020, a judicial ruling had suspended federal rules requiring women have an in-person medical exam before obtaining a chemical abortion, a change that allowed women to obtain chemical-abortion drugs through the mail.

In addition, the pandemic may have contributed to an increase in the abortion rate in other ways. Financial pressure may have caused some women to seek abortions, while other pregnant women may have sought abortions because they were unwilling to visit physicians or other medical professionals during a global pandemic, as continuing a pregnancy would require.

Another key factor behind this increase is the fact that many states have been working to make their abortion policy more permissive. In 2018, Illinois started funding abortion through their state Medicaid program. Between 2017 and 2020, the abortion rate in Illinois increased by 28 percent, though part of the increase was likely due to women from other states traveling to obtain an abortion in Illinois. Similarly, in 2019, Maine enacted legislation requiring its state Medicaid program to cover elective abortions. Unsurprisingly, the abortion rate in Maine increased by about 16 percent between 2017 and 2020.

Despite this recent increase in the incidence of abortion, it is important to remember that pro-lifers have enjoyed impressive, long-term success in reducing the U.S. abortion rate. Between 1980 and 2020, the U.S. abortion rate fell by more than 50 percent. According to Guttmacher’s own data, an important reason for this reduction is that a higher percentage of women are carrying unintended pregnancies to term. Between 1990 and 1994, 50 percent of unintended pregnancies were aborted. That figure fell to 34 percent between 2015 and 2019. This shows how effective pro-life educational, service, and legislative efforts have been. Furthermore, a favorable ruling in Dobbs in the coming weeks will give pro-lifers even more legislative opportunities to build a culture of life.

Elections

This Is Shamefully Dangerous

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A campaign ad from Missouri Republican Senate primary candidate Eric Greitens encourages the violent snuffing out of “RINOS.” The last thing we need is more violence. It’s a sickening display, and he should be universally condemned for this by Republicans.

Sports

Transgender Policy Priorities

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The world’s governing body for swimming, FINA, has banned males from participating in female sports except for those who began the process of medicalized transition before the onset of puberty. In a gesture of goodwill toward trans-identifying athletes, world swimming will also establish a new “open” category.

While banning males from competing against females is a commonsense policy, and the “open” category a more than generous compromise, the implication that prepubescent transition is also an acceptable solution ought to be resisted. The transitioning of children is a far more grave and permanent injustice than any unfair sporting competition.

Education

Welcome to the Brave New World of Leftist Scholarship

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Milton Friedman in 2004. (Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice/Public Domain/via Wikimedia)

For true-believing lefties, everything is instrumental — does it help to advance the cause? If so, then old-fashioned concerns such as truth and civility should be ignored.

One of the techniques of the Left is to try to discredit eminent scholars who have come to different conclusions, not by arguing that they were mistaken, but by portraying them as bad people. And as we all know, bad people can’t be correct, so case closed. That conclusion does not logically follow, but with so many poorly educated, hyper-zealous people in academia today, who will notice?

In this AIER essay, Don Boudreaux recounts some of his efforts against one such “scholar,” namely Nancy MacLean of Duke University. Back in 2017, she published Democracy in Chains, a brazenly dishonest book — a screed, really — that was meant to take down Nobel laureate James Buchanan and the field known as public-choice theory. According to MacLean, it’s all a racist plot backed by some terrible rich people who just want to protect their wealth and position.

After recounting several episodes, Boudreaux concludes: “Note that I do not accuse MacLean of being a liar. I suspect that she really believes that her fables capture and convey important truths. But whether in this assessment I am correct or incorrect, one conclusion is airtight: As a scholar, Nancy MacLean is an utter disgrace.”

MacLean has recently tried the same ugly tactics on Milton Friedman, and other lefties have smeared Ludwig von Mises. No doubt we will see more of this as the country becomes increasingly politicized and incapable of detecting falsehoods and fallacies.

Politics & Policy

Why the Tide May Be Turning on Pro-Family Policy

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For one thing, the new Romney-Burr-Daines plan for a child benefit is well timed for the impending reversal of Roe.

For years, supporters of legal abortion have accused opponents of favoring life only until birth, and then doing nothing to help mothers and children afterward. Now that legislators are going to have the power to set policy on abortion, what had been a debater’s point is becoming a real political and moral challenge.

The new Republican bill is a partial response . . .

I have more to say about why Republicans are coming around to a pro-family economic agenda at Bloomberg Opinion.

International

Gas Deal Opens Door for Partnership between EU and Middle East

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European Union flags flutter in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 2, 2019. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Last week, the European Union signed a gas agreement with Israel and Egypt to boost gas shipments that would ease the oil crisis facing Western Europe since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the deal, Israel plans to send the natural gas from its vast offshore fields in the eastern Mediterranean through a pipeline to Egypt. In reciprocation, the European Union will incentivize European companies to participate in Israeli and Egyptian exploration tenders.

The deal is one of the first to allow significant exports of Israeli gas to Europe. Israel, which is on track to double its gas production in the next few years, is on its way to becoming a major gas producer. While Egypt also is a gas producer, its exports have been constrained by domestic demand.

The new agreement is especially urgent for the European Union, considering that its nations imported 40 percent of their gas from Russia last year. Leaders and officials from both the Middle East and Europe have praised the agreement as a beneficial economic and political arrangement. The petroleum minister of Egypt, Tarek El-Molla, praised the agreement as “an important step toward achieving more energy cooperation.” The European Union commissioner echoed the sentiment, emphasizing that the agreement was a “big step forward in the energy supply for Europe.” 

This development could potentially change the political and commercial relationship between the EU and the Middle East. While a history of European colonialism in the region has fostered mistrust, there is greater potential for a strong future alliance that could serve mutual economic and political interests. If Europe can benefit from increased access to Middle Eastern energy, the EU may be more inclined to support Israel and other Sunni Arab nations in their conflict against their regional rival, Iran. A successful partnership could also create a stronger bulwark against China and Russia, hegemonic powers that are already seeking to cultivate political and economic influence in the Middle East.

World

Macron’s Loss and Le Pen’s Gains Indicate the Decline of the French Mainstream

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Marine Le Pen (L), leader of the French National Rally party, and French President Emmanuel Macron (Sarah Meyssonnie/Reuters)

On Sunday night, French president Emmanuel Macron’s coalition lost its majority in the National Assembly. The night belonged to far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, whose party picked up 81 seats to reach a total of 89 seats in the 577-member body. This comes as a surprise given Le Pen’s poor showing in the presidential election this past April, when she lost to Macron by 17 points. While Macron’s coalition still won 244 seats, that number leaves them short of the 289 needed for a majority in the parliament. For the first time, National Rally has enough representation to pursue seats on committees, including those focused on foreign affairs and national defense. Moreover, Le Pen’s party can initiate a censure motion against Macron’s government, potentially leading to a vote of no confidence. Far-left parties also made significant gains in the election. The NUPES coalition party — a mix of socialists, communists, and greens — led by far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, won 131 seats. Macron will now likely face a gridlocked National Assembly for the rest of his five-year term. 

The rise of the far-right and far-left parties in France suggests that France’s mainstream is on the decline, especially as Macron’s approval ratings are underwater — only 39 percent approve of the French president, while 59 percent disapprove of his job performance. In 2019, nationwide protests over a proposal to increase fuel taxes presented an unprecedented challenge to Macron’s government. The protests, which became famous for the yellow vests worn by protesters, highlighted the fact that many middle-class French believe Macron is an elitist who is more interested in serving business interests than the needs of the working class.

The rise of the far-Right in France is demonstrative of a growing backlash across Europe against a policy of mass immigration in recent years. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, at 5.7 million as of 2016, which is 8.8 percent of the country’s population; many in this group are immigrants from Muslim countries that do not share Western values. In 2019, there were 132,614 asylum applications in France, up significantly from 42,600 in 2008. The following year, France accepted 436,100 refugees, a 6.91 percent increase from 2019. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ 2021 mid-year statistical report found that the top three countries of origin for French refugees are Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Syria, while the top country for asylum seekers is Afghanistan. The French are understandably worried about assimilation and integration of these immigrants and refugees into French society. Almost 45 percent of French people believe that Islam threatens French identity, according to a 2019 report. Just last year, the French senate passed an amendment that would ban Muslim girls below the age of 18 from wearing a hijab in public.

The French people have expressed a reasonable desire to protect their French identity and culture from being eroded by mass immigration. But giving more power to a far-right leader like Le Pen, through additional seats for her party, is not the solution to France’s problems. Given her bigger platform in the National Assembly, Le Pen will likely only acquire more power from here. This is not in the best interest of France or its people. 

Elections

Showing Up Is Half the Battle

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(Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

Why is the Democrats’ advantage in South Florida beginning to slip away? This tale of three tweets might help explain it.

First, here’s Governor DeSantis on last night’s election in Colombia:

Thus far, DeSantis’s potential gubernatorial rival, Nikki Fried, has said nothing. Neither has Charlie Crist. Hell, even Annette Tadeo, who is herself Colombian, couldn’t come up with a take better than this one:

And then there’s Thomas Kennedy, an elected member of the DNC who likes to disrupt public events staged by Florida Republicans and then claim he’s being persecuted when he’s thrown out:

There are more than a million Colombian-Americans in Florida — about 5 percent of the population. Historically, the majority of them have voted for Democrats, and yet:

While Colombian Americans traditionally voted Democratic, over half of them voted for President Donald Trump in 2020, exit polls suggest.

“Colombians have become the new Cubans,” said Eduardo Gamarra, a political science professor at Florida International University, referring to Cuban American voters, who have traditionally voted Republican.

Why? Partly, because:

Gamarra, who’s a Democrat, believes that since 2020, Colombian Americans have continued shifting toward the Republican Party because of the polarization back in their home country.

“Today they’re proportionately more conservative than Cuban Americans,” said Gamarra, “because of the Petro factor.”

Petro won last night. In response, Republicans talked about what a menace he is, and Democrats did not. Sometimes, you win by showing up.

Politics & Policy

The Eric Greitens RINO-Hunting Ad Doesn’t Make Any Sense

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( Eric Greitens/Screenshot via Youtube)

Eric Greitens, who was forced to resign as governor of Missouri due to sexual misconduct and campaign-finance allegations, is now running for Senate. In an effort to distract from his scandalous past and trigger the libs and Beltway conservatives, he’s out with a new ad using his military background as the jumping off point for a RINO-hunting-themed ad featuring lots of guns and camo. Judging by how much it’s popping up on my Twitter feed, it seems as though his goal of getting attention was accomplished.

Aside from everything else that could be said about the ad, what strikes me is that it makes absolutely no sense. If you wanted to go RINO-hunting, why would it involve leading a Navy Seal–style team into an empty house? I thought RINOs were filling the corridors of power, inhabiting coffee shops and wine bars. Why would they be hiding in an abandoned home on a random suburban street? If nothing else, maybe go with a safari theme and hunt them in the jungle somewhere — or maybe in a swamp.

Side note: In the ad he refers to himself as a Navy Seal, but following his resignation, he was allowed to rejoin the military but not as a Navy Seal.

Film & TV

What Is Top Gun: Maverick Really About? [Spoilers]

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Cast member Tom Cruise arrives via helicopter at the world premiere of Top Gun: Maverick on the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, Calif., May 4, 2022. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Sonny Bunch offered a somewhat tongue-in-cheek take about how Tom Cruise’s Maverick died after breaking Mach 10 in the opening scenes of Top Gun: Maverick, and that he spent the rest of the movie as, I guess, a guardian angel like Richard Dreyfuss in Always. Devout Catholic Ross Douthat, who says that Top Gun: Maverick is not an example of decadence despite its shameless remixes of the greatest hits from the original 1986 Top Gun, has leaned hard into Sonny’s theory. Ross even says that (like the bloody Viking saga The NorthmanTG:M “is fundamentally a story about death, and what constitutes a good death.”

I think this is well off the mark. In fact I think TG:M is about something close to the opposite: It’s about living forever! Or at least it’s about how one person can live forever: Tom Cruise. Cruise is pushing 60, he’s ludicrously old for a fighter pilot, and yet, if anything, he’s even more buff than he was in 1986. Nevertheless, everyone in the movie bows to his awesomeness and relies on him to complete the impossible mission, and though he needs a bit of help getting saved from the nameless enemy, that’s just to give Maverick’s late friend Goose’s son Rooster something to do, and for Goose and Maverick to have a manly reconciliation.

TG:M pretends that you can retain the rank of captain indefinitely and continue to serve as long as you like. It makes no sense whatsoever, but it’s thrilling to think that everything can revert to the way it was when we were young, or that nothing ever changes except maybe we might lose a friend or two (such as Iceman) along the way. As I said in my review: The movie flatters old guys in the audience by telling us we’re just as fit and handsome and in-demand as we were in the Reagan administration. Cruise is happy to be our avatar in aviators. Death plays no part in Pete Mitchell’s journey. Death implies grueling collapse and inevitable failure. Maverick does not fail. He can’t fail. He’s Maverick. If Cruise wanted the character to be interesting or complex, he would have demanded that from the screenplay. He didn’t. The screenplay boils down to flustered admirals saying, “Dammit, Maverick, you rebel, you can’t do that! Except you’re awesome, so go ahead.”

Religion

Another Retired Pope?

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Pope Francis gestures as he leads the Angelus prayer from a window of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, February 13, 2022. (Vatican Media/­Handout via Reuters)

Rumors have been going around since last July that that Pope Francis would soon retire. That was right after his surgery. Ever since, Vatican reporters have said that Rome is on “conclave watch.” And now, after Pope Francis named some new Cardinals, and canceled a trip to Africa, these rumors have achieved escape velocity to the point where TMZ is relaying them.

I have no idea. My instinct has always been that Pope Francis is not the type to resign.

But off the top of my head. Reasons to think he might resign:

(1) His condition. Francis is 85 years old, one of the oldest men ever to hold the See of St. Peter.  He came into the job with one lung debilitated. He struggles with sciatica. He had colon surgery last year, spurring unconfirmed rumors of cancer. He has serious knee problems, and in May told bishops about it: “”Rather than operate, I’ll resign.”

(2) The choreography. Francis scheduled a visit to L’Aquila for August 28. This will be to open the Jubilee of Forgiveness, which was initiated by Pope Celestine V in 1294. Celestine renounced the papacy that year, and Benedict visited the grave of Celestine before announcing his retirement.

Reasons to think he won’t:

(1) His real inner circle denies it. “He has never thought about it [resigning],” Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga said, dismissing the rumors as “cheap soap opera.”

(2) Benedict still lives. And this makes retirement very awkward. The continued life of Benedict has cast a shade over this papacy.  Pope Francis is rumored to dislike the office of “Emeritus” as Pope Benedict designed it in his resignation. The title itself “Pope Emeritus,” the white clothes, and perhaps even the location of residence are very likely to change if Pope Francis were to retire. But it is difficult to inflict such changes on Benedict himself as he still lives. Or to have two different ongoing post-papacy models of retirement running simultaneously.

(3) He’s just not the type, his revolution isn’t complete. There may be real fear that the next conclave isn’t in the bag for the more-progressive wing of the Church. Or that the Synodal model that Francis wants to impose on the Church is not yet built into a sufficient bulwark against a conservative Pope trying to undo or reverse the Francis agenda.

Elections

Inflation, and America’s Mood, Are Likely to Be Worse by November

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks while signing the continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 30, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

The Consumer Price Index numbers for June won’t be released until July 13, but the end of this month will provide another indicator of how runaway inflation is altering the spending habits of Americans. On June 30, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis will release the May personal- savings-rate numbers, which have steady declined this year — from 6 percent in January to 5 percent in March to 4.4 percent in April.

Much like the inflation numbers in the Consumer Price Index, we don’t know what the updated personal savings rate numbers will be, but we have a good sense that they will be bad:

Some 70 percent of Americans are using their savings to cover rising prices, a recent Forbes Advisor survey of 2,000 U.S. adults concluded. Among those polled, older adults were more likely to say they have left their savings intact.

In fact, the personal savings rate for April 2022 hit 4.4 percent — the lowest level since September 2008 — down from 6 percent at the beginning of the year, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a department of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

What’s more, one-third of consumers are putting less money into their emergency fund, according to a report from New York Life Insurance, with the average monthly contribution falling by $243. “Millennials are making the most significant cuts, with their monthly emergency fund contributions falling by nearly $289,” the poll of 4,416 adults concluded.

…Though some Americans have built up savings during the pandemic, helped by COVID-related government benefits, those savings appear to be running low as people cope with rising prices.

As bad as inflation seems now, Americans are likely to feel even more squeezed in the months ahead, as they burn through those accumulated savings. Yesterday, CNN’s Capitol Hill correspondent reporter Melanie Zanona characterized Congressional Democrats as “panicked” over inflation and the Biden administration’s response so far:

Democrats, they have been panicking privately. They have been saying for months. Back in December, they started pressing the White House to get a handle on inflation, start talking about this issue. They’ve been pressing Nancy Pelosi, just start putting bills on the floor, even if it’s just messaging votes just to show the voters that they’re doing something.

And when White House officials came, they basically said, blame other people, blame corporate greed, start talking about what we’re doing legislatively to attack these issues. But there was a lot of Q&A, they showed up late. So Democrats do not feel like they’re going back to the districts armed with the necessary talking points and messaging.

Frankly, Democrats should be panicking. Certain unpleasant business cycles run their course and end pretty quickly. But taming inflation took years back in the 1970s. Besides the problem of too many dollars chasing too few goods, the ongoing energy crisis won’t get resolved anytime soon. Historically high fuel prices are expected to last into 2023. The shortage of refinery capacity isn’t going to get solved quickly. There is “no end in sight” for the supply chain crisis. And the federal government is trying to start a slew of infrastructure projects during an ongoing labor shortage and tight supplies of oil, steel, concrete, and other necessary supplies.

Nevermind getting our major economic problems resolved in time for the midterms; now the question is whether Americans will feel much relief in 2023.

Law & the Courts

Once Again: It Is Not the Supreme Court’s Job to Follow ‘Majority Public Opinion’

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(renaschild/Getty Images)

It gets tiring having to point this out, but here goes nothing.

At CNN today, Stephen Collinson writes:

A tense national mood is likely to be exacerbated if, in what would be twin triumphs for conservatives, the Supreme Court rules against majority public opinion and loosens gun restrictions and overturns a woman’s right to an abortion in the coming days. Already, a man has been charged with trying to kill conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, reflecting the charged atmosphere surrounding the court and the politicized issues it’s set to rule on.

This is a disgraceful choice of framing that — whether intentionally or not — serves as a partial justification of the very “charged atmosphere” and assassination attempt that Collinson is ostensibly attempting to lament. The Supreme Court is a court, and its job is to uphold the law — whether statutory or constitutional — as it actually exists. The wishes of “majority public opinion” — or of would-be political assassins — are irrelevant to this endeavor. If a sufficient majority of Americans no longer like the law, they can use their democratic power to change its text. But, until they do so, that text will remain what it is, and the Court will be obliged to interpret it without fear, favor, contrivance, or reference to anything beyond its written terms.

Collinson points in particular to two questions that are currently before the Court: abortion and guns. If one were to take his insinuation at face value, one could be forgiven for believing that the plaintiffs had asked the Court, “Hey, so abortion and guns — good or bad?” But, of course, they have done no such thing. Rather, they have asked the Court to decide whether the text of the Constitution precludes or limits certain democratic choices related to the regulation of abortion and guns. The originalist argument on abortion — the argument that Collinson clearly suspects will prevail — is that the Constitution does not mention (or imply) anything about abortion, which means that that question must be left entirely to the people. The originalist argument on guns — the argument that Collinson clearly suspects will prevail — is that the Constitution explicitly protects “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” which means that, absent a subsequent amendment, there exist certain limitations on what the people may do to regulate it. At no point in examining either question would it be appropriate for the Court to ask what the public would prefer if given a vote.

Why not? Because — once again, for those in the back — the Supreme Court is a court, not a legislature, and because its job is not to decide what the law should be, but what it is. That the Court sometimes deals with “politicized issues” does not alter this. Indeed, there would be no point in our having a written constitution if its terms could be overridden by transient public opinion every time the issue at hand was deemed controversial. If all it took for a given political action to be considered legitimate were a careful reading of opinion polls, then there would be no point in our having legislatures or executives. Congress could go; the president could go; the courts could go; written law could go; the separation of powers could go; the Bill of Rights could go; and in their place, we could put Frank Luntz.

That may sound like a joke, but it is no such thing. If, as Collinson implies, the Court should consider public opinion when it makes its decisions, then it should do so in all cases. Sure, the Constitution doesn’t allow the president to raise taxes on his own. But what if raising taxes is popular, and if preventing him from doing so would create a “charged atmosphere”? Sure, the Constitution doesn’t allow even the most popular of presidents to run for a third term. But what if Gallup says he’d win the next election in a walk, and to uphold the 22nd Amendment would annoy voters? Sure, the Constitution doesn’t allow the prosecution of people for acts that were not criminal at the time they were committed. But what if declining to allow such charges leads to death threats against judges?

As Antonin Scalia pointed out in A Matter of Interpretation, the existence of formal institutions requires the use of formal institutions — yes, even in such cases as their application frustrates the majority, pushes the question to a different branch, or delays what observers may believe to be a foregone conclusion:

Of all the criticisms leveled against textualism, the most mindless is that it is “formalistic.” The answer to that is, of course it’s formalistic! The rule of law is about form. A murderer has been caught with blood on his hands, bending over the body of his victim; a neighbor with a video camera has filmed the crime; and the murderer has confessed in writing and on videotape. We nonetheless insist that before the state can punish this miscreant, it must conduct a full-dress criminal trial that results in a verdict of guilty. Is that not formalism? Long live formalism. It is what makes a government a government of laws and not of men.

The law is the law. And, until it is changed, it remains the law, irrespective of what the majority might want, how “charged” the atmosphere might become, and how many people try to murder or intimidate those whose job it is to uphold it. That’s not a problem to be fixed or bemoaned; it’s the basis of all civilization.

Economy & Business

California Decides This Is a Great Time to Raise the State Gasoline Tax

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Gas prices are seen at Berri Brothers in Sunset Beach, Calif., June 10, 2022 (Calvin Corey/National Review)

This morning, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped a few pennies from the all-time high on June 14; on that date it was $5.01, and this morning it is $4.98, according to the American Automobile Association. Certain states are much higher; in California, the statewide average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $6.39.

Naturally, at the end of the month, the state government of California will increase the state tax on gasoline, from 51 cents per gallon to 53.9 cents. California has the highest taxes on gasoline.

This is separate from the environmental regulations that make gasoline more expensive in California:

California’s reformulated gasoline program is more stringent than that of the federal government — California gasoline must use a different formula in warmer weather in an effort to curb pollution. As a result, gas prices in the state are typically higher and more variable because few supply sources outside of the state are able to offer California’s unique blend of gasoline.

To help fight the increasing burden of high gas prices and inflation, California governor Gavin Newsom wants to send every registered car owner $400 debit cards. (To stop inflation, Newsom wants to increase consumer demand.)

That’s for regular gasoline; right now the average cost of a gallon of diesel is $6.99 in California – just a bit below the all-time high of $7.01 two days ago. California taxes diesel at 13 percent.

As the recent supply chain crisis helped illustrate, more than 40 percent of the container cargo in the U.S. passes through California ports. Meaning that everything you buy that passes through California is influenced by the price of diesel fuel in the Golden State.

Education

Are UNC System Chancellors Overpaid?

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That is the question Ashlynn Warta asks in today’s Martin Center article, and the answer appears to be that they are.

She writes, “Chancellor salaries at public universities across the country are far higher than those for other public executives, out of step with faculty compensation, and unrelated to student success and university performance. A new program at UNC may help to address some of these concerns.”

In North Carolina, even the chancellor of the smallest UNC system schools is paid substantially more than the governor. Also, chancellors are paid far more than are the most senior faculty members. Warta quotes economist Richard Vedder, who has long studied American higher education, who observes that there is no “bottom line” on which to judge how well or poorly a university chancellor or president is doing.

UNC has recently established an incentive compensation program for chancellors, but don’t be surprised if it only ratchets up and never down.

Education

Bogus ‘Civics’ Bill Will Push CRT on States

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(Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images)

The misleadingly named “Civics Secures Democracy Act” (CSDA) — just now reintroduced in Congress — will allow the Biden administration to push Critical Race Theory (CRT) on every public school in the country. Over a six-year period, this $6 billion pot of competitive grant money will create a de facto national curriculum — just like Common Core. States desperate to tap into the federal gravy train will have to tailor their civics and history grant proposals to the Biden administration’s liking. And abundant evidence shows that Biden’s Education Department is pushing CRT. So why are some Republican senators eager to help Biden spread CRT? I can’t think of a quicker way to devastate Republican enthusiasm just before the midterms.

It doesn’t matter that federal law and the bill itself disclaim the authority to formally impose a curriculum on the states. The strings that Biden’s bureaucrats will attach to these massive federal grants will suffice to lure states into adopting CRT. The left-leaning bureaucrats who staff education departments even in red states already favor CRT (those bureaucrats will write the grant applications and divvy up the money). And Biden long ago signaled his intention to prioritize applications that promise CRT.

If CSDA passes this summer, as its sponsors hope, a Republican victory in the midterms will come too late to prevent the federal imposition of CRT. But what will happen when voters discover just months before the midterms that Republicans have betrayed them by using federal power to push CRT on the states? The Civics Secures Democracy Act is education madness and political suicide all wrapped up in one.

Sadly, while this is largely a leftist-backed plan, we have Republican senator John Cornyn to thank for giving CSDA “bipartisan” political cover. Last year, in an open letter to Cornyn and Representative Tom Cole, the Civics Alliance convened by the National Association of Scholars appealed to both legislators to abandon CSDA. When Cornyn responded with misleading and mistaken claims about the bill, I rebutted. Yet now, the leftist-dominated coalition backing CSDA has added Republican senators Bill Cassidy and James Inhofe as co-sponsors of the newly reintroduced bill. Unless America’s parents wake up and make themselves heard now, there is a very real chance that CRT could be the new Common Core by summer.

The new version of CSDA is the same in substance as the original, although the language this time is stealthier. Obvious references to “action civics” (mandatory — and invariably leftist — political protests for course credit) have been removed. Yet there’s enough coded language to allow Biden’s grant readers to favor “action civics” anyway. In the ultimate stealth move, at every turn the bill prioritizes civics programs directed toward “traditionally underserved students.” This sounds like a benign instruction to direct federal civics and history funding to districts with limited monies of their own. Unfortunately, something more disturbing is meant.

In the new leftist vision of history and civics, both of these school subjects must be radically reinvented in order to appeal to the “traditionally underserved.” The Biden executive order directing his entire administration to push CRT is actually called “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government.” The idea is that recent immigrants and impoverished ethnic and racial minorities cannot embrace or excel at old-fashioned lessons on federalism or checks and balances. To truly excite and empower the underserved, you must supposedly teach about “systemic racism” and recruit students into Black Lives Matter–style protests for course credit. Instead of motivating civic participation with a message such as “what a great country — wouldn’t you like to get involved?” the new leftist civics aims to lure in “underserved” students with a new approach: “Wouldn’t you like to join the struggle against America’s intrinsic racism and injustice?” (For more on the CRT-themed civics behind the Civics Secures Democracy Act, go here.)

Fat federal grants will suffice to impose CRT and politicized “action civics” on the states. Yet CSDA’s coercive strategy goes further. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the nation’s report card, has long served as an effective national test of basic knowledge and skills. Yet for decades, NAEP has intentionally avoided collecting data in civics and history that would allow for detailed comparisons between states. Doing so would allow Congress or the administration to tie federal aid to differential state performance on the NAEP test, which would allow the content of the test itself to force a de facto national curriculum on the states.

CSDA would change all that. The leftist civics community wants to align the NAEP test to its new vision of history and civics, then tie state grants to performance on NAEP. That would effectively override state and local control over standards and curriculum, handing the leftist civics community power to craft what amounts to a national curriculum. (For more on this plan, go here.) Again, if CSDA passes before the midterms, it won’t matter if Republicans take Congress or not. Biden and his leftist education allies will have control of the nation’s curriculum for the remainder of his term — or far longer.

The bill would also funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to the overwhelmingly leftist nonprofits that push action civics and CRT on schools, and it would incentivize local school districts to work with them. On top of that, the same woke schools of education that churn out CRT-based curricula would get their own pot of hundreds of millions of dollars to devise teacher-training programs based on the new, woke vision of history and civics. States and local school districts would then be pressed to work with these leftist ed schools as a condition of their own grants. There is no more certain way to infuse CRT into the classroom.

The Civics Secures Democracy Act is the most pernicious federal education legislation I’ve ever seen. Now that it has been reintroduced with token yet still noticeably increased Republican support, there is a very real danger that it could become law. Via the Civics Alliance, many prominent conservatives have already announced their opposition to this bill (including Mark Bauerlein, John Hinderaker, Roger Kimball, Christopher Rufo, and Eagle Forum president emerita, Eunie Smith). Always quick on the uptake on cultural issues, former president Trump slammed the bill and its misguided Republican supporters in his Faith and Freedom address (see 1:26–1:33) last week. So far, however, Republicans in Congress have been silent, as have Republican governors, who stand to have their state’s education systems effectively commandeered by a quiet alliance of leftist state and federal bureaucrats. It’s Common Core 2.0, but this time with CRT, not fuzzy math, at stake. Let’s hope more Republican officeholders speak out against CSDA in the coming days. Nothing could tear the party apart faster than federalizing CRT by culpable neglect.

Supporters of the just-reintroduced Civics Secures Democracy Act hope to sneak it by this summer, just before the August recess, while the public is occupied with the first big post-pandemic vacation. After a year-long nation-wide rebellion against Critical Race Theory, let’s be sure not to drop the ball by allowing this noxious doctrine to take charge of our schools via the misnamed “Civics Secures Democracy Act.”

Airplanes
Greenflation Watch: Aviation

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Boeing 737 MAX airplanes grounded at Boeing Field in Seattle, Wash., March 21, 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

If there’s one thing that we know about climate policy in its current form (apart from the fact that it is unlikely to make a great deal of difference to any effects that the climate may have), it is that it will make quite a lot of what we take for granted much more expensive.

The other day, I quoted a tweet by Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank, which included these words:

While decarbonisation in the energy sector can cause rising prices in the medium term, it can lower inflation in the long term. That’s why green innovation is key.

It’s not often that I write something complementary about Ms. Lagarde, a second-rate politician now transformed into a fifth-rate central banker, but she does merit a few points for (more or less) admitting that decarbonization will lead to rising prices in “the medium term,” which really means from now until who knows when.

So, it’s worth keeping an eye on where those price rises will be hitting. One area will be flying. Airline tickets are already more expensive, partly on the back of higher fuel costs. These have risen sharply for any number of reasons, of which the energy transition away from greenhouse gases has only been a relatively small (direct) contributor.

So far.

Bloomberg:

We’re probably going to have to fly less. And when we do board a plane, it’s going to cost more — a lot more, one way or another.

Those are the conclusions of a new report by the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation, which analyzed how the airline industry could cut emissions in line with global climate goals. People will “still be able to fly in the future and do so with a clean conscience,” said Brandon Graver, a co-author of the study and a senior aviation researcher at the organization. “But it’s going to be expensive, and we need to have discussions on who is going to pay for that.”

I think we know.

Bloomberg:

The airline industry’s main lobby group set a net zero emissions target for 2050 last year, and the United Nations agency overseeing the industry will set its own climate goal later this year.

That this lobby group (IATA) should do something that is against both the interests of its industry and its clients is yet another sign of the harnessed capitalism that is a feature of the corporatist regime that is now under construction.

Bloomberg:

Aligning aviation with the Paris goals “is possible but will require significant ambition and investment,” warned the new report. In every scenario, the largest pollution reductions come from the same source: sustainable aviation fuels, or SAFs. The most ambitious path calls for alternative fuels to comprise 17% of aircraft fuel use by 2030 and 100% by 2050. In a more moderate scenario, SAFs only made up 3% of aircraft fuels by 2030 and 50% of fuel use by mid-century.

Sustainable fuels are currently a lot more expensive than traditional jet fuel. The report suggests that government policies could encourage the use of SAF by offering tax breaks and other incentives while also making fossil fuels more expensive. Either way, the airlines will likely pass at least some of the higher costs on to passengers and customers.

Compared to a status-quo, do-nothing pathway, the most aggressive carbon-reduction scenario leads to a 7% drop in passenger traffic and a 22% increase in ticket prices by 2050, driven by a 70% rise in fuel costs.

And if you think that that rise (expressed presumably in constant dollars) will “only” be 22 percent, well . . .

World

The Foresight of Angela Merkel . . .

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel talk after a news conference in Moscow, Russia, August 20, 2021. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via Reuters)

I, for one, am old enough to remember the days when Angela Merkel, “the indispensable European,” was praised for her calm, strategic vision. She was the scientist, the rationalist. It’s true that Merkel, famous, we were told, for her intellectual integrity, ultimately ended up endorsing the re-acceleration of the closedown of Germany’s nuclear power plants purely for reasons of political expediency. But no matter, Germany was pouring billions into renewables, and those, along with a reliable source of gas from Russia, would ensure that all would be well.

What could go wrong?

The New York Times:

Officials in Germany are urging residents and businesses to start conserving energy, as the country faced a third day of reduced flows of natural gas from Russia, a critical energy supplier for Europe’s largest economy.

“The time to do this has arrived,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister, said in an urgent public appeal posted to Instagram late Wednesday. “Every kilowatt-hour helps in this situation.”

Mr. Habeck said the situation was serious, but insisted that supplies to Europe’s largest economy were assured. But the head of the country’s federal agency for monitoring gas and power networks warned that if Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, continued to curtail gas flows, the situation could become more dangerous once temperatures drop…

Oh.

Law & the Courts

Sotomayor on Thomas: ‘The One Justice in the Building That Literally Knows Every Employee’s Name

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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks to attendees during commemorations for International Women’s Day at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, March 8, 2019. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

For all of the acrimony around the Supreme Court these days, it is nice to hear this public tribute by Justice Sonia Sotomayor to being friends with her colleague Clarence Thomas, before an audience at the American Constitution Society that was obviously not sympathetic to Thomas:

Justice Thomas is the one justice in the building that literally knows every employee’s name, every one of them. And not only does he know their names, he remembers their families’ names and histories, He is the first one who will go up to someone when you’re walking with him and say, ‘Is your son okay? How’s your daughter doing in college?’ He’s the first one that, when my stepfather died, sent me flowers in Florida. He is a man who cares deeply about the court as an institution, and about people.

Of course, Sotomayor noted that she and Thomas have very different philosophies, but fundamentally, “we share a common understanding about people and kindness towards them.”

 

Culture

The Bard of Optimism: Paul McCartney Just Turned 80

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Paul McCartney performs during his “Got Back” tour at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., May 13, 2022. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Happy 80th birthday to Paul McCartney. Where, you may ask, can some McCartney content be found? Well, see below for Dan McLaughlin’s appreciation. As for me, the first major piece I wrote for NR was this 2007 essay, “The Bard of Optimism.”

And if that doesn’t suit your needs, I wrote about McCartney’s bass playing here, wrote about some of the many great songs he recorded that few people know here, reviewed his June 16, 2022 concert at MetLife Stadium here, examined his hidden sorrows and the recent Hulu documentary series about his work here, looked at the Peter Jackson Beatles Get Back documentary series here, considered a recent Paul appearance on the Howard Stern show here, labeled his gratitude the key component of his personality here and enthused about the deluxe edition of his 1989 masterpiece Flowers in the Dirt here.

Culture

Birthday of the Uncool

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Musician Paul McCartney performs during his Got Back tour at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., May 13, 2022. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Today is the 80th birthday of Paul McCartney, the greatest living rock ’n’ roll star. Indeed, McCartney is arguably the greatest rock star of them all, when you combine the colossal musical and cultural footprint of the Beatles, McCartney’s pivotal role in the band, and his epic five-decade post-Beatles career.

It’s hard to think of anything cooler than being the world’s biggest rock star. His voice, his face, and his songs are universally known. Teenage girls literally swooned over him. Generations of other rock stars revere him. He’s been the center of attention in every room he has entered for six decades, and everywhere he goes, people have fun. Since his teens, he has only worked at what he loved doing and has never needed to hold a real job. Merely mention the decade of the 1960s, and Paul McCartney is among the first sights and sounds that come to mind. What’s cooler than all that?

And yet, here’s the thing: McCartney has done it all these years without ever being cool himself. He has been, relentlessly, the opposite of cool. John Lennon practically defined cool: He had the sneer and the posture and the don’t-care attitude. He enjoyed offending people to get a rise out of them. John was the edgy boy the girls would bring home to their parents only to shock them.

That was never McCartney. He was, and remains, a compulsive people-pleaser. If John was the cool Beatle, Paul was dubbed the “cute” one, and there remains an improbable air of smooth-cheeked boyishness about him even as an octogenarian. To watch the recent Get Back documentary is to see a man who cared intensely about the music but also really wanted to get along with his friends in the band, and was pained when grown-up concerns divided them. He never had one of those rock-star crises over hitting it big: You make popular music to have it be popular; what else is there? What sent him into bouts of depression in the early ’70s was the band breaking up: the acrimony of people not liking him, not staying together. He is still touring and making new music after all these years not because he needs fame or money or respect — he has more of all three than anyone could possibly make use of — but because he just loves entertaining people and seeing them entertained.

McCartney has never been one for standoffish, ironic distance. One of Paul’s gifts as a songwriter and vocalist has been his willingness to write and sing with earnestness and vulnerability. “Yesterday” is a song of deceptive simplicity in its words and music, hitting a universal theme of regret and heartache; part of what makes it work is that McCartney plays it completely straight, lays it all on the line for everyone to hear. When John wanted to bare his heartache to the world in song, he wrote “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” a song about not baring your heartache to the world. Paul just did it.

Even as a young man at the peak of Beatlemania, Paul wrote songs about lonely old ladies and the joys of small towns and growing old together and enjoying songs that were hits before your mother was born. “Silly Love Songs” is self-aware about his reputation, but also a defense of uncoolness: “Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs/What’s wrong with that?/I’d like to know/So here we go . . . again!” He could decide that an infectious line of harmony should be written up as the sound of “simply having a wonderful Christmastime.” Stevie Wonder is cool; Stevie and Paul together gave us that syrupy ode to racial harmony, “Ebony and Ivory.” Even McCartney’s politics have been try-hard liberal do-goodism rather than the frisson of revolution or the high judgmentalism of wokeness. He accepted a knighthood the same way he accepts all his successes: with gratitude and no sense of irony.

Many a laugh has been had at the expense of some of Paul’s more cringeworthy moments, but he has always had the last laugh because of his talent, his work ethic, and — in the end — the fact that an uncool guy could say things we all felt but were maybe too reserved or too concerned with our image to proclaim in public.

Lots of Beatles fans aspired to be John but secretly knew that even if they had his gifts, they could never be John Lennon. They just weren’t cool enough. Nobody is a better example of this than Billy Joel, who grew up wanting to be John but ultimately embraced his entirely respectable role as the next-best thing to Paul. But it always seemed as if any one of us could be Paul, if only we had his abilities. Of course, most of us will never have Paul McCartney’s musical talent; hardly anybody ever had Paul McCartney’s musical talent. But if you grew up never being one of the cool kids, you could always look up to the uncool guy who still managed to be as big a rock ’n’ roll star as any cool guy who ever lived.

National Review

Thoughts on Leaving National Review

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(Pexels)

Nostalgia is a rather interesting feeling but dissipates with age. The older we get, the less attached we feel to places and things. At times, though, nostalgia does grow through the barren nonchalance of adulthood.

It’s what I feel as my internship at National Review ends. I joined in April for a ten-week stay and, while little time has passed, it feels like it’s been much longer. Such is the warm embrace here, even for an intern.

My time at NR has taken me to all corners of journalism, exciting and instructive from the very start. On my first day, April 12, a few minutes after arriving at the office, Jack Crowe, our news editor, grabbed me for a dash to Brooklyn — to cover the attack on the subway at Sunset Park. Two hours later, I was huddled under the hot sun with a throng of loud reporters shouting questions at the governor and police commissioner, interviewing eyewitnesses, and writing up news copy on the fly. It was a whirlwind exposure to breaking-news journalism, which, sans NR, would’ve been difficult to gain elsewhere.

What followed was by no means downhill. In between writing several articles a day — news and opinion — I was traveling the length of the city, and beyond, to search for the stuff of copy. From attending cocktail receptions in Gramercy Park to taking the old decrepit bus to Rockaway Park; covering abortion protests and Chris Rock specials in SoHo; crashing the Met Gala and Christie’s; getting into the opera and Broadway for free; shooting at a range in Jersey; and interviewing people from all walks of life (e.g., cops, Wall Streeters, bodega owners, congressmen, soldiers . . . ), my time as an NR writer has been nothing short of exhilarating.

Perhaps what’s best about writing for NR, however, is the freedom of the pursuit. At NR, writers often choose their own subjects. Our tasks are self-executed, with the hands of editors being to guide rather than dictate. This allows writers to cover a wide array of issues and interests, with zeal. As an intern, at the start of my writing career, this rather conservative lesson of personal responsibility has been fundamental and invigorated my craft as a journalist. There is no place like it in contemporary American journalism, much less on the conservative end of the spectrum.

In short, it’s been a treat. Here, the team not only stands athwart, but also “stands for” ideas in a persuasive and inviting way — leading national opinion. Bill Buckley’s powerful legacy lives on. Those whose company and counsel I often (wisely) took include Andrew Stuttaford, Brent Buterbaugh, Craig Young, Jack(s) Butler and Crowe, Jason Steorts, Jay Nordlinger, Jimmy Quinn, Judd Berger, and Wister Hitt, among many others.

Ten weeks is a short time in a young man’s life, but I will remember these at NR, with nostalgia, for auld lang syne. I look forward to returning often to its pages — as a writer, reader, and, above all, a friend.

History

Celebrating with Lee Edwards as Communism Is ‘Put on Trial’

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Lee Edwards, holding the scissors, cuts the ribbon at the June 13, 2022, grand opening of the Victims of Communism Museum in Washington, D.C., as members of the museum’s board of directors lend a hand. (Museum of Communism Memorial Foundation)

Last week’s opening of the Victims of Communism Museum resulted from a 35-year effort spearheaded by NR’s old and dear friend, Lee Edwards (fun fact: His first piece for this magazine, “The Way of All France,” was published in the February 1, 1958, issue). Yours Truly corresponded with Lee prior to the ribbon-cutting, asking a few questions, getting a few answers in return. It would be a shame to not share them, and so we do:

Jack Fowler: Why will the world be a better place for there being this museum?

Lee Edwards: Because the museum will serve as the cornerstone of our global educational campaign about the manifold victims and crimes of communism.

Fowler: The Nazis have been rightly denigrated, their leaders executed for crimes against humanity, the name made synonymous with evil — but there was no such justice for East Europe’s and Asia’s communist henchmen. They are not the stuff of vilification by Western media, by Western culture, at least in no way comparable to the Nazis. Is this a driving force in part behind the creation of the Victims of Communism Memorial and the museum, this sense of a lack of justice or righteous admission of just how dastardly communism is?

Edwards: Nazism was exposed and convicted at the Nuremburg trials. VOC intends to put communism on trial in Washington, D.C. We will feature witnesses from the nearly 40 nations that suffered under communism — some 1.5 billion still do so in China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and Laos.

Fowler: On the memorial, 100 million are recognized — are they the murdered? What is the greater number of true victims of communism?

Edwards: According to The Black Book of Communism, published by Harvard University Press, more than 100 million died through firing squads, the Gulag, forced famines, collectives, civil wars, and wars of liberation.

Fowler: What is one of the aspects of the museum you like the most?

Edwards: We tell the story of communist revolution, repression, and anti-communist resistance in just three permanent galleries, from Marx to Mao and the present.

Fowler: The foundation and museum offer a range of programs. What is a particular program of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation that you find most meaningful?

Edwards: Our high-school teacher program, where we teach the teachers the truth about communism. It does not produce a utopia but breadlines and famines, the KGB and the Gulag, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Fidel Castro.

Politics & Policy

Poll: Young Democrats Are Souring on Feminism

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Sign at the Women’s March in New York City, January 21, 2017. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

Michelle Goldberg’s latest New York Times column notes a very interesting new poll regarding public opinion on feminism:

Recently the Southern Poverty Law Center and Tulchin Research commissioned a poll of 1,500 Americans to measure belief in various reactionary sentiments, including the “great replacement” conspiracy theory and the idea that trans people are a threat to children. Because misogyny is so ubiquitous in far-right spaces, Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the S.P.L.C., decided to add a question about feminism.

Predictably, most young Republicans agree with the statement, “Feminism has done more harm than good.” What was astonishing was how many young Democrats agreed as well. While only 4 percent of Democratic men over 50 thought feminism was harmful, 46 percent of Democratic men under 50 did. Nearly a quarter of Democratic women under 50 agreed, compared with only 10 percent of those 50 and older.

Goldberg, a progressive and a feminist herself, concludes that this shift is due to the fact “that feminism has been sapped of cultural vitality”: “After four years of Donald Trump, more than two years of a pandemic, and an unending right-wing onslaught, a lot of people with feminist sympathies are numb and exhausted.” I have a slightly different explanation. Feminism today is distinct from the feminism of past generations — far more radical and less tolerant, more concerned with quashing dissent than securing rights. 

It’s no surprise that young people — and even young Democrats — are particularly disillusioned, given that contemporary feminism’s hard edge is especially potent on college campuses, online spaces, and other places that young people frequent. As my colleague Dan McLaughlin noted on Twitter, “Older liberal men experienced feminism as women fighting for equal work opportunities. Younger men, even liberal & progressive men, experienced it as a governing regime under whose power they could face arbitrary harm.” That’s consistent with my personal experience, too:

 

Culture

Tom Hanks Says Don’t Play Gay

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Castmember Tom Hanks poses at a photocall for the Elvis at the Cannes Film Festivl in Cannes, France, May 26, 2022. (Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters)

Tom Hanks is an actor — someone who pretends to be someone else for entertainment. In real life, Hanks is heterosexual. But in the 1993 movie Philadelphia, he played the part of a gay man.

“Could a straight man do what I did in Philadelphia now?” Hanks said in a recent interview with the New York Times Magazine. “No, and rightly so. The whole point of Philadelphia was don’t be afraid. One of the reasons people weren’t afraid of that movie is that I was playing a gay man. We’re beyond that now, and I don’t think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy.”

What about the inauthenticity of his playing a naval captain, a cowboy, a FedEx worker stranded on a remote island, a teacher-turned-soldier, a prison guard, etc.?

Of course, Hanks isn’t the only actor who feels this way. Eddie Redmayne made similar comments about the 2015 film A Danish Girl, in which the character he played identified as trans. Redmayne has since called his performance “a mistake” and said it’s a role he “wouldn’t take on now.”

So there we have it. In real life, men are to be accepted literally as women. But in movies — the realm of make-believe — only gay and trans actors can play gay and trans parts. Fantasy and reality have swapped places.

Media

Wherein Elon Musk Says Utterly Commonsensical Things

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Apparently, the reaction on Twitter’s Slack to Musk’s “all hands” meeting yesterday was mostly negative, but, at least on speech, Musk was saying things that shouldn’t be controversial, and wouldn’t have been in recent memory:

World

We’re Going to Need to Be Realistic about Ukraine

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An unexploded shell from a multiple rocket launch system stuck in the ground in the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk Region, Ukraine, June 10, 2022. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters)

There was a freak-out about Henry Kissinger’s comments a few weeks ago about a negotiated solution in Ukraine. I favor supporting the Ukrainians to the hilt and believe Biden should have been giving them the kind of weapons they need now in the East much earlier. Although Russia is gaining, there’s still a chance it stalls out and can’t hold on to what it’s taken to this point. But it’s much likelier that Ukraine is going to have to accept an unsatisfactory deal, when and if Russia think it’s too painful to keep trying to drive forward.

Fareed Zakaria is pretty acute on this point in his latest column:

Even though we’re not in the final stages yet, it would be smart for Ukraine to start thinking about the endgame. That way, it can develop a coherent position, align its strategy around it and gain international support. Former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger was criticized for suggesting that Kyiv should not seek to go beyond the pre-Feb. 24 lines on the battlefield. In fact, at this point it appears highly unlikely that Ukraine would even be able to regain all that territory by force, though it should keep trying. But it does seem wise to make that its goal — to reverse Russia’s territorial gains from this year. Then Kyiv can try to get back territories lost before that in 2014 through negotiations. President Volodymyr Zelensky has several times suggested something similar. And that goal — a return to the pre-Feb. 24 lines — would also be one that would garner the most international support.

In the final phase of the war, the West — and the United States in particular — become the pivotal players. Right now Russia is battling Ukraine directly. But if and when the conflict becomes something of a stalemate, the real struggle will be between Russia and the West. What will Russia give to get a relaxation of sanctions? What will the West demand to end Russia’s isolation?

So far, Washington has punted on this, explaining that it is up to the Ukrainians to decide what they want and that Washington will not negotiate over their heads. That’s the right message of public support, but Ukraine and its Western partners need to formulate a set of common war aims, coordinating strategy around them, gaining international support and using all the leverage they have to succeed. The goal must be an independent Ukraine, in full control of at least as much territory as it had before Feb. 24, and with some security commitments from the West.

A continued, drawn-out war will, needless to say, be incredibly painful:

The alternative to some kind of negotiated settlement would be an unending war in Ukraine, which would further devastate that country and its people, more than 5 million of whom have already fled. And the resulting disruptions to energy supplies, food and the economy would spiral everywhere, with political turmoil intensifying across the globe. Surely it is worth searching for an endgame that avoids this bleak future.

Politics & Policy

Fauci Comes Down with Covid — Will He Follow His Own Advice?

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This Brownstone Institute piece by Jordan Schachtel asks that question.

Answer: almost certainly not.

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.