Culture

On the Letter

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J. K. Rowling in New York City, 2016 (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

I thought it right to congratulate John MacArthur and Harper’s magazine on putting together an open letter in defense of intellectual liberty — including the liberty to make mistakes — as a necessary component of social justice. And further congrats on assembling its broad church of signatories.

MacArthur and Harper’s have always occupied an interesting position in the intellectual firmament, and probably find themselves as surprised as anyone to be defending their left flank in 2020. Harper’s has won scrapes in this fight recently when a preemptive pre-publication strike was made against their contributor Katie Rophie and her article questioning some shibboleths of the MeToo movement.

At first, I thought this open letter was a futile gesture against the inevitable. My expectation was that the “free speech” liberals would be routed and overwhelmed in the trend-leading institutions of media such as the New York Times and The Atlantic.

But now I’m not so sure. These seem like battle lines being drawn among the cultural and intellectual forces of the left ahead of the Biden years. And the longer I stare at the list of signatories, the more impressed I am. Are we really going to cancel the likes of John Banville, Salman Rushdie, and J. K. Rowling?

Possibly! I think much of cancel culture is driven by revenge of mediocrities. Many of the “cancelers” are tragic; the adults and institutions that were charged with giving them a decent moral and academic education in their childhoods just failed utterly or abandoned the work. And so the cancelers are totally unequipped to deal with things like mature disagreement, bearing wrongs patiently, and negotiating with adults who don’t give them what they want the moment they cry or scream for it. Because it is born of a bottomless hole of insecurity, it should have bottomless energy.

But for the first time in a long time, it looks like there is some resistance where it matters.

Business

Unacknowledged, but ‘Socially Responsible’ Legislators

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(Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Shelley, talking up his own profession, famously, if ludicrously, claimed that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” These days, asset managers seem to be stepping up to that role, as more and more of them turn their attention to “socially responsible” investing (SRI).

Here’s another example, via the Financial Times:

Axa Investment Management will adopt one of the fund industry’s toughest policies on gender diversity next year, as part of a push by the €804bn asset manager to force businesses around the world to appoint more women to board roles.

The Paris-headquartered fund house said that from 2021 it will punish companies in developed markets that fail to appoint sufficient female directors, using its vote at annual meetings where women do not account for at least a third of board members.

Meritocracy has many gravediggers, but wait, there’s more:

[Axa] has also pledged to use its vote — either by voting against the head of the nomination committee or against the signing off of company accounts — in emerging markets and Japan where women do not hold at least one seat or make up 10 per cent of larger boards.

So there’s one standard for (roughly speaking) “the West” and another for emerging markets — and, er, Japan.

This, of course, is rather reminiscent of Goldman Sachs’s foray into similar territory earlier this year.

CNN (January 23, 2020):

Goldman Sachs won’t take companies public anymore unless they have at least one “diverse” board member, the bank’s CEO David Solomon said Thursday….Goldman’s push for diversity will be focused primarily on women.”

The Japan Times, January 27, 2020:

Chief Executive Officer David Solomon revealed last week that starting in July the bank won’t handle initial public offerings for companies that lack either a female or diverse director. But the rule applies only to IPOs in the U.S. and Europe.

Oh.

But back to Axa and the Financial Times, and, unsurprisingly, an appearance by one of the many consultants who seem to flourish in the SRI ecosphere:

Deborah Gilshan, an independent adviser on investment stewardship and environmental, social and governance issues, said the coronavirus pandemic had reinforced the need for diverse boards.

Of course. Never let a crisis . . .

 “Boards that have not embraced robust governance, including diversity, have an added layer of risk,” she said. “With tough decisions to make, boards and CEOs need diverse teams who are able to challenge each other to get to the best outcome.”

Need? I wonder.

Reading this story has me thinking, not for the first time, what investment management companies think they are doing. I visited Axa Investment Managers’ website and discovered that they are “a global asset manager investing with a clear purpose — to make the world a better place.”

Well . . .

It’s one thing for asset managers to design SRI products for those that want them, quite another to throw their weight about “on behalf of ” investors who are interested, not in SRI, but in return, and, to be clear, there is a degree of evidence that SRI may stand in the way of return.

Axa is French, but in a recent article for Tablet, Michael Lind had a few things to say about the increasingly assertive “social” role now being played by American corporations, and not just in the investment sector.

What happens in a two-party system if the elite of one party controls the commanding heights of the economy, but power in the government is divided among both parties, thanks to the separation of powers and constitutional checks and balances? In the United States, we now know the answer. The party of the economic elite will be tempted to do an end run around electoral democracy by using its private economic power directly to impose partisan policies on society as a whole.

And:

If urban Democrats reject any pragmatic attempt to try to win the votes of deplorable voters in flyover country as immoral or just tasteless, they have a second, undemocratic option, now that they represent much of the economic elite. They can just skip the hard work of electoral politics and use the raw power of the banks and corporations they control to impose some progressive policies on their customers or borrowers directly…

[If] you cannot get the legislature or a democratically accountable government department or independent agency to pass your policy, you can try to persuade the major corporations and banks which dominate U.S. economic life to act as though your proposed policy was already the law of the land.

And, of course they won’t need (too much) persuading, as many of their managements either already subscribe to Davos “liberalism” or want the approval of those who do.

Lind makes a very strong case (the article is a must-read), but if I had to pick one area where I disagree, it would be here.

Lind:

Unlike old-fashioned labor liberalism or Marxist socialism, contemporary progressivism is a placebo version of leftism, fabricated by activists in nonprofits and university programs funded by billionaire-endowed foundations, corporations and capitalists, which does not threaten the rich and powerful because it focuses attention on cost-free “social justice” symbolism rather than on organized labor or structural economic reform.

That might be what many of those who fund it believe, but they are fools to do so. The new left may have (largely) swapped Marx’s class-based millenarianism for a form of millenarianism now defined by identity, but underneath it all a form of collective psychosis that long predates Marx bubbles away, and if those who sit in woke capital’s c-suites believe that it isn’t coming for them too, they are in for a very nasty surprise.

Culture

Gallup Poll Finds That Pro-Lifers Prioritize Abortion in Voting Decisions

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A pro-life protester marches during the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Gallup continues to release results on abortion attitudes from its annual “values and beliefs” poll. This week, Gallup released findings about the importance of abortion as a voting issue, showing that about a quarter (24 percent) of Americans say they would vote for a candidate only if their views align on the issue of abortion. Forty-seven percent of Americans said that abortion was “one of many important factors” in voting, and 25 percent said abortion was “not a major issue” in how they vote.

The results indicate that abortion is becoming an increasingly important issue for voters. In 1996, only 18 percent of respondents to the same survey questions indicated that they would vote for a candidate only if their views on abortion align.

More interesting is the relative importance that pro-life and pro-choice voters place on abortion when it comes to voting. The survey found that, among those who identify as “pro-life,” an impressive 30 percent would vote only for a pro-life candidate. Only 19 percent of people who identify as “pro-choice” said they would vote only for a candidate who supported legal abortion. The same poll found that Americans are split nearly evenly between “pro-choice” and “pro-life” 48 percent to 46 percent. Based on those figures, these statistics suggest that, among single-issue abortion voters, a pro-life candidate running at the national level would enjoy a four-point advantage over a pro-choice opponent.

This Gallup poll adds to the body of survey data finding that single-issue pro-life voters outnumber single-issue pro-choice voters. Since 2001, Gallup has conducted eight polls about the importance of abortion as a voting issue. In each instance, the percentage of pro-lifers who identify as single-issue voters exceeds the percentage of pro-choicers who do the same.

These findings are frequently overlooked by many pundits and those in the mainstream media. Indeed, when Republican candidates fare poorly at the ballot box, countless commentators are quick to suggest that their failure was, at least in part, the result of their stance on life issues. Hopefully, these latest poll results will encourage pro-life candidates this election cycle.

 

Health Care

So Much for the ‘Heat and Humidity Will Save Us’ Theory

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People take part in a protest against restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Mesa, Ariz., July 4, 2020. (Cheney Orr/Reuters)

The coronavirus brought American life to a screeching halt in the middle of March — forcing Americans to stay home, pounding our economy, and claiming many lives, particularly in cities and states that thought they were sufficiently prepared and sadly, were not.

In spring, people hoped that the heat and humidity of summer would mitigate the virus.

In April, the National Academies of Sciences warned Americans not to get our hopes up too high: “Given that countries currently in ‘summer’ climates, such as Australia and Iran, are experiencing rapid virus spread, a decrease in cases with increases in humidity and temperature elsewhere should not be assumed.”

It is now July, and the United States is seeing between 50,000 and 60,000 new infections a day. Whatever mitigating effect that heat and humidity have, it is probably more than offset by people spending time indoors, with the virus blown around air currents by air-conditioning systems.

The very good news is that the daily death toll is going down. Some unfortunate editor over at Bloomberg chose to write the headline, “A Lower Covid-19 Death Rate Is Nothing to Celebrate.” Er, yes it is!

But once you account for the weekday–weekend pattern, that daily death toll’s decline is slow and steady. Just about every weekend, the death toll figure drops significantly, and someone out there thinks it’s a sign that the country has turned a corner. And then the deaths that didn’t get reported or tabulated over the weekend get added to the totals of the beginning of the week, and the numbers jump again.

This past week or so offered a good example. For the week that ended June and began July, the country suffered 727 deaths Tuesday and declined a bit each day, hitting 626 Friday. On Independence Day, the United States reported just 265 new deaths, and only 262 on July 5! And then Monday’s total was only 378 . . . leading some to believe that the daily number of deaths had dropped precipitously. But then yesterday the total jumped up to 993, the highest number since June 10.

More ominously, the four states that reported the most deaths yesterday were among those that are currently experiencing spikes in the number of cases — California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Yes, it is likely that most of those being infected in the current waves are younger and healthier and have better chances at survival. But not all the folks infected in these waves are young and healthy, and eventually a spike in new cases will result in at least a modest increase in deaths.

(Intriguingly, outside the top four, we find a lot of states outside the sun belt in that top fifteen: New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, New York. The northeast and Rust Belt may not be getting hit quite as hard as the south and west, but they’re not out of the woods yet.)

Dr. Anthony Fauci knows what he’s talking about when he says, “it’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death” and “there’s so many other things that are dangerous and bad about the virus. Don’t get into false complacency.” Yes, it is better that people survive with lingering health issues than if they die, but that’s a really low bar to clear. All of us dread our loved ones beating the virus but being forced to live with chronic shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, blood clots, inflamed heart muscle, and delirium.

We are not only not out of the woods, we’re in a deep and dark thicket within the woods. We may be seeing so many cases that contact tracing can’t work — the virus is spreading faster than contacts can be identified, contacted, and warned. And Admiral Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, is acknowledging, “we cannot test our way out of this.”

I can hear people out there chanting, “Herd immunity! Herd immunity!”  No one knows exactly which percentage of the population has to be infected to have hit herd immunity — for some diseases, it can be as low as 40 percent — but for other diseases, such as measles, we need 95 percent of the population to be immune. Mathematicians from the University of Nottingham and University of Stockholm recently published a study with the relatively optimistic assessment that 43 percent might be enough, if the people who are most social and likely to spread catch it and build up the antibodies the earliest.

Nationally, the average of positive tests over the past week is eight percent. In Arizona, it’s at 26 percent. In Florida, it’s at 18 percent. Even at the lowest thresholds for herd immunity, our worst-hit states probably still have a ways to go.

World

Trouble in the Balkans

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Last week, the president of Kosovo was indicted of war crimes by The Hague. Hashim Thaci had been a prominent member of the Kosovo Liberation Army during the bloody war of independence against Serbia in the late ’90s before playing a leading role in peace negotiations. He then served as prime minister once independence was secured before ascending to the presidency in February of 2016. According to the special court convened by The Hague, Thaci and several of his comrades “are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders. The crimes alleged in the Indictment involve hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents.” 

Following this verdict, Thaci canceled a scheduled trip to the White House during which he was supposed to partake in peace negotiations with envoys from the Serbian government mediated by Richard Grenell, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations. The talks will continue between the Kosovar and Serbian prime ministers, but Thraci’s absence, especially on the pretext of an indictment for crimes committed against Serbs, will undoubtedly put a damper on the proceedings. There are far more important geopolitical priorities for the United States right now, but we could all do without an unnecessary escalation in the Balkans. 2020 has given us quite enough to deal with already. 

Culture

The End of the Excellence Standard

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Micah Mattix notes today in his Prufrock newsletter that more or less all of the major literary prizes these days are being handed out according to social-justice precepts and the imperatives of identity politics. The prizes become increasingly meaningless as they sever themselves from any interest in rewarding actual excellence. Asks Mattix:

How long will it be before praising a work of art for its aesthetic excellence alone is a revolutionary act? Nearly every literary prize now takes into consideration the race and politics of authors when naming shortlists and winners. When they don’t, they get into trouble. More and more, what matters when it comes to literature today is the “utility” of a work—defined, of course, in a very narrow way—not its excellence, as if the utility of a work of art isn’t found precisely in its excellence.

The organizations that hand out the major awards and prizes across the culture are varied in their degrees of transparency about their newfound determination to signal support for what Antonio Gramsci dubbed “the counter hegemony” rather than to reward magnificent achievements. Mattix points out that the Mellon Foundation announced last week that it is ditching the old excellence standard and henceforth will evaluate how well a potential grantee serves the project of creating “just communities.” Other organizations are trying to have it both ways — “These are the best candidates, honestly! By coincidence, they also advance the cause of social justice.”

In both cases, the awards will matter less and less to the public, which has come to recognize them as virtue signaling and no longer pays much attention to, for instance, the Academy Awards broadcast. I doubt one American in 50 could tell you who won any recent literary award.

Law & the Courts

Another Victory for the Little Sisters of the Poor

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Nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor at the Supreme Court, March 2016. (File photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The Supreme Court has ruled this morning in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a charitable order of Catholic nuns, deciding once again that the government cannot compel them to subsidize birth control and abortion-inducing drugs, as is required by the Health and Human Services Department’s contraceptive mandate attached to Obamacare.

The seven-justice majority upheld the expanded religious and conscience exemptions established by the Trump administration, enabling employers with moral objections to decline to subsidize these drugs in employees’ insurance coverage. Justice Thomas wrote for the majority, Justice Alito authored a concurring opinion, and Justices Breyer and Kagan authored another. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.

This decision is certainly a gratifying one, especially after having watched for the last decade as government officials — first from the Obama administration and now from progressive state governments — repeatedly dragged religious employers to court for refusing to comply with the mandate. At the very least, it’s clear that the First Amendment protects religious believers from being made complicit in practices that they view as morally wrong.

What’s even more troubling about this particular violation of free exercise, though, is the nature of the policy in question. The contraceptive mandate, remember, never even passed through Congress; it was tacked onto Obamacare after its passage by ideologically motivated, progressive bureaucrats in the HHS Department, then vigorously defended by the Obama White House (including, it should be noted, long-time Catholic Joe Biden, who showed no signs of a troubled conscience as his administration hauled charitable nuns and Catholic universities to court for meekly objecting to underwriting abortifacients).

In short, while it’s all well and good to celebrate a victory on the grounds of the First Amendment and religious freedom, we should keep in mind that the substance of this policy is a mistake, even on its own terms and even for the non-religious. No one, from the Obama-administration officials who promulgated it to the pro-abortion-rights feminists tearing out their hair over this decision, has once articulated a satisfactory reason for why anyone — let alone Catholic nuns or Christian business owners — must be conscripted into funding an employee’s birth control.

The belief that the government, or employers compelled by the government, ought to subsidize contraception stems from a fundamentally incorrect, irrational view of contraception as a necessary component of holistic health care. On this view, a properly functioning female reproductive system is diseased and pregnancy is a disease to be prevented. This is simply untrue, whether or not one adheres to any particular faith tradition. One very well might like to have birth-control drugs for one reason or another, but when used for contraceptive purposes rather than medical ones, it is not health care by any reasonable definition of the term; it prevents no disease and cures no malady. The mandate was, on its face, an effort to subsidize birth control — but it was first and foremost an effort to conscript the entire nation into validating a disordered view of the human body and of sexuality.

Notwithstanding the intentionally divisive claim from radical progressives that conservatives are angling to remove all access to birth control, no one is advocating returning to pre-Griswold America. But it shouldn’t be difficult to comprehend why there exists no right to government-mandated, employer-subsidized, “free” contraception — and certainly no right strong enough to coerce others to pay for it. We shouldn’t let the accurate argument in favor of First Amendment protections distract us from the fact that this policy is rotten, religious beliefs aside.

Culture

Kanye West’s 2020 Platform

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Yeezy is here to shake up the presidential race. Talking to Forbes, Kanye West said he envisions running for president this year on a new party he calls “the Birthday Party” and promises to run the White House like the government of Wakanda in Black Panther. I certainly look forward to a gladiatorial fight between the principal candidates.

West also says he’s suspicious of vaccines (“the mark of the beast”), has never voted in his life, suffered a bout of COVID-19 in February, and is no longer a Trump supporter (“I am taking the red hat off, with this interview) but allows that “I like Trump hotels and the saxophones in the lobby.” West also says “Trump is the closest president we’ve had in years to allowing God to still be part of the conversation,” which might surprise George W. Bush a little. West is strongly pro-life and claims “Planned Parenthoods have been placed inside cities by white supremacists to do the Devil’s work.”

All in all, a pretty interesting candidacy. Read the whole interview.

Politics & Policy

Murphy’s Law Applies to Everyone . . . but Not Phil Murphy’s Law, Apparently

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Fresh off announcing an internal review has concluded that his administration handled the risks of coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes just fine, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy is announcing that the state will now require citizens to wear masks outdoors in circumstances where social distancing is impossible.

Murphy acknowledges that implementing this order will be difficult, as certain public locations may change from crowded to not-crowded and back as people move around. While wearing masks in outdoor locations when close to others is a good idea, it is not difficult to picture significant legal challenges in enforcing any penalties. “Your honor, when the officer wrote up that ticket for not wearing a mask, the only person who was within six feet of my client was the officer himself.”

As one reader observed, this will embolden “an army of Karens.”

Murphy’s spring has been . . . challenging. On May 6, the governor signed Executive Order 148, barring outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people. On June 8, while that order was still in effect, Murphy participated in two separate protest marches, both involving hundreds of people. Murphy demanded the state government of New Jersey and its state police do more to fight racial disparity in law enforcement. (If only Phil Murphy was in a position to do something about how the state police operates.)

The day after attending those protests, after Republicans pointed out Murphy was violating his own order, Murphy changed the law to exempt “First Amendment protected outdoor activities such as political protests of any persuasion or outdoor religious services.”

Heck of a job, New Jersey. Heck of a job.

Culture

Two NFL Apologies

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson and wide receiver Mike Evans kneel for the anthem before the game against the Minnesota Vikings, September 24, 2017. (Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

So Drew Brees defended the American flag and all it stands for, said he didn’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem and correctly described this gesture of open disrespect as disrespect. “Is everything right with our country right now?” said the Saints’ future Hall of Famer. “No, it is not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity.”

So much anger followed that Brees felt forced to give groveling apology after groveling apology. One of his own teammates, Emmanuel Sanders, called him “ignorant.” LeBron James criticized Brees also.

Philadelphia Eagles star DeSean Jackson posted a (fake, but in-character) Adolf Hitler quotation that was nakedly anti-Semitic (white Jews will “will extort America, but their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.”) together with praise for the most notorious of American anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan.

His apology amounted to, “Oops.” Jackson said in an Instagram video, “I post things on my story all the time, and I just probably should’ve never posted anything that Hitler did because Hitler was a bad person, and I know that. I was just trying to uplift African-Americans and slavery and just enlighten my people.” Oh. He also said, “My post was definitely not intended for anybody of any race to feel any type of way, especially the Jewish community.’’ The Philadelphia Eagles’ owner, Jeff Lurie, is Jewish. Jackson later issued a second apology in which he still claimed “My intention was to uplift, unite and encourage our culture with positivity and light” but allowed, “Unfortunately, that did not happen. I unintentionally hurt the Jewish community in the process and for that I am sorry.”

Contrast Jackson’s tone with what Drew Brees said: “It breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused,” Brees wrote in an Instagram post (this was his first apology). “In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country.” He said he had exhibited a lack of “awareness and any type of compassion or empathy,” adding that he was  “sick about the way” his comments “were perceived.”

In his second apology, Brees said, “I know there’s not much I can say that would make things better right now, but I just want you to see in my eyes how sorry I am for the comments I made yesterday. I am sorry, and I will do better, and I will be part of the solution, and I am your ally.” Brees’s wife, Brittany, also felt moved to apologize. “WE ARE THE PROBLEM,” she said on Instagram. “I write this with tears in my eyes and I hope you all hear our hearts.”

Geoff Schwartz, a Jewish former NFL lineman, told the New York Post he hadn’t seen any NFL players react to Jackson’s hideous remarks. “There was more outrage, people were more upset with Drew Brees than they were with DeSean Jackson . . . that’s just — I didn’t expect much, I really didn’t. I haven’t seen one NFL player talk about it.’’

Anybody else feeling a loss of interest in the NFL as an institution? I know I am.

Education

Why Schools Should Reopen This Fall

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(Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

To be honest, it didn’t really occur to me that this would even be a question. I expected school districts to make every effort to return to a normal, five-day school week this fall. Doing so is clearly in the interest of students.

So I was surprised when Fairfax County Public Schools — one of the U.S.’s largest school districts, and the one that happens to be close to my home in the Washington, D.C. area — announced a plan late last month that called for, at most, two days of in-person instruction. The teachers’ unions pushed back against even this partial reopening.

Fairfax was one of the first districts to announce a plan. It is still figuring out what it will ultimately do this fall, as are most school districts. But what should be done is clear, espoused by no less an authority than the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in late June announced that it “strongly advocates” for the goal of in-person instruction.

The usual reason offered is that children need the psychological, social, and education benefits from in-person learning that virtual learning can’t adequately replicate. In my latest Bloomberg column, I offer another: By keeping kids out of school, we are hurting their later-life economic outcomes.

A consensus estimate among economists is that an additional year of schooling increases wages by around 9%. If last spring and this fall should be written off, then keeping the schools closed may lead to a significant reduction in future earnings for today’s students. My back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that represents a loss of over $30,000 per decade in earnings for a typical worker who graduated high school but didn’t attend college. The longer schools are closed, the larger the hit future earnings will take.

Furthermore, keeping schools closed again this fall will hurt the future earnings of today’s lower-income kids the most. In addition, the damage this is doing to the careers of parents is likely cumulative.

Virtual learning will hit the overall economy hard:

The U.S. is stumbling through the pandemic. When it comes to reopening schools, the absence of strategic thinking on a nationwide scale is on stark display. The plan is to have an open economy but return to virtual learning? You can’t have the former if you have the latter. This wishful thinking is destructive.

Check out my column for my full argument. Your comments, as always, are very welcome.

Culture

Winners

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Impromptus today is the usual mélange, including the “cancel culture,” Russia, trade, writing, and golf.

A quick word on writing: In 1997, I reviewed WFB’s The Right Word, and said,

For a demonstration of Buckley in stylistic splendor, I invite readers to locate the November 25, 1996, issue of National Review, in which Buckley has a piece on cigars. Now, I, personally, would usually rather slit my throat than read about cigars, but so glittering is this essay that I had no choice but to xerox it, to keep as an example of what “the performing writer” (Buckley’s words) can do.

I would like to give you a couple of items here on the Corner, just light. (Heaviness abounds.) In my Impromptus on Monday, I mentioned the man in Michigan who won the lottery — $4 million. Twice. I mean, he won $4 million, by scratching a card, twice, in the space of three years. Go figure.

A reader writes,

Jay, you reminded me of an amazing story from here in Canada. The Sutter family of Viking, Alberta, had seven sons. Six made it to the NHL — as have three of the Sutter grandchildren — but the other son stayed behind, for his own reasons. Later, he won the lottery.

Here is a brief video, telling the story.

Here is a video from this morning: showing Igor Levit, the great pianist, playing a bit of “Someday My Prince Will Come.” In addition to appreciating the beautiful playing, I thought of an old joke, learned from my dad. Not sure if he made it up. I’ll ask him. And the joke may be lost on the young, what with revolutions in technology. But here goes:

Did you hear about the man waiting in line at the Kodak store, singing, “Someday my prints will come”?

Business

The Most Predictable Story of This Pandemic

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United States Treasury check on a 1040 tax form (Getty Images)

I give you the CARES Act news headline equivalent of “dog bites man” or “water still wet”: “Small Business Loans Helped the Well-Heeled and Connected, Too.”

Seriously, is there anyone who has studied government programs, any government programs, for at least five minutes that is surprised by this news? It reminds me of its cousin headline: “big firms gets small business loans, too.”

And yet, here we are. This morning, the WSJ, Politico, and others all have outraged reports about how large firms and politically connected businesses got large PPP loans after the Treasury disclosed the names of some 660,000 firms who received the biggest payouts from the small business bailout. While it is very annoying, this is not surprising.

As the data make clear, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc., a restaurant operator with more than 200 U.S. locations, and other large restaurant chains got loans. No surprise here as the language in the CARES Act defined each individual hotel and restaurants as its own business, so that each owner with several properties could still qualify as small businesses. And why was it drafted this way? So the drafters of the bill could appease well-connected interest groups.

The data also reveal that over two dozen Washington lobbying, public affairs, and consulting firms got some large PPP loans, in spite of an explicit ban on receiving a loan for firms make more than 50 percent of their revenue from lobbying or political work. No surprise here as it wouldn’t be the first time that SBA’s 7a loans go to large firms, or that SBA makes a mess of the implementation of disaster relief.

Finally, the big scandal seems to be that firms with ties to members of Congress and the administration got some PPP loans. See the WSJ:

Nonprofits receiving funds included the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., whose alumni include children of former presidents, and the foundation that runs the Guggenheim art museum in New York….

Some members of Congress also got loans. Rep. Kevin Hern (R., Okla.) owns KTAK Corporation, a Tulsa, Okla.-based operator of fast-food franchises that received between $1 million and $2 million. Rep. Mike Kelly (R., Penn.) received a loan for his car dealerships outside of Pittsburgh. Staffers said the loans supported jobs and the congressmen aren’t involved in day-to-day operations.

The husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D., Calif.), Paul Pelosi, is an investor in a Northern California firm that received a loan.

The assumption, it seems, is that the only reason these firms got the loans is that they are connected to the Speaker of the House or to members of congress. I think it is more likely that they got these loans because they are relatively bigger firms and/or they are more savvy at navigating the insane bureaucracy and the nightmare that was the SBA application process than the owners of smaller businesses are. It could also simply be that they are firms with better informed people about what was in the CARES Act than a lone freelancer is.

The bottom line is that none of this should surprise us. This is what happens every time. And yet, people outside and inside of Congress keep insisting that rushing through the distribution of a large amount of money in a super short period of time is the way to go when an emergency strikes. Moreover, you don’t have to wait for an emergency to find that most government programs aimed at corporations end up being mostly beneficial to a few well-connected firms. Think of Boeing with the Ex-Im Bank or other programs like the 1705 loan programs. No lessons seem to ever be learned.

As for me, the headline I long to read is: “Government program meets its target and only gave loans to those eligible small businesses who truly needed them.”

Education

A Book That’s a Must-Read for Education Reformers

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Our education system is a rousing success — if you want it to produce young people who abhor our traditions. On the other hand, if you think it should educate them about our history and institutions, warts and all, so they can lead lives as productive citizens, it is failing miserably.

A new book addresses that problem — How to Educate an American, edited by Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli. In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson discusses the importance of this book.

The book has 20 essays. One is by Princeton professor Robert George. Of it, Robinson writes, “A chapter by Robert P. George, entitled ‘What Causes—and What Might Cure—Illiberalism and Groupthink in Education?’ focuses on higher education’s role in creating our current predicament. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. His work promoting civil discourse has given him insight into the particular problems on college campuses.” George argues that colleges must once again teach tolerance, respect, and humility.

What can be done? Various authors advocate philanthropy and the need for governmental policy changes.

Robinson concludes, “Together, the book’s authors and editors articulate the great need for reform at all levels of American education and present a compelling vision of what education might look like if everyone involved — from policymakers to parents — finds the political will to do it.”

U.S.

‘Rushing to Conclusions’

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This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Jim discuss Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech and the ensuing media outrage. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, iTunes, or Google Podcasts.

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