Politics & Policy

‘Stay-at-Home Moms’ and the Government

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(Pixabay)

Robert VerBruggen makes a strong case against Biden’s child-care proposal, and I agree with all of it except for one aside. While the proposal stacks the deck against families with “stay-at-home” parents (who are mostly mothers), he writes that other existing policies are unfair in the opposite direction: “In some ways the status quo is quite favorable to stay-at-home parents, who, for example, get an especially good deal from Social Security and Medicare.”

Policies that transfer money to these one-earner married couples are dwarfed in size, though, by policies that strongly tend to transfer money away from them, making them subsidizers rather than subsidized on net. And there are also policies that, while not transfering resources among households, have a bigger negative economic effect on large households (e.g., modern child-safety seat requirements).

Social Security and Medicare are the main issue with respect to transfers. They partly socialize the return to making the financial sacrifices entailed by raising children. (See here, here, and here for more developed versions of this argument.) They are large, though hidden, wealth transfers from adults with children to those without, and from families with several children to families with few.

Households with stay-at-home mothers raise more children, on average, than households with two full-time earners. So a transfer from larger families to smaller ones works, in practice, as a transfer from households with stay-at-home mothers to other types of household. The stay-at-home mom with one child is an exception to the rule: That kind of household will tend to come out ahead from both the features of the entitlements that VerBruggen has in mind and from the implicit subsidy I’m talking about. The two-earner couple with four children is another exception: It will tend to lose both ways.

But the general pattern of transfers from larger families with stay-at-home parents to smaller families without them should be kept in mind. It suggests, first, that the features of the programs that benefit stay-at-homers are not as unfair as they may seem: In many cases, they merely offset part of a transfer that’s going in the other direction.

The pattern also puts in perspective other existing and proposed government policies. Economists sometimes argue, for example, that tax breaks for commercial day care are a way of being neutral among different familial arrangements rather than the departure from neutrality they appear to be to the untrained eye. In the absence of such tax breaks, they say, taxes on labor income would bias parents’ choices away from paid work and in favor of staying at home to care for one’s own children. Whatever merit this argument has in isolation, it too overlooks the severe bias against large families — which, again, often have stay-at-home mothers — that is embedded in the structure of our entitlement programs.

The federal government’s thumb is already on the scale in favor of a familial arrangement including a small number of children and the use of commercial child care. There’s no good reason to put more weight there.

Media

Ad Hockery by Hacks?

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Facebook’s independent oversight board ruled on Wednesday that the company was justified in banning Donald Trump from its platform in January, but didn’t appropriately explain if or why he should be permanently locked out.

But even Facebook’s own board sidestepped taking a position on whether political favoritism played a role in the decision to ban Trump. In a conference call after the decision was announced, board co-chairman Michael McConnel, a former federal appeals court judge, admitted the possibility of bias is a legitimate concern.

When you do not have clarity, consistency and transparency, there’s no way to know,” said McConnell. “This is not the only case in which Facebook has engaged in ad hockery.”

Politics & Policy

It Takes an American Vaccine to Clean Up a Communist Disease

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A nurse draws from a vial of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in Los Angeles, Calif., March 25, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

It is in fashion on the left — and in many quarters of the right — to be myopically concentrated on all that is wrong with this country.

It’s an odd time to be down on the old Stars and Stripes, though. Over the last year, the United States has done more than any other nation to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic. And when it does end, it will in fact be American ingenuity that does it.

The American coronavirus vaccines are not the only ones to have been created and mass-produced in less than a year, but they are by far the most effective products doing by far the most good around the world.

In China, the bumblingly mendacious Communist Party (CCP) lied about the novel coronavirus, allowing this disease to spread outside its borders and kill millions. Since committing its original sin, the CCP has been engaged in a cynical and incompetent campaign of coronavirus diplomacy. Recall that as early as last March, the Chinese were touting their ability to provide coronavirus tests; they turned out to be defective. Spain, which received 640,000 of them, demanded a full refund.

Then, the CCP developed and began distributing a pair of, if not outright defective, then at least notably less safe and less effective vaccines as compared with the American ones that have left the countries depending on them reeling.

In Chile:

This South American nation of 19 million, which secured enough potential coronavirus vaccine doses to inoculate its population twice over, leads the Western Hemisphere in vaccinations per capita. More than 7.5 million Chileans have received at least one dose, and 5 million are now fully vaccinated. Only Israel and Britain have performed better.

At the same time, new cases of COVID-19 are surging. The country has reported more than 7,000 daily cases nine times this month, outstripping its first-wave peak of 6,938 last July, and sounding an alarm for the United States and other countries that have raced out ahead on the vaccination curve.

Why? Because Chile has relied primarily upon the Chinese SinoVac vaccine, which is only 16 percent effective after a first dose and according to the Brazillian government, 50 percent effective after a second. Compare these figures to those for the United States’ Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. The first two, which are two-dose programs, both provide better protection after one dose than SinoVac does after one, and ramp up to over 90 percent effective after a second. Johnson and Johnson, which is designed as a one-and-done solution, is also substantially more protective than SinoVac.

The other Chinese vaccine, Sinopharm, is falling short of the high standards set by the American ones as well. It has been the most-used vaccine in Seychelles, a small African archipelago that also happens to be the most-vaccinated nation in the world. And yet, Seychelles has reinstated social-distancing restrictions as its caseload has skyrocketed in recent days. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has raised questions about Sinopharm’s safety:

“We have very low confidence in the quality of evidence that the risk of serious adverse events following one or two doses of BBIBP-CorV in older adults (≥60 years) is low,” it [a WHO report on Sinopharm’s safety data] said.

“We have very low confidence in the quality of evidence that the risk of serious adverse events in individuals with comorbidities or health states that increase risk for severe COVID-19 following one or two doses of BBIBP-CorV is low,” it added.

Not great.

The day-to-day melodrama of partisan politics keeps us from enjoying too many ra-ra, “U-S-A!” patriotic moments these days, but we would be remiss not to take note of America’s singularly important role in ending a crisis caused by our chief geopolitical rival.

Law & the Courts

Firing Squads Are Honest, At Least

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1890: Convicted axe murderer William Kemmler becomes the first person to be executed in the electric chair. Following the passage of the Electrical Execution Law the previous year, an electrician at Auburn State Prison in New York was commissioned to design a device to carry out the sentence, which it was thought would be more humane than hanging, then still the most common form of capital punishment. Kemmler was strapped in and two charges were administered, the first having failed to end his life. Reporters described in gory detail the “Horrible Scene at His Execution,” and electricity pioneer George Westinghouse reportedly quipped: “They would have done better with an axe.” But electrocution would soon become a common means of capital punishment in half the states.

The Hill reports:

The South Carolina House voted on Wednesday to add firing squads as an execution method for prisoners.

The bill passed in a 66-43 vote, with one Democrat voting in favor and seven Republicans voting against it, The Associated Press reported.

The South Carolina Senate passed a similar bill in a 32-11 vote in March.

I’ve seen a good deal of outrage about this, but I don’t really understand why — at least, I don’t understand why such outrage would exist separately from outrage about the death penalty per se. If the state is going to kill people who are convicted of terrible crimes — which I don’t think it should — it should be honest about what it is doing. Lethal injection is a sanitized, medicalized process that effectively euphemizes what is being done. Firing squads, by contrast, are violent and make it obvious. If we are happy to kill people, we should be happy to acknowledge fully what we’re doing. If we’re not willing to acknowledge fully what we’re doing, we shouldn’t be killing people.

Wade on the Lab-Leak Theory of COVID

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Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus arrive at Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Nicholas Wade is not an alarmist, and not a conspiracy theorist. He is one of the most eminent science journalists in the country, having done stints at Science and the New York Times, and he has released a very long, technical, and (if you’re into that sort of thing) riveting article on Medium weighing the evidence on the origin of COVID-19. Did it emerge naturally from an animal species to infect people in Wuhan, possibly at a wet market? Or did it leak out from the Wuhan Institute of Virology?

Where I think it is most convincing is in describing the lack

Politics & Policy

Writers Make Unintentional Case against Nuking the Filibuster

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(xxcheng/Getty Images)

This week, a group calling itself “Scholars for Reform” issued an open letter calling for “reform” of the filibuster. Hundreds of intellectual luminaries have signed this letter, including Pulitzer Prize winners, famous writers, and celebrated scholars. While this letter is eloquent in its call for reforming the filibuster, it perhaps makes a far more compelling case against going nuclear to eliminate or change the filibuster.

The letter claims that the U.S. is undergoing a democratic crisis. In part because of the proliferation of “veto points” in the American constitutional order, government is paralyzed, and this undermines Americans’ faith in democratic institutions. According to this narrative, one of the causes of this paralysis is the filibuster, which has “aggrandized executive power, worsened partisan polarization, and decreased policymaking continuity.” Thus, to preserve democracy, the filibuster must be reformed. Crucially, though, the letter does not lay out what this reform should be or how it should take place (whether through the standing rules of the Senate or via the nuclear option).

One could quarrel with some of the premises of this letter. As two political scientists recently argued in The Atlantic, “recent Congresses have been considerably more productive and bipartisan than is generally appreciated,” so it’s not clear that the legislative branch is quite so paralyzed. The sweeping coronavirus relief efforts of 2020 indicate that Congress can act quickly when there is a broad consensus.

Nor might federal deadlock on certain issues always be an existential problem. Yes, the United States does have more veto points in the federal government than many other industrialized democracies do, but it also has a very decentralized regime. Paralysis at the federal level does not mean paralysis at the state levels. Indeed, difficulty of legislating at the federal level probably encourages more state-level policy-making. At the core of the American system is the productive exchange between state and federal governments; that very heterogeneity has helped the American republic respond to successive challenges for over 200 years.

However, in asserting the dysfunction of American democracy, the “Scholars for Reform” letter itself offers a grave warning against going nuclear on the filibuster. This letter laments “aggrandized executive power, worsened partisan polarization, and decreased policymaking continuity.” Nuking the filibuster feeds into dynamics that the signatories claim to oppose.

As defenders of the filibuster (including the 2005 model of Joe Biden) have long noted, the institutional rules of the Senate play an essential role in keeping that body independent from the executive branch. Because those rules frustrate top-down partisan control in the Senate, they also lessen the power of the chief partisan (the president) in that body.

In using 51 votes to ignore the Senate rules on a whim, the nuclear option attacks the institutional character of the Senate. Over the long term, the institutional disruption of the Senate by partisan passions threatens the independence of other institutions, too. Making explicit the inner logic of the destruction of constitutional guardrails, many proponents of nuking the filibuster have also endorsed Court-packing.

There are good reasons to doubt that removing the filibuster even through the standing rules of the Senate would be guaranteed to lessen partisan polarization or encourage bipartisanship. The reconciliation process evades the filibuster, but recent reconciliation bills — such as the 2017 tax cuts and the American Rescue Plan — have been passed on party-line votes. Nuking the filibuster would both represent escalating polarization and worsen that polarization.

Thus, it’s not surprising that this open letter did not endorse the nuclear option. If you’re worried about polarization and executive overreach, nuking the filibuster is like trying to douse a fire with gasoline.

Impromptus

The Man in the Brown Suit, Etc.

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Reagan and Thatcher at the White House, September 29, 1983 (White House Photographic Office / PD / Wikimedia)

In Impromptus today, I address the topic du jour, and the topic of many jours: the state of the Republican Party. Is there room for Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney in it? Or does the country need a third party — a significant third party, even if it starts out small? America is like the Big Ten of old. That conference was called, for many years, the Big Two (the two being Michigan and Ohio State). Then, everyone started to get in on the act — even Northwestern!

I also address North Korea — specifically, a nephew of the current dictator, Kim Jong-un — and some lighter topics as well: Do you remember Ronald Reagan’s brown suit? It was the subject of many news articles. At the end of my column, I provide a brief travelogue of South Bend, Ind., which I have visited for the first time. Very pleasant.

A little mail. I’m going to publish an exchange I had with Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars — who is also an anthropologist. Said I,

I’ve been doing a brief study of Ethiopia — brief and shallow. About 80 ethnicities; about 80 languages. Layer upon layer. Really, anthropology — the study of man — is just about the most beautiful and interesting study there is. I don’t care what practitioners have done to the field. It just is, right?

Answered Professor Wood,

The real diversity of humanity is a wonder, and encountering it unsettles all the taken-for-granted assumptions we rely on. No wonder some anthropologists go crazy, but if you avoid the craziness, it is a beautiful way to look at the world.

Yes. (For my 2015 piece “Majoring in Anthro,” go here.)

A friend of mine writes,

Hi, Jay,

Based on your recommendation a few weeks ago, I went and got a copy of Vargas Llosa’s Feast of the Goat. I usually don’t enjoy translations, I know nothing about DomRep history, and I’m fairly ignorant of Hispanic culture and politics. So when I say, it was a powerful book, you know this means something.

I originally wanted to write “a good book,” but “good” doesn’t fit a novel about dictatorship, corruption, torture, and a failed coup.

I thought of these things when I read your piece on Gulchehra Hoja, and how the Chinese government punishes her family for her actions. That was an undercurrent to The Feast of the Goat: Defy Trujillo and your family suffers.

It made me realize the incredible sacrifice made by anyone who resists totalitarians. It’s hard enough to get to the point of risking one’s own life — but to know the hell you’ll be bringing on others makes the decision more horrible. Sure, one can intellectually tell oneself that any guilt is on the heads of the oppressors only, but there’s always going to be some personal guilt.

Oh, yes. For my piece on Gulchehra Hoja — one of the Uyghur-American journalists who work for Radio Free Asia — go here.

In the North Korean diplomatic corps, there have been very few defections — because the regime takes it out on your family, if you defect. Two years ago, I wrote a piece called “The Incredible Guts of Thae Yong-ho.” A brief passage:

The Kim regime is a firm believer in guilt by association. If one person steps out of line, his family and even his friends and colleagues pay for it. This keeps North Koreans in line.

Okay, let’s lighten up — way up — by talking about high-school nicknames: specifically, the nickname of my high school in Ann Arbor, Mich.: We are the Huron High School River Rats. I had occasion to mention this in a recent column. Some readers asked, “What’s the deal with that name?”

My father was present at the creation (teacher, coach, athletic director, etc.). There used to be one high school in Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor High, naturally. When the population got bigger, there was a need for two: The old high school was called “Ann Arbor Pioneer,” and the new was called “Ann Arbor Huron” (for its placement near the Huron River). According to my dad,

“River rats” was a derogatory name for students at the new school, made up by the students of the old school: the Pioneers. But Huron students liked it. They kept voting for it in polls. Years after I left Huron, I continued to get letters and calls from around the country, inquiring about the nickname.

The original principal, Paul Meyers, opposed the name. He insisted that current students wouldn’t like it in future years: Would they want to tell their children and grandchildren that they had been “River Rats”? But the name stuck!

You bet it did. The split between the high schools, by the way, occurred in 1969.

A reader writes,

Your Impromptus today reminded me that, at least when I was in high school, the Ann Arbor Huron girls volleyball team was quite good, both at the varsity and the junior-varsity levels. My high school often played them in tournaments, and our mantra was “Drown the River Rats.” I have never forgotten the Huron team because of the unique mascot — similar to the UC–Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.

And no, the mantra didn’t work most of the time — we still often lost.

Okay, we have some mail in, concerning the aforementioned brown suit — Reagan’s. In my column today, I link to one of the many, many articles about that garment. This is from UPI on August 20, 1985 (what were you doing that day?): “Reagan Makes Brown Suit a Success Mark.”

This morning, a friend of mine writes,

I bought one just before the Plague and then it went unrequited, so to speak, in my closet for 15 months. It’s now regularly deployed, as I’m back in circulation, and I never wear it without thinking of RR and the days when adults ran the country.

Another friend writes,

Back in my very short-lived haberdasher days, I had a brown suit made of really good material, because of Reagan. He wore one, so it was cool. I wore it once. So, if you wear a 44 long, I’ll donate it to your closet — and pay the shipping!

Ha, I wish I were tall enough to merit the “long.” Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here.

Sports

Olympics to Allow a Male Weightlifter in the Female Category

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Giant Olympic Rings are installed at the waterfront area six months before the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Japan January 17, 2020. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has changed its rules, permitting a biological male to compete against women in weightlifting. Before transitioning in 2013, Laurel Hubbard competed in the men’s category.

The IOC’s guidelines require males to demonstrate that their testosterone levels have been chemically lowered. But messing around with testosterone levels does next to nothing to remove the innate male advantage.

Male puberty confers irreversible advantages. Adrogenization increases bone density and muscle mass. Moreover, the performance gap between males and females at the elite level is as much as 30 percent. As has been explained:

The 69kg male weightlifter hammers the 69kg female weightlifter on strength. Where are the females who are stronger than [the males]? How tall and heavy are they? The answer is, in Olympic weightlifting, they don’t exist. . . . The male 69kg Olympic weightlifting world record holder is 30% stronger than his female counterpart and lifts heavier than the female world record holder in the top weight category…

Males are stronger. The performance gap between male and female athletes is utterly astounding; it’s not a “gap”, it’s the Grand Canyon. Without sex-segregated sporting categories, the most wonderful 10.49s that female athletics has ever seen would be a footnote in history. We owe it to the female sports stars of today and to the girls who aspire to be tomorrow’s sporting heroes to fight for their right to take home gold.

Politics & Policy

We’re Hitting a Vaccination Wall, So Open Everything

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A healthcare worker draws a coronavirus vaccine from a vial at the Mission Commons assisted living community in Redlands, Calif., January 15, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Walking around New York City, one of the hardest-hit places on earth, the other day, I observed mobile vaccination stations ready for customers. But I saw no customers. Meanwhile, nationwide vaccination demand has collapsed; on May 4, not even one million people received vaccinations in America. Less than a month ago, roughly 3.4 million Americans a day were getting a coronavirus vaccine. Now the seven-day average is down to 2.1 million shots a day, a level unseen since the first half of March.

What does this tell us? Although not yet half the country is vaccinated, just about everyone over 16 who really wants the vaccine has gotten it. CVS is now offering the vaccine to walk-ins nationwide. Looking at the numbers from the U.K. and Israel, where the virus seems to have been defeated as vaccination rates have surpassed 50 percent, the U.S. slowdown is dispiriting. A lot of people just don’t want the vaccine.

But why should that limit what the rest of us can do, or indeed what the unvaccinated can do? New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that ballparks will have two sections: one for vaccinated people and one for unvaccinated people. People will be free to pack together tightly in the vaccinated section, but the other section will require social distancing. It strikes me that Cuomo is halfway to figuring this out: if you’re vaccinated, you have very little cause for fear. But if you’re unvaccinated, you’re living at your own risk. So why not pack together people as normal? Moreover, why would you separate out the at-risk people and put them together? Doesn’t that simply increase the chances of transmission? Every vaccinated person is a roadblock to the virus. If an unvaccinated person should be carrying the virus, but is surrounded by vaccinated people, they won’t get sick, and he also won’t be able to pass it on.

It may be some time before COVID-19 deaths approach zero in this country, but after a vaccine is widely available, allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a matter of individual choice. Once we have hit the point where the only reason not to have been vaccinated is that you refuse the vaccine, it’s time to reopen everything fully. The unvaccinated population is, to me, acting unwisely, but that’s their problem. As long as I’m vaccinated, I don’t really care what they do. Nor am I averse to sitting next to them in a theater, arena or stadium. I have no reason to fear them, and they have no reason to fear me.

The Nonsense Claim from NBC News That Biden Has Met His School Goal

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President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visit Yorktown Elementary School in Yorktown, Va., May 3, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In a headline that would make Pravda, North Korean state television, and the DNC blush, NBC News declares, “Biden hits schools goal even as many students still learn remotely.”

This is horsepuckey, although I suppose the first question is just what Biden’s school goal was. Biden originally promised, “A majority of our schools can be opened by the end of my first 100 days.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki later circled back to emphasize that a school being open for classes one day a week would qualify as “opened.” And then Biden said in a subsequent interview he meant five

Health Care

Major Swedish Hospital Bans Puberty Blocking for Gender Dysphoria

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(Sergey Tinyakov/Getty Images)

The actual science is beginning to overcome transgender ideology. First, the U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence — basically the NHS’s decision-maker for what to cover — determined that there was “very low” evidence of benefit to allow children with gender dysphoria to have their natural puberty blocked — which is an “off label” use of those drugs, by the way.

Now, Karolinska Hospital, a major health institution in Sweden, is stopping their use. First, there is little scientific to support such interventions. From the hospital’s official statement:

In December 2019, the SBU (Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services) published an overview of the knowledge base which showed a lack of evidence for both the long-term consequences of the treatments, and the reasons for the large influx of patients in recent years.

Even more importantly, the potential for harming the patient physically is very real:

These treatments are potentially fraught with extensive and irreversible adverse consequences such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, infertility, increased cancer risk, and thrombosis. This makes it challenging to assess the risk/benefit for the individual patient, and even more challenging for the minors and their guardians to be in a position of an informed stance regarding these treatments.

Yikes!

As a consequence the hospital wisely enacted the following policy:

In light of the above, and based on the precautionary principle, which should always be applied, it has been decided that hormonal treatments (i.e., puberty blocking and cross-sex hormones) will not be initiated in gender dysphoric patients under the age of 16.

For patients between ages 16 and 18, it has been decided that treatment may only occur within the clinical trial settings approved by the EPM (Ethical Review Agency/Swedish Institutional Review Board). The patient must receive comprehensive information about potential risks of the treatment, and a careful assessment of the patient’s maturity level must be conducted to determine if the patient is capable of evaluating, and consenting to, the treatment.

Maybe the American Academy of Pediatrics will also come to its senses and reconsider that organization’s misguided policy supporting puberty blocking. Alas, I am not holding my breath. Transgender ideology sparked an acute moral panic that — more than in-depth scientific research — led to allowing puberty blocking of gender-dysphoric children.

Now — will the usual woke major corporations organize a boycott of Sweden for being “transphobic?” Or is such bullying reserved exclusively for the U.S.?

National Security & Defense

Where Are Republicans on Afghanistan Anyway?

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A U.S. Marine walks near Afghan National Army soldiers during training in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2017. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

As Isaac Schorr noted earlier, one sideshow of the debate over Liz Cheney’s position in the House leadership has been the claim that she should go because her foreign-policy views are no longer in sync with the party’s, an argument made with varying degrees of sincerity.

The biggest recent divide between Republican hawks and doves has concerned the pending withdrawal from Afghanistan. If Republican voters want out of the country and it’s important for the party’s leadership to reflect their sentiment, then there’s a bigger problem than Cheney: The top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee have both expressed support for keeping troops in Afghanistan. So have the top Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So has the Senate’s Republican leader.

There’s surprisingly little public polling on what Republican voters think about it. In an October 2019 poll, 46 percent of Republicans wanted a decrease in troop levels or a full and rapid withdrawal while 34 percent wanted to keep current troop levels. In another poll a few weeks ago, 52 percent of Republicans backed President Biden’s planned withdrawal while 33 percent disagreed. Unsurprisingly, Democrats were more supportive of Biden’s policy. Both of these polls are notable for the large fraction of undecideds.

A few conclusions from those polls: 1) Republican voters have diverse opinions on Afghanistan but lean against staying. 2) Republicans in leadership positions in Congress tend to be more hawkish than their voters on Afghanistan. 3) You can favor or oppose Biden’s withdrawal while being within the mainstream of the opinion of Republican voters.

Law & the Courts

Another Federal Court Invalidates the Eviction Moratorium

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

Our Brittany Bernstein reports that a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., has invalidated the eviction moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control, initially during the Trump administration, and recently extended (for the second time) during the Biden administration. It is now set to run through June 30.

In her 20-page opinion, Judge Dabney L. Friedrich (a Trump appointee) observes that hers is only the most recent of several rulings holding that the CDC exceeded its statutory authority (two district court decisions go the other way, at least at the preliminary injunction stage).

As Brittany points out, the issue before Judge Friedrich was statutory, viz., whether the CDC exceeded the authority given it by Congress to make rules to combat the spread of communicable disease. Judge Friedrich persuasively reasons that Congress empowered the agency to prescribe conditions related to “specific targets” — basically, objects or animals — that could be sources of infection. That is far afield from prohibiting owners from evicting tenants who don’t pay rent.

Americans should disturbed, though not surprised, by the government’s contention that Congress has empowered the CDC to decree any regulation, no matter how attenuated, that unelected government experts, in their wisdom, deem necessary to suppress infectious disease.

Friedrich observed that, in addition to the statutory cases, a federal district court in Texas ruled that the government lacks the constitutional authority to order a nationwide moratorium on evictions. Back in mid-March, I wrote about that case, decided by Judge J. Campbell Barker, another Trump-appointee, here.

In light of the Justice Department’s position in the statutory case in Washington, it’s worth reiterating what I related about Justice Department’s position in the constitutional case:

In the end, there is only one reason I think Judge Barker’s ruling has a chance of standing: The sheer arrogance exhibited by federal officials at the suggestion that the Constitution limits their power.

Before issuing his opinion, the judge conducted oral argument between the parties. In response to his questions, the Justice Department admitted that COVID-19 was merely the excuse used — the opportunity exploited — by the federal government in dictating what owners may do with their property. The judge asked: What if there were no COVID-19? Could Congress forbid evictions because of some other reason it decided was important? A reason that had nothing whatsoever to do with commerce?

The Justice Department lawyer asserted that merely by invoking the Commerce Clause — Washington’s own talisman — the federal government could suspend residential evictions for any reason. Judge Barker was struck by the government’s proclamation that any reason includes an agency’s subjective view of what “fairness” calls for.

For that alone, the courts — the Supreme Court especially — should rethink the monster they’ve created. They should . . . but they probably won’t.

Politics & Policy

Kevin McCarthy Actively Undermined Liz Cheney’s Ability to Serve in Leadership

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) speaks to the media during a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 11, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

If she wanted to stay honest about the legitimacy of the election and about Trump’s election lies, that is.

There is a line of thought according to which Cheney should have been more like Mitch McConnell and just tried to move on. I have always found that possibility unrealistic, for the reason that, as Ramesh notes in his Bloomberg Opinion column, Trump has no interest (in either sense) in fading away. Sure, it’s possible not to respond to every little provocation. But Trump’s campaign to perpetuate demonstrably false conspiracy theories, to maintain that Mike Pence could somehow have thrown out the whole election, to primary and otherwise avenge himself upon elected officials who stood up to him with integrity, etc., is inveterate and continuing.

But the thing is, even if you grant that Republicans might have suffocated Trump by ignoring him, this isn’t what Kevin McCarthy wanted to do. Instead he made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago on January 28, posed for a lovely photo with the former president, and welcomed Trump’s help in taking back the House. McCarthy has also dissembled when asked about January 6, as the editors of NR observe in the current print issue:

On January 6, in the midst of the Capitol Hill riot, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy called President Trump, urging him to use his influence to stop it. McCarthy later repeated to several members of his caucus, including Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, Trump’s initial comment: “Well Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” Sarcastic, belittling, the president tried to wrong-foot a congressional ally about an attack on Congress. Three and a half months later, Fox host Chris Wallace asked McCarthy about the remark. “Is that what President Trump said to you?” McCarthy replied with generalities. But Wallace pressed him: “I’m asking you specifically, did he say to you, ‘I guess these people are more upset’?” “No, listen,” McCarthy answered, “my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president.” If Trump had told McCarthy no such thing, loyalty and honesty would unite and McCarthy would stoutly deny it. His evasion can only mean: Yup, Trump said it. Let the record show.

If Cheney should have acted more like McConnell, McCarthy should have done so first. Instead he helped create a situation in which it became impossible for Cheney to stay on his team while remaining true to her conscience and true to the truth.

Religion

Trumpism as Threat to Religious Conservatives

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Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., February 28, 2021. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Donald Trump has endorsed New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik to replace Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican caucus.

“Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership” Trump said in a statement. “We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First. Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”

This is an odd argument for Trump to make. Elise Stefanik voted against President Trump’s agenda items far more often than Cheney, and Stefanik is just as much a hawk as Cheney. She voted in opposition to Trump’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. She voted for the Paris Climate Accords and to end the border emergency declaration. She also voted for the Equality Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that would dramatically weaken religious-liberty protections in the face of LGBT claims.

Many religious conservatives have embraced Donald Trump’s movement in the Republican Party. They saw an opportunity in the populist and nationalist drift of the party to get away from libertarianism, which they see as an electoral anchor, and an ally of big business, which is now a cultural enemy. In nationalism, they see a principle of cohesion or communitarianism. Some see it as an inchoate desire to enact the justice elements of Catholic social teaching.

But, there has always been another side to the Trumpian coin. Trump was always stronger among voters who identified as non-church-going Evangelicals. And there are political figures such as Stefanik who like Trump precisely because he will wave the rainbow flag and declare himself the “most pro-gay president” ever. They like him because his nationalist culture-warring can act as a replacement for the religious culture war. They are happiest when lowering taxes and denouncing political correctness.

We may really see this tested in a candidacy such as Caitlyn Jenner’s in California. Jenner is being advised by people from Trump’s orbit.

Politics & Policy

Caitlyn for California Launches

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Caitlyn Jenner at Vanity Fair‘s Oscar party in Beverly Hills, Calif., on April 3, 2018 (Danny Moloshok / Reuters)

Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympic gold-medal winner and TV star, has opened a campaign against California governor Gavin Newsom with a powerful three-minute video.

“The American Dream grew up here, yet career politicians and their policies have destroyed that dream,” Jenner says. “Career politicians and their policies have destroyed that dream, It’s been locked away, closed, shuttered, left in the dark, burned down. The government is now involved in every part of our lives. They’ve taken our money, our jobs, and our freedom.” Jenner is clearly running as the anti-lockdown candidate.

Jenner faces a steep climb to becoming governor. Newsom would have to be removed by a majority of voters in the November recall, and then Jenner would have to win a majority of votes in the race to replace him that’s being held at the same time. At least two other Republicans, businessman John Cox and former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, are already running.

As tough as the odds are, the pandemic has eroded Newsom’s credibility. “This past year has redefined our career politicians as elitists,” Jenner says, as scenes of Newsom dining without a mask at a French restaurant and a maskless Nancy Pelosi visiting a hair salon are shown.

Jenner will appear at a town-hall meeting during Fox News’ Hannity program on Wednesday. It should be quite a show.

Religion

‘Catholics’ for (the) Choice (to Abort)

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A woman receives an ultrasound (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

I regret to inform you that the misnomer of an organization known as ‘Catholics for Choice’ is at it again:

If only there were some way to find out what the Catholic Church actually says about this matter. Oh wait, there is. Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the authoritative compendium of Church teaching, says about abortion (footnotes omitted):  

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” “by the very commission of the offense,” and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”

“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.”

2275 “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.”

“It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.”

“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity” which are unique and unrepeatable.

Organizations and individuals may advocate abortion in our political system. But those that do so have no business calling themselves Catholic. 

Trade

How the Cronyism Sausage Is Made

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Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, testifies before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 28, 2014. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

It is rare that we taxpayers get to see how crony deals are made in Washington. But what follows is an example provided to us by the Export-Import Bank.

Bear with me while I give you some background. In January, ExIm announced a deal extending a 90 percent guarantee of a $50 million supply-chain-finance facility from Greensill Capital to Freeport LNG Marketing, LLC, a Texas-based company. The loan was extended through supply- chain-finance (SCF) provider Greensill.

This came on the tail of a massive $4.7 billion ExIm deal to support the development and construction of an LNG project in Mozambique. Leading up to this project, the U.S. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry warned it would be hurt by its own government giving a leg up to a foreign LNG projects, and ExIm analysts warn the agency of security concern in the country that could lead to the demise of the project (that means the loss of taxpayers’ money). That didn’t matter, as the ExIm press release makes clear:

As the Mozambique LNG project marks further milestones, we want to underscore EXIM’s continuing commitment to this project,” said EXIM President and Chairman Kimberly A. Reed. “This project continues to serve as a great example of how a revitalized EXIM can help ‘Made in the USA’ products and services compete in a fierce global marketplace and counter competition from countries like China and Russia.

Two projects, two milestones, as the ExIm chairman loved to say — and two examples of the utter lack of due diligence performed by the agency when it is committed to serving powerful special interests.

This has become obvious in the wake of the Greensill’s collapse into insolvency only a few weeks after ExIm announced the deal and the Mozambique project’s operator Total had to declare force majeure, which allows the company to cancel contracts and withdraw all its staff because of a jihadist attack.

Indeed Greensill Capital was already under investigation last year by the German financial regulator, an investigation that led to a criminal complaint in March. Then, as the FT reports, “Greensill had been notified last September that its insurer would not extend cover for its lending, a move that ultimately led to its collapse.” (I wrote and testified about the lack of due diligence at ExIm here). A good summary is here:

When Exim directors approved the loan arrangement in September 2020, Greensill was already embroiled in controversy.

Credit Suisse had announced in June that it would review its Greensill-linked funds after clients withdrew more than $1.5bn when a string of debtors defaulted. The same month, a report revealed that Greensill’s borrowers included a company that runs a hotel in Mogadishu and a coal miner whose owner had settled several legal actions over alleged nonpayment of bills. In August it emerged that Greensill was under scrutiny from German regulators.

As for the Mozambique deal, the FT notes that “Exim Bank’s own analysis warned of security concerns that have since caused the project’s operator Total to declare force majeure following jihadi attacks.”

But beyond the lack of due diligence from ExIm staff, its board of directors, and its chairman, there is a serious cronyism at play here. It is not simply the type of cronyism that we are so used to with ExIm, such as the fact that many of the companies involved and getting preferential borrowing terms and rates through ExIm, like Freeport LNG, are large firms with no problem accessing capital.

As it happens, we just learned that it wasn’t in ExIm’s interest to figure out if the Greensill deal was even a good one, because the real reason for its existence was to placate the U.S. LNG industry and to get it to withdraw its opposition to the Mozambique deal.

This is how the FT describes the trade that took place at ExIm:

The Freeport LNG deal came after lobbying from the US LNG industry, including trade association LNG Allies, which had initially opposed Exim Bank’s Mozambique loan and pushed for ways in which the agency could help domestic producers.

LNG Allies withdrew its opposition to the Mozambique loan after an August 2019 meeting between groups representing the LNG industry and Exim Bank, according a letter released under transparency laws and provided to the FT by Source Material, a non-profit investigative journalism organisation.

According to the letter, LNG Allies pointed to the “active engagement” by Exim Bank “in developing creative financing solutions” to create opportunities for the LNG industry.

For the details on how that trade was made, read this.

The bottom line is this: ExIm extended the deal to Freeport LNG through Greensill (after being lobbied by former British prime minister David Cameron, apparently) in order to temper the anger of the U.S. LNG industry and to make it withdraw opposition to the Mozambique deal. In that context, due diligence over how sound lenders are is small potatoes.

And that, my friends, is how the crony sausage is made in Washington.

Politics & Policy

The Median House Republican’s Turn Against Cheney

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It’s not MAGA Republicans in the House who are forcing Representative Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) out of leadership. It’s Republicans who aren’t especially fond of former president Donald Trump but want to stop talking about him. I have a column at Bloomberg Opinion about what they’re thinking and why they may not get their wish.

Most Republican politicians would like Trump to fade away on his own without their doing anything that upsets him or his strongest supporters. They don’t want to join Trump in claiming that the Democrats stole the 2020 election. They don’t want to join Cheney in denying it, either. It will take a lot of luck to keep dodging through next year’s primaries.

Trump, meanwhile, seems unwilling to cooperate in fading away. A Republican Party that incorporates some of the changes he has wrought, moves on and succeeds is not in his interest. And even without a Twitter account, he has a flair for getting attention.

No Fate but What We Make

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Members of the boy scouts carry an American flag during the Independence Day Parade in Independence, Iowa, July 4, 2011. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Over at The Week, Samuel Goldman writes, “Arbitrary and confusing public health restrictions, political polarization, lurid media, and escalating culture war create a pervasive sense of disorientation verging on madness,” and he contends this is part of a historical cycle:

Several causes of this condition are contingent — not least the pandemic that put many aspects of normal life on hold. But there are deeper sources of our present freakout. In his 1981 study American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, political scientist Samuel Huntington argued that American history is characterized by nervous breakdowns that recur approximately every 60 years. If our last

Politics & Policy

Trump Backs ‘Warmongering’ Elise Stefanik to Replace Liz Cheney

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At last, we find ourselves on the cusp of ridding the Republican Party of the warmongering “neocons” that have plagued it for so long. “We” being a euphemism for Donald Trump, who has denounced GOP House conference chair Liz Cheney as “a person that loves seeing our troops fighting” — that’s the only possible explanation for opposing troop withdrawals — and only utters her name after applying the “warmonger” epithet before it.

It looks more and more likely that Trump will get his most fervent wish and Cheney will be removed from her position in leadership. It also seems probable that Representative Elise Stefanik, whom Trump has endorsed, will replace her.

Remember, this is a principled fight over foreign-policy issues.

Politics & Policy

Jeff Flake v. Mitch McConnell

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Of course, Liz Cheney isn’t lying about the 2020 election, and she isn’t the provocateur on this question — Trump is. But she had won the first time around, and all she had to do was be a little politic — something often required of politicians — and she wouldn’t be on the verge of getting dumped from leadership next week, which is looking like a near-certainty. Neither Jeff Flake nor Mitch McConnell has lied about Donald Trump, but one immolated his career, and one has survived to fight for a post-Trump future within the party. Cheney looks as if she’s chosen the Flake route, which is admirable on its own terms, but not consistent with serving in House Republican leadership.

Sports

Oh, Great — Baseball Got Even More Boring 

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Long-time readers who are baseball fans know I’ve been complaining about the length of games for a long time, but now MLB has added a new twist: astonishing little offense during the interminable games.

Maybe this is just an early-season trend, but it’s pretty remarkable. From an AP report:

Major league batters are hitting just .232 overall through April, down from .252 two years ago and under the record low of .237 set in the infamous 1968 season that resulted in a lower pitcher’s mound.

The Mendoza line may not mean what it used to.

Strikeouts have averaged 9.06 per team per game, on pace to set a record for the 13th consecutive full season — up from 8.81 two years ago and nearly double the 4.77 in 1979. Strikeouts already are 1,092 ahead of hits, just three years after exceeding hits for the first time over a full season.

Hits are averaging a record-low 7.63 after fluctuating from 8 to 10 from 1937 through last year, excepting 1968′s dip to a then-alarming 7.91.

Culture

The McFlurry Everyone Wants

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We have a feature talking about minor personal stuff at the end of The Editors podcast. In the latest episode, I mentioned that I had been at a McDonald’s over the weekend and meant to order the special Carmel Brownie McFlurry going through the drive-thru, but I forgot at the end of my order. As soon as I realized my mistake, I was filled with regret and considered driving through the usually long drive-thru line again, but let it drop and have been regretting it ever since. Phil Klein mentioned that he, too, had wanted to order this McFlurry but got diverted, and a listener texted soon after the episode posted saying the same thing. My fear is that this special one-time McFlurry will be gone by the time I make it back to McDonald’s, and I will have completely missed out.

Politics & Policy

‘Liz Cheney in the Hot Seat Again’

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This week on The Editors, Rich, Jim, Maddy, and Phil discuss Liz Cheney, the lockdowns, and Caitlyn Jenner. Listen below, or follow this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Politics & Policy

Liz Cheney Is Not the Aggressor

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U.S. Representative Liz Cheney addresses the media in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, January 25, 2017. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

Liz Cheney represents an imminent threat to that most sacred of things, “party unity.” Or at least that’s the whitewashed bill of goods being sold by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy as he sets out to purge Cheney from the GOP’s leadership team. “There’s no concern about how she voted on impeachment,” he told Steve Doocy of Fox News — no, of course not. McCarthy continued, “I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message. We all need to be working as one if we’re able to win the majority.”

Cheney, you see, is guilty because she tells the truth — that is, refuses to lie — when asked about Donald Trump and the events of January 6. Not because she’s called for the punishment of those who supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the election, or because she’s condemned those who did not vote with her to impeach him; she’s done neither. Cheney’s mere positioning on the issue of Trump and the riot he egged on — remember, he tweeted that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done” as a mob chanted “hang Mike Pence” and stormed the building Pence was in — is the existential threat to unity. Of course, some divergences from party orthodoxy can be tolerated. It appears that Elise Stefanik, who voted for the Equality Act, is destined to replace Cheney. Never mind that her voting record is significantly more squishy than Cheney’s; she fights for the man in Mar-a-Lago.

Perhaps party unity is what’s at stake in the fight over Cheney. But we should be honest about the kind of unity McCarthy seeks.

World

How Progressives Ruined Scottish Education

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I recently wrote a piece for The Spectator’s U.K. edition on the ruinous nature of progressive education in Scotland.

Politics & Policy

What about Liz Cheney?

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Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) attends a tribute ceremony for Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick in Washington, D.C., February 3, 2021. (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

Some of my friends and colleagues — more in sadness than in anger, of course! — affirm that Liz Cheney cannot expect to continue in a position of leadership in the Republican Party.

I am sure there are polls she could consult. I think she should consult Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

Today, when all the axes have hewn what they hacked, when all that was sown has borne fruit, we can see how lost, how drugged were those conceited youths who sought, through terror, bloody uprising, and civil war, to make the country just and content. No thank you, fathers of enlightenment! We now know that the vileness of the means begets the vileness of the result. Let our hands be clean!

So has the circle closed? So is there indeed no way out? So the only thing left to do is wait inertly: What if something just happens by itself?

But it will never come unstuck by itself, if we all, every day, continue to acknowledge, glorify, and strengthen it, if we do not, at the least, recoil from its most vulnerable point.

From lies.

When violence bursts onto the peaceful human condition, its face is flush with self-assurance, it displays on its banner and proclaims: “I am Violence! Make way, step aside, I will crush you!” But violence ages swiftly, a few years pass—and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally—Lies. For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence. And it is not every day and not on every shoulder that violence brings down its heavy hand: It demands of us only a submission to lies, a daily participation in deceit—and this suffices as our fealty.

And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!

And this is the way to break out of the imaginary encirclement of our inertness, the easiest way for us and the most devastating for the lies. For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person.

“Live not by lies,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. It is a little promise, the smallest pledge: Not through me.

Good advice then. Good advice now.

Health Care

CDC Summer-Camp Guidance Is So Absurd, Even Fauci Can’t Keep a Straight Face When Asked about It

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Dr. Anthony Fauci attends a Senate committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 18, 2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Reuters)

CDC guidance on children’s summer camps has gone so far that even Anthony Fauci couldn’t keep a straight face when asked to defend it.

On NBC’s Today Show, host Savannah Guthrie asked Fauci about the absurd CDC guidance on summer camps, which says that vaccinated adults and children have to wear mask outdoors unless eating, drinking, or swimming. This even though children are at low risk for severe COVID-19, and the risk of outdoor transmission is extremely low. 

“I wouldn’t call them excessive Savannah, but they certainly are conservative,” Fauci responded, having to pause so he could start chuckling. “And I think what you are going to start to see is really in real time continually reevaluating that for its practicality. Because you’re right, people look at that and they say, ‘Well, is that being a little bit too far right now?’”

When you’re losing Fauci, maybe it’s time to rethink whether you’ve gone overboard. 

PC Culture

‘We Reject Ideas of Natural Gifts and Talents’

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That is a direct quote from the California Department of Education’s draft framework for K12 education. Robby Soave has much more on the framework here; it argues against separating kids by ability before high school and downplays the importance of giving bright kids access to high-school calculus.

You can argue about when schools should start providing different classes for kids with different skill levels, and about whether smart seniors should be focusing on calculus or some other topic. But when the “experts” in charge of your education system can’t even admit that giftedness exists, and they insist on holding advanced kids back in the name of “equity,” you just might have a problem.

Incidentally, not all leftists are this stupid in the face of human differences. You can read my review of Fredrik deBoer’s The Cult of Smart here.

Health Care

How a ‘Public Option’ Could Save Money

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Federal government health-coverage forms (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

The “public option,” a government-run health-insurance plan that competes with private plans, has been a big idea on the left in recent years. Matthew Fiedler of the Brookings Institution has a worthwhile new piece about what it would take to make this concept work.

He writes:

This analysis considers how a public option would need to be designed to replicate Medicare’s ability to pay providers substantially less than private plans while still eliciting provider participation. In brief, I argue that a public option would likely need two key features. First, it would need to set prices administratively (as the Medicare program does) rather than through negotiations with providers (as private insurers do). Second, it would need to be impossible for a provider to serve patients covered by the public option’s private competitors without also serving patients covered by the public option.

Basically, the government would need to set rates by fiat and force health-care providers to take them. It couldn’t actually compete with private plans on equal terms.

He continues:

The analysis then considers whether there is still a rationale for creating a public option if policymakers are unwilling to adopt these design features—or simply do not wish to reduce provider prices. I conclude that, without paying providers less, a public option likely could not set lower premiums than typical existing plans; its lower administrative costs and lack of a profit margin would likely be more than offset by disadvantages in utilization management, risk selection, and diagnosis coding. It might be able to offer lower premiums than existing plans that have broad networks and looser utilization controls, but at best only slightly lower. Thus, for this type of public option to create significant value, it would need to offer better coverage than existing plans (and convince consumers of that fact). A public option’s lack of a profit motive offers a reason it might offer better coverage, but far from a guarantee. In sum, while it is hard to envision this type of public option doing much harm, it also might not do much good.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

Where Did the Absurd ‘Diversity Training’ Idea Come From?

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(Devonyu/Getty Images)

Diversity training is a huge industry today, with many companies and speakers claiming that they can (for a hefty fee) root out all those nasty latent prejudices in people. After all, academics tell us that nearly all white people have racial biases. Companies and educational institutions now spend billions lest they be accused of not caring.

In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Alexander Riley looks at this phenomenon.

Riley writes, “In the typical scenario, students, staff, and faculty submit themselves to the mercies of hectoring lectures and demeaning demonstrations that purport to reveal white privilege and the oppressive conditions faced by ‘underrepresented populations’ in their institutions. Former Smith College staffer Jodi Shaw’s account of how, as part of such training, she was humiliatingly reduced to her racial identity and reprimanded for her role in the oppression of non-white co-workers is but the most recent high-profile example being discussed and debated.”

Riley reports on the sheer mania for “diversity, inclusion, and equity” on his campus at Bucknell.

There is no reliable evidence to show that any of this actually changes people for the better, but nobody dares to say that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

How did “diversity training” begin? Riley explains: “It was born the day after Martin Luther King Jr. died. On April 5, 1968, Jane Elliott, an Iowa third-grade teacher, conducted an experiment intended to inform her students what it was like to be non-white in America. Elliott staged a world in which her radical view of race relations in the country was produced within her class of white students. Brown-eyed students were collared, ostracized, insulted, and bullied by their teacher and the blue-eyed students. Then the process was reversed, and blue-eyed students became the targets.”

What started out as cruel humiliation of a few third graders has now spread to millions of adults.

“Contemporary diversity training,” Riley states,  “reinforces [Elliott’s] view. Consider, for example, this talk by a former Bucknell diversity officer, who claimed that no white person can meaningfully say ‘I am not a racist’ and suggested that whites who disagree are de facto supporters of the violent ‘racial tyranny’ that is the United States.”

An unchallengeable dogma has been unleashed on America, one that accomplishes nothing except to provide incomes for people with otherwise useless academic credentials.

U.S.

Knocks on Texas Civics Bill Ring Hollow

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(Thinkstock)

Critics of a Texas bill that blocks “action civics” (mandatory political protesting for course credit) and Critical Race Theory (attacks on “whiteness,” “Euro-Centrism,” etc.) are off the mark. Their complaints are outlined in an article for the Dallas Morning News that does little to explain the powerful arguments in favor of the bill (HB 3979, and a companion bill in the senate, SB 2202). That’s a shame, because Texas is home to Tom Lindsay and Lucy Meckler, whose deeply thoughtful and well-researched critique of action civics for the Texas Public Policy Foundation is among the best and most influential such studies in the nation. Why not interview opinion leaders on both sides of the question, Morning News?

That said, the critics of HB 3979 do make a legitimate point about a small flaw in the bill that I believe can and should be corrected. Before I get to that worthy tweak, however, let’s look at the less meritorious complaints.

The educators questioned by the Morning News portray the bill as “politicized,” and warn against substituting the judgement of the legislature for the judgement of “professional educators.” The problem, however, is that supposedly “professional educators” throughout this country are increasingly abandoning non-partisanship and turning political. “We can’t be neutral!” is their chant. The practice of action civics allows, invites, and even mandates that teachers bring their politics into the classroom, by telling them to organize extracurricular student protests for course credit.

These protests purport to be for causes the children already favor. Unfortunately, a combination of teacher bias, peer pressure, and the hard-left orientation of the non-profits that push action civics means that these student demonstrations are invariably on the left. Lindsay and Meckler show this to devastating effect in their report. The advocates interviewed by the Morning News hold up as positive examples students who lobbied to name pecan pie the official Texas state pie. The reality, I’m afraid, as Lindsay and Meckler show, is mandatory after-school student lobbying for gun control, Green New Deal–style legislation, opposition to the border wall, branding the Founding Fathers as wealthy, white, economically motivated slaveowners, and more. (Read the report!) Advocates of action civics are aiming to produce a nation of Greta Thunbergs, not Paula Deens.

Nothing prevents students from getting politically involved after school. But why not do it the right way — on their own time, as genuine volunteering, and without pressure from schools and teachers likely to steer them toward their own preferred policies? Texas public schools serve families of every political stripe. We shouldn’t subject children to teacher biases and peer pressure over live political controversies.

If you want students to be informed and active citizens acquainted with current controversies, try high-school debate. That’s where young people study both sides of the argument, while learning that every side’s viewpoint has strengths and weaknesses (whether the Dallas Morning News reports on them or not). That’s real civics. Learn how to understand and respect both sides of the argument before you choose up sides and head out to protest.

The replacement of traditional debate with one-sided school-sponsored political demonstrations is a microcosm of what’s wrong with civil society today. If students participated in debate first, they’d show more respect for the freedom of speech of those with whom they disagree. Without debate and traditional civics, student demonstrations morph into shout-downs. That’s the mess we’re in, and we certainly don’t need more of it. Action civics nowadays is dominated by young people who descend on politicians to harangue, not to learn. Even California senator Dianne Feinstein has been mobbed by “action civics” kids more interested in making a scene than in listening to what she had to teach them about the legislative process.

Ah, but doesn’t action civics teach “media literacy,” and isn’t that good? Well, I’ve read the “media literacy” stuff they push nowadays. It’s the Democratic Party’s view of “fake news” in disguise. The new “media literacy” coursework lionizes the mainstream press and downright idolizes so-called media fact-checkers, despite their notorious bias. Media bias is barely mentioned. Instead, “media literacy” materials cleverly steer students away from, say, conservative blogs, in favor of the mainstream press. The “media literacy” materials I’ve studied were actually financed by the same social-media giants that make a practice of shutting conservatives out.

That brings us to critics of the HB 3979’s provision barring private financing of civics curricula. It sounds like a nice way to save the state money, but private financing of public-school curricula is a way for leftist foundations to end-run citizen control of the public-school system. It’s already happened in Illinois, where hard-left foundations pushing Critical Race Theory and action civics have “generously” stepped in to commandeer an entire state’s civic-education system. I guarantee you, if Texas allows private funding of its civics classes, a ton of wealthy donors from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the entire woke-capitalist empire will step in to “donate” curricula tailor-made to turn Texas blue.

Now let’s cover the complaints about the bill’s supposedly “chilling effect” on classroom discussion. There is one important and legitimate point here. The rest of the grousing is deeply misleading. Public K–12 schools are not colleges or universities. States and school districts rightly enjoy wide latitude to decide on curricula, and K–12 teachers have only the most limited free-speech rights when in the process of teaching. In that context, a teacher’s job is to deliver the approved curriculum, not to preach his own point of view. States have every right — and every obligation — to prevent teachers from putting students through exercises that attack their “whiteness” and such. That is what HB 3979 does, and that is a very good thing.

I do, however, recommend a small tweak. As currently written, HB 3979 and its companion senate bill do prevent teachers from even discussing certain concepts related to race and racism. This may be legally permissible, but it is not a good idea. Critical Race Theory may not be a particularly good thing, but it’s out there. Students ought to be able to ask about it, and teachers ought to be able to address it. After all, we do want teachers to be able to explain why Critical Race Theory is a bad idea.

It would be a simple thing to tweak HB 3979 along the lines of the language in my model bill with the National Association of Scholars. This would permit discussion of the most troubling concepts of Critical Race Theory, but would prevent teachers from teaching them in such a way as to inculcate them in students. This would show the right kind of respect to the critics of HB 3979, while still protecting the substance of the bill.

In general, however, HB 3979 actually frees teachers up from intrusive speech mandates favored by the advocates of action civics. Action civics actually forces teachers to discuss current controversial issues in the classroom. (Right before organizing all those student demonstrations. What a coincidence!) Well, some teachers prefer to teach civics via historical examples and some prefer to focus on current controversies. Why constrain a given teacher to do one or the other (if not to invite generally left-leaning teachers to indoctrinate their students on current politics)? Ordering overwhelmingly left-leaning teachers to bring politics into the classroom is a prescription for trouble. It’s also unfair to teachers with currently unfashionable views who rightly fear being “canceled” if they say the wrong thing.

In short, with an easily arranged tweak, HB 3979 is the way to go. It will protect Texas from the scourge of politicization currently sweeping across the country in the form of action civics and Critical Race Theory, and that protection is urgently necessary. Pass the bill, then pass the pie.

Politics & Policy

All the Right Enemies: Episode IV

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Ron DeSantis has all the right enemies — this we know. But up to this point, I have catalogued examples of his helpful opponents on the left: CBS and the perpetrators of 60 Minutes’ shoddy hit piece on the Florida governor, potential 2022 gubernatorial opponent Nikki Fried, and MSNBC’s Joy Reid.

Much to DeSantis’s delight, though, he may have some enemies in the seedy alt-right underworld as well. Scott Greer, a former Daily Caller employee who used to write pseudonymously for the white-nationalist Radix Journalcomplains that DeSantis might not be the “promised NazBol-” (National Bolshevism, oh joy!) “strongman” because he signed into law a bill requiring “public K-20 educational institution to treat discrimination by students or employees or resulting from institutional policies motivated by anti-Semitism in an identical manner to discrimination motivated by race.” The horror.

If DeSantis has the ire of not only the most dishonest names in left-wing media, but also the most despicable people that the media will attempt to cast him as being an ally of, the governor’s future might be even brighter than we thought.

Politics & Policy

Eating Chicken Is So Popular, Stocks Are Running Low

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(villagemoon/Getty Images)

The animal rights/radical environmentalist cabal wants to get us to quit eating meat. The vegans claim the mantle of compassion — ignoring the fact that human beings are naturally omnivores and that the only way to go totally meat and dairy free is to take supplements. Even then, such diets are bad for children.

The environmentalists want to make us quit eating meat because of food animals’ supposed contributions to global warming. Much of the focus is on cattle, but we are told that the climate crisis! requires drastic cuts in meat consumption.

America apparently isn’t buying it. Instead, we are purchasing fried chicken at record rates. From the Bloomberg story:

The popularity of chicken — from sandwiches and tenders to nuggets and wings — is fueling such demand for fried poultry that America is starting to run short.

KFC says it’s struggling to keep up with soaring demand for its new sandwich, while North Carolina-based chicken-and biscuits-chain Bojangles reported outages of tenders across its 750 locations.

KFC saw its comparable-store sales soar 14% in the most recent quarter in the U.S., due in part to its new chicken sandwich that’s selling twice as much as past new sandwiches.

McDonald’s, which also reported higher-than-expected first-quarter sales, didn’t mention any supply constraints when it reported earnings Thursday but did say sales so far of its new chicken sandwich line are “far exceeding expectations.”

Poultry companies have been struggling to keep up with demand from quick-service restaurants. The biggest challenge for Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., the second-biggest U.S. chicken producer, is labor, according to Chief Executive Officer Fabio Sandri. The company expects to pay $40 million more this year to pay and retain workers, Sandri said Thursday.

Me? I don’t care what people eat. That’s a personal choice — kind of like taking the COVID vaccine should be. I respect vegetarians and vegans, but also those who like to barbecue the night away. I don’t see one side of the food divide as superior to the other.

I do get tired, however, of the constant haranguing from those who think their vegetarian food choices are morally superior, or who claim the high ground of compassion because they favor polices that would make meat — that splendid source of essential nutrition — too expensive for poor people to buy.

Those types of advocacy articles get most of the play in the media — liberal, conservative, and mainstream. I have to say, it’s kind of refreshing to see the apparent failure of anti-meat propagandizing.

Politics & Policy

America’s Great Gun-Buying Surge Continues

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AR-15 rifles for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Penn., October 6, 2017 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The United States is still in the midst of the greatest gun-buying binge in its history. From The Reload:

April 2021 saw the most gun sales of any April on record.

The month saw nearly 1.7 million background checks on gun sales, according to an industry analysis of FBI numbers released on Monday. That puts it about one percent up from the previous record set last year. It also continues the remarkable surge in gun sales that has gone on for more than a year.

Last year’s surge saw around 5 million first-time buyers, including historic numbers of women and minorities. After the Capitol riot in January, CNN and others attempted to tie the spike in gun buying to right-wing unrest, but the trend had been ongoing since the pandemic began. If Americans felt helpless when sequestered in their homes in April, the rash of summer riots and the “defund the police” movement certainly didn’t allay those concerns. It’s worth noting as well that gun manufacturers are having a tough time keeping up with demand. These numbers could be larger.

And, as long as Democrats keep talking about gun confiscation and regulations, expect the trend to continue.

Health Care

Biden Sets ‘Bold’ Goal of 790,000 Shots Per Day until July 4

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President Joe Biden speaks prior to signing the “American Rescue Plan,” a package of economic relief measures to respond to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, at the White House, March 11, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Today, President Biden set a goal of 70 percent of adult Americans having at least one coronavirus vaccine shot by the Fourth of July. Much like Biden’s 100 million shots in 100 days, this figure sounds impressive and ambitious, but appears much less daunting once you look at the current rate.

As of this morning, according to the CDC, 56.3 percent of Americans over age 18 have at least one dose — 145.3 million adults. Reaching the 75 percent threshold will require another 48.2 million shots.

That sounds like a lot, but there are 61 days between tomorrow and July 4 — meaning the United States needs to average a bit more than 790,000 shots per day. While the number of shots administered per day has dropped from a peak in mid-April, the U.S. is still averaging 2.29 million shots per day.

If, starting tomorrow, the U.S. averages half what the current average is — about 1.14 million per day –we will still hit Biden’s goal before the end of June.

Economy & Business

The Conservative Mind and the Market

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Samuel Gregg has a smart piece in The Spectator on conservative attitudes toward the free market, which tend to swing with the general tide:

It’s worth remembering that the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, called himself an ‘old Henry Clay Tariff Whig’ in 1859. For several decades after the Civil War, the Republicans were the party of protectionism. Donald Trump’s self-description as ‘Tariff Man’ is actually consistent with these older Republican traditions, to which many market-skeptical conservatives now relentlessly draw attention.

I find myself settling in with Irving Kristol’s attitude to capitalism. Two cheers, not three.

Politics & Policy

Weighing the Costs of COVID Versus the Costs of Lockdowns

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A man walks in downtown Lisbon on the first day of the second national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic in Portugal, January 15, 2021. (Pedro Nunes/Reuters)

Writing for AIER, Professor Don Boudreaux looks at the enormous discrepancy between the costs of COVID and the costs of the politically mandated response to the disease, namely lockdowns.

Boudreaux writes:

Yet there was no such careful calculation for the lockdowns imposed in haste to combat Covid-19. Lockdowns were simply assumed not only to be effective at significantly slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, but also to impose only costs that are acceptable. Regrettably, given the novelty of the lockdowns, and the enormous magnitude of their likely downsides, this bizarrely sanguine attitude toward lockdowns was – and remains – wholly unjustified. And the unjustness of this reaction is further highlighted by the fact that, in a free society, the burden of proof is on those who would restrict freedom and not on those who resist such restrictions.

His analysis is sound. As a matter of science, policy-makers should be just as interested in the costs of the problem as in the costs of any proposed solution to it. But that has been far from the case. Those who question the “solution” that politicians immediately settled upon have been subjected to nasty ad hominem attacks and had their works censored. Despite mounting evidence that mandatory lockdowns are a very poor, high-cost response, I’m aware of no politician or “progressive” writer who has said, “I think I was mistaken in concluding that the lockdown policy was right.”

That’s par for the course, though. There are lots of questions where clear-minded analysis throws statist policies into question. For instance, there’s an abundance of evidence that the harm done by minimum-wage laws is far greater than the benefit, but have you heard of any politician who supported increasing the minimum wage later admit that doing so was detrimental and that he regretted it?

Statists never admit error or apologize. They just demand more power.

Liz Cheney May Have to Be Ousted, but That’s a Sad Reflection of the GOP

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Rep. Liz Cheney speaks during a news conference with other House Republicans at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 10, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Much of the debate over whether Representative Liz Cheney should remain in Republican leadership has divided those who agree with her statements about the 2020 election and those who see them as tantamount to betrayal. But there’s also a third position — which is that she’s right, but is now too unrepresentative of her party to help lead it. That, in itself, is a sad reflection of the state of the Republican Party.

It’s increasingly looking as though, having survived one attempt to oust her as conference chair, Cheney will have a difficult time remaining in leadership. Her repeated statements affirming